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Pound the Alarm

Chapter Text

The long and the short of it was that Iron Bull was the ideal firefighter.

He was, in fact, built like a brick shithouse, almost naturally fireproof, and capable of felling small trees with one push of his hand. That said, he was also an accomplished lockpick, salsa dancer, and on weekends, painter. Diversity was important to have, and while busting down doors, walls, windows, and occasionally vaults was part of the job requirement, it was good to have some fine motor skills. The Iron Bull was a man of many talents.

It had been long and circuitous routes that lead him to station 4, neatly sequestered away in a reasonably sized city with two malls, one university, excellent fishing, and a terrifying looming castle. Skyhold and its surrounding city of New Haven was a pleasant, prosperous place, and most importantly it was far from the memories of Seheron. Iron Bull liked it here, and had been more than happy to take control of one of the fire houses and move his people in. The Charger House had grown comfortably, and was now home.

Unfortunately, home also came with obligations.

oOo

The wailing of the siren was enough to make him want to strangle every person on the planet. He’d just closed his eye when it went off, and for the love of all that was holy, he did not want to get up. But duty called, and the Qun was a very good teacher of obligation.

“One night,” he growled, standing on autopilot as Krem stumbled past in his binder and not terribly much else. “Just one night, for the love of Koslun. It’s Skyhold again, isn’t it?”

“Not today,” Dalish said, pulling on gear. “Not the university either. One of the fancy new apartment complexes- Minrathous?”

“By all the elven gods,” Krem groaned, pulling a headset out of a closet. He had drawn the short straw of coordinator for the house that evening, and as the only speaker of all four local languages was going to have the dubious pleasure of handling the calls that came in directly. “Tevinter, the lot of them. Two full blown magisters moved in there not a week ago, can’t they manage a standard ice spell?” He switched to muttering in Tevene and settled himself at the desk, rummaging through the box of lost and found on it for some clothes.

“Apparently not.” Bull dragged his gear on, waving Grim and Rocky down first. “Which channel?”

“5,” Krem said shortly, pulling a shirt on. “Do not be an idiot about it, Mr. I-have-one-eye. You shouldn’t even be going out!”

Bull gave his lieutenant a quick salute, and slid down the pole.

oOo

In his defense, Dorian Pavus had planned on things being set on fire.

Just… not the drapes.

Or his clothes.

Or his date.

Maker damn it.

He shivered out in the cold of Skyhold, his now thoroughly uninterested date a good 20 feet away. His hair was singed, he now had no sleeves instead of one, and there was smoke damage in his kitchen. Everyone else had left the building and were chatting while deliberately not looking at him, so he stood there in pure embarrassment as the fire truck came down the street. Thankfully his father wasn't speaking to him, or he’d never hear the end of how much he’d fucked this up. He’d just planned on being a little flashy, showing off his cooking, and then things were on fire and the alarms were going off, and, well.

Fire truck.

He watched miserably as it came to a stop, and out came the firemen. He frowned when he saw their jackets. Each had a name emblazoned on the back, and none of them made much sense. Dalish, Grim, Rocky, Stitches?

And then out stepped one of the biggest Qunari he’d ever seen, one eyed, horns easily three feet across, and holy shit his biceps were easily the size of Dorian’s head. Muscles rippled like waves as he slung his coat over his shoulder, the name obscured.

“Shit,” he breathed, and drew himself up when he was pinned by the eye. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to march over.
The Qunari grinned, and Dorian resolutely did not swoon. Not at all.

“Good evening,” the Qunari said wryly.

“It was my fault,” Dorian said without preamble. Best to get this over with quickly, he decided, and he refused to blush when the Qunari’s grin widened. “I was a little overzealous in my cooking endeavors this evening.” There was an answering angry rumble from the crowd, but he didn’t flinch. He’d faced down his father before, nothing could make him afraid anymore.

“That so, Magister-?”

“Altus,” he corrected quickly, fighting back his shudder at the word. “Altus Dorian Pavus, late of the Tevinter Minrathous.”

“Altus Pavus, then,” the Qunari said, nose twitching just the slightest. Dorian prayed that the rumors about Qunari smelling arousal were lies. “Perhaps you and I should chat over here while my team clears the building.”

They moved off to the side, and Dorian stared as a massive hand was thrust out for him to shake.

"I'm the Iron Bull," the Qunari said, positively cheerfully.

Dorian shook cautiously. So far, so good. No one had thrown down any gloves, and neither of them had commented on the whole 'Vint thing. Excellent. "Er. Thank you. Obviously you know my name by now."

"Indeed. So, tell me, how did this come about?"

Dorian sighed dramatically, looking over to where Lucian had taken out his phone and was pointedly not looking at him. "See that charming and lovely assed piece of work over there? I was attempting to flambe some things for us. Orlesian food, you know how it is."

The Iron Bull bit back a smile. "Go on."

"The flames got away from me at a rather... delicate moment, shall we put it." Dorian congratulated himself on the fact that he hadn't blurted out that Lucian had been more than a little interested in his neck at the time. And his ass. And- focus, Dorian. "Unfortunately, there was oil on my sleeve, the flames jumped, and now I'm without a sleeve. Also drapes. And a date. He only got that damned beard singed though."

The Iron Bull glanced at Dorian's crisper than normal hair, and he glowered.

"I know, it was dumb, and I will think twice before cooking Orlesian again."

"And dating someone that vapid, I should hope," the Iron Bull said dryly, glancing over at Lucian. Dorian grimaced. The man was taking a selfie, chars and all.

"Do you have somewhere to stay?"

He turned his attention back and nodded grimly. "Not ideal, but yes. I do."

oOo

In the cold, brutal light of morning streaming through one of Skyhold’s windows, Dorian wondered if he could actually kill Lavellan for putting him in the Northern guest suite. While he was very fond of the Herald, he was also very fond of his sleep, and given that he’d been forced to move nearly half of his collection to save it from smoke damage, he was not exactly thrilled by the situation. Sitting up, he stretched and grimaced as his shoulder ached. While his apartment was being fixed, he had the dubious pleasure of staying in Skyhold. Lavellan, damn her sorry hide, was gleefully going to get all the research she could out of him.

His shoulder gave another twinge, and he scowled as he grabbed the little bottle of healing cream beside the bed. Apparently he had been hurt while tearing his sleeve off. Not enough for it to do serious damage, but just enough to be annoying.

Once he had risen and dressed, he dared to brave the rest of the castle.

To absolutely no ones surprise, Solas sneered at him when he came in. As it was, the elf was half buried in a mountain high stack of books on- herbalist culture on the Storm Coast? Whatever. Dorian flounced past him, heading up to his newly designated research area, and settled in.

The fire alarms went off in the middle of his translation of what was easily a 400 year old text, and it was all he could do not to scream.

Chapter Text

"Altus Pavus," an uncomfortably familiar voice said as he sat on the steps of Skyhold's keep, sulking. "We do have to quit meeting like this."

"Not my fault this time," he said grouchily, looking up at Iron Bull, who grinned. His stomach decided that doing flips was an excellent idea.

"Oh?"

"Oh yes. This is all on the Herald, who apparently decided that it would be a grand ideal to test new flame magicks indoors." He scowled ferociously at Lavellan, who waved from the corner where Cullen was supposedly giving her a dressing down. "Apparently, no one thought to call down and let you know that we are, in fact, perfectly safe."

"At least it's our slow season," The Iron Bull said with an easy smile, and Dorian aggressively squashed the butterflies in his stomach.

Qunari, Dorian's mind screamed. Terrorizer of your homeland, monster under the bed, as likely to sew your lips shut as kiss you- NOT THAT YOU WANT HIM TO. NO.

"Yes, well," Dorian said, and clearly he hadn't been careful enough to hide his thoughts, because The Iron Bull was now looking dangerously thoughtful.

A sturdy looking man came up, his hair shaved on the sides and an expression like curdled milk. “Chief,” he said, his voice just shy of a threat, “I was told you were staying back.”

“Thought I should stretch my legs,” The Iron Bull said, innocent as could be. "And look who I ran into. One of your lovely countrymen, Krem-puff."

The man, Krem?, leveled an impressive glare. "If you think I won't tell the Arishok when he comes through about your gallivanting about through flames, you're dead wrong." He glanced at Dorian, and gave only the politest Tevene hello.

Ah. Soporati, then. And clearly very possessive of the Qunari. Well, that solved that little dilemma. Dorian definitely didn't feel disappointed. Still, a little piece held out hope. After all, there were no rings on either of their fingers.

"As diverting as this is," Dorian drawled, standing, "I really should get back inside. Lavellan, bless her murderous heart, has me doing research for some mess. I should get back to my studies."

"Altus," Krem said with a stiff nod. Dorian inclined his head a fraction, just to watch Krem's eyes widen at the shock of being acknowledged so unexpectedly, and sashayed back up the steps.

Even a Soporatus would be a better choice than a Qunari, no matter how good looking, but he couldn't quite help himself.

oOo

"I know what you're thinking, and do. Not."

Iron Bull looked down at Krem, who was frowning like it was going out of style. "Do what?"

"He's an altus. You know what that means. Mage, titled, spoiled, the whole lot. Also, Tevinter." Krem stalked away, Bull following sedately behind and nodding along with the rant. "He'd be bad news. His father's a magister- I met him once, I think. Came in to have a coat fixed. Howard? Halred? Something like that. The Pavus family is weird, and the old one has shitty taste in brocade. Also, mage. Did I mention that? Also, not a red head."

"Redhead is not the end all be all," Iron Bull said serenely. "You're a little worked up about this."

Krem whirled around, poking him in the chest with one stiff finger. "You promised," he hissed, his voice low and furious. "You told me you'd stop going out, that you'd take the head position and an office and a damn desk job. And here you are, out trying to take care of this while I have to live with what I cost you."

The finger was shaking, and Iron Bull carefully took Krem's hand. "I'm fine," he said quietly. "Look. No flames. You know I'm good for crowd control. I can't drive, but I can keep people away and if I have to, I can still take down doors."

Krem was shaking, and Iron Bull gently let his hand drop. "We'll talk about this back at the station. Go get yourself together while I talk to Lavellan. I'll be back soon enough."

Krem took a deep breath and nodded. He headed back to the truck, batting Grim's arm off him when he came up. Iron Bull sighed, rubbing his head, and went to go remind Lavellan about some common sense.

Lavellan was bouncing a little when he walked over, and all but launched herself into his arms. Cullen pinched the bridge of his nose as Iron Bull swung her around, laughing a little as she threw her arms in the air. Despite how annoyed everyone was, there were plenty of smiles when he let her down, and she beamed up at him.

“Hi, Bull!”

“I’d really like to know how you ended up so cheery,” he said, unable to keep a smile down. Cullen rolled his eyes, but there was a suggestion of a smile on his lips.

“It’s one of those naturally occurring things, like early onset baldness and cute kittens,” she said brightly. “I’m sorry I messed up the fire alarms. I didn’t mean to! I promise I’ll go outside next time, I was just so excited that I got it right and-”

Cullen was rubbing his forehead again, and Bull decided to take pity on him.

“Lavellan,” he said, pulling her in for a hug that was maybe a little rougher than necessary, “Krem was pretty worried. Don’t scare him, okay?”

Lavellen nodded into his chest, and he let her go.

“You were looking at Dorian really closely,” she said slyly. “Have you met before?”

"Last night, actually. He set some curtains on fire."

oOo

The station house was suspiciously quiet when Bull came back, and he grimaced when he saw Blackwall waiting patiently outside the doors.

"If you're here, I've officially gone and messed something up," Iron Bull said, running a hand over the back of his head. Blackwall rose, stretching a little. How he’d been relegated to acting as the Inquisitions negotiator with the city council was anyone’s guess, but it probably had something to do with the lovely Lady Montilyet.

"Not so much messed up as severely pissed your lieutenant off," he drawled. "You might want to get him a nice fruit basket, or possibly some heavy artillery."

"He'd probably like the artillery more."

Blackwall grinned, heading inside, and Iron Bull reluctantly followed. Something was definitely up, and he had the sinking suspicion he knew what. Blackwall headed to the empty office just to the side, and waved him in. Iron Bull hesitated, and slowly stepped through the door, Blackwall closing it behind him.

"You're being pulled," he said bluntly. "Not my deal, this is up top things. Mayor of the city and the like. You're still free to manage crowds, work the hoses, that sort of thing, but no getting in the flames. After the mess with Krem nearly getting hurt a month or so back, people started paying attention. Hard enough to keep people stable in this town, never mind getting them to understand what we do."

Iron Bull stared at the empty desk, his heart sinking a little. "And if we need doors taken down?"

"We have the mages," Blackwall said, not unkindly. "I know you don't like them, but we have them for a reason."

Iron Bull sighed, lowering his head and feeling like Cullen as he pinched the bridge of his nose. "Can't say I planned on this happening today."

"But you did plan on it."

He nodded, and sighed as Blackwall squeezed his shoulder.

"Bull," he said softly, "you're one of the bravest people I've ever met, as well as the most competent. But you need a brace for that knee, and your eye makes it a little difficult to manage things these days. I can't say I know what you're going through, as I've never done it myself, but... I do know it's hard to let things go some times. Krem is tough. He'll keep them all together in the field, and you're sure as hell still their chief."

Iron Bull nodded, and Blackwall squeezed his shoulder again.

The silence fell, and this time it was easy to close his eye and let the pain wash through him.

Chapter Text

"I saw you staring at the Qunari fireman," Solas said, looking down at him with the most politely disgusted expression Dorian had ever seen. He felt a headache coming on, and aggressively waved the other away from his desk. “The Iron Bull, I believe.”

"Do you mind?" he demanded. "I'm extremely close to done with this blasted translation. High Tevene is miserable."

"Not going to defend yourself?" Solas actually smiled, a wicked thing that showed his teeth.

"Don't act smug, it's unbecoming." Dorian reached for his reading glasses, shoving them onto his nose and glaring. "Go bother Cullen about his date tonight, if you're so inclined to meddle in the affairs of us mortals. Besides, the Qunari is very obviously taken and, might I just add, Qunari. It would be more acceptable for me to marry a slave than to so much as consider one as- as anything romantic."

Solas considered this as Dorian went back to his text. "He does seem close with the short one," he mused, and Dorian ground his teeth.

"Go away, Solas. I will sit and let you needle me for a full hour if you will just let me get this done."

"Deal."

Solas floated away, leaving Dorian to snarl curses under his breath as he continued typing up the translation.

oOo

By all accounts, Cullen's date did not go well. Between a moping Commander, Solas being far too interested in him for comfort, and Lavellan loading him down with a positively ridiculous amount of books to translate, Dorian was about ready to cry when he was told he could return to his home. Cullen, likely in a silent attempt to apologize for getting overly soppy around his third glass of wine the night before, helped him haul everything back to his place. Solas even deigned to lend him a book on Elvhen magical theory that he'd been trying to get his hands on, and Dorian took it for the peace offering it was. The two of them rarely got on well, but they had both been particularly grouchy and ill tempered while forced to share a closer workspace than normal. Dorian had needed one of the downstairs desks to spread his work on, instead of his little alcove where he normally worked.

Lavellan, of course, gave him a loaf of bread and a blowtorch.

His apartment was a sight for sore eyes, and as soon as he was through the door he threw himself on the overstuffed couch that occupied almost a full wall. The walls were freshly repainted, his prints of his travels hung beautifully in their frames, and bookshelves had been meticulously dusted. The bedroom was likely still a wreck, but at least his living space was beautiful. Cullen shook his head, putting down the box of books he'd been carrying.

"There's no place like home," Dorian told the couch cushions, and hugged a throw pillow to his chest.

And because the Maker had a wicked sense of humor, that was when the fire alarms went off.

oOo

"Minrathous? Again?" Krem swiveled his head to glare daggers at Bull, who raised his hands in surrender.

"This isn't on me."

"And the 'Vint is still in Skyhold, yeah?" Dalish called from the corner as she suited up.

Krem fixed his eyes on Bull again, and he shrugged. "I'm not exactly keeping tabs on the man," he said dryly. "Glare all you want, Krem, I haven't seen or talked to him." The even though I want to hung in the air.

The team headed out, and Krem sighed, rubbing his forehead as he grabbed the headset. "Go. Fine. Live your life and make mistakes. But so help me if there's actually a fire and you walk in."

"You're the Krem of the crop," Bull said with a laugh, getting up and fetching his things.

"That was weak."

By the time the truck was started, he was sliding down the ladder and in the back, squishing in with Rocky.

oOo

By the time they arrived at Minrathous Apartments, there were real flames coming out of the side of the building on the second floor. Bull felt his heart stutter, memories flooding back.

Children, screaming in the dormitory, the tamassran dead on the stoop, blood seeping down the stairs as she bled out. Flames, fire, all around as he ran through, crushing a door to reach them.

Five dead, eight wounded, and tiny eyes looking up at him as the floor caves in, swallowing a little grey body whole.

He shuddered, and shook his head to force himself back to the present. Climbing out, he ignored the look that Grim gave him and started directing people away from the building. It was fairly easy work, and he was startled when Cullen abruptly appeared at his side in his casual clothes and started helping.

"Commander," he said under his breath as a woman in mink fled to the sidewalk across the street. "Can't say I expected you."

"I was helping Dorian move back in. He's furious." Cullen easily directed an irate man away, the scar on his lip tugging a little. "He's over there with his boxes all over again. At least we'd only taken two from the truck."

Bull managed a chuckle, and once everyone was safely back, he risked a glance over where Cullen had pointed. Sure enough, Dorian was sitting on the sidewalk with two boxes piled next to him, arms crossed as he furiously glared up at the now flameless window. Hiding a smile, he went to check on his team.

Static crackled in his ear as he helped Dalish with the hoses, and he sighed.

"Yes, Krem?" he said calmly.

"Updates, please."

"Flames are under control, Dalish and I are winding the hoses. Grim and Stitches are checking for anything in the walls. Looks like it was just a normal house fire, with the notable exception of this not being a house."

Dalish snorted with amusement, and headed up to go and help as Bull leaned against the truck and waited.

oOo

Cullen plopped gracelessly down next to Dorian with a heavy sigh, running a hand through his hair and letting it flop ridiculously.

"I'm starting to think you're bad luck," he said without any real heat behind it. "Also, we're not telling Lavellan about this. I don't really want to drag all your things back again. You're a wonderful friend and I love having you around, but if I have to listen to Solas rant one more time I may commit murder."

"At least this time he didn't threaten to set my clothes on fire," Dorian said, his mouth twitching into a smile. "We may just yet get on."

"I pray daily for the Maker to give me strength, should that day ever come," Cullen said sardonically, shaking his head. "Josephine told me you were to attend the circle dinner this week."

"Excuse me?" Dorian demanded, his eyes widening. "I've only been here two months at best, I barely know you, let alone Lavellan, or Solas, or Liara-"

"Leliana."

"My point exactly!"

Cullen smiled, bumping their shoulders together. "Dorian, we like you. I know it's hard for you to wrap your head around that, but we're glad you're here. Researching in the frigid South isn't the most ideal thing, but you're here, you're doing great work for us, and Lavellan thinks you're the best thing since sliced bread."

Dorian couldn't quite keep the blush down on his cheeks, and Cullen's smile widened.

"Oh, all right," he huffed, and blushed even brighter when Cullen threw an arm over his shoulder and tugged him in for a hug. "Get off me, you great lummox!"

A shadow loomed over him, and they looked up to see Iron Bull, clearly amused. "Am I interrupting?"

"Not in the least," Dorian said, perhaps a little too quickly. How did they even find shirts big enough to fit the man? Perhaps they had them special ordered? He slid out from under Cullen's arm, and Cullen shrugged, getting up and brushing himself off. "I trust the fire is gone?"

"Deader than a coffin nail," Iron Bull said.

Dorian decided not to make a joke on necromancy given their company. Cullen's eyes narrowed thoughtfully, and to Dorian's horror, he saw the lightbulb go on in his head.

"You know, Bull, I really should be getting back to my duties," the Commander said, lying through his teeth. It was his newly enforced day off, and he'd planned on going to a yoga class that Lavellan recommended. "Perhaps you could help us with the boxes?"

Dorian was going to kill him.

Chapter Text

Dorian was so not subtle in his oogling that The Iron Bull almost wanted to call him on it.

Almost.

It was honestly quite flattering, and Bull was vain enough to indulge in a few stretches that pulled his shirt tighter than normal. Cullen had fled as soon as the boxes were out of his truck, and now Bull had the dubious pleasure of still being in his gear while in Dorian's newly refurbished apartment.

Well, repainted at least.

He examined a few of the black and white prints on the walls as Dorian fussed over a few of the rarer books, and was shocked when he saw pictures of Seheron.

"You... you've been to Seheron?"

Dorian stilled, his hands still in the box. "Not exactly a pleasure cruise," he said bluntly, not looking up from the counter. "I was taken there. By my father. It was, as he so brutally put it, a way to make me see sense. Disobey, and he'd disown me and drop me in Seheron to fend for myself. I- I saw the saarebas."

Bull watched as his knuckles went white. Dorian seemed lost in his thoughts, seeing some horror he couldn't comprehend.

"He bought a collar while there, I don't know how. A magic controlling one. I- I-" he shuddered, bringing a hand up to his mouth, and Bull had no idea what to say. This had not exactly been on his mind when he'd walked up here.

"Hey," he said gently, walking over but keeping his distance. "Dorian."

Dorian shook his head, blinking a few times to clear it. "I- I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."

"No, it's all right," Bull reassured him, keeping his body language open and nonthreatening. "I don't have any good memories of Seheron either."

Blood, everywhere. Iron in his mouth, can he ever get ash out of his skin?

Dorian swallowed hard, and put on a brave smile. "Thank you, Iron Bull." He abruptly went to the cupboard and opened it up, pulling a bottle out. "Care to join me for a few?"

Well, that was an abrupt turn around.

"Day drinking?" he asked, walking around the island in the kitchen to lean against the counter and watch Dorian pour.

"Why the fuck not?"

"Good point."

All it had taken was one quick call to Krem, who was more than happy to give him the rest of the day, and Iron Bull found himself sitting on a very comfortable couch with extremely good liquor and an unexpectedly good companion in the way of one Tevinter expat.

The world was a strange place some times.

The sun was on the descent outside the windows, and Dorian was pleasantly loose and calm on the couch beside him. He was surprisingly good company, and good at acting much more sober than he was. Bull wondered about that, but decided not to comment.

"So, Tevinter," he said as the conversation lulled for a moment. Dorian snorted, taking an overlarge drink.

"Fuck Tevinter," he said firmly, and Bull chuckled.

"I'm sure we have very different reasons for saying so, but I'll agree with you there."

Dorian glowered at the sun, squinting a little. "Fucking politics and slaves and- you know, I didn't care for a long time. Until I came here, until Solas started needling me like the damn prick he is, I didn't care. You know, my friend Felix has a Qunari slave. A girl, maybe 13. He was given her as a birthday gift. She was- the Vashoth. Tal-Vashoth. Has a birth mark so red it looks like paint. Never had a name, born in captivity. He was furious, and I didn't understand until I saw him with her. She's the light of his life, and he can't even free her."

Bull stared at the man, shocked by this revelation. He knew Dorian was wealthy, knew he was connected and so forth, but this was out of left field. As he watched, a few tears slipped from Dorian's eyes, and he roughly brushed them away.

"It's not fucking fair," he said harshly. "I want to go back. Now. I want to go back and fix it, but I don't know how."

"The fact that you want to marks you as a good man," Bull said somberly, and Dorian looked back up at him.

"Yes?"

"Yes."

He thought on Seheron, the Tevinter mages with their collared slaves, and thought of the Saarebas, and thought of Dorian, collared and forced silent. He thought of stitches, of caged hoods and chains, of kohl eyes hidden away.

Dorian, hidden away.

"I'm glad you're Tevinter born," he said abruptly, and Dorian laughed, a little wetly.

"I think we can both safely say that's the first time a Qunari's ever said that."

Dorian looked up at him, his eyes suddenly fierce, and Bull's heart stuttered. Mages, fire in their hands and eyes. Madness only one step away. Possession, horrors, the Fade, the Veil, Seheron on fire- and it was all stripped away, down to this man, smooth skin bronze as a statue in the light.

"I'm going to kiss you now," Dorian said.

"I wish you would."

It was not the best first kiss. It was, in fact, sort of terrible to start with, too much teeth and pent up fears and aggression leaving them both jittery, but then Bull had him on his lap, and the glasses found their way to the table beside them, and he had better things to think about than Seheron.

Dorian let him gentle the kisses until he was slowly rolling in his lap, Bull's hands tight on his hips to keep him firmly planted. Dorian was drunk enough not to care, but he never was.

Hands found their way to his horns, fingers teasing the sensitive skin at their base, and he shuddered. Leave it to the man to find the one spot he was completely unable to manage.

"If you wanted," Dorian mumbled against his lips, "right now I'd say yes."

"I know you would," Bull said, pulling back a little. "And that's why tonight it's just kisses."

Dorian scowled, leaning in to nip his lip. "Damn."

Bull chuckled, squeezing him just enough to make him mewl, and grinned as his pupils pushed golden brown to the far corners. "Patience," he teased, and Dorian growled, tugging him back in for more aggressive kisses.

If Bull was any less trained in the fine art of self control, he would have rolled over and pinned the man, taken him apart until he screamed.

But Dorian was drunk. Dorian was in no state to do anything more than this, and even then, he wondered if this would ruin things.

"You," Dorian growled, "are thinking too hard." He nipped at him again, making Bull jump in surprise.

"Just wondering if you'll still talk to me after this," he said honestly, and Dorian sat back to glare at him, his hands falling to rest on Bull's.

"Honestly," he huffed. "I'm an adult."

Bull smiled, something in his chest unfurling. "Good."

Dorian looked down, sighing huffily. "Fine." He pushed at Bull's hands, standing up. Looking him square in the eye, a sudden blush brightening his cheeks, he said firmly, "The next time we do this properly."

Bull couldn't help the smile that slid onto his lips. "And just what do you mean by that?"

"You are buying me dinner," Dorian said loftily.

"Am I, now."

"And then you may, if I so deign, come home with me."

"Oh really?" Bull rose, and Dorian licked his lips, his eyes flicking from biceps to shoulders to horns to eyes. "Or perhaps, I'll throw you over my shoulder, take you home, and have my wicked way with you."

"Savage."

"Vint."

The words had no heat, and Bull felt a warmth in his chest he hadn't felt since the last time he'd played this sort of game. He reached out, lazily running his hand through Dorian's hair to watch him shiver as he gripped for a moment, tight enough to make Dorian tilt his head back and bare his throat. The tiny hint of a whimper and the bliss in Dorian's eyes made up his mind.

"I suppose I'll pick you up on Friday then," he said with a smirk. "Have a good evening, Dorian."

And with that, he turned and left, slinging his coat over his shoulder and whistling as he walked out the door.

Chapter Text

To say that Solas was a little startled when Dorian came and flopped down in the chair across from his desk the next morning was a bit of an understatement. The two of them rarely interacted, and for Dorian to willingly seek him out suggested something was up.

"Can I help you?" he said slowly, eyeing the other man. Dorian was obviously frazzled, his hair in disarray and his kohl slightly messier than normal.

"I have a date on Friday," he blurted out, and Solas stared.

"...You felt the need to tell me this why?"

"Because it's a date and I don't know what to do."

"I'm both touched and concerned," Solas said, watching as Dorian fiddled with the straps on his shirt. "Dorian, why did you come to me?"

Dorian refused to look up, suddenly very interested in his shirt. "You just..." He sighed gustily. "You always know what you're doing, and you're not like the people at the university. They always just sneer and walk away, or pretend I'm not there. You might hate me, but at least you're up front about it, and you make me want to be better. "

Solas gaped, a bit of color brightening his cheeks.

Dorian pushed on, now blushing ferociously. "You made me think about the slaves, when no one else has. You always call me on my bullshit, and frankly you're the only person here besides Lavellan who seems to actually think I'm not a complete idiot. Even when you're condescending."

"You're far too well read to be an idiot," Solas said, surprised at the sudden flare of anger in his heart. He may be rude, but the university as well? "Is this why you turned down the research post at the university?"

Dorian hunched in on himself. "That, and the Dean wanted more than I cared to give."

It took a moment for the words to sink in. Solas slammed his hands on the desk, and Dorian jumped like he'd been struck, his eyes going wide.

"Unacceptable," he snapped, and Dorian flinched. "Not you. Them! How dare they!?"

He shoved away from the desk, stalking furiously around it to start pacing. "They are charged with bringing knowledge around young people. And this- we must talk to Lavellan."

Dorian bolted to his feet, and for the first time ever Solas saw pure terror on the man's face. "Please, no! I- this isn't the first time I've dealt with men like that. I have no proof, and it was some time ago. No one would believe me."

"What do you mean, not the first time?" Solas demanded.

"I'm from Tevinter, Solas! Land of sexual repression! There were- there were a lot of people who decided that because I like men, I could be taken advantage of." Dorian swallowed hard, clearly still scared. It was strange to see that on Dorian's face. Dorian, who was always laid back and joking, Dorian the arrogant... Dorian who wrote op-eds to Tevinter newspapers decrying slavery because he had listened. Dorian, who wanted to make a difference.

Dorian, who looked like at any moment he expect Solas to hurt him.

"If this ever happens again," Solas said firmly, "you tell me immediately."

"I'm not a child-"

"You tell me," Solas snapped, flames lighting at his fingertips. "I don't care who it is. You tell me, and I will make them pay. We will make them pay. No one deserves that."

Dorian looked down at the floor, and Solas wondered if anyone had ever stood up for the man in his life. He was loud, sometimes misguided, rude, and yet he always came to him with problems or books, trying his best to make conversation even when Solas brushed him off like an over eager puppy. He wanted approval so desperately.

Solas almost felt bad.

"I will," Dorian said in a very small voice. "Promise."

"Good." Solas strode over, and firmly pushed him back into the chair. "Stay put. Now, I'm going to get the paper, and you and I are going to talk about the cultural context of this drivel the Nevarran ambassador has worked up, and then you will tell me about this date, because if I don't make sure he's good enough for you then Lavellan or Cullen will. I wouldn't inflict Lavellan's judgment on a fly, and Cullen likes you too much to tell the truth."

Dorian gave him a wobbly smile, and Solas wondered, not for the first time, what had really driven Dorian from Tevinter.

Chapter Text

If not for the fact that Cullen could guilt trip him better than his father, Dorian would have begged off the Circle dinner. Ever since Lavellan had become Herald and de facto arbitrator of the entire continent things had gotten a little odd. Dorian's official Skyhold title was "Tevinter dignitary of Cultural Relativism", which meant exactly nothing. Everyone knew that the only reason he was being kept on was by Lavellan's good graces. But he was kept, all the same, and allowed to work in relative peace for the Inner Circle. Now, forced into their presence for a full evening, he was beyond stressed and determined to make a good impression.

Winding his way through little shortcuts he'd learned, he nearly jumped out of his skin when a man abruptly appeared before him, huge hat nearly obscuring his face.

"Maker-"

"You're Dorian."

Heart hammering, Dorian nodded warily. "Yes. Hello." He’d seen the man here and there around Skyhold, but never indulged his curiosity.

The man looked up, and beamed at him. "Inside is warmth," he said, his voice serene. "Warm and bright and full of good. Lavellan is very pleased that you are here. You make her feel less broken."

Dorian blinked, his mind scrambling to come up with who this could possibly be. Less broken? What-

"Cole!"

Lavellan's voice broke down the hall and he was only too relieved to see the tiny elf bolting at breakneck speeds down to them. Cole, apparently, brightened up and said happily, "I found him."

"Thank you, Cole," Lavellan said, hugging him quickly before turning to Dorian with a huge grin. "You came!"

"Cullen is a force to be reckoned with," Dorian said, taking her hand and kissing it. "And how are you this evening, my dear?"

"All the happier for your attendance," she said with a mock curtsy, and linked arms with him. Cole smiled brightly and disappeared without a sound.

"What-"

"Cole's a spirit," she said cheerily, all but dragging him down the hall. "He likes helping people."

It made about as much sense as everything else. "I'm surprised I haven't seen him around more."

"You may have. He sometimes makes people forget that he was there." Lavellan shrugged, pushing open the door to the War Room, and a cheer went up. Dorian looked around, amazed at all the new faces, and those he recognized.

"Yes, yes, I'm sure you're all thrilled to see me," Lavellan said dramatically, waving her hand regally. "Everyone, meet Dorian."

There was a cacophony of hellos, and Lavellan dragged him to be seated at the table to her left. He looked uncertainly at Cullen, seated at her right hand, and once he nodded he took the seat. Cullen was Lavellan's strong right arm and her closest friend, it made sense for him to be seated close. For Dorian to be given such a place of high honor, well. His manners would have to be at their best.

Introductions were made around the table, and Dorian noted the placement of each person. Solas, Cassandra, Varric, and Blackwall sat to the right. Vivienne was at the end of the table, then up the left side was Josephine, Sera, two open seats, and then Cole and Dorian. He almost wished he had been seated by Sera, who seemed bent on flirting with a flustered Josephine.

"I see I'm not the last to arrive," he observed as soon as Lavellan sat. The food piled in the table began moving around the table, and Dorian watched as everyone took some of what they'd like. It was a vast assortment from Orlesian to Antivan and even a few familiar Tevinter dishes that he quickly grabbed as they arrived.

"No, we have two more. He and Leliana will be here late. Work sometimes prevents their arrival," Cullen said calmly as he broke a roll.

There was a bit of a commotion down the table, and without looking up Lavellan said, "Sera, if you're throwing grapes at Vivienne again I'll let Leliana have her payback."

The commotion instantly stopped, and Dorian felt a smile grow on his face. This felt comfortable. Like a home, like family.

There was a booming knock at the door just as the conversation had buzzed to life, and Lavellan bounded over to it, throwing it open to reveal none other than The Iron Bull himself. Dorian whipped his head to glare at Cullen, who smiled, all innocence.

"The fire chief in charge of protecting Skyhold is an important man to be friends with, wouldn't you say?"

"I hate you."

oOo

Dorian kept his eyes fixed firmly on his plate as Cullen smirked into his glass. Bull dropped into the chair by Sera, leaning back and grinning down at Dorian.

“Well this is a pleasant surprise,” he purred, and Cassandra kicked him under the table.

“Behave, Bull,” she chided. “Dorian is new here, be nice.”

“Oh, I’ll be as nice as he wants me to be,” Bull said, watching as Dorian suddenly seemed very interested in his salad. Cullen choked on his water. Lavellan hugged him from behind, and Bull carefully patted her head. They got on well, even if she was bas saarebas, and he was fond of the tiny, overactive elf. “Sorry I’m late. Krem threw a fit and had to rearrange some schedules because Dalish and Skinner needed a night off. Paperwork is hellish.”

“That’s why I burn mine,” she said cheerily, and headed back down to her seat.

“So, Bull,” Varric said cheerily, “how do you know Sparkler over there?”

Cullen looked up with a gleam in his eye that Bull immediately felt concerned about. Dorian, for his part, looked up with a frown.

Sparkler?”

Varric shrugged, smiling as he leaned back. “You’re covered in so much gold, glitter, and haute couture how could I call you anything else? Speaking of, is that the new line from Tarneshi?”

“Romuran, actually,” Dorian said, clearly taken aback. “And we met because I had a very bad date that ended with my curtains, sleeves, and date just a little bit on fire.”

“To be fair,” Cullen piped up, “the dude was a dick.”

There was a shocked silence as everyone turned to stare at Cullen, who went bright pink. “What?” he said defensively. “He was! He was rude and nowhere near nice enough to stick around. If it hadn’t gone bad I probably would have had some words with him.”

“I think we’re mostly just shocked that you called him a dick,” Lavellan said, staring at Cullen like she’d never seen him before. “You’re always so polite.”

Cullen lifted his wine glass, toasting them all. “Well, cheers, here’s to me being rude as fuck.”

The table burst into laughter, and Dorian leaned back with a huge smile on his face. Bull watched, feeling his heart warm. It was good to know that Dorian had at least one friend ready to look out for him.

oOo

Once dinner had finished, with a shockingly small amount of fighting between Vivienne and everyone else, Bull was a little startled when Solas appeared at his side and an unnervingly strong hand gripped his arm.

“Iron Bull,” he said with a smile that was all teeth, “you and I are going to have a little chat.”

“We are?” he said warily, glancing around for anyone who could come to his rescue. Unfortunately, Dorian had been lured away but Cullen for a chess game, and was chatting with- oh Koslun, Sera, as he made his next move. Cullen looked far too pleased with himself, and Lavellan had been drawn into a game of Wicked Grace with Cassandra, Varric, Leliana (who’d finally shown up), and Josephine.

“The balcony, I think.” Solas dragged him forward, and Bull reluctantly followed him out.

It was a nice night for Skyhold, warm for once, and the stars were bright overhead. Cullen would certainly be out with his telescope tonight once everyone else was in bed. Solas released him and closed the doors behind them. Bull mentally calculated whether he’d survive being pushed over the edge. The garden wouldn’t break his fall very well, but maybe-

“Let me make this as monosyllabic as possible,” Solas said bluntly, leveling a rather terrifying glare at him. “If you hurt him, they will not find your body.”

The words took a few moments to sink in, but when they did- “You’re giving me the shovel talk? We haven’t even done anything yet!”

Solas scowled. “Iron Bull, I know Dorian. Not well, not comfortably, certainly not because I want to, but I know him. He’s smitten in all the worst ways, and so are you. Smitten people do terribly stupid things, like confess love after the third date and invest in small animals together. But Dorian is not someone you can simply sleep with and leave, because he has too much history of pain. Just the other day he told me about some of the things that people have done to him, and I will not see him used like some toy, to be thrown away.”

Bull leaned against the stone railing, considering Solas. “You and I have talked all of twice, perhaps,” he said quietly. “But you frequent some of the same… venues, shall we say, that I do. Do you honestly think that I’d do that to him?”

Solas sighed, rubbing his forehead and coming to lean next to him. “No,” he said grudgingly. “But up until I asked Lavellan, I believed you in a relationship with your lieutenant, so perhaps I am not so good a judge as I once thought.”

“Krem? Oh, Maker no.” Bull grimaced. “I love Krem, I do, but I love him like a child.” He absently touched his eye patch, feeling the familiar ridges on it. Solas sighed, dropping his head.

“I ask you this, though,” Solas said quietly. “What are your intentions?”

Bull hesitated, looking back through the glass doors. He could see Dorian, laughing uproariously at something Sera had said, bright and beautiful and bronze. He was the very image of the word glorious, a perfect tempting beacon that drew the eye no matter where he was.

“I don’t know any more,” he said softly. “I barely know him, and yet. And yet he’s like nothing and no one I’ve ever seen before. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like this. It’s like looking into fire- hot and bright and so hard to hold, but oh, I want to touch.”

Solas stood back up, his expression unreadable. “Oddly, that is reassuring.” He ran a hand over his head, looking back in. “I’m going to go down to the University tomorrow to see what I can do about whoever it was who dared to think they could have a piece of him.”

“You’re being awfully protective of a guy you claim not to like,” Bull said thoughtfully, wishing for a drink.

“I’m being protective of what is mine,” Solas growled, and Bull’s eyes widened a little at the pure menace in his tones. “If anyone dared to harm the Inner Circle, whether I liked them or not, I would raze that person’s life to the ground. This is my family, my home, and my people to protect. I will not see Lavellan hurt by the loss of any of you. Except, perhaps, Vivienne. Or Sera.”

“Ouch.”

“She told me I looked like a hobo, and I take offense to that.” Solas sniffed, seeming to settle his feathers. “I’d even protect you, if I had to. I rather think you could handle yourself, however.”

Bull ducked his head with a bit of a smile. “Aw, Solas.”

“Shut up. Don’t let it go to your head. Now, tell me about this damn date you have planned. Dorian was in no state to do anything but talk about you, and that got old real quick.”

Chapter Text

Lavellan was waiting at the door when Solas came back in, Bull still standing on the balcony.

“Everything is fine,” he said before she could start, his eyes softening as she pouted at him. “Hush. I know you want to know, but you have to talk to him for details.”

Lavellan snorted, grabbing his hands. “I wasn’t going to ask,” she said firmly. “I might want to, but I’m not going to. Are you going to stay and play a few rounds?” She sounded hopeful, and he sighed, shaking his head.

“I like it when you socialize, you know,” she said reproachfully.

“And I like that you won’t be too mad if I go to bed early.” He kissed her forehead, a fond gesture. Lavellan was not romantic, but she enjoyed little gestures people made to remind her of their closeness. Cullen’s arm firmly on her shoulders, Josephine linking arms, Leliana’s hand holding, all of it familial love. “You should talk with them both, da’len. You need to ask Dorian about the university, and Iron Bull… well. He just needs to talk.”

“I will, hahren,” she said, smiling brightly as he flicked her nose. “And no, I’m not going to stop calling you that.”

“You may as well call me old man,” he scolded gently, and couldn’t help smiling when she impulsively hugged him. “I shall depart for bed. Try to sleep some time tonight.”

“Okay, hahren.”

oOo

Dorian watched as Solas left, and grimaced when he looked back to the board to see that Cullen had him in check. “How do you do that? I know I’m not a bad player! I swear every time you get more aggressive.”

Cullen smirked, grabbing his wine glass and clinking it smugly with Sera’s beer. Sera giggled, perched as she was on a stool. She seemed to have decided that despite the “magic-y weirdness”, he was interesting enough to go and spend time with. He was a little flattered. “I have my ways. And you cheat, so really, you should be trying harder.”

“The nerve,” Dorian gasped in mock outrage, making Sera laugh. “Do you hear this man? Such slander!”

“Not slander if it’s true,” she sing-songed, giggling again. “So, you’re one of those magi-things, right?”

Dorian held in the sigh, and Cullen chuckled into his glass, having been given this speech before. “Not everyone in Tevinter is in the Magisterium. My father is, so he’s a Magister, and that makes me a step below, which is Altus. It means I’m a noble, a mage, and can become a Magister in time. If I want.”

“Altus,” Sera said, testing out the word. “That’s a good word, that.” She pinned him with a look. “You like peeled grapes?”

Cullen choked on his drink laughing.

oOo

Iron Bull was right where Solas had left him, looking out at the sky. Lavellan skipped over to him, tugging on his arm until he bent down enough for her to climb to his broad shoulders. They looked up at the stars together, Lavellan safely resting her arms on his horns.

“So, Dorian.”

“You’re about as subtle as a brick, Boss.”

“You love me anyway,” she grinned, rubbing the hard to reach places and getting a grouchy noise of approval out of him. “I think you’d be cute. It’s like Varric’s books, he'll be thrilled.”

“I don’t kiss and tell unless the other person agrees,” Bull rumbled, and she rubbed harder at the scaly patches. He sighed and slumped back down on the railing. “Boss, I like him. Which is weird, because we haven’t done too much talking, but he’s- I like him a lot.”

“Good.” She leaned her chin on his head, looking out over the valley. “I think he likes you too. But if you two get down and dirty, don’t tell me, okay? Because ew.”

“We can’t all be aro aces,” Bull chuckled. “But yes, I’ll remember that some of us are.”

Lavellan smiled, kissing the top of his head. “Solas seemed to approve. Did he give you the shovel talk? Because if he didn’t, I can.”

Bull laughed, his shoulders shaking enough she had to grab his horns. He wiped his eye, and she felt a warm fondness for him. The Iron Bull was one of those rare people who had just innately got her. One attempt at flirting and he’d immediately understood, and she was grateful. “Oh, Boss, don’t worry. He gave me the shovel talk. I want this to go well. I’m even doing this whole thing romance first this time.”

“Yeah? That’s new.”

“Tell me about it.”

oOo

The evening began to wind down, and Dorian was comfortably close to sober for the first time in quite a while when Bull and Lavellan came back in from the balcony. Bull looked calmer, for lack of a better word, and Dorian smiled as he came over.

“I’m actually pretty sober, this time,” he said, raising his glass (now water) with a grin. Cullen had settled into the closest couch with a serene smile, and looked like he was close to drifting off to sleep. “Are you on your way out, or have you come to go a round of chess with me?”

Bull smiled, his hand sliding down to gently squeeze the back of Dorian’s neck. It was a slight gesture, but Dorian felt his toes curling. He’d always had a weakness for attention to the tender skin there. “I’m on my way out. Krem wants help with the grave shift with Stitches out. Want a ride home?”

Dorian considered it a great accomplishment that he didn’t make a joke at that. He set his glass down, ignoring Sera’s snickers, said good-bye to everyone, and headed towards the door. Bull was a reassuring mass beside him, and he felt a bit of arousal sneaking through him, the memory of his hand making his neck hot. Skyhold was quiet as they left, and they made it about halfway down the hall before he let himself be pulled into an empty room. He couldn’t help the grin on his face when Bull pushed him against the door, pinning him easily.

“This,” he purred, “was a very pleasant surprise. Mind if I mark you for tomorrow?”

“You’re telling me,” Dorian said, tipping his head up and letting out a weak moan as Bull’s sharp teeth latched onto his neck. “Fuck, you brute, and- Maker, yes. Guess I can’t make any parent jokes.”

“And why do you say that?” Bull rumbled against his skin, his knee nudging Dorian’s apart.

“My teachers always say you know the nobles by the ones who go for the throat. All that predatory breeding. In the end all a noble is, is a descendant of someone with a lot of teeth and a bigger stick.”

Bull chuckled, biting hard to wring another broken wail out of him. Dorian’s hands scrambled for his shoulders, painted nails digging in and holding tight. “Do you like being prey? Marked and desired?”

Dorian felt his cheeks get hot, and hissed, “Only when the predator makes it worth my time.”

Bull looked up, his eyes gleaming in the half light from the window, and easily hoisted Dorian up. He wrapped his legs around Bull’s waist, whimpering a little as the teeth made a comeback, nipping and marking down his neck to his collarbones. His shirt was easily moved aside, baring his throat completely, and Bull ran a punishing tongue over one of the stinging marks. “Oh, you’ll wear these nice tomorrow.”

“Tease,” Dorian gasped, and Bull chuckled.

“Do you really want me to get you off when you’ll have the whole ride home to be sticky and miserable?”

“You’re terrible.”

Bull’s grin was positively feral as he leaned in, kissing Dorian hard. Dorian groaned, hands going up to grab the horns as he struggled to keep up. He was dizzy by the time they parted, and knew he looked like an absolute debauched wreck. Bull looked far too pleased with himself, and ran a long finger over Dorian’s swollen lips. “You’re far too pretty for your own good, mage-boy.”

Dorian managed a protesting whine, squirming a little, and Bull pressed him harder into the door.

“Should definitely fuck you like this,” he mused, and Dorian whimpered a little as his cock, already hard, twitched longingly. “I’ll have to remember.”

“Any other grand ideas?” he managed, and Bull grinned, full of wicked intent.

He reached down, teasingly sliding a hand between them. “I think,” he said slowly as Dorian bucked a little, “I’d start with ropes. You look like the ropes would love you- all that sweet skin, so beautiful. I think I’d use red for you, or perhaps a nice black. I should find some gold, that would be best. You’d be beautiful in suspensions, but that’s for later. Ropes, first of all. Keep you nice and still so you can’t get away from me while I work on fingering you open.” His fingers played with the edge of Dorian’s pants, the faintest twitch of sensation making him shudder and gasp. “And for that I’d definitely take my time. Work you open nice and slow, get you out of your mind with sensation… I’ve been told I have lovely hands, don’t you agree?”

“I’ll agree faster if you put them on me,” Dorian panted, dizzy with desire. Bull was speaking so calmly, with that delicious bass rumble vibrating through his bones like a siren song. The words had him ready to cry with need. It had been far, far too long since he’d been with anyone, and here was someone who knew ropes! In the South!

“So needy,” Bull chided, grinning as he leaned in to kiss him. Dorian reciprocated hungrily, his hips jerking as the button on his pants was flicked open. He pressed up against Bull, whining softly into his mouth, and Bull pulled back with a chuckle. “So easy, at that.”

“Just for you,” Dorian said with venomous sweetness, rolling his hips. “Please.”

“So polite,” Bull purred, and Dorian shuddered as, finally, a hand wrapped around him. Two quick tugs and he came, his scream muffled by Bull’s mouth.

Bull worked him gently through it, and when Dorian was panting and dizzy, pulled his hand and began to lick it off.

"Dead," Dorian said weakly, his head thudding back against the door. "Venhedis."

Bull chuckled, and looked him directly in the eye as he finished. Dorian shook his head, amazed.

"Well," he said, as Bull carefully helped him down. "This is not quite how I expected this evening to go."

"That's a pretty solid sum up."

Chapter Text

The ride home was shockingly bland. Dorian had half expected it to be awkward, but Bull was cheerful and relaxed about the whole affair. Dorian had attempted to return the favor, only to be firmly told no on the grounds that Bull enjoyed the long simmer.

As he locked his door behind him, the realization of what they'd done hit him, and he slid down the door, shivering a little. He'd been in Skyhold, with his friends and new acquaintances just a few doors down. How could he have been such a fool?

This is the South, his more rational self reminded him. You know full well that the South does not care. Even Cullen's admitted to personal fraternizing in the ranks of the Templars.

He buried his face in his hands, breathing deeply. Everything was fine. Honestly, with the looks he'd been given, he was sure they'd be more surprised if he told them it had been just him getting off. Sera certainly wasn't very subtle, and between Varric's smirk and Cassandra's blush he knew any reputation of chastity was dead and buried. And so what?

He straightened up, his heart lightening. This was the South, after all. The South, where no one knew or cared, and where he could be happy.

"Oh," he whispered to his silent apartment. "There's a thought."

oOo

"I don't want a word out of you," was the first thing out of Krem's mouth as Bull finally reached the top of the stairs at the fire house. Bull chuckled, taking one look at his lieutenants consternated expression and immediately understanding.

"Jealousy's a bad look on you, Krem-puff," he said, going over to the desk and dropping into the chair next to him. Krem glared, the sword shaped letter opener twirling between his fingers.

"I'm many things, but jealous is not one of them." His accent had thickened considerably, and he huffed, looking back down at his paperwork.

Bull sighed, leaning back in the chair. "Krem," he said quietly, watching as the others played a game of Wicked Grace in the corner, "don't think I've forgotten. I love you no less for my interest in Dorian." He rose, bones aching, and ruffled Krem's hair to get a squawk of protest out of him. "Come on, you need to relax. I'll deal with the paperwork- and don't you grouch at me, I know what I'm doing."

Krem groaned, and let himself be pulled away.

oOo

That morning, as the next shift came in, Bull found himself putting the final signature on the papers, Krem curled into a little ball on Bull's bed rather than his own. Smiling fondly, he slid the file into the drawer and went to wake him.

Krem groaned, squinting blearily up at him.

"C'mon, kid," he said quietly. "Let's get you home."

Krem groggily reached up, and for a brief, heartstopping moment Bull remembered.

Flames, all around. The body on the ground beside the shaved head, the bruises and split lip, the eye swollen shut. Heat, heat, so much heat. He was a fool, he should have brought the gear, but he's basically fireproof- the hand, shockingly dainty reaching out for him, pleading. The ceiling caving, the look of despair-

In front of the body, electrical wires split like a cat o' nine tails, sudden darkness on his left, reaching up up up

This broken child on the floor, barely grown, will not die today. He will not allow it.

There is prayer on his lips, a plea for strength he does not possess. There were children lost in Seheron, he cannot lose this one.

"Chief?"

Reality snapped back, and he shook his head sharply. Krem was in front of him, his neck craned back in concern.

"Been about three years now," he said softly, and Krem swallowed hard, looking down.

"Guess it has, Chief. You were saying something about home?"

Bull looked around, seeing the body pile of Rocky, Skinner, and Grim in the corner on a pile of cushions plundered from who knew where. Dalish, Stitches, Krem, his. The Chargers, hale and hearty, his station ringing with life and joy despite the flames, despite the bodies, despite all the times they weren't quite fast enough. His children, his pride and joy.

"I follow the Qun," he said abruptly. "But I would see it burn before I give you up."

Krem's eyes widened, and he said, very softly, "Thank you, Chief. Let's get you home."

Chapter Text

Cullen showed up at Dorian's apartment at precisely noon, armed with a chess board and a bottle of truly terrifying alcohol. Dorian stared at him as he set it up.

"Cullen," he said carefully, "not that I'm not thrilled past words to see you, but this is the day off for both of us, and as I recall you had plans for the afternoon."

After a long fight on the matter, everyone had given in and understood that Lavellan could be forced to do nothing on Fridays, and so everyone in Skyhold had an excellent three day weekend. Unfortunately, this meant that the rest of the week was very stressful.

"My plans decided that we should just be friends, and that I wouldn't be good enough to bring home to their parents," Cullen said without looking up, his eyes firmly fixed on the board.

"Oh." Well then. Dorian knew that Cullen dated (or rather, attempted to date), but this was just depressing. After the mess from the last date (which he was stood up on), Dorian had expected Cullen to wait a bit, but clearly that wasn't the case. "Maybe you should take a break from that online dating thing," he said gently, and winced as Cullen's shoulders slumped.

They began the game, Dorian taking white, and by the third move Cullen sighed. "I'm starting to think this is all pointless," he mumbled. "I just want to meet someone nice, who doesn't want to wear my skin as a suit, and who can cook a reasonable apple pie."

"Not exactly a tall order," Dorian agreed, shaking his head in sympathy. "Maybe you'll get lucky and someone will just fall into your lap."

Cullen looked up, a hint of pink on his cheeks. "I don't want them in my lap!"

"Then in your arms! Maker, I swear you never actually left the Chantry."

oOo

They ended up at the cafe just across the street, and Dorian raised his eyebrows when Cullen's phone began buzzing dramatically every few seconds. Cullen grimaced, taking one look at the cause and turning it off.

"Who was that?" he asked mildly, burying himself in blissful coffee so rich in sugar and cream it was practically illegal.

"Lavellan. Apparently she caught wind of this whole thing and decided sending me pictures of- of various body parts would improve my mood." Cullen spoke smoothly, but the blush on his cheeks said otherwise.

"She's sending you dick pics, isn't she."

"I never said that!"

"It was loudly implied, dear."

Cullen buried his face in his hands, groaning, and Dorian chuckled. "You're terrible."

"It's been said."

The door jingled, and Dorian raised an eyebrow as he saw Krem come in. He wasn't an unattractive man, especially for a Soporati, and those arms were a work of rippling art. "What about him?"

"I'm straight, Dorian."

"Are you absolutely sure on that?"

"Shut up." Cullen reluctantly raised his head, looking over. "Who are you looking at?"

Dorian sipped his coffee, relishing the sweetness for a moment before nodding at Krem. "Him. "

Krem glanced over just as Cullen figured out who Dorian meant, and lifted one eyebrow rather sardonically. Dorian gave a fingerwave as Cullen's head snapped back around, blushing hotly.

"No.”

"Oh, come on, he's a very good looking man," Dorian argued. "Besides, he's one of Bull's Chargers. The lieutenant, if I remember right."

Krem came over just in time to hear Cullen hiss, "I'm straight, damn you."

"Heard that one before. Hello, Krem."

Cullen just about fell off his chair, and Krem gave him a bemused look before turning to Dorian. "Did you need something, Vint?"

"Just wondering why you were here," Dorian said easily, slipping into Tevene for the hell of it. Judging by Krem's scowl, he'd hit a nerve.

"If you have to know, it's because this is the only place in the whole damn South you can get decent Minrathin style coffee," he growled in Tevene, eyes narrowing. "What, did you think I wasn't classy enough for this place?"

"Not what I meant. I know the stations further downtown, so I figured you mostly haunted down there," Dorian said with a shrug. "Oh, have you met Cullen?"

Krem blinked, thrown off guard, and turned to look at the still bright red Commander of the Inquisition forces, Lion of Ferelden, former Knight-Captain of Kirkwall itself, who was frantically trying to mop up a bit of spilled coffee.

"You have strange friends, Vint," he said, and switched back to Trade. "No, I haven't."

"Cullen Rutherford," Dorian said, grinning a little as Cullen looked up like a startled halla. "Commander of the Inquisition troops."

"Hi," Cullen managed, shaking hands.

"Cremisius Aclassi," Krem said shortly. "Call me Krem. I'm with Bull's Chargers."

"Ah, yes." Cullen was looking more and more like a tomato every passing second, and Dorian took pity on him.

"I'm going to be hosting a party later in the month, just Wicked Grace and some drinking," he offered. "The 27th. If you're available, I'd love to have someone who can rant with me about the state of this frigid wasteland."

Cullen let out a grumble of annoyance, which both of the ex-pats ignored. "Sounds reasonable," Krem said grudgingly. "I'll see what I can do."

"You, Bull, and the rest of the Chargers are free to attend," Dorian said with a shrug, even as his mind screamed that there was no possible way he was actually going to throw a party when he could barely stomach social interaction at bars. But it seemed like his traitor mouth had just decided it was going to happen. "I understand if work doesn't allow for everyone to come, but it's about time I aggravated my neighbors."

That got a bit of a smile out of Krem, and Dorian had to keep from punching the air in elation. "I'll tell the Chief, and for Andraste's sake try not to fuck it up tonight. He's way more excited about this whole dating thing than he should be. Cullen, good afternoon."

Cullen stammered a goodbye, and Krem sauntered away. Dorian didn't miss how Cullen's eyes followed him.

"So, sticking with that straight thing?"

"Shut up."

oOo

Cullen disappeared around 3 to allow Dorian to primp for his date, and by the time 5 o'clock rolled around Dorian was impeccably dressed and dusted in gold.

Despite knowing full well he was looking entirely too eager, he waited for Bull out on the steps of his building. He wasn't waiting long, the rumble of the motorcycle announcing Bull's arrival sooner than he was in eyesight.

It was a beautiful machine, Dorian had to admit. It was jet black and chrome, with aggressive lines and Bull's station number made of flames as decor on the front.

"Show off," he called as Bull came to a halt, grinning up at him.

"You love it."

Dorian wasn't about to admit he did, climbing on and accepting the helmet with just a bit of annoyance about his hair.

"So, where are we going?"

oOo

Dorian was a work of art.

He'd just about stolen Bull's breath when he saw him on the steps, the light coming down to make him gleam. Those eyes, the hair, the delicate little details on his face and that damn mustache so perfectly trimmed, all wrapped up in black pants, the one sleeved white shirt, and a long black duster with golden snakes. He noted that Dorian hadn't brought his staff, and felt a swell of pride to be so trusted.

The ride was short, and when they arrived at the park he couldn't help the grin as Dorian let out a breathless, "You set this all up for me?"

He'd managed to wrangle an entire evening at one of the small parks, and large braziers had been set up around a picnic dinner. Little lanterns had been hung in the trees, courtesy of Cullen and Lavellan (who had bickered nonstop), and while the grass wasn't green the blanket was large and comfortable. Josephine had given pillows for the occasion.

Dorian climbed off, looking around in awe. Bull climbed off, wrapping an arm around him, and Dorian leaned in, tiny tucked into his side.

"Thought you deserved something nice."

Dorian was silent for some time, and finally said, so soft it was barely audible, "No one's ever done something like this for me."

Bull's heart squeezed, and he remembered. Tevinter, land of murdered gay children, land of arranged marriage, land of loveless relationships. On impulse, he leaned down and gently kissed him.

"Well, they should have," he said firmly, and it was worth it to see Dorian brighten up, smiling like the sun. "Now. Let's have dinner."

Chapter Text

Dorian couldn't help laughing when he saw the food that Bull had managed to put together for the picnic. He lifted the bowl of peeled grapes, delighted. "Did you do this yourself?"

Bull laughed, carefully sitting down. "No. I got Skinner to do those for me. I did put together the rest though."

Dorian beamed, sitting cross legged and taking in the spread. "Oh, kebabs! Vinegar hen, isn't it?"

"Indeed. I managed to get a pineapple as well." Bull handed over a bowl of rings and Dorian all but hugged it, overjoyed.

"No one here eats pineapples," he said, a little choked up.

Bull's smile widened, and he picked up a long skewer of the hen. "Better eat it for us then."

Dorian dug in, loading down a plate. He felt better than he had in a month just for seeing food from home. "You're very kind, to do this for me. I don't think many Qunari have much of a taste for Tevinter street food."

"That's a pretty accurate statement," Bull said, plucking out a pineapple ring. "But I've learned to love it. Krem's a big fan of ascelli."

Dorian made an approving noise despite stuffed cheeks. Bull laughed, and passed him a bowl of tiny sweetrolls covered in sticky powdered sugar. Dorian's eyes bulged. "Malasadas?"

"That's right."

"You're the best," he said fervently, grabbing the bowl. "Definitely getting laid. Absolutely. I don't even care."

oOo

Bull watched him fondly, the bliss on his face well worth the time it had taken to talk Krem into making them. Krem didn't like to cook very much, so this was a definite victory for Bull.

Once Dorian had finished rhapsodizing on the joy of malasadas, he turned to Bull with a gleam in his eye. "20 questions."

Bull raised his eyebrow, opening the bottle of champagne he'd brought. "As in, you think of something and I try to guess what it is?"

"No, 20 questions to get to know each other better. No holds barred." Dorian held out his glass and made an approving noise as he sipped it. "I'm not going to ask how cheap this was."

"Good choice. And I think that'd be just fine, but we're both allowed two skips," Bull countered. He could think of a few things that neither of them were likely to want to discuss. Seheron hung like a chain around his neck.

"That's fair." Dorian closed his eyes blissfully at the taste of the meat, and Bull took another bite of his. He'd been skeptical when Krem had suggested it, but the vinegar had turned it sweet from the tenderizing, and it practically fell apart in his mouth. "So. Shall you go first, or shall I?"

"Go ahead." Bull grinned as Dorian sat back up, his eyes bright with enthusiasm.

