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Art And Ardor

Chapter Text

Dorian takes a long look in the mirror.

“I think not,” he says.

Trevelyan, who is leaning against the doorframe, covers his face with his hands. Dorian pulls off the shirt he has just rejected, and returns it to the clothing rack, nonchalant. He has spent almost three hours getting ready for the exhibition opening: bathing, preening his hair, twirling his unfashionable-yet-oddly-dashing mustache. He has achieved near perfection, even by his own strict standards, and has no intention of ruining it with a badly chosen outfit.

Dorian’s elegant fingers flip through the neatly hung shirts. He picks one, puts it back; picks another, puts it back as well. When he does this for the third time, Trevelyan’s had it.

”Maker damn it all!” he grumbles. He reaches to grab a random black button-down, and pushes it towards his frowning lover. ”This one. Make it work.”

Dorian purses his lips. ”I believe I tried this on already.”

”Yes.” Trevelyan's voice is carrying the slightest edge of despair. ”As well as the black velvet shirt, the black cotton shirt, the black shirt with silver buttons, and the one with shiny stripes - which, frankly, should be burnt on the spot.”

“I find black silk on altus so predictable.”

“You will look sensational in it, and you will look sensational in it now. Please.”

Resisting his initial reaction to absolutely refuse (as he tends to do whenever someone commands him), Dorian lets out a resigned sigh, and pulls on the offered piece of clothing. He shivers as the smooth, whispering fabric glides decadently over his skin; despite his words, he adores silk.

The shirt has slippery, polished onyx buttons which are a pain to deal with, but Dorian works his way up meticulously. He leaves the top two buttons undone to reveal a tasteful amount of golden skin, and rolls the sleeves up to his elbows to expose the tattooed snakes curling on his arms. Trevelyan keeps telling him his tattoos are "too Tevinter", but Dorian likes to show them off: snake is the symbol of his noble house after all, and while he may constantly criticize his home country, he is proud of his heritage.

Dorian performs a slow spin and studies himself in the mirror again. For whatever reason, this time around the shirt looks absolutely exquisite: it goes perfectly with his slim black dress pants and expensive Antivan belt and shoes.

He grins.

Trevelyan collapses on the bed with a relieved expression on his face. “You look wonderful.”

Dorian gives the man a fond glance. Trevelyan has opted for a long, sleek midnight blue raw silk coat that accentuates the shape of his body. The color, skilfully picked, makes his golden brown locks shine, and brightens the amber of his eyes. “And you, my dear, look good enough to eat.”

“You can do that later on.” Trevelyan taps at his watch. ”Could you step on it now, please? I really need to get to the gallery.”

”I don't see why you insisted on picking me up, if you are in such a hurry.”

”I want you there, you are good for my nerves.”

Dorian bursts out laughing, because that is just ridiculous: if anything, he is known for his capability to drive people to their wits’ end. He decides not to comment on it today, however; instead he opens his jewelry box. He picks up small diamond studs for his ears, and then inspects his ring selection.

”Easy on the bling,” Trevelyan says. ”No need to gild the lily.”

”Nonsense. Besides, I'd hardly call myself a lily. An exotic orchid, perhaps...”

”And nothing too mage-y.”

Dorian turns his back to Trevelyan, and slides a pair of wide black rings with glittering Death Syphon symbols onto his middle fingers. ”Yes, dear.”

”And no middle finger rings, please!”

Venhedis. ”You are awfully conventional for the artsy type, you know.”

”I am the businessman type who deals with the artsy types, remember? If you are wearing rings, put them in your index fingers. And no watch.” Trevelyan pauses. ”I like your hair.”

Dorian (who has left the rings on his middle fingers) glances at the mirror again. Why yes, his hair does look exceptional, full and shiny, with carefully designed waves. His freshly shaved sides have an almost velvety quality to them.

”Thank you, I like yours.”

”Nevertheless, I wish you’d consider changing the style a bit, it is so obviously Tevin- ”

”Trev, stop policing me.”

”...sorry.” Trevelyan pulls out his cell phone. ”Why the fuck hasn't Josie called?”

”Probably because she called you fifteen minutes ago.” Dorian twirls the tips of his mustache, apparently incapable of leaving them be. ”Everything is fine.”

