Dorian had been seeing the Bull for almost four months, or one third of a year. Gossip had spread quickly,the Inquisition’s inner circle was prone to social in-breeding.
At first, it was nerve-wracking. Dorian felt anxious, wondered when someone might say something, terrified The Bull would decide it wasn’t worth the effort when there were so many normal, pretty girls to choose from.
Yet they had grown close enough, Bull re-words their first ground rule. Now they can have all the tipsy sex they want, provided Dorian can balance on one leg or recite the alphabet backwards.
As the days turned into weeks, it became increasingly apparent no one would step forward to pass judgement. The Bull now had a heavy deadbolt on his door. Dorian had hideous curtains. Everyone seemed content.
Even Blackwall stoically bore Bull’s incessant displays of affection.
Cullen was still activity avoiding the pair after catching them in the War Room, but… Dorian suspected that reflected more on Cullen’s opinions of sex in general and not any particular set of predilections.
The Inquisitor still visits Dorian in the library, staying late to discuss family or demons (same thing, really, when one is from Tevinter). Even asking after The Bull, their relationship, assuring Dorian it’s not an official concern. Warmth blooms in the mage’s chest as he tries to express how much he cares for hulking qunari.
When the Inquisitor leaves, Dorian stays to tidy up his desk, organising his notes, and returning books to their proper shelves.
One question sticks out in his mind, making it impossible to get all the almanacs placed in chronological order.
What’s going on between you and Iron Bull, exactly?
If the Inquisitor hadn’t attached any qualifiers, Dorian would have had a more definitive (much more carnal) answer.
At first, he’d been a little too embarrassed to admit to Bull he was trying to learn Qunlat. There wasn’t much literature to go by and certainly no Common-Qunlat dictionary Dorian had been able to find, not for lack of trying.
Exactly where were the rebellious archivists he’d been promised?
Dorian had settled for buying a Tal-Vashoth merchant drinks in exchange for lessons. Sometimes he felt like she was pulling his leg. Qunlat seemed so conditional, the same word might have a few different meanings based on context. Trying to practice with Bull was dicey, he didn’t think he could recover if the merchant mis-taught him a dirty phrase.
He asked her once how to say ‘I love you’ in Qunlat. Not that he was planning on saying something so mushy anytime soon… just that it might be useful to have the saying in his back pocket in case Bull was planning on saying it to him first.
She thought long and hard, combed her fingers through her lustrous silver hair.
“I can teach you how to say ‘I want to pleasure your genitals with my mouth,’ but we don’t really say ‘I love you.’ Not like how you mean it.”
Not entirely satisfied, Dorian still had her write the offered translation on a scrap of paper.
How did qunari express love? He was so preoccupied he crashed into Solas on his way down the stairs.
“Sorry,” Dorian helped him with his fallen books, “I’m a little distracted today.”
Solas accepted the assistance, indicated no apology was necessary.
“What is on your mind?” The slight elf asked as they climbed back to the library.
“Have you ever-” Dorian collected his thoughts, “How do elves indicate they love each other? Not physical love, but romantic.”
The question seemed to make Solas uncomfortable, it sounded explicitly non-academic. He had been expecting Dorian might need help with a translation or tracking the origin of ancient artifacts.
“I enjoy our discussions, my friend, but you would be better served speaking with another about such concerns.”
Dorian nodded, leaving Solas to his work.
The Iron Bull was already posted in the Herald’s Rest when Dorian entered. The Chargers cheered at his arrival, all in various states of intoxication.
Bull offered him a flagon of something pungent. He took a sip before stating his assessment.
It was worse than rotting lemons. It may have been the worse thing Dorian has ever had the misfortune of swallowing.
“This tastes terrible.” He drank again, to make sure he hadn't overstated the quality.
Wow. Bull sounded way too enthusiastic.
“Come again? You don’t mean really.”
“I’ll come any time you ask.” Difficult to tell when The Bull is winking. “And… well, who can say?”
Dorian wiped his tongue on a napkin before heading to the bar to order anything else.
He was about to request the cheeky berry liquor he’d tried the other day when a sudden, heavy weight latched onto his shoulders, bending him backwards.
“Haven’t seen you ‘round lately, bitchy britches.” Sera, hanging off him like a day pack.
“I am here almost every day.”
“Yeah, but always with that grubby lot,” the elf pointed towards Bull and the Chargers. “It’s like, woah, how much sausage can you have at the table? Smells like stewing in man, but I ‘spose that’s alright for you.”
“You might be more of an expert on this, but I’m fairly certain Skinner and Dalish are women.”
Sera rolled her eyes, pulled a face, “Uhg! Elves!”