"Most recent purchase in a store?"

"Condoms," Bull said mildly, and laughed as Dorian sputtered. "You asked! Favorite food from Fereldan?"

Dorian glowered, looking away. "The ale. It's grown on me like a fungal infection."

"And I bet you've never told Cullen." Bull cackled, thrilled. For someone who claimed to have left his homeland behind, Cullen was always the first person to start waving the Fereldan flag at the slightest show of people attempting to gentrify New Haven in the Orlesian direction. His patriotism was a little hilarious.

"Indeed I have not. When did you move to New Haven?"

"Seven months ago, and became Chief six. How about you?"

Dorian grimaced. "Two months ago. It was a somewhat foolish, angry move on my part, but I don't regret it. Who was the last person you called?"

"Lavellan. She wanted to know if she could take pictures of us on our date. I told her no. What do you sing in the shower?"

Dorian went bright red, looking awkwardly away. "Mean. You know that ballad Bard Maker? I sometimes get a little dramatic."

Bull laughed, thrilled. "You and Krem. I think I have that whole song memorized."

"Figures. What about you?"

"The Mages' Staff has a Knob on the End."

Dorian stared, clearly confused. "I'm not familiar with that."

"It's a Fereldan folk song. Ask Cullen to sing it for you sometime. I'm sure he'd be only too delighted." Bull ate another piece of hen to keep from laughing at the expression on Dorian's face.

"Very well. Have you ever been to Minrathous?"

"Yes. Have you ever been to the Kocari Wilds?"

"Indeed not. Are you glad to be posted here? What with the snow and everything."

Bull took a moment to consider this. "Yes," he said after a minute or so. "There are many other places that I would have liked to go, but now I'm here I'm grateful that I've got the chance to meet the Inquisition and all the others. How do you feel about the Inquisition?"

The questions dissolved into talk about the Inquisition and Dorian's new found acquaintances. By the time the sun was setting, they were both comfortably relaxed, and Dorian had ended up resting in Bull's lap under one of the lantern lit trees. They watched the sun set, and Dorian murmured, "This has been a very, very good day."

"Yeah?" Bull leaned over, and Dorian shivered as he felt the carefully hidden away bruises be revealed. He wasn't going to admit it, but just running his fingers over them had been enough to get him off in the morning. "I think it's been pretty good too."

Dorian bit back a groan as clever fingers trailed over the bruises, marks of ownership, desire, things he'd never had. They said, you are wanted wanted wanted.

"Now the question is if I'm coming home with you," Bull purred, and Dorian shuddered as his toes curled. That damn bass rumble went right to his bones in all the best ways.

"Ask nice and maybe I'll say yes."

Bull's laugh had him squirming, but not as much as the teeth sinking into the tender mark on his neck. "We're in public!"

"And you make the sweetest sounds when you're pretending to be scandalized," Bull purred, one huge hand keeping Dorian firmly pinned. "You want out, the word is katoh."

Dorian hesitated, eyes darting back and forth as he assessed the situation. He knew Bull was waiting to see if he'd pushed too far, and he was still trying to decide that himself. He'd done far worse than this in far more public places as a younger man. But this was the South, wild and strange, even with their propriety backwards and their uncaring nature to tastes like his. He didn't have to worry so much about being hauled away and beaten here.

Slowly, he relaxed again. "I don't...mind. However, I prefer to be at home for this sort of thing. After all...I do have those lovely wall length windows."

"Now that is tempting."

Chapter Text

Dorian was a little jittery as they went back to his apartment, the picnic left for others to grab (“I’ve needed a punishment for Dalish for a good week now, this’ll work just fine.”). He shifted awkwardly back and forth as Bull stood calmly in the elevator, saddlebags from the bike thrown over his shoulder. When they arrived on his floor it was everything he could do not to bolt immediately. What if his neighbors walked out? There were two magisters in the building, what had he been thinking-

A firm hand on his shoulder made the fear slide away, and as he fumbled his keys out he couldn’t help the little moan that slid out as a finger pressed firmly to one of the marks on his neck. “Rude.”

“Can’t help that you make such sweet noises.” Bull’s hand stayed firmly wrapped around the back of his neck as they fell inside, and as Dorian closed the door he was pushed up against it.

“You have a kink,” he accused, and Bull laughed deep in his throat.

“More than one, little mage.” Dorian scowled at him, struggling a little just to test Bull’s grip, and let out a little whimper as sharp teeth scraped over his neck. He went pleasantly limp, and Bull chuckled, fingers sliding down to tease at his belt. “Remember the word?”

“Katoh,” Dorian said, bumping his hips up into Bull’s hand. “Come on, I’m not made of glass.”

Bull grinned, stepping back and admiring him. “You’re gonna be fun to take apart.”

Dorian made a noise of disgust, shrugging out of his coat and tossing it with ease onto the hook. Bull’s smirk was the only acknowledgement of the trick, and he set to undoing all the suddenly irritating buckles and straps that covered his clothes. While fashionable and certainly a good choice to make jaws drop and eyes widen, it was decidedly impractical to get out of. When the shirt hit the floor the boots were kicked off as well, socks following, and he hesitated, fingers tapping nervously against the top of his pants.

“I’m waiting,” Bull said, a hint of disapproval in his tone, and Dorian slowly slid them down. Bull made a soft, pleased noise, and Dorian went bright red, looking down.

“Oh, you’re too good to me,” Bull whispered, stepping forward and cupping him in one huge hand. “Look at you.”

Black silk with lace. It was hard to even think the words, harder still to acknowledge that he’d put them on just to impress. They were very Orlesian, made for men but effortlessly feminine. He’d spotted them on his travels and couldn’t bear it when he saw they were clearance. The first thing he’d ever bought on sale, and he’d bought six pairs, a tiny acknowledgement to himself that it was fine to like clothes that were more effeminate. Fashion was one thing, but personal pleasure? Had his family known, he would have been beaten, but here... He bit his lip as Bull ran his finger along the soft silk, following his aching cock and flicking them down to expose the head. He closed his eyes when Bull gasped, delighted.

“Well, well. You are the most delectable thing I may have ever seen.” He flicked the thin ring, and Dorian keened, embarrassed at how good it felt to have someone praise him for this. “How many do you have?”

“Seven,” Dorian said quietly. “If you count them as pairs.”

He felt his cheeks heat up as felt Bull begin counting. Four on his helix, two on his lobes, the cock piercing, and then…

“Oh, you are too good,” Bull praised, stroking his nipples and finding the delicate bars matched perfectly to his skin tone. “I’m impressed. You hide those well.”

Dorian couldn’t help but feel a little proud. “They’re custom made. I was planning on the gold ones, but I wasn’t really sure how you’d react.”

“So good to me,” Bull said fervently, easily picking him up and carrying him over his shoulder to the living room, where the sun was setting and created a glare on the glass. No one would be able to see in, and that was exactly what they both wanted.

“Savage,” Dorian snorted as Bull set him down, and Bull just grinned.

“Go get the lube, and you’ll see how savage I get.”

oOo

Fingering was not normally something Dorian was all that interested in, but he was willing to make a lifetime exception if Bull kept doing whatever the hell he was doing.

Trussed up in red rope, pressed against the glass of his window, with four fingers in his ass and bites all over his back, he was willing to make a lifetime exception for The Iron Bull, in all honesty. Half out of his mind with pleasure, on the deliciously sweet edge of comfort and light pain, teeth on his neck, and he could sing the praises of this man until his dying day. The Iron Bull was good.

The fingers disappeared, and he whined at the loss. Bull laughed softly, one huge hand reaching up to carefully hold his neck. Dorian went pleasantly pliant, basking in the attention he knew was roving over him.

“Have I mentioned that I love the tattoos yet?” Bull rumbled, and Dorian went bright pink. Lovingly rendered in jet black and brilliant gold ink on his back were two massive cobras twined around each other, flowers and animal skulls on them like garlands. Further down was a less lovingly rendered, plain inscription on his hip: Ne obliviscaris. Do not forget. “You keep yourself so tightly bundled up in all those layers, showing just the slightest hint of skin, when really you’re hiding all this underneath. Dinner’s going to be fun this week.”

“Bastard,” Dorian said without much heat, shivering as Bull leaned in to nose the tender spot behind his ear, tongue flicking out to stroke over one of the tender bites that he definitely wasn’t going to be able to cover without a serious scarf. His hand tightened just a bit as the thick, blunt head of his cock started pushing in, and Dorian groaned, resting heavily on the glass and pushing back into him. The rope kept his arms firmly behind his back, though he knew the knots could be undone with the quick pull of a single strand, and he knew he’d have rope burn in the morning.

Definitely worth it.

“Fuck,” Bull growled in his ear, “how long’s it been for you? Four fingers and you’re still tight.”

“Over a year,” Dorian admitted, and Bull groaned. Dorian felt the nails digging into his hip as Bull kept himself from shoving in, hard. And that shouldn’t be as hot as it was, oh fuck.

“You’re going to kill me,” Bull growled again, and they both moaned a little as he bottomed out. Dorian was panting, and Bull’s slow, ragged pulls for breath ruffled his hair. There was something distinctly delicious about knowing he was completely and utterly pinned by someone a good two feet taller who would let him go in a heartbeat. The illusion of being controlled, while he still had all the control in the world. He shuddered, pressing back into him.

“I’m not going to last long,” he warned. There’d been a few close calls just when he was being trussed up, the rope leaving him near breathless with desire. He’d missed the ropes badly.

“As good as you’ve been, I don’t mind,” Bull chuckled, and slowly started a rhythm that nearly knocked the breath out of him. The hand on his neck stayed loose, a comforting weight, and Dorian thought longingly of a collar for all of two seconds before firmly banishing the idea from his mind. He’d seen the “slave” collars submissives wore in the more depraved clubs in Tevinter, and he wanted nothing of the sort. No spikes, or “property of” tags, no plays at slavery when they owned people at home- No, he would much prefer just a thin chain, the tiniest reminder that he was wanted, one with a clasp that would allow him to walk away whenever he pleased.

As if knowing what he was thinking of, Bull’s hand tightened on his neck, and Dorian let out a wail as he came, pinned down, arms behind him, Bull thick and hot inside him.

oOo

After two more rounds (once, even on the bed), they lay panting and laughing a little as they recovered together. Dorian lay sprawled out on him, not even caring that he’d have serious clean up to do in the morning. Everything was bright and easy, his heart light for once. Here, he knew, he was safe.

“Where did you learn?” he asked as Bull finished wiping them both down. “The ropes, I mean.”

Bull smiled wryly. “Seheron, of all places. There was one club there, and talk of the war was illegal, so I ended up learning from a Tevinter rope master with too much time on his hands and no other willing students. You would have liked him, I think. Very brash man, but very kind when it counted.”

Dorian rolled onto him, stretching out along Bull’s body, and smiled when Bull shook his head in amusement. “I’m glad. I learned from whores.” He said it matter of factly. “I was maybe 16 and an idiot, and found my way to the not very well hidden gay brothel on holiday, and spent the next six weeks learning everything I could. Once they saw where my tastes lay, they sent me to the actual hidden brothel when I was 18. That was actually where I met Alexius.”

“And who’s Alexius?” Bull asked, one broad hand stroking down Dorian’s back, trailing over the cobras.

“My former master,” Dorian said, eyes fluttering as he savored the touch. “He all but bought me off my father when he realized that I was killing myself with drink and drugs and so forth instead of working on projects with merit.” He lifted his arm, showing the track marks there, faded scars. “Beat the drugs, couldn’t ever quite kill the taste for drink. Thankfully, he had a very competent Healer who could kill the addiction to what I was taking, and planted a distaste for it so severe my body would reject allowing me to inject it if I ever tried again.”

He wasn’t looking Bull in the eyes anymore. “His son, Felix, is a few years younger than me, a very competent spirit healer. He was quite scared of me at first, but we’ve grown close. He helped me through the worst of it. And then everything went sideways with my father, and then I came here.” He let his head fall on Bull’s chest, the hand not stopping in its slow strokes. “I should have told you before. I understand-“ his voice failed him for a moment. “I understand if you don’t want to risk having me around.”

Bull was silent, and Dorian’s heart started to pound. This had the potential to fall apart so fast, and he should have kept his mouth shut-

“Thank you,” Bull said softly. “Thank you for telling me. I know it’s not easy.” His hand found its way to Dorian’s hair, gently stroking. “I told you I was in Seheron. It’s a little more complicated than just fire fighting. I… how do I put this? I was a spy, of a sort. You know the Ben Hassrath?”

Dorian’s head shot up, and he stared. “You are the least inconspicuous person I’ve ever met,” he said, staring in amazement. “Yes, I know of the Ben Hassrath.”

Bull chuckled, ruffling his hair. “It’s amazing what people will tell you when you’re loud, drunk, and fun in bars.”

“Amazing,” Dorian murmured, lying back down. “So you just passed information on?”

“Yes. And I regret doing so. At the time, of course, I thought I was doing the right thing, but as I look back I realize how wrong I was.” He sighed, and Dorian scooted up a little so his head rested under Bull’s chin. One thick, muscled arm draped over his waist. “I think, now, that we should have left Seheron, Tevinter and Qunari alike. Leave it to the people who had it before us.”

“I agree,” Dorian said quietly, his hand coming up to feel for the absence of a leather collar, his magic flaring to remind him he wasn’t bound, and he never would be again without his consent.

Bull squeezed him gently, and Dorian felt his limbs grow heavy as exhaustion finally hit.

Chapter Text

The buzz of his phone, followed by a mechanical, “oh beautiful one you have a call!” of his ringtone had Dorian blearily reaching for it as Bull growled in his suddenly disturbed sleep. “Oh, hush, I’ll deal with this,” he muttered. The number was local, not familiar, and he was ready to murder whoever had dared call him at- he checked the clock- 3:43 AM.

“This had better be good,” he snarled as he answered.

“Dorian?”

He sat up, rolling off Bull, who opened his eye to look down in peeved annoyance. “Solas? Vishante kaffas, why are you calling me?”

“Yours was the only number I could remember,” Solas said, his voice tinny and dripping with personal affront on the other end. “Believe me, I would not have done so otherwise. I need you to call Cullen and have him bail me out of prison.”

There were a few ways Dorian could have answered that, but he had suddenly lost the ability to make sense of words. “I’m sorry, my ears must be mistaken. Solas, I could have sworn you said you needed to be bailed out of prison.”

“Oh boy,” Bull said behind him, in the kind of tones that suggested he knew entirely too well what was going on. Dorian shot him a look as he turned on the lamp by the bedside table. It was a distinctly guilty expression.

There was silence on the end of the line.

“Solas?” Dorian said, with terrifying patience. “Why are you in prison?”

“…It may be for alleged aggravated assault with a moderately deadly weapon against the Dean of Magical Theory at the university,” Solas said. “Alleged.”

Dorian took a deep breath, feeling a headache build between his eyes. “Solas,” he said patiently, “I don’t know if you’ve missed this, but elf rights are kind of shit right now, and the Dean of Magical Theory is, in fact, human. And a grand enchanter. And has the ear of one Lady Vivienne, also grand enchanter, who is our emissary from Orlais and thus someone we have to keep happy.”

“I’m aware of all that, Dorian.”

“And yet,” he said, a bit of temper bleeding in, “despite asking you not to act on what I told you, you seem to have done just that.”

“It does appear that way. Allegedly.”

“Lavellan is going to kill you.”

The was silence, and then, “He had a girl with him, Dorian.”

Dorian went very still, and leaned into Bull as an arm wrapped around him. “Was she all right?”

“She will be. In time. She was drugged and very scared. I allegedly lost it a little bit and allegedly pummeled him into a very bloody lump. Allegedly.”

Dorian could feel the shaking start, and a few traitorous tears pricked at his eyes. If only, a little piece of him thought wistfully. If only there had been someone for him, all the years ago when he was young and foolish and easily coerced into rooms he couldn’t have been in. But Solas had been there for this girl, and that was enough to heal a little bit of the wounds. Grouchy, bad tempered Solas, who had been so enraged, who didn’t even like him that much and had gone to confront the person who’d tried to hurt him.

“Solas?” he said quietly.

“Yes?”

“I’ll come get you.”

oOo

Because it had to be done, Cullen was called. Dorian wasn’t surprised that he was still up, working on paperwork rather than moping. He was furious, and Dorian patiently endured a 20 minute rant on mage and elf rights (Cullen had apparently been talking with Lavellan about the Dalish again), but agreed to let Lavellan know, and by the time Dorian and Bull arrived at the prison in Dorian’s rather tiny crossover Dorian was considerably calmer.

As Solas was brought out, looking utterly unrepentant, he said firmly, “You owe me for this. I was having a very nice evening.”

The officers glanced at The Iron Bull, who grinned and wiggled an eyebrow. They blanched.

With Solas firmly ensconced in the car, they headed back in near silence. Bull was sitting very still and slightly diagonal, so as not to punch holes in the roof of the car, and Dorian kept taking slow, calming breaths.

“I don’t regret it,” Solas said abruptly. “She is quite young and was very scared.”

Dorian said nothing, the tiniest hint of a smile on his face.

“Also, I broke his nose. Allegedly. And it was allegedly worth it.”

Dorian looked over at Bull, who swallowed a smile. He knew they both felt proud, as he’d filled Bull in on the situation, but could hardly say so to Solas’s face.

oOo

Morning came, and with it Dorian’s fear returned. He felt the knot in his chest ease as Bull leaned down for a quick kiss while he plated up breakfast.

“How’s that lovely ass of yours?” he asked, and Dorian grimaced.

“I’m going to be walking a little slowly today,” he admitted. “I’ll see if I can beg something off of the healers. It’s nice, though. It’s been quite some time since I was so stretched out.”

Bull chuckled, running a thumb over the marks he’d put on Dorian’s neck. “Next question is how you want to play this. Obviously Cullen and Lavellan know I’m pretty invested in you, and Solas might not particularly like either of us but approves. This whole dating thing seems like it could be fun, and I’d like to keep doing that, but I know Tevinter tends to frown on it. So, do you want me to act like this is just a fling? Be loud and obnoxious about it very definitely just being sex so you can be prickly about it and able to deny?”

Dorian was almost dizzy with relief. “Please. I hate to make you do it, but that’s likely the safest way to go about this. I know my father likely has eyes that’ll soon be upon me, and I’d rather they didn’t catch you in the crossfire when that happens.”

Bull gently stroked his hair, his eyes worried. “I know I don’t have the whole story of your life, just like you don’t have mine, but if you ever have to run, run to me. I’ve spent a good three quarters of my life in a war zone, I know how to handle myself.”

Dorian wrapped his arms around him, feeling peace wash over him. “You should tell Krem,” he murmured as Bull rested his chin on his head. “He’ll know how to look for slavers or slave hunters.”

“Do you think he’ll send them for you?”

Dorian sighed, heart sinking as he tightened his grip. “I think it pays to be prepared for the worst.”

oOo

To everyone except Dorian, Cullen and Solas’s yelling match was extremely unexpected. Dorian ignored the sound of breaking crockery and thrown books from the good commanders office, wincing when he felt the bone deep thump of Silence that precluded even higher voices, now with Lavellan joining in. Cullen had made huge progress in his views on mages and elves thanks to his time with the Inquisition, but Dorian knew he still had plenty of old trauma and warped worldview to work through. They were much the same in that regard.

He was in the middle of a very complicated Arcanum translation when he felt eyes on him.

Two people stood before him. One was Cole, hat and all, and the other was a dainty, dark haired elf with huge green eyes and pretty vallaslin. She carried a staff, and couldn’t have looked more Dalish if she tried.

“Hello?” He said slowly, and she went bright pink.

“Oh, hello! Are you Dorian?”

Oh no. She was adorable.

“Dorian Pavus, at your service,” he said, standing up to bow. She blushed brighter than Cullen, dainty hands covering her mouth.

“Oh! I’m Merrill. I-I wanted to thank you for helping free hahren Solas last night. He saved my life. I would have been able to handle myself, but I was drugged.”

Her accent was thick and sweet, very charming.

So this was the girl. No wonder Solas had been so angry. She was so sweet she was practically spun sugar, and an elf at that. While Solas made no secret his disdain for the Dalish, this was still a young woman who was clearly not meant for the cutthroat and often cruel world of academia.

“You’re quite welcome. While we might not be the closest of friends, Solas is… important to me.” He smiled at her, and she beamed. Maker, she was like a tiny, portable cheering spell.

Cole abruptly piped up, “I like her. She helps people, even if it’s not the normal helping.”

“Always good to have more of that around.”

oOo

Cullen was the one to hunt down Dorian at noon, Solas having been hauled off by Lavellan for further discussion of his actions. Dorian could tell the second he saw him that Cullen had hit a bad patch in his withdrawals, and was about to open his mouth in concern when Merrill, who’d been reading at his feet, launched herself up.

“Knight-Captain! You’re actually here!”

Cullen stared at the elf for a minute, and then something clicked. “Oh, Maker preserve me. I’m hallucinating.”

Merrill looked uncertainly over at Dorian, who sighed. “No, Cullen, she’s real. This is the girl Solas saved last night.”

“I was offered a scholarship to the university, but I don’t think I’m going to take it,” she said, and Cullen stared.

“Suddenly Hawke’s evasiveness about elves makes sense,” Cullen said slowly. “Merrill, isn’t it?”

She beamed at him. “You remembered! I wondered if you would, I mean, it wasn’t like we talked very much. At all. Ever.”

Cullen looked back at Dorian. “You’re sure she’s real?”

“Why is she here, why is she here? Is it punishment? A reminder? I left, they shouldn’t be here, why is she here, why is she real?” Cole said, his voice so like Cullen’s that Dorian felt chills up and down his spin.

“Cole, stop,” he said quietly as Cullen took a shaky step back, clearly wanting to bolt. “That’s hurting. Cullen, go down to the garden. I’ll grace you with my presence shortly.”

Cullen fled, and Dorian pinched at the bridge of his nose, the migraine starting certain to get worse before it got better. Merrill and Cole looked at him uncertainly, not sure what to do.

“So. You must be from Kirkwall.”

Chapter Text

By the time Dorian made his way to the garden, Cullen had found a bottle of brandy and half of it was gone.

“Far be it from me to criticize alcoholic coping mechanisms,” Dorian said, prying the bottle away from a reluctant fist, “but please remember you have training this afternoon with very sharp weapons. I’ve grown quite accustomed to that handsome face of yours, and I’d like you to keep it.”

Cullen snorted, and Dorian noticed that all the pieces were placed very precisely in the center of their squares. Ah. So it was going to be one those days.

He sat, and the game began. Dorian launched into a story about his father attempting to do laundry as a way of thinking he could connect with the “common man” and ruining his mothers favorite silk nightgown among other things. He let his hands linger on Cullen’s to give him the attention he needed so badly, flirted outrageously to make him laugh, obviously cheated, constantly stole from his plate of chips when they arrived via a runner Dorian had flagged in the hall, and gently teased when Cullen tried to steal them back. By the time he’d captured Cullen’s divine the man was obviously better than he had been.

Despite his success with the Divine, Cullen beat him in about three moves. After the appropriate amount of complaining and gloating, Dorian was surprised when Cullen said, “You should keep her as an assistant.”

“Who, Merrill?”

Cullen nodded, a little pale but determined. “I’ll arrange for a stipend.”

“Cullen, I don’t need an assistant.”

“But she needs something to keep her mind busy, and I… I owe a great debt.” Cullen ran a hand through his hair, struggling for words for a moment. “How much do you know about Kirkwall?”

Dorian considered, choosing his words carefully. He knew, much as everyone knew, that Cullen had been in Kirkwall and seen terrible things. “I knew it was a nightmare,” he said slowly. “I know that there was a lot of corruption, that things went strange, and that something happened to a woman in charge of the Templars. Events at Kirkwall kickstarted the Inquisition. I know the Chantry exploded, and that the Circle was the worst place outside of the Tevinter fight pits for mages. If I’d been there, I’m sure I would have been forced Tranquil in a week, and believe me, I know what would happen if I turned Tranquil.”

Cullen shuddered. “I was Knight-Captain of Kirkwall,” he said lowly. “And whatever they tell you, every horror story of the Gallows, nothing comes close to how bad it was. It destroyed me, and I promise you… I am damned, not for what I did, but for what I did not do.” He ran a hand through his hair again, shuddering. “I am very, very grateful to serve under Lavellan. Without her, Maker knows what I would have become, or would think of mages or elves.”

“Just the fact that you recognize your faults is enough for me,” Lavellan said, startling them as she appeared beside the table. “Sorry. But I want to meet this Merrill girl. I think Solas is channeling the Dread Wolf and wants to take the University down brick by brick.”

“Why?”

“She won’t press charges,” Lavellan said. “With the drugs that were used, it would be too easy to claim she was high and came onto him.” She sighed in frustration. “So I’m pulling rank. I’m putting the University under the Justice of the Inquisition, which means a full purge of faculty while we see how far the corruption runs. At least it’s break right now, so the purge won’t affect classes.”

Dorian felt a pit of guilt open up. “I’ll testify if she will,” he said abruptly, Cullen’s words ringing in his ears. I am damned, not for what I did, but for what I did not do. “I don’t know if anyone will believe me, I have no proof, but I’ll do it. Enough is enough.”

oOo

Bull’s phone buzzed on the table, and he sighed as he grabbed it. Krem, across the table with a stack of cards, protested loudly as he answered.

“Hello?”

“Can you come to Skyhold?” Lavellan asked, no trace of happiness in her voice, and not the slightest hint of greeting. He was a little startled, and leaned back in his chair. It creaked dangerously.

“What’s happened, boss?”

“You’re the only person I trust could hold Cullen if he did something stupid. The girl Solas saved is from Kirkwall, and Dorian’s been helping him but frankly he needs some time to breathe and freak out a little. Cassandra’s out of town for some family thing, or I’d ask her.” Lavellan sounded like she was trying her best to stay calm, and only slightly succeeding. “Vivienne’s giving a lecture in town today, Blackwall has some emergency city council session.”

“And he won’t listen to anyone else,” Bull sighed, and Krem straightened up. “If I could, I would, but I’m on call.”

“I’m not,” Krem said, and Bull raised an eyebrow. “You have it on speaker again, Chief.”

“Oh, vashedan.”

Krem shook his head, exasperated. “Look, I’ll go up. Guy seems nice enough, and I can take you in a fight.”

Lavellan had been silent, but broke in. “I like it. Send Krem, then. I’ll tell the gate to expect him.”

The call went dead, and Bull pulled the phone away, unsettled. “She’s not well,” he murmured. “Must be really worried, sounding that serious. And do you even know how to find Cullen? What he looks like?”

“Tall, blonde, scar on the right side of his lip, looks like he needs to be fucked five ways from Sunday,” Krem deadpanned. “Cute, in a scruffy, puppy kind of way.”

Bull stared.

“Don’t look at me like that! He’s not a bad looking man!”

“Are you blushing?”

“Fuck off!”

Chapter Text

Old habits died hard, and by the time five o’clock hit Dorian was already drunk enough there was no way he was going home. The bar- excuse him, tavern- inside Skyhold did brisk business, and he was already well acquainted with the owner. Tonight he was firmly entrenched in alcohol and nowhere near coming out.

Lavellan found him about the time he settled by the fire and started staring moodily in, ruffling his hair and kissing his temple.

“You reek like beer,” she told him. “Fereldan beer, at that. Has Cullen finally swayed you?”

“I’m certain I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, acting as aloof as possible, and she gracefully sat down at his feet. He halfheartedly nudged her, to no response. “What are you doing?”

“Being companionable.” She rested her cheek on his knee, looking up with big eyes. He groaned, reaching for the bottle of bourbon and pouring himself another. He grimaced at the taste, letting his head thud back against the chair. Lavellan wrapped her arms around his leg, and his fingers fell to gently play with her hair. It was soft, untangled. She hadn’t had time to go running around to mess it up today it seemed. He wondered, not for the first time, if this was what having a sister was like.

“You don’t have to testify,” she said quietly, and oh, look, time for another drink. “I mean it, Dorian. The security footage alone is enough to damn him, and I’ll squash university politics in a heartbeat if it means saving people from pain. Merrill’s strong, but she’s not so strong as she can’t be wounded.”

His throat burned. “I can manage,” he said stiffly.

“Can and should are two different things,” she said softly, kissing his knee. “You know, all the Orlesian nobles used to call me terrible things. And I could take them. I could listen to the words and let them roll off me, and ignore them. But I realized that I should never do so, not as who I am. I’m not- I’m not a human. They will never treat me like one. But I’m going to fight until they recognize me as an equal.” She looked up at him, more serious than he’d ever seen. “To talk about what’s happened in order to heal, that’s one thing. To talk about it and make yourself reopen already festering wounds just to let them fester more, that’s another.”

He was silent, and she hugged his legs as he thought. The bourbon got lower and lower.

oOo

Merrill became his assistant, and Dorian went from “Tevinter dignitary of Cultural Relativism” to “Skyhold Head Librarian”, complete with a (rather small) paycheck that was immediately squirreled away into accounts his father couldn’t touch. His personal savings was dwindling to worrying numbers, and he hid the fear with laughter. Cole and Solas flitted out of the library, returning occasionally to check in between trials, investigations, allegations, and one attempted murder. Dorian felt like his hands were constantly tied, and substituted imagined bonds for real ones, letting Bull bind him and take him apart over and over.

He let the ropes burn his wrists and kept his collars high, scarves substituting when needed, drank too much and laughed too hard.

And then it was three days before his impromptu party idea, and Bull was standing in the kitchen with hunched shoulders and haunted eyes, and suddenly everything went strange.

oOo

“Do you know how names work, under the Qun?” Bull asked as he stood there, massive horns almost knocking against Dorian’s perfectly white painted cupboards. It was morning, and sunlight came in softly through the windows, highlighting all the scars on Bull’s body and leaving him a mass of grey, appearing almost like stone.

“It’s a job title, isn’t it?” Dorian asked, not paying much attention as he wrangled his pancakes onto a plate. It had been a very good night, and a turtleneck was sounding like a good idea.

“My name isn’t The Iron Bull.”

Something in his voice made Dorian pause, looking up. Bull was still as a statue, his eye fixed on the sink head.

“What is it then?”

Bull’s fingers tightened on the sink, and he took a slow breath. “Beres-taar.” He cleared his throat. “My name is Beres-taar. It means shield.”

Dorian felt like he was missing part of the conversation, and carefully set the plate down. It clicked softly on his counter, and Bull’s shoulders twitched a little.

“That seems like a good name,” Dorian said softly, walking over and resting a hand that seemed far too small on Bull’s forearm. “Very sturdy.”

Bull’s hand covered his, and Dorian shifted his weight, not sure where this had come from.

“I… received a call.” Bull’s voice was heavy. “The Qunari have no representative to the Inquisition for our people aside from me. I’m to be investigated to see if I need to be sent for reeducation. The Arishok is coming to meet with The Inquisition to see if I should be sent elsewhere and a new representative placed.”

Silence fell. Dorian could hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. It was as though someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over them both. Abruptly, he stepped back and opened the alcohol cabinet, pulling out a bottle of wine. Bull watched as he opened it and poured a large glass with shaking hands.

“How long do we have before they arrive?” he asked, and knocked back nearly half of it in one go.

“One week,” Bull said quietly. “Maybe less.”

“Venhedis.” Dorian sat down heavily at the bar, finished the wine glass, and went for the bottle. “I’m calling in. Fuck this, Merrill can handle herself and if she can’t, she has Varric there to chat with. It’s your day off, right?”

Bull nodded, turning around to face him head on. His face was completely unreadable.

“Okay. Okay. We’re going to get everything we need for this damn party, I’m going to try my best to not get royally drunk, and then you and I are going for a nice dinner and then, hopefully, some good old fashioned fucking away the feelings.” Dorian set the bottle down, looking Bull in the eye. “I don’t want them to take you. I’d rather fight my father all over again than the Arishok, but I will if I need to.”

Bull ducked his head, smiling a little, and Dorian walked over to pull him down by the horns to kiss him. The desperation worked in for both of them, and Dorian found himself whispering, “Not you, not you, they can’t have you,” in Tevene against Bull’s lips.

Chapter Text

The party was loud, the seating was cramped, and Bull watched as Dorian morphed from the borderline panicked man who’d tearfully insisted that people were going to hate him because of something to do with appropriate glasses to the life of the party. He flitted back and forth like a golden, mustachioed butterfly, and Bull settled in a corner to watch him fondly. Krem perched on the chair beside him, but his eyes were fixed on the perhaps a tad drunk Commander of the Inquisition, who was insisting wholeheartedly that Stitches was cheating at Diamondback.

“Copper for your thoughts?” He murmured, and Krem jolted a little.

“Gold’s what I’d require,” he replied on autopilot, scowling.

Bull hid his smile in a drink. “Just thinking you’re watching Cullen a little closely. Ow!” A sharp boot had met his side. “Just saying.”

Krem was about to retort when Cullen called, “Krem, back me up here!”

Rolling his eyes, he hopped off his chair and walked over to the Commander, who looked up at him pitifully. Dorian breezed past, taking the now vacated chair.

“Hey, pretty boy,” Bull smiled, letting Dorian huff in mock annoyance. They’d fallen into an easy routine of faking their we’re-only-in-it-for-the-sex routine, and Dorian was an old hat at acting thanks to growing up in Tevinter.

“Stop calling me that,” he grumbled, watching as Cullen looked pleadingly up to Krem, who laughed and retorted something. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

Bull considered the situation. “A very eager to please former templar and an ex-military firefighter who needs to get laid? Yep.” Dorian snorted into his glass, smiling as Merrill bounded over to tug on Solas’s sleeve, excitedly telling him about the bottle of wine in the kitchen. Solas indulgently followed her, glaring daggers over his shoulder at Dorian, who simply waved. Bull laughed, shaking his head. “She’s cute. How’s she working out for you?”

“Good. Perhaps a little over enthusiastic, but she’s competent and keeps making Solas talk, so I suppose she can stay.” Dorian yelped as Bull reached over and scooped him up with one arm into his lap. “Bull!”

Lavellan laughed as she passed them to the Wicked Grace table with Dalish and Skinner, winking. Bull winked back, making her laugh more, and Dorian settled back into him, doing his best to stay relaxed. Bull gently kissed the back of his neck, where a large mark had been too high to hide. “You squirm so much,” he teased gently, and Dorian elbowed his stomach. “Hey now. Save it for later.”

He had to admit, he loved the dusky flush that he could get on Dorian’s cheeks.

oOo

The party was a roaring success by all accounts, and Dorian somehow wound up in Bull’s lap for most of the night. By the end of it he was comfortably curled up with Bull’s arm around his waist, watching as Cullen and Krem talked in the corner of the kitchen. They were striking together, with Cullen’s pale coloring and hair and Krem’s dark tones to compliment. Krem was considerably shorter, and Dorian grinned as Cullen leaned down to murmur something to him. Most of the rest were gone, with just Varric, Stitches, Rocky, and Lavellan fighting it out with Josephine at the Wicked Grace table. The ambassador was beating them all soundly.

“Will you look at that,” he murmured to Bull, who chuckled softly. Krem definitely had control of the situation, and Cullen was clearly enjoying himself, his eyes bright with a kind of happiness Dorian hadn’t seen in a while.

“They’d be a good match politically as well as visually,” he said quietly. “We’ll have to see how that turns out.”

“Mmm.” Dorian tilted his head up as Bull’s fingers stroked over his neck, tucking his head under Bull’s chin. “Are you staying tonight?”

Bull shifted a bit, and Dorian moved to help get the pressure off of his bad knee. “That’s the plan. Unless you’d like me to go?”

“No, please. Stay.” He waited until Bull had set his beer down to twine their fingers together. He felt warm and sated, safe and secure in Bull’s grip. It had been a long time since he’d been so comfortable around so many people. The Alexius household was quiet and remote, Gereon insisting that he didn’t need interruptions, and the Pavus estate was far out in the countryside to ensure that no one could just arrive unannounced and interrupt Halward’s work. Even the townhome in Minrathous was set back in a convoluted mess of streets, far from others and the heart of the city. He’d grown accustomed to being away from people, and now here he was surrounded by them and happy because of it.

“Hey,” Bull murmured, and Dorian smiled as he watched Krem agree to take Cullen home. “Do we start placing bets now or later?”

“Now,” Dorian said immediately, and Bull chuckled. Dorian sat up, kissing him quickly before climbing off of him. “Fifty says they’re going at it by the end of the month.”

“End of the week,” Bull retorted, and Dorian kissed him again before heading over.

“- are strictly male, so I had to run for it,” Krem was saying, and looked over as Dorian approached. “Oh, it’s you.”

“In the flesh,” Dorian grinned, and laughed when Cullen beamed at him. “Someone’s in a good mood.”

Cullen was flushed, the pink on his cheeks adorable. “I’m going to hate myself in the morning, but right now I don’t feel so bad about it.”

Krem rolled his eyes. “I’m driving him home.”

“Make sure he gets up that damn ladder in one piece,” Dorian said, shaking his head as Cullen protested. “One day we’ll get you into a proper bedroom, Cullen, just watch.”

“I like my room,” Cullen grumbled. “You can see the stars from it.”

Dorian shook his head, letting himself be pulled into a hug. “Get home safe, you two.”

oOo

Clean up was quick and easy, and Dorian didn’t protest too loudly when Bull pulled him into bed. It had been a good day, and now he was ready to relax and rest. Bull’s arm was flung comfortably over him, and Dorian hummed in approval as the wide hand stroked up and down his back where he was piled on top of him.

“Well that was a success,” he mumbled, twitching when Bull hit a ticklish spot. “Thank you for putting up with my need to run all over creation.”

Bull chuckled, shifting to get settled into the bed. “Of course. I’m glad you and the others are getting along. And that Krem seems to have an interest in Cullen. Both of them need to get laid, and Cullen needs to figure out his sexuality.”

“He insists he’s straight,” Dorian mumbled, and Bull gently stroked his hair. “I’m not sure how much of that is habit.”

“And perhaps he is,” Bull said, shrugging. “But I know quite a few people with solitary exceptions.”

Dorian nodded, closing his eyes as Bull’s hand found itself on his neck. The pressure was comforting, a gentle reminder that he was there, and loved. “You know,” he said, refusing to look up, “Lavellan said something to me a while ago about taking abuse.”

Bull was silent, but gently squeezed to let him know to continue.

“I think I want to see about finding a way to move past it all. To- To come to grips with the things that people have done.” He could feel his heart hammering, and found his hand clenched tight as he buried his face in Bull’s chest.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Bull said quietly, not moving his hand. “And I’ll help you however I can.”

Dorian didn’t say anything, not daring, his eyes a little watery as he burrowed against Bull’s chest, seeking more comfort than could be easily given.

“We should talk about it after the Arishok has left,” Bull said quietly.

Oh. Right. The Arishok.

“I forgot,” Dorian whispered, moving up Bull’s chest to kiss him softly. “I’m sorry, I forgot, I’m sorry.” He whispered the words between kisses, and the night dissolved into silence and hands clutching bodies tight to each other.

Chapter Text

The Arishok arrived on a blisteringly cold Wednesday morning with the Ben-Hassrath in tow.

It was the kind of day that Cullen often called biting, and everyone else called “ball breaking cold”. Bull waited at the gates of Skyhold in full uniform, vitaar painted across his bared skin, Krem a step behind him and the rest of the Inquisition’s Inner Circle on display. Lavellan stood in her creams, her hair pulled back into a severe bun that Dorian had carefully placed a comb of halla horn in, her staff across her back. Cullen and Krem, Bull noticed, were very studiously avoiding looking at each other, and Dorian was much more toned down than normal.

The limousine stopped before them, and the Arishok arose out of it. He was an intimidating man, with lavender eyes and his braids done in neat, tight rows along his head, his chin bearded and pulled neatly into almost a bun. He was dressed in a somber black suit, perfectly fitted, and blood red vitaar crept up his neck. He was large but lean, and far smaller than the previous Arishok.

Far more somber as well.

Bull kept his expression somber as well, and walked down to greet him as an elf and two dangerous looking Qunari, one tall with long, elegant horns dripping with gold (definitely the Ambassador) and one short with tight curled horns (likely a protection detail), emerged from the limo.

“Shanedan, Arishok. Welcome to Skyhold,” he called, bowing his head as he fell into Qunlat. Arishok nodded politely.

“Shanedan, Beres-taar. I appreciate the promptness of the Inquisition to my announcement of arrival.” He pulled his black leather gloves off, finger by finger, his eyes flicking over the defenses of the castle. “We are to stay a week and then return to Par Vollen. What should I know before I enter?”

“There are no places immediately barred to you,” Bull said, keeping his voice calm and polite, “however the Inquisitor asks that you inform the librarian, Dorian Pavus, should you wish to enter the library. It is in a somewhat delicate state, and the three who work there are mages who are loath to be disturbed.”

“A Tevinter librarian?” Arishok said, looking up with slightly narrowed eyes.

“He ran after an attempt on his life,” Bull said smoothly. “He has no great love for his home country, and is devoted to the Inquisitor.”

The Arishok looked up at the gathered Inquisition, and Bull knew he found Dorian almost instantly. He stood in silence, watching, and Bull felt a bead of sweat slide down his back. “We shall see.” He let the two Qunari flank him. “You’ll notice your former comrade has accompanied me.”

The elf came around, bowing quickly, and Bull managed to just barely hold in his surprise. “Beres-taar.”

“Gatt.” He bowed back, and stepped aside to lead the Arishok up the steps to where the Inquisition waited. Krem looked like he desperately wanted to be anywhere but there.

“My Lord Arishok,” Josephine said smoothly. “Herald of Andraste, Inquisitor Lavellan.”

“No first name?” The Arishok said in perfect, barely accented Trade. It was all too easy to forget that while Bull had been at his tama’s side, the Arishok had been Sten of the Beresaad, taking down darkspawn in Ferelden.

“Names are powerful things, Arishok,” Lavellan said, bowing politely. She bowed only as low as would be proper for another of the Triumvirate, and if not for his iron control, Bull would have gasped. As it was, Gatt shifted a little uncomfortably, and the Ambassador eyed her suspiciously. “As with the Qun, my name has changed. I am now merely Inquisitor, and go by my clan name to my friends and closest comrades.”

To the collective shock of the group, the Arishok bowed as well, clearly approving. “A sensible position to take. I cannot hope that you also eschewed this romantic business that your kin and country so fixate on.”

“Indeed I have. Romance and so forth hold no desire for me.” Lavellan smiled brightly, and the Arishok appeared almost charmed. “It was very enlightening when I met people who felt much the same. Please, welcome to my home.”

The Arishok rose, and the Qunari delegation entered Skyhold.

oOo

Dinner was, in a word, interesting. Bull was seated at Lavellan’s right hand, Leliana beside him, and the Arishok to Lavellan’s left. Lavellan, he had realized, was a master at seating arrangements. Dorian wasn’t even at their table, seated with Krem far from the Arishok’s eyes. Josephine was beside the Arishok, Cullen, Blackwall, and Cassandra rounding out the table for a good balance of conversation.

There were a great deal of small cakes, cookies, and baked goods for dessert, and the Arishok kept shooting looks at Leliana, who would simply smile and push more plates over to him.

“How is Par Vollen?” She asked, her smile fond as she watched him neatly devour the third plate.

“Dry, as usual. Warm, unlike this ice blasted wasteland. After the temple, I did not expect to be forced back to this wretched countryside,” the Arishok said wryly. “Kadan came and stayed for a time with him.”

Leliana laughed, relaxing in her chair. “Oh, how did that go?”

“It did not. I have never seen such displays of stupidity from my guards, and all over one elf. I must be grateful she declined to bring Alistair as well.” The Arishok shook his head in disgust. “Kadan is many things, but a quiet guest is not one of them. The tea, if you will.”

Bull kept his face precisely serene to hide his amusement as the Arishok prepared a tiny, delicate Orlesian cup with dinner tea, flavoring it with sugar and honey. Cassandra was clearly enthralled. Lavellan was on her best behavior and politely didn’t comment when she passed the sugar bowl over.

“I trust Beres-taar has been an adequate representative of the Qun,” the Arishok said, stirring with a tiny spoon before sipping at the tea. The cup was dwarfed by a massive, scarred hand. “This is adequate. We shall see about improving trades, as I think you would like what we drink in the North. Red tea is impossible to fetch here.” He sipped again and continued. “The Qun is grateful that Beres-taar chose to settle here. However, we come to the reason of my visit, and why so few are with me.” He set the cup on its saucer with a delicate clink, the sound final in Bull’s ears. “Should we ally with the Inquisition, a position that the rest of the Triumvirate is uncertain on, we are faced with a decision as to who to leave as a representative. As it stands, we are unsure if Beres-taar is fit to remain in that capacity.”

Bull kept his expression carefully blank as everyone turned to look at him. He’d expected this conversation much, much later, if at all.

“As Beres-taar began his career in Seheron, there is always worry that he is damaged from the time there and should be returned to Par Vollen to heal.” The tea was lifted again, and lavender eyes fixed on him. Bull inclined his head politely.

Lavellan set her wine glass down, the picture of a controlled storm. “While the Inquisition obviously has no say over how the Qun handles its many peoples, I will say that Bu- that Beres-taar has been a welcome addition, and certainly done much to foster goodwill towards the Qunari. He has saved many lives in his stay here, and even if he does need to return to Par Vollen, we would all be immeasurably grateful to have him returned.”

“Something we will consider,” the Arishok said, and sipped at his tea.

Bull wanted to scream.

oOo

The magister reeked of Beres-taar. The Arishok watched as the man- small, delicately featured, ridiculous facial hair- quietly left the sitting room they had retired to after the meal. Scent did not lie. The mage shared Beres-taar’s bed, and frequently. A blood mage, perhaps? He dismissed the thought immediately. Whether or not Beres-taar could remember it, he had been trained by the Ben-Hassrath while on Seheron to notice these things, and was far too clever to fall for such tricks.

He would have been a glorious Hissrad, but a far more useful tamassran. It was an oversight that he regretted, but there was no way to change history.

He excused himself, leaving Gatt and the others to speak with the Inquisition.

The magister was easy to follow to the Chantry, and he was about to enter when Leliana melted from the shadows beside the door. After so many years, he was hardly surprised. The faint scent of perfume had helped give her away, and he had expected to be followed.

“I only wish to talk,” he said without preamble. “I will not murder within these walls, or the city.”

“He fled his home after his father attempted blood magic on him,” she said bluntly. “He is not what you should fear. Not a magister, merely a young man who is trying to fix wrongs he did not cause.”

“He reeks of Beres-taar. He may as well wear his skin.”

Lelianna shrugged. “He needs what Beres-taar offers. He missed his calling in life as a tamassran, as you well know.” She stepped forward, sliding a sprig of Crystal Grace into the hole on his lapel, her hands sliding down to straighten the suit coat. He lowered his head as her hand stilled and she slowly deflated, hooded head resting on his chest.

“You are not well.” It wasn’t a question. “Does she know?”

“No. I cannot bring myself to tell her.” Leliana didn’t lift her head as he gingerly patted her shoulder. “The Inquisition has enough to handle without my weakness.”

He frowned, hand resting on her shoulder. “And one more death does not help your cause.”

Leliana nodded into his chest, sighing heavily. “Do you miss it? Being Sten instead of the Arishok?”

“Only on days when I can’t kill my problems away.”

She laughed softly into his suit. “You seem happier, for what it’s worth.”

“I suppose.”

She lifted her head, standing on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. He rolled his eyes, but didn’t bother to complain. Complaining was pointless. She would not listen, and years fighting at her side had made them far closer than normal. She had earned the title of kadan as well, though he declined to use it for her, reserving it for the Hero. “Come and find me tomorrow if you have the time. We should walk together a while. I’ve missed you.”

“What would this accomplish?” He asked, though he knew the answer.

“It would keep us both from getting into trouble when I steal cookies from the kitchen for us.” She kissed his cheek again, and he managed a smile that had her shaking her head, eyes crinkling at the edges. “Try not to bruise him too much, kadan.”

“Your accent is terrible, sister.”

oOo

The Chantry was near silent as he slipped inside, guttering candles by the statue the only light. The Tevinter was praying, his voice diffused in echoes. They prayed differently from the Southerners, and this one bowed out fully with his palms flat to the ground.

The Arishok approached near soundlessly.

“You needn’t be silent,” the mage sighed, sitting up as he finished his prayer. “I heard the door.” He climbed to his feet, brushing off his pants where he’d knelt. “I wondered when you’d come for me, Arishok.”

He sounded resigned, and the Arishok stepped into the light. “Do you often have Qunari hunting you?”

“Just the one,” the mage said ruefully. He bowed, low and polite. “I am Dorian, formerly of House Pavus.”

“No titles?”

Dorian straightened, keeping his eyes down. “I sold my birthright to get here. I have no status any more, as much as I pretend otherwise. How can I help you?”

“You reek of Beres-taar,” the Arishok said bluntly. “You share his bed far too often.”

“Yes, Arishok.” Dorian didn’t look up. The gold in his ears gleamed in the candle light, and he wondered if they were fake rings as well. If the man sold his birthright, surely those could not be real. “We have… talked. Recently. Both of us have been blind. I will admit, the demands of the Qun are foreign to me.”

Silence fell.

“You are not a normal Tevinter,” the Arishok said at last.

Dorian looked up at last, cracking a smile. “Thank you, Arishok. That’s quite the compliment.”

“I’m told you don’t use blood magic, and that it’s been used against you.”

Dorian’s expression froze. “Someone’s been telling stories that don’t belong to them, but yes. Both are true. I find blood magic to be the short and evil way, the resort of fools. And I am not a fool.” He shifted uncomfortably. “I’m certain you’ve been told who, precisely, made the attempt. I was taken by surprise, and it will never happen again.”

Silence again, then-

“Beres-taar will likely be removed to Par Vollen,” the Arishok said. “He is far more damaged than we had believed, to be risking time with mages know to have been potentially infected with blood magic. It would be best if he found a new meaning to his life, far from this place.” Far from you.

Dorian swallowed hard, and he could smell the fear on him. “You intend to take his memories.”

The Arishok watch him dispassionately. “If he’s taken a mage, a Tevinter mage to his bed, then certainly they should be. He’s lucky not to be named Tal-Vashoth and cast out. He has been wrongly indulged for his work on Seheron, and that must be rectified. There can be no favoritism.”

The Tevinter was ashy under the bronze, and nodded jerkily. “The demands of the Qun are hard to bear.”

“The Qun is freedom,” the Arishok corrected. “You are too bound to see it.”

And with that he turned and left the Chantry, leaving Dorian bathed in candles that turned his face as hollow as a skull.

Chapter Text

Krem and Gatt had never gotten along. Bull hadn’t paid much attention to the little rivalry the two had developed until close to the end of Gatt’s run with him, and had no real idea of how bad it had been until Krem had removed his shirt and he’d seen the long scar from a falling beam that Krem caught when Gatt didn’t warn him.

Gatt was a jealous, conniving man, and Bull was worried.

Krem stayed at Cullen’s side as Gatt approached, Bull’s eye flashing a warning to him. Cullen looked borderline murderous, his eyes dark as he watched Gatt, fingers drumming a tattoo on his chair. Krem’s hand dropped to his shoulder, squeezing slightly in warning, and Cullen reluctantly sat up. Dorian, Lelianna, and the Arishok had all disappeared, which was slightly concerning, but Solas was stalking to the door with a glare firmly in place, Vivienne a glittering, deadly shadow behind him.

Bull would dearly love to see someone take on a pissed off Lady Vivienne. He had the feeling it would end with Vivienne victorious and not much left of her opponent. While the Knight-Enchanter had opinions and ideals often at odds with the rest of the Inquisition, much like Solas she would fight to the death when one of her people were hurt. After hearing from Merrill and Dorian, she had destroyed the career of the Dean of Magical Theory with two well timed phone calls. He liked that about her.

“The Iron Bull,” Gatt drawled, dropping onto the seat next to him. Cole, on Bull’s other side, shrank back silently. “Can’t say I thought this would be where we met back up.”

“I was hoping for somewhere warmer,” Bull laughed, and heard the faintest whisper of, “Make them pay, make them all pay.” He turned to Cole, who looked like he wanted nothing more than to run. “Cole, why don’t you go with Solas?”

Cole nodded and bolted, giving a fleeting, scared glance at Gatt.

Well. Now he knew to be careful. Gatt was officially dangerous.

“So,” he said, smiling with all his teeth on display. “How’s life treating you?”

oOo

Vivienne found him first, a stiff heap kneeling on the Chantry floor. Flames danced around him, the candles little wicks burned out and the tapers three feet high. Andraste’s statue looked on with unseeing eyes, her arms outstretched. He was a terrifying sight, the flames playing havoc over his face, and not for the first time she cursed the fact that they couldn’t just install some decent lights in the Chantry.

“Dorian,” she said, dropping to her knees in front of him in a rustle of fine silks. “Dorian, darling, look at me.”

He swayed a little, and she grabbed his shoulders. “Dorian, dear, do you know where we are? Can you hear me?”

“Chantry,” he breathed, blinking a little as his eyes came back into focus. The flames guttered and sputtered out, leaving only tiny wax corpses with the littlest of lights. She smiled, a little shaky, and took his hands. He blinked, looking around slowly. “Oh… Oh, no. I’m so sorry, I must- I lost control. It’s been years since I’ve done that.”

“What happened, darling? You left, and the Arishok followed. Are you wounded?” She briskly turned his head to look him over, and it felt a bit like being home again, scolding a scared little apprentice for some magical mishap he had managed. His lip trembled a little.

“No,” he said, his voice breaking. “No, I’m not hurt.”

“Dorian?”

“They’re taking him,” he said, looking at her with glassy eyes. She let him collapse into her, his hands clutching weakly at her sleeve. “It was never supposed to be like this. I wasn’t supposed to be happy. I wasn’t supposed to like it here, I was supposed to just slog through and hate it and be just good enough that no one would get rid of me. People like me don’t get happy endings.”

“Well that’s utter nonsense,” she said stiffly, pulling out a handkerchief and giving it to him. “Maybe we don’t get the normal happy ending, but we’ll get one. And you certainly deserve it. We’ll see what we can do about The Iron Bul. He’s a large, uncouth grey mountain, but a good man, and there are far too few of those these days.”

Dorian dabbed at his eyes, and they both looked up as Solas opened the Chantry doors. “There you are,” he said, striding over to them. “What happened?”

“The Arishok intends to remove The Iron Bull to Par Vollen,” Vivienne told him, and Solas froze. For a moment he seemed to waver, form flickering, and the air grew thick with spices and rage. Vivienne’s skin crawled as the Veil momentarily warped. She blinked, and for a moment Solas seemed taller, dressed in rich finery with long dark hair, the Fade roaring around him. She blinked again and it was gone, the Veil snapping back into place leaving only and elf with a marked resemblance to an enraged, poorly dressed egg. She clutched Dorian’s arm, feeling her hands shake a bit.

“This is madness,” he snarled. “Not to mention infuriating.”

He began to pace, and Dorian managed a weak, “We don’t know that for certain. He may change his mind. I’m- I’m fine, Solas.”

“Don’t lie,” Solas snapped. “Fine would be you ready to storm Par Vollen, not brushing this off as nothing. You two smitten idiots, why did you have to go and meet?” He spun on his heel, a man possessed. “The Iron Bull, much as I loathe to admit it, makes life run considerably smother here in New Haven. And he’s close to Lavellan. If he falls into the hands of someone who intends to use him as an information source-“

“He knows few secrets,” Vivienne interrupted.

“He knows enough, and he’s uncommonly skilled at reading people.” Solas spun again. “Is there anything we could do?”

“When last I checked, we have next to no pull with the Qun,” Dorian quipped. “Negotiations are meant to last a week, yes? We simply have to change their minds before then.”

Vivienne nodded decisively. “Logical, dear, if a little bare in the planning. Does the Arishok speak Elvhen?”

“No. Trade and Qunlat is all. I’ll discuss in Elvhen out of earshot of the three he brought with him.” Solas frowned, slowing. “I don’t like the look of that elf.”

Dorian carefully got to his feet, helping Vivienne up. She briskly brushed him off, tutting softly at the state of his robes. He’d dressed down for the evening, not wanting to draw attention to himself for once. He ducked his head to let her fuss with his hair, and she couldn’t help the pang of sadness it brought. It had been quite some time since she’d had an apprentice, and she’d missed fussing over them some.

“Dorian, my dear, you have to switch conditioners,” she scolded gently. “I know that you enjoy that “wild” look, but this is a mess.”

“I had to switch,” he said quietly. “Food and rent are expensive.”

The silence was deafening, and Vivienne’s hand stopped, cupping the back of his head and stroking the short hairs there. He wouldn’t look at her.

“Have you told Lavellan?”

He shook his head, blinking rapidly. “I’ll- I’ll just need to move soon. There are some place downtown. I’m paid up through the next month, I have a little time.”

Vivienne couldn’t stand this, and pulled him firmly into a rare hug. He was stiff for a moment before slumping into her, his hands coming up to tentatively hold her shirt, his face buried in her shoulder. “My mother would love you,” he mumbled. “Fashionable, terrifying, and a battle mage. She’d probably marry you, if she could.”

“Your mother sounds like a woman of taste,” Vivienne said, and Dorian laughed wetly. The sound echoed hollowly through the chapel.

oOo

Josephine’s hands shook as she prepared the tea service in the side room, and she swore softly as a bit of the boiling water hit her hand. Blackwall caught the handle, taking it carefully from her.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, and he shook his head, deftly moving it so that he could get to the leaves.

“Don’t be, my lady. We’re all a bit rattled.”

She mopped up the spilled water as he placed the leaves in to steep. “How are the other two?”

“The tall one with the gold horn bands is called Tallis. The smaller one is called Sataareth, though I’m not sure that’s actually his title. Tallis is like you, so I can’t get much of anything out of him, but Sataareth… Sataareth is quite unsettling. I feel he’s far more dangerous than they let on.” He stepped aside to let Josephine fuss with the serving set, his eyes dark as he watched her. “Be careful when talking to the elf, Gatt. He seems the type to smile as he’s slitting your throat for fun.”

“Of course,” Josephine sighed, wishing for her headache pills. “Because none of this could be simple. At least they did not simply show up on our stoop with no warning, though a week is barely any time at all to prepare.”

“My lady.” Firm, warm hands gently cupped her forehead, rubbing the worst spots. She leaned back into him, relieved, letting her eyes close for a moment.

“Ah,” she sighed, and he chuckled softly. “How I love those hands of yours.”

“Late,” he murmured, leaning down to kiss the top of her head. “How’s your head?”

“Better.” She reluctantly stepped from his grasp, lifting the tray. “Now, we should return.”

He gently grabbed her waist, stepping in to kiss the tender place behind her ear. “Of course, Lady Ambassador.”

“Fiend,” she chided with a smile, and turned her head to kiss him on the corner of his mouth, smiling as his beard tickled her. “You are far too sweet to me.”

“Shall I bring you flowers in apology?” he laughed, rumbling low in his chest, and she shook her head, smiling. Lavellan poked her head in, grinning when she saw the two.

“Awwww, you fluffy little bastards. I love you. Now come on, the Arishok just got back.”

oOo

Dorian pulled him into a side room after people began leaving, and the look on his face told Bull everything he needed to know.

“We have to stop,” he whispered. “They want to take you back to Par Vollen. We- We have to be away for the full week. Or more, if they keep tabs on me.”

“Dorian,” Bull whispered back, lifting a broad hand to gently brush away the tears on his cheeks.

“No.” Dorian grabbed his hand, pulling it down. He blinked rapidly, swallowing hard. “No. You have to be Beres-taar right now, for them. I’ll be okay. You need to be careful.”

Bull nodded, his heart constricting. “One more?” he asked softly, and Dorian all but threw himself into his arms, kissing him desperately. He held him close, feeling the body beneath him shake. Dorian was terrified.

“Be careful, amatus,” Dorian breathed, and then he was gone, disappearing out the door in a flash of white tailcoat and gold.

Chapter Text

Flames, flames everywhere. 16 dead, all Tevinter soldiers. Another, muddy, haunted eyes staring desperately up, despairing he/she?/he/they knowing they’re going to die here, but he’s strong, he will hold the roof.

Beres-taar. Shield.

Bull woke with a gasp in his own apartment, far from the flames of the bar that he’d met Krem in. It was cold, plain, utilitarian. Perfectly in keeping with the Qun. Everything but a small piece of dawnstone on his window sill was grey as his skin, bland and uninteresting. He stared blankly up at the ceiling, a pit of dread opening in his stomach.

He should turn himself over to the reeducators. He knew this. If he intended to stay free of the title of Tal Vashoth, he should hand himself over and have done with it.

Tama, I’m sorry. I grew too fond of a saarebas with snapping eyes and the sweetest tongue. You should be ashamed of your boy.

He ran a hand over his face and shook his head. He was wanted at Skyhold today. It was the last day of negotiations, which had consisted largely of everyone running around in a panic while Cullen avoided the Arishok like he was an archdemon, Leliana and the Arishok snarked at each other, and Lavellan tried not to scream in frustration when the previously mentioned two skipped out and went hiking in around the mountains. He hadn’t seen Dorian since the first day. They’d cut all contact, just to be safe, and it had hurt more than he cared to admit. He missed Dorian like a limb. There had been less suspicious glances his way though, for which he was undeniably grateful.

He rolled out of bed, and went to dress.

oOo

“Sten,” Leliana said softly, and the Arishok shook off sleep like a lizard shedding old skin, swimming up from the black depths and into the light. The Nightingale stood at the foot of his bed, and from the look on her face she had been there some time. He stretched, feeling oddly languid, and her eyes tracked his movements.

“What is it?”

“It’s near noon.”