Everything is never fine, there’s always something,” Trevelyan sighs. “Well, at least the damned artist agreed to show up; I wasn’t sure he would. Not that it is a necessarily good thing, mind you.”

”Some gallery owner you are.”

”I am telling you, if he wasn't all up and coming and scandalous, I wouldn't touch him with a stick.” Dorian frowns.

”Because he is a handful or because he is an elf?”

”Take your pick.” Trevelyan notices Dorian's disapproving expression. ”Yes - I know. You have elven friends. They are lovely. I am wrong.” Trevelyan rubs the spot between his eyes. ”Still, I don't know… am I more stressed over him or the fucking Qunari ambassador?”

Dorian stops his preening for a moment, and considers. When he heard about Sten Beresaad's wish to attend the opening, he was kind of alarmed - Qunari, right? - but he was also intrigued: oddly enough, the man was a famous art lover; and his personal life sounded pretty interesting. ”You're still sure you want your Vint boyfriend present?”

”Come on, Dori, he is an ambassador. A diplomat,” Trevelyan shrugs. ”Besides, he won't be able to tell we are a couple - and even if he did, I don't really care about his opinion.”

Dorian hums, but says nothing.

 

***

 

”We will be opening the doors in forty minutes,” Josephine declares, and studies her pad. ”Everything is in order: the caterers are ready, the extra security is in place. The artist...” she glances around. ”Well, Solas is somewhere nearby. I'm sure.”

Trevelyan flashes her a short, tight smile. ”Great.”

”Ambassador will be bringing his own personal security, of course… not that he isn't capable of defending himself, ex-military and all, but I trust he will be here to enjoy the art, not to keep an eye on any antagonists.”

“Fingers crossed.”

Dorian wanders around the exhibition room, paying them no mind. He looks at the paintings, studying the offered brochure as he goes.

Despite being Trevelyan's boyfriend, Dorian is not much of an art connoisseur. He enjoys art, certainly, and ”knows what he likes”, as they say, but more often than not he feels out of place amongst Trev's artistic circle of friends - not that he's been introduced to many of them; Trevelyan keeps telling him it is ”too soon” to make their relationship officially known. Granted, they've been going out for almost a whole year now, and spend more time together than apart, but Dorian understands that his origin, as well as him being a mage, are a major turnoff to most people around here. And on the other hand, he himself, is not too keen on openly admitting he is with someone either. If Tevinter taught him anything, it's that you keep your illicit relationships carefully hidden - unless you want to rub them in someone's face, that is. (Occasionally, Dorian very much does.)

Therefore he has never pushed to meet Trevelyan's friends or family. He also hasn't visited the gallery for weeks. But tonight he is here, and... well. He has to admit he is impressed.

The exhibition is called Enansal - Blessing, and the brochure Josephine has put together is doing a good job showcasing the paintings, shedding light on the mythology and symbolism. Dorian is grateful, for although he may have a couple of elven friends, they are not very traditional, and he is not an expert when it comes to elven culture. The paintings are so loaded with hidden meanings that without the brochure he'd be quite lost.

Dorian stops by the largest canvas, and to his delight recognizes the wolf divinity Fen'Harel, who is staring right at him with peculiar faint blue eyes. He finds himself fascinated. He quite likes the style of the artwork: it is simple, almost primitive, the lines are strong, and the contrasts sharp. But it is the colors that make them special.

It is not that the shades are unusual as such, or that the combinations are unexpected, but there's an aura about them Dorian felt the moment he stepped in the gallery. He can feel it now, as he is roaming around the room; it is like a slight, constant humming under his skin, and it soothes him and worries him, because he knows what it is: he feels the Fade - and somehow it makes the golds deep and glimmering, the blues oh-so-vibrant, the reds hot and radiant. The paintings seem alive, their subjects almost ready to jump out; they are wonderful and frightening, and they have a hypnotic quality that makes one slightly disoriented after a while.

The artist himself is standing under a pair of huge tree sculptures that the gallery has set up to celebrate his elven heritage. There are more trees dotted here and there, most of them small and made of glass and metal. Dorian is not sure Solas appreciates the gesture, as the elf is looking quite sour.

Fascinated, Dorian decides to approach the man.

