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Conflict of Interest

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The clock on the mantle chimes the half-hour, startling the Bull into wakefulness. He’d been drifting, not truly asleep, lulled by Dorian’s soft, even breathing. They’ve been resting on their laurels; even the evil Magister gets treated better by the servants when he’s helped raise an elf to true, titled, Orlesian power.

Bull doesn’t want to wake him. He looks younger, a little softer, like he’s put down some of the shit he carries with him everywhere. Bull’s tried to offer, a couple times, to help him carry it, but no luck yet. They’re both probably better off for it, really. Bad for business, getting too attached.

He brushes a hair away from Dorian’s cheek, just to watch the way his face scrunches up. The mage mutters in his sleep and tugs at Bull’s shirt, burying his face deeper into Bull’s side. It’s cute. If he had time, Bull would poke at him until he woke up, ruffled and grumpy, and kiss him until he was happy again.

So it’s good that he’s got a meeting with Asaara in twenty minutes. It will be good to speak Qunlat again, to remember his role, to be Hissrad again for a little while. He just needs to get there.

The place they’re meeting is near the servants’ quarters, a fifteen-minute walk at a pace that won’t arouse suspicion. He doesn’t have time to dawdle.

Dorian had fallen asleep curled under Bull’s arm, and though he’s slid down into the pillows a little, he’s still curled tight into the space next to Bull’s hip. The fingers of his left hand are tangled in the laces of Bull’s shirt, the others tucked into the folds of the fabric. He always seems to hold things when he’s sleeping, gripping hard as if his pillow, or blanket, or Bull’s hand will vanish. Bull knows from experience it’s next to impossible to get him to let go without waking him.

Bull would rather he kept sleeping. He’ll ask fewer questions, for one thing, and he’ll be less of a distraction. And he needs the rest. Bull had hoped he’d start keeping more reasonable hours without the constant lure of Skyhold’s library, but it seemed like there were just as many things to occupy him here.

But he’s asleep now, and peaceful. Bull doesn’t want to mess with the first good sleep he’s gotten in who knows how long.

Bull tries to untangle Dorian’s death grip on his shirt, and gets his right hand curled around the blanket instead. But the laces are hopeless. Bull had been grateful for them at first. It’s much easier to lace a shirt up the front or side than work a narrow neckline over his horns, but he can’t see how to get Dorian’s fingers untangled without cutting the cord. Josephine had insisted on shirts in the palace, and Bull had known they’d wind up being a problem. This wasn’t how he expected it to play out, though.

Bull leans over and fumbles around in his nightstand for the knife he always keeps there. Carefully-- he can’t imagine anything worse than hurting Dorian right now-- he slices through the cords at the front of his shirt.

The laces stay tangled around Dorian’s hand. Bull’s not sure how he managed to knot them so spectacularly, but the job’s done.

He slides off the bed slowly, careful not to jostle Dorian. The mage mutters in his sleep, and Bull freezes. There’s no words, just-- no, that could be his name. Dorian’s hand moves into the space Bull just left, but finding nothing, he curls tighter in on himself.

Probably half an hour, until Dorian wakes up. Bull can drop off his reports and be back in plenty of time. He wants to touch Dorian’s shoulder, tell him he’ll be back in a minute, but he can’t risk waking him.

Bull closes the door softly, feeling the latch click rather than hearing it. He moves quietly down the hallway, just in case. Dorian needs the rest, is what he tells himself. He’s not worried about getting caught, he doesn’t mind lying about where he’s going, but it feels wrong to leave Dorian like this.

He doesn’t meet anyone he knows on the way to the rendezvous. He passes plenty of guards on patrol, though, and pages scurrying about with letters and bouquets of flowers, which are carefully arranged enough to be letters on their own. He should get some while they’re still in season. Ma’am loves peonies, and there’s got to be something Dorian would like. Orchids, maybe.

Asaara’s scrubbing a spot on the base of a statue when he rounds the corner. They’re alone in the corridor, but Bull leans on the marble suggestively, just in case. The Inquisiton’s Qunari hitting on an elven servant, that’s nothing for the guards to write home about.

“You’re late,” she hisses in Qunlat.

Bull lets her annoyance wash over him. The palace spies are always on high alert. “You know how it is, had to make sure there weren’t any questions.”

“I’ll bet that Magister asks a lot of them.” She scowls at him. “What game are you playing, Hissrad?”

Bull opens his mouth, but there’s no easy way to explain this to Asaara-- elven, viddathari, Ben-Hassrath. There might be no way at all. “No game, Asaara.”

She doesn’t believe him.

“Here’s reports from the night of the ball, and the two weeks before.” He hands them over, and they vanish into her basket of cleaning supplies. “Any new orders?”

“No.” Asaara says. “Maybe they can see something from higher up the chain, Hissrad, but I think you’re sailing in dangerous waters. I’m not alone.”

Platitudes don’t work on Asaara. Bullshitting in general doesn’t work on the Ben-Hassrath. It can’t. Bull spreads his hands. “If I leave the path, you know where to find me.”

She frowns. “That’s not funny.”

“We both know no one else was positioned to get into the Inquisition--”

“And no one else would be so flippant about it!” She glances to the side, but they’re undiscovered. “I’ve seen you with them. The Vint, the elf, Madame de Fer-- you’re too trusting, Hissrad. You can’t let them get under your skin.”

He snorts. “I’m not sure anyone’s ever accused me of being too trusting before.”

“You tell them too much,” she insists. “They’re not your friends. They’re just bas.”

“Are there new orders?” he asks again.

She sighs. “No.”

“Panahedan, Asaara.”

The look she gives him is icy, but she nods and takes her basket to the next statue.

He goes to the kitchens, chatting to the boy washing the dishes while an undercook puts together a platter of cheese and grapes. He wheedles her into coffee, as well.

It’s not the easiest thing, navigating the corridors with a platter that takes both his hands to balance. He hadn’t realized how hard it was to climb stairs when he couldn’t see his feet. A servant takes pity on him partway up his first flight, and ushers him into a sloping side hallway.

She leads him straight back to his rooms, and Bull has to wonder about the gossip, though he doesn’t ask. She tries to open the door for him, too, but he thanks he and sends her back to her duties.

Dorian’s sitting up when he comes in, with a tired frown on his face. His mustache is flattened on one side and his makeup slightly smudged. He hasn’t been awake long, Bull can tell. There’s always a few minutes of befuddlement when he first wakes up.

Bull sets the platter down on the nightstand and slides back onto the bed.

Dorian’s glower lifts incrementally when Bull offers him a cup of coffee. “You were gone,” he says quietly. If he were more awake, he wouldn’t be pouting so much.

The tightness in Bull’s chest constricts and then loosens. “I’m back now, though.”

“Yes.” Dorian smiles then, and Bull watches him through the steam rising from his cup. “Are you planning on staying?”