The Arishok frowned, and rose from his bed. It was exceptionally comfortable, a luxury he was certain to miss. Leliana’s eyes, which had been dragged down as if by magnets, shot to the suddenly fascinating wall tapestry when he caught her. “Where are Tallis and Sataareth?”

“They are meeting with Commander Cullen today.” She stepped primly out of the way as he fetched his clothes, reluctant to drag fabric on. Being nude was far more preferable to the many hated layers. “Must you do this every time?”

“Do what?”

“Sleep naked. It’s bad enough that Lavellan does, and sleepwalks, I might add.”

“I enjoy it.” He straightened, pants settling low on his hips. She eyed him thoughtfully. “Stop,” he said wearily. “You and I shall never be bed partners, as you well know.”

“I can still look. Taarsidath-an halsaam, Arishok. You’re just as fine now as you were then,” she retorted, taking a seat at the window as he felt a blush blaze onto his cheeks, shocked and flattered. “Besides, I am committing you to memory. Who knows when next, if ever, we shall meet?”

He paused as he pulled on his shirt, frowning. The blush thankfully dispersed. “We will meet,” he said without hesitation. “Before you pass, we will meet.”

“Sten,” she said quietly, and he shook his head, firm and unmoved.

“Do not argue. Meraad astaarit, meraad itwasit, aban aqun. Maraas shokra.”

She let him finish dressing in silence. Asala leaned against the wall, gleaming, and he went for it, only to be stopped. Leliana carefully lifted it her in both hands, reverently bringing the sword of his office to him, and slinging the sword belt over his chest to buckle it. He let her, memories of Sten doing the same before battle coming to his mind. They had fought so long and hard for each other, and here she was preparing him one more time. She tugged his clothes all into place, and nodded before hugging him tightly. For once, he indulged and carefully hugged back, mindful of his strength. “Oh, I will miss you dearly when you go,” she whispered, and he let the sunlight bathe them both in gold as his heart sank.

oOo

Cullen was clearly at the end of his rope, and when he sat at the chess board for their game, Dorian immediately knew something was wrong.

“What happened?” he asked, and Cullen slumped, dark circles under his eyes seeming deeper than before.

“I am continually reminded of why I could never serve the Qun,” he said hoarsely, and Dorian passed him over the water bottle he’d carried. “Long live the Maker and Andraste, blessed be their names.”

Dorian stared as he drank deeply. “Should we call this off and go to worship?” he asked uncertainly. “You’ll get some looks for being there with me, but there’s a service starting in about ten or so minutes.”

Cullen looked over, his eyes dead and Dorian’s skin crawled. “Yes,” he said at last, and Dorian rose, helping him up. Cullen was shaking, badly, the withdrawals apparently having made a comeback. “I may need to lean on you some.”

Dorian wrapped an arm around his waist to keep him up, and they slowly made their way to the Chantry. Passing soldiers said nothing, simply acknowledged the Commander and hurried on, and by the time they reached the Chantry he was all but carrying the man. It was a relief to kneel, and Dorian fetched matches to light candles for the both of them. Magic, he was fairly certain, would not go over well. Mother Giselle looked less than pleased to see him, but softened a little when he came and knelt beside Cullen, carefully setting the lit candle before him. Cullen thanked him softly, and Dorian began to quietly pray at his side in the Southern way.

By the end Cullen had straightened some, peace coming across his features. Dorian knew he disliked being in the Chantry during the day, loathing the eyes on him, but so it went. Mother Giselle said nothing, but when they left she managed a polite nod in Dorian’s direction.

Dorian walked with Cullen back to his office. Cullen collapsed in his chair, sighing. “The demands of the Qun are hard to bear,” he muttered, and Dorian’s eyebrows rose.

“I said something similar the other day.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Cullen stared at his desk with unseeing eyes. “For what it’s worth? I won’t let them near you.”

Dorian’s eyebrows rose. “Excuse me?”

“You’re not the only one to see the saarebas,” Cullen said cryptically, and Dorian decided to let it go, quietly taking his leave.

oOo

Bull left the last of the negotiations feeling relieved. The Arishok walked before him, head bent as he spoke quietly with Leliana, Tallis and Sataareth breaking off with Gatt to go to change for dinner. It had been a long day of paperwork, but Bull would retain his position even if he was sent to Par Vollen. Lavellan had been insisitent.

“Beres-taar,” the Arishok said, and he strode up to stand beside the smaller man. Leliana looked distinctly unhappy.

“Yes, Arishok?”

“As I understand, we are not feasting tonight as we leave early this morning. You should pack whatever you need and finish your affairs tonight.”

Ice may as well have been poured down his spine.

“…I understand, Arishok.”

The Arishok nodded, and Bull was startled to see how distinctly unhappy he appeared. Leliana linked arms with him, and the two walked away, the Arishok’s head lowered. The handle of his broadsword glinted dully in the light.

The choice had been made for him, it seemed. He would have to find Dorian- but it was a Saturday, and Dorian would be the last in the library. Since he took the role of librarian, he was the last to lock up, even Solas gone before him. He would wait until evening. Until then…

The tavern.

oOo

Nighttime stole across Skyhold, and Dorian found himself staring out a library window across the way to where the guest quarters of the Qunari representatives were. The lights were on, and a window open to reveal the Arishok pacing constantly back and forth, sword in hand. Tallis and Sataareth had the room below, their figures just barely made out behind the glass. He had seen Bull go into the tavern, and Cullen emerged from his office to talk to Krem and the Chargers when they arrived. Gatt, it seemed, had intercepted them now and was talking while Cullen and Krem stood off to the side, increasingly uncomfortable.

“I was surprised when I saw you today,” Mother Giselle said from behind him, and he jumped, clutching his heart.

“Revered Mother, I would thank you not to do that,” he said, heart hammering. “You missed your calling as a spy, I believe.” Her lips narrowed, and he held up his hands, placating. “I mean only that you are near silent in your walk.”

“I see. All the same, I am glad that you and the Commander came to services. We see him only rarely.”

Dorian nodded, sighing a little. “The Commander is more comfortable worshipping when others are not around. However, today was…not good. To put it simply.”

“And yourself?”

Dorian couldn’t quite help his expression of distaste. “It’s been made quite clear to me that I am not welcome in the Chantry, Revered Mother. I worship only when I will not disturb others by my- how did you put it? Corrupting influence.”

“You are devout?”

He did his best not to grit his teeth. “Yes. Not that it is any of your concern how deeply my devotion runs.”

She nodded, and quietly left him.

He snarled silently, and went to drag out more books. He had every intention of burying himself in research until he couldn’t so much as remember her name.

oOo

Slowly, the library emptied of people, and Dorian lost track of time. By the time he came back to his senses, he found it was nearly midnight. Groaning, he stretched and looked down at the courtyard. The tavern was lit, but suspiciously quiet. The Arishok’s room was still lit, the window open to reveal him sitting there, shirtless and eating something (likely more of those cookies he adored), his sword at his side. Solas, it seemed, was gone, and even the rooks were quiet for once.

A soft thump distracted him, and he turned to see the viddathari elf smiling at him in the entrance to his workspace. “Don’t worry about locking up,” he said pleasantly, and Dorian’s skin crawled.

“Pardon?”

The elf stepped into his space, and Dorian took an unconscious step back. The smile was unnerving. “Beres-taar was a good friend of mine,” he said conversationally. “We were on Seheron together, you see. I stuck up for him a lot, and now, here he is, fucking a bas saarebas from Tevinter.”

Dorian’s mouth went dry.

“He was a good man, before he met them. Before he met you. He needs to pay for that change.”

And before he could so much as lift his hands to cast, dust coated him and he was gone.

oOo

His collar was too tight on his neck, and he wheezed as slowly the world came back into focus around him. He was woozy and still faint, eyes rolling a little as he struggled to come back to himself. The shelves put him in Skyhold but the smell was all wrong, like heat pressing in on him slowly. Ash in the air, perhaps a bonfire in the courtyard?

His ears were ringing, and he leaned back against his chair, reaching up to undo the collar of his shirt.

His fingers didn’t find cloth.

They found leather.

oOo

”Why, Dorian?” Halward said, stroking his son’s forehead as the guttering candles turned his face into a hollow reflection of what it once was. “Why couldn’t you just obey for once?” The dead elf on the floor was bleeding into the carved circle on the floor, the runes and star turning black. Dorian could remember being in this room as a child, learning how to make tiny phoenixes from the flames, mermaids from water, sculptures his mother would laugh at fondly. This had been a good place, once.

His parents had worked together, happy for a time, and then it went wrong.

“I’ll take the choice away from you,” Halward said, so gently. “You’ll barely feel a thing.”

He wanted to scream.

No, no, no. He had to remember. He knew the litany, he’d learned it after much long searching and he wasn’t going to give in now. He licked his lips as his father raised his hands to begin.

“Oh Andraste,” he whispered. “Thou art the light in the darkness, walker of waves and air. Thou art my guide, my strong arm, my shield from all foes. You will seek those who would see me done harm, and strike them with words, with arrows, with soft eyes and the hands of justice.”

His fathers voice ran counter to him, and he spoke louder, determined now.

“Know my enemies and bring me my shield, for you are the sword. Carry me on wings long frozen, halt my enemies with your words. Heal my wounds, defend my faith. I am yours in honor and strength, I am yours forever and ever. Maker preserve me, Andraste, grant me your tongue at his seat. I will raise my voice in praise, for thou art most stalwart of all, thou shalt hold my heart, and long shall I praise you, Andraste. I shall be a servant in the Makers hands, mold me to shape as he would fit. Forever and ever, so let it be written, so let it be heard.”

That was it. His father was practically screaming, the moon at the peak of its power. He could not stop, he would not stop, he was defenseless save for faith. A knife slashed his arm, but it was too late for Halward Pavus. Dorian had the litany in his mind, and nothing could take that. The blood dripped ineffectively down to mingle with that of the slaves.

“Oh Andraste! Thou art the light in the darkness, walker of waves and air. Thou art my guide, my strong arm, my shield from all foes.”

He had no idea how long he’d be speaking when the blood dried up, his throat rasping as he recited. The sun came before he stopped, and as it crested to a new day, the collar broke. Dorian Pavus was caged no more.

And he would not be caged again.

Halward lay unconscious on the floor in the half second it took for him to lash out, and Dorian vanished.

oOo

Collared again, his magic untouchable. Flames on the floor below him, crouching at the stairs. Could he go up to the rookery? Probably not.

“Oh Andraste,” he whispered, the collar cutting into his throat and tears in his eyes as he staggered to another bookshelf. “Thou art the light in the darkness, walker of waves and air.” There was a crack as a shelf collapsed below, the fire blossoming into a beast. “Thou art my guide-“ Lavellan, laughing, resolute, the Inquisitor who would right the wrongs of centuries. “My strong arm-“ Cullen, full of righteous fury, calm as a lake, laughing over chess, his head bent to look Krem in the eyes.

My name is Beres-taar.

“My shield from all foes.”

Tears were pointless, but they were there none the less, and he swallowed hard. His mind was so befuddled from the sleep dust. He’d been the last one in the library- at least the walls were stone, the birds could get out, and it was unlikely to take Skyhold to the ground. He clutched the shelf as his legs nearly gave out, and finally sank to the floor again. The doors were barred. He could see them from above. Someone had gone to a great deal of effort to seal him in a very dry, fiery tomb. This reeked of a personal vengeance, but who?

Think, Dorian, think!

Flames. Fire. The Iron Bull. Okay, so it was an enemy of The Iron Bull- Oh. He remembered.

He was a good man, before he met them. Before he met you.

Gatt. The elf. The elf with a temper, who knew of Dorian. Who knew that he was forbidden to go into the flames any more.

There was a boom against the door, and Dorian dragged himself over to look down. The doors had been built with no chance of opening. The library was defensible, just like the rest of the castle, and built for the long siege. But they were trying to get in.

That’s when he saw the pile of bodies near Solas’s desk, bound and writhing. The Chargers. They had the night off, he’d seen them in the courtyard. Had they been drugged and brought here to burn with him? He could see Dalish was collared like he was, and Krem lay terrifyingly still, his arms bound rather than only his hands.

He couldn’t just sit there.

His fingers found their way to the collar, and he flicked the tears off his cheeks. No more.

“Oh Andraste,” he began again, gritting his teeth as he stood on wobbly legs. “Thou art my guide, my strong arm, my shield against all foes.” Beres-taar.

“You will seek those who would see me done harm-“ Cassandra, the Seeker, perhaps one day the Divine, laughing and joking and blushing and striking down corruption with an iron fist.

"And strike them with words-” Varric, prince, wordsmith, kind and funny and gentle with him even when suspicious eyes made him want to run.

“With arrows-” Sera, a friend, one he never expected, who looked at Lavellan with such devotion and made him laugh and gave him honey.

“With soft eyes and the hands of justice.” Leliana, who held nugs and broken winged birds, who tolerated no disorder in her people, who gave him soft bookmarks and new glasses when he broke them.

“Know my enemies and bring me my shield, for you are the sword. Carry me on wings long frozen-” Blackwall, the Grey Warden, the one who fought for him and those who had been hurt.

“Halt my enemies with your words.” Josephine, singlehandedly changing court approval, fixing how the world thought one carefully placed diplomat at a time.

“Heal my wounds, defend my faith.” The Inquisition. His new family, his home. This was not Tevinter, this was Skyhold, and he would not be bound again, not while he had breath in his body.

“I am yours in honor and strength, I am yours forever and ever! Maker preserve me, Andraste, grant me your tongue at his seat. I will raise my voice in praise, for thou art most stalwart of all, thou shalt hold my heart, and long shall I praise you, Andraste! I shall be a servant in the Makers hands, mold me to shape as he would fit. Forever and ever, so let it be written, so let it be heard!”

Dorian Pavus descended the stairs, and stepped into the flames.

Chapter Text

6 Hours Before The Flames

“I feel as though I have made a mistake,” the Arishok said as he paced, Asala a comforting weight in his hand. Leliana sat curled in a chair out of sight of the window, watching as he muttered to himself. They’d eaten together, and the remains of dinner lay on the table, neatly picked through. There were precious few crumbs left on the plates. “We have spoken many times on the nature of the Qun over the years. Do you feel I have acted wrongly in regards to it?”

“In regards to the Qun… no,” she said, and he paused, turning to her.

“And yet.”

“And yet, what is correct is not always right, Sten.”

He huffed, turning and beginning his pacing anew. “Vashedan. Speak clearly.”

She sat up straight, pulling her hood down. “You are ordered to kill a man who has done nothing, but those are your orders,” she said calmly. “But he is innocent, a fact which must be stated. You could let him live. Which is the correct course of action?”

“To kill the man,” he said immediately. “I have my orders and they must be obeyed.”

“But what is right?”

He paused in his pacing, swinging Asala in smooth circles. “What do you mean?”

“Is it the right thing to do, to kill a man who has done nothing wrong? To commit murder for the sake of orders alone?”

He was silent, and turned back to her. She sat still as a statue, watching him. Asala felt bloody in his grip, and he could remember the faces of those who had fallen at her sting.

“What is correct is not always right,” she said softly. “As you well know.”

He sheathed Asala, and carefully unbuckled his sword belt. Reverently, he placed the sword at the foot of his bed before turning to her again. “You feel as though I have done the correct thing, but not the right thing. That I have… That I have made the mistake I have made before, but in new ways.”

“You are Arishok now,” Leliana said, rising and walking to him to take his unresisting hands. “You bear the weight of your peoples. I will not pretend to know the strain that it causes, but I will tell you that I know that under the Arishok, under the layers of vitaar and propriety and control, you are still Sten of the Beresaad. You made the mistake of assuming correct for right, and you murdered a family in that belief. None of us have ever pretended that the title of murderer does not apply to you.”

The Arishok lowered his head, uncertainty opening like a vast, gaping pit beneath them. “What would you have me do?” he asked, suddenly feeling old and tired.

“I would have you do what is right, kadan,” Leliana whispered, reaching up to gently cup his cheek. “You have had a long time to become more than you were. We’ve changed, you and I, but not in so many ways that it is impossible to see the light when darkness surrounds us. I was a fool to harden my heart, and must soften it again.”

He closed his eyes, leaning into her hand. “How?” he said, his voice small. “I don’t know how to fix this.”

“You will know, in time,” she said, and kissed his other cheek softly before taking her leave of the room.

oOo- 2 Hours Before the Flames

The music from the tavern drowned out any sound of the two of them that might echo out, leaving the soft, sweet noises that Cullen panted out for Krem alone to hear. Beneath them, the Chargers were drinking with Gatt, Bull brooding in a corner. For once, Cole wasn’t in the rafters to interrupt. Everything was muttered words that might have been mine, or yours or sweet nothings that neither of them dared to think about.

“You should be back down there with them,” Cullen finally managed to get out when they both realized the grabbing was going farther than they wanted and broke apart. “You’ll be missed.”

“Rather be missing elsewhere,” Krem muttered, straightening Cullen’s collar and pulling him in for another hungry kiss. The moan he got in response was well worth it. “But you’re right.”

Cullen made an attempt at fixing his hair, the curls gone unruly, and gave up in defeat as Krem straightened his shirt. Krem grinned at him, and Cullen went a very pretty shade of pink.

“It amazes me how easy you blush for the person who literally promised to fuck me against a wall,” Krem grinned, and Cullen groaned. “Hey now, you’re not the one who’d be called lupo if you went downstairs looking like this.” He gestured to himself.

“What does that mean?”

“Slut.” Krem shrugged, and yelped as Cullen pushed him back up against the wall. “Or we could go back to this, that’d be okay too.”

Cullen dragged his teeth over Krem’s neck, and Krem’s fingers found his hair, gripping tight. “I really want to mark you up,” he growled, and Krem swore under his breath.

“Well, when you put it like that- festus bei umo canavarum!”

oOo

Beneath them, Dalish and Skinner exchanged glances. Absolutely no one was surprised to see that Krem had disappeared when the Commander had conveniently gone upstairs to “look for Cole”, and everyone was tactfully going to pretend that they hadn’t noticed Cole sitting in the corner, curled up next to Bull as he started to nod off. The spirit was starting to truly sleep, and had settled in when Bull started in on the heavy drinking. Everyone was pretending they didn’t know what it meant. Rocky and Stitches were already out for the count, and Grim was starting to nod.

Gatt, however, was going strong, and while he hadn’t left on the best of terms, the two elves were chatting happily enough with him.

The thumps on the stairs revealed a rather pink Commander with his coat firmly fluffed around his neck, and a grinning Krem with bruises starting to blossom near his collar. Cullen made a beeline for the door, and Krem slid back into the bench, smug.

“Fucker,” Dalish said without any heat, and Gatt got up to get a new round.

“Oh, how I wish,” Krem said cheerfully, and toasted Gatt as the mugs were set back down.

Grim was out in minutes, and the rest carried on. The bard packed up and left, the tavern emptied out one by one, and Gatt watched as the barman collapsed when he finally drank from his water, and the Chargers dropped one by one.

It was time to begin his work.

oOo- The Flames Begin

Cole was the one to wake him, shaking his shoulder roughly.

“The Iron Bull,” he kept saying, growing more and more panicked. “The Iron Bull, they scream for you.”

His head felt like it was swaddled in cotton, his mouth dry and uncomfortable. “Cole?” he said muzzily, and Cole shook him harder, knocking his horns into the wall. He winced, clutching his head. This… this was wrong. This wasn’t just a few drinks too many, this was a taste in his mouth that put him in mind of the Seheron heat. A taste he’d forgotten in time- not poison. Just a way to knock people out, when caught off guard, slipped into food or drink.

“Shit,” he hissed, clutching his head.

“Flames all around, he has to come for us. He has to. The alarms haven’t gone off, no one knows at the station, they’re understaffed, three is too far away, they won’t be here in time, horns pointing up,” Cole rattled off, practically vibrating in front of Bull. “Fire, fire, this was supposed to just be a diplomatic mission, the Arishok, we’re trapped, we’re locked, the windows won’t break, the Arishok!” His voice dropped, becoming like the Arishoks. “No way out but the windows- are they spelled? How did this happen? I never called her kadan, I won’t see her again, or the others, kadan, where is she? Why did she disappear? No, the flames, is this punishment?”

“Shit!” Bull roared, and bolted as best he could from the tavern with Cole on his heels.

Two buildings burned before him, Skyhold gathered below to stare in horror. Vivienne was running in her silk nightgown, Solas close behind her in not much at all, and under any other circumstances he would have been entranced, but one was the library, and the other was the housing of the Qunari delegation. Smoke billowed ominously from both.

Gatt stood between the two, staring at him triumphantly.

“Your pet bas and your Chargers, or the Arishok and his people. Choose.”

oOo

“Ashkaari,” his tama scolded, lifting him firmly away from the campfire. “What have I said about keeping away from the flames?”

“I know, Tama, but they burn so brightly!” The night was warm and bright, the fire crackling as the rest of the group caught fireflies. It was a rare outing for them, a chance to go and see nature up close. Away from Par Vollen, the stars gleamed brightly and the grass seemed sweeter.

She kissed his forehead fondly, and he stared at her with pure hero worship. “My sweet,” she said, knocking their foreheads together, “you must respect fire just as much as you respect those of the Beresaad. The fire can help, just as they do, or it can hurt, just as they do. And you must always remember, the fire will hurt you if you do not respect it.”

He nodded somberly, for his tama was the wisest of all, and never forgot.

oOo

“I named you for flames,” The Iron Bull said, looking down on the elf, who wavered, looking confused. “And fire will always burn you, for that is what fire does.”

The lives of the Chargers and Dorian over that of two Ben Hassrath and the Arishok.

This was tantamount to declaring war.

“Choose, Beres-taar!”

And then another elf stood before him. Small, dainty, her hair free and her eyes wild, a tiny juggernaut who favored ice and could never get fire to turn out right. Inquisitor, she called herself. No name anymore, just Inquisitor of Clan Lavellan, who loved him dearly, who would go to war for him. Lavellan, who held Cullen and made Vivienne laugh, who aggressively loved Dorian until he blossomed under her care, who slammed down the Chantry, the Circles, the Templars, the university in her own city for the sake of what was right. Who took apart the system and remade it whole for the sake of the small people, for those like Merrill and Sera, Dorian and Blackwall, and would never rest.

“The Iron Bull,” she said, her voice soft and so kind. “Go to your Chargers.”

I follow the Qun, but I would see it all burn for you.

“Yes, boss.”

And The Iron Bull threw all his weight into the library door.

oOo

The door shook on its hinges as Dorian frantically patted himself down, extinguishing the last of the flames. Krem’s head lolled, the first sign of movement from him, but he’d been roughed up, and a wound on his head bled sluggishly. Had he put up a fight, or was this done after? No matter.

His hands stung from where the flames had bit him, and he’d lost a good third of his mustache, but he couldn’t focus on that now. Hobbling over to the bound Chargers, choking on smoke, he frantically tried to undo the knots on the closest- Stitches, it turned out.

The door shook again, and Dorian coughed as he inhaled too fast, smoke burning his throat. The collar bit into his skin and he choked, dropping to the ground. Stitches was mostly free, and he fumbled the last of the knot open as the door splintered.

Stitches shook free of the ropes, dragging the gag from his mouth and shoving it in a glass of water Solas had left. He thrust it over Dorian’s face as spots began to swim before his eyes and started on Rocky. Dorian dragged himself up by the desk just as the doors flew off their hinges. Light from the fire illuminated The Iron Bull in the doorway, bigger than life and bringing with him fresh, desperately needed air. The flames were close to the door but he easily vaulted over them, reaching for Dorian.

“No,” he yelled hoarsely through his makeshift mask. “The others, I’m not bound.”

Bull hesitated, looking at the burns on his robes and catching sight of the collar at his throat, but Dorian firmly pointed him at the pile. Stitches was gathering Dalish in his arms, Rocky dragging Grim. Bull scooped up Skinner, and carefully lifted Krem, who moaned weakly and shifted, his head flopping uncomfortably loose. Dorian followed as they moved towards the door, and as they vanished through the opening he froze.

The flames were higher than they’d been at the foot of the stairs, the smoke thicker and more terrifying. He couldn’t do it again, he couldn’t feel that heat lapping like a living thing at his skin, ready to drag him down and devour him in its greed. He took a shaky step back, transfixed by the flames. This was ridiculous! He’d faced down his father, he’d walked through the flames before, he was still thinking firmly of the Litany. Already he could feel the collar weakening. But he could not do this. He was weak and afraid, defenseless, and terror swallowed him.

Kadan.”

And then there was silver skin, and spots in his vision, and blessedly, he passed out.

oOo

Bull carried Dorian out in his arms, and the wail that went up when Lavellan saw him was enough to break his heart. Cullen knelt stricken beside her, Krem gathered up in his lap, and the rest of the Inquisition let out a wordless noise of pain that echoed about the courtyard and was taken up by the courtiers. Whispers and yells abounded, and Blackwall tackled Gatt when the elf tried to make a run for it. Vivienne was clutching her staff like she would fall over if she wasn’t, and he carried Dorian to her. She looked up at him, panicked but unwilling to show it except in her eyes. He knew her well enough to see it.

“He’s not dead,” he called, his voice loud enough to carry, and the wave of relief was enough to have Josephine dropping to her knees as well. “Just unconscious.” Quieter, he turned to Vivienne again. “Please, ma’am. The collar locks with magic.”

She reached out a trembling finger, and the collar snapped, leaving a thick purple bruise around Dorian’s neck in a perfect circle an inch wide. He gasped in air, and everyone turned at the sound of a shattering window.

The Arishok’s window had finally broken, and a courtier screamed as he jumped, unsheathed broadsword gleaming as he fell three stories to land with a horrific thud, dust rising in a cloud at his feet. Bull ignored the sound of the mages arriving to ice the flames in the building, gently laying Dorian beside Vivienne. He was starting to stir, and Bull caught sight of Krem sluggishly reaching up to feel Cullen’s face, confused. He bent down, pressing one last kiss to Dorian’s forehead before walking away. Lavellan rushed over to him, her staff already crackling with ice and flame.

The Arishok rose, his eyes blazing with rage, and Leliana rushed forward. He waved her off, barely bleeding from the cuts of the glass, and flames exploded out the other window. Bare-chested, he had at least had the presence of mind to shove on boots. Tallis and Sataareth were certainly dead, the flames of their window exploding out as well with the familiar scent of gaatlok. The Arishok stalked towards the gathered crowd, Asala gleaming and reflecting the fires behind him.

Blackwall got off of Gatt, who attempted to scramble backwards. A piercing glare stopped that, and the Arishok turned his attention to Bull. Lavellan bristled, raising her staff, and he gently placed a hand on her shoulder.

“No, boss,” he said quietly. “Let me go.”

He stepped forward and the crowd moved back, leaving Gatt, himself, the Arishok, and Leliana exposed in the center of the courtyard. The Arishok stared impassively at him, lavender eyes reflecting the flames of the library.

“I did it for you,” Gatt cried out. “You had to see, I had to know-“

“Silence.”

The crackling of the flames was all that was left, and Bull slowly dropped to his aching, leaden knees. Behind him, he heard Blackwall grab Lavellan, who made a pained noise of outrage. Gatt scrambled to his feet, looking between the Arishok and Bull.

The Arishok lifted his sword, and Bull fixed his eyes on the Arishok’s. This was the price he would pay. He had become an accessory to the murder of two Ben Hassrath agents, this was practically a kindness.

“Bull! Bull, no! No!”

Dorian’s voice, that hoarse, smoke damaged voice, made him close his eyes against the pain in his heart.

Sorry, kadan.

He opened them again, just as the Arishok swung and Krem screamed.

The sword went cleanly through Gatt’s stomach to the hilt, pinning him like a bug to the Courtyard’s stone. Silence was absolute, the only noise the crackling of the flames and the soft drip, drip of blood. The Arishok was expressionless as Gatt shakily reached up to touch the slick blade, looking up with terrified confusion before the Arishok dragged it up, slicing into his heart. The elf went limp, and with a wet shluff, the Arishok pulled his soul clean. Leliana said nothing behind him, simply stepped forward and handed him a handkerchief.

“Beres-taar,” the Arishok intoned as he cleaned the blade, dropping the handkerchief in disgust. “While you have committed no true crime against the Qun, I cannot in good conscience consider you Qunari any longer. For the price of Tallis and Sataareth’s death, though they are not by your hand and shall never be considered so, I name you Tal-Vashoth. You are banished, never again to be counted among our people. This I do in the name of the Triumvirate, and by my authority as Arishok make it so. Never are you to return to any lands the Qun holds.”

The words hit him like a physical blow, and The Iron Bull sat back on his heels, feeling them as surely as if the Arishok had run him through instead.

Tal Vashoth.

He almost missed it when the Arishok knelt before him, Asala stuck in the ground.

“Listen to me, Beres-taar,” he hissed in Qunlat, and Bull blinked, terrified and confused. “Focus. You must understand. You must stay with the Inquisition, help them however you can. I will return to Par Vollen and keep them from descending their wrath upon the Inquisitor for commanding you from saving us. By not saving us it could have been considered an act of war, and I want this to work. Be on your guard. The Ben Hassrath may still be sent for revenge, even though you were not at fault.”

“How did you-“

“I have good ears, and I am not a fool.” The Arishok frowned. “Sometimes the right thing is not the correct thing, Beres-taar. Do not forget why you were named that. You are to be a shield, a defender, and do not forget that.” He hesitated, then said gruffly, “I am proud of you. Be happy.” He rose, leaving Bull to stare in shock, and walked back to Leliana.

“I must go now,” he heard the Arishok say. “I must reach Par Vollen before war can be declared for these events.”

“You haven’t even a shirt, Sten.”

“Since when has that mattered?” He looked back at Bull, and nodded firmly. “Watch him, kadan. It looks like you were in the right after all. Correct and right… an interesting dilemma.”

Leliana went very still, then flung her arms around him. He carefully patted her shoulder and the broke away, retrieving his sword. He swung Asala over his back, the picture of a captain of the Beresaad. Perhaps it was true, then, that underneath it all he was still just Sten, not Arishok at all.

“Inquisitor,” he called, “I take my leave to prevent war. Shockingly enough, I find you to be doing good work and I’d like to see you continue it. I’ll have someone send for what remains of the bodies. As for the viddathari… do with that as you will.”

And without another word, still shirtless and without so much as a wrap for the exposed blade of his soul, the Arishok left Skyhold.

Chapter Text

There was no war, and no alliance. Life continued as it had, with the slight change of the sole local Qunari now Tal Vashoth, and the Tevinter Altus moving from his apartment building to a tiny, run down basement in the depths of the city. Sera didn’t talk about the late night trips she took to the Undercroft with large, suspicious bags, and Lavellan spoke only serenely of hunting with Solas when people questioned the blood flecks that wouldn’t come out of her clothing. The Ben Hassrath took the hint, and 30 dead agents later, backed off.

And that was how it went, and continued to go until Varric received the letter announcing (in very shaky handwriting) that Fenris intended to descend upon Skyhold and take back what was rightfully Hawke’s.

oOo

Merrill fluttered around Dorian like a distracted Dalish butterfly, fussing with his papers and readjusting pens, laptop, and lamp until he finally gave up and asked kindly, “Would you rather we waited down in the garden? I know you’re excited, but-”

“Oh please,” she said with some relief, and they packed up their things and headed down.

Dorian watched as Merrill happily found a spot for them, tugging on his sleeve until he sat next to her. Grass stains were sure to set in, and he didn’t even mind. While originally not very thrilled to have a very Dalish, very odd mage who didn’t seem to do much magic in his not-quite-employ, he couldn’t deny that he had grown fond of the girl. She was sweet and innocent despite everything she’d seen, and while he had some suspicions (deep, terrifying, clawing at his throat in terror in the middle of the night suspicions) about her favored area of magic, he didn’t ask. The mark around his neck was still vivid, and while she’d offered to try and heal it, he’d declined.

Somehow, it made him feel better after his nightmares.

“Oh, oh look!” She was pointing at a butterfly, and Dorian couldn’t help but smile as she told him about it.

“I never knew much about the outdoors,” he confessed as he sprawled out in the grass, letting the rare sun soak into his veins. He was rarely warm, but this definitely helped.

“I never knew much about humans, so I suppose it balances out,” she said cheerily, patting his head, and he couldn’t help laughing. Soft footfalls had him look over to see Lavellan, who immediately went and sat by Merrill.

“Hello, your Grace,” Merrill said brightly, and beamed as Lavellan plopped a flower crown on her head.

“You are, in fact, the cutest person I’ve ever met,” Lavellan said fondly, and Merrill wrapped her up in a hug. Dorian chuckled, closing his eyes and relaxing as the two chattered.

A shadow disturbed his eyes, and he slitted them open only to yelp and scramble back.

An elf, dark skinned with vivid white hair and tattoos that looked to be set with lyrium, glared intently at him. He knew this elf, and had no intention of dying at his hand. Panic had his heart racing, his pulse pounding in his ears. He’d been there for some of Danarius’s so-called demonstrations of his new bodyguard, and was well aware of the history this Fenris had with the Champion of Kirkwall- and, by extension, Merrill. While he’d been dragged to many of Danarius’s events as his mother was something of a cousin three times removed, House Pavus was officially an enemy of House Danarius, and he wasn’t sure if that was going to help or hurt his cause.

House Pavus,” he blurted out in Tevene, terror keeping his hands wide open to show his submission, head ducked. “My apologies, I did not mean to offend in any way.”

The elf considered him for a moment, and he didn’t so much as breathe. Merrill jumped to her feet, bouncing next to the other elf, who slowly looked away from Dorian and back at her. Lavellan was watching, ready to intervene if necessary.

“Oh, Fenris, stop it. This is Dorian, and you’re scaring him.”

“I know who he is, Merrill. Has he hurt you?” His eyes flicked over her, a frown firmly in place.

“No! He’s helped me lots, and taught me all sorts of good things and helped me meet nice people! You’d like them, Fenris! There’s a man who does that thing you do, with the big stick and rock.”

“It’s called a maul, Merrill.”

“Yes, that thing.” She gingerly grabbed his hand, holding tighter when he didn’t protest. “Fenris, please. Dorian’s been very kind and he’s had to deal with a lot of very awful things recently.”

Dorian carefully lifted his head, only to drop back down when Fenris looked his way. He hadn’t been given leave to rise, and knew full well that Fenris could kill him in a heartbeat if he were so inclined. Fenris took a step forward and he flinched, holding his position only out of sheer desperation. He could see Fenris crouch, and bit back a yell of panic when he was pulled up by his hair to reveal his bruised and battered throat. Lavellan was behind Fenris in a second, a thin knife at his throat.

“While I very much want to like you,” she said conversationally, “I’ve recently had to deal with around thirty people who’ve wanted Dorian dead. Varric and Merrill both speak very highly of you, so please don’t do anything stupid like hurting him.”

Fenris went still, clearly thinking it over, and brusquely let Dorian’s hair go.

“Don’t worry about it,” he wheezed to Lavellan. “He’s every right to be suspicious.” She stepped back, watching Fenris with narrowed eyes.

“Were you owned?” Fenris asked bluntly.

“No, only collared and left to burn alive,” Dorian said, no trace of sarcasm or sass to be found. Lavellan’s knife or no, he knew full well that if he lied to this man, life would be hell. He had no intentions of dying with his heart ripped out. “Though I suppose you could say my father owned me, but I’ve since left that life entirely.”

“Altus,” Fenris said, and the word sounded like a curse.

“I keep saying I am, but not anymore. I sold my birthright, I have no claim.”

That made Fenris pause, cocking his head to consider him for a moment before turning on his heel to face Merrill. “A Tevinter Altus necromancer,” he said in disgust. “You couldn’t have just found some healing hedge witch?”

“Dorian’s very nice, Fenris,” she said quietly, looking up at him with earnest eyes. “Really. He writes all sorts of things about slavery being bad to the papers in Tevinter.”

Fenris looked back at him, glared, and nodded brusquely. He climbed to his feet, shakily brushing himself off.

“Leave,” Fenris said darkly, and Dorian bowed quickly before bolting from the garden.

oOo

How Dorian ended up in Sera’s lair was anyone’s guess, but that was where Bull found him that afternoon, freshly off work and ready to drag his man home for a nice dinner and potentially vicious sex. Cole was sitting with them, sitting at Dorian’s feet and listening in fascination as Dorian read to the group of people that had grouped up in Sera’s room. Sera was curled into his side, reading along as he read from a beautifully bound book, various bar patrons and people of the Circle in the room. Cassandra and Varric were on the window seats, and to his surprise he saw Cullen crosslegged on the floor with stars in his eyes.

He leaned on the doorway, smiling as he listened.

“Now, it came the days of the Dark Divine, as he was first called. He was a dangerous man with delusions of grandeur, and Dusk cried out to Dawn, “Do you see what has been done? The tragedies he has brought to these lands? We cannot suffer such a beast to live.” But Dawn took his hand, and his heart was calmed. “Do you not see?” She asked. “Are your eyes clouded with the darkness he brings? In due time, the Maker will have his recompense.” And Dusk knew this in his heart, and together they traveled the land. It was wide then, and full of life. Tevinter, they called it, and call it still. They helped where they could, and traveled as they would, and when they reached the ocean Dusk kissed Dawn and said, “See? We have come so far.” And Dawn nodded, staring out over the sea.”

Bull saw Cassandra clutch her heart, clearly emotional. He, personally, had no idea what was happening.

“But Dusk could see she was unhappy, and took her hand. “Dawn,” he said, and she turned to him, away from the wide ocean. “We have seen and done much for the people abroad. Perhaps-“ and she kissed him. “Yes,” she said when they were parted. “Let us return home.” And they took the roads back, passing old friends and meeting new, and returned at last to Denerim and there wherewith. But Dawn shriveled in the lack of light, and together they left once more, out into the wide world.”

Dorian smiled into the pages. “And those are the first of the days of Dusk and Dawn, but this is not the end. For there is work yet to do… and honor still to be found in the hearts of those who seek all fair things.”

He shut the book, and everyone sighed with longing. “All right you sad, sappy lot, I read it. And all I have to say is that Fereldan folk history is the saddest I’ve ever read, and you all owe me at least dinner. Oh, hello amatus.” He rose, and Bull carefully made his way through the people to kiss him, which elicited a chorus of cooing. He felt Dorian smile against his lips and his heart soared, thrilled to be allowed such sweetness in public.

“Saaaaps,” Sera teased, and Dorian made an extremely rude gesture.

“All right, you’ve had your fun.” He stepped back to a clamor of pleading, and Bull laughed as he saw Cullen his best pitiful face. “Oh, all right, this time next week. And if any of you are late, I’m NOT restarting. Out with you, I’ve missed my man something dreadful.” There was a chorus of giggles from men twice Dorian’s age with scars that would terrify bears, and Bull gently cupped the back of Dorian’s head in his hand. Cassandra whacked Varric’s arm, beaming, and he rolled his eyes as he dragged her out the door.

“You’re really good at this, Sparkler. I might have to have you do my audio books.”

Dorian went a surprised pink, and Bull chuckled as they were promptly kicked out by Sera.

“So, what was that all about?” he asked, smiling as Dorian linked their arms.

“Oh, it’s a forbidden Fereldan folk tale book that I found in the library. Apparently, there are these ancient stories about a mage, Dawn, and a Templar, Dusk, who meet when they’re very young and leave the Circle together to fight for the Chantry during Towers. Cullen just about died from excitement. Supposedly, Dawn is from his home town. She’s practically a saint to him, even if just admitting he’d heard these stories would be tantamount to heresy.” Dorian kissed the back of his hand as they walked down the stairs.

“You’re a little handsier than normal,” Bull said, smiling. “Did the romance soften you up?”

“Not in the least,” Dorian sniffed. “I’m simply glad to see you, is all. Fenris arrived this morning and I’ve wanted nothing more than to bolt, but I have things to finish and don’t dare return to the library just yet. You, however, are a very welcome distraction.”

“Do I need to talk to the Inquisitor about this Fenris?”

“Maker, no,” Dorian sighed as they left the tavern. “He could kill you in a heartbeat, and shockingly enough I like you alive. He just doesn’t like me because I’m an Altus. Or was an Altus, rather. Also that whole former slave thing. That doesn’t help my case. At least my family was an enemy to the dick that believed he owned him.”

Right on cue, Fenris and Merrill rounded the corner. Dorian stopped in his tracks, and Bull put on his best polite face as he looked the two over.

Fenris eyed him suspiciously, and then looked at Bull. He said something in Tevene that made Dorian’s nostrils flare, and his hand tighten on Bull’s arm.

He didn’t know much in the way of Tevene, but whatever Dorian snapped back made Fenris relax. Merrill tugged on his sleeve, and he turned to look at her.

“Yes?”

“This is The Iron Bull. He’s with Dorian. A lot. In many ways.”

Dorian squawked, going pink. “Merrill!”

“Krem’s very descriptive!” she protested. “I’m broadening my cultural horizons and learning about human seduction techniques!”

“Please, tell that to Cullen when I’m watching, I want to see how fast he faints,” Dorian said, a little gleeful. “And stop asking Krem about my sex life!”

“He only knows like, a fourth of it anyway,” Bull rumbled, and Dorian whacked his arm. “Hey now, I don’t tell him everything.”

Fenris shook his head, looking at them both. “You must never be allowed to meet Isabela,” he muttered. “Come, Merrill. Varric wanted us to join him and the tall one for dinner.”

“I like Lady Cassandra,” she said brightly, and the elves passed to go into the tavern.

Bull watched them go, curious, but shook his head. “So. Fenris, huh? What did he ask you?”

Dorian scowled. “Nothing important. Come on, let’s grab my things and leave before Lavellan finds us and makes you help with lifting beams or something. It’s been a long day.”

Chapter Text

Knight Captain Rylen was not a bad man. A long suffering man, certainly. Perpetually exhausted, mildly annoyed, more than a little pissed off about the general state of the world and the idiots of the Templar order who’d gone mad with power and had no concept of reality, in general he was just shy of fucking furious. But he was a good leader, a rock of common sense in the sea of idiotic court politics, and by all accounts an excellent teacher. He was a diligent trainer, and on the day that Hawke arrived in Skyhold, he was teaching his troops the finer points of gutting a man properly near the walls.

Which was why he heard the first blasts of bass from outside, and knew that shit was about to go down.

“Fall back,” he ordered, indicating one of the outbuildings, and the wide eyed youngsters bolted. He followed at a more sedate pace, and wasn’t even surprised when the gates of Skyhold were flung open and what appeared to be a monster truck with a large red stripe across the hood burst through, and parked neatly in the little lot next to the wall. Next to the others, it was a terror to behold and the pounding bass riff that echoed from its speakers was really not helping matters.

Scout Harding appeared at his side. “So. Are we going to stuff the Commander in a closet until she leaves?”

“A very tempting thought, to be sure. The Lady Montiliyet is going to be furious. They should be in Cullen’s office right now, let them know before she can do any damage.”

Scout Harding gave him a flippy salute and headed for Skyhold’s keep. Rylen sighed, and rubbed his forehead.

Fucking Kirkwall.

oOo

“Are you making that infernal racket?” Solas demanded from below him, and Dorian poked his head over the railing to look down at the rather irate elf. He had a splash of paint on his head from where he was retouching some of the fire damaged art he’d worked so hard on. Above them, Leliana also peered over, the rooks cawing lowly as they watched their mistress.

“I don’t even like metal,” Dorian defended hotly, a frown firmly in place. “If I were to annoy you, I’d put on Nevarran polka music or other such nonsense.”

Leliana laughed, saying teasingly, “That implies that you like Nevarran polka music, Dorian.”

“So what if I do?!”

Solas gave him an utterly disapproving glare, pointing with his brush. “Well, you’ve been moping around up there without Merrill to chatter at you for at least two hours. Go find out what it is.”

“What? I’m not moping.” Leliana laughed again, coming down the stairs to stand by Dorian, who pouted at her. “I’m not. You know that, don’t you?”

She kissed his temple, smiling fondly. “I think you have liked having a little apprentice of your own. Now go. It’ll do you good to get out of here.”

He sighed loudly, going to fetch his coat. “I want you all to know that I’m doing this under duress,” he announced to the library at large, and a few of the patrons giggled as he flounced out.

The courtyard was blinding after hours inside, and he blinked a few times to force his eyes to adjust before beginning a slow saunter through the grounds. He took his time, and had to admit that Leliana was right. It felt good to be outside. He’d been forcing himself to stay longer and longer in the library, determined to overcome the fear that gripped him every time he walked through the doors, and it was starting to work. After the fire, there were far fewer people who hissed insults as he passed, or spat at his feet. He feared less for his safety against the people of Skyhold, but the library still gripped his heart in a rictus of terror. It had begun to invade his dreams, demons preying on his fear, but he could defend from them easily enough.

Merrill as an apprentice, though. He considered the idea as he passed the infirmary, wheels of his mind spinning. He supposed he had been treating Merrill like an apprentice. She’d been fascinated by necromancy, and begged to learn at least the basics. She’d grasped the concepts quickly, and for all her tiny, sweet demeanor, he had the sneaking suspicion that she would be a terrifying battle mage. They had never talked about her own focus, Dorian’s mind skittering away from the conversation in terror of what he might learn. The little scars on her arms were bad enough. He could not bear the thought of Merrill as a blood mage, not with his own experiences on the matter. But she would be a very skilled necromancer, that was certain, and unfortunately necromancy and blood magic were two specializations that meshed very nicely.

He was lost in thought as he turned a corner, and stopped in his tracks. Ah. So this was the source of the music.

“Come to see the show, have you?” A dry voice said, and Blackwall appeared at his side.

“We could hear her from the library. Solas wanted to know what was going on,” he explained, staring at the truck in fascination. “We have something like those in Tevinter, but what are they called here?”

“Monster trucks,” Blackwall said with a sigh. “Well. This one’s practically a baby in comparison to real monster trucks, but I guess it counts.”

“Fascinating.” He cocked his head, and watched as a long legged, dark haired woman with a red stripe over her nose climbed out, slamming the door. The music quit, leaving the air ringing with silence. Varric had emerged from the Great Hall and was running down to her, beaming, and she ran to meet him. “So that’s the Champion of Kirkwall.”

“Cullen’s going to be just thrilled,” Blackwall drawled, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I’m sure we’re going to be called for a meeting. Might want to let that boyfriend of yours know his presence’ll be requested, soon enough.”

“He’s not my boyfriend!”

“Fiancé, then.”

“Not that either!”

“Of course not.”

oOo

Sure enough, Cullen looked like he’d swallowed a pineapple whole when everyone was finally in the meeting. They’d decided on the dining room where they normally held the Circle Dinner, and Lavellan kept her hand rested a little possessively on Cullen’s as everyone filed in. Dorian was startled to see the shift in seating. Though Cullen never moved, and likely never would move, Leliana was now at Lavellan’s left, Cassandra beside her, and when Bull arrived he was placed next to Cullen. Dorian himself was sat near the end of the table beside Merrill, a step below Solas, Vivienne and Blackwall, who was beside Bull. The other side of the table, after Cassandra, ran Sera, Josephine, Cole, and Varric, with Hawke taking the end seat opposite Lavellan, and Fenris at her left before Merril.

Hawke had her people close, and sat on equal terms as Lavellan, but it was clear that Lavellan did not trust her. Dorian beside Merrill was an expression of trust, and he fervently hoped it wasn’t a mistake. Fenris kept glaring at him from around the smaller elf.

“Champion,” Lavellan said calmly, her face a mask of polite calm. “You must understand that I was not expecting to receive you.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Hawke waved her hand, and Dorian could tell Cullen was desperate to bolt by the way Lavellan tightened her grip on him. “Just thought I’d swing in and say hi, pick up my loves.”

“Hawke,” Fenris said, in the tones of someone who had dealt with slightly too much bullshit that day.

“Oh hush, dear.” She leaned forward, eyes fixing on Dorian, who resisted the urge to bolt. Hawke was intense. It was like being pinned down by someone twice Bull’s size, with none of his kindness. His mind screamed that he needed to run, and purple lightning flickered at his fingers. A tiny hand gently wrapped around his wrist, grounding him, and the magic fizzled out as Merrill gently squeezed. “So, you’re the one who’s been helping with Merrill?”

“She’s been invaluable,” he said, smiling with every ounce of charm he could dredge up. “I wasn’t expecting to have anyone willing to work with me, and she’s taught me quite a bit about patience and the Dalish.”

“Do you own slaves?”

Dorian almost choked, and from the end of the table Lavellan said sharply, “If you intend to continue being a guest in my house, Champion, you will mind your tongue.”

“It’s fine,” he said, waving her off. He took a slow breath, reaching up absently to touch the aching bruise on his neck. The edges were finally yellowing. “The answer is not simple. My family does own slaves, yes. I, personally, have never owned any. I was raised by an Elvhen slave, who I intended to purchase from my father, but he was- he was murdered for my foolish actions.”

Oh, Andraste, thou art the light in the darkness, walker of waves and air.

He took another slow breath, feeling Solas shift beside him. “Thankfully, since moving here I’ve been forced to think more about slavery, and learned my original views were wrong. Unfortunately, I now have no say over the affairs of House Pavus, and the best I can do for now is write scathing letters to the editor to the papers in Tevinter.”

Hawke sat back, considering him with unblinking eyes. She reminded him of a dragon he’d once seen, stalking her prey from above with unflinching focus. Varric was silent, his eyes flicking between her and Fenris, who looked thoughtful.

“I see.” Her eyes flicked away, and he found himself able to breathe again. Merrill didn’t let go of his wrist, squeezing again. Beside him, Solas let out a soft noise that sounded suspiciously like a growl, and his hair rose. He grabbed Solas’s hand without looking, and felt the elf relax under his touch.

Lavellan was more terrifying than he’d ever seen her, a figure of carved stone as she looked down the table. “Champion,” she said calmly, her voice ice, “kindly understand that I don’t take well to people who invade my home. Today is also the anniversary of an event that leaves me more than a little emotionally unbalanced, and you have clearly unnerved and upset my friends, who have done nothing but protect yours since she arrived to our knowledge. We’ve grown quite fond of her, and I would hate to break off such a warm friendship because you decide to threaten people who are attempting to do their work to the best of their ability.”

Hawke sighed. “You’re right,” she said, to the groups surprise. “My apologies, Inquisitor.”

Lavellan relaxed, mollified, and Cullen leaned over to murmur something to her. She nodded, and said, “Cullen reminds me that you’ve been away from your people for some time. My apologies for jumping down your throat so quickly.”

Hawke glanced at Cullen, who was staring at the table like the Canticle of Transfigurations could be read in the wood grain. “Thank you, Inquisitor. It’s…it’s been rough.”

To Dorian’s shock, Fenris reached over and took her hand, tenderly kissing her knuckles. She smiled, softening.

The mood had shifted to one of relaxation, and Dorian sank back in his chair, relieved. He wanted nothing more than to go hide in Bull’s arms for about the next three hours, but it seemed like they weren’t going to come to blows.

oOo

To no ones surprise, Cullen was the first one out of the room when the meeting officially broke, a furry blur that disappeared down the hallway. Lavellan shook her head, and Leliana followed behind him at a slower speed, likely to make sure he wasn’t about to attempt to drain the Inquisitor’s personal stash of the good stuff. Bull appeared at Dorian’s side, wrapping a possessive arm around his shoulders.

“You okay, kadan?” he asked quietly.

“I’m fine.” He wasn’t fine. Bull gave him a long, slightly disappointed look. “Okay, fine, I’m not, but I will be. You needn’t worry, amatus.”

“I always worry.” He kissed the top of Dorian’s head, mindful of his horns, and Dorian sighed.

“Well, worry elsewhere. Am I staying with you tonight?”

Bull snorted, maneuvering them to the door. “If I had my way, you’d never go back to that basement again.”

Dorian shrugged, wrapping his arm around Bull’s waist as best he could. “Well, it’s affordable.” It was a new but familiar argument. “All the good works I have are here, so I don’t need to worry about them.”

“I’m a little concerned about mold in your lungs,” Bull grumbled, and Dorian chuckled, leaning into him as they emerged into the courtyard.

“So sweet to me,” he murmured, and stood on his tip-toes to kiss him. “I’d best get back to the library. See you for dinner?”

Bull kissed him again. “I’m making vinegar hen and found some nice watermelon for us.”

“You do know how to treat a man right,” Dorian sighed happily, and slipped away back to his work.

Merrill found him a while later, tucked in his chair as he wrangled some ancient Arcanum, and plopped down on the cushion by his feet so she could lean on his legs. He reached down and absently ruffled her hair, pulling his pencil from between his teeth and adjusting his reading glasses. It was a common thing they’d fallen into, Merrill reading by his feet while he worked on translations or typed up the unending list of repairs needed for the books in the library. “If I’m not mistaken, my dear, you should be off gallivanting with Hawke instead of in this musty old dust heap with me.”

“Hawke wanted to see where I was working.”

Dorian looked up, and sure enough, there was the Champion of Kirkwall, smiling brightly at him in the entrance to his little study. He swallowed hard. “Oh. Hello.”

There was a furious yell from below. “DORIAN PAVUS.”

Solas. Oh joy.

“Excuse me for a moment,” he said, rearranging his things and going over to the railing. “Yes, Solas?”

Solas furiously lifted a book from his desk. “This is a history that dates back to the Towers age and it has NOTATIONS in it!”

“And this is my fault how?” He said slowly.

“You’re the only one here who writes in Tevene, Dorian!”

“Wha- I would not deface a book that ancient, Solas! It very well might be part of the set that Felix sent me, he was notorious for doing things like that!” He huffed, turning back to Merrill, who beamed at him.

“Handwriting samples from the Apologi Tevene?”

“The Alexius collection is further in the stacks now,” he nodded, and she took off with a gleeful, “So many books!”

He turned to Hawke, who seemed fascinated. “Care to join me in what’s sure to be a rousing discussion about Tevinter depravity and the sacrilege of marking books?”

“Sounds like fun. I’m in.”

Chapter Text

The familiar slam of the door alerted Bull to the fact that Dorian had finally made it home, and without looking up from his work he called, “Are you going to pay for it when you eventually shatter that thing?”

“Of course I will.” Two strong arms wrapped around him, and he smiled fondly as Dorian leaned into his back. His head just reached the center of his shoulder blades, and he chuckled as Dorian rubbed his face there.

“Long day?”

Dorian groaned. “So long. After you left, Merrill and Hawke showed up and I had a fight with Solas that turned into a shouting match on the properties of invisibility. Hawke is surprisingly up to date on magical theory and made a few good points. Merrill got really excited and Cole showed up to demonstrate. It… it wasn’t bad, though. It was actually nice.”

“Good.” Bull wiped his hands on the dish cloth and turned around to tip Dorian’s face up to kiss him slowly. Dorian groaned happily into it, melting in pleasure. “There’s my good boy,” he murmured, and Dorian shivered pleasantly.

“Ropes before dinner?” he asked hopefully, and Bull smiled, stroking a thumb over his cheek. “I think I deserve it after the day I’ve had.”

“Mmm. I decide what you deserve,” Bull said gently, and Dorian grinned. “Okay, yeah, that’s total shit but you like hearing it.”

“I like knowing I have you wrapped around my little finger,” Dorian corrected, leaning in to kiss him again. “So. Black or red?”

“Spoiled brat. Go get the red ones.”

Dorian kissed him again and happily went to open Bull’s closet for the rope box. Bull shook his head, turning back to shut the stove off and cover the scalloped potatoes he’d started for dinner. They were a little plainer than he went for, but Dorian had lit up in joy when he made them last time. He called them ‘funeral potatoes’, an odd term, but Bull simply shrugged and ran with it. Once everything was fixed, he washed his hands and went back to the bed. His apartment was, in essence, one long room with a tiny offshoot hall in between where the carpet and tile met. Dorian was settled on his bedspread, boots and socks already off and the rope in his lap. He looked every inch the spoiled princeling, but the effect was ruined by the sweet smile he wore.

“Brat,” he muttered again, and Dorian’s smile widened. He sat on the bed, and Dorian moved over to let him undo the buckles that decorated his clothing, taking his own sweet time. They’d had the form-over-function debate enough times that he’d given up needling Dorian about wearing such things. Dorian leaned in to kiss his collarbone, and he paused to stroke his hair.

“Word?” he said quietly.

“Katoh.”

“And if you don’t want to stop but need to slow down?”

“Veto.”

“Very good.” He kissed him and Dorian melted under his touch, his eyes brightening with pleasure. Dorian leaned back and he continued, gently sliding the top off when he’d worked it all open. The damn collar bruise taunted him, a hissing reminder that this had nearly been stolen from him. He gently ran his fingers over it, and Dorian tipped his head back to let him.

“I won’t lie,” he said lowly, “I don’t like seeing this on you.”

Dorian caught his hand, his expression somber. “This is not a mark of weakness,” he said softly. “This is a mark of strength. A reminder that someone tried to kill me, but they didn’t succeed. We beat them, and they can never hurt us again.”

Bull’s heart warmed, and he leaned in to gently mouth over the mark. “Never again.”

He took his time when he had Dorian down to the soft silks he’d taken to wearing, deciding how, precisely he wanted to do this. A plain tortoiseshell harness came first, and that alone had Dorian calming enough to relax into him. The sun was on the descent, leaving Dorian practically gold in the fading light. Bull pressed reverent kisses to his skin between loops and knots, running slightly clawed nails over his skin to watch him shiver with sensation.

“How do you feel about being fed?”

“As long as it’s not in a demeaning way, I’m fine with it,” Dorian shrugged, so behind his back his arms went, the ropes wrapping and knotting into a dragonfly sleeve to keep them there. Dorian was calm and quiet the whole way through, going where he was directed without a hint of complaint. Bull smiled as he finished the last of it, stroking a possessive hand over his hip.

“You’ve missed this, haven’t you?” he asked, and Dorian nodded. He moved behind him, pulling Dorian up onto his lap. “We should do more rope work, then.”

“An excellent plan.” Dorian turned and kissed his jaw. “Thank you. It’s been a very long day.”

“Of course, kadan.”

Dinner was a bit of work, but they settled for eating on the bed, Dorian delicately plucking small pieces of food from Bull’s fingers and the two of them quietly enjoying the soft, warm breeze from the window. Summer, as much as it could be summer in the aptly named Frostbacks, was soon to draw to its peak. It was all so domestic, and Bull wrapped his arms around his bound love, curling around him protectively to whisper soft, sweet nothings as the stars slowly came out, and the sun disappeared beyond the horizon.

oOo

Kadan?”

“Yes, amatus?”

“What was it that Fenris said the other day that made you so mad?”

“…He asked if I was really strong enough to hold a constant blood thrall on someone so large.”

What?”

“I told him that I was the best damn lay you’ve ever had and he should fuck off.”

Silence, then-

“Oh! Okay, um- are we- fucking- lube! Vishante kaffas, you ass!”

"You are the best."

Chapter Text

Solas was the one who found her on the battlements that evening, staring up at the stars. She was still, for once, and her staff was nowhere to be seen. The light made her a thing of beauty, a statue of silver perched with perfect balance on the edge.

“A beautiful night,” he remarked quietly, and she nodded. He climbed up beside her, and she leaned over to rest against his shoulder. They sat in silence for some time before she took a slow, shuddering breath.

“For five minutes, I was a mother.”

He wrapped an arm around her, and she curled into him. She didn’t cry, and he kissed the top of her head, his heart aching for her. Below them, the snow reflected the moonlight, turning the whole world white and silver and blue in its brilliance.

oOo

Hahren?”

Morning. He is painting. How did he end up here? There’s a wolf in the back of this painting, watching a serene Lavellan. He shakes his head, and the world falls back into focus.

Merrill stood at the bottom of his scaffolding, looking up with big eyes. Fenris was just disappearing up the stairs, likely to go and badger Dorian for a bit. It was three days after Hawke’s arrival, and the group had yet to show signs of leaving. Once Lavellan had calmed down and Hawke had apologized a few more times, she and Hawke got on famously. He climbed down the scaffolding, going to clean his brushes. “What is it, dalen?

“I don’t want to leave.”

He stopped, turning to look at her. “What do you mean?”

She swallowed hard, fiddling with her fingers. “I mean… I like it here. I like working with you all. And I love Hawke, I love her a lot, and Kirkwall is something like home even though it’s awful and filthy and nothing like real home, but I can’t really go home what with being banished. And… I like it here. Even after everything. I know that everyone thinks of me like I’m Hawke’s, that I’m supposed to be with her, but she’s doing a lot of things right now and I want to study and learn. Fenris thinks that I should be with them, even though he doesn’t really like me, but I think I want to stay until I’m stronger. I want to learn how to fight, so I can help! I mean, I can fight, but not very well, and you have an army and-”

He set his brushes down, and she inched forward. “You want to stay and work for the Inquisition?”

She nodded, glancing back up at Dorian’s loft, where the sounds of an argument in Tevene started up in earnest. Switching to Elvhen, she said, “I want to see if Dorian would take me on, sort of like an apprentice. That’s what we’ve been doing for a while. And I know he could never hurt me, and would never want to.”

He frowned, not so sure he would want Dorian’s influence, then sighed. It wasn’t really up to him, and Dorian had been doing a lot of personal growing lately. “Have you spoken to Hawke about this?”

“Some, yes.” She bit her lip, bouncing on her toes a little. “She said as long as I was happy, I should go where I wanted. I’m not a thing! I don’t belong to her, and she doesn’t belong to me. I want to help her, in time, but I was going to live here anyway with the university and all that.”

Solas couldn’t help smiling. “Ah, dalen. You are far too sweet.” Looking up, he yelled, “Dorian! Stop picking a fight and come down here.”

“I was not picking this fight!” Dorian called, and there was a thud. “Here! I won’t take it back, it’s yours.”

There was the familiar stomp of feet down the stairs, and Merrill smiled as Dorian came down with Fenris behind him, holding two books. “Oooh, what did you give him?”