He crosses the space with a leisurely gait, preparing a cool, polite smile that works for most situations. He stops right in front of the painting the elf is pretending to study. “Amazing work,” he says.

Solas turns. He is quite tall, has a shaved head - which is just as well as it is beautifully shaped - and one might be tempted to describe him as striking. His face, while not conventionally handsome, is made attractive by his fine features and stormy blue eyes. Unfortunately, he is wearing something atrocious, something made of… faint velvets and shaggy fur - but Dorian is not going to call him out on it.

“And who are you?” Solas asks, rather rudely. He has an even, silky smooth voice with a slight accent. Dorian, surprised but unflinched, bows.

”Dorian Pavus, at your service. I am a friend of Trevelyan's.”

”I see.”

Dorian hesitates, further put off by the curt answer and the lack of counter-compliments one might expect in civilized company. ”Anyway,” he clears his throat, ”I must say I felt myself react pretty strongly. To your art, I mean, it quite crawls under one's skin.”

Solas gives him another look, slightly longer than the first one, from head to toe. His eyes stop at Dorian's Death Siphon rings. ”Really?” he says. Dorian nods emphatically.

”Really.”

”Wearing those won't make you popular around here.”

”True, but I'd be the bomb in Nevarra.” Actually, he kind of is the bomb in Nevarra. Dorian waves his hand. ”People around here usually just assume I am into Dwarven Metal or something… besides, I'd worry about yourself, displaying paintings with magically enhanced colors like this. I am willing to bet you receive hate mail.”

“Rarely,” Solas shrugs.

”Figures,” mutters Dorian with a bitter undertone. ”Fix a broken toe or paint a pretty picture, and they praise your magical skill; light a miniscule fire or animate a couple of corpses, and everyone screams bloody murder.”

Solas gives him a blank look. Dorian, used to people not appreciating his more sarcastic tones, ignores him. He turns to examine the paintings again. ”By the way, how do you do it? Plain alchemy or actual spells? I have no experience with paint, but in Tevinter we have these beauty products that can make one's skin look like -”

“Excuse me.” Solas turns abruptly and walks away, making it clear he really does not care about Tevinter beauty products, and that there won't be any bonding happening over the fact that they are both magically inclined.

Well. Dorian can certainly take a hint. He just chooses not to. He can be a kind of an asshole sometimes. He follows the elf with an ever-polite smile on his face.

”Don't feel like talking to a shem?” he asks as he catches up. Solas’ jawline tightens.

”Don't feel like talking to anyone.”

”Nervous?”

”I'd rather spend some time by myself before the doors open, I’m sure you understand.”

Dorian hums, and seesaws on the balls of his feet. ”You know, I've been told I am good for people's nerves.” He lowers his voice to a seductive purr: “I could help you relax, if you wish.” And then, because he is terrible and can't help himself, he winks at the man.

Solas’ eyes widen just a fraction, his face tightens even further. ”Please leave me alone.” There's something about the tone that makes Dorian reconsider whatever he is about to say next. He makes the decision to back off: he is not here to torture the artist, after all.

”As you wish. Good luck with the exhibition then.” Dorian bows gracefully. ”Make a killing.”

Afterwards, of course, he wishes he had used some other expression.

 

***

 

The gallery doors open precisely at 6 o’clock. Trevelyan stands by the entrance, greeting guests with a steady smile on his face, chit chatting effortlessly, and guiding them towards the champagne. Dorian is further away, keeping an eye on things and smiling smoothly at anyone who cares to notice him. Solas is hiding behind one of the trees, decidedly avoiding everyone. It makes Dorian wonder if the elf is truly so unsocial, so haughty, or if he is putting up a show to look mysterious.

”Oh, no he didn't,” Trevelyan mutters all of a sudden. Dorian turns his head; there is still a smile on the man's face, but his eyes look glazed. Dorian follows his glare... and sees a Qunari. In full Qunari regalia.

The man stepping inside is tall, as the Qunari tend to be, but interestingly enough, he is hornless. His bronze-colored face is stern and calm, his long white hair is tightly braided, and he is wearing a fabulous knot work harness of red leather and glimmering silverite. It doesn't do much to cover the skilfully painted vitaar swirling over his muscular chest and arms - Dorian assumes the vitaar is a ceremonial one, not the poisonous kind. By the Qunari's side steps a tiny, sturdy human woman with narrow eyes and wavy brown hair; her red loose silk dress wraps like a flame around her body, and she is wearing large earrings with geometrical Qunari design.

