Bull had been completely convinced that there was no way in hell he was taking this shit of a job until he saw the slave.
It was a rather nice day in early Autumn, the sun sitting nicely at noon above their heads, and the Chargers were out scouting the lands about four miles around from the fabulously oversized Orlesian mansion where he and Krem were conducting business with a thoroughly slimy nobleman by the name of Guillame Delacourt. He was no more or less slimy than most Orlesian nobles, but slimy none the less and it was only Krem’s presence at his side and the fact that they definitely needed to increase their funds that was convincing him to stay and listen to the man.
“So you can see why it is…problematic,” the noble finished, and Bull was about to tell him where to stuff his problems when there was the faint jingle of metal in the doorway.
They turned, and there, in the shadows of an archway, was one of the most beautiful people he’d ever seen.
The man was exceptionally good looking, clean shaven, with well maintained dark hair and utterly shirtless. He almost soundlessly stepped forward, but bells on anklets betrayed him. He wore Rivaini styled pants that Bull vaguely recalled being known as “harem” in a rich blue fabric, as well as the belled anklets and bracelets made of gold with tiny loops on them that seemed made for leashes. He wore a collar as well, leather with runes etched into it that glowed with a dark purple light. The collar definitely had a hook for a leash on it, and Krem stiffened at his side as they both realized what this was.
A collared mage of a pleasure slave had somehow been dragged from Tevinter to serve the man. Fucking shit.
“Ah, Dorian,” Delacourt said, smiling. “I wondered when you would appear.”
Dorian padded over, draping himself like a languid cat at his master’s feet and revealing the small gold hoops his nipples had been pierced with. He smiled politely, but his eyes were dead. Krem’s hand on his shoulder tightened, nails digging into his skin.
“Dorian is my mistress,” the man continued blithely, not knowing the danger he was in. “Though sadly this past little while he’s grown less fond of me.”
That got a spark in the dead eyes, a flash of rage and pain that was quickly suppressed. Bull made a decision.
“I’ll halve the cost if you give him to me,” he said, and Delacourt sputtered.
“Monsieur Delacourt, I may have one eye, but I’m hardly blind,” he said bluntly. “I know slaves. Half the price and him.”
Delacourt considered. He obviously needed the bandits and their families off his land, and Dorian had no doubt been fighting him tooth and nail recently if the flecks of blood on those gold bracelets and how he had a bandage on his hand were anything to go by. Bull could see the smooth places of healed skin where welts had been on Dorian's shoulders.
“Done,” he said at last, and Dorian looked like he was going to be sick.
Bull made no move towards him, just lead them up the stone walk to the house, and ushered them inside.
The living room had been turned into the infirmary, and the second they walked through the door Stitches was in front of them, blazing with fury.
“The hell is this?” he demanded, looking over Dorian with horror. “What did you do?”
“Wasn’t me who made him like this,” Bull grunted, shutting the door carefully. “Delacourt’s now former pleasure slave. His name is Dorian, we spotted him while we were doing business, and I wasn’t going to just leave him there.”
Krem was shrugging out of his cloak, and hung it on the hooks by the door. “He’s Tevene. Hasn’t said a word, maybe you’ll have better luck.”
Dorian made the first sound, a panicked noise in the back of his throat when Krem tried to walk away, his eyes wide. Krem stopped, looking at him, and Dorian looked between the three of them, clearly terrified. Stitches groaned, covering his face. “Does he speak Trade at all?”
“Possible,” Krem said, walking back to them. “He’s got to know a little Orlesian, that’s for sure, and he’s got to know Tevene.”
Dorian was trembling a little, but nodded at them.
“You understand Trade?” Stitches said, and he nodded again. His hand snuck out to very delicately pinch Krem’s sleeve, as if trying desperate to hold onto him but too afraid to do so. Whenever he so much as glanced at Bull it was with pure, unadulterated terror.
Krem didn’t try and pull away, carefully herding Dorian into the now infirmary, and Stitches ran a hand over his face before looking up at Bull.
“Do you understand what we have to deal with now?” he said quietly so Dorian couldn’t hear him. “We have an illegal slave, an illegal apostate pleasure slave in our house. Skinner is going to kill you.”
Bull shrugged helplessly, watching as Krem coaxed a wide eyed Dorian to sit down. “Look,” he said softly, “the kid’s been hurt bad. You know Tevinter. Someone probably kidnapped him from his family. Face like that and a mage, he’s got to be noble. So we fix him up, send him back somehow, and burn Delacourt’s place to the ground. I don’t like that bastard.”