“That extra copy of Apologi Tevene and a translated version, so he can start learning to read Tevene. Now, what is it you wanted?”

Solas waved at Merrill, who beamed at him. Dorian looked between the two, baffled. She hurried forward and took his hands, looking up imploringly. “I want to stay here. In the Inquisition. And I want to learn necromancy, because it seems really useful and I could talk to people and do you think I could be an apprentice? I know it’s not very traditional but-“

“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Dorian said, and she threw her arms around him. Fenris rolled his eyes, and Solas couldn’t help smiling.

oOo

Cullen was not exactly thrilled at this development, but merely sighed and moved his Divine. Dorian had convinced him to move the chess set out from under the covered walkway and into the garden, where the light was brighter and the sun was happily warming their skin. Cullen sat crosslegged, dressed far more casually than normal, and Dorian couldn’t help feeling happy that he had Krem. He was loosening up some, if the vivid love bite on his neck was anything to go by. “I knew it was a long shot, thinking that I’d never have to deal with anything from Kirkwall again. Probably not healthy, anyway.”

“Indeed.” Dorian moved his Grand Cleric and neatly swapped places with a pawn in a rather more advantageous position. It was not fun, playing with rules. Besides, it made Cullen work a bit harder. He was doing this for his friends sake. “She wants to learn necromancy, and apprentice under me.”

Cullen looked up in confusion, and then his expression cleared. “Oh, I see. Apprentices for us were people who hadn’t undergone Harrowing yet.”

“Ah. One of those funny little cultural differences.” He scowled as Cullen destroyed his Grand Cleric, and moved the pawn. “I’m going to take her up on it. There are very few necromancers in the South, and she has an aptitude for it.”

“So long as you’re both careful.”

“Oh, believe me.” Dorian grimaced. “Between myself, Solas, Lavellan, and Lady Vivienne, she’d be hard pressed to find a time that would allow for anything akin to carelessness. Vivienne wants to teach her about the finer points of fire, it seems, and Solas has declared himself practically her father, so I don’t think we’re going to have much trouble keeping her busy.”

Cullen nodded, and a scattering of stones had them looking up. Krem came into the garden, a few specks of blood on his cheeks and an easy smile on his face.

“Oh dearest one, my darling dear,” Cullen sang, and Krem rolled his eyes. Cullen got to his feet, pressing their foreheads together. Dorian rolled his eyes, but smiled at the rather sappy pair. “You’ve a bit of someone on your cheek, my love.”

“Private Morris is horrendous with a maul,” Krem murmured, kissing him quickly. “I’m going to take advantage of Lavellan’s bath, and then I’ll be good to go.”

“I’ll wait in my office for you, then.”

“Not masked, under cover of moonlight whilst carrying a rose for your illicit love?” Krem teased, and Cullen groaned. Apparently, it was an inside joke.

“Spare me from Varric’s moonlight lovers tropes.”

“Never.” Krem kissed him again, fond, and ran a hand through his hair to loosen the curls. “Enjoy your game.” He stepped away, nodding to Dorian. “Altus.”

“Krem.”

The man left, leaving Cullen smiling like the happiest puppy alive, and Dorian rolled his eyes as he switched his Cullen’s Divine with his Knight-Commander.

Chapter Text

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and the world kept on turning. Merrill became a fixture in the library, forever scurrying back and forth between the levels and a constant source of humor. Dorian’s nights with Bull became weeks full of rope, teeth, and carefully trimmed claws, laughter and cuddling between sheets. Cullen blossomed into something new, a bright, vivid man who laughed easily and started playing pranks on his fellow advisors. Lavellan and Hawke stayed in contact, Varric wrote a new series, Solas continued his work on the murals, and Blackwall entered a local carving contest and took third. Vivienne started teaching dance and etiquette classes, which Grim attended religiously.

And then there was Sera.

Dorian genuinely liked Sera. She was strange and funny and thoroughly enjoyed pranking Cullen, who had recently rediscovered the concept of fun and was attempting to prank back, and she was actually quite kind. In her own way, of course. She had opened up her room to his readings of the illegal folk tales (and he’d found another translation of the Apologi Tevene so they were about to get a taste of Tevinter weirdness at the next weekly reading), and she kept bringing him little gifts that touched him more than he’d admit. He now had a whole shelf of lovingly dusted pieces of pretty glass, rude bookmarks, one porcelain ash tray, and little figurines she had brought him. Bull teased him about being a magpie, but he was thrilled to have found a friend.

And they were friends, in a very roundabout way. They insulted people together, and laughed, and as long as he didn’t do magic everything was good.

Merrill, however, made things a little more complicated.

In Sera’s words, Merrill was ‘elfy’. To put it very mildly. Merrill, frankly, could not get more elfy if she tried. Between the vallaslin, the magic, the general inability to quite figure out human culture and traditions despite being in the midst it for quite some time now, she was elfy. Merrill also really, really wanted to be friends with Sera.

Sera was not so sure on this.

oOo

“Halamshiral?”

Lavellan made a disgusted noise, flopping down on the cushion normally reserved for Merrill at his feet. He stroked her hair out of sheer habit, and she flopped against his legs. “It’s this whole thing. I hate politics. Josephine says we have to go.”

Dorian politely declined to mention that her whole job was politics. “Well, sweetest oozing blossom of my heart, I guess I’ll have to open a credit line and start sending measurements back to my tailor.”

“What?” She looked up at him, and he sighed.

“Sweetpea,” he said, and she rolled her eyes at the nickname, “I cannot waltz into the Orlesian courts, where the Empress will be in attendance, with the wardrobe I have now. For one thing, it’s getting terrifyingly threadbare. I wasn’t exactly expecting to lose quite so much money on housing and so forth. At the very least I need good court wear, and I’ll have to make do with whatever I can hunt down that’s not horrendous at the mall.”

She sat up, frowning at him. “Dorian, I know things like this are important to you- and I mean really important, but... you don’t need to beggar yourself for my sake. Besides, I’m pretty sure we’ll all be dressed alike.”

He grimaced. “Not good. For one thing, if we take Merrill, the two of you will be confused for each other all night.”

“What, really?”

He tapped his ear and she scowled. “Right. Fuckin’ shems. No offense meant.”

“None taken, my dear.” He sighed, and she leaned against his legs again. “We need to make you into a beauty they can’t ignore. And Merrill into someone they can’t forget.”

Merrill took that moment to step into the alcove, looking at them both with curious eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“We’ve been invited to the Winter Palace at Halamshiral,” Lavellan said with a grimace. Merrill looked down at the floor, her face falling.

“Oh. I’ve never been to Halamshiral,” she said quietly, and Lavellan reached up to take her hand. They spoke in Elvhen for a bit, and Merrill brightened up a little before turning to Dorian. “Will we wear fancy costumes like the Orlesian’s do? With the masks?”

“The masks are just an Orlesian noble thing,” he said, shaking his head. “If we go, you and I will not have masks, though we will have some very fabulous outfits.”

Merrill grimaced. “I don’t think I’ve ever worn something that could be called fabulous.”

“Well, then it’s about time we found something for you,” he said firmly. “Something very Dalish, something very you, and most importantly of all, something that will make everyone stop and be amazed, because you are beautiful and deserve to have people falling at your feet.”

Merrill went bright pink, clapping her hands over her mouth as Lavellan chuckled, standing up to give her a one armed hug. “See why I keep him around?”

“That was so sweet!”

oOo

The fight over dress attire for the trip was one for the history books. Between Josephine, Vivienne, and Dorian, it was a near death experience that just about ended in a brawl. By the end of it, no one could quite remember their original positions on anything. The majority of it went something like this:

“We are not putting everyone in green. I don’t care if it is Lavellan’s signature color, green is extremely unpopular at court right now and will make us all look sickly!”

“We cannot wear orange! No orange!”

“I maintain that we should have separate attire, each representing our own cultures. Also, let’s settle this first- black for non commanding armed force dress, and red for commanding?”

“Ooh. Cullen would look very dashing in red, it is true, and he is very popular with the court. I’ve seen a few very lewd blogs going around.”

“You blog? Never mind. It’s a given that Cremisius will be in attendance. We can hardly take Knight-Captain Rylen, the man faints at the sight of anything akin to court function.”

“And just think how striking they’ll look together. Black and red, twirling on the dance floor…”

“Excellent. I’m quite sold on this. Any objections? No? Wonderful, I’ll see about having designs drawn up.”

“Now, to Lavellan’s dress-“

“We cannot go with Dalish! She’ll lose favor!”

And so forth. But at the end of it, the decision was made. People would have a choice between Inquisition red or black, or could wear clothes of their choice (after approval was gained from all three of the fashionistas sitting in court at Vivienne’s balcony) provided they wore the elegant blue sash that would mark them as Inquisition. The rest of Skyhold finally reemerged from hiding with the affair settled, and the first stages of getting clothing actually put together began.

oOo

Back to Sera.

The first time that Merrill attempted friendship, she made the rather large mistake of asking Sera where she was from. This wouldn’t have been quite as bad had she not asked which clan.

Merrill moped, Sera fumed, and Dorian had to deal with them both. It wasn’t fun. After that, things got a little easier. Merrill asked for Sera’s help with some baby birds she’d found, not sure if she could get the fallen nest back to its precarious place on the roof, and Sera did it with a modicum of grumbling. Sera invited her to prank people, and Merrill did her best. The two slowly got to the point where they could almost be called friends, and Dorian was proud of them. Merrill was so sweet and deliberately innocent that even Sera wanted to protect her. The fact that Merrill adored learning jokes certainly helped.

But now, with the wave of preparations that had engulfed them for the upcoming ball, Dorian found himself unexpectedly cornered.

Literally.

“Sera, this isn’t necessa-“

“Shut it.”

She’d managed to pin him in one of the far back stacks, and was glaring intently at him. Sera had a very good, slightly terrifying glare. It was quite impressive. He nodded, and waited for her to continue.

“Does Peaches need anything? For the dance thing.”

Dorian blinked. “Who- You mean Merrill?”

“Yeah.” Sera’s glare was losing its terror inducing qualities. She almost looked a little nervous.

“Why do you call her Peaches?”

Sera shrugged. “Like peaches and cream. Sweet and all that. And other things-“

“Other- oh, ew, no, don’t tell me that.” He grimaced and Sera cackled. “That’s just mean, I didn’t need that in my life. And… I think she wants gloves, to go with her dress. She was telling Lavellan about how she wanted these pretty lace gloves with the fingers cut off that she saw at one of the shops because they were so elegant. She’s going to be wearing lots of black and green anyway, they’d match. We don’t quite have the budget for lace gloves, sadly.”

“Long ones? Elbow ones, like for the screaming plays?”

It took him a second to translate, and then he nodded. “Yes, like for the opera. That’s a great name for it. Screaming plays. I’ll have to remember that.”

oOo

Two days later Merrill burst in to hold up her lace covered arms and chatter excitedly about being left such a beautiful present, and Dorian couldn’t help smiling.

Chapter Text

“Do you think I should go in black or red?” Bull asked as Dorian worked on a paper at the bar a few weeks before Halamshiral. He looked up over his reading glasses, his hair in disarray but mustache perfectly groomed as he sipped at his coffee. He’d pulled on one of Bull’s oversized shirts, and the neck draped easily off one shoulder, practically a robe that hung down to his thighs. He’d left the soft, silky underwear on, enjoying the noises Bull made when he happened to catch sight of them.

“Hmm?”

“Red or black for Halamshiral?”

“Oh, you’re going for sure?” He set the coffee down and reached up, smiling when Bull walked over to let him wrap his arms around and nuzzle into him. After nearly a week with a cold that had left him a miserable, sneezing mess, he was feeling extremely grateful for Bull’s not exactly tender, but effective care.

“Yep. Got the confirmation this morning.” Bull nuzzled him back, making Dorian purr. “You smell good today.”

“Mmm. Healthy again, that’s probably why. And I switched shampoo. I can afford the nice stuff again.”

Bull kissed the top of his head, letting Dorian relax into his chest. “Probably. So, red or black?”

“Black, I think,” Dorian said, closing his eyes to listen to Bull’s heartbeat. “I’ll be in black and gold, we’ll complement each other. Do you have fittings soon?”

“Next week. Then I'm going to take them to Krem and see what he can do. Boy has a gift.” Bull’s nails, just long enough to start being claws, scratched gently at his scalp. He melted, leaning heavily into him.

“As long as you keep the other hand short,” he mumbled, “you can keep the claws.”

“Deal.”

oOo

The trip there was, frankly, a nightmare. For one thing, they had to go by land instead of flying, and vans were not the most wonderful method of travel by any stretch of the imagination. While a modicum of planning kept everyone from being murdered by their seatmates, it was quite an experience just leaving Skyhold.

Dorian, Bull, Sera, Cullen, Krem, and Merrill took the first, with Cullen at the helm looking like he was prepped for martyrdom. Lavellan, Blackwall, Vivienne, Solas, and Cassandra took the next, along with a good portion of the luggage. Varric, Leliana, and Josephine drew the short straw and took the rest of the baggage, and theoretically Cole. The seating was squishy, and the only reason they managed to fit six in the first was because Merrill was so tiny she could practically perch on anyone’s lap and be just fine. Sera, curiously, seemed to get her most often.

By the time they arrived Cullen was a jittery mess, having had to stop and walk around for a bit to calm down, or let Krem take the wheel (highly illegally). Turned out their commander wasn’t much of a fan of small, cramped spaces, and was only the driver because he happened to have an Orlesian and Ferelden license. Merrill, thankfully, figured this out quickly and spent most of her time either staring in fascination at the landmarks or curled up in Bull’s lap, asleep and snoring softly. Sera and Krem kept each other entertained with drawings passed back and forth while Dorian and Bull just leaned on each other. They’d long since learned how to be quiet in each other’s company, drawing strength from each other’s presence.

As everyone fell out, stretching and groaning after the long ride, Bull looked over to the second van. Lavellan fell out, clutching the ground and kissing it in relief. Blackwall and Cassandra looked like they were five seconds away from doing the same as Solas and Vivienne stalked away from each other, icy as could be.

“Fun trip?” he asked dryly.

“Varric and Leliana get her next time,” Lavellan said fervently, bouncing up to hug him tightly. “Never again.”

He chuckled, patting her head. “I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.”

Dorian groaned as he walked stiffly up, turning them into a sandwich as he leaned on Lavellan. “At least Sera and Merrill behaved.”

“I heard that, hahren,” Merrill said as she headed for her luggage.

“Don’t call me hahren! Solas should be hahren, he’s much older!”

oOo

Merrill sat on their bed as Bull and Dorian unpacked, her legs swinging. It was a very tall bed, with a canopy and exquisite drapes that reminded Dorian deeply of home. The whole place looked like a tackier version of his parents townhome in Minrathous, minus the depressing late Gothic black chandeliers everywhere. “This place makes me sad,” she said quietly, and Dorian turned to her.

“Why so?”

“It feels so… empty. Like there are people walking around in halls that don’t exist, and it all reeks of blood, blood, blood. Of course, that makes sense, where they stole it from my people and murdered us for it.” She stared at the floor bleakly. “I hope no one tries to kill us. This seems like the sort of place where they’d want to do that.”

“I know,” Dorian said, and she hopped off the bed to help him wrangle his court suit into the closet. Bull’s gear was even more terrifying, and required custom hangers. Dorian’s make up box (more like a trunk, honestly) had been set up on the exceptionally rococo vanity. “But we’ll be just fine.”

“I know,” she said, and he leaned over to kiss her forehead.

“You should go get settled in,” he said, and she nodded. “Remember, you’re with Sera. Nothing bad will happen while she’s around. For one thing, she’ll happen to them first.”

Merrill grinned at that, and Bull ruffled her hair as she headed to the door. Once it was shut, he sighed heavily.

“What?” Dorian said, brushing down his suits sleeve. The small safe already held a small fortune in his old jewelry that Maevaris Tilani had snuck into his house to retrieve for him at the behest of Varric, who Dorian was now indebted to for the rest of his life. Some of the pieces were invaluable.

“That kid worries me.”

“Everything worries you, amatus.”

oOo

The night was uneventful, and by late afternoon the Inquisition was a flurry of frantic motion as people dressed, flitting back and forth between rooms to help each other. The only one who didn’t seem to be a nervous wreck was Varric, who couldn’t have cared less if he tried.

Merrill peeked into Vivienne’s room, where she was fussing with Cullen’s sash. “Ma’am?”

Vivienne glanced over, and beckoned her in. She stepped in, set down the package she carried and shyly twirled. Vivienne lit up, Cullen forgotten.

“Oh, ma petite,” she crooned, and Merrill beamed. If she’d managed to impress the terror that was Lady Vivienne, she’d clearly done well. Dorian was going to be thrilled. She came to the center of the room for Vivienne’s inspection.

The dress was fabulous, a warm, delicate green that fit her form with sleeves to her elbows. But from her waist down, she wore layer upon layer of carefully embroidered satin in black and brown, designed to look like she wore a closed blood lotus. She spun, and the dress opened to reveal beautiful red and gold underneath, rustling and catching the light gracefully. The lace gloves were firmly on her hands, and on her shoulder, embroidered in gold, was the Pavus house symbol to mark her as Dorian’s apprentice.

“Oh, you look divine,” Vivienne breathed. “Spin again!”

She did, holding her skirts out to increase the effect.

“You, my dear, may well start a fashion trend. Who designed this?”

She ducked her head as she caught Cullen smiling, looking easier with her than he ever had. “I came up with the idea, but the dressmakers back at New Haven made it.”

“How charming,” Vivienne said, and nodded approvingly.

Cassandra appeared in command red, followed by Blackwall in full Grey Warden blues and silvers with his sash firmly in place. Leliana appeared in the Inquisition’s black, followed by Varric in a modified version of the command red, his chest exposed. Sera stomped in, gorgeous in the red and hopping mad.

“Can’t find my sash,” she snapped, and Merrill hurried over.

“Sera, I have something for you,” she said, and Sera paused, suspicious.

Merrill hurriedly pulled open the package, revealing Sera’s sash, with a few modifications. Sera deflated as she came over, holding it out hesitantly. “I just… I wanted to thank you,” she said, the lace beautiful on her arms, hiding all her old scars. “So I got out my needle and thread and I- here. I didn't use any magic! Just my needle and thread” She showed her the tiny arrows she’d stitched around each side, with their tiny red “J”’s in between each one. Sera stared, shocked, and Merrill said softly, “May I put it on you?”

She nodded, and Merrill carefully wound it onto her, pinning it with a fancy brooch that had been Dorian’s with a giant arrow going through it. She smoothed it down, blushing a little, and stepped back. Sera gently touched the soft cloth, apparently past words for once.

The door opened again, breaking the moment, and revealed Lavellan in a sweeping black dress of that split at her knees to reveal smooth, well soled boots, the inquisition’s symbol picked out in white crystals on the bodice. The back was a duplicate of her vallaslin, also in crystals. There was only the faintest hint of a train, and the dress itself settled across her shoulders in a wide, elegant boat collar to show off her elegant neck. She held her arms out, black rings on both middle fingers. “Well?” she said.

Silence. Everyone stared on in awe, Cassandra letting out a soft gasp as Lavellan strode in, spinning elegantly. The dress rustled invitingly.

“Oh, my lady,” Merrill whispered, blinking back a few tears. “You’re beautiful.”

Lavellan beamed, spinning for them again, and everyone let out the appropriate sighing.

“And that is how you tailor a dress,” Krem said smugly from the doorway. Cullen let out a strangled noise at the sight of him. He was in the black, and it was very complimentary. The suit was tailored to perfection, and his chest fairly bristled with bars and awards from Tevinter. His shoulder patch marking him as Sergeant Major was on bold, golden display, and the sleek black knee boots tapped with appropriate menace as he came in. The smooth lines turned his shoulder to waist ratio into visual perfection.

“If you’ll all excuse us,” Cullen said, sweeping forward to grab Krem’s arm, “I need to take him to investigate a suspicious alcove down the hall.”

“What- Cullen!” Krem yelped, and was promptly dragged off, just in time to exchange places with Josephine, who peeked in nervously before gathering her dress and stepping in. Everyone gasped, even Vivienne.

She smoothed her skirts as she turned, smiling sheepishly at them all. She was dressed in silver satin, the dress gathered and ruched at the sides with tiny, intricate detailing at a gather on her hip. The rest of the dress hung in a smooth column that hid the fact that it was actually voluminous skirts, a train behind her and silver buttons up her back. Her sleeves were silver lace as well, and her sash cinched elegantly with a long, silver tie that had tiny griffons on the knots. Blackwall stepped forward, matching her perfectly, and gently kissed her hand.

“My lady,” he murmured.

The whole room, even Sera, let out a little sigh of happiness as she sank into an elegant curtsy. “My lord warden.”

The two walked off to the side, gleaming together, and Solas took the moment to stalk grouchily in. He’d managed to somehow snag the uniform in white, and had shoved a rather ridiculous hat on his head. Everyone declined to comment.

And, at long awaited last, Dorian and Bull made it to the party.

Bull was resplendent in the black, another one of Krem’s tailored masterpieces, and gold bands on his horns gleamed gorgeously in the light. Dorian was the definition of the word extravagant, his tall collar gold on the interior. The black of his coat was kept from plainness by virtue of elegant, beautifully worked embroidery of dragons entwined together, and on his arm the most elaborate version of the House Pavus crest had been worked out. Long, gloves with a ring that caught on his middle finger went to his elbow, and the sleeves were wide bells trimmed in tiny beadwork. It was long, brushing past his knees, and he’d poured himself into leather pants with pressed designs. His boots, however, matched Bull’s with a vivid depiction of a spread winged dragon. Gold dusted both their faces, and Bull had been carefully painted with what was likely Dorian’s eyeliner in patterns similar to vitaar. Both of them were covered in gold jewelry.

“Ohh,” Merrill gasped. “It looks even better on!”

“Of course it does,” Dorian said, preening as Cassandra rolled her eyes.

Krem and Cullen reappeared in the doorway, Cullen’s curls now a lost cause and Krem considerably pinker than he had been.

“You two are hopeless,” Cassandra sighed, but fondly, and as Cole appeared in Inquisition black, they took their leave for the party.

Chapter Text

The music was light and airy, and Dorian was bored half out of his mind as he watched one of the nobles be carted away after a rather botched attempt at murder.

“Two assassination attempts,” he said with a sigh to his conversation partner, a rather leggy woman in an unfortunate orange dress. She flicked her fan, uncertain of his expression.

“You seem sad about that, Ser Pavus.”

He sipped his wine, sighing expressively. “It reminds me of home,” he said wistfully. “It never was a successful garden party until my uncle had nearly killed half the catering staff and at least three opposing magisters. Uncle Renaldo is well known for his parties. They’re the highlight of the season for the sheer fact that if you attend and are polite, your political enemies practically poof out of existence.”

“I…I see. If you’ll excuse me, my mistress is waving.” The woman in orange bolted away, leaving Dorian to his wine. He sighed, and turned his attention to the dance floor. Vivienne had stolen Bull, and they were intricately working through the Dance of the Seven Candles to much excited chatter. Merrill and Sera were giggling together in a corner, and waved when they saw him looking. He waved back, his attention then drawn to Krem, who’d been flocked by admirers. Cullen had been backed into a corner, and looked like he desperately needed saving. The poor man was barely functional in normal diplomatic situations. This had to be hell for him.

Dorian decided to take pity on him and swanned over, easily parting the seas with a loud, “Ah, Commander Cullen! It is I, the Tevinter altus!”

Cullen looked like he wanted to scowl and laugh all at once, and let Dorian sweep him away from the horde of cooing, pinching nobles.

“Next time we’re bringing Rylen,” he said firmly, clinging to Dorian’s arm. “I don’t care how much we have to bribe him, he’s coming. I can’t do this alone. And before you say it, Krem doesn’t count, he keeps getting swept away to dance with people.”

Krem spotted them and extricated himself from his own swarm, walking over to take a relieved Cullen off of Dorian’s arm.

“Have I told you that you’re wonderful today?” Cullen said fervently as Krem glared at one of the noblemen who’d made to grab Cullen and scared him away. “Because you are, in fact, the prize jewel of the Inquisition.”

“It’s been said,” Krem said, a little smugly, and tightened his arm around Cullen’s possessively. Dorian hid a smirk. “Shall we dance?”

“I’m a horrendous dancer.”

“Oh, shut up. I can lead enough for the both of us. How do you feel about the tango?” They seemed to glide away, Cullen murmuring his thanks again to Dorian, and he began making his rounds of the room. Merrill and Sera were next, and Merrill was blushing a little and giggling as she hopped down to hug him.

He raised his eyebrows at them, and she lifted her wine glass hastily. “Just wine! I’m just a little hot from all the wine, I’m fine.”

Dorian smiled as she hugged him again, gently hugging back. “Has anyone been mean to you?”

“Oh, no, it’s been just fine. They’re mostly pretending we don’t exist.” She leaned into him and pointed to a rather forlorn looking man leaning against the wall. “He was nice though. And he keeps watching that girl in the pretty blue dress over there like he wants to talk to her but he’s too scared to do it.”

“Does he now…” Dorian mused, looking over to the girl, who was chatting with some others about her age. “Well, we’ll just have to play matchmaker for them.”

“Ooh, really?”

oOo

Bull was only a little bit winded when Lavellan appeared at his elbow, blinking up at him with a razor sharp smile.

“Bull,” she said sweetly, and he grimaced. Whenever Lavellan whipped out her I-am-so-sweet voice, he knew to be concerned for his safety. “Your darling definitely-not-husband has decided to play matchmaker for two of the most powerful families in Orlais. Do go see what he's on about.”

“Excuse me.”

He found Dorian talking to a rather shy looking girl with pretty red curls and a graceful blue dress, who seemed to be hanging on his every word.

“Seriously,” he was saying as Bull reached his side. “All evening.”

She wafted her fan, looking longingly towards a man that Merrill was happily giggling with. He looked to be around 25, though the mask made it difficult, with long blonde hair and a well fitted suit. “Oh, but he’s so far above me. We’re only merchants, you see. Rich merchants, certainly, but definitely merchants.”

“And the way he looks at you suggests he’d like nothing more than to bring you up in class,” Dorian said, smiling as Bull’s hand wrapped around his hip. “Oh, hello amatus. You and Vivienne were quite striking on the dance floor.”

“Thank you, kadan. Who’s this?”

Dorian smiled as the girl bobbed a wobbly curtsy, staring up at him in awe. “Bull, this is Sabine Chevaux, of Val Royeaux. Sabine, this is The Iron Bull.”

“A pleasure,” she said, a little breathlessly. “You are so tall. How do you not always hit your head on doors?”

Bull laughed, knocking his horns. “These do it for me.”

That got a laugh and a smile out of her, and he was charmed to see how warm they both were. Half of the Orlesian’s wouldn’t approach him, and the other half were clearly looking to snag a Qunari fuck. He had no intentions of letting them. Dorian was pleasantly possessive. This girl seemed fairly sweet from what little he’d seen of her, and Dorian wouldn’t have bothered if he hadn’t liked her.

“I was talking with Mam’selle Sabine about the charming young man that Merrill’s conversing with,” he said, leaning into Bull. “He’s been watching her with a great deal of longing all evening.”

“Count Apollinaire du Bellerose, of Valance,” she said wistfully. “We’ve not been introduced, but I’ve heard he’s so very sweet.”

Dorian looked up at Bull with a smile that was entirely too excited.

“You are absolutely never allowed to do this again without telling me,” Bull said wearily. “I won’t have you pairing up all of Skyhold.”

He stood on his tip toes and kissed Bull’s cheek, and Sabine flicked her fan open to hide her smile. “Thank you, darling. Mam’selle Sabine, if you might accompany me to meet my lovely apprentice?”

“Oh, certainly messare,” she said, taking his arm. Bull shook his head fondly, following them across the room. Sera had been dragged into conversation with a pair of noble girls who were listening to a story that seemed to be about fisting, with wide eyes and clinging to her every word. Varric was taking notes in the background, grinning widely as Sera embellished. Bull nodded to them, getting a wave from Varric, and followed Dorian and Sabine over to Merrill.

She was chattering brightly to the grinning Count, and they caught the tail end of it. “And that’s how the bread started being made every Tuesday! Oh, Dorian, hi!”

Dorian smiled, letting her hug him quickly. “Hello, Merrill. Merrill, this is Sabine Chevaux of Val Royeaux. Sabine, Merrill of Kirkwall and New Haven, and my rather redoubtable apprentice.”

Bull watched the Count, who was staring at Sabine like he was a starving man placed in front of a banquet and unable to touch. He was younger than he’d though, closer to his early twenties like Sabine. She kept glancing at him with excited, eager eyes, and he’d glance away before looking back with such longing that Bull had to admit this was a good plan. Merrill and Sabine exchanged pleasantries and Dorian looked at her pointedly, nodding towards the Count.

“Oh! Dorian, this is Apollinaire du Bellerose. Isn’t that a lovely name? Sabine, have you met?”

Their eyes finally met, and from the way they both went still Bull knew Dorian had made a good choice. The Count stepped forward, a man transfixed, and Dorian carefully moved out of the way to let Apollinaire into the space where he had been.

“No,” Sabine said at last, a little breathy. “We’ve not.”

She extended her hand and Apollinaire kissed it, his eyes fixed on hers.

“I am at your service,” he said, and she gasped softly. The music switched to something warm and slow, and he straightened, not letting go of her hand. “My lady, forgive me, but I must know. Are you engaged or betrothed?”

“No,” she said breathily. “No, I have no attachments.”

Apollinaire took a shaky breath, her hand still in his. “Then please, may I have this dance?”

As if in a trance, the two walked out onto the dance floor, Sabine’s dress an elegant, rustling masterpiece of blue silk. Apollinaire couldn’t take his eyes off of her, and as she picked up her skirts, they began to slowly dance in perfect harmony with each other. They were a beautiful pair, spinning gracefully through the throngs of people like no one else was on the floor. Whispers started around the room, and a woman with Sabine’s same hair covered her mouth in what seemed to be overjoyed shock.

“Ah, young love,” Dorian sighed, leaning into Bull. “Or lust, at least.”

“They’re so cute,” Merrill crooned.

Cassandra walked over, sighing happily as she watched the pair. “Is this your doing?”

“A little,” Dorian admitted.

“Good.” She smiled, and jumped when Varric appeared seemingly out of nowhere. “Where have you been?”

He tapped his notebook. “Sera’s entertaining, thought I’d get some stories.”

The group looked over at Sera’s corner. She’d gathered about ten noble girls, who were all blushing and fluttering their fans as the listened with rapt attention. She seemed to be telling a story about shooting something this time, and all of them were clearly enraptured. Merrill’s embroidered sash was lovely on her, and Merrill turned a pretty pink when Sera saw them looking and waved.

“I shudder to think what horror we have unleashed on the Orlesian court,” Cassandra said dryly. Varric chuckled.

“Don’t worry, Seeker, they’ll be fine.” He tucked his notebook away, sighing as he looked over the dancers. “I’ve never understood this whole dancing thing.”

Bull decided it was time to vacate the conversation as Cassandra rounded on Varric with color high in her cheeks. “Dorian, sweetheart,” he purred, and Dorian eyed him suspiciously.

“What is it?”

“Wanna dance?”

He sighed, but the smile on his face gave him away. “Oh, well. If you insist.”

oOo

By the end of the evening all was well. Lavellan had managed peace between all three opposing parties, Dorian and Bull had danced a good seven times, Sera had dragged Merrill out for one, Blackwall and Josephine managed to sneak away and dance on the balcony, respendent in blue and silver as half of the court watched from the windows and cheered when the music ended. Solas only argued with a few people, Vivienne ended four careers, and Varric and Cassandra had done something akin to dancing out of sheer drunken hilarity.

Leliana watched from the garden as the group all laughed and joked, and smiled. A rustling caught her attention, and she smiled as a broad hand fell on her shoulder.

“Were you invading the kitchen, Sten?”

The Arishok shrugged, a bag of cookies in his hand. “I thought it would be better if I let them handle this. This is the best outcome for us, and Inquisitor Lavellan is competent. I would have intervened if necessary.”

She chuckled, watching as Dorian and Bull attempted a two step. “And you didn’t want to upset Bull.”

The silence was telling.

She turned, smiling up at him as he looked down at her with what could best be described as fond exasperation.

“I know you’ve followed his career for quite some time,” she said fondly, stealing a cookie. “You sap.”

“I am not a tree, kadan.”

The music carried out to the garden, and she lifted her hands imperiously. “Dance with me.”

“What?”

“Dance with me.”

The Arishok stared. “Why would I do that?”

“Because I asked nicely, and you’re my friend.”

The Arishok sighed, setting his bag down. “I do this only because I know you’ll blackmail me if I don’t.”

“See, you do know me.”

oOo

Inside, Bull looked out the window to see two people dancing in the garden, and gently nudged Dorian. Dorian glanced out the window and bit back a gasp, looking up at Bull for confirmation.

“Well,” he said softly. “Maybe the Arishok’s got a soft side after all."

And the Nightingale and Arishok danced until the music faded away.

Chapter Text

“Mine, mine, mine,” the man whispers, the collar tightening down until he cannot breathe.

Here he is now, later, in the future past, on his knees looking up. The world is golden, his world is golden, his world speaks with broken tongues and wild eyes and shouted demands. He is in love and it burns him alive, swallows him whole.

He wears the collar with pride, jet beads clacking against tiny gold keys and locks- a choker, my friends, very fashionable this year- he is held down and choked until he comes from the bliss of it.

He is owned and owned and kept and his and will never leave his side, look, he has been lifted from the depths. The whores crowd, he falls to his knees and worships the sun made flesh that is his love, presses his face to the boots that kick him and worships. He is dragged from old friends- he does not need them, save Felix, who is sick and his love does not know, cannot know about how he spends hours at Felix’s side to read to him. His love is jealous, but he is so proud. Worthwhile, worth collaring, worth being owned, and submission is hard for him but he will, for his love. He will not fight, he will be meek and humble and all good things, he will obey without question. It is so easy.

He lets his body float, pays no attention to the laughter, is obsessed.

“Mine, mine, mine,” Rilienus hisses, a knife to his throat. “How dare you look elsewhere, you are mine.”

Not all blood magic must be done with blood.

The litany breaks the hold. He burns the collar. He burns his clothes. He comes home at 3 AM shivering in the darkness, dressed in stolen finery from a line, and his father is half out of his mind with relief and terror. He lets himself be held like he’s a child again, scared. His father is free of blackmail now. Rilienus has no hold on Halward Pavus. Rilienus’ house flees Minrathous in the face of Halward’s rage.

Dorian buries the memories deep, deep down, where they cannot touch him, and throws away the key, leaving only soft happiness in the courtyard of the Circle, and a wish for something that never was.

He never asked, and Rilienus never smiled with cruel intent, and said yes.

Chapter Text

Winter was upon them, and Dorian stared blankly out at the unchanging mountains beyond Bull’s window. He was wrapped in the blankets, his makeup smeared from the nights rather wild events, and rope burn on his thighs made wearing pants sound like a nightmare. The mountains were sharp like knives, and he watched as snow drifted off like a white lace veil from their sides. The wind was howling. Below them, smoke from New Haven’s chimneys was pulled away by the wind. In a land like this, extra heating was always good. Bull was prepared as well, he knew in a vague sense, though he wasn’t certain how.

“Something happened,” he said faintly, as Bull sank onto the bed behind him. Bacon sizzled in the pan on the stove, the eggs already cooked. “Today. Years ago. Something happened.”

“What?” Bull’s hand stroked through his hair, teasing the short strands at the back.

“I don’t know. I can’t remember.” He watched as the world shifted again, the snow falling off one of the stiff peaks. A small avalanche followed, creating a new landscape and scar in its wake. “Everything and nothing, all at the same time. I breathe and I don’t, I see but I’m blind.”

Bull came to sit beside him, and he leaned in close when an arm wrapped around him. The world was white, blistering to his eyes, and he couldn’t bear to look away. New Haven was in lockdown until the storm passed, he was going nowhere besides Bull’s building. It was a good thing he was practically moved in- there was no chance he would have escaped his basement apartment. No wonder it was cheap, they’d expected him dead come winter. There was probably a law about that.

“Krem saw slavers in town yesterday,” Bull said softly, and Dorian looked up in alarm. Bull was somber, his eye fixing on Dorian. “He took pictures, sent them down to the station. If they try anything, we’ll have faces to go off of.”

“Fasta vass.”

He closed his eyes, leaning into Bull and letting the sound of the wind howling around the building and Bull’s familiar warmth lull him back into a state of calm.

oOo

The snow is white, the snow is white, he must run and run and run. Where are the woods? Where are the woods? His woods have been stolen, the Veil is wrong. Where is he? His paws in the snow, his body elongating to race across the frigid north. The castle is tall and stalwart, and other battlements he sees her. Her. This woman, this Lavellan, he will protect her. And the small one, the not-Sabrae, he will protect her as well. Yes, there is where he should be. No trees, no birds, no People but them, their faces stained with servitude. He would strip them of their marks. Merrill, little Merrill, owned by Falon’Din. This is wrong.

Falon’din, tyrant, holding what is his. The Dread Wolf will not stand for this.

Solas woke with wet hands and clothes, a crumpled heap on the library floor.

The doors now bore a pair of golden eyes, boring into his soul.

“Oh, no,” he whispered.

oOo

Golden sunlight, birds singing in a garden, something on his neck, a warm hand stroking his side

WRONG

Dorian gasped himself awake, flames bursting out and onto the floor as panic overwhelmed him. “NO! Noli me tangere! Noli me tangere!” Emotion poured out of him, his staff on the other side of the room, but he didn’t need it now. He could burn without that, he could raze the place without so much as lifting a finger. Oh, Maker, he couldn’t take this, he could feel hands on his skin, get them off get them off get them off! Fire raced up the curtains, blasting across the ceiling and through the bed. His clothes were ash in a second, the heat swallowing him. Fire was not his strong suit but it boiled out of him. Burn, burn them! How can it be touching me, I must burn it all, tainted, tainted!

“Dorian! Dorian! Katoh!”

The flames snuffed out at the word, a small piece of his fractured mind recognizing the voice and meaning. The Iron Bull used his word rarely, and he had used now, he had to stop, he had to rein it in, he was in control, damn you, this is mine! I am patience, I am fury, I must be iron control! Dorian snapped back to reality, his chest heaving as he struggled to breathe. Bull stood before him, his skin smoking as he held out his hands. Behind him a face seemed to rise, unlined and sexless but bearing a twisted smile, a knife sliding around the Bull’s throat.

“No,” he breathed, scrambling up. The image disappeared, leaving only the Bull, smoke rolling off of him. The sheets cracked with latent fire, and without meaning to he slammed Ice hard down on the bed. The curtains shattered as they froze as well, though the ceiling was safe. “Amatus, amatus, no-”

“Fireproof,” Bull said, taking Dorian’s hands. “I’m fireproof, it’s fine. See? I’m safe. What happened?”

Dorian wrenched his hands away to frantically feel all over him, looking for scorch marks or cuts. There were none, though his shoulder brace was clearly worse for the wear and his belt was ruined. “You- I- something was wrong. There was someone touching me, something I didn’t want and couldn’t get away from fast enough, I thought I saw someone trying to cut your throat. Amatus, are you safe? I’m so sorry, I’ve destroyed your room, I-I’ll find a way to pay-“

“Dorian.”

He was swept up into a tight hug, and he let out a broken sob as he clutched him back.

“What’s wrong with me?”

oOo

“This is a new one,” Merrill said brightly as she looked at the library doors. Solas shuddered, his hand slipping as he detailed some trees. It left an unsightly brown smudge. “I like it. It reminds me of someone guarding us, watching over us while we work.”

“Does it?” It certainly didn’t feel that way to him. It felt like an accusation, fire and blood in his mouth as he walked a battlefield. It felt like Lavellan, wild and untamed, running with deadly silence through the hills with her staff. It all came back to her, always to her. She was something else, something wild and free, something he could not touch. The marks on her face made her slave, but nothing and no one would ever tame the Inquisitor. She was Beyond. His skin crawled. She would have been a fitting consort to the Dread Wolf.

“Wolf eyes,” Merrill continued, thoughtful. “Like… Like he watches us.”

Falon’din, you demanded more and more and still we fought! You cannot have this one, you will not take her! This is mine, this is mine! The blood mage, the necromancer, she is mine, my child, she will always be my daughter! Never yours!

He dropped the brush, and was promptly sick.

Chapter Text

From the desk of Leliana, called Nightingale, a box with the attached note to be sent to Par Vollen:

Arishok,

Enclosed are cookies. They come from a Honnleath recipe, courtesy of Cullen Rutherford. Recipe is attached. I suggest you show it to the bakers. Yours, Leliana

oOo

From the desk of Cullen Rutherford, Commander etc. of the Inquisition’s forces, a handwritten letter to be sent to Honnleath:

Dear Mia,

I seem to have found myself in an unusual predicament. I know it’s been a while since my last letter to you, but things have been a little bit weird. To put it mildly. I met the Arishok, who used to be part of the company with the Hero of Ferelden. I’ve met him before, actually, but he was called Sten then. He helped with the problems we had at Kinloch Hold. I think you’d like him. He’s not like most Qunari, or perhaps he’s just the most Qunari Qunari to ever walk the face of the earth.

I’m stalling. I’m sorry. I’m very scared to write this.

I have a boyfriend.

His name is Cremisius Aclassi. He’s from Tevinter. He’s a firefighter and a Sergeant Major with the Inquisition, though really he’s actually just consulting for us since none of the men can teach worth shit. He’s trans, and he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

Mia, please don’t be upset that I haven’t told you before. 30 years of life make it difficult for people to see clearly. 30 years of vows and honor and straight up druffalo shit tend to make a man confused as well. I don’t have a word for who I am yet, but I want to find one. I’m sorry. I’m very scared. It’s very hard to write this. Krem- he goes by Krem- is sitting here listening to me write while he reads and comments on the idiocy of General Ikauri’s tactics and stratagems, and I think I might be in love. You know how I feel about General Ikauri. I think I love him, Mia, and those aren’t things I’ll say lightly.

Again, please don’t be upset.

Your loving if very slow to respond brother, Cullen

PS: Krem wanted me to tell you that I am eating my greens. He’s very insistent on it.

PPS: I love you

oOo

From inside the cushion of Dorian Pavus’s chair, unsent and not intended to send:

Dear HalwaFatherPatripapa

I am happy. You can’t take that from me. I love him. He is huge and kind and stops when I tell him to, which is new. I hate the cold and miss my bed and the warmth and walking and riding and being home and watching the two of you laugh about the news and the other magisters over dinner and I want to go home but I can’t any more and I dno’t know wahat hurts more Patri I’m sorry but I’m not

And I keep having nightmares where he becomes someone else who I can't think about and I don’t know why and you aren’t here to ask and papa I am very scared

oOo

From the desk of the Arishok, to Skyhold, in very neat print:

Kadan,

Anaan essam Qun. The bakers were suspicious but are curious. They call it Ataash-raas, a glorious thing. I fear you may start a culinary revolution with cookies. I am sending red tea for your headaches.

Please do not fall prey to them. Weakness is unbecoming.

Arishok

oOo

From the journal of Solas, located on his desk in the library:

I am unwell. Something is wrong with me. I can feel him stirring in the back of my mind, and know not why. For now, it seems, he sleeps in the Fade, always waiting and watching. I don’t want to think of him as me. We’re very different, he and I, but still the same. I wonder if he wants to rise because of the injustices around me? The university was bad. I feel like he rose a little then, when he saw a child being hurt. Merrill is still so young, and so very vulnerable to what people suggest.

Dorian cannot know that she is a blood mage. She and I have talked about this. If he was officially told, I fear he would lose his grip and try to hurt her out of fear. I don’t know completely what happened but he’s been left with very deep scars on his soul where someone made the attempt, as well as something subtler. I think he suspects, but he says nothing. I worry.

I don’t know what I’ll do if He truly wakes. The eyes are a warning- I must prepare.

Chapter Text

“Sleighs,” Dorian said darkly, staring at the enormous black horse that stood hitched to a sleigh in front of the apartment building. He’d been bundled into Bull’s warmest coat, which was approximately the same size he was, and a fluffy, pom-pommed pink hat that had apparently been a gag gift from Dalish. He wrapped the coat tighter around himself as Bull climbed up into the seat. Cullen was on a taller seat, holding the reins, and looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there. “You people and your damned winters, you’re actually prepared for not being able to drive.”

“Lavellan keeps stables for a reason,” Cullen said mildly. He was wearing a positively ridiculous furry monstrosity that looked obscenely warm. Was it a bear skin with- were those feather stitched in? “We expected something like this to happen.”

Dorian stomped over to the sleigh, climbing on. Cullen snapped the reins, and the horse began a surprisingly brisk trot. He curled into Bull, but couldn’t help but smile as they picked up speed, the bells on the horses harness jingling cheerily. They weren’t the only ones with a sleigh. A few taxi services were up and running, though it seemed like most of the winter was spent with a lot of walking on snow shoes back and forth to the store. He felt a bit of a thrill just to be out of the apartment, away from the fire stains.

Bull’s arm wrapped around him, for once covered in a thick sweater, and Dorian nestled in.

“All we need is cocoa,” he mumbled, and Bull laughed. They made the turn towards Skyhold, and the sleigh picked up speed. Cullen was practically serene as he guided the horse, and the gates opened for them to reveal Scout Harding waiting just inside.

The small woman smiled, catching the horse’s reins as they came to a stop. “Lavellan’s in the library,” she informed them. “Solas is sick and won’t go to bed. Dorian’s supposed to go and talk to Blackwall in the stables before he does anything, and Josephine wants to go over using the plow on the fire truck with The Iron Bull. Commander, Knight-Captain Rylen is waiting in your office.”

Dorian sighed dramatically, kissing Bull’s cheek before jumping down from the sleigh. There was less snow inside Skyhold’s walls, likely an old spell to protect the place. “I suppose I’ll see you both later then.”

oOo

He found Blackwall without much difficulty. The man was working on a gracefully detailed carving of a small duck at a table in the stables, and Dorian paused in the doorway to take in the familiar smell of horse, hay, and old leather. A wave of homesickness rose, and he squashed it.

“Ah, Dorian! Good to see you.” Blackwall actually smiled, and Dorian walked in. “That’s quite the coat you have there.”

Dorian sighed, flapping his arms a bit. “I know. It was the only thing warm enough though. I’m going to have to go find a good one. I didn’t think winters here were going to be quite so…dramatic.”

Blackwall snorted, setting his tools and the duck aside. “Dramatic is a good word for it. I’ll admit to being a little surprised to see you today. We thought for sure you wouldn’t make it up until tomorrow, when the streets were a little more plowed.”

“I was at Bull’s apartment when Cullen came to get him, and the thought of staying home another day was enough to drive me mad,” Dorian groaned, walking over to sit across the table from him. “All of my things are buried as well, so it’ll be some time before I can go home.”

“That’s what I’ve been asked to talk to you about,” Blackwall said, and Dorian raised an eyebrow.

“Pardon?”

Blackwall sighed, standing up and going to the little fireplace set in the wall. A coffee pot was dangling in the flames, and he neatly removed it and poured two mugs. Dorian took one gratefully, burning his tongue on the first sip, but the caffeine was worth it. Bull preferred cocoa over coffee, so he hadn’t had his fix in a while. “It’s like this,” Blackwall said, grimacing as he realized Dorian drank it plain and spooned a ridiculous amount of sugar in. “Lavellan’s worried but doesn’t want to talk about it. I wouldn’t call it paranoia, but she’s concerned enough that I’ve been asked to talk to you and Bull about moving into Skyhold.”

Dorian very nearly dropped his mug. “What?

“She’s concerned that someone might make a move on the Inner Circle. If we have everyone within Skyhold, it makes life a little easier. And I don’t mean- look, you and Bull could either have your own rooms or share. Either or. There are a few different sections open, and,” he leveled his gaze at Dorian. “Rent free. Don’t argue.”

Dorian closed his mouth, his protest dying on his tongue. Rent free sounded wonderful. He could actually start saving again. He didn’t want to live in Skyhold all that badly- for one thing, he worked here, and living where he worked was a little depressing, but he would be safe within the protective walls and wouldn’t have to worry about the winter snows.

“I’ll… I’ll talk to Bull,” he said quietly, and Blackwall smiled. It was mostly lost under his bushy beard.

“Good. It’ll be nice, having you around more.”

Dorian couldn’t help smiling at that. “Oh, we’re friends now?” he teased, and Blackwall chuckled. They’d had their differences, but they got along in the end, and Dorian would be lying through his teeth if he didn’t say he saw Blackwall as something of a father figure. They weren’t more than 15 years apart in age, but Blackwall had taken it upon himself to look after the rest of the group, and that included Dorian. Dorian would also be lying through his teeth if he didn’t say that he was thrilled by Blackwall’s unending patience with him. It made bad days more bearable to know that no matter how he snapped, Blackwall would still be there the next day to extract an apology and let it go.

The older man rose, clapping him on the shoulder. “Talk to Bull, and let me know so I can show you what’s available. And for the Maker’s sake, let me go find you a coat that isn’t longer than you are. We're not so full up on librarians we can lose one to frostbite.”

oOo

The library was a relief after being outside, almost too hot with all of the fireplaces in full roar. Dorian wasn’t terribly surprised that Solas was gone, though the golden eyes on the door made his skin crawl as he entered.

“Dorian!” Merrill waved from above him, grinning. “Dorian, we have a new shipment that came in! A gift from House Alexius, it says.”

He shed the coat he’d been given- a huge, comfortable, and surprisingly fashionable blue thing with fur trim at the collar and thick fleece on the inside- and hung it and Bull’s coat on the coat tree by the door. “Probably more of Felix’s collection, he seems to be cleaning out before he goes.”

“No, this is from a man named Gereon. Isn’t that the man who was your teacher?”

Dorian smiled, heading up to his work area. “Yes, he is. I’m surprised, he normally can’t stand to part with anything.” He took the inventory sheet from her, whistling as he saw some of the titles. “Oh, this is very good. The University library is acceptable, but we may yet beat them out for best research tomes. Oh, excellent, there’s quite a few that focus on necromancy. We need to start teaching you Nevarran and Tevene if you want to continue to higher level work. Nevarran’s are so obsessed with the dead, they’re the predominant experts on the practice.” He grabbed his reading glasses from off his desk, perching them on his nose. “Hmm. Thank you for marking down their conditions.”

Merrill followed him over to his chair, plopping down on her cushions as he flipped through the list. “Solas got sick while you were gone. He and Lavellan had a fight about it earlier.”

“Oh?”

“He can’t sleep, barely eats. She’s getting worried and made him go up to bed with some soup.”

Dorian chuckled, the image of tiny Lavellan scolding Solas into bed a humorous one. “I’m sure he was just thrilled by that. Merrill, did we have any books from the Université Orlais come in? There were supposed to be a few on Fade and Dream theories.”

“Two,” she confirmed. “Quels Reves Viendra, and Le Fondu Décalage. What Dreams May Come, and The Shifting Fade, in Trade. They’re half Orlesian, half Trade.”

“Good.” He grabbed a pen and circled two of the books from the new Alexius group that looked promising. “Now, I believe I promised you practice on horror spells today.”

oOo

Cullen found him out on the training grounds with Merrill, who was working on perfecting her form as a very wobbly horror spell wrapped around a dummy. Dorian was supervising more than anything, and smiled when Cullen appeared, a welcome distraction.

“Ah, our stalwart commander. What is it I can help you with?”

Cullen shifted a little uncomfortably, took a deep breath, and muttered, “I need to talk with you.”

Dorian eyed him. “Are you all right?”

Cullen stared at the ground, scuffing his boot on the skiff of snow. “I just need to talk with you about some things, okay?”

The wheels of Dorian’s mind slowly started turning, and he said, with a slight bit of concern, “Cullen, is this an urgent thing? That needs to be discussed right now before you get too uncomfortable and won't work up the courage to ask me again?”

“I hate that you know me so well,” Cullen said miserably, and Dorian smiled fondly, reaching over to pat his shoulder.

“No need to fear,” he said. Raising his voice, he called, “Merrill! Cullen needs me for a bit, so head on in and get warmed up. Check on the sections with elemental magic and make sure the magelets haven’t destroyed my system.”

Merrill nodded, and Dorian walked with Cullen back to his office. He said nothing as Cullen locked both doors and sunk into one of the comfortable chairs that had been set up in the corner. He took the other one, relishing how it cradled him after the running around he and Merrill had been doing.

“Krem and I had a discussion last night,” Cullen said, covering his face and staring at the floor. Dorian had the sudden, terrible realization that he knew where this was going. “We’ve not… done the deed, as it were. And I’ve never done it period.”

“Cullen,” he said slowly, “you’re thirty.”

“I know!” Cullen curled into himself, and Dorian took pity on him.

“Look,” he said kindly, “it’s okay. I can’t say I expected to be giving this talk this morning, or at all, but it’s fine, honestly. You’re hardly the first person who needed a rundown of the mechanics.”

Cullen peeked through his fingers, looking utterly miserable. “I have no clue what I’m doing,” he said meekly. “I mean. The basics make vague sense, but…”

“And I’d be willing to bet you didn’t go anywhere near the internet with this,” Dorian said. Cullen grimaced, shaking his head firmly. “I thought not. You only have a vague grasp on that too, don’t you?”

He nodded. “We weren’t really allowed much in the way of the outside world,” he admitted. “I… I have a hard time with computers in general. Phones are only slightly better.”

Dorian nodded, bracing himself. This was going to be a long, awkward evening.

oOo

He wasn’t wrong. By the end of it, Cullen was fifteen different shades of red, but considerably more prepared and aware of how sex functioned on both the giving and receiving end. Dorian left him with a list of things to look up or talk to Bull about, simply because he wasn’t ready to divulge the incredibly complex world of kink to a man who had never so much as fumbled around with another person. Cullen, he was startled to realize, was truly shy when it came to anything that he didn’t immediately understand. He was comfortable with bodies, and he and Krem had apparently done enough that he wasn’t at all unsettled by the idea of sex with him, but having never done it he was terrified to mess up. With that, at least, Dorian was useful.

Tevinter sexual relations were a complicated mess, but at least they were very straightforward when it came to the actual execution and demanding to feel good.

“I feel like I should perhaps go and find your former commanding officers and give them a dressing down for not explaining this,” Dorian grumbled as Cullen read over the list. “I know you didn’t take vows of chastity, and there must have been gay Templars.”

“Quite a few, actually,” Cullen said, flipping the page over. “I’ve just never had any desire. At all.”

“When you say at all…”

“Don’t go there, Dorian,” he said, pink highlighting his cheeks. “Honestly, I’m starting to wonder if the lyrium had something to do with it.”

Dorian sat back, surprised. “You know, I never thought of that. You said you were interested in Lavellan for a time, yes?”

He nodded, folding the list up. “It was baffling. I’d never felt anything like it before, but it faded when I realized that there was no way that we could ever be together. And that was shortly after I stopped taking it.”

“Fascinating,” Dorian murmured. “I suppose it’s entirely possible that the lyrium would mess with desires. Addiction to that might trump any desire for other things.”

Cullen laughed without humor. “Well… I guess now I have an even better reason not to be taking it.” He leaned back in his chair, his eyes finally coming up to meet Dorian’s. It was almost disconcerting, after spending an entire conversation talking to the top of Cullen’s head. “I sent a letter to my sister and told her. I haven’t heard back yet.”

“Does Krem know?”

Cullen nodded. “He was there when I wrote it. He wants to meet her. I think they’d get along, and, well. It’s not really possible for him to take me to meet his family, given that they still insist that his name is Cremisa and one is a slave.”

Dorian winced. “Ah, Tevinter. Land that I love, and think would probably be improved with a liberal application of a few choice fireballs.”

Cullen choked on a strained laugh, and they lapsed into silence as the wind howled around Skyhold.

oOo

Dorian took a sleigh driven by one of the recruits to Bull’s building, wrapped snugly in his new coat and with a massive, furry scarf that Cullen insisted was fake around his neck. The pink hat was jammed firmly over his ears. When he got inside, the acrid stench of old smoke churned Dorian’s stomach. Bull was working on dinner, and groaned in relief to see him.

“About time. I was just about to eat without you. Fuckin’ shitty day.” He launched into a tirade about the plow on the front of the fire truck, and people who had no concept of working chimneys. There had been three fires, and the snow was so deep that on the last one they essentially had to throw snow on it since the truck got stuck. Dorian walked over, hugging him from behind and pressing his ear to Bull’s back to listen to the soothing rumble of his voice. The bass rolled through him like a calming draught, sliding away the aches and discomfort of the day.

“And that was my day,” Bull finished as he plated the Denerim chicken and some salad. “I hope yours went better, kadan.”

“It was interesting,” Dorian said, closing his eyes and inhaling the scent of him. Light smoke, the familiar undertones of the soap he used, a dash of the spices from dinner, and underneath it all, simply Bull. Any remaining tension was completely gone. He was home. “Cullen and I had a long and enlightening talk about lyrium and sexuality. We got more books in from my former teacher, and Merrill started working on some new spells. Oh, and I have to talk to you about some things that have to do with… us. As a pair. Of people. Who are often together.”

Bull went still in his arms, and Dorian was relieved that his heart wasn’t the only one pounding. “As in a proper couple. Of people.”

“Yes,” he said weakly. “As in that.”

Bull exhaled slowly, straightening up and turning in Dorian’s arms. “Are we having this talk now?” he asked softly, sliding one huge finger under Dorian’s chin and tilting it up to look at him.

“We don’t have to,” Dorian said softly. “But Lavellan’s offered to move us both into Skyhold, rent free. Not necessarily together, but the option was presented.”

Bull considered, and leaned down to press a slow, lazy kiss to his lips. Dorian melted into it, reaching up to cup Bull’s jaw. When they parted he was a little breathless, and bit his swollen lip.

“I think,” Bull said slowly, “that we should consider it. You practically live here anyway. And rent free is nothing to scoff at.”

Dorian nodded, his heart pounding. He leaned in, kissing just above Bull’s heart. “Dinner first,” he said, pleased when his voice didn’t shake too much. “And then, please, I’d like you to tie me up and fuck me senseless.”

“You say the sweetest things.”

Chapter Text

Dorian looked good in rope. He knew it, Bull knew it, and both of them loved it. He had the desire, the patience, and the flexibility for it, and Bull had the skill, calm, and sheer brute strength to safely put him in it. It was hard to argue about new and unusual knots when he could wield rope cutters like scissors. So they devoted hours to the art, and it was always rewarding.

“I think,” Dorian panted as he sank down on Bull’s cock, wrapped from the neck down to his hips in black and red, his arms tight behind him and Bull tugging on a lead from his hands, “we should go for this whole cohabitation thing.”

Bull stared at him, incredulous. “I’m clearly not doing my job right if you can think right now,” he growled, biting back a groan as Dorian finally settled on his hips. He watched as Dorian’s eyes fluttered closed, the little huffing gasps of pleasure, and couldn’t help tugging the lead a bit. Dorian’s cock jerked, and he pulled it tighter, forcing Dorian to tilt his whole body in a smooth curve back. Dorian cursed under his breath, squirming.

“I might have a bit of a domestic kink,” he groaned, and Bull brightened. Ah. That he could work with, and shit. The thought of Dorian being in his bed when he came home, to their home was more than a little bit hot. Okay, he could roll with that, but for now, the ropes were to be his focus. He rolled his hips slowly, testing the water, and paused when Dorian made a noise a bit too much like discomfort. “Fuck. Patience, amatus, you aren’t exactly small.”

“You love it.”

“I do. Shut up.”

That got the lead flicked on his bare leg, a light reminder of who was in charge this go around. Dorian jerked, swearing again as he tried to keep his form and relax. This much rope, and this much rope so tight was something new, a sort of test to see if they could work up to some sort of cocoon and suspension deal. It was effectively a corset, playing on Dorian’s desire for breathplay and Bull’s love of the ropes. So far, so good.

Dorian finally settled, and Bull waited, watching him patiently. Dorian wasn’t very submissive. He wanted to be, and he tried very hard to be, but it was difficult for him most days. Sometimes he would fall into it the moment he was through the door, all sweet little pet names and docile adoration, but most days he was just Dorian: Stubborn, fierce, nerdy as hell, and occasionally bad tempered. He loved that about him, but times like this required submission. He could see him wavering on the cusp of it, the easy push over into letting himself be used as the conduit for both their pleasure. Dorian breathed slowly, and he tightened his grip on the lead rope, pulling back just the slightest bit more. That was enough, and Dorian went pleasantly limp, moaning softly as the ropes held him tight.

“I’ve got you kadan,” Bull soothed, and Dorian sighed in pure content. He was so beautiful like this, all gold, black, and red, and Bull felt a rush of possessiveness. He drove his hips up, and Dorian took the hint. He was gorgeous, taking his time to ride him, and Bull relaxed, letting Dorian do the work for now. Between the foreplay (which had honestly been more like a longing look towards the rope box, because Dorian was about as subtle as a brick to the face), actually tying him up, and getting him worked open, he knew he wasn’t going to last terribly long.

“Mine,” he breathed, and Dorian whimpered, picking up his pace. Bull grinned, and his hips jerked as Dorian opened his mouth, a thin curl of smoke escaping, followed by the faint flicker of flames. “Fuck, ataashi.”

Dorian looked at him from under his lashes as he drove down hard, clearly floating in subspace with no intention of coming out any time soon. He was the very definition of saarebas, a dangerous thing at the end of a very thin rope, still free and wild as he chose, willingly humble on Bull’s cock. Suddenly, that domestic idea was about twenty times hotter, and he grabbed Dorian’s hip, clawed nails digging in just enough to make him speed up. He jerked on the rope again, and drove his hips up hard as Dorian opened his mouth, smoke and flames licking their way out to curl in the air.