“Aren’t- oh, never mind. I suppose you want me to buy you a drink?” Dorian was proud of himself, learning to pick his battles and make friends.
“There’s a proper gentleman! Get some of the stuff that makes your tongue turn blue!”
He was not sure how to convey the request, but Cabot handed him a bottle without missing a beat.
“Oh, right, before I forget. I was wondering if you could help me out with something?” Sera slid off his back so she could grab him by the arm, tug him towards the stairs.
Dorian glanced over to the Chargers, all still revelling, The Bull absorbed in likely bawdy or bloody tale being recounted by Rocky.
“Lead the way.”
They enjoyed the liqueur on the roof below Sera’s window, drank straight from the bottle.
“Only straight thing we’ll likely get up to.” Sera quipped, earning a snorting laugh.
“Very likely.” Dorian wished he had known the woman in his youth, wondered how many years of self-loathing could have been prevented with someone to commiserate.
Misery loves company, but Sera loves a drinking partner.
“So what is this very urgent matter that only I can assist with?”
“Nug poops.” Sera hopped to her feet and briefly disappeared into her room. When she returned, she was carrying a plate of misshapen, over-baked cookies.
“I made these, if you can believe that.”
Dorian absolutely believed her.
“Go on, try one!”
The mage resolved to say something nice, no matter what the hard little lumps tasted like.
He gagged, unable to keep himself from immediately spitting it out. He would drink and entire tankard of Dragon Piss just to wash the taste out of his mouth.
“Vishante kaffas! What did you put in these?”
Sera giggled, “I know . Worst thing you’ve ever tasted, innit? I had one early today, total shite.”
Dorian was honestly a little offended. He had actually been considering saying something affirming to her.
“That’s what I’m up against, any how. I don’t know how to bake, but you seem decent ‘round a campfire. I thought you could tell me what I’m doing wrong.”
He sighed deeply, turning the tough disk over in his hands.
“First of all, you need to bake cookies using actual food ingredients. Seriously, you need to tell me what these are made of in case I need to tell a healer.”
“That’s all food!” Sera protested, “I used flour, cocoa, lard, raisins, yeast, salt, and eggs.”
Egg shells, Dorian realised, spitting a tiny piece off the roof. He tried to remember the recipe one of his family’s slaves used to bake. She was a kindly, matronly older woman, more mother to him than his own flesh and blood much of the time.
“Butter.” He insisted. “You need to use butter, not lard. Flour, yes, cocoa, fine. Eggs, and only the whites and yolks. No shells. Sugar instead of salt.”
“Could you, like, write it down for me?”
“I can,” Dorian took another drink from the bottle, “and I will.”
“Smarty-arse.” Sera snatched the bottle back, spilling a little.
The sun was beginning to set, shadows elongating across the courtyard below.
“Why do you even want to know how to make cookies?” The man finally asked, curiosity getting the better of him.
“Long and boring or short and pervy?”
“Oooh, the later, please .”
“Feckin’ queen.” Sera grins before relenting, “Let’s just say I want to let someone know how I feel.”
Dorian made a cupping motion in front of his chest, miming the buxom redheaded serving girl.
“Huh? Oh. No, not her. Don’t think she’s that way. Little bean bun of a dwarf. I don’t know how well you know her.”
“So….. you wanted to bake cookies to woo a dwarf?”
“Yeah, no, kinda.” Cryptic as always. “Cookies just always seemed like the ultimate expression of caring. Not just a wham bam, thank you ma’am. You put love into making the cookies, the cookies taste good, the person eating them knows exactly how much you love them. Right?”
There’s that Maker-be-damned qualifier again. Dorian wonders if he should cook for The Bull more. They usually eat at the Rest, unless they are out in the woods.
“Anyway, write down the recipe, yeah? Before you go meet up with your big piece of man muffin. You’ll forget otherwise.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Dorian could feel his ears turning red, blush staining across his face.
“You’ll get to your room, get a pen and paper, he’ll toss you on the bed and suddenly it’s all:
“Ah! Oh! Eek! Bull, you’re too big!” He assumed the falsetto she affected was supposed to be him.
“Don’t worry, Dorian, you can take it.” Her attempt at a deep, gravely voice.
“Wham! Wham! Ah, ah! Wham! Spurt-spurt and I never get my recipe.”
He tried for a moment to find his voice, feeling something akin to violation.
“Go get me a pencil and paper.” Dorian mutters.
He’s putting the finishing touches on the recipe when The Bull calls up to them from the yard.
“Do you want me to order you something?”
“No.” Dorian calls back down, “I’m heading inside now, anyway.”
At the table, he contemplates Sera’s conception of expressing love.
“Say, Bull, do you like cookies?”