“If this is what he’s doing with his money, I don’t either,” Stitches muttered. He frowned as Dorian grabbed Krem’s hand when he tried to leave, his eyes wide and fearful. “Just remember that you’re Qunari, boss. Grateful or not, he’s a pleasure slave, and he probably thinks that you’re going to treat him the same as Delacourt did.”
“Shit,” Bull muttered, rubbing his head. “I’ll stay away from him much as I can. Think you can do anything about the collar?”
Stitches shook his head. “Dalish might have to do it. It’s probably magically locked on. I’ve seen a few like it before, mostly Tal-Vashoth make. We might have to call Valo-kas.”
“Shit,” Bull groaned. “I don’t wanna do that. Shokrakar is fuckin’ badass and bad tempered on the best of days, and I hate dealing with Tal-Vashoth.”
“Well, even if I get a good look at a makers mark we might have to call them in. Like it or not, Valo-kas actually has some decent mages, and the likelihood of us actually finding the maker is pretty slim.” Stitches rubbed a hand over his head, not even turning when Grim appeared from down the hall and kissed the back of his neck. “Grim, we have a new person. He’s about as talkative as you are.”
Grim patted his back and headed in, making Dorian jump. He smiled and waved before turning around and leaving, Dorian’s eyes wide.
Bull sighed. “I’m going to go write reports. Let me know what you find out about him. It looks like he was beat pretty bad before being healed up, you might want to check on that.”
Stitches nodded, and Bull headed to the kitchen to work.
“Well, you seem to be pretty much functional, if a little skinny,” he declared, and Dorian watched with interest as he wrote things down. “We’ll do what we can about the collar soon, but we’re probably going to have to call in another company to see if they have any ideas.”
Dorian nodded, and to his shock, very carefully began finger spelling. Stitches knew the basics of the slave signs, but it took him a minute to put together t-h-a-n-k-y-o-u.
“Not a problem,” he said, ruffling Dorian’s hair and receiving an actual squawk of angry noise for his trouble. Grinning, he shook his head as Dorian fussed with his hair, fixing it. “Krem, go find him a shirt. I’ve got to make Grim get started on dinner and tell the chief about everything.”
“Anything in particular I should have someone go out for, for tomorrow?” he asked.
“Good, solid foods. Lots of fresh fruit. Soft, fresh breads would be good. Druffalo would be good, if you can get it.”
“Got it.” Krem stood, Dorian rocketing to his feet next to him and shifting awkwardly back and forth. “Come on, pretty sure Dalish has some extra gear that’ll fit you.”
Dorian followed him out, still clutching his hand like he was going to disappear at any moment. Stitches set his things down, and headed to the kitchen.
Rocky had showed up at some point, sitting at the table and making ‘conversation’ with Grim as he started on the soup for dinner. Bull was hunched over his papers with his monocle on, writing in Qunlat with a brisk, neat hand. Stitches dropped down into one of the free chairs at the round table, and Bull removed his monocle, putting the quill aside. “Well?”
“It’s not good,” he said bluntly. “If I didn’t want to kill Delacourt before, now I think it should be a good team bonding activity. Kid’s been used hard. Lots of old bruises that aren’t totally healed, pretty faint scars where they didn’t do a good enough job. I think he’s somewhere between 25 and 30, but I’d put him closer to 30. Lungs and heart seem fine, throat isn’t damaged though the jury’s out on his voice. The piercings are pretty new, maybe two years old at the longest. His ears have been done for a long time, and he’s got a septum that’s pretty damn old and doesn’t seem to be an issue. I’m surprised he’s not wearing anything in it. For a pleasure slave I’m sure he was treated like absolute shit. I do have a piece of good news, though. Even if he’s mute, he can finger spell. Slave sign.”
“Well damn,” Bull said, leaning back in his chair. “That makes it a little easier. Skinner can do it too, so that’ll make life a little easier.”
“Skinner can do what?” the woman in question said as she and Dalish came in through the back door.
Stitches grimaced. “Boss picked up another ugly duckling. Pleasure slave, Tevinter, seems to be mute but he knows sign.”
The two stopped, turning to look at Bull, who raised his hands innocently.
“More shems,” Skinner growled, and Krem came through the door with Dorian. He was still in the oversized pants, but the bracelets and anklets had been stripped off. His feet were in thin house shoes, better than nothing, and he’d been wrangled into one of Dalish’s long green shirts without sleeves. He blinked owlishly at the two, shrinking behind Krem. Given that he was nearly a head taller than the man, it was almost funny to watch.
“Meet Dorian,” the lieutenant said dryly. “He’s not a big fan of shirts, apparently.”