He blacked out a bit as he came, letting it roll through him and wrack his body from the inside out. As he slowly came back to himself it was to Dorian leaning in front of him, licking his lips as smoke curled out of his mouth. Bull had let go of the lead, allowing him to move a little more freely, and Dorian nosed up his cheek, the sweet tang of magical fire teasing Bull’s nose.

“Please,” he crooned, and Bull growled, wrapping a hand around his neck to pull him down and bite hard at the skin above the ropes. Dorian groaned, writhing a little as Bull reached down, and every so gently stroked one claw up the length of his cock.

“Whose is this?” he purred in Dorian’s ear, just to watch him tremble with contained lust.

“Yours,” Dorian said throatily, nuzzling into him. “Yours, Bull.”

“Good boy.”

Just wrapping his hand around him was all it took, and Dorian wailed, throwing himself back as he came, a vision in rope and bites. He clenched down hard, and Bull swore as the sensitivity finally kicked in. Dorian shuddered as he came down, a lazy, sated smile on his face, and Bull waited until he’d opened his eyes to help him off. He laid him out reverently, crooning sweet things to him as he began the process of removing the rope. Arms came first, as always, and as much as he wanted to bask in the afterglow Dorian couldn’t be restrained much longer.

They were working on his stamina, but he had his limits. The ties fell away quickly to his hands, and he began the careful process of unwinding Dorian’s torso. This was the more complicated process, requiring that he carefully let Dorian get his full wind back. While the ropes weren’t that tight, they had restricted Dorian’s breathing just enough to put him on edge, and Bull didn’t want to overwhelm him. Dorian was pliant the whole time, mumbling happy noises as Bull rubbed over the rope marks pressed into his skin, peppering kisses as it was exposed. He had to admit that he loved how Dorian was after he’d been bound. “Sweet little ataashi,” he purred, and Dorian smiled brightly, his eyes closed. Bull pressed slow kisses over his shoulders as they were uncovered, helping Dorian rotate them as the finished removing the rope. It was tossed off the bed, and he grabbed the cloth off the bedside table, his legs too shaky to bother trying to get up.

“You were so good,” he praised as Dorian carefully threw an arm over him, both of them climbing under the covers. “You look so good like that, kadan. Wish I could keep you in ropes all the time, just to show you off.” Dorian lifted his head with sleepy, smiling eyes, and Bull kissed him warmly. “You are so good for me, aren’t you?”

“Thank you,” Dorian said with a bit of a rasp thanks to the flame trick. Bull kissed him again, tasting the leftover smoke and heat and groaning into it as his cock made a valiant attempt at interest. Dorian chuckled into his mouth, and he reached up to stroke his soft hair. Dorian finally pulled away, tucking his head under Bull’s chin. “I think I could get used to being called dragon during sex.”

“Doesn’t mean dragon,” Bull said, stroking down his still marked back. “That’s the term we use it for, but the translation is “glorious one”, not just dragon.”

Dorian let out a noise suspiciously like a purr, nestling in closer. “What a good term,” he mumbled, and Bull wrapped him up tight in his arms.

“You did so good,” he murmured, and Dorian made the happiest little sound before slipping straight into sleep. Bull was close behind, his arms tight around Dorian’s lithe, warm body.

It had been a good night.

oOo

Dorian woke up to what felt like a bone deep massage, and groaned in joy. “Oh, you are a gift,” he groaned as Bull warmed a bit more lotion and ran his hands over Dorian’s back. Bull chuckled, leaning down to kiss Dorian’s neck.

“You did the fire thing for me, I’m going to pamper you until the end of time.”

“Qunari,” Dorian sighed, but he was smiling.

Bull chuckled again, smoothing away a knot. “So… about that domestic kink.”

Dorian groaned, burying his face back in his pillow. And oh, right, he actually had his own pillow. Fucking hell, they were already living together, weren’t they? “It’s a Tevinter thing,” he admitted to the down, and Bull’s thumbs dug into the muscle just above his ass and he couldn’t be embarrassed if he tried. Everything just felt too good. “The spouse being kept at home, constantly waiting for approval, the happy home, the idea of being taken whenever, for whatever reason just because you’re theirs. The idea of a healthy relationship coupled with mindblowing sex is so foreign.”

“Pretty sure that’s not limited to Tevinter.”

“It’s very common in Tevinter,” Dorian corrected, his words slurring a little as Bull moved up to his neck. “Ohhhhh, venhedis. Think I’m still loose enough?”

Bull laughed, kissing the top of his head. “Not a chance, kadan. Once I’m done, I’ll roll you over and blow you, if you want.”

“You are, in fact, the absolute best,” Dorian mumbled, and Bull kissed his hair again, letting his weight press Dorian down just like he liked. It was so comforting to just be covered, pinned and possessed. Dorian went limp again, and he felt Bull smile into his hair.

“Good boy.”

oOo

Breakfast was an in bed affair, with Dorian on his lap cuddled up against him and taking food from his hand in between working on his own plate. Post-fuck Dorian was always so calm and relaxed, and Bull couldn’t bring himself to feel bad about how much he liked this side of him.

“So, moving in together, officially,” he said as Dorian neatly took a piece of his bacon. “I think it’s a good idea, provided we have a soundproof room and Lavellan lets us put hooks on the ceiling for suspensions.”

“I can’t imagine why she wouldn’t,” Dorian nodded, turning to kiss his jaw. “You smell good. Did you use different soap?”

“One of those ones that was in the cabinet that Dalish keeps giving me. Something with Crystal Grace in it.”

Dorian buried his nose in the spot behind his jaw, making him shiver. Teeth scraped up his neck, followed by a gentle kiss to the area. “I like it,” Dorian purred, and Bull knew he was trying to get away from the conversation but it was still working.

Kadan,” he said warningly, and Dorian settled back down, the picture of contrition. “Thank you. So, do we want to say yes?”

“I think so. I… I might ask for an office, though,” Dorian said hesitantly. “So if it gets to be too much one of us could be there instead.”

Bull nodded, kissing the top of his head. “I like that idea. Space is healthy.” Dorian nodded, and took the proffered piece from Bull’s hand. They continued that way in silence for a minute before Bull cleared his throat. “Last night, with the possessiveness. Was that all okay?”

Dorian shivered, smiling. “Very. That was… new. And unexpected. But I like it quite a bit.”

“Good. And while we’re on the topic, what do you think about having a corset made? It’d be a little faster to lace you into that than the ropes. Safer, too.”

Dorian hummed, and Bull watched his toes curl as he lazily dragged the clawed hand up Dorian’s bare inner thigh. “I think that would be fine. If I remember right, there’s a corsetiere that Vivienne goes to when in Val Royeaux for some of her fancier dresses. I could ask for an introduction.”

“I like this plan.” Bull kissed his temple, and Dorian smiled sweetly up at him.

Things were starting to look up.

Chapter Text

The bath water was warm to the point of ridiculousness, and Dorian groaned in pure joy as Bull’s hand settled on his back. “All right, I’ll admit it. This is the best idea we’ve ever had.”

Bull managed a sleepy noise of agreement, sinking in lower. The bathtub was enormous, built with Qunari in mind, and long enough that Bull could almost fully stretch out in it. They’d been a little startled by their new accommodations until Lavellan had explained that when they refurbished part of the keep, they had created a suite with a Qunari delegation in mind. The Arishok, being the Arishok, had declined to have more than a small, bare room, but this suited the two of them nicely. Their rooms were bigger than both their apartments combined, and Dorian was beyond thrilled.

Waving his hand, he lit the small candles that had been placed around the room. Bull chuckled, for once not minding the casual show of power. It was a beautiful room, with soft green curtains on the stained glass window, beautiful rugs, a massive mirror, and a sink made of some glittery, ornate stone. Dorian felt halfway human again.

“We’re going to wrinkle if we’re in here much longer,” Bull murmured, tracing lazy patterns on Dorian’s back. He was resting easily on Bull’s chest, and the tub was deep enough that the water mostly covered them both. That alone would have sold them on moving to Skyhold.

“Mmm. But I’m quite warm and comfortable,” Dorian murmured, kissing his neck.

“We still need to break in the bed,” Bull said lazily, and Dorian leaned up to catch him in a kiss, slow and serene.

“We’ve got time,” he murmured, and Bull smiled.

oOo

They were taking to domestic life like ducks to water. The suite was meant for long term stay. After some wrangling with Josephine and getting approval from Lavellan, it now held a kitchenette, as well as a massive fourposter bed with a wrought iron footboard that Dorian kept eyeing with pure lust, three different wardrobes, two desks, a table that doubled as counter space, a cluster of enormously comfortable Qunari designed chairs, no less than eight bookshelves, and a ridiculous number of massive, patterned rugs. Despite Dorian’s loud and frequent objections, the curtains were dawnstone pink silk.

Dorian was basking as Bull dried off, standing completely naked in the center of the room and smiling serenely. The windows looked out over the mountains, and they were high enough up the only people who could see in would have to have mastered the art of personal flight. There were only three of them, but they let in enough light that they wouldn’t have much use for the positively ridiculous wrought iron chandelier that hung from the ceiling.

“We are officially Lavellan’s favorites,” he said smugly, and Bull chuckled as he walked over. Dorian yelped a little as his ass was groped, whacking Bull on the arm as he sauntered away. “Rude.”

“You love it.”

Dorian scowled, completely without heat, and walked over to lean on Bull from behind as he hunted for the ridiculous circus tent he insisted were his lounging pants. “Bull,” he wheedled, and Bull let out a groan, his hands pausing on the fabric.

“Yes?”

Dorian let his hands trail to Bull’s hips, purring, “Ropes?”

Bull huffed out a laugh, setting the cloth back down and going for the rope box. “You are insatiable.”

Dorian kissed his broad back and headed for the bed. He sat in the center, looking up in the picture of meekness as Bull pulled out the black ropes and looked over at him. The Qunari shook his head, smiling fondly, and walked over to the bed. Dorian tilted his head up, hands going behind his back almost in habit, and smiled sweetly. Bull groaned, leaning in to kiss him.

“You know what that does to me,” he growled, and Dorian smiled against his lips.

“What? Me playing innocent so you can be the worldly, experienced, skilled master?”

Dorian.

He smiled brightly, feeling laughter bubbling in his chest as Bull pushed him back onto the bed and went to work.

oOo

After a very thorough fucking that left Dorian feeling certain he was never going to walk again, the two of them settled in. Dorian was still in the ropes, a rather elegant harness that had his hands bound in front rather than behind so he didn’t have to be taken out after, and he was basking in the warmth, comfort, and soft sweet nothings that Bull poured on him.

“Why do you do it?” he asked as Bull scratched at his scalp.

“Do what?”

“This. After. Being sweet and kind to me and all touchy. It's nice, it's very nice.”

Bull paused, and Dorian looked up at him. He was frowning, a little concerned. “Dorian, what are you talking about? This is just as important as the rest of it.”

Dorian blinked, confused. “What do you mean? I’ve never had anyone do things like this before.”

Bull went very still, his eye fixing on him. “You mean to say that when you’ve had scenes before, you weren’t taken care of afterwards? No one helped you come down from it, made sure you were all right?”

“Well… no. Were they supposed to? Isn't that my job?”

The look on Bull’s face was enough to break his heart, and he was swept up in a tight hug, Bull holding him like he would disappear. “Oh, kadan,” he whispered, his voice catching. “You deserved so much better.”

oOo

The garden again. He walks in a daze, following Rilienus to a small, quiet corner with a bubbling fountain and soft green leaves. Rilienus smiling, turning, pulling at the soft choker at his neck, jet beads clacking against gold keys and locks, words impossible to hear. Rilienus, golden, his heart full to bursting, this is his love. Something in him twisting, uncomfortable in his gut, strange, sinking to his knees without meaning to. He doesn’t want to. He wants to stand, kiss this golden god before him, why won’t his knees work?

His fingers, working the buttons and laces and fifteen layers to get to where he can get at Rilienus’s skin, kiss his hard hipbones, pull the pants down- why can’t he stop, please, no, he doesn’t want this-

Dorian woke with a shuddering gasp as Bull shook him roughly, his hands shaking. He was free of the ropes and the room was freezing, ice creeping up the walls.

He’d been fighting back in his sleep.

“Dorian, kadan, are you with me?”

He dropped heavily back onto Bull’s chest, warming his hands and pressing them to chilled skin. “Something’s wrong with me,” he said without preamble. “I was in the Fade but not. I need to talk to Solas.”

“What?”

He swallowed hard, not daring to look up as he banished the ice, letting it vanish into steam with a though of flames. “Something is very wrong, Bull. I… my dreams weren’t dreams. They were memories, or something like memories. Twisted and warped. I- there was a man. Rilienus. Who I was very attentive to, but he married and nothing came of it. I thought. I think. I don’t know any more.”

His hands were trembling, and Bull caught them up.

“Dorian,” he said softly. “Come on. We’re going to get up and have cocoa, and we’ll work out what to do.”

Dorian nodded, blinking rapidly as he felt tears start to spill out over his cheeks. “I couldn’t stop,” he choked out. “I couldn’t stop. I just knelt down.”

“Oh, kadan.”

Chapter Text

Solas listened without judgment in his tiny room, tucked firmly into bed with an empty bowl on a rather bare bedside table. He didn’t look well, his cheeks more gaunt and his eyes rimmed with exhaustion. He listened all the same, though, and when Dorian had exhausted his words he pursed his lips and thought.

“This sounds like it could be a few different things,” he said after a minute, and motioned for Dorian to pass him the glass of water on his table. After a long drink, he carefully set it on the smaller, closer bedside table and sighed. “Here are the immediate theories. First, demons. Fairly straightforward. It’s not normal for them to allow you to wake so easily, however, which makes the idea debatable. Secondly, you’ve been targeted by a dreamer. Somniari, I believe the Imperium calls them?” Dorian nodded, paling. “Do you know of any?”

“Not that are connected to my House, enemy or otherwise,” he said. “They’re quite rare. I know of two magisters for certain, and a few others with… questionable abilities. There has been talk of people breeding for the talent in recent years.”

“And you say we’re loveless,” Bull murmured, shivering. Dorian squeezed his hand.

Solas frowned. “A possibility, however. The last, and the least pleasant, well.” He hesitated. “What is your history with this Rilienus?”

Dorian shrugged. “He was a handsome man in the Circle of Vyrantium that I was acquainted with. He seemed nice enough, and we ran into each other a few times at brothels, but I didn’t have much to do with him. I… I intended to ask him at one point if he was like me, but I never did.”

Solas’s expression darkened. “Memories are tricky things,” he said, sitting up more and eyeing Dorian thoughtfully. “When did you meet him?”

“Oh, gracious. It would be seven years ago, now? Something like that.” He paused, frowning. “It’s all very fuzzy. Like someone’s pulled a blind over it and I can see the shapes behind, but can’t make out the details.”

Solas grimaced, his eyes narrowing. “As much as I hate to suggest this, you may want to reach out to people back in Tevinter to see if this Rilienus had any connections to dreamers. To fixate on someone from so long ago, particularly when it seems that you’ve grown quite comfortable where you are and who you’re with, suggests that something might be at play here. Given the level of panic you’ve gone into, to lose control in such a visceral, elemental way, also unfortunately indicates past unhealed trauma.”

Dorian scoffed even as Bull tensed beside him. “Trauma? Please, I’m from Tevinter. No one enjoys life there. From the Slaves to the Archon to the Black Divine, we’re all royally fucked up.”

Solas slammed his hand on the table. “Do not trivialize pain, Dorian Pavus. If that’s how you must see it to survive it, fine, but do not treat it as a joke. The more you lash out in your unconscious state, the deeper danger you put us all in. And if a dreamer is messing with your memories, or heavens forfend, bringing them back to the surface, you cannot take this lightly.”

Dorian went quiet, his eyes wide and his head lowering with the chastisement. Solas sighed, rubbing his forehead.

“I hope against hope that these are not memories,” he said, more gently. “I would not wish that on my worst enemy. But you must be ready to consider that possibility. Whether or not this Rilienus is just a conjuration by your mind, an attack by demons, a memory, or a forced dream, the fact remains that something must be done about it and soon. Bull may be fire proof, but is definitely not safe from the sting of ice.”

Dorian swallowed hard, his hand tightening on Bull’s. “What can I do to improve my control?” he asked quietly.

“Train with Merrill. If you’ve exhausted your mana before sleep, it would be hard to conjure anything. I can work with you as well, walking your dreams to help you shore up your mental defenses. Do you have any relation to the Somniari?”

Dorian nodded, and Bull looked down in surprise. “My mothers line, the Thalrassian. The Pavus line is much more aggressive with its leanings. My father favors lightning, and his father fire. My mother is something of a spirit mage, though her talents are far more refined towards manipulation than healing. There was some concern when I turned to necromancy. The Thalrassian line held the first blood mage of the Imperium, as well as talented somniari.”

Solas nodded. “Interesting.” He sighed again, taking another drink, and held out his hand. “Give me one of your earrings.”

“What? Why?”

“You keep them in all the time, it’ll act as a grounding device for me so I can more easily locate you,” Solas said, and Dorian reluctantly removed one of the hoops, dropping it into his palm. “Good. Now, go tell Merrill to take the day off and go shopping or something, and you and I will work.”

oOo

The wind rustles through the trees like a living thing. He’s in the garden again, but this time it is empty. No Rilienus laughing, no Felix snoring on the bench, no Halward in the distance calling for him to come to dinner. The Circle’s garden is large and spacious, wildly colorful flowers everywhere, and he’s not sure why he’s here. He goes to the bench, and waits. Something is coming, and he knows he must be patient. There are doors everywhere, and he wonders if they will open to admit whoever it is he’s waiting for.

The elf is beside him soundlessly, tall and high cheekboned. He looks up, entranced. Dark hair in thick, graceful waves falls to his shoulders, and a wolf skull crowns his head. His robes are fine, silk and light linen in warm greens and browns, an old fashioned ruff at his neck. He is beautiful in the way all dangerous things are, but Dorian feels no fear. He feels safe, cocooned, protected.

“Attend,” the elf says, and he rises from the bench. The elf has golden eyes, and a wicked smile. “Today, I teach you traps and poison.”

He follows, walking around the garden with the elf. He carries no staff, but he does not need it. Power rolls off of him in waves, rich and soothing. Dorian wants to sit before him or at his knees and bask in how strong this elf is, how like his patri he seems. Marco would like this elf. The elf stops in front of a small gate leading to the kitchens, and touches the stone archway. He presses his fingers to the stone as well, and follows the runes the elf draws. His glow with a dark, angry red with wisps of black smoke, while Dorian’s blaze with vibrant purple.

“Here is the difference, small one,” the elf says, and Dorian corrects himself where he has misdrawn.

“What does it mean?”

“Death,” the elf smiles with wicked eyes, and Dorian brightens. He is talented in that area.

He follows, and he learns all the tricks to keep the somniari out, to keep his mind safe from corruption. The elf approves when he sees Dorian make the correct marks, scolds at simple mistakes, and corrects sharply. Dorian feels like he is blossoming, warmth spreading through him with the sheer pleasure of learning and learning and learning. He has missed this desperately.

They sit on the bench again, and Dorian turns to the elf. “Why are you here?”

“Because you needed to be taught,” the elf says.

“Who are you?”

“A teacher. A trickster. A father, a brother, a master, a student.”

“What can I call you?”

“My name.”

“And what is your name?”

And the elf smiles, eyes bright. “Don’t you remember, Dorian Pavus?”

And Dorian sees the golden eyes painted on the garden doors, surrounding him, enclosing him, and thinks of a library and a small elf who cannot be a bloodmage, and stories Marco tells about the Dread One who stole away the gods, and looks up to the fanged skull crown and-

Woke up, drenched in sweat, the elf blurred in his mind.

oOo

Bull jumped as Dorian gasped back into wakefulness, his eyes snapping open. He grabbed the glass of water, handing it over as Dorian weakly gestured to him.

“Ow,” he managed, and drained it. “That was enlightening. And exhausting. I feel like I just ran from here to Minrathous.”

Bull stroked his hair, smiling when Dorian leaned into his hand. “Well, welcome back. You’re in one piece, no demons showed up, and you didn’t set anything on fire.”

“Always good,” Dorian joked, letting out a little sigh as Bull kissed his forehead. “Ah, amatus. What would I do without you?”

“Crash and burn, I’m sure.”

Dorian chuckled, and Bull helped him upright, letting him lean in to be wrapped under one arm. “I’m quite sure you’re right about that. I’m hungry enough to eat an entire druffalo, what do we have in the way of rejuvenating food?”

“Some very out of season apples, jerky, and some cheese. I was going to go get groceries today.”

“Jerky it is then. It’s not that horrendously sweet kind is it? I swear, Southerners wouldn’t know spice if it punched them in the mouth.” He let himself be laid back down without a fuss as Bull went to fetch it.

“No, it’s the spiced kind. Got it from a Nevarran, so it’s not going to make your nose run, but it’s decent.” He rummaged in the cabinets hung above the kitchenette and came back with the bag, carefully climbing on the bed and letting Dorian climb into his lap. He kissed his temple, and plucked out a piece to feed to him. Dorian didn’t even pretend to complain, apparently too exhausted. “So, think it worked?”

“Well, now I know how to expel anyone from my mind and set traps for anyone trying to enter,” Dorian said around a mouthful. “And how to poison their mind with a horror spell. Useful, but strange. So if someone’s trying to get in my head, I can set up some very nasty surprises.”

“Well that’s… good. And weird. Please don’t get possessed.”

Dorian kissed his cheek, smiling. “I’ve faced down much nastier things than demons in my life. I’ll be all right.”

Bull wrapped him up in his arms, and together they sat, resting and relieved in silence.

oOo

Fen’Harel is waiting when Solas dreams, his other half calm and sharpening a long knife. They stand in his personal Fade, a mess of briars hollowed in the center. The sky above is strange, and far beyond, the Black City looms with ominous reminder.

“I was to teach him,” Solas says, his voice bitter. He stops before Fen’Harel, feeling out of place with his plain clothes and pale skin, awkward and uncomfortable in the presence of his other half.

Fen’Harel shrugs. “We did teach him. Deny us all you want, we are one, little Pride.” He rises. They/he/us/we/I/them/they are the same height, but Fen’Harel always seems taller. Solas wants to cry and hide and run, and Fen’Harel softens, stroking his face. “I have upset you.”

“I don’t even like the boy,” Solas snaps, stepping away. He hurts and aches, he is tired. Life has grown hard and complicated and he is so frustrated these days.

“You do.” Fen’Harel catches his arm and roughly pulls him back. “We do. I do. And we are mad because he hurts, and you are mad because I stir and you cannot deny me much longer. It is time.”

“No,” Solas hisses, struggling against an iron grip. “No. That is not our deal.”

“And I do not play fair,” Fen’Harel croons, eyes burning into him. “We will be one again, soon. Pride goes before the fall.”

Solas stops his struggle, and is rewarded with a loosened grip. “Why don’t you just kill me and have done with it?” he demands, and Fen’Harel smiles.

“Oh, do you think me so cruel? Deny all you want, but you are me as I am you. You have simply forgotten that you were once me. I will not cut you from us.” He trails possessive fingers over Solas’s cheek, looking on in longing. “Oh, but it will be good to walk the world again. I am eager to see the changes wrought upon it.”

Solas closes his eyes, and wishes the laughter isn’t so sweet to his ears.

Chapter Text

The Chantry was quiet when Dorian slipped inside. It was deep night, Bull was safe in their bed, and Dorian needed to worship. He carefully lit a candle, no magic involved, and knelt before the statue of Andraste. She seemed so serene above him, arms outstretched, and his heart ached. He longed for the same peace she felt.

“Oh, Andraste,” he began, the litany familiar to his tongue. “Thou art the light in the darkness, the walker of waves and air. Thou art my guide, my strong arm, my shield from all foes.” His voice cracked on shield, and he closed his eyes, steadying his breathing. He thought of the great cathedrals, the soaring monuments made in black stone, the Black Divine gliding serenely through the crowds with blood on his hem. The south was correct on few things, but none more than the Black Divine being an unholy counterpart to the White Divine.

“Trouble sleeping?”

He didn’t jump, opening his eyes slowly as Mother Giselle knelt beside him. “As always,” he said, too tired to fight. “Nightmares. I didn’t feel like fighting with them tonight, and this seemed more productive than staring at paper to try and write the days events. What is the word here? To journal? Journaling?”

“That is correct.” She looked up at the statue, sighing. “How did you worship in Tevinter?”

He looked down at the candle. “Much in the same way I do here. Wait till others were gone to be alone with my thoughts. My faith is mine, and mine alone. I will not shout it from the rooftops.”

“But you do believe.”

He closed his eyes again, feeling the heat of the candle like flames on his skin. “With everything in me,” he said, slowly opening his eyes to look down at the little flame. “The litany has saved me twice now. By what grace otherwise could I be saved?” He thought of the candle before him like a kitten, the fire of the library a raging wildcat. This one looked to do its best, safely contained, while the other sought to destroy, greedily open to devour.

“You seem very thoughtful,” Mother Giselle said, and he nodded.

“Fire. It has… It is a part of me now, where it wasn’t before. My gifts are not like my fathers. He is all primal, fire and ice. I am talented at neither. But since coming here, fire has been my watcher. Flames in the literal sense, flames of passion, flames that seek to devour and flames that keep me safe and warm. Magic is much the same. Contained, controlled, it does my will.” He lifted the little votive in its glass case, letting it warm his chilled hands. “An offering, a symbol. Let me be a tool in the hands of the Maker and his Bride, keep me safe from those who would see me destroyed, let me do Thy will. But the fire of the library, that was magic as the magisters, the Archon and Black Divine see it. A wave of power to ride until they reach the top, until suddenly there is nothing left to eat. I do not want that. I wish only to be the candle.” He set it gently back down, feeling despair claw at his chest. “I am afraid, Revered Mother. There are pieces that were stolen from me starting to return, or things being shown to me that I desperately do not want to be real. I do not want the label of victim any more than it has already been applied.”

For once, the Revered Mother seemed lost for words, and Dorian took her hand with trembling fingers when she offered it.

“Blessed are they who stand before the wicked and corrupt and do not falter. Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just,” Mother Giselle began, and Dorian bowed his head to whisper the counterpart in Tevene.

oOo

Bull was waiting when Dorian came back, dawn breaking on the horizon. He looked exhausted and reeked of smoke, but was calmer than he had been the past few days. He had slept fitfully since the first lesson with Solas, visited occasionally in sleep by him- or something that seemed to be Solas- to continue learning defensive dream magic. It wasn’t working, making it seem more and more like these were memories. He desperately didn’t want it to be so.

“Where did you go?” he asked softly as Dorian crawled into bed, his skin chilled.

“I walked the ramparts for a while and went to the Chantry,” he said, curling up on Bull’s chest. He stroke his kadan’s back, waiting patiently. Dorian pressed his ear to Bull’s heart, closing his eyes to listen to the deep thudding of his pulse. It was some time before he was satisfied with it, and Bull silently began reciting all the plants he’d learned as a child. He reached the first of the poisonous ones when Dorian said abruptly, “Mother Giselle was there. We didn’t even fight.”

Bull whistled softly. “That’s good.”

“I think she might finally get that I’m not trying to corrupt the innocents here,” Dorian said with a snort, but Bull could hear how fragile his voice was.

“I know how much the Chantry means to you,” he said gently and Dorian curled into him, embarrassed. “No, stop that. I know your faith is important, and I’m never going to belittle that. I’m glad that she’s started seeing sense.”

Dorian swallowed hard, burying his face in Bull’s chest. “You’re too good for me,” he mumbled, his voice muffled.

“Nah, kadan, I think I’m just about right levels of good.”

Dorian peeked up at him, smiling with breathtaking hopefulness, and Bull pulled him into a long, slow kiss as snow began to fall outside.

oOo

He’s not in the garden this time, and it’s both a relief and a horror. The garden is familiar territory, a place he knows well. This time it’s a well appointed town house in the Minrathin style. He walks to a red draped window, peering out. There is a street below him, and a harbor beyond. None of it is familiar.

“Good, you’re awake,” a voice says, and he turns. Rilienus is there, his hair long and shaved on one side. He is breathtaking, a vision in soft red day robes that make his skin glow like gold over amber, luminous almond eyes a bewitching hazel. He looks, in a word, exotic. His hair is a warm, honey brown, a dramatic shift in coloring from the standard Tevinter black-and-bronze, and his long fingers are exquisitely manicured.

Dorian wants to be sick. Is this a desire demon, warping what could have been, tempting him with the figure of someone more to his standing?

His mouth opens without his permission, saying, “Yes, ser,” and after Rilienus lounges in a comfortable chair, he goes to kneel at his feet. There is a choker at his neck again, the jet beads clacking against his skin, and Rilienus strokes the leather and velvet.

“You’re so beautiful like this,” he sighs, content. “Oh, caro mio, it is so nice to have someone at my knees again.”

He strokes through Dorian’s hair, and he’s horrified by the rush of joy he feels at the motion. No! He should hate this, why is he so happy? He feels detached from his body, his mind whirling and battering itself back and forth in confusion.

He leans on Rilienus’ legs, kissing his thigh, and smiles up while inside he screams. “Thank you for choosing me.”

“Oh, caro mio,” Rilienus croons, tugging him up to have him straddle him in the chair. “My sweet little submissive.” He kisses him sweetly, and Dorian’s mind grinds to a halt.

What? What? This can’t be real. Him, submissive? Permanently? He could never, he swore he wouldn’t join the ranks of the "owned" submissive's he'd seen in clubs.

His mind registers movement faintly in the corner of his eye, and the dream freezes in tableau. The elf, in red today, is looking on in blatant disapproval. “Rise,” he is commanded, and rise he does, leaving an image of himself on Rilienus’ lap.

“What’s going on?” he asks, practically begs. The him in the chair is younger, maybe five years or more. His hair is long and braided in delicate designs, artfully pinned and twisted. It’s been some time since he wore it that way. “Please, help me.”

“Attend, Dorian,” the elf says, and he straightens, shaking. “Your mind is crumbling, the walls keeping memories back falling to pieces the more you fixate on this.”

“They are memories?” He wants nothing more to be sick, but a smooth hand, tipped with sharp nails slides under his chin, holding him steady. The elf looks at him somberly, eyes glinting. “Can’t you stop them?”

The elf shrugs. “Certainly.”

“Please,” Dorian pleads, gripping the elf’s forearm. “Tell me what I have to do.”

The elf smiles, his teeth like knives. “Relive them.”

His heart plummets. “What?”

“You relive them, I will suppress them. Or, you relive them, and heal.”

Dorian feels like his soul has been ripped in two, and looks back to the frozen scene. “Would you help me through them? Keep me from being lost in them?”

The elf considers, and he turns back, desperate.

“Please… Fen’Harel.”

oOo

Dorian woke up drenched in sweat, panting for breath, and sat up slowly. There was something on the edge of his conscious, a mental worm squirming on a hook just out of reach. Something important had happened, and he couldn’t tell what. He’d learned something, something important, and he just couldn’t remember what it was.

“Dorian,” Bull said from the table where he was eating lunch, looking concerned. “You all right?”

“No,” he said slowly. “I’ve… done something. Something happened. It’s on the edge of my thoughts and I can’t hold onto it.” He grabbed his hair, frustrated, and Bull rose to go to him, silently offering his hand. Dorian took his with some relief, letting himself be pulled out of bed and held. He pressed himself into Bull’s thick body, exhaling heavily. “Oh.” The memory hit him like a blow, and he shuddered. “Memories. They’re memories, I know it now.”

Funny. He wasn’t crying. He rather expected to be crying, but it just felt like there was a deep, cavernous hole that had opened up under his heart. He clung tightly to Bull, burying his face as Bull held him.

Four hours later, when he finally shattered, Bull was still holding him.

oOo

Circle dinner that night was quiet. They didn’t eat at the table like normal, just piled together on a blanket on the floor and passed food around. Dorian stayed curled in the protective circle of Bull’s arms, picking at his food and eating when prompted. Solas looked positively exhausted, not even up to sniping with Vivienne, and the rest of the group seemed to have finally hit the edge of their limits for the week. Lavellan napped intermittently on Cole, who looked helpless and confused, while Sera gently rubbed Lavellan’s back.

It had been a long, hard week, full of bad news for more than Bull and Dorian. The Chantry was up in arms again, the former Templars were showing concerning signs of being organized into a military fighting force, and Lavellan’s authority had been challenged by a variety of nobles who had all needed beating down.

There was a soft knock on the door, and Blackwall slowly rose to reveal a rather frightened Mother Giselle. Everyone straightened up, surprised, and she said, “Inquisitor, Serah Pavus, a word?”

Lavellan reluctantly got up, and Dorian even more reluctantly followed her out the door. The hall was silent, the rest of Skyhold resting and away from the Inquisitor’s chambers. Mother Giselle shifted uncomfortably, and said at last, “I have received a letter. I thought it best if the Inquisitor was here, for you.”

She withdrew a letter from her robes, and Dorian froze at the sight of it. Trimmed in black, the envelope was addressed to her. He didn’t have to see the seal on the back to know it was purple, a fan tailed peacock clutching a staff and sword in its feet.

“Dorian,” Lavellan said slowly, taking his hand. “Dorian, what is it?”

“A letter from House Pavus,” he said quietly, and Mother Giselle silently handed it to him. He scanned it quickly, catching the important pieces. “She was asked to take me to Redcliffe to meet a family retainer in two weeks.”

Lavellan’s hand tightened on his. “Do you want to go?”

Dorian exhaled shakily, the expensive paper wrinkling in his grip. The family lawyer had signed it, his signature familiar. “I… I shall think on it.”

“I think you should,” she said softly, and he looked down. She was somber and attentive, and he sighed heavily.

“I’ll… I’ll tell you tomorrow for certain.” He looked back to Mother Giselle, who for once looked genuinely worried. “Thank you for bringing this to us, Revered Mother.”

“Of course.” She bowed and left, leaving them in the hall. Dorian’s hands trembled, and Lavellan carefully took the paper from him.

She read over it, frowning in a few places. “Do you think it’s a trap?”

“Almost certainly.”

She exhaled slowly, considering, and finally nodded briskly. “Well, in the event you do go, we have to present you like you’re still on top of the world, because you are, and you deserve a new wardrobe. I love you like the weird shem older sibling I never wanted, so we should get you put back to your fabulous self if you decide to go.”

Dorian stared at her, touched, and Lavellan had to drag him back into the room, loudly announcing, “Okay! Val Royeaux, who’s up for a shopping trip? We have to go get Dorian a new wardrobe for the glory of Andraste or that ass, whichever is more appealing to you lot.”

“Lavellan, please-“ Six hands went up, including a hopeful Cullen and Josephine, and Dorian looked at them all. “Oh,” he said, and felt a bit of a laugh tickle his throat. “Lavellan.”

“What? I have eyes, I know you’ve got the standard appealing back side. And Bull seems to like it.”

Dorian groaned, covering his face as the first real laughter of the evening rang out, Bull’s the loudest. Everything might have been falling apart, his own mind deceiving him, but for now he would treasure these little moments of happiness and hold them close to his soul for the days when things grew rough.

Chapter Text

“I am not stepping out in these,” Dorian yelled from the changing room to a chorus of laughter. “I’ll be arrested!”

“For what?” Solas called, and he opened the door just enough to glare at the group congregated in the comfortably spacious waiting area of the little boutique they were in. Some of them, damn their hides, had mimosas. Dorian did not have a mimosa. This was vastly unfair.

“Indecent exposure and solicitation. Either find me the next size up or accept that you’ll never see me in silver lamé pants.”

Cullen cackled from where he was practically sprawled on the couch, Krem inspecting the quality of the stitching on a jacket with reluctant approval, and Dorian made a very rude gesture before closing the door firmly again.

He had to admit, this was a very fine shop. Lavellan had refused to listen in the last two, and he now had a good deal more clothes than he’d expected to leave this trip with. He could have cried with how nice it was to wear fine clothes again, and even Sera had left him be when he got a bit emotional about it and hugged Lavellan for longer than strictly necessary. She’d just patted him on the back, handed a positively monstrous pile of bags to Bull, and lead him to the next shop. He couldn’t believe half the things he’d been shoved into, but some of them really were nice.

A different pair of pants landed on his head and he sighed, switching them out. A coat followed shortly, and a comfortably soft shirt, and he dragged himself into the lot of it. The shirt and coat were instant favorites, and the pants were more comfortable than before. Pleated, they were in the Rivaini style- hahrum? Harem? He wasn’t certain, it wasn’t a word he’d heard in Trade before, but the coat was high collared and ink black with gold dragons chasing each other on the sleeves. It had a suitable number of leather buckles on the side, and the shirt was ridiculously ornate with its black stitching on soft, gold toned linen.

“This does not match at all,” he grumbled as he came out. “I do like the coat and shirt, though.”

Krem hopped up, prodding him onto the circular stand while prodding and tugging in places, his eyes narrowed. The girl tending the shop was sweating, her eyes flicking from Krem to Dorian to Cullen, who was grinning like he personally intended to ravish both of them whenever he got the chance. Given that this was a recent development to Cullen’s comfortably-tipsy stage, everyone was carefully not commenting while Bull watched Cullen and Krem with increased interest every time it happened.

“I’ll buy that damn jacket myself,” Bull said approvingly, and Dorian snorted.

“Of course. Anything to get me in more dragons.”

“Hell yes.” Bull moved for Vivienne to power through, another girl with an armful of dresses trailing in her wake. “Ma’am.”

“Will someone please go convince Lavellan that fuschia is not her color?” she said in exasperation, sweeping into a room of her own. Josephine hopped up to go find their stalwart leader, and Dorian jumped as Krem poked his side.

“Turn, please,” he said in a tone that brooked no arguments, and Dorian obediently turned, his arms up. “Hmm. Acceptable.”

The head girl looked like she was about to pass out with relief.

“No to the pants, yes to the other two,” Varric declared to a chorus of agreement, and Dorian went to change back into his own things.

He was just closing the door when he heard Krem said, very pointedly, “Cullen, you can either put me down now or I’ll make you.”

oOo

“Ma petit,” Vivienne crooned as soon as she saw Merrill, actually smiling. “Look at you!” Vivienne brightened as Merrill spun, wearing a massive hat with flowers on the band and a floating, long sleeved dress of chiffon with a beautiful floral pattern on pale green. Her feet were bare, with thin beaten gold jewelry on her ankles that jingled sweetly. It was just barely warm enough to wear out of doors, but Merrill didn't seem to mind.

“Sera picked it out!”

Vivienne’s eyebrows rose, and she turned to an awkwardly blushing Sera. “Congratulations,” she said sincerely. “This is beautiful, you have very good taste.”

Sera just about fell over, and Merrill skipped over to take her arm, waving to Vivienne as they ran to catch up with Lavellan, who was bouncing around Cassandra and tugging her and Josephine towards the little ice cream shop.

Solas appeared at her side, smiled fondly at the two, and followed as well. Krem and Cullen appeared with Varric in tow from a book shop, Blackwall carrying flowers from another, and even Cole looked happy as he presented Leliana with a little necklace.

A soft buzz of her phone alerted her to a message from Bastien, and Vivienne smiled as she took a photo of the group, just as Bull leaned down to kiss Dorian sweetly.

Yes, my dear, it has been a good day. Look how happy they all look together.

A moment later-

Oh, my love, it is good to know they make you smile.

She smiled, her heart warming, and went to catch up with the rest of them.

Chapter Text

Fen’Harel is waiting for him when he dreams, back in the Minrathin style apartment. He smiles with all his teeth, sharp and dangerous. “Attend,” he says, and Dorian walks to him, stands before him. He is dressed richly today, in vibrant orange and red, fur adorning him liberally. His loc’s are carefully arranged, and neater than before. This is a god. He stands before a god.

He knows with every fiber of his soul that he will never kneel before him. He will kneel for The Iron Bull, who wraps him in ropes made of trust. He will kneel for Andraste and the Maker, who saved him and keep him sane. He will kneel to Lavellan, swear fealty to her to protect her and her soft, tender soul. But Fen’Harel, the betrayer, he wants no oaths. He demands no adulation, and he knows what occurred in these rooms. He will never force Dorian to his knees.

Smooth hands, fine as a noblewoman's, slide under his chin and tip it up.

“Today is the day you learn the first art of dreaming,” Fen’Harel says, and Dorian shivers as his thumb brushes over his cheek. “Do not be caught up.”

“How?”

“You must remove yourself from the feelings and emotions of the memory- a difficult thing to do, but vital if you intend to stay sane through this,” he says matter of factly. “Here, in these rooms, you are both more and less than a slave to Rilienus. He will hurt you, and badly. You must learn to step aside and see the memory as it is, not how it happened.” Fen’Harel touches his neck, the velvet collar with its beads. He has grown to truly hate the thing. “What interesting memories will it be this time?”

The door slams open, Fen’Harel disappears, and Dorian is slammed by his throat into the wall with inhuman strength.

Today, he realizes with vague shock, is the first day that he hits me. He hears about a friend, not Felix, who was kind to me and who I visited, and he loses his mind. I walk home with bruises under the collar and on my face and refuse to tell Papa what happened. Oh. Oh, no. No, no, please, no, I don’t want to relive this yet.

“How dare you?” Rilienus snarls in his face, and Dorian stammers out confused broken words, lightning crackling around him. Rilienus is untouchable, his barriers unbreakable. “You are mine Dorian Pavus, you swore yourself to me and me alone.”

Fen’Harel appears behind Rilienus, and Dorian breathes slowly, feeling the first strange disconnect. One him stammers an apology, the other is merely distracted.

“Good,” Fen’Harel says approvingly, and Dorian is distracted by the hand at his throat squeezing harder, snapping the two back together. He fights, panic overwhelming him for a moment before he slowly, carefully forces himself to breathe. Time seems to slow, and he steps through Rilienus, turning to see himself. He is clearly terrified, both hands clutching Rilienus like he’s about to be swallowed whole. And, he supposes, he is. Fen’Harel nods approvingly as past Dorian is thrown to the ground, scrambling backwards as Rilienus advances.

Dorian watches himself be kicked, dragged upright and punched, forced to his knees to beg for Rilienus’s cock and then denied it, horrific names curling through the air and hurting far more than any carriage whip could.

“You are strong,” Fen’Harel says approvingly as Dorian is dropped, Rilienus leaving the room to let him pick himself up. “Your blood knows how to dream, but has not been taught.”

The dream Dorian is battered and broken, shaking with fear and confusion, and Dorian walks over to stand above him as he spits out blood.

“I didn’t want this,” he says softly, and Fen’Harel wraps an arm around his shoulders, pulling him in to let him hide his eyes. “I didn’t want any of this.”

“Hush,” Fen’Harel croons. “I know.”

oOo

In the space of time between Val Royeaux and the day they left for Redcliffe, Dorian’s memories went from uncomfortable to brutalizing. He spent his days with Merrill, who was tiny and unthreatening, working on spells and every little thing he could think of that the library needed. Bull was Maker sent, understanding without a word that Dorian simply could not tolerate more than being held. They spent quite a bit of time wrapped up in each other, Dorian slowly explaining to him the memories and Bull helping him through it.

The worst of it was the collar.

“I just don’t understand,” Dorian said as they talked one day, tightly wrapped in Bull’s arms and the blankets pulled over them. Bull reeked of smoke from the shift he’d just left, the both of them exhausted mentally and physically from the day they’d had. “I haven’t- it hasn’t come back to me, why I would ever consent to being collared like that.”

“What do you mean?”

Dorian sighed, leaning into him. “Collars, for me, have never been a good expression of what we have. I wanted to be collared when I first started learning about this. I wanted the pride of being on display, knowing I was wanted, but I wanted it equally. I was so much more into the lifestyle when I was younger, and all I wanted was someone who cared enough. I saw so many people with these spiked leather monstrosities who went home and ordered the people they owned to do horrific things. But tough luck finding someone who- who didn’t care that I like ways, that class wasn’t an issue, who would wear the same mark. In no way would I ever be collared by someone who wouldn’t wear one himself. Apparently I lowered my standards quite a bit. I always wanted someone who was more of a switch like myself.”

Bull stroked his hair, tipping his head up to kiss him. “Does it bother you, that I rarely bottom?”

“Not so much anymore,” he said softly. “I like our dynamic. You set me up to succeed, not to fail, and you listen when I tell you I don’t want something. If I use the word, it’s obeyed, not laughed off. On the days when I do want to take, and take, and take, you are terrifyingly accommodating. And you don’t fight me on it. You don’t try and make me into something I’m not on the days where I need to be in charge, to control.”

Bull kissed his temple, tangling their fingers together. “For one thing, it’s all kinds of hot when you’re in dom mode,” he rumbled, and Dorian elbowed him. “Hey now. I mean it. I don’t ever want you to think that I don’t like you being large and in charge, because that would be quite the lie.”

Dorian smiled, cuddling into him, and mumbled, “I’m glad I don’t have to hide with you around.”

“I’m glad you don’t feel like you have to,” Bull rumbled, tipping his face up to pepper kisses across his face. Dorian smiled, his heart lightening. “There you are.”

“Beres-taari,” Dorian murmured, and Bull held him close.

My shield.

oOo

The drive to Redcliffe was slow. Dorian sat in the passenger seat of Lavellan’s neat, if rather beat up personal vehicle, Bull hunched awkwardly in the back with Sera, who’d insisted on coming just in case they needed some heads bashed in. Bull was there because there was no way on Earth he was going to let Dorian skip off to meet with anyone to do with his family without serious moral support. Cullen had tried to find a way to come with as well, but there was just no way for him to get away from work with Knight-Captain Rylen sick and Krem shouldering the burden of The Iron Bull being gone.

Sera was surprisingly quiet the whole way, and when they finally climbed out by the hotel, she said suddenly, “You gave it all up. Being all high’n mighty, lordin over everybody.”

“Yes,” Dorian said softly.

“Want it back?”

He shrugged, picking up his bag. “There are things I miss. But after all I’ve learned, I… I don’t think I could ever go back. Not completely. Use my power to elevate others? Sure. Use my money to help others along? Definitely. But the Dorian Pavus who kept slaves and laughed and joked about fashion and politics is dead. And I don’t want to bring him back.”

She nodded slowly, and later, when Dorian was in bed comfortably curled up in Bull’s arms, he realized that something had changed between them for the better. He hadn’t truly realized how dead the Dorian who first left Tevinter was until that moment, and swallowed hard. Now, here he was, happy and safe away from Tevinter.

“Bull,” he said quietly, and Bull hummed in response. “No matter what happens tomorrow… I’m glad I met you.”

“Yeah,” Bull said softly. “I’m glad I met you too.”

Outside, Redcliffe grew quiet under the slow, heavy fall of snow, blanketing the world in crisp, frozen white as The Iron Bull pulled him into a slow, heart melting kiss.

Chapter Text

The thing that Dorian liked most about Redcliffe was that the people there couldn’t have cared less that they were the Inquisition. Certainly they were grateful to Lavellan for managing peace between the mages and templars, and dropping the army like a bomb on those who wouldn’t cooperate, but money was money and people were people. Lavellan was still an elf with an inordinate amount of power who liked eggs and bacon, and they treated her the same as everyone else. Dorian picked at the food he’d been given, the knot in his stomach making it hard to swallow.

Bull was a reassuring bulk by his side, and he finally gave up. Bull wrapped an arm around him without a word, and Dorian watched with dead eyes as he finished breakfast. They were to meet at noon at the Gull and Lantern, and Dorian wanted none of it, but they were here now.

For once, his sleep had been free of Rilienus. Instead of the normal horror story that played out in his mind, he had the dubious pleasure of entertaining a desire demon wearing, of all things, Cullen’s face. Why it thought he would respond to that better than Bull was beyond him, and he’d escaped it easily.

Then, somehow he was upstairs, Bull coaxing him into actually getting dressed for the day. Breakfast had been a communal affair, everyone looking as disheveled as himself, so he hadn’t been worried about putting on his face or fine things. Bull watched as he did up each buckle, the new black coat with its golden dragons feeling more and more like a shield against the world. Each little adjustment, each delicate adornment, the slow threading of every piece of jewelry made him feel like he was dressing in armor. Was this how Cullen felt in the morning, each layer of protection on to physically shield him from the world? He touched his nose, frowning at the realization that he’d have to have it pierced again, and finding septum jewelry was an expensive, time consuming task.

“Copper for your thoughts?” Bull asked from the bed.

“I had a ring in my nose at one point,” Dorian said. “I liked it, quite a bit actually. But it’s healed over.”

He adjusted his many rings, and began on the makeup with a determination matched only by the sheer terror he was feeling.

“Well, once we get that corset all paid for, we’ll see about piercings,” Bull said, stretching out on the bed. Dorian very nearly ruined his eyeliner, going pink. Vivienne had been a little surprised by his desire for a corset, but had taken him to meet the corsetiere anyway. The man had all but salivated over him, thrilled past words to work with the male form for what seemed to be the first time in quite a while. It would be another few weeks before it was finished, and the two of them were waiting somewhat impatiently.

“I hardly think it’s necessary.”

Bull shrugged, smiling. “Do I need an excuse to spoil you?”

Dorian finished his work, going to the bed and climbing up to straddle him. Bull rested his hands on his hips, huge thumbs rubbing soothing circles there.

“You look like you should,” he said quietly. “The rich and powerful altus.”

Dorian snorted, looking over at the mirror. His clothes were fine, but in comparison to who he had once been, he was a gaunt shell. “Altus Pavus died when I pawned my birthright. I have to face that.”

Bull was silent, lifting Dorian’s hand to kiss his knuckles, and Dorian clutched it tightly.

Amatus,” he said quietly, “I’m sorry for all of this. Everything is so much these days.”

Bull reached up, cupping his face with one huge hand. “Meraad astaarit, meraad itwasit, aban aqun. The tide rolls in, the tide rolls out, but the sea remains the same.”

Dorian turned his head to kiss his palm, letting his eyes close. “And who is the sea? Am I the sea?”

“Love is the sea,” Bull said somberly. “And in it I will gladly drown.”

oOo

Lavellan waited outside for him, dressed in a long, deep black coat with the Inquisition symbol embroidered on its back. Her hood was up, draping gracefully around her face, and Dorian stopped at her side, looking over the snow covered town. Their staves were very different, his deliberately chosen to show off the mastery of necromancy with an aggressively oversized skull, and hers a rather elegant, delicate thing that Dorian knew full well was a terror to behold in combat. She sparred regularly against Cassandra as a precaution against assassins, and Dorian did not envy anyone who made an attempt on her life. She looked up at him, offering her arm, and he took it willingly.

The town was largely quiet as they walked, their long coats swishing softly. He knew how they looked together, a perfectly matched pair out for a stroll. With her hood up, Lavellan could almost pass as human, the very picture of a proper couple. He paused, and she looked up at him. Snow swirled across their path, and he said abruptly, “I am glad that you were not upset by my flirting.”

Lavellan’s expression softened, and she bumped gently into him. “I’m glad you treat me like everyone else. It’s a game to you, right?”

He nodded as they started walking again. “Force of habit at this point, I believe. Fun, though.”

“It makes me feel normal,” she admitted, smiling as a pair of birds chased each other around a tree. “I don’t want romance or sex, but it’s fun to go through the motions knowing there won’t be any intentions to follow through.”

“You are normal,” he said firmly, and she smiled up at him, bright as the sun. “There is nothing wrong with you.”

“Thank you, Dorian.” She leaned her head on his shoulder, and despite the anxiety knotting his stomach he felt his heart warm.

The Gull and Lantern was on the larger end, providing rooms as well as having a good sized bar and eating area, but the parking lot was rather empty during the middle of the day. Lavellan stopped with her hand on the door, looking seriously at Dorian. “If you want out at any time, you tell me and we’ll go. No questions asked. If we have to fight, we’ll fight. Bull and Sera are behind us, she’s going to take a position in one of the trees, and Bull’s big enough to make anyone think twice.”

Dorian nodded, his heart in his throat, and pulled open the door.

It was warm inside, but the chairs were up on the tables, the room completely empty. Dorian took a few more cautious steps inside, Lavellan a shadow behind him. “Uh-oh, nobody’s here. This doesn’t bode well,” he said, his voice going high and reedy with anxiety. He took a few shifting steps back, wondering if he could still bolt, if there were people hiding behind the bar waiting to attack-

“Dorian.”

It was every worst fear and desperate hope come to life, hearing that voice. He went still, turning as anger flashed to life within him. Halward stepped down from the out of the shadows of the stairs, watching him with tired eyes.

“Father.”

It was hard to look at him. He was well dressed, though in some truly horrendous color combinations that he knew for a fact would have had him near hung by his mother. Some bizarre mix of pastels and orange, likely popular in Asariel instead of Qarinus. Halward hated Qarinus, but Aquinea loved it, and for his wife he would do nearly anything. He must have stopped there, or been sent there for some reason. He looked older than he had, his face barely touched with the scantest of eyeliner instead of the full face he preferred. It hadn’t even been a year, but Halward finally looked his age.

“So, the whole story about the “family retainer” was just… what? A smoke screen?” He couldn’t quite keep the frustration and exhaustion from his voice.

“Then you were told.” Halward walked forward, catching sight of Lavellan, who stepped forward as well. “My apologies for the deception, Inquisitor. I never intended for you to be involved.”

Lavellan said nothing, examining Halward with narrowed, considering eyes.

“Oh, of course not,” Dorian said, barely keeping a snarl in. “Magister Pavus couldn’t come to Skyhold and be seen with the dread Inquisitor. What would people think?” Halward flinched slightly, and he took the opportunity to press on, the anger growling hot and harsh in his chest. “What exactly is this, father? Ambush? Kidnapping? Warm family reunion?” He couldn’t quiet keep the venom from his tone, and decided to give up trying.

Halward sighed, looking older than ever. “This is how it has always been.”

Lavellan spoke up, her voice carefully modulated to sound mild. Dorian knew better. “Considering you lied to get him here, I believe Dorian has every right to be furious.”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it,” he said, turning to her. The look in her eyes said she did, but he plowed on. “But maybe you should.”

Halward’s hands twitched, like he wanted to reach out. “Dorian, there’s no need to-”

“I prefer the company of men,” he said, not taking is eyes off his father. “My father disapproves.”

“Dorian, this is far from news,” Lavellan said, no doubt thinking of The Iron Bull, waiting under a tree for any sign of disturbance. Dorian’s heart softened for a moment at the thought of him, and hardened again as he focused back on his father.

“This display is uncalled for,” Halward said, his voice heavy.

“Oh, but it is called for,” Dorian snapped, turning around. “You called for it by luring me here.”

Halward leaned in, his brow furrowing. “This is not what I wanted.” It was like looking into a mirror, and Dorian had a terrifying vision of the future, looking like his father. No, he decided immediately. Beards first. He and Bull could match.

“I’m never what you wanted,” Dorian spat, you are no son of mine echoing in his mind. “Or have you forgotten?” He turned to Lavellan, whose eyes focused on him with laser intensity. “Every noble family in Tevinter intermarries to try and distill perfection. Perfect mage, perfect body, perfect mind. A perfect leader, to renew the Tevinter of old. That means every tiny flaw, any little aberration, is deviant and shameful. It must be hidden away where no one can see.” He looked back at Halward. His father lowered his head, the fight apparently gone out of him, and Dorian’s stomach twisted.

“So this whole affair is about who you sleep with?” Lavellan asked, the disapproval harsh in her voice. She looked at Halward, who visibly flinched.

“That’s not all it’s about,” Dorian hissed, and Halward took a step back.

“Dorian, please, if you’ll only listen to me.” His voice was smooth as glass, but his hands were all but wringing themselves.

“Why?” Dorian took a step forward, then another, and another. “So you can spout more convenient lies?” He turned to Lavellan. She was still as a statue, watching intently. “He taught me to hate blood magic, you see. The resort of a weak mind. Those are his words. But what was it you did the second your precious heir refused to play pretend for the rest of his life?” He stalked away, Halward’s eyes following him. “He tried to- to change me.” His voice broke on the words, and he hated that he could feel a lump starting in his throat, his eyes growing wet.

“I only wanted what was best for you, after-“ Halward cut himself off, swallowing hard.

“No,” Dorian snapped. “You wanted what was best for you. For your fucking legacy! Anything for that.” He stalked back to Lavellan, looking down at her. He was awash with emotion, hate and fear and rage warring in him. She reached out, gently touching his arm. Halward made the faintest pained sound, watching them.

“Dorian,” she said gently. “Don’t leave it like this. I know you, and you’d never forgive yourself. Perhaps it’s time you had some answers.”

Rilienus, skin tan like fine whiskey, cheekbones shaded, lips curl when he smiles.

Dorian was almost sick at the reminder, but Lavellan’s hand tightened on his arm, grounding him. He nodded, turning back around to go to his father. Halward looked a mix between terrified and exhausted, and Dorian’s traitorous mind reminded him of when they were both younger, his father making little horses of flames and letting Dorian play with them until his mana was snuffed out. Where had that man gone? “Tell me why you came.”

“Had I known I would drive you to the Inquisition…”

“You didn’t,” he said, the fight seeping out of him as well, leaving only a bone deep ache of unhappiness. “I went to the Inquisition because it was potential. I went because New Haven had a decent university, but they wanted me more. And now, I stay because it is the right thing to do. Once, I had a father who would have known that, and recognized it to be true.”

Halward looked like the years had just piled on his back, his head lowering and shading his eyes. Dorian turned, heading for the door.

“Once,” Halward said, the weight of the world in his voice, “I had a son who trusted me. A trust I brutally betrayed.” Dorian stopped, staring at the door. He knew he would remember this for the rest of his life, every whorl in the wood, the fine lines of the grain. It was an ancient door, wrought iron for the hinges, and it was burned into his mind. “I only wanted to talk to him, to hear his voice again. To ask if he could, perhaps, find it in his heart to forgive me.”

Dorian turned, looking to Lavellan. She nodded, motioning that she would wait outside, and Dorian slowly walked back over. Halward looked like hope was about to be stolen from him, and Lavellan made her way to the door, closing it quietly behind her.

“I’m not doing this without a drink,” Dorian said at last, and Halward pulled two chairs down as Dorian fetched two extremely strong bottles of Antivan brandy from the bar and brought them back with glasses. Halward took one without complaint and they both sat, pouring.

“First,” he said, his heart in his throat, “I need to know. Did… What you did. Was it my fault for what happened with Rilienus?”

Halward went pale, and Dorian jumped as flames licked up the sides of his father’s hands. “Never say that again,” he said harshly, his hands imprinting in the wood of the table. “What happened with him is not, and never will be your fault.” Dorian stared at him with wide eyes, and Halward swore softly, the flames dying. His heart pounding, he watched his father careful wrest himself back under control, breathing slowly as his brow furrowed.

“I didn’t start remembering until about a month ago,” he said quietly, and Halward sucked in a pained breath. He looked genuinely anguished, and Dorian didn’t quite know what to do with that. “Did you seal my memories?”

“No,” he said firmly. “No, so far as I know there is no magic capable of that. After you… escaped from him, you treated it like it never happened. We were in Minrathous at the time, and you woke up one morning about a month after as if nothing had ever happened. Marco said he had seen it before, in slaves who were so abused their minds broke. If you have remembered, I am so sorry. We had hoped that you would go through life without ever having to face that again.”

Dorian stared at the table, his father’s handprints smoking still. “But what you did was partly because of him.”

“Yes,” Halward said heavily. “It was. In a perfect world, we would have seen you married to someone you could learn to be friends with, with a child and a lover who understood and could keep you happy when the rest of the world wanted to devour you whole. Your mother and I were very lucky to have met each other when we did. She was not betrothed, and I adored her instantly. I begged your grandfather to break my engagement, and she was of equal status to me, so it was easy to arrange.” He sighed heavily, sipping the brandy. “We wanted many children. We wanted you to have siblings, like I did, even if Renaldo is a murderous ass. But that was not to be. Five miscarriages later, neither of us could bear it any longer.” He stared at the table, seeing something that Dorian could not. “We never dreamed that anyone like Rilienus would enter the picture. Marco was half mad by the time you came home to us, and your mother as well.”

“You speak of Marco as if you were close,” Dorian said, and Halward smiled crookedly, taking another drink.

“Do you think I would entrust the raising of my only child to just anyone?” he asked. “You are my pride and joy, and I would not have let anyone but Marco raise you.”

“Why?”

Halward looked at him with tired eyes for a moment, and sighed. “Because we loved him.”

Dorian stared. “Excuse me?”

“Well,” Halward amended, “not physically, at least on my part. I’ve never quite dared ask your mother. But the three of us were very stable and happy together. I doubt you remember, but whenever you were scared you came to our room, and Marco was always there.”

Dorian sat back heavily in his chair, unsure what to think. Halward drank again, shuddering at the taste. “So…” he said slowly, “all this time.”

“Yes.” Halward ran his finger over a knot in the wood, taking his gloves off. “All this time. By the time the ritual was in its first stages of planning, shortly after I took you to Seheron, he was dead. You thought it was an attempt on your life, not uncommon, but I knew better. I hid it well, as it was Senate season, but we mourned as if he were our husband. We wore mourning red in our rooms.” He held up his hand, revealing a thin, tattooed red band under his wedding ring, the symbol of a widower. “I was furious and pained. Rilienus’ spies had killed him knowing it would get to you, and it did. As vengeance, when the ritual came, I killed the spy that murdered him. That was the elf on the floor.”