”Ambassador!” Trevelyan steps forward to greet him and performs a beautiful but not too deep bow. ”I am honored.” He turns to the woman. ”Lady Cousland.”

The Qunari nods stiffly and says something. Dorian doesn't quite hear him, he is too stunned by the shameless cultural display: it is like the damn Antaam has marched into the building. He backs away slowly (if it is the Tevinter in him or just survival instinct, he is not sure), parks himself by a tall, narrow mural featuring a mirror, and begins to study the entourage discreetly.

Lady Cousland seems lovely, pretty true to the images Dorian has seen online and in magazines; shorter than he had visualized, but captivating nevertheless - not an easy task while standing next to a dazzling giant. She has a clever face and strong, graceful hands; one of them is fondly holding the Ambassador's arm. Dorian is aware that the Qunari culture doesn't encourage romantic relationships, but it is a badly-hidden secret that Elissa Cousland is Sten Beresaad's lover. They've been together for years, decorated war heroes both, and clearly attached. Dorian lets his curious gaze linger on the couple for another moment, then he glances at the mountainous bulk right behind them -

Dorian takes another look. Behind the Ambassador stands the largest Qunari he has ever seen.

The man is massive: impossibly tall, impossibly wide, magnificently muscular. He has sharp horns that are as wide as his shoulders, a rugged face, and an eyepatch (which must be a joke, surely). He is dressed in a sleek black suit, a crisp white shirt, and a shimmery pink tie. He has... dawnstone cufflinks.

Dorian frowns. A professional bodyguard wearing pink? And with one eye? He'd better be good at his job to compensate for that.

The Qunari stares right back at him, stares too long, is the thing, and Dorian feels immediately uncomfortable. He turns hastily and grabs the nearest waiter.

”You don't happen to have anything stronger than champagne, do you?”

 

***

 

Dorian lets his eyes sweep the crowd. About fifty people, he thinks, a very carefully selected group, and pretty much everyone invited is present. He stops to admire Madame de Fer's magenta charmeuse dress that blooms like an exotic flower around her as she is posing to a photographer; moves on to check on Trevelyan - the man is surrounded by enthusiastic art critics and budding artists, and looks happy - and finally comes to the Qunari.

The Ambassador is standing in front of Halan'ghillan, the Golden Halla, giving a lecture about its significance to his amused looking companion. Dorian examines them for a while, reluctantly fascinated, then turns his head away… only to find himself looking at the Ambassador's bodyguard.

Who is staring. Again. Blatantly.

Oh, for Maker's sake. First there's Solas acting like Dorian is carrying some deadly disease, and now this. Dorian feels a sharp sting of annoyance, and before he knows it, his feet get ahead of his brain, and he is walking towards the man. He stops right in front of him, and is immediately even more irritated, because he has to tilt his head far back to look the towering agent in the face.

”Yes,” Dorian states. ”I am from Tevinter. No, I am not going to assault your boss.”

The giant raises his eyebrow - Dorian wonders if he has another one under his decorative silver eyepatch, and if he could lift it if he wanted to - and lets his cool, piercing gaze measure the significantly smaller human male in front of him.

”Glad to hear it.”

If there's a hint of amusement in the deep, rumbling voice, Dorian refuses to acknowledge it. He decides to ignore the rude man altogether, and turns his attention to the Ambassador, who is now staring at them, slightly puzzled. Dorian serves his most disarming smile.

”Such a pleasure to meet you, Ambassador.” He folds one arm around his waist and the other on his back and bows, Tevinter style, to the Beresaad's avec. ”Lady Cousland. Allow me to introduce myself: Dorian Pavus.”

”The pleasure is mine, I'm sure,” the woman says. She looks slightly older this close, but no less attractive. Dorian tunes up his smile.

”I trust you both are enjoying the exhibition?”

”Most interesting,” the Ambassador admits. He has fascinating bright lavender eyes, and Dorian is trying not to be charmed. ”I am not too keen on the whole magic thing the artist does, but these are magnificent paintings. I might be inclined to purchase a piece.”