“Man after my own heart,” Bull chuckled, and Dorian’s clutch on Krem’s arm tightened. Bull made no move towards him though, and he slowly relaxed again, looking over everyone.
“May as well do the introductions,” Krem said. “The blonde is Grim, the dwarf is Rocky, the dark haired elf is Skinner and the light one is Dalish. And then there’s Stitches and The Iron Bull, and me, obviously. Got it?”
“Grim, Rocky, Skinner, Dalish, Stitches, The Iron Bull, Krem,” Dorian said out of nowhere, his voice hoarse, and his teeth clicked shut as the runes on the collar flared harshly. Everyone stared.
“Well,” Stitches said slowly, “at least we know you’re not mute now.”
Dorian tugged helplessly at the collar, blinking back a few tears and taking a few deep breaths. The runes slowly faded back to their normal dark purple, and Dorian touched his throat, smiling apologetically.
Grim set the ladle down firmly on the stove, walking over to stand in front of him. Dorian shifted, obviously nervous, and went very still when Grim reached around to cup the back of his neck, pressing their forehead’s together. Slowly, Dorian let go of Krem’s sleeve and stilled, staring into Grim’s eyes like he’d just met Andraste herself. They stood that way for a borderline uncomfortable amount of time, and when Grim finally pulled away Dorian smiled shyly, lighting up.
“He’ll fit right in,” Rocky said with a chuckle, and the kitchen became a hive of activity as the put the leaves in the table to extend it, finding chairs to seat everyone comfortably. Grim dished, doubling the portion for Dorian, and they settled in with a cacophony of noise. Dorian ate like a starving man, eyes rolling in near rapture as he polished off the soup. Stitches didn’t doubt that Delacourt had restricted his food to keep him obedient, one more thing the man needed hurting for.
Skinner hesitantly started signing to Dorian over dinner, and he brightened, signing back. The two conversed silently, faces contorting to add meaning, and by the end of it Dorian was beaming and Skinner looked slightly sick.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” she said, the table quieting down. “He’s from Tevinter. A powerful family. He got caught by slavers and ended up here. The collar makes it difficult to speak or make noise, and hurts him if he says more than a few words. It also keeps him from writing with anything but his fingers in the dirt.”
Krem grimaced. “Well shit. Altus?” he asked Dorian, who nodded nervously. “Fasta vass. I guess you’re incaensor now.”
“Incaensor?” Bull asked, the word unfamiliar.
“Has the same meaning as saarebas,” Krem explained. “A dangerous but useful thing. A magic using slave, for example.”
Dalish frowned, looking over at Dorian. “But he can’t use it.”
“Meaning stays the same.” Krem stretched. “So, this job. It’s shit. These people are just trying to stay alive. Can we just burn Delacourt alive and fuck off to Ferelden or something?”
Bull groaned, stretching massive arms. Dorian watched him in slightly terrified fascination. “Unfortunately, no. We’re going to have to see this through. However, I wouldn’t complain if we carefully managed to fuck his life up a little bit as well.”
“Good,” Krem said firmly, and rose. Dorian looked up at him, obviously unsure of what to do, and Krem sighed. “Okay. Since piling is out of the question for him, who’s going to find a cot?”
“Oooh!” Dalish raised her hand. “I will! I can make one!”
“Fantastic. Chief, you finish that Qun business of yours and I’ll get him settled upstairs.”
He woke to the sound of soft footsteps on the stairs coming down, unfamiliar. It had to be Dorian. He sat up, picking up a book. Dorian peeked around the corner, saw him, and carefully stepped inside. He moved like a dancer, all grace and elegant motion. He stopped in front of Bull, and knelt.
“No,” Bull said quietly, seeing the carefully blank expression and the way his eyes rested on his belt. “Not like this. You ever come to me, it’s because you want to. Not because I’ve helped you.”
Dorian’s fingers twitched, and he swallowed hard, looking stricken. Bull beckoned him forward, and he obliged. He reached out with one huge hand, catching Dorian’s chin in his hand.
“Dorian,” he said softly, and leaned in to kiss his forehead tenderly, “that’s the most you’re going to get from me until I know you actually want me.” He let him go, Dorian staring up at him in confused awe. “Go back to bed. We’ll still be here in the morning.”
Dorian sat back on his haunches, his head cocked to one side as he watched Bull. He reached up to touch his forehead, and a slow smile of delight brightened his face. He rose, bowed with his hands flat to his thighs in the Tevinter style, and backed from the room without rising. Bull shook his head, bemused, and settled back on the floor.
Life had just got a lot more interesting.