He slid the ring back on, fiddling with it. “I was half out of my mind with grief and pain when you left. My husband dead, my son no longer safe from Rilienus should he attempt to seduce him again, my wife sick with loss and constantly drunk to stave off the pain, it was all too much. I lashed out, let it get the best of me, and unfortunately you were the target of it.” He stared at the table. “And then you were gone. I woke up and couldn’t find you- I wasn’t surprised, but when you didn’t reappear in Vyrantium or Asariel I feared. When I found out you were in New Haven… that was a shock.” He poured another shot of the brandy, downing it quickly. Dorian did the same.

Marco. The world brought to mind a thin, red haired Elven slave with a fine jeweled collar, who told him stories about the ancient elves and inspired a lifelong passion to learn. Marco, who held him after his first heartbreak and soothed him after fights with his father, who went with him to the Circle and taught him how to create little crafts to keep from getting sick with anxiety, Marco had been killed to get at him. He’d been the one who truly raised him, always patching up his knees and scolding him gently for this or that. Now that he thought about it, his father had always lavished praise and attention on him, gifting him with increasingly fine things while his mother spent much time with him out in the garden, the two of them quietly at work with the herbs. His mother was very down to Earth, and Marco had joked that if she wasn’t so high born, he would call her Dalish.

“Did mother know?” he asked softly. “About what you intended to do to me?”

Halward shook his head. “I would not have laid that burden on her. Not ever. She was not very stable at the time, and I fear she would have lost her mind entirely.”

“How is she?” Dorian asked, feeling a pang of homesickness.

Halward sighed. “She spends most of her time in Asariel, at the country estate. It is… easier, there, with the trees and the plants and gardening to do. Away from the memories of him. She is healing, but she mourns deeply.” He leaned back in his chair, old pain across his features. “Rilienus has been officially made a magister. She had hoped that he would be murdered before then, but there was no such luck. It wounds her.”

Dorian felt sick, and clutched his glass.

“How- How did he keep me?” he asked unsteadily. “I don’t remember.”

Halward grimaced, and drank straight from the bottle. “Bastard used warped blood magic,” he said harshly. “Other fluids. Not blood. I don’t want to think about it.”

Dorian let the words churn through his mind, and shuddered. “I thought that sex magic was impossible.”

Halward drank again, his free hand curling and uncurling. “No. Apparently he found a way to manage it. Something to do with what blood is made of.” Flames flickered at his finger tips, snuffing out and relighting. “That year was hell on earth. I pray daily that you will always be free of him.”

“Bastard,” Dorian whispered, staring at the hand print on the table. He blinked a few times, and a fat tear rolled off his chin to splash on the wood. Halward silently pushed the brandy back to him, and he drank deep, needing the burn.

They sat in silence until Halward cleared his throat. “You’re not wearing your birthright.”

Dorian’s lips thinned. “I sold it,” he said bluntly. “It was that or my body, and I would rather keep the latter.”

“I can have another made for you,” Halward said softly, and Dorian shook his head.

“No. If I get it back, I get it back on my own terms.” He rose, taking the brandy with him. “I don’t know if I can forgive you. But now I know, and… and I am grateful, I suppose, to know where you came from. Your intentions. I will not lie, I am still furious and pained that you thought that blood magic was the only way, but I think I can begin to heal at last.”

He turned, leaving Halward at the table. “Goodbye, Papa.”

oOo

Lavellan was waiting outside the door, and a glint from the sun told him Sera was up a tree, ready to hurt. Lavellan touched his arm, and he lowered his head to kiss her hair.

“Thank you,” he said softly, and she took his arm as they slowly made their way back, The Iron Bull appearing soundlessly from a stand of trees, larger than life and worry all over his face. Dorian took his hand, squeezing tightly, and they walked in silence all the way back to the hotel.

When he and Bull were safely in their room he turned, feeling the first start of tears.

“Please,” he said, his voice breaking. “Please, help me.”

And Bull leaned down, kissing him and taking him apart until he felt whole again.

Chapter Text

Fen’Harel waits with Solas for Dorian to dream. They sit in silence for once, Solas quiet where he sits beside his other half. The unchanging and everchanging landscape of their little patch of Fade is looking more like a home, a bright blanket laid out and a new bowery in the circle of the brambles. They are within the tall white pillars, on the comfortable couch in its center.

Solas is tired, his heart aching. It has been a long day.

“What will happen to me?” he asks at last, and Fen’Harel growls, wrapping arms around him and pulling him in close.

“We are one,” he insists. “Two sides of one coin. You will go nowhere.”

They wait, and they watch, and together, they are.

oOo

There is an argument going on as Dorian trudges down the hall, feeling muzzy and confused. He should not be here, in his parents house, but here he is anyway. It is a nice house. He likes this house.

“-kill him if he has the chance. He knows too much.”

“What does he know? That blood magic was involved? He’s barely walking, Halward, I can hardly imagine him testifying-“

He turns a corner and there’s his papa and patri, who are silent as soon as they see him.

Patri Marco, as he calls him, comes over to take his hands. His hair is streaked with silver, the red shining brightly still. His father is stock still, as if preparing to bolt. He doesn’t know why, he hasn’t done anything.

“Patri,” he says, his voice small, “why are you fighting with Papa?” The anxiety leaks through. People should not fight. If they fight he has to shrink back into corners to avoid them, and sometimes he gets hit by flying objects. He doesn’t want Patri or Papa to throw anything at him.

Marco shushes him gently, his eyes soft. “No, da’len, we’re not fighting. No one is mad, we’re just trying to make a decision about where to go on vacation.”

Dorian looks to his Papa for confirmation, and gets a strained smile and nod back. He looks back at Marco, who swallows hard and pulls him into a hug. This is nice but surprising, and he carefully hugs back. “Oh. I’m sorry.”

“You’re forgiven, da’len.” Marco touches his hair and frowns. “Ma vhenan, when was the last time you washed your hair?”

He shrugs. He does not know, he does not care. Marco, however, seems to and frowns deeper.

“Bath,” he says firmly, turning Dorian, and he obediently heads in the direction of the bathroom. Behind him, he hears the discussion start again.

“We can’t just run to Asariel, he’ll expect us to go there,” Marco hisses. “He knows you retreat there when you need to gather your strength. We have to go elsewhere, before he has a chance to find us.”

“Take Aquinea to the summer home out in that little backwater by the Orlesian border. The two of you will be safe there, and he and I will go to the house in Solas.”

Dorian turns the corner and hears no more, but Fen’Harel is there as he trudges dutifully towards the bathroom. Slowly, he manages to separate himself from the him that stares so blankly ahead. He shudders as he stands at Fen’Harel’s side, walking with the past. “So,” he says, his voice brittle. “My father was a married man twice over.”

Fen’Harel eyes him. “Is this a problem?”

“It’s just hard to know that the man I thought was free from all their machinations was actually a large part of it after all,” Dorian says, watching the old him stare blankly at the tub in the bathroom. “Marco was good to me, and now I know why. He really was my third parent. I haven’t quite figured out how to deal with that yet.”

Fen’Harel nods as dream Dorian slowly starts stripping off his clothing. “It appears that this is the end of the relevant piece of memory.”

Dorian nods. “Can you… can you show me more of Marco?”

Fen’Harel nods, and the dream twists.

Dorian is tiny, maybe six at the oldest, pushing open the door to his parents room. Their bed is massive to him, and in reality it is big enough for six comfortably. He hurries to where his father is all but hanging off the bed, and gently tugs on his sleeve.

“Papa,” he whispers, terrified. “Papa.”

Halward reluctantly opens his eyes, sighing softly when he sees Dorian. “What is it?” he asks, muzzily.

“Demons want to eat me,” Dorian whispers, and Halward’s eyes open wider. He pats the bed and Dorian scrambles up, falling into the divot between him and Marco, who stirs sleepily. Dorian burrows in, and Halward rolls over to wrap an arm around him. His free hand comes up, and tiny horses made of flame appear, prancing and loping in circles around the bed. Dorian is transfixed, watching the horses intently. Marco rolls over, opening his eyes.

“Ah, da’len,” he says softly. “Did you have a bad dream?”

“There were demons, patri,” Dorian whispers, his whole body wracked with a shudder. “They wanted to eat me up.”

Marco strokes his hair as Halward manipulates the horses. “Well, good for you for waking up and coming to us.” He kisses Dorian’s forehead, and from the doorway the much older Dorian and Fen’Harel watch.

The four of them are silent, Aquinea buried under pillows, Marco curled up beside Halward and Dorian, watching the horses until finally, Dorian sleeps, and the lights go out.

The dream shifts, and they’re in the Qarinus house, Dorian at age nine sulkily hiding behind a bookshelf as Marco and Halward fight in the dining room. It’s a warm summer afternoon, and the windows are open to let in a breeze. Aquinea is lounging on a couch, a book on her face as she rests, not quite asleep or awake. Her stomach is swollen with child. Dorian knows that she won’t carry much longer. The longest has been five months, and they’re approaching the end of the fourth. This will be their last attempt.

“He’s only nine! He’s a child, there’s no need to send him yet!”

“His gifts have started to manifest, we can’t put this off forever. It’s time, Halward, unless you want him to accidentally burn the house to the ground? Primal magic is strong in your family, it’s possible.”

“I don’t want to lose him to that yet, and if people learn-“

“I will be with him, Halward. If anyone tries to hurt him for his… proclivities, I will be there to pick up the pieces. Of them, to be specific.”

The much older Dorian blinks back tears as Marco and Halward walk into the room, his smaller self still hidden. Halward is clearly upset, his eyes wet, and Marco looks exhausted. His hair is pulled up into a bun, shaved underneath. Aquinea reluctantly pulls the book from her face, glowering at the two. “Can you be a bit quieter?” she says acidly, but softens when Halward kisses her stomach. “Now. When are we sending him?”

“Term starts in a month,” Halward says heavily. “Your father called and demanded he be sent to Vyrantium, instead of Minrathous.”

Aquinea snorts. “Old bastard just wants him close enough to manipulate. But the First Enchanter of Vyrantium is a reasonable woman, I see no flaws. They have excellent teachers in the academic realms of magic, and I think it’s safe to say that he’ll be more academic than battle oriented.”

“Quite likely,” Marco agrees, and Aquinea lifts his hand to kiss his knuckles. “Should I see about purchasing a house?”

“No,” Halward said, shaking his head. “Just an apartment. We won’t be able to visit often, with that mess the Archon has cooked up.”

Aquinea groans, and the men help her up. “What a pain,” she murmurs. “We’ll talk to him about it tonight. If he wants to go to Minrathous, we’ll send him to Minrathous. If he wants Vyrantium, Vyrantium it is.”

The three leave the room, and Dorian lets Fen’Harel pause the dream.

“Obaba Thalrassian is a particularly nasty man,” he says absently. “Or was, rather. He’s very dead now.” He walks over to the young Dorian, crouching down to look him in the scared, sad eyes. “Oh, how I wish you had chosen Minrathous.”

He rises, turning to Fen’Harel. “Can I be done for the night?”

Fen’Harel takes pity, and Dorian descends into a dream of a race with Cullen, far from any memories of the Pavus household.

Chapter Text

Bull planted himself in the library for the next week, leaving only when he needed to. It was strange, having him there, but Dorian was undeniably grateful for his presence. The trip back from Redcliffe had consisted largely of him wavering between rage and depression, tucked into Bull’s side in the back while Sera and Lavellan bickered cheerfully in the front. In their quarters it wasn’t much better.

Bull had closed the door, watching as Dorian all but threw his bag into the corner. Likely the only thing that saved it from that fate was the dainty crystal charm that Sera had attached to it.

“Shit,” Dorian hissed, taking a deep breath. He ran his hands through his hair, starting the process of stripping down. Bull quickly texted Krem to switch his schedule, knowing full well that there was no way he could safely leave Dorian alone. He set his own bag down, ditching the coat he’d been forced into, and kicked off his boots. Dorian’s movements were fast and economical, all sharp fingers and snapping motion.

Bull made his way to the bed and sat, waiting. There were a few different ways this could go, and one way or another, he had to be careful.

“Bull,” Dorian said when he was finally down to what appeared to be delicate black silk, “be a dear and find a whip?”

By all the Elven gods. Bull watched him silently, forcing Dorian to turn and meet his eyes.

“No,” he said firmly, his tone flat. “There are many things I’m willing to do to you, Dorian. The whip is not one of them, not while you’re like this.”

“Like what?” Dorian snarled, stalking towards him. Purple lightning snapped at his fingers, and he stopped, getting himself back under control before Bull could panic.

“Not when you want to be punished for something that doesn’t deserve punishing.” Bull rose, stepping in front of him, a resolute bulk. He forced Dorian’s chin up to look at him, gripping firmly when he tried to pull away. “Not when you’re trying to goad me into hurting you. Not when you want scars to match the inside. I lost the Qun, not my morals.”

Dorian snarled, fire starting at his fingers. Bull didn’t let him go, waiting patiently. If Dorian had meant to hurt him, truly hurt him, he would be crackling with ice now, not fire.

“You know your word,” he said calmly, and Dorian seemed to practically vibrate in his hand, indecision making him feel like he was at war. He knew what Dorian wanted. He wanted to be laid out and made to hurt just as bad on the outside as he did on the inside, allowing himself to justify how he felt. He was not going to give him that. Never pain, never like this. “You know how to get what you want, and it isn’t by baiting me. It isn’t by cruelty. It isn’t by hurting me.”

The flames went out, and this time he let Dorian go when he tried to step back, watching calmly as he stumbled a little, shaking. He looked at his hands, shuddering, and Bull took a careful step forward to pull him into an embrace.

“Hush, kadan,” he whispered as Dorian let out a pained, wordless cry, curling into him. “It’s all right. You’re safe, and I’ll take care of you.”

He finally felt the tears start, and carefully maneuvered them into bed to let Dorian finally break down.

He understood. He hated that he understood, but he did all the same. He was finding new family each day, building a new life while Dorian had to scramble to pick up the pieces of what he thought was the truth.

The words “Tal Vashoth” hung like a death sentence over him. Between he and Dorian, it was hard to say who woke from more nightmares each week. It had grown bad enough that memories of Seheron were starting to reemerge, curling like bitter fingers around his throat. Dorian had kept the prints he had taken, and one hung on the wall. It was of a place he’d not been forced to see, a look out from over a bay towards Qarinus. It was a beautiful picture, of a place they both feared, and having it on the wall was practically soothing. See, it seemed to say, not all the world is fire and death. But the lack of the Qun made things difficult. He was struggling to find his way, terror gnawing at his throat with the knowledge that he could eventually be taken by the madness that had overrun so many on the island. Dorian helped, reminding him that there was no real blood on his hands, no arson to his name.

But Tal Vashoth he was, and Tal Vashoth he would remain.

The week would be long and hard. But then came the following Tuesday, and everything went directly to shit.

oOo

Lavellan didn’t sit in judgment often. She didn’t care for it, being the arbitrator of justice, but every Tuesday she reluctantly took the throne and dispensed it like cheap candy. It was towards the end of the day, and at long awaited last she was reaching the end of the line. A dispute between two women later, and Josephine rushed up to her side.

“What is it, Josie?”

“We- we have another to deal with,” she said, anxiety in every line of her face. “This is highly irregular, but he insists.”

There was a murmuring of the crowd as Josephine backed up, and Halward Pavus stepped forward, flanked by two very suspicious Templars and his hands bound before him. Lavellan straightened, years of practice keeping her face from showing the shock and slight fear from appearing.

“Your Grace, I present Lord former Magister Halward Pavus of the Circle of Minrathous, Lord of Asariel, head of House Pavus. Your Grace, I ask a boon.” Josephine’s hands were practically shaking.

“Being?” Lavellan asked, already knowing.

“Please conduct this in a private way, for the sake of Serah Pavus.”

“Granted.” She rose from the throne, turning to Josephine. Her friend looked positively frightened. “Your office is open?”

“Yes, Your Grace, it is. If I may send runners to inform the other advisers?”

Lavellan nodded, glancing back at Halward, who seemed perfectly pliant. “Make it so, Josephine. And have one go to my rooms and fetch the long, thin box on my desk.”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

Lavellan led the way to Josephine’s office, ignoring the shocked looks of the courtiers. The doors were locked firmly, and Lavellan motioned for Halward to sit. He did so with surprising grace, looking rather peaceful even as the Templars shifted nervously.

“Steady,” she said calmly, and soon enough her three were gathered. Cullen’s jaw twitched as he clenched it. No doubt Dorian had told him about their trip to Redcliffe. Leliana seemed more annoyed than anything, settling by the wall as Josephine took a seat at her desk and starting a log of the proceedings.

“So,” she said after everyone was settled, leaning on Josephine’s desk. “This is a surprise, Lord Pavus.”

He quirked a smile, so like Dorian it made her skin crawl. It was like looking at an older, darker version of her friend. “Thank you for not using magister. I will be brief. I have given up my seat in the Magisterium to my wife, and told her of what I did to Dorian. I intend to pay for my sins, Inquisitor.”

“You came to me to be absolved?”

He shook his head, looking up at her in sudden, bone chilling somber reflection. “No, Inquisitor. I come to you for justice. And, I expect, the Rite of Tranquility.”

Leliana dropped the box she had brought, Cullen hissed softly, and Josephine’s fingers stuttered on the keys of her laptop. Halward didn’t look away from her, almost expectant.

“No,” she said when she’d finally regained the use of her voice. “No. Never will I ever use the Rite of Tranquility on anyone. We’re actively working a way to reverse the damn thing. I am the Inquisitor, and my job, my role, my existence means I must give justice to all. Not inflict a living death.” She took a shaky breath. “Your son would also never forgive me, and I value our relationship dearly.”

She pushed off the desk, standing before him. “You have the potential of becoming an international incident, Halward Pavus. Former magister or not, you are still a lord of Tevinter, and I highly doubt that the Archon would be terribly thrilled to learn that I have not one, but two of his people under my roof. However, justice you have asked for, and justice I must give.” She turned to Leliana. “The box, please.”

Leliana handed it to her with reluctance, and she flipped it open. The Templars both shifted anxiously at the sight of the collar inside, inlaid with heavy runes.

“It’s Qunari make,” she said, taking it from the box. “A gift, from the Arishok. I had it made particularly to contain Primal magic, which I understand is your forte. I wear it while training, to lower my dependence on magic alone in the event of a Templar smiting me before making an assassination attempt.” She draped it over her hand. “I must speak with Dorian. As the offended party, he has a right to be heard as to how you are to be punished. Until such time as a suitable punishment for your crime can be found, you will wear this and work in the kitchens.”

“I have no experience with the domestic arts outside of how to pour tea,” Halward warned her, tipping his throat up to allow her to buckle the dreadful thing on. There were fine tremors through him, and his hands began to smoke. They abruptly went out as the device activated, the runes glowing a vicious gold. He sucked in a gasp, eyes widening as he tried not to panic. She waited patiently. The first few times it had taken everything in her not to rip the damned thing off and shatter it, but eventually it was possible to adapt.

“You’ll learn. Take your time, breathe through it. It’s hard, the first while. You’ll adjust in time.” She watched as he shivered, eyes wide and slightly panicked. “Look at me, Halward Pavus.” His eyes snapped to hers, wild and growing more terrified by the minute. She reached out, carefully touching his hand, and he slowly calmed, anchored. “There. It’s livable.”

“This is hell,” he rasped, and she was impressed he had kept from screaming. “You are certainly a powerful and well controlled mage to handle this so often.”

Lavellan shrugged. “What is the term the Qunari use? Ah, yes. Shok ebasit hissra. Struggle is an illusion.” Her expression hardened as she straightened. “I expect you will be called for within the week. For now, one of Josephine’s people will find you lodging and clothes less likely to be destroyed by heavy work. We may yet need you in a more managerial capacity. For now, you are under command of the cook, and gods all help you if you anger her. Silence will be your friend there.” She turned to Cullen. “Is The Iron Bull in residence at the moment?”

He nodded. “He’s with Dorian in the library. They’ve been working together with Merrill on some shelf repairs.”

“Good.” She turned back to Halward. “Have you any requests before you are taken?”

He hesitated, but asked, “May I speak to my son? I… there are things I need to say, that I did not know before.”

Lavellan pursed her lips, raising a questioning eyebrow to Cullen. He shrugged. “He’s with Bull.”

That was all the reassurance she needed. “Very well. Commander Cullen and the Templars will accompany you to Dorian. Try anything, and the Commander has full permission to make life extremely uncomfortable for you. He was at Kirkwall, so he’s well educated on making people...uncomfortable.”

Halward paled considerably under his tan as Cullen glared at her, but the point had been driven across despite the low blow. She squeezed his hand in silent apology, and Cullen sighed heavily, fussing with his cloak. “Off we go, then.”

oOo

Cullen felt nothing but dread as they climbed the stairs to Dorian’s alcove. Solas had frozen when they entered, his eyes narrowing at the sight of Halward only to widen in shock when he saw the collar. Cullen felt like he was back in Kirkwall after all. This was no Rite of Tranquility, but it was a harsh measure all the same. He couldn’t quite say he disapproved. He’d worked hard to overcome his fear and hatred, but some days it came back with a vengeance. Listening to Dorian half hysterically tell him about what his father had said had not helped matters.

There was the faint sound of laughter as they rounded the stairs, Merrill’s voice the brightest.

“No, no, you are mistaken Dorian! It was the halla, really.”

“Oh, I’m quite certain that my charming, oh-so-innocent apprentice had absolutely nothing to do with it.”

Bull’s rumbling laugh then, followed by a drawled, “And that was the last we any of us were allowed in the stables.”

Cullen reached the top stair just as Dorian turned, lighting up at the sight of him. He started to smile, but when Cullen didn’t return it his face fell. “Cullen, what-”

Cullen stepped to the side, revealing Halward, and Dorian froze. Merrill, perched on his desk, stopped swinging her feet instantly and stared.

“Father,” Dorian breathed, his eyes flicking over the collar and the handcuffs, and back to his father’s face. “Cullen, what did you do?”

Cullen held up his hands. “This wasn’t me, Dorian,” he said softly. “This was all him.” Dorian stared at him incredulously, looking back at the two Templars who bowed politely to him. Yevva and Romme, they were a married pair who were hopelessly devoted to each other and a pair of twin terrors in a fight. They were also extremely devout, and practically worshipped the ground Lavellan walked on. They would no more move in anger than a tree would, and could not have been a better choice of guards. Dorian knew them, as well, having been there for their marriage. They had been curious about the strange Tevinter mage and invited him on a whim, and were rather startled when he showed up and gifted them generously.

“The Commander is right,” Halward said, his accent thickening as he swallowed hard. His eyes were fixed on Dorian, who looked like he either wanted to bolt or go and hug him tightly. “I would like to speak with you a minute, Dorian.”

There was a creaking sound, and Cullen braced himself as the shadow of The Iron Bull rose, and the Qunari himself stepped out of the alcove. Halward went rigid, the collar glowing white as he struggled to cast on impulse.

“Well this is unexpected,” Bull said softly, gently resting a hand on Dorian’s shoulder. He reached up absently, and Bull took his hand. “Would you like me to leave?”

“No,” Dorian said, not taking his eyes off of Halward. “Please, amatus. Stay.”

Halward’s eyes bulged, flicking from Dorian up to The Iron Bull and back again. The marks on the collar faded to normal yellow again, and the three guarding him relaxed. The collar had held what likely would have been an inferno.

“Should I go?” Merrill asked timidly, and Dorian shook his head.

“No. This will be good, no doubt. Would you fetch some chairs?”

Merill nodded, hopping off the table to go and start moving things. Cullen led Halward forward to the alcove proper, and Bull vanished back in to sit on Dorian’s chair. Dorian perched on the arm of it, Bull’s huge hand resting on his hip to balance him. A rather hard, plain wooden chair appeared for Halward, and Cullen leaned against the wall while Yenna and Romme backed up to the parapet. Merrill plopped down on her pillows, this time at Bull’s feet, and leaned against his knees out of habit.

They made for a strange tableau, and Halward kept looking from one to the other and back again.

“So,” Dorian said, clearing his throat. “What was it you wanted to say, father?”

Halward shifted a little, considering. “I saw a curious thing, on my way back North,” he began, clasping his hands together and looking forward to meet Dorian’s eyes. He had a smooth voice, pleasant to listen to, and Cullen only slightly wanted to wring his neck for it. “It was in a small town, but there was a little bakery next to the Chantry and it looked rather inviting, so I stopped for lunch. There was a wedding going on, and it seemed half the town was there, pouring out of the doors.” He rubbed at his wedding band, the red tattoo beneath it poking out. “I decided to congratulate the couple, seeing I was there and had no reason not to. There are precious few marriages for love in Tevinter.” This was directed at Merrill, who seemed a bit shocked to be spoken to directly. “I will admit I was feeling sentimental and very tired, and thus when I got in line I did not look up much until I grew closer.”

Dorian’s hand fell to Bull’s on his hip, their fingers tangling together as Bull held his hand.

“And when I did look up, I very nearly set the place ablaze in my panic. Here were two men before me, laughing and smiling and stealing kisses when they could. They stood in the Chantry, the place that every instinct told me was the least safe for them, but here they were! Rings on their fingers, content, and the sister who had married them laughing with her neighbors. They were startled to see me. Understandable. I offered dinner, explaining that this was the first I had ever heard of people like my son being allowed to marry. They rather graciously accepted, and so to dinner we went.” Halward swallowed hard, taking a deep breath. “Jorah and Guillame, they are named. Templars, formerly. They met in the Fereldan Circle shortly before it fell, and I heard their whole story over some rather unusual ale and excellent Druffalo. How they met, how Jorah proposed, how excited their families were. Guillame is from Orlais originally, so there was a bit of displeasure. But not over the fact that they were men, no, only his citizenship.” There was a bit of a smile on his face, and he shook his head. “It was… strange. Liberating. Here, I knew now, you would be safe.”

He lifted his eyes, a smile on his face. “So, I called your mother and told her the truth. She now holds the title of Magister, and I am here to see justice done for my actions.” His smile fell, and he leaned forward, somber. “I would see you happy, Dorian. That is all a parent should wish for. I failed you in all the worst ways, and I will have justice one way or another. I came expecting the Rite, but have been told that it will not be given under any circumstances. So, this is what my life is to be. An open question.”

He stood carefully. “I suppose I will see you at some point. Is this your apprentice?”

“Yes,” Dorian said hoarsely. “Merrill of Clan Sabrae and Kirkwall.”

Halward smiled wryly. “Good. I had hoped that you would one day have students of your own.” He bowed to her, deep enough that Dorian’s eyes widened at the apparent faux pas, and when he straightened he said, “He’s weak to Keeper magic, if you have any. The vine trick is one his mother played on him constantly.”

Merrill jolted, startled, and said, “I-I’ll remember.”

He nodded, and said quietly, “Dorian, I want you happy. Wherever that takes you.” His eyes flicked to The Iron Bull, who considered him with one narrowed eyes. “Panahedan, The Iron Bull.”

He turned, and the Templars flanked him. Cullen let them go, stepping into the alcove as Dorian slid off the arm of the chair into Bull’s lap, burying his face in his chest.

“If you’d give us a minute,” Bull said quietly, and Cullen nodded.

“Merrill, with me if you please,” he said quietly, and she followed him down to where Solas was pacing.

“Well?” He demanded. “What happened?”

Cullen sighed. It was going to be a very, very long evening.

Chapter Text

Two days after Halward arrived, Merrill found him in the kitchens. It was brutally hot, and the cook gave her only the barest glance as she rolled up her sleeves and set to work chopping carrots. It was a good thing to do to keep her mind off of the yelling going on upstairs while Dorian and Lavellan tried to figure out what to do, Iron Bull mediating. Solas had taken off after finding out, and no one complained. They knew that he would kill Halward if given the chance, so he had removed himself from the temptation. Carrots always needed chopping, and it would keep her calm to do good work.

Halward was silent at the sink, washing dishes with a single minded determination that reminded her of the Tranquil. She glanced at the cook, who rolled her eyes and shrugged. Well, help was help, even if help was in the form of a man who looked disturbingly similar to her teacher. She focused back on the carrots, exhaling slowly and sinking into calm like her Keeper had taught her. There was no use cooking without love in your heart. It soured the food.

Soon the carrots were finished and she was put to work kneading bread for some of the massive loaves that graced the long tables for dinner, and was a little startled when Halward stepped across from her, clearly attempting to glare his own dough into submission. He watched her for a minute, and she silently demonstrated the basics. He copied them with ease, and settled into a rhythm after some struggle. The cook nodded approvingly.

“I’ve got to go down and harangue that Warden o’ the Inquisitors for taking off with mine apples,” she said, her accent thickly Free Marcher. “Will you watch this one?”

“Can do, Cook,” Merrill said cheerily, slamming the dough into the table to get it to shape correctly.

“Mind the flan don’t burn,” she warned, and headed out the courtyard door.

Silence fell, and Merrill watched as Halward worked. She paused, and nodded at his dough. “Lift it up and drop it,” she told him, and he did as ordered, looking up at her uncertainly. “There. That’ll make it a little easier to work with.”

“Thank you.” It was strange to hear his voice. His accent was much thicker than Dorian’s, but no less pleasing to listen to. “I had no idea bread was such a process.”

“All life is a process,” she said, going back to kneading. “Bread is no less or more complicated than the growing of trees. Magic is just as complex as stew.” She took a knife and separated the dough in two to begin shaping it. “It took me a long time to understand that shems don’t normally see it like that.”

“What is shems?” Halward seemed genuinely confused. “Is shems human?”

She gave him a long, slow stare. “It’s short for shemlen, which means human. The quick ones. Have you not heard the term before?”

“No.” He awkwardly shifted the bread around to get a better grip. “Elves in Tevinter do not speak much with Alti. I know some words, but not many.”

“That’s a pity,” Merrill said, grabbing the loaf pan. It was much larger than most, long and thin. She carefully laid it out, slicing lines across it. “But I bet most Alti don’t want to hear what Elves have to say.”

Halward laughed humorlessly. “You are not wrong. Should I drop it again?”

“Yes.”

He did so as she checked and removed the flan, setting it to the side to cool. It was likely for Cassandra. The cook had a soft spot for the woman, and Cassandra had a soft spot for things like flan. That was good. She liked Cassandra. She reminded her a little of Aveline.

“Does my son treat you well?” Halward asked as he continued kneading.

“Dorian? Of course he does.” She went back to work on the other half of her dough, smiling. “I wouldn’t stay if he didn’t. He’s a good teacher, very patient when I’m struggling. He has that whole thing against blood magic, but that’s okay. I understand why he’s so scared.”

Halward stopped, staring at her. “You’re… you’re maleficar?”

“Fenris said that word too,” she said, nodding. “So I guess. I only use my own blood though. But Dorian is weird about blood and magic, my own or not, so Solas said I’m not ever allowed to talk to him about it in case he has a panic attack and sets the building on fire or tries to kill me.” She adjusted the bread, and looked up at him seriously. “It wouldn’t have worked, you know.”

“What?”

“The ritual you tried. It wouldn’t have worked. Things like that, it’s souls.” She thumped her chest. “It wouldn’t have made him like women. It would have made him hollow, unable to like anyone. Not like Lavellan, but kind of like Lavellan.”

Halward’s hands slowed. “I don’t understand.”

“Lavellan doesn’t have the want for sex or romance,” she clarified. “Not at all. Not even a little bit. He would be like that, except without conscience. He wouldn’t like people at all.”

Halward stared at her, stricken, and she went back to work on the bread. The rhythmic motion of kneading, pulling and pushing into what things should be was soothing, and as she shaped it, she heard a hoarse, “Thank you for telling me.”

oOo

The Inner Circle was waiting when Halward was called to Josephine’s office. Bull was settled in a large chair, Dorian perched on the arm again and holding tight to his hand on his hip. Cullen hovered behind them, Krem leaning against the back wall in the event they needed another translator. Halward was a vastly different man from the one who had been in the Gull and Lantern, his finery gone. He had a tiny bit of flour in his hair, his hands wrinkled from spending so much time in the water. His finery stripped away, the only thing remaining his wedding band on a chain around his neck. The red tattooed band on his hand stood out like blood, but he made no attempt to hide it.

“Halward Pavus,” Lavellan said, her voice heavy. “You have been the subject of much discussion these past few days. I’ve heard testimony from Dorian as to your intentions, as well as Merrill who… has some experience in ritual.”

Dorian gave a full body shiver, and Bull tightened his grip on him.

“While I understand your intentions, the fact remains that intentions count for nothing when something of this magnitude has been done. However.” She was resolutely not looking at Dorian. “Misguided or not, Dorian does not want to see you suffer. He believes you sincerely regret your actions, and thus asked me not to make your punishment harsh. So, as we could not reach a consensus, here is judgment. Until such time as it is decided you are free, you are to work for the Inquisition. Your duties may vary, as I am told you have some experience with Tevinter legal documents and we have recently received word that the Archon is interested in our organization, as is the Black Divine. For now, you are assigned to the kitchens indefinitely. Should we need you, we will call for you. Do not seek Dorian out. If he desires to speak with you, he will.”

Bull could feel Dorian trembling under his grip, and knew his knuckles were white where he gripped Bull’s hand.

Halward bowed deeply, a servant to a master. “Thank you, Lady Inquisitor.”

“You may leave.”

Halward bowed again and did so, his expression peaceful. Lavellan shook her head, sighing.

“Thank you,” Dorian said, his voice tight with emotion. “However, if you’ll please excuse us.”

Lavellan nodded, and Bull rose, tucking Dorian into his side as they headed for the door. It would probably be some time before Dorian and Lavellan could be around each other without getting upset. Dorian had argued for sending Halward away, banishing him back to Tevinter, but Lavellan had known that he wouldn’t accept that as a punishment. They made their way up to their rooms, and Bull locked the door behind them. Dorian turned, letting his head thud heavily into Bull’s chest, and he gently stroked his hair.

“The world is horribly complicated,” Dorian whispered.

“That it is, kadan. That it is.”

oOo

Solas found Dorian working on the translation of a 500 year old manuscript out in the garden, the skiff of snow on the ground for once not deterring him. He was bundled up in the coat Blackwall had given him, a bright pink hat shoved on his head.

“How are you feeling?”

“Just fabulous,” Dorian snapped, gloved fingers flying over the keys of his laptop. “I’m wonderful. My mind is betraying me and my father is in residence, collared and working in the kitchens while Bull is gone for the next week because he took so much time off. I keep waking up and being sick from all the shit I’m seeing.”

Solas carefully sat next to him, resting a hand on his shoulder. “Dorian,” he said softly, and Dorian took a shuddering breath, closing his eyes tightly.

“I don’t know how much longer I can take this,” he whispered. “I’m going mad, Solas.”

“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re finally getting overwhelmed. That’s another matter.”

Dorian slumped. “Why can’t it be like the old days?” he asked. “Everything was so simple when I first came here. Lavellan laughed, Bull was just some fire fighter, Cullen was- well, he wasn’t happy, but he became happy. What changed?”

“The world.” Solas had never quite got the hang of being reassuring. “The Inquisition has always been about the purge of corruption. In the early days it was easy, not so much a burden. But the weight of the world is a hard thing to bear. Lavellan is feeling that burden very strongly these days, and her mood echoes back to us all.”

Dorian looked up at him, exhaustion heavy on his features. “She hides it well.”

“She is not a happy woman, Dorian,” he said quietly. “She is very sad, and very tired.”

Dorian nodded, looking down at his work. “I should go and talk to her then.”

“I think that would be wise.”

oOo

A full week of fire left Bull rattled and exhausted. Slowly, he made his way back up to Skyhold, his leg aching with every step. It had been a hard week, and while Dorian had come down for lunch regularly and they called fairly often to check in on each other, he was more than a little relieved to be going home to where a comfortable bed and warm body waited for him. The gates opened for him without question, the guards calling hellos down as he headed for the keep. They had a room in one of the towers, but he did need to check in with Lavellan first.

Varric was at his normal place, warming himself by the fire. “Hey, Tiny.”

“Evening, Varric. Where’s Lavellan?”

“In the tavern with Sparkler. Something about a drinking game with alcoholic fruit.”

Bull grimaced. He’d been working on keeping Dorian’s drinking from consuming him, a problem that had reappeared after the dreams started and was only exacerbated by Redcliffe, but he couldn’t be everywhere and he couldn’t help when Dorian didn’t want it.

“Thanks, Varric.”

Varric waved him off, and he slowly made his way to the tavern, dropping his bag with a runner to take up to their rooms. Given that it had a giant pair of horns embroidered in blood red on it, he was pretty sure it wouldn’t be messed with.

The tavern was warm and inviting, and he wasn’t surprised to find Dorian comfortably seated with his back to the wall, a pile of fruit in a jar full of vivid pink liquid. Lavellan was eating grapes and laughing back to her old self as Josephine held court over a game of Wicked Grace, Leliana and Blackwall having an arm wrestling match while Sera cheered them both on. Bull dropped in next to Dorian, eyeing him. He was sitting oddly, less graceful than usual, but he was clearly happy and hadn’t indulged too much.

“Miss me?” he purred, and Dorian beamed, pulling him down for a slow, lazy kiss that had half the tavern whistling and cheering. He chuckled when they parted, reaching up to stroke Dorian’s cheek. “Clearly you did. Well that makes me feel better.”

“Good.” Dorian stood up, letting him take the wall seat so he could perch on his lap, and Bull groaned as he nestled in. “I’d hate for you to be too comfortable without me.”

There was something odd about Dorian’s back, lumpier than normal, and he snuck a hand under the ridiculous shirt (a pale pink thing with, as per usual, buckles) in suspicion. Sure enough, satin met his fingertips, and he dipped his head to groan into Dorian’s neck. “Kadan, you’re going to be the death of me,” he rumbled, nipping at the skin to make Dorian squirm, pressing back against him so he could feel the laces of the corset. “When did this get here?”

“This morning,” Dorian murmured, leaning his head back to let Bull nuzzle at the soft skin. “Couldn’t wait for you, thought I’d surprise you.”

“Fucking great surprise,” he growled. “How bad do you want to stay?”

Dorian sat up, grinning wickedly at him, and Bull groaned.

“Why, amatus, you wouldn’t be suggesting that we leave our good friends to party alone, would you?” He said in mock hurt, shifting just enough that Bull wanted nothing more than to grab his hips and have his way. But Dorian was in a mood, that was plain to see, and prior experience told him that playing along led to very good things for him.

“Of course not,” Bull said, all innocence, and Dorian’s smile widened. It was good to see him this bright and happy after weeks of depression, and if this was any indication Dorian might actually be healed enough emotionally to be able to stomach sex that night. Bull kissed his neck, reverently over the mark he’d left. Cassandra made a slightly fascinated but disgusted noise as Dorian sighed happily.

“Good,” he said contentedly, and Lavellan cackled as Cullen dropped down next to them with a pile of cards for Diamondback. Bull kissed the back of his neck, sliding his other hand under the shirt to hold the smooth curve of Dorian’s hip, the satin soft against his hand.

The game was torture, but in the best way. Cole came and attempted to learn, Cassandra beat them all thoroughly, Lavellan laughed and joked the whole time, and the alcoholic fruit was surprisingly good. Dorian fed him the last piece of pineapple quite graciously as he drank water, knowing full well that Bull wouldn’t so much as touch him if he wasn’t considerably closer to sober. By the time Dorian was back to sober, Lavellan was laughing near hysterically at a story Cassandra was telling while Cullen looked on in horrified fascination. They slipped out fairly quietly, and Bull laughed when he was back in their rooms. Candles were everywhere, and Dorian lit them with a wave of his hand. They were pink.

“Did you do this for me?”

Dorian pushed him towards the bed, grinning. “Maybe.”

Kadan,” he said fondly, and let Dorian start on his clothes, obediently stripping when ordered. He ended up on the bed first, and his eyebrows shot up as Dorian flicked his fingers, force keeping him tied to the headboard. “This is new.”

Dorian slid his shirt off, and Bull groaned at the sight of the black corset, golden dragons embroidered in elegant patterns all over it. The gold hoops flashed above it, and Dorian grinned wickedly at him, letting smoke trickle from his mouth.

“Welcome home, amatus.”

Chapter Text

The problem with the corset was that once Bull got him into the damn thing, he didn’t want to get out. Normally, he wouldn’t have cared, but seeing Dorian in a dragon embroidered piece of artwork and not very much in the way of silk underwear was starting to get to him in a mean, mean way. Dorian was practically lounging with intent every time Bull was in the room, sprawling out on the fainting couch that he’d bought, reading in bed propped up by pillow after pillow, carefully arranging himself in every possible chair. He was developing a whole new way of moving while cinched into it, and Bull was willing to admit that this might be evolving into a serious fetish when he caught himself eyeing the catalog from the corsetiere that had come with the damn thing.

“Bull?”

He dragged his eyes away from where he was working on oiling his harness to keep it supple, biting back a groan as he realized Dorian was laid out on the bed with those charming reading glasses perched on his nose and a book on his chest.

“Yes, dear?” he said dryly.

“What do you think about a walk this evening?”

“If we’re walking, you’re taking that off,” he said firmly, waving the rag in Dorian’s general direction. “I don’t want to scar some little recruit.”

Dorian laughed, rolling off the bed and walking over to kiss the top of his head. “Come now,” he wheedled, the laugh still lingering in his voice. “It’ll be a learning experience for them.”

“You are a bad man,” Bull scolded without heat, turning to kiss him. Dorian purred into it, and when he pulled back he was smiling brightly.

“Have I thanked you for this today? Because I don’t think I have. I love this.” He sauntered back to start carefully working his way out of it, and Bull sat back to watch him work. He’d laced Dorian in particularly well that morning, enough that Vivienne had commented on Dorian’s rather nice posture, and watching him get out was always pleasant. By the time he gently set it on the bed, Bull was up and running his hands over the impressions left by laying on the boning for so long. Dorian groaned, leaning back into him.

“You,” Bull rumbled, “are entirely too pretty for your own good.”

“You think I’m pretty?”

Dorian laughed as Bull groaned, turning around and standing on tip-toes to kiss him warmly. “Bull?”

“Yes, kadan?”

Dorian smiled against his lips. “I have a secret.”

“Do you now?” Bull reached down, easily scooping him up so Dorian had to grab his horns, and settled into his favorite chair, Dorian on his lap.

“I do.” Dorian peppered kisses over his face, lingering on his eye patch. “It’s a good one.”

Bull smiled at him, his heart full to bursting. How had he gotten so lucky? Here he was, in a safe home, with this beautiful, graceful, vibrant man who was passionate as well as kind, and rather conveniently close to naked. “Are you going to just tease me with this secret, or do you intend to tell me?”

“I’ll tell you,” Dorian said, and for the first time there was a note of nervousness. “So long as you can pretend I never said it if it upsets you.”

“I think I’m pretty good at that,” Bull said, running a soothing hand over Dorian’s back.

“Then here is the secret.” Dorian leaned in, kissing the tip of his nose. “I love you.”

Bull’s smile was wide enough to split his face, and he pulled Dorian in for a slow kiss, letting him melt in his arms.

Kadan,” he said fondly. “That’s the worst kept secret in Skyhold.”

“No it’s not!” Dorian protested, smiling just as wide. “The one about you loving me is much more widespread.”

Bull laughed, his whole soul feeling light and free for the first time in months.

oOo

They took their walk after all, Dorian in his blue coat and soft, warm fur hat that Cullen had gifted him and Bull in his oversized green monstrosity left over from his first winter with snow. It was huge, in the “trench” style, as far as Krem claimed, and a bright pink scarf was wound around his throat. The first hints of Spring were coming, and Bull smiled as Dorian tilted his head back to groan in relief as he saw where the snow had melted off the mountains.

“Look! Finally! Freedom from this damn snow.”

“You’re like a hothouse flower,” Bull chuckled, wrapping an arm around him. “Only happy when it’s sunny and warm.”

“Of course I am! I’m from Tevinter, Bull!”

They settled on the ramparts, looking out over the mountains. It was beautiful, the last light of day turning the snow purple and pink, the light mottling them and the last of the evenings clouds were sliding towards the horizon and out over the sharp juts of the peaks.

“Dorian,” Bull said quietly. “You remember the conversation we had about collars?”

Dorian looked up at him in surprise. Bull did his best not to look down, something that felt suspiciously like butterflies starting up in his stomach. “Well, yes.”

Bull took his hand, rubbing his thumb over the back of Dorian’s hand. “Have I ever made this about class?”

Dorian went still, looking up at him. “No,” he said softly.

“Or made a single sound of disappointment when you top?”

Dorian took a slow, wet breath, blinking quickly. He wasn’t a foolish man, he could see where this was going. “No,” he said thickly.

“And have I ever made this seem like something we can’t be equals in?” He finally turned to look at him, swallowing hard at the single tear that slid from the corner of Dorian’s eye.

“Dom’s don’t wear collars,” Dorian said, his voice wavering.

“Well,” Bull said, taking is other hand. “Maybe it’s time they started.”

Dorian’s lips quivered, and Bull pulled him in tight, holding him close. Dorian buried his face in Bull’s neck, barely tall enough to reach, his arms just as tight around Bull’s chest. In the distance, he could see a pair of guards hitting each other and pointing at the pair of them in excitement.

“You put that on me and you’re never getting rid of me,” Dorian managed, clearly choked up. “I mean it, Bull, you know just as much as I do what that means.”

Kadan,” Bull whispered, “what makes you think I would ever want you gone?”

oOo

“A dragon,” Lavellan said faintly, sitting back in her chair. “You… you want to borrow the army to hunt a dragon.”

“Oh no,” Cullen said, staring at him like he was insane. “Not just a dragon. The Abyssal High Dragon.”

Vivienne sniffed, adjusting her sleeves. “It sounds much more reasonable when you phrase it as- how did you put it, The Iron Bull?”

“Ridding us of a fiendish menace that, while beautiful, is wreaking havoc on the Hissing Wastes. Ma’am.” Bull was inordinately proud of his speech. It had been a damn good one.

“Which still leaves us with the fact that you want to hunt the Abyssal High Dragon,” Blackwall pointed out, sounding slightly hysterical.

“Personally, I’m all for it,” Varric said, and Cassandra whacked his arm.

Cullen rubbed his forehead, a migraine clearly setting up camp. Bull felt a little bad, but he knew next to nothing about dragons aside from the fact that they were the most glorious creatures alive and very difficult to kill. “Why, exactly, do you need to do this?”

“I need it to properly propose to Dorian.”

The calamity that ensued as everyone started screaming was enough to fell an Abyssal High Dragon on its own.

oOo

“The Iron Bull,” Leliana called as the group was prepping to leave. “I have a gift for you.”

Bull turned, and was more than a little startled when a giant war hammer was dropped into his hands. It had taken two runners to carry it, and it was the most baffling weapon he’d ever seen. It looked like someone had strapped a massive tooth to the top of a very sturdy stick and stuck some very nasty fire runes on it.

“Um. Thanks?”

“It is called The Maul of the Dragon.” She smiled as his head jerked up, staring in surprise as his hands tightened on the haft. “It was thought you would appreciate a weapon like the axe you wield in the flames. In the words of a man who is likely very proud of you, nehraa kadan.”

Bull stared at her in shock as she nodded to him and walked away. Dorian came up beside him, gently touching his arm.

“What was that about?”

Bull hefted the maul, still stunned. “Apparently the Arishok plays favorites and thinks we should be getting married. I’m like, 95 percent sure that this is a wedding gift.”

“…Excuse me?”

They didn’t have time for anything more, as Lavellan slammed her hand on the hood of the truck she stood on. “Alright!” she roared, a vicious grin on her face. “Let’s get this show on the road!”

oOo

It was a big dragon. Bull had never felt this alive. His heart sang as he moved, a dance that he knew in his soul. Maybe, in another life, this was where he lived, in the heat of battle with blood across his skin and Dorian on a ridge, wreathed in purple fire and laughing like a madman. It was not a particularly nice laugh.

He was so gone.

Lavellan fought like she was dancing, her ice matched only with the wild flames that slammed into the dragon like a fist, Vivienne’s blades darting here and there, the army waiting beyond Dorian just to be sure that nothing would happen. Leliana’s arrows peppered the thick hide, and as Bull swung the maul, tooth side down to slam in just as purple fire ripped it open he wondered if Leliana was looking for a tooth as well. She had volunteered in place of Cole. The rest of the Inner Circle were obviously enjoying themselves, Blackwall most of all aside from Bull, though Cassandra was taking a close second.

Lavellan was at his side for an instant, teeth bared in a frankly terrifying grin before she darted away, up, onto the dragon. The dragon roared, flames spitting out to force most back. Bull was just far enough to her flank to avoid the heat, and followed Lavellan’s path up to the top. It was exhilarating and terrifying, and she nodded to a weakened spot on the neck. He swung, the sharp end dragging the hole open wide enough for her to slam ice directly into it, just as Dorian’s purple slammed in as well. There was an earsplitting CRACK as the spine shattered, and the dragon collapsed. Bull nearly fell, grabbing Lavellan to him as the dragon’s head all but split off and she slid. They both whooped, and Bull wrenched the maul free to let them drop. Lavellan scrambled to stand on his head, making him laugh as she shoved her staff in the air, a flash of flame signifying their success.

Dorian came sliding down the hill, running to him with fierce grin on his face, and Lavellan hopped down to the cheers of the army as Bull swept him up, kissing him desperately.

“That was amazing,” Dorian laughed, bright with joy, and Bull was so in love he would have taken on another just to see that look on Dorian’s face again.

“I love you,” he said, and the whole team burst into cheers and applause as Dorian kissed him again.

oOo

“A year,” Dorian said as he touched the teeth laying in their velvet lined case. Spring was in full swing, and two months had passed since the dragon. “It’s been a full year to the day that we met.” He looked up to where Bull was calmly working on coiling the ropes. “Is there a reason we can’t wear these yet?”

Bull raised his eyebrow, tying the rope off and setting it to the side. Dorian smiled as the two whole fingers of his left hand beckoned, and went to sit on his lap. While Spring had brought warmth and flowers in abundance, as well as plenty of horny young mages being caught in various corners and brought to Josephine for scolding (and then Bull, for a basic run down on why public sex was generally a bad thing what with others not consenting to seeing your ass, a conversation that Dorian whole-heartedly did not want to be a part of), it had also brought the end of his fear of the past. His memories were still spotty, riddled with holes that might never be filled, but despite the bad days he was in this for the long haul. Trust was a new and beautiful thing, and while the safe word was used much more these days, it was used without fear.

“A year is a rather short time to decide you want to hole up with a beat up Qunari dom with a dragon fetish,” Bull said with a chuckle as Dorian got settled, nestling his head under Bull’s chin and smiling when his arms wrapped around him.

“A year is a rather short time for my whole world to implode, but here we are,” Dorian said quietly. “I know what I’m asking.”

“Marriage in all but name,” Bull said, just as quiet. “Are you sure you want this? It’s a serious commitment.”

Dorian moved so that he could look up at Bull. “Are you sure?” He challenged, and Bull paused, indecision warring on his face. It had been something they worked on here and there when possible. Years of conditioning not to ask for what he wanted meant that while Bull was an extremely attentive lover, it was difficult for him to decide what he wanted. Slowly but surely, they were healing together.

“Yes,” he said at last, slowly. “Yes. I want this. I do.”

“Good.” Dorian settled back, putting his hands on Bull’s and fussing until they were being held. “I do, too.” He lifted their joint hands, kissing them. “But we don’t have to do this just yet. We can wait. We have the teeth- or tooth, I suppose- and it’s not going anywhere.”

“I can’t believe Leliana took one,” Bull grumbled, and Dorian chuckled, smiling when Bull kissed their hands as well.

“She and the Arishok are close.”

Bull snorted, burying his nose in Dorian’s hair to make him laugh and squirm. He relaxed with a kiss to his temple, a smile stuck on his face.

Kadan.”

Amatus.”

The teeth stayed in their case, but the sounds of laughter and joy filled their room to bursting anyway. One day, they would hang proudly from their owners necks, but that day was not quite there. And so it went that the first year passed, and Dorian only set the curtains on fire for old times sake.

Chapter Text

The blast of the warning alarm horn was what woke Dorian from a nap in his chair in the library. Above him, the rooks set up a cacophony, and he drowsily stumbled to his feet to the sound of Solas aggressively cursing in Elven. Merrill, sprawled out on her cushions, barely twitched. He stepped over her, going to the balustrade to look down. Solas glared up at him.

“Tell Lavellan that they need better sound proofing in here,” he snapped, going back to his work, and Dorian just nodded as Leliana appeared beside him to walk down the stairs.

“So, what’s this about?”

“For once, I am unaware,” Leliana confessed as they escaped out into the Spring air. They both groaned and stretched, Leliana laughing brightly as Dorian’s spine popped. “You sound older than I do, Serah.”

“As if you are anything but the picture of youth, my lady Nightingale.”

She laughed again, and he offered her his arm with a dramatic flourish. Grinning widely, she took it, and they made their way along with the rest of the crowd towards the gates. Knight Commander Rylen was aggressively yelling about something or other on his phone, waving wildly as the group gathered curiously.

Dorian dropped Leliana’s arm like he’d been punched, pushing to the front of the crowd.

A tall, stately woman all in red was climbing out of a sleek black town car, her long black hair in a tight braid with golden beads threaded through it and one gray streak. She carried a long black fan at her hip like a sword, and her heels were dangerously tall. An inky black briefcase was cuffed to her wrist, and in her other hand was a particularly sturdy looking staff with a curved blade on one end and a businesslike orb on the other. She was not particularly beautiful, handsome perhaps being a better word, but she was exceptionally imposing.

“Dorian Pavus!”

Aquinea Thalrassian Pavus, magister and Lady of Asariel, straightened to her full height which was well over six feet with the heels and leveled a glare that could stop an invasion at her son.

“Ah, mother,” he said weakly, walking forward to kiss her hand. “I was not expecting you.”

“I was not expecting to be here either, but your fool of a father is soft and much as I disapprove of him at the moment, I must keep the two of you alive,” she said stiffly, frowning at his hair. She shared his nose and mouth, her eyes a startling blue that had given him the grey of his own. Her coloring was lighter than that of her husband or son, but only just. “He is lucky that I do not divorce him over this mess. But no matter, that is a discussion for another time. I must speak to your Inquisitor without delay. I bring grave news from the Imperium.”

oOo

Halward was summoned to serve as the Inner Circle currently in Skyhold were scrambled to the dining room. Dorian was seated next to his mother on the right, and sat awkwardly as those available filed in. Sera, Bull, Cole, and Solas were all gone on various things, Solas having been unexpectedly called to deal with a small Spirit problem at the university. Vivienne kept looking like she wanted to start a conversation but for once didn’t quite dare, Cullen obviously wanted to be anywhere else but was fascinated, Josephine and Leliana were frantically typing on their laptops, and Blackwall, Cassandra, and Varric kept giving each other looks.

Lavellan couldn’t stop staring.

Aquinea lifted a perfectly maintained eyebrow at her as Halwared poured tea for Cassandra. “While I am quite used to being stared at, it is not something I enjoy outside of the bedroom, Inquisitor.”

Halward almost dropped the teapot. Dorian winced. His mother played dirty.

Lavellan went a vibrant pink as Leliana smothered a laugh. “What? No, oooh no, no not at all, Magister Pavus. It’s just- um- it’s very strange because you and Dorian have such similar features.”

Aquinea sniffed. “Yes, we are all quite grateful that he takes after my side of the family.”

Low blow.

Halward reached her, knowing to skip Dorian in favor of the juice, and Aquinea looked up as he stepped to her side. Reaching out with one razor sharp, blood red nail to press under the soft flesh of his jaw, she said sweetly, “Dear Halward, caro mio, if you spill a single drop on this suit I will personally see you eviscerated by Magister Orrisano when next we have the opportunity to entertain, are we clear?”

“As diamond, pulcherrimam omnium,” Halward said with no trace of sarcasm. Dorian groaned, covering his face with his hands.

“Can you not? Please?”

Lavellan leaned over to Leliana. “What did he say?”

Leliana’s voice still held a trace of laughter. “He called her ‘most beautiful of all’, Inquisitor.”

Aquinea was clearly appeased, and removed the nail to allow him to pour. He pressed a kiss to her temple as he straightened, and she sighed in exasperation.

“Do you see what I have put up with through these past few years?” She said to Dorian, waving Halward away. “All I ask is some peace and quiet, and I end up with this sap in between senate seasons. It is enough to drive the lot of the servants mad, how he carries about the house. At least your patri had a modicum of professionalism outside our chambers.”

“Oh, are we talking about this now?” Dorian asked incredulously, and Aquinea flapped her hand.

“I see no reason to hide now that you are aware. Hush.” The briefcase, now detached from her wrist, was popped open. Lavellan waved Halward into the seat on Aquinea’s left, conveniently next to the open chair that would belong to Sera when she arrived. Dorian’s right was also empty, and a Qunari sized chair waited for The Iron Bull. Aquinea pulled out a pile of papers, closing the case again and passing a few as well as a pair of glasses to Halward. “I will be brief, Inquisitor. You have drawn the attention of some rather unfortunate company. Cults run rampant in the Imperium, but this one is growing large and increasingly dangerous. They call themselves the Venatori, and they have set their eyes on the Inquisition as a pawn in their games. They are led by a man who calls himself the Corypheus, the- what is the word, Dorian?”

Dorian swallowed hard. “A conductor, of an orchestra.”

“Yes.” Aquinea nodded to Halward, who was flipping through the papers with the glasses perched on his nose. “Becoming Magister has meant that I now have the reach of hundreds at my disposal. While my husband worked largely in the legislative areas, trapping our enemies in words, my work is in that of people, gathering information. Radonis likes our family, thankfully, and is fascinated by the Inquisition.” She turned her eyes to Dorian, intense as a hawk. “Should you return, you may very well find yourself courted by him in more than one sense of the word. We are lucky to have found his favor, even with one admitted blood mage and a war with House Duelleon on the horizon.”

Blackwall raised a slightly nervous hand. “Erm. Magister Pavus?”

“Yes, Warden?” she said, eyes flicking to him.

“Dorian… has a shot at being Archon?”

She shrugged gracefully. “It is as likely as it ever was. He has the power and the looks, if he were taken in by Radonis’ house, it would almost be certain.”

Dorian held up his hands. “Before we start a “Dorian Pavus for Archon” campaign, I think we should focus at the matter at hand.”

Aquinea nodded. “The Venatori are lead from a plethora of angles. From what I have seen, Corypheus has been gathering mages to lead with each major school. Magister Erimond takes Primal, Magister Gellherion takes Entropy. A Magister Urathus takes my specialty, Creation.” She hesitated. “Unfortunately, Magister Alexius takes the head of the Spirit.”

Dorian sat back, stunned. He wished he were more hurt, but it just felt like an acknowledgment. Alexius was power hungry.

“Are there other leaders?” Vivienne asked, somber as a grave.

Aquinea’s teeth were bared in a snarl. “Arguably the worst of them all,” she said, her voice dark. “Rilienus Duelleon. His leadership and power lay in blood magic.”

Halward hissed softly, lifting a page. “Two hundred and six slaves to House Duelleon,” he said, horrified. “Shipped from all over the South. Do you think-”

Aquinea nodded brusquely as the table looked on in confusion.

“Lady Inquisitor, the Venatori are sending a group of ambassadors to you within the week. Also within the week, Rilienus will likely have built a device known as the Bleeding Throne, a convoluted chair made of the bones of sacrificed mages, one bone from each killed. In the war, it would be easy to take mage slaves from around the countries without much notice given. He will be extremely powerful, and is a known and well spoken orator. Frankly, he is the poster child of the Venatori. You can expect that he will be the one to grace your doorstep when it is complete, his magic fully charged and unbelievably strong.” She steepled her fingers, looking down the table at a very pale Lavellan. “You hold my son and remaining husband. I would not see you fall to one who has brutalized my family before, and who has made me a widow once over.”

Lavellan nodded, steeling herself. “What advice do you have?”

“Deal with them quickly and send them on their way with no promises,” she said firmly. “Kill them if necessary. Find proof of their wrong doing, send the bodies to Radonis, and welcome him with open arms. He is not a perfect ruler, but given the alternative, I’ll have him. He also despises people going behind his back, and the Venatori sending emissaries is certain to infuriate him. The Black Divine is his close companion, and the Venatori undermine his power. It would be no bad thing, to have both sides of the Chantry as your allies.”

Dorian sat back up again, his fingers tight where he was gripping the arms of his chair. Rilienus’ name had almost sent him into a panic, but he refused to be cowed. “Rilienus’ specialty couldn’t fit more uncomfortably here, however,” he said wryly.

“Oh?”

Dorian smiled humorlessly. “Our dread Inquisitor is completely immune to seduction of any kind.”

Aquinea reached over, taking Dorian’s hand as the group looked at Lavellan, who shrugged and gave a feral grin. “You remember, then.”

“I do. Mostly. There are still some pieces missing, but they are coming back.”

Aquinea squeezed his hand before letting go and straightening up, flicking her braid over her shoulder. “They wish to see the Tevinter of old reborn, something I would very much not like to see. The Imperium in its glory days was a mess of horrors. I will not see them fall to that again.”

“Here here,” Cullen said from the end of the table, going pink when Aquinea smiled at him. She turned to Halward, murmuring something about boys, and Halward shook his head vigorously. She shrugged, and looked back to the table.

“However, there is one large, gaping problem in my knowledge,” she said, and Dorian grimaced. That didn’t sound good. “We do not know who Corypheus actually is. His identity has been carefully hidden from even the most devout of followers.”

Lavellan looked to Leliana, who nodded.

“We’re on it,” she said cheerily, and Aquinea smiled again, just as dangerous as her counterpart on the other end.

“I see that my son has been in excellent hands.”

oOo

The Iron Bull arrived with his usual timing, right as the meeting ended. Aquinea had gathered her papers, Halward still reading over a few and noting problem people as Dorian tried to keep Vivienne from talking to his mother, and as Bull’s horns cleared the doorway Aquinea turned.