”For the embassy?” Dorian looks surprised. Lady Cousland snorts.

”For himself. Sten loves his pretty pictures.” She touches teasingly the man's arm. The Qunari shakes his head, but doesn't look too put off. He turns to face Dorian.

”Pavus, you say? Any relation to magister Halward Pavus?”

Dorian freezes for a moment; he can feel the sharp eyes on him from every direction, the bodyguard moves a bit closer. He forces himself to relax. ”Magister Pavus would be my father. Unfortunately pater and I have entered something of a disagreement about what one should be doing with one's life, so we are not…” Dorian sighs. ”Frankly, I haven't talked to him for years.”

”Yes,” the Ambassador says, and suddenly Dorian realizes that the man knows. Of fucking course he does: the Qunari intelligence is the best in the world, suited for the people as ruthless and paranoid as they are; and the Ambassador wouldn't enter an art exhibition without checking on the artist, the gallery owner, the gallery owner's family and friends. Dorian wonders if he should feel angry or offended, but then lady Cousland smiles.

”It's all right, Dorian,” she says, and he decides getting offended is not worth it. ”Let's have some champagne. Your boyfriend's assistant had the good sense to acquire the decent kind.”

 

***

 

Dorian ends up following the Ambassador. A lesser man might feel dwarfed in such dignified company, especially since two members of the group are practically giants, but Dorian Pavus is more than used to dealing with high society. Besides, Lady Cousland’s considerate attention is pleasant and relaxing.

They are just reaching the final painting on the final wall, when Dorian sees a waitress walk past them. Sadly, her tray is empty, but by accident he happens to notice the woman's outfit (as he often does): similar to the other waiters, except that the knot of her black apron is tied Tevinter style.

How odd. Trev had mentioned how he specifically wanted human waiters, but none from Tevinter, since that would not sit well with the elves or the Qunari.

But this...

He turns to look at the woman again. The Ambassador and lady Cousland are focused on the painting, the bodyguard is looking the other way.

Suddenly, the waitress spins around, her eyes glued to the Ambassador, and lifts her arm with a motion Dorian knows all too well - and then there's a pull in the Fade.

It is interesting how time can slow down in certain moments. It is perfectly subjective, of course, it has nothing to do with time magic, which Dorian, incidentally, knows quite a bit about… but as he is staring at the waitress move, as if in slow motion, he manages to think a long chain of thoughts.

The woman will kill the Ambassador. A Tevinter, pretending to be a waitress, will kill the Qunari ambassador, who happens to be standing next to another Tevinter. The diplomatic relations will go to shit. The gallery will go to shit. Dorian will be a suspect, and will probably end up being executed either by the local officials or by a Qunari hitman - in case the giant bodyguard doesn't get him first.

This cannot be -

Dorian casts a hasty barrier over the whole entourage, then fade-steps, throws himself against the bulk of the Ambassador, and immediately slams him with mind blast, because otherwise there is no way he can move the man. The moment they hit the floor a scorching flashfire howls through the air and hits the top of the barrier; it doesn't stop the spell altogether, but muffles it down enough to make it if not harmless, at least non-lethal. Dorian can feel the heat entering inside the barrier nevertheless, and hopes the Ambassador appreciates him saving his braids from becoming charred.

Next, two things happen simultaneously: Dorian can sense a second barrier cast upon his own - it is blue and strong, and hums pleasantly; at the same instant he is crushed by an enormous weight. The bodyguard, he realizes, and prepares to get his neck snapped any moment. Forcing the thought aside, he struggles to get his arm out from under the massive bulk: he concentrates, as impossible as it feels, taps into the Fade again, and gathers his magic. It only takes a couple of seconds, but feels like an eternity, and meanwhile the assassin keeps bombing them with fire: she is not too bad of a mage, but casting without staff is hard and imprecise, unless one has practised it actively. Which, as it happens, Dorian has. He inhales, focuses - and sends a merciless blast of terror at the woman with pinpoint accuracy.

The Tevinter falls on her knees and screams.

Dorian closes his eyes and collapses under the Qunari. The assassin screams - and screams - people are running - screaming as well, but with less vigor, definitely -

”All clear!” someone yells. ”We got her!”

Dorian relaxes, and tries to catch his breath, squeezed between two massive, warm bodies.