The glyph of repulsion really should have been expected, throwing Bull hard back against the wall. Dorian leapt forward between the two, his mothers eyes wide and the hooked blade of her staff up and in the offensive position.

“No! No, it’s safe, he’s fine, he’s with us!”

Her eyes bulged as Bull carefully stood up, wincing as he rolled his shoulder.

“Well, that was unexpected,” he said wryly as Dorian hurried over to him, his hands fluttering around him in a panic.

“Are you hurt? Any bleeding? What about your shoulder, is it stable?”

“I’m fine, kadan. Just a little thrown,” Bull said warmly, kissing the top of his head. Aquinea let out a slightly panicked noise, and Dorian whirled around in realization, turning white. Halward had been pinned under his wife’s glare, sheepishly looking up at her. The rest of the Inner Circle were watching with matching grins, though Cullen’s hand was suspiciously close to his sword and Lavellan was holding her staff nonchalantly.

Aquinea pointed a quivering finger at Bull, falling into Tevene. “Happy, you said! He has a boyfriend, you said! Wonderful man, treats him well, you said!”

“To be fair, he does,” Halward said meekly, and Dorian felt a surge of warmth that he squashed firmly.

“You didn’t think to mention in the 253 letters you’ve written me to mention that my son, my only child, is sleeping with a Qunari literally twice his size?” She whacked him firmly on the head with the ball of her staff, and Halward raised his hands in surrender, cowering. “It is a good thing I love you, Halward Pavus!”

“Dorian,” Bull said slowly, a look of horror crossing his face, “do tell. Is this lovely lady your sister?”

“Far worse,” Dorian said gloomily as his mother turned, blushing despite herself. “My mother.”

“Oh dear.”

“Mmhmm.”

Aquinea stalked over, Dorian neatly stepping to the side as she glared at Bull. The fan at her hip came out of its hook, flicking open to reveal delicate golden cloth and the fact that it was, in fact, tipped with razor blades. She wafted it a few times, stepping back and forth to get a better look at him. Bull stayed still, raising an eyebrow at Dorian, who shrugged helplessly. She came back around, planting herself in front of him.

“And what am I to call you?” she demanded.

Bull swallowed hard, glancing at Dorian. “The Iron Bull, Magister Pavus.”

The fan snapped closed, and she looked him up and down, eyes narrowed. Then, in one lightning fast move, she whacked the flat of the fan against his chin and shoulders, forcing him to correct his posture.

“With horns like those,” she said with deep disapproval, “I should think they should stay pointing up.”

Bull looked down on her, a huge smile crossing his face. “Indeed, Magister Pavus. My apologies.”

Aquinea nodded stiffly, and stalked back to the table to grab her briefcase. “Dorian, I expect the both of you dressed and ready for dinner by 8 at the latest. I understand there is a Minrathin coffee house in the city, and I have every intention of critiquing them until they bleed.” She turned to Bull, looking him over once more. “And I expect a full run down of your intentions, The Iron Bull.”

“Of course, Magister Pavus. Thank you for using the article.”

She sniffed, and Vivienne covered her mouth to hide her smile. Halward rose, and Lavellan cleared her throat. “If Magister Pavus is amenable, I think it’s safe to say you could both stay in the North guest suite,” she said tactfully, and Aquinea bowed her head gracefully in thanks. “If you’d lead her there?”

“Of course, Lady Inquisitor.” He bowed politely to her and then turned to Aquinea, bowing and taking her hand in a manner perfectly in keeping with a high class courtesan. She scowled, going pink, and took his arm. The pair sailed from the room, and they all waited for the door to close before a chorus of giggles broke out.

“Well,” Dorian said, looking up at Bull, “as far as first meetings went, I think that went fairly well.”

“When she says dressed…”

Yes, Bull. Shirts.”

“Aww, come on. What’ll she do, hit me with the fan again?”

Dorian tutted. “There is a saying in Tevinter. Mind all things the women of the Alti carry, for they are as deadly as they are beautiful. My mother could have slit your throat before you took another breath.”

Bull grimaced, touching his throat. “Shirts it is then.”

Sera burst in, chicken feathers in her hair and her clothes in disarray. “What I miss?”

“Well,” Varric drawled, “you missed Mom Pavus and the fact that we get to deal with Tevinter shit. Ow!” Cassandra had promptly kicked his shin, and was looking determinedly innocent. Josephine hid her smile as Blackwall laughed.

“Mom Pavus!?” Sera whirled around, sticking her head out the door. “What’s she like?”

Lavellan cackled, and Dorian groaned as she said, “Definitely phwoar.”

Chapter Text

Dorian was holding the box by the time Bull had finally finished buttoning up his shirt, leaving the first three comfortably undone. He was immaculate as always, particularly fussed because of his mothers unexpected appearance, and Bull smiled softly as Dorian ran a hand over the top of the box.

“What do you think?” he said quietly. “Should we make it all official?”

Dorian licked his lips, opening it reverently. The two halves of the dragon tooth sat there, elegantly capped in silverite and exquisitely carved with snakes and a skull for the hook they hung on. Dorian lifted his out, and Bull knelt so he could fasten it around his neck. The tooth hung heavy against his chest, and Dorian gently stroked it, swallowing hard.

“Equals,” he said softly, and Bull caught his hand, kissing his palm.

“Equals,” he affirmed, and Dorian’s eyes were bright with tears as he rose. The tooth felt like the weight of the world in his hand, despite how small it was in comparison to the creature it had come from. He closed the clasp around Dorian’s neck, resting his hand on the back of it. He rubbed his thumb against the stiff muscles of his neck, smiling. Dorian’s chain was much shorter, resting the tooth against his collarbone. It was no true collar, but the meaning was there, and he lowered his head to kiss it reverently.

Kadan,” Dorian whispered softly.

Amatus,” he returned, and his heart swelled as Dorian flung his arms around him to kiss him near desperately. Both of them were gasping with wet, almost hysterical laughter as they parted. The teeth were on their chains designed to fit together when they stood together, perfectly even.

“I love you,” Dorian said, his voice choked up.

“Love you too,” Bull said, clearing his throat and stealing another quick kiss before taking Dorian’s hand. “Ready?”

Dorian squeezed, smiling. “Ready.”

oOo

“Dorian, you remember how I take my coffee?” Aquinea said briskly. Dorian nodded, glancing at Bull.

“Cocoa?” he asked wryly, and Bull grinned at him.

“If you’d be so kind, kadan.”

Dorian rolled his eyes and headed to the back of the line, settling in for a long wait. Aquinea smiled with razor blade teeth, and Bull swallowed hard as she slid her head scarf down from her hair to sit at her neck. She gave him a slow, appraising look, the deadly fan finding its way out to waft gently. Those walking by detoured wide around the table, but for once not because of Bull. Aquinea seemed like the kind of person you didn’t want to approach quickly, if at all.

“So,” he said a little desperately, “how exactly did you end up with your husband? I assumed it was an arranged marriage.”

Aquinea snorted, smiling again. This time, it was softer. “Ah. No, not in the least. The official story is that we met at a party hosted by one of Halward’s friends, where he saw me and was promptly head over heels and I was quick to follow.”

Bull raised his eyebrow. “And the unofficial story?”

“Do you swear you’ll never tell Dorian?” she countered, and he nodded. “It was an orgy.”

He gaped, and her smile widened hugely. “You’re kidding.”

“Oh no. I was not betrothed, you see, and my parents knew that I was not exactly beautiful enough to catch a husband of any decent standing. I had only just turned twenty, and while we had the social standing my family is from the very far corner of the Imperium. I rarely saw court functions, or much social life at all. So, when I was invited to one held by a friend from the Circle, I decided it couldn’t hurt. Halward was there, then the fiancé of the hostess, and he spent the entire evening waiting on me hand and foot instead of her. Two days later, I received a very forward invitation, replied to tell him that I didn’t have affairs with engaged men no matter how good looking, and a day after that he showed up at my house announcing that he was no longer engaged and would I please do him the honor of attending dinner?” She chuckled, fondness clear. “It was very quick after that.”

Bull sat back in his seat, amazed. “Yeah, I’m not going to be the one to tell Dorian that, believe me.”

She laughed, a bright, booming thing that filled the room. “Ah, I think I can forgive him for not telling me about you now. Truthfully, when I met the Inner Circle, I very much expected it to be the blonde commander.”

“Cullen? Yeah, no, he and Dorian are close friends, but he’s dating my lieutenant.” Bull shook his head, smiling. “Cullen’s a good man, and I’m proud to know him, but I’m more than happy that I’m dating Dorian instead.”

Aquinea nodded, appeased. “So. What exactly are your intentions towards my son?”

Bull met her eyes, and said somberly, “I was exiled because I chose to save Dorian’s life over that of the Arishok, Magister Pavus.” He lifted the dragon tooth. “He wears the other half of this. We took down a dragon to get it. Given that my entire left side is a physical wreck, I think that you should be able to extrapolate what that means.”

She smiled, the hard lines of her face softening. “Good,” she said softly, and nodded approvingly. The two looked over to where Dorian had moved up somewhat in line. “I have always worried for him, particularly after his last… man.”

“I know about Rilienus. I was there when he got the first memory back,” Bull said quietly, and she shuddered.

“We had hoped, somewhat foolishly, that he would not. Then Marco died, and frankly, it all went straight to shit,” she said bluntly. “We were idiots, and I will not lie, I did go more than a bit mad with grief. It was not my finest hour.” She fixed those intense blue eyes on him. “Do not fail him, The Iron Bull.”

“I’ll do whatever I can to keep him safe,” he said somberly, and she nodded brusquely.

“Good.”

He hesitated, but said, “If it’s not too painful, could you tell me about your other husband?”

Aquinea’s hand went to her ring, spinning it a little. The red tattoo band underneath peeked out, the same as Halward’s. She seemed lost in thought for a minute, and Bull waited patiently. At last, she began, very slowly. “Halward said you might ask. He was a slave, as you know. Five years older than Halward. He was bought when Halward was only five, to be a companion and protector. Halward practically worshipped him, and when we married, we knew immediately that there was no other choice for who would truly raise him. He held Dorian even before his grandparents did, just after Halward. I saw him fall in love right there, holding my tiny slip of a son, and that was enough. We agonized over the thought for four years, and finally offered him a place in our rooms with the full understanding that he could say no, we wouldn’t take Dorian from him or treat him any different. And he did say no. We left it at that, carried on as if nothing had happened for another year, until he came to us and asked if there was still room.”

Aquinea stared at the table, fingering the head scarf. “Halward was heartbroken when we learned I couldn’t have more children, as was Marco. Halward and I both have siblings, something of a rarity in Tevinter, but it was not to be. Between the three of us I think we cried an ocean of tears after we lost child after child.” She cleared her throat. “Eventually, the matter was decided for me. My body could not take the strain. Marco kept me from losing hope through the worst of it, and helped me to move on.” She lifted her head, her eyes tired. “When he was killed, it was like the world split open and swallowed us whole. Halward lashed out, and I crumpled in. We had known since Dorian was seven of his… sensibilities, but it wasn’t until he closed in on his 24th birthday that Halward pushed for his engagement. Marco always argued firmly to let him take his time, let him come to the idea on his own, but that was not to be.”

Bull reached out, gently covering her hand. She stared at him, startled.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said quietly, and she blinked back a few tears, clearing her throat.

“Yes. Well. It was been some years now.”

“Doesn’t mean the hurt doesn’t stay,” Bull said gently. “Believe me, it might get easier, but I know shit like that doesn’t just heal up overnight.”

Aquinea smiled, her expression slightly puzzled. “You are a singular man, The Iron Bull.”

He patted her hand, sliding back to his lounging position. “It’s been said.”

Dorian arrived with their coffee, sighing heavily and raising his head to glare at Bull. “Next time, you get to fight with the baristas. They listen to you.”

“Of course, kadan.”

Chapter Text

Dorian was playing chess with Cullen when the alarm horn went off with a bone shaking blast. Cullen’s Divine fell, and the two of them stared at it, stricken.

“That’s not an omen, is it?” Dorian asked, his voice threaded with anxiety. Cullen carefully righted her, smoothing a thumb over her white hood.

“I sincerely hope not.” He carefully stood, and Dorian reluctantly followed, wanting nothing more than to retreat to his rooms and never return to the light of day. Cullen squeezed his arm in reassurance, and Krem appeared in the entrance to the garden in his dress blacks, hair carefully styled and his expression somber.

“How many?” Cullen asked as he fell into step with them.

“Three cars for sure. They just parked, a runner will be along shortly. The courtiers are banned from the proceedings for sure, so if something slips, it won’t be all around Skyhold by nightfall,” he said, looking at Dorian. He nodded gratefully, and smiled when Cullen bumped his shoulder with his own. Krem tugged at his jacket, gritting his teeth. “I don’t like this at all.”

“No one likes it,” Dorian muttered, and they headed for the throne room, Krem peeling off to go to Knight-Commander Rylen.

The throne had been changed from its normal tall, bizarrely backed chair to the most disturbingly Andrastrian thing Dorian had ever seen. Aquinea was already there, in dress that was high collared and blood red, her hair loose but covered by a sheer scarf held on with gold combs. She stood next to Lavellan, the two of them making faces as the throne was arranged.

“I’m pretty sure that sitting in judgment on a throne designed to look like a pyre could probably be termed sacrilege,” Cullen said wryly, and Lavell groaned, smoothing down the same black gown from Halamshiral, this time with long leather gloves in deep black with silver inlay.

“You don’t have to tell me,” she said bitterly, eyeing Vivienne, who shrugged gracefully.

“You’ll make one hell of an impression, my dear.”

Dorian grimaced. “Hell being the operative word.”

Josephine swooped in, followed by the rest of the group minus The Iron Bull and Cole. Bull had been dragged off to some city council meeting at the last minute, and Cole was… wherever Cole went, when he wasn’t helping around Skyhold. “This is not what I had in mind when I said we should replace the throne,” she said, looking on the throne with horror. “I was thinking something a little more regal.”

“Well… We got this,” Lavellan said, waving at the bizarre throne. “That’s the best we can do. Our only other choice was that one from Ferelden that looks like it’s made out of logs. I love Ferelden, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t exactly have a very subtle aesthetic.”

This is supposed to be subtle?” Cullen asked.

Josephine made a pained noise, turning on Blackwall. “Please, see about drafting up something suitable for the Inquisitor.” He nodded, and they all took their places as the doors to the great hall opened and the Venatori made their entrance.

Despite knowing full well that Rilienus was certain to be there, Dorian still felt a muted sort of panic as they came into the light. Rilienus was at the head, as expected, his beauty unchanged from the last time Dorian had seen him. Tall, elegant, and with that beautiful whiskey coloring that had half the court wondering how to get that same shade, he was a vision in ash grey silks and an exquisitely tailored satin coat. On anyone else it would have been drab, but on him, it was a perfect compliment. On the other side of the throne, Aquinea’s hands glowed white with ice. With a muted whisper of a sigh, Cole appeared next to Lavellan’s throne, silently watching the approach. Rilienus was flanked by no less than four flunkies, two body slaves, and at least three other magisters in suits of a similar cut. Another two in the back of the retinue could possibly be magisters as well.

“My lady Inquisitor,” he said, his voice velvet soft. Designed to entice and entrance, Dorian was certain, but it held no sway for him now. Rilienus bowed deeply, the picture of grace. “Thank you for seeing us. I am-”

“Rilienus Deulleon, Head of House Deulleon, Lord of Raherel, member of the Circle of Vyrantium, Magister of the Imperium,” Lavellan interrupted, unsmiling. “I am aware of who you are, and who you represent.”

For a brief moment, almost too fast to see, Rilienus’ mask cracked. Dorian saw the rotten core of him then, the man who had seduced, used, and broken him. It was not a pretty sight. The mask slid back into place, and Rilienus bowed again. “Your research does you credit, Inquisitor.”

“My research keeps me alive, Magister.” She sipped at a glass of water, watching him dispassionately. “As you can see, I have Magister Pavus in residence at the moment. She has been kind enough to appraise me of the politics of Tevinter.”

Rilienus turned, inclining his head to Aquinea. She did not return the gesture, her expression stony.

“I understand that Dorian was in your class at the Circle as well?” she said, and Rilienus’ face froze as Dorian stepped out from where he’d been hidden in Blackwall’s shadow, staring down at him with cool distaste. “Dorian is my… dearest friend. We have no secrets from each other.”

“Indeed not,” Dorian said, proud when his voice didn’t shake. “Not a one.” He didn’t take his eyes off of Rilienus, and smiled with all his teeth.

oOo

They retired to the nearest meeting room that could fit everyone, leaving a chair by Dorian free for the Iron Bull. He sat at Lavellan’s left hand, Cullen on her right as always. Cole hovered behind her, pacing back and forth until she caught his arm, holding his hand as the Venatori sat. There was one man, one of the slaves, who stayed back against the wall. He was older, his hair slivered with age, but there was something about him…

Lavellan was fixated on him, and Dorian couldn’t quite figure out why. Rilienus saw the stare, and beckoned him forward. “This is Aclassi, my tailor. You like him?”

“Indeed,” Lavellan said as Cullen went rigid.

Rilienus waved a hand. “He is yours. Consider him a goodwill gift between our peoples.”

Lavellan smiled with all her teeth. “I shall need his papers, of course. A tailor, you said?” Rilienus nodded, and her smile broadened. “How very useful. Josephine, if you would install him in the rooms by Enchanter de Fer’s? And do let the Sergeant Major know that we will be adding people to that wing, Commander. After this meeting.”

“Of course, Your Grace,” Cullen said without so much of a hint of impatience. Dorian was slightly impressed. After the initial shock, he had fallen into calm remarkably quick. Though, he supposed that was what happened when you worked for a rabid Templar commander for years on end. You either got very good at pretending not to be affected, or you got very, very dead.

The rest of the meeting was all vague waffling back and forth, where the Venatori said nothing about what they actually wanted and Lavellan made exactly no promises. Eventually they left for their hotels, Messare Aclassi’s papers in Lavellan’s rock solid grip, and the second the door closed everyone whooped.

“Go get him,” Lavellan told Cullen, and he was off like he’d been stung. Messare Aclassi, who’d been standing in the corner of the room looking terrified, now looked even more terrified. Lavellan smiled warmly at him, extending her hand. “Hello. I’m Lavellan.”

He took it hesitantly, kissing it rather than shaking. “I- My Trade is not so good.”

“Well, there are three of us who speak Tevene,” Dorian said briskly, and switched to his native language. “What is your full name?”

“Regulon Aclassi,” he said, baffled as Aquinea read over his papers. “I don’t understand. What is happening? I can see I’ve been sold, but I don’t understand, Serah.”

“Well,” Dorian said, leading him out of the room as Josephine rushed to go and unlock the old tailors workshop that had never been refurbished, “the Inquisitor doesn’t exactly care for slavery. We’ll pay off whatever is left of your contract, I swear to you.”

“There is very little, only about 600 to go,” he said blankly, still confused. “Why me?”

“You’ll see,” Dorian promised, near giddy. “Do you have any family, Messare Aclassi?”

He blinked, blindsided by the question. “I- yes, I did. I had a wife and child, though she has since remarried. My daughter, she would be 27 this year. I have not heard from her since she joined the army. My wife cut all contact between the three of us.”

Dorian motioned him into the tailors room, and he froze, looking around in surprise. The cutting tables, the dressmakers dummies, all was as it had been when the room was locked up by the last tailor, which was nearly twenty years previous. Lavellan had always assumed that one would simply appear, but that had never happened. Josephine and the others were flinging open windows, Cole had found a broom, and the room was a flurry of activity. Lavellan rushed over, beaming at him. “Welcome to Skyhold,” she said, giddy. “Do you have any family that would want to leave Tevinter?”

“Ah, no, my wife is remarried,” he said, and looked around, lost. “Why is this? Why all of this, so quickly?”

Dorian stepped away from the door as the sound of pounding feet came up the stairs. Krem skidded into the doorway, out of breath and disheveled. The two stared at each other, the older man pressing a shaking hand to his mouth.

“Papa?” Krem said, slowly stepping inside. The others fell silent, Josephine pressing her own hand to her mouth. Aquinea was already fighting tears. “Papa, it’s me.”

With a wordless cry Regulon threw his arms around him, holding him tight as he sobbed. Krem clung to him like he was the last thing on earth, deep, ragged breaths coming from him as he shook, no tears falling just yet. He buried his face in his fathers coat, as if he let go he would never reappear. Regulon pulled back first, stepping back to look him over. Krem looked slightly terrified, and Regulon gently cupped his cheek, looking him up and down and pausing on his chest.

“Look at this,” he said in Tevene, laughing wetly. “My daughter was sent off to war and died after all. Your mother was so disappointed when there was no one to carry on the name, you know. The Maker has a strange sense of humor, and saw fit to give me a son after all! What am I to call you, son of mine?”

Krem burst into tears. “Cremisius, Papa. My name is Cremisius Aclassi.”

Regulon pulled him back in, pressing a kiss to his temple and rocking him back and forth as Krem sobbed, the Inner Circle slowly leaving. Cullen hovered in the doorway, clearly unsure of what to do, and Dorian waited with Lavellan in the corner. Finally, Krem pulled himself back together and wiped at his eyes, laughing a little.

“Papa, there’s someone you have to meet,” he said in Trade, and turned to offer his hand to Cullen. Cullen ducked into the room, taking Krem’s hand and smiling nervously. Regulon’s eyebrows rose.

“Papa,” Krem said, his voice shaking, “This is Commander Cullen Rutherford, and I think I want to marry him. Please don’t be upset. He would be an honorable addition to our house, and is well decorated.”

“Oh, Cremisius,” Regulon said, pulling him in and kissing his forehead. “Two sons and my freedom all in one day? I could not be happier. I see those medals you wear as well, and I know their meaning.” He nodded to the awards and stripes on Krem’s uniform. “The greatest gift and honor is having you as my son.”

Krem burst into a fresh wave of tears, and this time the rest of the room joined him.

Chapter Text

“He’s alive, he’s alive, he’s alive,” Krem kept saying brokenly as Bull carefully helped him into Dorian’s favorite chair. Cullen was hovering in the doorway in quiet conversation with Dorian, their heads together as they murmured and Dorian pulled out his phone to note something down. He was trying his best not to be furious at being called away, wishing he’d been there to support both Dorian and Krem. He’d called the Chargers, and those available were on their way over.

Dorian nodded as Cullen clapped him on the shoulder, and together they moved into the room.

“Looks like we have guests for the evening,” Bull said without surprise. He’d expected Cullen to be here, if only to keep Dorian calm and panic free, but Dorian didn’t seem terribly stressed by recent events. Krem was far more shaken.

“Do you think I should go and steal a mattress from one of the other rooms?” Dorian asked, running a soothing hand along his arms. Bull kissed him warmly.

“If you’re all right with them crashing here, I am.”

Dorian nodded, and dragged Cullen from the room to go steal one from the empty room beside theirs. Krem grabbed Bull’s hand, blinking back tears.

“He doesn’t hate me for who I am. He was happy! He was so happy, chief, I don’t- I wasn’t- I always thought he’d hate me. I always thought he’d hate me, and he doesn’t.” Krem looked desperately up at him, his eyes wide. “He doesn’t hate me.”

Bull smiled, leaning down to carefully hug him. The poor man was shaking like a leaf, and clung to him.

There was a thud and muffled cursing in Tevene as Dorian and Cullen both managed to hit the wall trying to pull the mattress in, and Bull shook his head, going to help them.

oOo

True to form, the Chargers all piled onto the mattress, taking Cullen with them. He was obviously uncomfortable at first, but steadily relaxed into the warm, soft bodies around him. Dorian watched with a smile as Cullen settled down, Grim a reassuring bulk behind him and Krem tucked under his chin. Bull stroked his hair, and he settled down as well.

Sleep came easily.

He’s in the Fade, he knows, and there are hands on him, stroking, teasing, curling around his hips. He moans, losing himself in the sensation, caught on satin sheets and his long, manicured nails tearing holes where he holds them.

“Beg for me,” Rilienus croons from where he’s biting marks across Dorian’s skin, a vision. “Beg for me, sweetheart.”

They are not in a bedroom, they are in a club, and Dorian knows this club. He’s been here many times, knows the whores and slaves who work here. It caters to ‘select interests’, to those like him who like being taken apart and put back together. How is he here? Why is he here? There is the buzz of noise, but no one to make it.

“Rilienus?” he whispers. “When did we get here?”

A laugh, a hand on his throat to tug at the collar, making the beads clack as Rilienus sits up. There’s a smear of blood by his lips where he broke Dorian’s skin with his teeth. He is so confused, so lost. He tries to reach up, but Rilienus catches his wrists. They have cuffs on, and a chain connects them easily. The chain goes on a hook, holding him steady.

“Oh, baby,” he croons. “I wondered when you’d come back to me.” He touches the blood on his cheek, and it dissolves into mist. Dorian feels hooks in his stomach, and jerks in pain as Rilienus closes his fist. “I have missed you so, my pet.”

The lightning is unexpected, the snarl of rage less so as Fen’Harel falls from the ceiling with a bladed staff in hand. Dorian wants to sob, tries to step out of the memory, and can’t. Not a memory, not a memory, no, no!

Rilienus grins, and disappears. Dorian sobs, yanking on the chains, and Fen’Harel banishes them with a wave of his hand. He drapes a thick fur cloak over him and Dorain scrambles back to the corner of what he can now see is a ledge.

“Calm, it is a dream, nothing more. Not a memory. Enough is enough,” Fen’Harel says, his eyes glittering. “I will tolerate this no longer. Today, I wake.”

“What?” Dorian says, still shivering in terror.

“I have had enough. I will not see this pompous abuser of power harm you anymore.” He is fierce and beautiful and deadly, spinning the staff in his hands. It looks familiar. “I will wake, and you will remember me.”

He reaches over and

Dorian woke with a strangled cry, launching himself out of bed and his fists crackling with lightning. He backed into a corner, gasping for breath as a huge shape unfolded from his bed. Where was he? There was a pile of bodies on the floor, oh Maker, had Rilienus killed more slaves? He had been trapped in the room for the first death, Rilienus keeping him pinned down- he’d been high, so high, he couldn’t breathe, what was wrong oh fuck it was a Qunari, a Qunari in the room, had he made him so angry that he wanted him dead?

“Please, no,” he begged in Tevene. “I’m sorry, I’ll do better, I’ll take what you want, I didn’t mean to upset you Ser.”

He dropped to his knees, extinguishing the lightning, and reached up to touch his collar. It wasn’t there. There was a chain, though, a tooth on it, and as he grabbed it the room tilted back into focus.

Bull was standing before him, his hands outstretched and open.

“Bull,” he breathed, scrambling upright. “Oh, no, no, please.” He grabbed him, checking him for wounds. “Are you all right? Did I hurt you?”

“I’m fine, kadan,” Bull soothed, the Chargers a silent, clearly terrified mass behind him. “I’m fine. More memories?”

“Nightmare,” he said, his voice shaking. “Bad, bad, very bad. I woke up and thought I was in his house, I thought- I thought they were bodies, oh fuck I watched him kill them, he told me if I didn’t keep taking the drugs he’d make me one of them, he’s the one that got me hooked, he wanted me compliant for something but I found the litany and I used it and it broke the hold and he couldn’t get me back, he was furious-“

“Breathe, kadan,” Bull soothed, rubbing his back. Dorian took a deep, heaving breath, and stared up at him.

“I’m going to be sick.”

Chapter Text

A man in a long, finely made coat walked through the pouring rain of a monsoon on the wrong side of town, silver coated shoes glittering as he dodged puddles lit with garish neon lights. He kept his umbrella low, hiding his face until he reached a discreet door in a side alley. It was battered and worn, painted a dull, muddy red. A small plaque beside it read “The Pit” in plain, short letters. The man knocked four times, and a thin slider opened to reveal wary, ice blue eyes.

“I heard you have altus troubles,” Gereon Alexius said dryly.

The slider shut, and the door opened to a dingy hallway. A thin, dangerous looking blond elf bowed him in, locking the door behind him. A short distance away, stairs descended.

“How long has he been here?”

“Six days,” the blond said, taking his coat. “Normally we would kick him out but he’s been beaten and I am not that cruel.” He hung the coat up, sighing. “He won't tell us who did it, but I imagine it was someone who caught him with a man. The boys won’t hear a word against him. They’d keep him if they could. We are all fond of him, we have known him for so long, but I am not willing to risk the wrath of Halward Pavus for another body, no matter how talented.”

“Talented?”

“He’s been dancing. Earning his keep, too, and what he doesn’t spend on the drugs he gives right back to the boys.” The blond led the way down the rickety stairs to a dark door. “He needs out of this damn city, away from Magister Pavus. You know this.”

“I plan on taking him to Caimen Brea,” Gereon nodded.

The blond hummed his approval. “Your holdings are close?”

“As far as they can be called holdings, but yes.” He ran a hand through what was left of his hair. “You know of Rilienus Duelleon? Taste for the thin, the ones that look half dead, likes hurting them?”

“Yes.”

“Blacklist him.” Money changed hands. “Tell your sister clubs. He’s experimenting on the whores now, but it won’t be long before he makes his rounds to the cinaedus.”

The blond grimaced, tucking the money away. “Is it true then? The Venatori are beginning their work?”

Gereon shrugged. “Rilienus claims to have found a suitable vessel. We shall see. If we are to unleash the ancients against our foes, we must be prepared for the whip to crack backwards as well, however.”

“And you intend Dorian to prepare a shield against that?”

Gereon grimaced, looking into the pale blue eyes that knew him so well. “If I can restore his mind. Duelleon should be shipped naked, covered in signs screaming ‘blood mage’ to Seheron for what he did to that beautiful mind. I intend to use him to study time magic.” The blond hissed softly, and Alexius nodded. “If he succeeds, we will at least have a fail safe.”

“We have known each other many years,” the blond said. “I will keep your secrets, my lord, and I will warn the others.”

Gereon smiled, looking at him. “I don’t even know your name.”

The blond smiled, inordinately fond. “Nor will you ever.” He pushed open the door and bowed. “Good luck to you, Lord Magister.”

Gereon shook his head and stepped into the Pit.

It was a fairly standard opening room for a fetish club that specialized in the kind of thing that would get you arrested in the South if you weren’t careful. Attractive, attentive young men in the couch lined sunken seating area twisted curiously to look up that him. Hookahs and more diverse distractions in boothes along the walls with red velvet curtains enticed people over, and at the far end of the room was a stage with two doors on either side, leading back to the private rooms. The stage had a rather ominous leather bench on it, along with a variety of other, nastier implements carefully off to the side. He controlled his shudder and descended into couches, rather than trying the rooms behind the stage. Dorian was more likely to be found here with the others.

Sure enough, he was curled into the corner of a couch, still healing from a split lip and black eye. Judging by how massively dilated his pupils were, he was also higher than the Grand Cathedral.

“Boy, what am I to do with you?” he sighed, and Dorian stared up at him with narrowed yes.

“Not for sale.”

“Even if you were, you are not my type.” Gereon gratefully accepted champagne from a passing tray. “I’m here to offer you an out. Do you know who I am?”

“Gereon Alexius of Hariphale,” Dorian said, unfolding a little. “Magister, member of the Circle of Minrathous. Felix’s father.”

“Very good.” He didn’t miss the flash of hope in Dorian’s eyes though it was shuttered quickly. He sipped the champagne, settling back. He had to play this carefully. “I understand you wrote your final work while at the Circle of Vyrantium on time magic.”

“Purely theoretical.” Dorian was fully upright, and Gereon had the unnerving feeling that underneath the sex, the drugs, and the drink, Dorian was sharper than a razor. Gone was the man he’d first seen feeding from Rilienus’ hand, leashed in a meeting of the Venatori. This man was dangerous, feral under all the manners. “Why?”

“It is an area I wish to study.” He sipped again. “I also heard that you wish to specialize in the work of the Mortalitasi.”

Dorian went very still, his eyes burning into him. “I do.”

“I am offering you an apprenticeship,” he said, smiling around his glass. “An apprenticeship, work, and a way out of Minrathous.”

Dorian looked him over, eyes narrowing. “Did my father put you up to this? Or Felix?”

Gereon snorted. “Your charming father is a traditionalist,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I campaign for reform. Do you honestly think the esteemed Halward Pavus would lower himself to asking me, of all people? As for Felix, well. I am always going to be grateful that you have always come to visit him, especially on his bad days, but I have far more interest in my own work than whether a friend of my son is worth spending time with.”

“Fair enough.” The laser focus dimmed and Dorian leaned back, eyeing him. “I know I’ve seen you before, after Felix’s Harrowing, but… do I know you from somewhere else?”

Yes. You met me two years ago when I went to the Duelleon townhouse and you were there in a collar and something that might have been called pants once, thralled and eating out of the hand of a madman who seduced and abused you, and I watched without saying a word as he did terrible, horrible things to you. But you came to my house with that damn collar on and read to Felix and made him laugh despite the thrall, and you were kind and didn’t stop until Rilienus grew jealous and fearful. You didn’t stop until he nearly killed you, and somehow that got to you, even after everything. Somehow you found the damn litany of Andralla and broke his hold, somehow you got away, somehow you healed despite it all. But I won’t forget seeing you beg, your ribs far too pronounced, and I won’t see that happen to you ever again. And he hunts you still, despite Halward burning his reputation to the ground, despite it all.

“I don’t think we’ve ever spoken,” Gereon said, and took a drink to hide how close he was to shattering the glass.

“Strange.” Dorian sighed, rubbing his face. “I guess this means I probably need to grab my things.”

oOo- Hariphale, One Month Later

The lamp was still on in the middle of the night, and Gereon watched from the second level of the library as Dorian wrote where he sat surrounded by books at a long table. Light steps alerted him to Felix walking up next to him.

“Should you be up?” he asked, concerned, and his son smiled.

“I’m fine. He needs to eat, I’m going to make him some dinner and take it in a minute. I just saw you standing here.” He looked down at his friend, who was completely consumed by his work. “He’s been on a spree the past few days, hasn’t he?”

Gereon nodded. Felix came to rest on the balustrade next to him.

“He’s important, isn’t he?” he said quietly, and Gereon sighed.

“In the grand scheme of things, no. Not really. He’s just a small wheel in the great cog of the Venatori. A back up.” He straightened up, sighing. “He will be a strong necromancer, though, that is certain. And make no mistake, I am daily grateful that you befriended him.”

“Yeah,” Felix said, smiling down at Dorian. “I am too. I’m going to miss him.”

Gereon’s heart ached, and he pulled his son in for a minute, holding him just because he could. “I’ll find a way to fix this,” he promised, clinging to him.

“Father, please, I’m really fine,” Felix protested, but the words fell on deaf ears as Gereon swept away to his rooms.

oOo

His phone rang just as he’d climbed into bed, and he answered without thinking. “Alexius.”

I know you have him.

Gereon sighed, rubbing his forehead. “You’re drunk, Pavus,” he said without judgment. And indeed, Halward’s words were slurred and harsh to his ears.

Where have you taken my son?

“Somewhere safe. Far, far away from Minrathous. Far from anywhere Duelleon could touch.”

If you lay so much as a finger on him, Alexius-”

Gereon frowned, sitting up. The elf in bed with him grumbled, pulling a pillow over her head. He patted her back absently. “Is that what they’re saying about me now? He’s younger than Felix, you fool. Also very much a man, in case you missed the part when he grew out that ridiculous mustache to prove it.”

Halward was silent for a moment before muttering, “I hate that mustache.”

“No one likes it. Except maybe my son, who seems to think it’s quite dashing. But then, this is the boy who thinks that mustard yellow and brown is a winning combination.”

Halward laughed, his voice catching into a sob. “Is he happy? Is he eating well?

“He eats regularly, though well could be debated,” he said as the elf rolled over and curled on his stomach. He stroked her hair absently, thinking wistfully of Livia. Months of sleeping restlessly had been fixed simply by having another body in bed. What a simple change. “Felix has been stuffing him with those little rolls with meat and cheese in them. Pazza rolls? Piazza rolls? Whatever that new craze is. He’s put on a bit of weight, at least. He doesn’t look quite so skeletal any more. And he is happy, as much as he can be these days. He smiles more, laughs. He is a very strong necromancer, Halward. You should be very proud of him.”

I am,” Halward said brokenly. “Tell him for me, Gereon. Please.

“I will.” He wouldn’t. It was far too easy to play on Dorian’s desire for paternal affection and approval. “How is your wife?”

She went to Asariel. She needed to be away from the city.

“I understand that.” He smiled as the elf looked up at him, shaking her head fondly as she rolled back over, apparently giving up on him shutting up any time soon, and flicked on her own beside light to read. “I trust Minrathous is holding itself together without me?”

Norria is moving forward with that ridiculous pet project to dredge the harbor. I think Urthanos might actually kill him if he brings it up again. Oh, and Tilani has decided to descend on her holdings to remind her people who they worship.

Gereon grinned. Maevaris Tilani’s holdings were fairly close. Perhaps it was time to go and have a neighborly visit and borrow half her terrifying library. “Remind Norria he still hasn’t got permissions from city planning, and then nip down there and tell them not to give him the permissions. Problem solved. They hate him after that debacle with the library.”

Not a terrible plan.” Halward fell silent, and Gereon waited patient. Finally, Halward said quietly, “Please keep him safe, Gereon. He’s all I have.

The line went dead, and he set the phone aside.

“Magister Pavus?” the elf said absently, turning a page of her book.

“Indeed. He wants me to give Dorian back.”

She smiled, closing her book and turning off her light as he did the same. “I’ll increase the patrols around the perimeter in case he has any funny ideas.”

“Good,” he murmured, sinking into the downy comfort of the mattress.

oOo

Three years passed, and Dorian returned to Minrathous a fully fledged necromancer with the legal change of specializations to prove it and a theory on time magic that made him and Gereon the talk of the town for approximately a week. He returned to an engagement, Seheron, the death of the elf that raised him, and the alluring call of the bottle.

Two years after that, Gereon was the one to get the call at 6 in the morning, the hissed, terrified insistence that he was leaving Tevinter, to tell Felix to stay strong, and the harsh click of a pay phone hanging up.

Chapter Text

“Well?”

Merrill straightened from where she had crouched by the door to the tailors chambers, nodding. “He’s clean. It felt like someone thralled him a long, long time ago, but it’s not there anymore. If he’s a spy, he’s a trained one and not forced.” It was deep night, dark and quiet in the castle, and Merrill had been roused from her bed only an hour earlier to be apprised of the situation. She and Lavellan had gone over the extents of her abilities, testing how far she could sense before placing her outside of Regulon’s rooms.

Lavellan nodded from where she was hidden in the shadows, stepping forward as Merrill bound the little scratch on her wrist. “I’ll let Krem know. You’re okay?”

Merrill nodded, smiling a little shakily. “It’s been a while since I used it, but I’m okay. I forgot how it feels.”

“What’s it like?” Lavellan asked as they made their way down the stairs. The lights were dimmed, and flicked off as they left the staircase.

Merrill hummed softly, considering. “You know that feeling when the halla come up and beg for scratches and nuzzle at you? Like you’re a gift, a sweet thing, and they want you to know you’re loved?”

Lavellan nodded, feeling a pang of homesickness. It had been some time since she’d spent any time with a halla other than her own.

“It’s like that. The magic just wants to help, particularly if it’s your own. Things get ugly if it’s someone else. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like being held in love.” She shrugged, and they emerged out into the courtyard. Leliana was at the gates, looking down on New Haven, and Lavellan sighed. Merrill frowned, concerned. “Is she okay?”

“After everything that happened tonight, she said she was going to call in some reinforcements. She’s been waiting at the gate ever since, and I honestly don’t know what she’s up to,” Lavellan confessed, keeping her voice low. Merrill hugged her, and she hugged back.

“It’ll be okay,” she said gently. “Maybe not right now, but it will be in time.”

“Thanks, Merrill,” she said, smiling fondly, and Merrill waved as she headed to her own room. Lavellan watched her go, making sure she was safely up the stairs before strolling over to where Leliana stood. The guards nodded at her, and she waved them away. They left, knowing the gate was in good hands. Leliana turned to her, her eyes tired and bordering on sad. Lavellan gently nudged her with her shoulder, making her smile.

“Hello,” she said softly, and Lavellan wrapped an arm around her waist.

“You should sleep,” she scolded gently, and Leliana chuckled, ducking her head.

They stared out over the glowing lights of the city beyond the long bridge, watching the trundle of cars back and forth. It was a beautiful city, and the spire of the University’s main tower glowed with warm, golden light, a little beacon in the cluster of buildings. New Haven was her home now, and she knew its back alleys and little cafes as well as she knew the familiar woods of her people. She leaned her head against Leliana’s shoulder, and an arm wrapped around her own shoulders, squeezing gently.

“When we were travelling, back so many years ago, I would sing at our campfires. We lived very roughly, you know, always on the move, always doing what we could to stay alive and stay sane. Sten- the Arishok, that is, he was always itching to travel through the night. But we camped, we relaxed when we could, and when it came time to move, we did. Life was strange but beautiful then. I thought I was chosen, but it seems I was wrong.” She sighed, kissing the top of Lavellan’s head. “If anyone had to be chosen, I am glad it was you.”

Lavellan squeezed her, looking up. “What makes you think you weren’t? You were an agent of the Divine, a needed member of the Hero’s group, the much loved subject of many songs. I know, I’ve heard them. Maybe the chosen don’t end up with castles and callings and fancy titles all the time. Maybe they’re chosen for the little things, the lifting of spirits and how they keep everyone afloat. Maybe they’re chosen to help heal, not to lead.” She turned, hugging Leliana tightly. “You’re so important, Leliana. You always have been.”

Leliana hugged back, and Lavellan didn’t mention how it suddenly seemed to be raining on her shoulder.

They stayed like that for some time, Leliana silently shaking in her arms until far below in the city, the clock boomed out two. She pulled back, wiping her eyes, and Lavellan stood on tiptoes to kiss her cheek.

“I’m proud to call you my friend,” she said gently. “No matter what happens in the end, you’ll always be that to me.”

Leliana smiled, gently cupping her face to kiss her forehead. “I do not deserve such friends as you,” she said, her expression tender. “But I am grateful.”

Lavellan smiled up at her. “Don’t stay up too late.”

“I won’t,” she promised, and Lavellan kissed her cheek again before heading towards the keep, nodding to the guards that they could return to their post. One clapped her on the shoulder as he passed, and she nodded at him, fond. Her men loved her, and she loved them just as dearly. They sacrificed much to go against the Chantry and the world, determined to rebuild it from the ground up. Lavellan made her way to the little shrines to the Elven gods in the garden, and knelt down before them to pray in her own way before going to the Chantry. The state of Andraste reminded her of Leliana, her arms outstretched to help.

“I wonder if I am yours,” she murmured. “Justinia seemed to think so.”

Andraste was silent, the candles at her feet softening her features.

“I hope that your Maker treats you well,” she told the statue. “That would be so unfair, if he were cruel to you when you spent your whole life getting to him. You had enough to deal with on your own.” She sighed, fetching a candle to light. She added it to the pile, kneeling down awkwardly to look up at her. “I wonder what Shartan thought of all this. You know in the pictures of him, his ears are docked? I wonder if they’ll do that to me in the history books. Try and make me human when I’m not. He sacrificed so much for you and still they tried to change him. I wonder what Clan he was from. I suppose we’ll never know.”

She sighed, looking at the candle in front of her. “I’m trying to understand how to be obedient to my gods while being your Herald. I love my gods. They’re a part of me in ways you never will me. Your people burned my home to the ground, tortured us, enslaved us, stole our rights and our lives. How do I find peace with that? How do I find healing in the knowledge that your people caused my suffering?”

Andraste was silent above her, and she sighed, carefully arranging the candle with the others. “Maybe this was Justinia’s way of lashing out. After so many years of hatred, your Herald will be an elf. One of those we marched against, one of those we murdered and tortured. What a beautiful twist.” She stood, looking up at Andraste’s face. “I don’t love you, and I never will, but I will do my best to see the wrongs that your people have made changed, brought to heel.”

She could have sworn she saw the statue smile as she left the Chantry, heading for her rooms.

oOo

Dawn came cold and windy, a cold front moving down from the mountains and curling around Skyhold with vicious, knifelike fingers that plucked at the guards uniforms and made them all close the windows back up. Breakfast was practically an Inquisition wide affair, the Chargers and all the soldiers packing into the Great Hall with everyone else to eat. Lavellan was grateful, and ate on the throne with her advisors clustered around before going down to walk among her troops and friends. She stopped at every table, accepting handshakes, hugs, quiet words of reassurance. The guards from the gate both clasped her forearms, as if they could transfer their strength to her.

She had a lump in her throat when she finished her rounds and began to talk to her Circle, overwhelmed by the love and devotion they offered her. Bull was the first to pull her into a hug, reaching out to tug Dorian in as well. The two of them looked exhausted, another round of nightmares having taken their toll, and she held them both as long as she could. Dorian kissed her temple, smiling fondly, and she moved on. Sera clung to her like a limpet, Cullen enveloped her like a rather fuzzy older brother, and Varric looked at her with such compassion she finally felt a few tears slip out. With everyone greeted, she finally went to stand on top of her throne, clearing her throat.

The room turned to look at her, and she smiled awkwardly.

“Hello, everybody.”

There was a chorus of hello’s back, and she couldn’t help smiling.

“I just wanted to tell you all thank you,” she said when they quieted. “With the Venatori here, I don’t quite know what’s going to happen. They’re more interested in us than I want to think about. They’ve asked for a day to recover from travelling, so we won’t see them today, but we have to be prepared for what might come down on us soon. I don’t know if we’ll have to fight, or if we can fix this with words alone. But I am so grateful to you all for being here to support us. I consider you my family, and I am so proud to have you all in my life.” She swallowed hard, biting her lip. “I know that I’m not what you expected. I know that I’m young, and I’m not totally perfect at this. Please, be my guides in this dark time. Please, defend our home against all those who would see us fall. I believe in you.”

She bowed her head, unsure what to say, and was startled by the scraping of chairs. Looking up, she felt her lip tremble as the room got to its feet, all looking up at her.

Mother Giselle cleared her throat in the corner, and began to sing. “Shadows fall, and hope has fled. Steel your heart, the dawn will come. The night is long, and the path is dark. Look to the sky, for one day soon, the dawn will come.”

Her voice echoed beautifully around the room, and Lavellan’s lips trembled as Leliana came in, her voice sweet over Mother Giselle’s. “The shepherd’s lost, and his home is far. Keep to the stars, the dawn will come.” The room shifted, more voices adding until the soldiers swelled with sound, echoing beautifully off the walls, Cullen’s voice soaring as Dorian sang counter him in Tevene, his hand tight on Bull’s. “The night is long, and the path is dark. Look to the sky, for one day soon, the dawn will come.

Lavellan was in tears as the room echoed with the song, filling a hole she hadn’t known was there. “Bare your blade, and raise it high. Stand your ground, the dawn will come. The night is long, and the path is dark. Look to the sky, for one day soon, the dawn will come.

The last notes echoed across the vaulted ceiling, and she looked over her army, her family, her loved ones.

She stepped down from the throne walking into the throngs and beckoning them all in until they surrounded her, a massive pile of hugged bodies. More than a few people were in tears as she moved through them, hugging and touching and pressing foreheads together.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you.”

oOo

Leliana waited with the patience of a mountain, a silent sentinel upon the battlements. Her runners came and went no differently than normal, save she was in a different place. She waited, lowering her hood and watching the road below her.

“The Dalish have a story about the Nightingale, you know,” Varric said as he joined her.

“Do they?”

“Oh yes.” He leaned on the lower edge, smiling. “It depends on who’s telling it as to who wants it, but we’ll say the Empress today. The Empress hears that the most beautiful song in all the world is the one that the little nightingale sings, and demands for it to be hers. A slave hears of this, and says he can bring her to the nightingale, for he has always love its song and listened all his life to it. He thinks that the Nightingale woudlbe a beautiful addition to the court, and a bright spot in his sad day. So they go into the woods, the Empress in all her finery, and he shows her the Nightingale. The nightingale is asked sweetly if it will perform in the courts, for it deserves to be admired. It says yes, mostly because it could be with its friend, and comes with. For a while, it’s the jewel of the courts, beloved by all who hear it. But then a toymaker creates a mechanical replica, and the Empress loses interest in the real nightingale for the fake one. But the slave is always kind to the nightingale, listening to its song without expecting anything back, and the Nightingale sings so sweetly as a goodbye to the Empress that the slave is freed, and they travel far away.”

“I do like that story,” she said quietly, smiling. “All good things are wild, and free.”

Varric nodded, smiling. “And for what it’s worth, I’m glad our own Nightingale is free of the Empress.” Leliana hid a smile, and Varric squeezed her hand before heading back down.

Below, a sturdy black car came creeping up to the bridge, and she smiled as the sunroof opened, and a bulky woman climbed out to sit on top, waving her arms above her head.

“Oh, how I’ve missed you,” she whispered to the air, and hurried down to meet them at the gate.

oOo

The car stopped in the courtyard, and Leliana was waiting for them. A bit of a crowd had gathered, Dorian’s mother in her red mourning clothes on the first landing of the stairs up to the keep. The woman slid off the car, beaming as she ran over, hugging Leliana tightly.

“Hello, little bird,” she said fondly, and Leliana laughed, exchanging cheek kisses with her.

“Rosalyn Cousland, I have missed you so.”

She was a big woman, broad shouldered and shouldered, but undeniably beautiful. There were laugh-lines by her eyes and mouth, and a curl of grey in her beautiful auburn hair, but she was as beautiful as the day Leliana had first laid eyes on her. She was dressed simply, her clothes made for comfort instead of fashion, and a wedding band gleamed on her finger, set with tiny blue and white stones.

Rosalyn slung an arm over her shoulder, and they walked back to the car. Zevran climbed out, laughing as he ran over to hug her, pressing kisses all over her face.

“You have not changed at all,” he teased, his accent as thick as ever. “So beautiful, my dear.”

“Flatterer,” she teased back, and hugged him tightly. “Oh, it is good to see you in one piece. I have feared somewhat that you would come to me some day in many, instead.”

Zevran clasped a hand to his heart in mock offense. “You wound me.”

Alistair climbed out with some slight cursing as he nearly tripped over his own legs, and ran over to barrel into them both, making them laugh. “It’s been too long! Look at you! Oh, this is wonderful. I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve missed you. Have you missed me?”

Leliana laughed, kissing his forehead. “I have, you beautiful fool.” Alistair beamed at her, and Rosalyn chuckled as he hugged her fiercely. “Off, off, you great lump!”

He let go, only to grab her again and swing her around to make her laugh.

Zevran chuckled, swinging an arm over her shoulders, as she led them through the onlookers towards the keep. Lavellan appeared at the doorway, skidding down the stairs to meet them. She stopped in front of them, panting for breath.

“It’s true then?” she asked Leliana, who beamed and nodded. “Oh, ye great good gods.”

“Everyone, this is the Inquisitor Lavellan. Inquisitor, the Hero of Ferelden, Rosalyn Cousland.”

“It is such an honor,” Lavellan managed, shaking Rosalyn’s huge hand. “Welcome to Skyhold. I’m sorry, had I known you were coming we could have prepared rooms for you in advance.”

Rosalyn shook her head, grinning. “Don’t worry about it, we weren’t sure we were coming until about three hours ago. We were pretty close, thankfully. Leliana was right, you are adorable. And a badass with a staff and ice magic, from what I’ve heard.”

Leliana butted in before Lavellan could swoon, adding, “And this is her husband, Alistair Theirin. Yes, of thoseTheirin’s. It’s complicated. And Zevran Arainai, of the Antivan Crows. Sort of.”

Zevran kissed her hand, smiling up at her. “Hello, most beautiful one.”

“Sorry,” Lavellan said, a little pink as she held up her hands to show off the black rings on both middle fingers. “Asexual and aromantic.”

“Ooh, that is new!” Zevran was clearly thrilled, taking her arm as they headed up the stairs. “I have heard of your type before but not met any who identified with both! This is intriguing and so very exciting. You must tell me how you handle it when suitors come calling. Is it all right if I flirt? I do not wish to make you uncomfortable.”

Lavellan laughed, delighted, and Leliana’s face felt like it would crack from smiling as they walked into the keep.

Chapter Text

He wakes, and the world smells strange. Darker, harsher, more chemical to his nose. The room is familiar, warm and comfortable, hidden away behind the library rotunda. A fire crackles behind a grate, soft rugs cover the floor, and his nose picks up the scent of fresh fruit on his table. The room is painted with a riot of murals, all beautiful, all full of trees and elegant, graceful animals loping through them. He sees halla and wolves, and one very small nug in a corner, looking innocently up at a moon. The room is pleasant, soothing to his soul. Solas-He rises, and strides to the mirror in the corner.

He silences the screaming in his-their head with a thought, examining his-their body curiously. He is graceful in a way that Solas will never be, twisting and turning to see the changes.

“So pale,” he marvels in disapproval. “That must change.” He frowns disappointed at how weak his muscles are. His torso is just sad despite the staff work, though the calves and thighs are solid, almost bulky. He stretches, languid.

“Have we children?” he asks Solas.

Solas shakes their head. “No. No children.”

“A pity. We should change that.”

“We should not.”

Fen’Harel snorts, peering at their body in the mirror. “We could change this body with ease to bear one. Fenris would be a good donor.”

No.” This time Solas is terrified, horrified. “Please, no.”

He stops, feeling the waves of panic and desperation. “You do not want children so badly?”

“No children. Not- not by us. Not sired or born by us. Please, swear you won’t do that to me.”

Fen’Harel frowns, but nods. “I swear. If it hurts you so deeply.”

The relief washes over him and Solas goes quiet, a silent, obedient presence in the back of his mind. He had not intended to become two people, yet here they are. He dresses quickly, despairing over the clothing Solas prefers, and steps into the world.

oOo

Solas keeps up running commentary on clothing, culture, and food as he enjoys the first solid meal in ages with the Inner Circle. Cole stares at him, baffled, and he raises and eyebrow to keep him silent. He nods, and they finish their breakfast. Lavellan makes a stirring, heartwarming speech, the Chantry and religious sing, and he is very confused by the lot of it.

He goes back to the rotunda to work on the paintings, pleased as he looks them over. Above him, Dorian is muttering to himself, and he easily climbs the scaffolds, jumping to catch the balustrade and flip himself over. He perches there, watching as Dorian paces, books scattering as he moves back and forth, trying to find what he needs.

“What are you looking for?”

Dorian yelps, jumping almost half his height and whirling around. “Vishante kaffas, don’t DO that-“ His voice cuts off with a satisfying click, and Fen’Harel grins wickedly at him.

“Hello, Dorian. It’s nice to meet you in real life.”

Dorian goes as pale as his skin will allow, stumbling backwards and into his chair. He stares as Fen’Harel straightens, walking over to him. “You’re real.”

“Oh, very.” He pulls over the stool that Merrill so favors, drinking in the subtle differences between the Fade Dorian and the Real Dorian. There aren’t many. Perhaps the hair, he thinks, and the nose. “I understand you were distracted at breakfast. Also, realization then would not have been very advantageous.”

“So, you’re Solas? Or was Solas just a front?” Dorian asks, and Fen’Harel can hear the faint patter of his heart. He smiles, gentle this time. Dorian is theirs, their child, someone to protect and defend. He feels a rush of warmth from Solas. Dorian is prickly and uncomfortable and strange, but he wants nothing more than approval, and he will give that to him.

“Solas and I are one. Two sides of the same coin, as it were, with the body holding us together. When I woke I could not handle this strange new world, and thus Solas was born. He is his own person, now, and I just a strange little piece of the puzzle.” He shrugs, graceful. “But no matter. How shall we kill your countrymen? I think knives would send a suitable message.”

There’s a slight crash behind him, and he turns to see Merrill staring at him in horror. She steps back, fearful.

You,” she whispers, eyes wide. “Harellan.”

He rises and she slams a barrier down, another washing over Dorian. “Da’len…”

“No! How was I so blind?” She demands, falling into Elvish. “How could you! We trusted you, and here you are, under our noses. Have you come to tear the Inquisition apart? Do you know what this will do to Lavellan? Her friend and confidante actually the one that doomed our people?”

“I did no such thing!” he snarls in the same language, stepping forward. She holds her ground, and a knife flicks into her hand. “You do not know your own history! You do not know the slavery you so proudly wear! My children, my people, held captive by those who called themselves my siblings and family! They used and abused you, tossed you aside when you were too tired, killed for sport! My daughters, murdered and stolen from me! I have no vallaslin for I would not take slaves from my people! I doomed the People unknowingly, thinking I had saved them from a fate far worse than death.”

Merrill’s hand wavers, and now the library is looking at them. The knife disappears, and she stares hard at him. He remembers, suddenly, that she had repaired an Eluvian on her own, that she was a deadly, dangerous woman grown, with horror spells and blood magic at her disposal. She is strong, and he would do well to remember that he is still weak.

“Rebellion, then?” she asks, keeping her voice carefully steady. He sighs in relief.

“Yes, da’len.”

“You have much to atone for,” she hisses, the rage clear now. “Look to the Exalted Plains, look to the history of the Dales. We had none to defend us, we were slaughtered. Intentions stand for nothing these days.” She straightens, looking to Dorian. “Touch him, and I will not hesitate in my wrath, god or no. Touch Sera, and my wrath will triple. She doesn’t want our history, and that’s her decision. Don’t you dare try to force it on her.”

Fen’Harel scowls, and Solas breaks free of him to say, “Dorian will not be hurt, Merrill. I’ve worked too hard to keep him safe. And Sera wouldn’t come near me with a twenty foot pole, if she had her way.”

Fen’Harel swallows him again, despite Solas’s struggle, and Merrill stares.

“Two in one body?” she says, and he nods. “Oh. How uncomfortable.”

He shrugs. “We’ll adjust.”

oOo

Dorian’s hands shook as he poured tea in his room, Fen’Harel sitting and talking with Merrill at his table. There was a god in his bedroom.

Normally there’s a god in your bed, his mind very unhelpfully provided, and he almost sloshed the tea.

“Something the matter?” Merrill asked.

“Oh, no,” he said, on the verge of hysteria. “There’s just an Elven god in my room drinking tea out of a mug that says “worlds best dad” on it that Krem got for Bull for the New Year. Nothing in the least is the matter. Nothing at all. It’s not like he’s been walking my dreams for the past six months or so. Not like he’s seen every piece of me I’ve wanted to hide.”

Fen’Harel sipped his tea, his expression best described as “politely offended”.

Dorian poured Merrill’s tea into a mug shaped like a bright pink dragon, paused on his own cup, and went to get the maaras-lok from the cabinet. It was that sort of day, and he wasn’t going to be able to have this conversation sober.

Fuck.

“Well, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get onto the business of killing things,” Fen’Harel said brightly. “I was thinking knives. Quick cuts across the throat.”

Dorian paused in his pouring, and deviated the bottle directly to his mouth.

And of course, The Iron Bull, love of his life and master of all things impeccably timed, opened the door just as Fen’Harel added, “Or I could explode him from the inside out, it’s an old trick.”

Bull paused in the doorway, looking over the three of them, and Dorian gingerly set the Maaras-lok down.

“Dorian,” he said slowly, “what’s going on?”

“Yes, well,” Dorian said, slightly hysterical. “Remember how Solas was helping me with the nightmares?”

“Yesss?”

“It wasn’t Solas. Meet Fen’Harel. That Fen’Harel. You know. The god that’s apparently been sharing Solas’ body for the past who the fuck knows how long and seems to have taken a personal interest in murdering the Venatori.” Dorian was proud of how little hysteria made its way into his voice, but apparently that wasn’t quite good enough. Fen’Harel and Merrill both cringed.

Bull let this sink in, closed the door, and went to take a swig of the maaras-lok. “Run that by me again?”

oOo

Once everything had been explained, Dorian now firmly wrapped up in Bull’s arms to keep from having the mother of all terrified panic attacks, he managed, “So, that’s a thing that happened today. How was work?”

“Remarkably uneventful compared to your day,” Bull said mildly, staring at Fen’Harel like he was trying to decide if dismemberment or decapitation were more the speed he wanted to go. Fen’Harel had the good sense to at least look a little uneasy. “So. You want to kill the Venatori.”

“You don’t?” Fen’Harel countered.

“Oh, I do, but I more want to find out why the hell they’re interested in the Inquisition before removing Rilienus’ head and putting it on a spike outside our walls,” Bull said calmly. Dorian clapped a hand to his mouth, going green. “Sorry, kadan.”

“I hate him,” Dorian said. “I hate him, I do, but he scares me to my bones. I don’t know if I could see murder done to him.”

“We’ll see what happens,” Merrill said soothingly. “You mother did suggest taking them down and sending them back to Radonis, right? To show we’re more interested in the Archon than the Venatori? Maybe we’ll get to send them packing tomorrow.”

Fen’Harel growled, and was about to speak when the door flew open, revealing a very disheveled Cullen.

“The Hero of Ferelden just showed up with an Antivan Crow and Alistair,” he said, panting. “They’re going to the tavern.”

The Hero?” Dorian said, eyes widening and Rilienus temporarily forgotten. “What’s she doing here?”

“Leliana sent for back up, apparently. She wants to meet everyone!”

Fen’Harel rose, brushing his clothes off. “Well… it would not do to disappoint.” He smiled with all his teeth, and headed for the door.

Chapter Text

Cole both loved and hated the tavern, with its bright voices and loud, often singing patrons. It was a haven in the mess of the world, in the mess of lives and love and hate that coalesced around them all. He sat in the rafters, helping Sera steal play little tricks to make people laugh as the Hero of Ferelden and her people laughed at a table with Lavellan. She glowed with warmth and joy, the tired-of-killing elf with his arm over her shoulder, asking her questions and hugging her when right. The man-who-was-not-king-praise-the-maker was with her, the bright-as-sun-warm-as-moon, his light and his joy, the two of them trading stories with Leliana-who-was-different-now, so happy they could burst. Rosalyn-who-was-Hero was going shot for shot against Cremisius-I-was-always-Cremisius, being cheered on by some of his subordinates.

“Her eyes, Maker, she shines like the stars, days like this I’m so relieved I didn’t take the throne,” Cole said quietly, smiling as he watched Alistair kiss his wife on the cheek. Rosalyn laughed, wrapping her arms around him.

“What, blondie?” Sera asked, curious. “What about her? Big damn hero and all.”

“Home, home, home is wherever I’m with you,” he said, singing a little. “My men, my women, my family. My strong right arm to be here soon, my sister-mother and son. Oh, he will be so happy to see his boy.”

“Thought they couldn’t have kids,” she said thoughtfully.

“Complicated. All twisted up and wrong, three different ways it could have gone.” He shrugged. “But they are a family.”

There was a cacophony of noise from the door as it opened to reveal The Iron Bull-Tal-Vashoth and Dorian-my-faith-is-shattered-in-him, Cullen-why-didn’t-I-stop-them and Older-Than-Solas behind them with Merrill-blood-and-warmth.

Sera frowned, looking at Solas. “He’s not right, isee?”

“No. Different, now, two people in one but still the same person,” he said, frowning. “It’s confusing.”

“Well shit, better get that sorted.” She spotted a waitress, scowling as someone grabbed her rear. “Oi, let’s deal with that. Since you’re being all humany for once.”

With one last look down, Cole and Sera descended.

oOo

“Oi, Chief,” Krem called, waving him over, and cheered when he saw Cullen. “Darling! So good of you to join us.”

Cullen made a beeline for him, leaning over to kiss him as Alistair choked on his beer, staring at them.

“Miss me?” Krem murmured, smiling sweetly up at him, and Cullen kissed him again in adoration.

Alistair recovered. “This is the best thing I never thought I’d see. Cullen, get over here, I need to hug you.”

Cullen laughed, and decided to oblige. Alistair set his drink down, standing up and hugging him tightly. He was surprised at how much of a relief it was, just letting his head rest on sturdy shoulders. “It’s good to see you happy,” he mumbled, swallowing down emotion. The Alistair he had known in training had been miserable, self effacing to hide the sheer mountain of pain that constantly bore down on him. He couldn’t memorize to save his life, was forever bullied, couldn’t do much of anything right according to their teachers, and yet still managed to muddle through. Being conscripted by Duncan was possibly the best thing that had ever happened to him in his short life.

Alistair squeezed him, stepping back to look him over. “Maker, you look like you’ve seen some action. Where’d you end up before this? You weren’t at Kinloch this whole time, were you?”

Cullen grimaced. “No. Kirkwall.”

Alistair winced. “Ow. Not good.”

“Just a bit,” he said, managing a smile. “But I’m here now! And I’m not a Templar anymore.”

“What, really?” Alistair beamed, clapping his shoulder. “Look at you! And somehow it looks like you ended up with one hell of a looker.”

Cullen couldn’t help going pink at that, smiling over at Krem, who gave a two fingered salute. “Yeah,” he said, heart swelling. “Looks like it.”

They were interrupted with a yell of, “The Iron Bull! No! Impossible, I thought you were still in Orlais!” from Zevran, who stood up to greet him.

“Maker preserve us, you may want to take cover,” Cullen muttered, looking nervously to Dorian, who was eyeing Zevran suspiciously. The Iron Bull laughed, having caught where his gaze went, and slung an arm over Dorian’s shoulders.

“Zevran Arainai, will wonders never cease. Meet my better half, Dorian Pavus.”

Dorian grinned in delight as Zevran took his hand, pressing a kiss to the back and looking up through his lashes. “Charmed, messare.”

The rest of the table groaned as Dorian and Bull exchanged thoughtful glances, and Rosalyn laughed as Bull grabbed a seat, Dorian dropping into his customary seat on his lap. “Sorry, boys, we have dibs on him tonight,” she said cheerily, and Zevran walked around to kiss her sweetly. Cullen’s eyebrows rose, and he turned to Alistair, who was beaming at his wife. Cullen walked around the table, sliding in next to Krem with Zevran on his other size, and Lavellan against the wall, and Alistair sat back down.

“So you share?” Lavellan asked, curious.

“Not exactly,” Alistair said, looking a little pink. “I’m monogamous. She’s not. It works for us. Doesn’t it, light of my life?”

“Indeed, sweetest blossom,” she said fondly, taking his hand and kissing his knuckles. They took a moment to smile like lovesick fools while Leliana and Zevran both laughed.

“Our dear Alistair likes to watch. But not participate,” Leliana said, her voice full of mirth.

“There is that,” Alistair said mildly, and Dorian watched in fascination. Cullen nodded even as Krem and Dorian exchanged a flurry of Tevene that sounded utterly incredulous and admiring.

“Oh!” Rosalyn perked up. “Sweetheart, darling, love of my life, we forgot that book we borrowed! It’s still in the car!”

Alistair gasped, slamming his mug down. “You’re right! I’ll fetch it at once.” He kissed her quickly before getting up, hugging Leliana around the shoulders and heading for the door surprisingly quickly through the crowd of people. He had just left the door when the alarm horn boomed through Skyhold, rattling the cutlery. In an instant Krem and Cullen were on their feet, moving in perfect tandem as they cut through the crowd, the soldiers following. Rosalyn smiled, and Lavellan gave her a slow look.

“You knew this was going to happen,” Leliana said in exasperation. “Morrigan just arrived, didn’t she?”

Rosalyn grinned, turning to Bull. “You like dragons, right?”

Dorian and Bull were out the door in a heartbeat, and the rest followed at a more sedate pace.

oOo

“Dorian.”

“Yes, Bull.”

“There’s a fucking dragon in the courtyard. A high fucking dragon.”

“I can see that, Bull.”

There was, in fact, a dragon in the courtyard. She was huge, purple and black, and there was a small boy riding on the ridge of her horns. He slid off as the soldiers gathered around, unsure what to do, and the dragon was suddenly gone, a tall, dark haired woman in its place with a staff on her back. She looked them over disdainfully, and Alistair ran forward. The boy, swaddled in several layers, let out an excited yell and ran forward to meet him, arms outstretched.

The woman smiled, sauntering forward, and having decided that this was standard procedure for the evening, the soldiers began trickling back to where they’d come out from. Bull watched as Alistair hugged the boy tightly, pushing the cover off his head to smile down at him. He was dark haired, pale skinned, with bright, intelligent eyes and a warm smile. He took after his mother, clearly.

“I missed you,” the boy said, and Alistair hugged him tighter.

“Oh, I’ve missed you too. When your mother said you were flying, I thought you meant on a plane.”

The boy laughed, and grabbed his hand as the woman walked over, hugging Alistair. She was exceptionally beautiful, and slightly familiar to him. She dressed oddly, with gold at her neck and feathers in odd places. Very Fereldan of her, he supposed.

“Morrigan,” Alistair said wryly, but he was smiling. “This is a nice surprise. Thank you.”

“It was that or be complained at for the next three weeks. Kieran, go tell Aunt Rose we’re here.”

The boy, Kieran apparently, beamed and bolted towards the tavern where Rosalyn had just walked outside. “Aunt Rose, Aunt Rose!”

Rosalyn laughed, catching him and easily hoisting him into the air to make him laugh. He hugged her when he was set down, and darted over to hug Zevran as well.

“Oh ho, look who’s gotten so tall,” Zevran teased, and Bull felt something twist in his chest at the easy family they all had. “You have grown at least six inches! You will pass me soon, how unfortunate!”

Kieran laughed, running over to hug Leliana, who laughed brightly. “Well well, this is a nice surprise. How is my favorite nephew?”

“I’m your only nephew, Aunt Lily!”

The group made their way over, Alistair and Morrigan taking their time and quietly talking between themselves. Kieran was practically vibrating with excitement, and hurried back over to hug Alistair. He laughed, letting Kieran stand on his feet and walking them over.

“Hello,” Morrian said, looking them over. “Morrigan. We met briefly at Halamshiral, Inquisitor Lavellan. This is my son, Kieran.”

Kieran turned around, clutching Alistair’s hands. “Mother didn’t say you were an elf,” he said, smiling at Lavellan as he swung their joined hands. “You’re very beautiful, but I don’t understand why your people want to look like that.”

Lavellan tapped her face. “The tattoos, you mean?”

“Yes. They weren’t very nice about it.” He looked sad for a minute, but shrugged. “You have one of my people though! That’s nice. I didn’t expect to see any. It’s been a very long time.”

Morrigan’s eyes flicked to Dorian, who lifted an eyebrow. Bull wrapped an arm around him, and the eyebrow raised further.

“Perhaps we should take this somewhere else,” Leliana said gently, and Cole appeared at her side, staring in fascination. Kieran brightened, staring back.

oOo

They moved up to the dining room, losing a few people along the way who were just too tired or uninterested, though Dorian had no idea how. Vivienne was reluctant, but had time sensative potions that needed finishing, Sera wasn’t too excited to be around a woman who could turn into a dragon at will even if she did think Rosalyn was amazing, and Josephine was dragged away to manage a fight that had broken out between courtiers. Merrill and Solas stayed back, but Dorian thought nothing of it. He was too fascinated by this strange little family.

Alistair was clearly reluctant to let Kieran go, and Kieran even more reluctant to let him go, so the two of them moved out of the way to play chess while the rest settled in to talk. Cole crouched at his side, watching them play and offering commentary that made Kieran laugh.

“Kieran is a normal child,” Morrigan said as she took a cup of tea from Leliana. “He just happens to have the soul of Urthemiel.”

Dorian paused in his drinking, and the rest of the room stared.

“I’m sorry,” he said slowly, and Morrigan looked up. “Is that what he meant by “one of his people”? Me? The Tevinter?”

“It seems that way.” She shrugged. “He has no powers, to speak of. Feels magic and the fade, but cannot interact. And he is a cherished, beloved member of our family.”

Rosalyn nodded, watching her husband with a soft smile. “Alistair is so proud of him,” she said quietly. “We can’t have children, you see, so we spoil him mercilessly. He is Alistair’s son, and the closest I’ll get. We love him dearly.”

“Does the Arishok know about him?” Bull asked quietly.

Leliana chuckled, and Morrigan hid a smile.

“Our dear Sten has a wicked sense of humor, and sends him gifts every Urthalis. It took all of ten minutes for him to adore him. It’s very sweet.” Leliana smiled into her tea, missing the looks of interest Morrigan, Zevran, and Rosalyn passed between themselves.

Kieran beat Alistair, and jumped up to run over to Solas, stopping in front of him. The elf raised an eyebrow as Merrill stiffened, looking between the two.

“Did you miss me?” he asked, and Solas brightened. The room stared as he reached up to take his hands, and Kieran smiled.

“I did not think I would, but I did,” Solas said, his voice warping to become Fen’Harel’s. Bull and Dorian both tensed, Dorian's fingers buzzing softly with lightning. “We did not spend much time together, you and I. Two proud, the both of us.”

“Yes,” Kieran said wistfully. “But you are safe now, and you will help, won’t you?”

Solas smiled, nodding. “I will.”

“Well then,” Dorian said tightly, the lightning disappearing from his fingers, “I’m not certain I’m drunk enough to handle all of the things that have been thrown at me today, so who wants to join me in breaking open the liquor cabinet?”

Every hand in the room went up.

“That’s what I thought.”

Chapter Text

The Venatori arrived at a precise 10 o’clock AM the next day, Rilienus once again in the lead of the pack. He was a breathtaking masterpiece in golden and black, his hair intricately braided and beaded in the Antivan style to keep it out of his way. It was he who sat opposite Lavellan when they arrived in the boardroom, the others clustering around the end of the table.

Lavellan had come dressed for war, in inky black that clung to her perfectly. Her hair was kept up with halla bone charms and feathers dangled from long, tiny chains around her face. With Cullen to her right and Dorian in the Inquisition’s military dress blacks beside her, she was an imposing figure.

The Iron Bull was notably not in attendance, and neither were Blackwall, Sera, Cole, or Leliana. Bull had been dragged down to Haven to help with a rash of house fires, Blackwall acting as his liason to the city council as the other fire houses came together to try and help. The other three were busy elsewhere, and had been replaced by Aquinea, who was dressed in her richest mourning reds and had her hair up in an unnervingly tight bun, covered by a sheer red headscarf held down with gold beads. Halward had been called in to serve for the meeting, though Lavellan was not cruel enough to force him to serve the Venatori, and he stood behind her as a silent reminder of her power.

Dorian sat at Lavellan’s left hand, Cassandra a reassuring bulk beside him with Aquinea beyond. He was well hidden behind her, and wanted to keep it that way.

Rilienus reintroduced his compatriots with a wave of his hand and a slightly bored run down of their main titles, and everyone settled in for what was sure to be a long talk.

“Here in the uncivilized South, we try to reserve judgment until proof is given,” Lavellan said, her voice deceptively calm as Halward poured tea for her. “Granted, certain of our number have failed hugely in this regard, but I try to stay open and as understanding as possible.”

“A wise road to take,” one of the other magisters- Orianos, as Dorian recalled- said with an authoritative nod. He was older, and seemed less fanatic than the others. “Good to see in one so young.”

“Thank you, Magister Orianos,” Lavellan said mildly, inclining her head. “While I am certainly no spring chicken, I am aware that I have youth left in me, and I would like to change the world for those who come after me. There are many wrongs that need righting. My daughter would have been six this year, and in her memory I would see the world a better place.”

Had a pin dropped, it would have sounded like a bomb. Only Solas seemed unsurprised by this news, and lavellan was showing none of the emotion she had to be feeling. Rilienus, shockingly, seemed gutted by her words, and Aquinea’s hands shook as she lifted her teacup.

“Shall we get to business, then?” Lavellan said calmly, and sipped her tea.

oOo

When they broke for lunch, Dorian was surprised when a runner found him, a letter in hand. “Serah Pavus,” the runner panted, shoving it into his hand. “There’s a strange pair of your people in the Courtyard. Said to give you this.”

Dorian raised an eyebrow, opening the envelope. There was a plain sheet of notebook paper within, Felix’s handwriting a cramped, contained scrawl on it.

Dorian,
If you’ve received this, we are now out of Skyhold proper, and have gone to the Chateaux d’Lion in New Haven. Duelleon doesn’t know we’re here, destroy this as a precaution. Ask for the Lorissans if you want to see us. I’ve missed you.
Felix

Dorian stared at the letter, fighting back emotion. “Thank you, Jim. The younger one, how did he look?”

“Well enough, Serah. Maybe a little jetlagged, but he didn’t seem weak or anything.”

Dorian smiled, folding the paper up and incinerating it with a thought. “At last, some good news out of this mess.”

oOo

Urthemiel-Kieran is sweet, and Fen’Harel smiles as he looks at the murals, his eyes wide and entranced. The witch-mother that Mythal is far too fond of is in council with Leliana, far above, and Fen’Harel has taken the opportunity to show the boy his work. It was a good choice, it seems. Above all things, Urthemiel-Kieran has fine taste.

“Do they know about you?” Urthemiel-Kieran asks, his words almost clumsy on his tongue. His speech is sometimes labored, Morrigan had warned him, one of Alistair’s less desirable trains that Urthemiel-Kieran is slow to outgrow.

“Some do. Not all of them. I will not tell them for some time.” He sits on his desk, watching as Urthemiel-Kieran looks up at the painting of Lavellan, awed. He is so young and so innocent still, and Fen'Harel feels a swell of fondness. A child, yet to grow into something hard and cruel. “Why is Dorian one of yours?”

Urthemiel-Kieran smiles, turning to him. “His blood is mine. His family. The father is mine also, but not as much. The soldier is of Toth, the mother of Razikale. Dorian, I think, I would have taken as a priest.”

The Old God of beauty, Fen’Harel remembers. The Opulent One, desirous of all things glorious, more magpie than dragon. There was something very poetic about that.

“He would be a good priest,” Fen’Harel says, and Urthemiel-Kieran nods, wistful. He looks up, touching the painted robe on the wall with delicate, reverent fingers.

“I wonder how this story ends. Will there be fire and death? Or will there be flowers?” He smiles, looking fondly up at the serene Lavellan. “I hope for flowers.”

oOo

Aquinea found her on the battlements, staring out over the rushing river. She draped a coat over her shoulders, gently smoothing it so the wind wouldn’t catch it and take it away.

“It never gets easier, does it?” Lavellan asked quietly.

“It does, and it does not.” Aquinea pulled her headscarf off, and pulled her bun free. Her hair fell in long, dark waves down her back, loosening as the wind tugged at it. “It is particularly hard on the days when I let myself wonder what I could have done differently.”

“I was very young,” Lavellan said, watching a pair of hawks swooping down through the mountains. “There was a hunter who I was very close with. I have never had any desire for romance or sex, and never sought to change that about myself, but I wanted a child very badly. I have always desired motherhood, and I thought he would make a fine donor. He agreed, and the Keeper helped me conceive. But the pregnancy was harder on me than they expected. She came early, and died in my arms. They almost lost me as well. My body was far too damaged to try for another.”

Aquinea sighed. “There is no reason, for me. It was close, with Dorian, but as you see he lived and grew up strong. The rest… there was no clear reason that I could not carry them to term.” She surveyed the mountains with tired eyes. “However, if there is one thing I have learned, it is not birth that makes a mother. Oh, certainly it can, but I think it is rather more the desire to protect, to lead, to raise up what others wish to cast down.”

Lavellan bowed her head, smiling a little when Aquinea draped her headscarf around her shoulders.

“Take as long as you need,” Aquinea said, squeezing her shoulder. “I'll make your excuses.”

She left the battlements, her skirts flowing richly around her feet . Dorian was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, darkly handsome, and as she stepped down he offered his arm.

“I think I'll have to skip out on the afternoon's meetings,” he said quietly as they strolled towards the main gate. “There's been a bit of a surprise in town, and I need to go and check on a few things.”

“Should I be concerned?” Aquinea asked as they came to a stop, out of earshot of the guards. Dorian shook his head.

“I should be just fine. I'll take my staff, but it's only a precaution.”

She considered him, eyes sharp. “Mind yourself, son of mine.”

“Always, mother.” He kissed her cheek, and sandalwood lingered in her nose as she watched him go.

Chapter Text

Chateaux d'Leon was not the nicest hotel in New Haven, but it was nicer than most. The building itself wouldn't have looked out of place in Val Royeaux. It was painted blue and white and there was a fountain outside the door. The interior was covered in gilt, plush green armchairs, and a borderline disturbing amount of small winged babies painted on the ceiling. Bull, Dorian knew, would absolutely adore it, and resolved to find some time to go with him. They could both certainly use a vacation.

Dorian was given directions to Suite 324, also known as “The Yellow Suite”, according to the very nervous man at the front desk, and took the ridiculously fancy elevator up to the third floor. The carpets on this floor were plush and deep blue, with a pattern that made them look like they had rugs on top of them in yellow and soft orange. His footsteps were swallowed by the thickness of the carpet, and when he reached 324 he took a minute to compose himself before knocking.

It was a bit before the door opened to reveal Alexius. Dorian ducked his head, shoulders drooping.

“Hello,” he said weakly.

Alexius sighed, stepping aside to let him in. “What am I to do with you, boy?” he said with tired fondness. He looked older than when Dorian had last seen him, worn out and tired, but his eyes were as bright as ever. “Come in. Felix will be pleased to see you.”

Dorian stepped inside, taking in the warm yellow walls and bright, cheery furniture. “The Yellow Suite” truly hadn't done justice in describing just how loud everything was. His eyes were watering slightly. Felix was comfortably installed in an overstuffed armchair in one corner, writing in his journal. He was thinner than he had been when Dorian last saw him, his hair sheared short rather than long or pulled up into a bun like he'd once kept it. Never one for fashion, he had wrapped himself in a comfortable bright yellow hoodie with brown trim, and massively over sized sweatpants.

“Well, look who it is,” Felix said, shutting the little book and setting it aside. His smile was bright and cheerful, and he rose carefully so Dorian could hug him. While his face was gaunt, his core was solid, and Dorian basked in how sturdy he still felt. Felix gave the best hugs. “It's so good to see you, Dorian.”

“Missed you,” Dorian mumbled into his shoulder, keeping his arms tight. “I missed you so much, you have no idea.”

“Well, I'm here now.” Felix didn't try to pull away, just swayed back and forth as if Dorian were a child that needed soothing. He was slightly ashamed at how much safer it made him feel. “See? I'm here, I'm safe, and so are you.”

Dorian felt tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. “I just want you to know that being an adult is very difficult.”

Felix laughed, finally pulling back to look at him. “Oh, believe me, I know. You look better.”

“I feel more alive here,” he admitted as Gereon fetched drinks. “Less like I'm going to be swallowed up at any moment. And people date here, it's bizarre. Is it true that I'm engaged?”

Felix nodded. “Livia Herathinos. She studied at the Circle in Minrathous, and has holdings in Solas. Quite pretty, and exceptionally blood thirsty. She's angling for Magister by 27, and she might just make it. She's been apprenticing with Magister Ocantrix.”

Gereon tutted, handing him wine. “I really don't know what your parents were thinking in keeping you betrothed, she's a terrible match. Her sole redeeming feature is her thesis on experimental healing magic for severed limbs. And Felix is right, you do look much better. I hear you father is here?”

“Yes, and my mother, the new Magister Pavus. From what I hear, Archon Radonis is quite taken with her.” He took the wine gratefully.

“You've heard correctly. She has his ear and interest, a dangerous combination. She makes quite the picture, siting in the Senate in her mourning red with her husband still living.” Gereon drank deeply, and Dorian tried to remember the last time he'd seen him even touch alcohol. “Your father- it's true? He willingly gave up his seat?”

“Yes. He's currently serving as kitchen staff while collared. Lavellan was gifted a mage collar, and he wears it now. He claims he wants to make it up to me. Hah.” He sipped at his wine. “As if he ever could.”

“What happened?” Gereon asked.

“Well, the short story is that he tried to change me with blood magic and I ran,” Dorian said lightly, clutching the wine glass far too tightly. A faint frost of ice snuck across the surface of the wine. Felix inhaled sharply, and Gereon swore lowly, his eyes flashing. “I'm fine, no lasting damage. Well, no physical damage, at least. My mind is a little pained. I'll survive. Having Rilienus here isn't helping much. My memories have begun to come back in greater numbers.”

The wine in Gereon's glass began boiling, and Dorian stared at it as Gereon carefully set the glass on the table.

“Is that so?” he said, his voice perfectly controlled. “Are you well, Dorian?”

“As well as could be expected,” he said cautiously, and Gereon took a slow, calming breath as Felix watched the two of them warily, dark eyes flicking between them like he wanted to intervene but didn't quite dare.

Gereon trailed his fingers over the table, letting out a slow breath. “I see.” He flicked a speck of dust off the table cloth. “I've come to watch the talks with the Venatori. Only to observe, not to act. Do you think that your Lavellan will agree to ally with them?”

“Not a chance. Gereon, why are you still mixed up in all this?” Dorian asked, taking a drink of his wine far larger than polite. Gereon sighed, and Felix looked away, a shadow of anger on his face.

“We've made much progress in a cure for the Blight, and the Venatori offer both the funds and the means to see it done. I don't- well. It is not ideal, but we're out of options.” Gereon ran a hand over a haggard face. “Which is beside the point. I simply wanted you to know that we were here, in case you intended to return with us.”

Dorian stared at the floor, heart in his throat. “I don't know if I'll be going back,” he said, barely able to get the words out. Felix jerked, looking alarmed. “I don't know if I can call it home anymore. I love Tevinter, truly, and I want to change it for the better, but I don't know if Tevinter is willing to take me back. I won't hide who I am, I just won't. Andraste's tits, we're in the Dragon Age. I'm done skulking in shadows like I should be ashamed of who I am, or accepting people like Rilienus as the only ones that would love me. I'm better than that, and I know that now.” He forced his head up, the terror still sticking in his throat, but he forced the words out. “I won't go back until I know my work is finished here, and have people who'll stand by me despite everything Tevinter will throw at them.”

Gereon looked oddly proud, if a little exasperated. “I can't say this is a surprise,” he said, smiling a little. “I'm not happy that you feel like you can't come home, but I am... I am pleased that you've found a happier life, at least. I hope that you're happy.”

“I am,” Dorian said, his voice shaking a little. “It's quite strange.”

Gereon let out a bark of a laugh, and Felix stood up to hug Dorian around the shoulders. Dorian leaned into him, and wondered, not for the first time, when things would get back to some sort of normal.

oOo

The messages started pouring in almost as soon as Felix and he had exchanged numbers and Dorian had been on his way.

He's planning something. I don't know what, but something big. It has to be.

Dorian leaned against a building in a patch of sunlight, tightening his scarf around his neck. The wind was biting sharply that day. What do you mean?

He keeps talking about something called Corphis?? getting what's coming to him
I'm worried

Dorian knew better than to worry at his lip, but did so anyway. The chatter and bustle of the cafe so kindly lending him its walls was soothing as he tapped out, Promise that you'll tell me if he makes a move.

He could practically hear the snort when Felix texted back, Of course.

oOo

By the time he reached Skyhold, Felix had sent him five cat videos and caught him up to speed on half the gossip from the Magisterium. Dorian almost felt at home as he passed by Krem, who was stalking through the ranks while Cullen watched with slightly pink cheeks. Dorian generally tried not to think too much about what their sex life must be like- he had the sneaking suspicion it was both incredibly filthy and supremely vanilla. However in the Maker's name that worked. He rounded the corner and was surprised to see that Hawke's beast of a truck was parked there.

“Wonderful,” he muttered, and took the stairs up to the kitchen. He pushed open the door, stepped inside, and immediately regretted his decision. Fenris was arguing with a blond man by the main counters, the two of them wolfing down food on plates before them as one of the kitchen workers stared in terrified awe. There was an extremely impressive spread on the table,

“-terrible idea,” he was saying, and his head snapped around to look at Dorian. Dorian's knees buckled, but he forced himself to stay upright. “Ah. The magister.”

“Magister?” The blond said, craning his head to look at Dorian. He was a thoroughly gaunt man, looking to have missed a few too many meals. Three of Skyhold's mousers were asleep around him, purring up a storm.

“I'm not a magister,” Dorian muttered vindictively. “When did you arrive?”

“I don't see how it matters,” Fenris said with a one shouldered shrug.

“Who is he?” The blond asked, and Fenris snorted, looking back at his plate.

“He's the one teaching the- Merrill, necromancy.” Fenris jabbed at his plate, spearing a piece of meat.

“Oh, that's interesting.”

“Right, well,” Dorian said, a little unnerved, “I'll just... be going then.”

“You do that,” Fenris muttered, and the blond gave him a cheery wave as he shot through the kitchen and hurried up the stairs.

oOo

“Merrill,” he said as he reached her, “Fenris is talking with a very skinny blond man in the kitchen, who is he?”

“Oh, you mean Anders?”

oOo

“I cannot believe how trapped in this we've become,” Dorian muttered as they prepared for bed. Bull was already there, stiff and tired from a long shift. “Anders in the kitchen, Hawke in the garden, the Warden and her people here, there, everywhere, my friends in the city... It's all so odd. How'd we end up talking with all these incredible people?”

“Not a clue,” Bull mumbled, and Dorian climbed into bed and settled in Bull's waiting arms. “You're pretty damn incredible yourself.”

“Oh, hush.” Dorian kissed his collarbones, and Bull smiled sleepily. “I love you, you know.”

Bull squeezed him gently. “I do know. And I love you too.”

Dorian traced absent patterns on his chest, and sighed heavily. “I'm not sure what to do about my inheritance. I have the potential to go back, be a Magister, try and save the world, and all I really want is to be selfish and stay here with you. Is that wrong?”

Bull huffed out a soft laugh. “I'm the last person you should be asking that, kadan. I might be a little biased. All I want is you, happy.”

Dorian smiled into his skin, stretching up to kiss his cheek. “You're so good to me, love.”

“I try.” Bull rubbed one massive hand over his back, his eye softening. “Whatever you decide to do, I'll try to support you. Even if you go back. We'll make it work somehow. I can't say that long distance would be fun, but I guess phone sex would be interesting.”

Dorian snorted, sitting up and straddling him. Bull's hands fell to his hips, rubbing slowly circles there. “We would have amazing phone sex and you know it.”

“We would,” Bull agreed, grinning. “You like hearing me talk filthy.”

“That does sound like me, yes.” Dorian smiled down at him, and leaned down to kiss him slow and sweet. Bull sighed into it, his hand going to cup the back of Dorian's neck. When Dorian pulled back, it was just enough to breathe, “Care to indulge me?”

Chapter Text

“It'll be a nice night,” Lavellan said as they walked the rounds across the battlements. New Haven glittered far below them, a belt of shining, gleaming lights that sparkled through the valley. “Clear, and both moons full.”

“Nights like these are when blood is shed,” Cullen said quietly, and they stopped to look out over the valley. The University spire in the distance was a gleaming coil, lights spiraling up around it in an imitation of the idea of circle tower. “With the half dark, real darkness rises.”

“So dramatic,” Lavellan snorted, grinning at him. All the same, she felt a bit of unease coil in her stomach as surely as the spire's lights. “But tonight we're safe as houses. Go to sleep, Cullen. There are no Venatori in our walls, the gates are barred, and Pavus is collared. Much as I wish he were little more than ash. Krem's safe, our people are safe, we have the Hero of Ferelden and the Champion of Kirkwall in residence right now along with a Warden, three powerful mages, a small army of recruits, two master archers, a Seeker, and Leliana. No one with an ounce of sense would attack us.”

“I'm worried about those without it,” Cullen muttered, but stepped away from the wall. “I'll see you at the morning meeting.”

“Sleep well.”

Lavellan made her way back to her room, and prepared without her usual ease thanks to her talk with Cullen. She was so distracted she didn't see the small, thin box that had held the collar was slightly askew. Had she checked inside, she would have see that the tiny control rod on its thin chain had been removed.

oOo

It was 3 AM when Dorian's phone buzzed on the bedside table. He reluctantly cracked an eye open, glaring sharply at the little machine. Bull shifted in his sleep, rumbling. Reluctantly Dorian dragged a hand over his face and rubbed his eyes to get them to focus.

Felix's number had texted him, and he opened it with a sense of dread.

Father left with V. Tried to drug me. Warn them.

Dorian jolted upright, adrenaline flooding him, and thumped Bull's chest. “Bull, wake up, now.”

Bull groaned, cracking his eye open. “Wassamatter?”

“The Venatori are heading to Skyhold,” Dorian said, scrambling out of bed and grabbing the pants than he'd left dropped on the floor from earlier that evening. “Get dressed, I'm sure we're about to have a fight on our hands.”

Bull cursed sharply, rolling out of bed and grabbing his pants. Dorian pulled on the closest available shirt, a red thing that would have been quite fetching with his black pants if not for the fact that it was on inside out. He shoved boots on his feet and grabbed his staff while Bull was already out the door with the dragon-tooth maul thrown across his back.

“I'll go to the gate! Get Lavellan!” Dorian called, and Bull pounded down the hallway in the other direction. He was halfway down the hall when Aquinea's door flew open. She was holding a bottle of pills, eyes blazing.

“I found this in the wastebasket, and the seal on the wine was already broken when I checked for a nightcap,” she said, her hand tight around it. “Find him, Dorian.”

“Be ready for a fight,” Dorian called as he sprinted away, bursting out onto the battlements. He had a sinking suspicion he knew where to find his father, and dreaded being proved right.

oOo

The guardhouse looked unreal.

Dorian stepped over the dead with careful feet, only years of training keeping him from hurling. You couldn't be a necromancer and be squeamish. It had been years since death had affected him so deeply, but then, he hadn't known those whose bodies he had seen. But he could put names to the damaged faces now, and people to the bloody hands and blank eyes. There was Joshua, the former convict that Leliana had taken in, who had been a conman but believed in the Inquisition and Lavellan. Beside him was Roshana from the Anderfels, beautifully blonde, wicked tongued and a terrible Wicked Grace player. Neria, Leann, Brigette, Lorei, Hendy, Yonathan, Roran, the list went on.

With blood soaked boots, he reached the winch room. He was just in time to see his father set down the final line of a flame glyph in blood, a body falling to the ground off of a butcher knife.

“A very trusting child, you always were,” Halward said without turning around. “So determined to please. Marco was always just bursting with pride when we spoke. And then you went and developed a moral code all on your own. Vows, honor, all of that.” Blood dripped from his hands, steady, heavy plops to the floor. “You couldn't just be like everyone else, take a bloody mistress, have done with it. Oh no, not my child, my son who would have been Archon. I failed to remove what I disliked, and now I know what I have to fix. It's not you, it's society. And Gereon swears that Corypheus will remake the Imperium to allow your kind.”

Dorian couldn't breathe, transfixed by the horrific sight.

Halward finally turned around, his face speckled with blood. “After tonight, the Elder One will take the first steps in granting my wish.” He flicked the blood from the long, fat knife, eyes darkening. “I will fix this, once and for all. We will remake the Imperium anew.”

“You're mad,” Dorian said shakily, stepping back. “You've never believed in any of that.”

“I believe that you should be happy, and I will fix this,” Halward said, his eyes blazing. “That was why I tried in the first place to fix you, but now I see it's the world that needs to change. We'll find a new way, a new order.”

He could hear the growing clamor from out in the courtyard, and an alarm siren sounded from the Keep. “Father, please,” he pleaded, heart aching as he heard the Venatori pour through the gate. “Don't make me hurt you.”

“You won't need to.”

They both turned to see Aquinea in the doorway, and Dorian rushed to her side. “Ama-”

“Go,” Aquinea said bluntly, pulling her staff out. Lightning snarled to life around the ball as Halward's butcher's knife burst into flame.

“Ama,” Dorian said, heart pounding as Halward's face twisted with pain and fury.

“Dorian, for once in your life you will listen and leave this to me,” she snapped, the skirt of her red dress billowing in the wind. Halward approached and they backed up until all three of them were out on the battlements. The sounds of fighting ripped the air, screams of battle cries echoing out into the night. “My husband died years ago, I was simply too blind to see.” She slammed the staff on the stone, splitting it as lightning crashed down from the sky and lit her like a beacon. “Go, show them what we can do.”

Dorian ran, a tear streaking down his face before he brushed it away and gripped his staff tighter.

The soldiers had clearly been through. There was a great pool of the dead along the stairs, a few of the Inquisition among their number. He swallowed down his bile and took a deep breath. He had been trained for such things, after all. He almost tripped on one of the Venatori bodies laying on the stairs, and he forced himself to breathe and call it to false life. The body staggered upright, clutching a sword.

“Please,” he whispered into the baffling not-here of the Fade. “Just for a little while, help me.”

Bodies rose like a wave around him, eyes blazing with unnatural life. He tightened his grip on his magic just as Felix burst in, clutching a long staff without ornamentation. He looked wild, splattered with blood. “Rilienus is in the courtyard,” he said without preamble. “He has Erimond with him. Orianos has switched sides, he's dueling Thosius.”

“Lavellan?” Dorian demanded, holding tight to the bonds of the dead.

“Has bigger problems.”

With horrifically perfect timing, the wailing, heart stopping scream of a dragon split the air. As one, they bolted from the room in time to see a massive dragon approaching. Below, Solas and Kieran walked through the fighters without fear, Lavellan at the door to the Great Hall. As they watched, Solas changed, seeming taller, broader. Kieran stretched, and suddenly there was a dragon before them. Solas leapt onto his back, fire racing down his staff, and Kieran took to the air with an scream of fury. His body wrapped with purple and gold light, shimmering magics stretching long around his suddenly spined body like the finest of silks. He gleamed like a purple gem, the floodlights turning to the sky to light him up as the red dragon collided with him.

Felix and Dorian watched as he clashed with the dragon, crackling purple lightning spitting from his mouth to light up the wings of the other.

“Maker,” Felix breathed, eyes wide.

“Felix,” Dorian said, grabbing his arm. “Felix, you should get out of here!”

“Not a chance,” Felix said, shaking his head without taking his eyes off the dragons. “My idiot father is here, and as much as I would love to be anywhere but, I ought to try and save his sorry skin.”

“If you say so.” They both ducked as a fireball screamed up, splashing against the wall beside them, and Dorian winced. “Well, find him and then get him out. And if I don't see you again-”

“I love you too, brother of mine,” Felix said, flashing him a smile in the dark. “Now, go.”

They split up, Felix vanishing into the building as Dorian ran the other way.

Dorian turned the corner and barely got a barrier up in time to block a fireball that came flying at him, and shouted out in fear as a bladed staff nearly caught his shoulder. He parried with his staff and swung out blindly, cracking the assailant over the head and knocking him out. There was a furious yell from one of the others, and he slammed the staff into his chest, pushing him back. He reached out blindly with his magic and pulled his dead Venatori forward, setting them on their former comrades. The screams echoed in their air, and a few cut short. Blue light flashed beside him, and Dorian pressed up against the wall.

“Not bad, altus.” Fenris punched out one of the Venatori, turning to look over the next set. “None of our own, I see.”

Dorian parried a bladed staff, and Fenris sunk his hand into his attackers chest. “You never raise your own,” he panted. “Because you don't want to let them go again.” Fenris ripped the heart out, and Dorian gained a new soldier. “Merrill, have you seen her?”

“She is alive and facing her own battles. You need not worry, she survived Kirkwall.” He flashed a dark smile, wiping off his gauntlets on his leggings. “See to the Magister brat. He's facing Lavellan.”

“I'll go,” he said, wiping blood from his face. “The Iron Bull-”

“I make no promises, but I will try to send him your way when I can.”

Dorian nodded, and with a short wave he ran towards the upper courtyard. Above, he could see a dance of fire and earth, his parents duel shooting light and violence into the sky. Out of the dust and smoke Krem emerged, a long gash down his cheek. He was carrying a fire axe, the head glittering wetly with blood.

“The Chief?” he asked, breathing heavy.

“I haven't seen him,” Dorian said, his voice shaking a little. “Krem, your cheek-”

“I'm fine. Cassandra and I can match.” His teeth were a sharp flash of white in the half-dark. “Stay safe.” He pushed past him, grabbing another, shorter axe from a body on the ground.

Dorian's Venatori corpses jogged forward, attacking a horde of their comrades to clear the way for him. He passed Orianos and Thosius, who were in a masterwork duel that he would have loved to marvel at if not for the fact that there were people doing their best to kill him. His Venatori took down wave after wave of them as he manipulated the corpses, stealing lyrium from their pouches as he carved a swath of destruction through the battle. Where had they all come from?

There was a bellow from the other size of the courtyard, by the tavern, and Dorian immediately ran towards it. He would know Bull's voice everywhere, and when he reached him it was just in time to have one of his Venatori throw themselves in front of a sword meant for Bull's chest. Another took off the head of his attacker, and Dorian panted with effort, redirecting them to form a circle around them. Bull was wild eyed, staring at his horde. His whole right side was awash with blood, obviously not his own, and he looked to Dorian.

“What happened?”

“Got cornered,” he said, breathing heavily. “You okay, kadan?”

“I've been better,” Dorian said with a slightly hysterical laugh. “I- oh, Maker, I've killed people tonight. We need to help Lavellan.”

“You got it.” Bull grabbed a hefty club from off the ground, and Dorian's swarm of corpses closed ranks around them to protect them as they waded into the fight.

After a few short fights ending with three more dead in his horde, Bull yelled, “It's the slavers!”

“What?”

“I told you there were slavers I saw in New Haven! Most of these guys are them! They must have been planning this for a while.”

With an all mighty crash, they saw Lavellan shoot an entire wall of ice up into the air to slam down on unsuspecting Venatori, and Dorian grabbed Bull's arm. “Bull, look.”

Rilienus had slipped away from the fight and was ducking through a little door set into the wall. Bull nodded.

“I'll get him.”

“I'll join you in a moment, I'm going to hand control of these over to Merrill.”

Bull hesitated, then swooped down to kiss him hard. “I love you.”

Dorian reached up, touching his face, and smiled shakily. “I know.”

They broke apart, Bull running for the door while Dorian aimed his Venatori and began the hunt for Merrill. Smoke and screams filled the air, and he hurried through it all, looking desperately. A hail of arrows came down from the top of the tavern, narrowly missing him, and he looked to see Sera picking off Venatori one by one with perfect precision. Turning again, he looked to the Great Hall and watched as plants burst up to stab through some Venatori rushing the stairs. He ran that way, seeing Merrill highlighted from the light of the Great Hall, and formed his dead Venatori into a diamond to push all the others off the stairs. Merrill was waiting at the top, her eyes wild.

“Here,” Dorian said, tightening the reins of the dead. “I need you to take them, I have unfinished business to settle with Rilienus.”

“Of course,” she nodded, and hesitated. “Close your eyes for the transfer.”

“What?”

“Please, just- trust me.”

He did, holding out his hand. She clasped it, and he handed off the spell to her. For a moment it warred with him, reluctant to let go to another, but then eased into her hands. Dorian let go with a gasp of relief, shaken, and opened his eyes. The Venatori were all paying tight attention to Merrill, and he glanced down at her hands.

They were covered in blood.

“You're hurt!”

“No,” she said, guilt streaking over her face. “I- I did it to myself.”

He stared, the implications hitting him like a hammer to the chest. “Merrill-”

“Can we talk about this later?” she pleaded. “Just know that I never use any but my own.”

“I...” Fear and fondness warred with each other, and fondness won. The Merrill he knew wouldn't fall to demons, and Dorian nodded. “Be careful.”

Merrill nodded, and Dorian ran back down the stairs. He had a prior appointment to see to.

oOo

Bull descended into the darkness, the stone walls absorbing sound from the raging fight above them. He passed a fire extinguisher and axe and paused before walking back and breaking in the glass to wrench the axe out of its case. It was small for him, but still heavy, and he walked on. The glass crunched to fine powder beneath his boots. The dungeons were icy cold, and Bull's breath fogged as he hefted the axe. The head gleamed in the dingy light from a bulb that swung, pendulous, in the center of the room. High above, he could faintly hear the dragons battling, the screeching echoing down to land hollowly against the walls. He took a careful step, looking around. Lavellan rarely used the dungeons, preferring to get judgments finished as swiftly as possible. As a result, they weren't in very good repair. The faint drip of water echoed around the room.

With a faint pop, the little light died and he was left standing in the pitch black room, empty and silent. Bull waited patiently, eye straining in the darkness.

Slowly but surely there was a soft slithering sound, and the ancient sconces on the wall lit with veilfire to reveal Rilienus standing near the end by the other doorway. He truly was a beautiful man, but there was something off about him, something that suggested a lizard about to shed old skin.

“The Iron Bull,” Rilienus said with great relish. His voice seemed lower, more melodic than before. “You and I are overdue a chat.”

“I think you're overdue a good, long death,” Bull said, keeping his voice cool and steady.

Rilienus laughed, a lovely sound, like crisp honey. “I'd heard that my Dorian had taken to fucking an ox,” he said. “And yet I didn't expect you to care much about what happened to him. He's just another mage, after all. What would a Qunari care about some puffed up little bas saarebas?”

“I'm not Qunari anymore,” Bull said, taking a step forward. The faint tinkle of glass behind him let him know that Dorian was approaching.

“Oh, even better,” Rilienus said, his smile cruel. “Instead, he can be fucked by an ox going slowly but surely insane. I wonder how long before you snap and kill him, hmmm? Wrap your fingers around that pretty little neck and just press. I was certainly tempted a time or two. He can be so obnoxious, always whining about this or that. It was such a pleasure to strangle him into unconciousness sometimes. He makes the most delightful little noises, you see, this tiny high pitched whine, and he likes to look you in the eyes until he passes out.”

“You're sick,” Bull said quietly.

“Oh, it's been said, by infinitely more boring people than you.” Rilienus waved his arm airily.

Bull tightened his grip on the axe, frowning. Something was slightly off about his smile, something slightly odd, but he couldn't place what it was. “Why did you even take him in the first place, if you hate him so much?”

Rilienus smiled at him, and understanding hit in an instant. The smile was too wide, slightly elastic- the face was all wrong. “Why, because he was beautiful, of course! I had to keep him. Him and his beauty, and that wonderful mind? Bending both to my will was a dream. So perfect. He was the perfect addition to my life- a trophy, if you will. A prize, for all my hard work. The perfect, demure little husband that I kept tight under a thrall.”

“And Rilienus?” Bull said. “What did you get by taking his form?”

“What?” Rilienus' eyes were brighter than natural, the pupils too big and the whites too intense.

“I should have figured it out sooner,” Bull said, taking another careful step into the dungeon. “It was how he described you. A beautiful man, skin like fine whiskey, eyes like warm honey. Shit like that. The dreams were another clue. After years of blissful ignorance, he starts to remember. There's no trauma to jog his memory, you just thought the time was right.”

Rilienus froze, staring at him, and then smile broadened. It grew grotesque, stretching literally from ear to ear. “This body was what sold it. Look at him! So beautiful, so elegant, so graceful! What a magnificient form. He was powerful, glorious, clever, and well positioned for what I wanted. He even had pretty Dorian on his arm, a weapon all on his own, and so I molded him to become the perfect pet. I wanted power, I want the Imperium herself, and he's primed to take it. I have to take out this little hotbed first, however. Even if it is run by the wrong Chantry, Radonis wants them to come in and clean house on his magisters and I can't have that. I want it all.”

Dorian stepped out from behind Bull, eyes fixed on the demon in Rilienus' form.

“How long?” he whispered.

“Hello, my love,” Rilienus crooned at him, eyes bright and greedy. “You were mine four months after you began sleeping with him. Tch tch, never noticing the change in bed partners. Doesn't bode well for the future.”

“It was you,” he hissed, gripping his staff tight. “That's why I couldn't keep you out of my dreams.”

“Oh, you did very well,” Rilienus said, taking a few steps forward. His fingers had grown longer, unnatural and uncomfortable. “Fen'Harel himself helped you, I saw, and some of those traps were very clever. But anything I desire, I take. I drew fear demons to you, and once they had gorged on the memories I brought forth I devoured them to grow my own power. You satisfied me after a time, as much as anything can, and then I began my trip here.”

“What are you?” Dorian demanded, and Bull's grip on the axe turned somewhat painful from the tension.

“Me?” Rilienus drew up as if offended. “I'm a choice spirit. Call me Imshael.”

“Oh?” Bull said. “And what else do they call you?”

Imshael grinned, his teeth growing long and ugly. “Envy.”

Dorian slammed his staff on the ground, barely getting a barrier up as Imshael exploded his human form to reveal his true self. Bull breathed out a prayer, staring in horror at the pasty white, spidery limbs, the horrific grinning face, and the multitude of eyes. Dorian's eyes were wide with horror, but before Imshael could charge he rallied and threw lightning at him. It connected and Imshael screamed in fury, breaking Bull's horrified fascination enough for him to lunge forward and swing the axe right into his spindly stomach. He hauled it back out as black blood splashed onto the floor, only to hack again as Dorian threw fire and ice in rapid succession, blasting off patches of skin.

Imshael lunged towards him, and Bull grabbed the arms, twisting the weak things so they were trapped, and dragged him back against his chest.

“Dorian, now!”

Bull held on tight as the flames rushed from Dorian's hands, making the demon twist and scream. He clung on with all his strength, refusing to let go even as the heat soaked in and began to blister the skin. Dorian was pouring every ounce of fury and pain from those years of torture into his flames, and with a final wail the thing that had been Rilienus went limp and dissolved into ash on the floor.

The room was silent save for Dorian's hitched breaths as lowered his arms, and as the spots faded from his vision Bull stepped over the pile to pull him into his arms. Dorian buried his face against him, clutching him tightly.

“It's over,” Bull whispered. “It's over.”

“I love you,” Dorian choked out, arms tight around him. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Bull pressed kisses all over his forehead and cheeks, taking a shaking breath. “It's over, Dorian, you're free.”

“Never again,” Dorian said. “Never, ever again.”

Chapter Text

When they emerged from the dungeons, it was to the stench of death lying heavy on the ground and the battle ended. Urthemiel was perched on top of the keep, screaming his victory. The other dragon was nowhere to be seen. Felix sat on the steps up to the Great Hall, a pike beside him and Gereon's body in his lap. He was crying silently, straightening his fathers shirt over and over, but it was obvious the man was dead. Dorian froze, his heart wrenching, and tore himself away from Bull to go to him. Felix's tears were falling hard and fast, and Dorian stared down at the body he held. Gereon's face was peaceful, but he seemed so small, a mere caricature of the man Dorian had once laughed and joked with.

“What...”

“He went for a soldier with a spear,” Felix said dully. “She had no choice.”

Dorian sat beside him, reaching out a trembling hand to hold Gereon's in his. They felt so small, where once they seemed like they could fix his entire world. “Rilienus was a demon,” he found himself saying, as if talking to Gereon's body. “He was right, he was right that it was good I had those memories more or less locked away. I want to rip my skin off and grow a new one, one he's never touched.” His voice caught as his hands started to shake. “I never got to thank him, for helping me to get better.”

“He knew,” Felix said, his voice breaking on a sob. “He knew.” He and Dorian leaned their heads together. Felix shuddered with helpless sobs, turning his face into Dorian's neck, and Dorian wrapped his arms around him.

When they were a little more put together, Felix let one of the surgeons cover him, and walked with Dorian through the carnage. Magister Gellherion, the one who had switched sides, lay with eight Venatori attackers dead around him, a sword still in his hand. An Inquisition soldier held the body of one of his fellows. A mage sobbed as shaky healing magic was done on a soldier looking up at her with wild, scared eyes, missing most of his arm. Lavellan was limping, clutching her side as Cole helped her to the healers, her left leg in tatters and a wound in her side. Bull was pulling burning beams off of a pair of terrified recruits with the help of Krem, who bore a long cut down one cheekbone. Bodies were everywhere, both Inquisition and Venatori.

“My mother,” Dorian realized with a jolt. “My mother, have you seen her?”

“No,” Felix said, but Dorian was already running. He took the stairs two at a time, running through Cullen's office and over to the far tower, where the broken rubble was.

Every sign of a massive battle between two powerful mages was visible, from the scorch marks to the cracks in the stone where vines had risen. Aquinea sat against one of the crenellations, holding her side and taking slow breaths around the butcher knife lodged in it. Halward's body lay in a small, bloody heap near the edge of the stable ground. Dorian fell by her side, hands already glowing, and she laughed wetly.

“Ah, my son the necromancer,” she said, a bit of blood trickling from her lips. “I can't say that you're exactly who I want to have healing me.”

“Shut up,” he said, his hands shaking as he concentrated. “I'm all that's available.”

“I know.” She reached up with a bloody hand, touching his cheek. The blood was still hot, sticking to the few hairs on his skin. “For what it's worth, I'm glad you're alive.”

His eyes burned with tears and he took a shuddering breath, trying to concentrate. “I'm glad you're alive too.”

They got the knife out and the wound mostly healed. Dorian went to his father, carefully rolling him over. Halward's eyes were glassy, turned upward to stare at the sky, his hands too blood covered to reveal the tattoo on his finger. Tellingly, there was no wedding ring around his neck.

“Where do you think it went wrong?” he asked, freezing the blood on Halwards hands. It flaked off to reveal the tattoo, just as red as what had covered it.

Aquinea sighed. “There's no way to say, Dorian. He was just as broken as anyone else, and saw a way to make up for his failures. After Rilienus, he was obsessed with your happiness. Somewhere, it went wrong. Somewhere, happiness was twisted to happiness but within his boundaries, and when you broke the rules he lost his mind. He loved you, but in all the wrong ways.”

Dorian reached out to quietly close his fathers eyes.

Together, he and Aquinea made their way to the healers, and Dorian found Bull once she'd been deposited into their care. He looked tired and broken, and Dorian wrapped him up in his arms. The sun was properly over the mountains, and Bull looked up at it as if it would somehow erase the events of the night. They limped their way back to the stairs, and Dorian kissed his neck as they sat there, staring over the battlefield.

“Is it always this bad?” Dorian whispered.

Bull huffed a sad, broken laugh. “Oh, kadan, it's not ever better.”

oOo

Rosalyn's crew disappeared as soon as the bodies were handled, and Hawke's made themselves scarce not soon after. Bull couldn't blame them. Keiran's secret was now out in the open, they would have to go to ground quickly to avoid angry mobs demanding answers. Hawke had other work to do, and was still concealing Anders after all. The place seemed empty without them, but Bull couldn't help his sigh of relief. The city was helping with the efforts, the majority of the people moved down to the hospital. The Chargers team were helping with repairs while Lavellan fussed over them all from her crutches. Her leg had apparently been savaged by a pride demon, but that certainly wasn't slowing her down.

Cullen had taken damage to his hip, shattering it almost beyond repair. He would limp for the rest of his life, and was quietly making plans to shift to a solely desk position. Krem sat with him a great deal, the pair of them simply being quiet together there and playing chess as Dorian helped with recovery.

At some point after the battle, Solas had vanished. He wasn't among the dead, and there were bigger concerns than one elf.

oOo

Archon Radonis arrived at a precise 8:30 AM on the Monday following the Battle of Skyhold in the kind of car that politely screamed old money and ran on magic. He was a tall, slender man, a few shades darker than Dorian and wearing a suit that cost more than most peoples lives. He was accompanied by the Black Divine, Urian Nihalius, a stocky, pale man with his head shaved to reveal tattoos of the Chant of Light coiling dense along his head. He dressed in black, sweeping robes that obscured his form.

Lavellan was waiting for him at the top of the steps into Skyhold, being propped up by Cole. Her face was impassive as they walked up the stairs. Radonis carried no staff and kept no bodyguards- at 55 he was among the longest lived Archons, and incredibly powerful.

“Inquisitor,” he said, his voice low and resonant. He was reportedly an excellent baritone with perfect pitch. “I have no words that could encapsulate the shame I feel on behalf of my countrymen.”

“For your sake, I suggest you try,” she said, and together they went into Skyhold.

oOo

Dorian went to Messare Aclassi, and stood in the door until he was seen. The man looked him over with tired, pained eyes, and beckoned him inside.

The red of the cloth was vicious and vibrant despite years of storage, and Dorian watched as plain, simple drawstring pants came to be while he sat and waited. A few checks of his size, and a long robe with a high collar and long sleeves followed, hitting his knees. Gussetting on the sides from the hips gave him easy movement. He dressed in them silently, and took the long red scarf he was offered, draping it over his head and wrapping it around his neck.

He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and his heart ached. The man in the mirror was the picture of Tevene mourning, plainly dressed and without makeup. Only his hands and face were visible, his hair only slightly peeking out from under the scarf, and he sighed.

“I've fitted many people for funerals,” Messare Aclassi said quietly, walking over to stand beside him. “Wives, husbands, children, there are very few who can find themselves happy to be wearing these things. For some, death is a relief. For others, a tragedy. And past that, there are those times that defy words and emotion. Who can say what you should feel, given the circumstances? But know this.” He waited until Dorian was turned to look at him, and said gravely, “There is no shame in what you have done, or who you are. But it is all right to mourn, to miss what was taken from you.”

Dorian swallowed past the lump in his throat, pressing his hands together before bowing low to Messare Aclassi, far deeper than any Alti should. “Thank you, ser,” he said quietly. “And thank you for giving me the words my father never did.”

oOo

They had built the pyre at night on top of one of the towers, and lit it at dawn, with the Black Divine watching impassive in his black and the Archon in blood red. Aquinea wore black as well, no longer in mourning, with a second red band tattooed on her finger from the day before and the first freshened up. Dorian wished that veils for the Alti were still required so he could hide his face behind it, protect his emotions from showing as Halward's body was consumed by the flames. It was fitting, he supposed, that Halward was devoured by his favorite element. Felix stood beside him, in a deep burgundy. He was obeying only the letter of the rules set down for mourning, and Dorian wouldn't say he blamed him.

Alexius, Halward, and all the others were little more than ash when Urian stepped forward to begin the prayers for the dead in Ancient Tevene. Aquinea, Dorian, and Felix answered dully in the places the call required it, Radonis' rich baritone raising above the rest to sing in unison for Urian. Lavellan stood to the side, tired and stony faced, and Krem stood with Bull, away from the heat. They watched with professional eyes, but Dorian could see the pain in Bull's at the knowledge they weren't allowed to stand together.

Fire had started this, and fire ended it.

The prayers died away with the flames, and Urian manipulated the ashes into a pile before letting the wind carry them away.

“It is done,” he said quietly. “And now, we must rebuild.”

Radonis nodded sharply, and Urian brushed past him, a hand lingering perhaps too long on his arm. Lavellan stepped forward, and the pair of them walked away, talking quietly.

Dorian stared blankly at the stone where his fathers pyre had burned, and felt no sorrow.

“What will you do?” Aquinea asked as Felix went to sit on a block of stone, covering his eyes. “Will you come home?”

“I'm already home,” he said quietly. “The line dies with me, mother. There will be no discussion on that. When you pass, I suppose I'll take your seat. After that, I leave the Pavus home and lands to the city of Asariel. Let them do with it what they wish. Maybe I'll leave it to be the new library.”

“Not a terrible idea.” She sighed, pulling her long braid over her shoulder. “The worst of it is that I loved him, and this was the price I paid. There were times when I hated him, truly, but it was love that brought us together first. A husband, gone. A lover, gone. But my son is still here, and for that, I must be grateful. Even with this betrayal, I will soldier on. Radonis will listen to me, and I'll do my best to drag our homeland kicking and screaming into the present.”

Dorian's mouth twitched into something like a smile. “If anyone could, it's you.”

“Your belief in me is charming.” She sniffed, brushing down her skirts. “Come and visit me some time, and kindly send me an invitation when you marry that man.”

Dorian's head jerked to look at her, but she had already turned and was walking away, down and away. Bull came to him, wrapping one huge arm around his shoulder.

“So,” he said quietly.

“So,” Dorian echoed. “I'm staying.”

“For how long?”

“For as long as you'll have me.”

Bull bent, kissing his forehead. “A long damn time, then.”

“Yes,” Dorian said, feeling his heart ease. “A long, long time.”

Rilienus, Alexius, and his father were dead. His past was far from erased, but the main players of his history had been taken away, stolen out from under him as if a rug. No one had been who they said they were, and yet, somehow, he had found his way to people who were more than enough to help him put the pieces back together.

They walked down to the garden, and Dorian was surprised to see Merrill waiting for him, pale but determined.

“I don't know if you'll want to keep me around,” she said, her voice quavering, “but for what it's worth, I want to stay.”

Dorian smiled, feeling old and tired. He couldn't really hold grudges against someone with a face like a small kitten that had just been bowled over. “I can't promise I'll be fine all the time,” he said, “but I'd be happy to continue teaching you.”

“Oh,” she said, relieved. “Good, because I still haven't figured out that despair spell yet.”

Bull rolled his eye and muttered, “Mages.”

oOo

Solas was gone for good it seemed, the rotunda empty with only the murals to show he was ever there. He left no note to say where he had gone, only a book and fragmented pieces of paper with doodles on them. Lavellan was quiet as she went through them, and Dorian didn't blame her when she had to take a moment to be elsewhere. He spent a great deal of time looking at the eyes on the door, and the unfinished murals on the walls. In another life, perhaps the murals had been finished. In another life, then again, perhaps Solas wouldn't have been Fen'Harel in the first place.

“I always wanted him to do one for the station,” Bull said quietly as they stood together, a month after the battle. They were looking at the one of Lavellan, with her laughter and her staff, the world curling around her like it wished to hold her and never let go. “I don't know what, but these... I've always loved these.”

“I do too,” Dorian said quietly, leaning into Bull's side. “We weren't exactly the best of friends, but I'm glad to have met him. And a little alarmed, to be totally honest.”

“Yeah, I'm with you there big guy.”

Dorian let himself be led out of the rotunda and into the sunlight on the wall that joined the library to Cullen's office. They stood in the middle, sunning themselves. It was a rare, warm day, with not a breeze to be seen and precious few clouds in the sky.

“I hear my mother met my friend Maevaris finally,” Dorian said. “By all accounts they're already causing a ruckus and have been thrown out of the Senate three times. I'm absurdly proud of them.”

Bull barked a laugh, grinning at the sky. “Sounds like a friend I'll want to meet when you make an honest man out of me.”

“You're already an honest man,” Dorian said absently, then froze, looking back at him. Bull looked uncertain, holding himself still as they locked eyes. Dorian drew in a careful, deep breath, and his eyes went wider still as Bull knelt down on one knee, pulling out a small black box.

“Dorian,” he said, his voice cracking, “I love you, more than I could ever say with any eloquence. I want to wake up next to you for the rest of our lives. Would you marry me?”

The box flipped open to reveal a golden ring set with a string of tiny diamonds around the band, and Dorian clapped a hand to his mouth.

Bull looked anxiously up at him, and Dorian dropped to his knees, flinging his arms around him and kissing him breathless. Bull laughed against his mouth, and Dorian pulled back to beam at him.

“So... that's a yes?” Bull grinned, and Dorian nodded, laughing through the happy tears.

“Yes,” he said, pressing quick kisses all over Bull's face. “Now and forever, yes.”

oOo

Later that evening-

“I don't know why everyone's staring at me!” Lavellan said, hands on soaked hips as Krem rolled his eyes and watched his crew members come out from the building. “It's not my fault.”

A chorus of protests went up about her skills with fire, but Cullen looked over to the corner of the courtyard and smiled.

Dorian and Bull were standing, soaked to the bone, Bull's arm around Dorian's shoulder and Dorian's arm around his waist. They leaned together, laughing about something, and Cullen's heart softened at the sheer love on both of their faces.

Bull had char marks on his horns.