I believe I had a dream like this once, he thinks hazily, returning to some adolescent fantasy for a fleeing moment. He opens his eyes. Somehow he manages to see Solas, who is still standing behind the trees on the other side of the room, steady and immobile amongst the chaos, squinting at them.

Dorian gives him a weak smile that is as much apologetic as it is grateful; then he feels the bodyguard get up and pull him up on his feet like a ragdoll.

“Holy fucking shit,” the Qunari says.

Chapter Text

Dorian is woken up by the bright jingle of his phone.

With a heartfelt groan he pulls a pillow over his head, hoping the caller will go away. Then realizes that won’t be happening, because the damned ringtone is the one reserved for Sera.

Swearing vehemently, Dorian fumbles around the nightstand until he locates his phone. He blinks a few times to sharpen his fuzzy vision, and looks at the time. 8.32. He swears again, and swipes the screen.

“Yeah,” he says, not too kindly.

“You pissbag idiot!” Sera’s voice pierces his eardrum. He can hear Lavellan in the background, insisting in hard tones that Sera puts them both on the speakerphone; apparently Sera doesn’t know how, because there is a series of rustling sounds, a couple of beeps, and loads of cussing.

Dorian rubs his eyebrows. “What are you two doing, exactly?”

“Sweetie,” Lavellan’s worried voice comes clear, “we saw the news, are you alright?”

“I am fine.” Dorian yawns. “How's the trip? Val Royeaux still standing?”

“Fuck the trip!” Sera shrieks. “You ass! Are you okay?”

“I believe I just told you I am FINE.”

“Yeah, well, we are pissed!” Sera’s voice is rising again. “And you have nine days to prepare your FINE arse for whooping before we get back, magisteer!”

”’Magister’.” He pauses. “By the way, you seem exceptionally fixated with my derriere today.”

Sera lets out an indignant sound: “Ain’t interested in your deerieer, magisteer!”

“As much as I enjoy discussing your behind,” Lavellan interrupts, “I’d rather hear what went down at the gallery. Please tell us what happened.”

Dorian sighs. He gives an over-simplified debriefing of the last night’s incident, and promises a full report once the girls return from their holiday. There is a torrent of questions at the other end of the phone, but he promptly rebuffs them.

“No - no, that’s it for now. I will tell you everything you wish to know later on, but right now I really need to get some more sleep.”

Sera grumbles, but Lavellan, always reasonable, complies. “Of course, we understand.” She softens her voice. “Talk to you later then?”

“Certainly, dear. I miss you guys.”

“We miss you too.”

Dorian collapses back on the bed. He pulls the comforter up to his ears, planning on making another attempt to get some much needed sleep, but unfortunately, that is not to be.

First he gets another frantic phone call, this time from Mae: he spends almost half an hour convincing her he is uninjured and doesn’t need chocolates/socks/a hitman, as well as delivering the detailed report he wouldn’t give to Sera and Lavellan because there is no telling no to Magister Tilani.

Immediately after Mae, Dorian’s agent Varric calls, making sure he is alright, and suggesting he should write about the incident. Dorian hangs up on him.

Once done with Varric, Dorian finally switches his phone off - only to have Trevelyan peek into the bedroom and tell him to get up, because it is way past ten o’clock, and the coffee is going bad.

Beaten, Dorian pulls on his long blue silk robe, and shuffles down the stairs to the kitchen, where the other man is waiting with a pot of hot coffee, some toast, and a pile of newspapers.

Trevelyan has actually gone out and bought the damn papers instead of reading them online. Dorian can't believe it. Had he known this, he would have gone back to his own house instead of staying at Trevelyan's.

”Qunari Ambassador Attacked In Art Exhibition,” Trevelyan reads out loud, holding an issue of Kirkwaller in his hands like a victory banner. He picks up another paper. ”And look at this: Tevinter Nationalists Strike At Controversial Art Show. Would you believe all the major newspapers in the city mention the exhibition in their headlines? Even Chantry Guard, this is wonderful!”

Dorian makes a noncommittal sound and breathes in the coffee fumes; he likes his black, and it is too hot to drink just yet.

Trevelyan raises his finger: ”However. As much as it pains me to admit, my personal favorite would have to be by Lowtown Tattler…”

Oh, no. Dorian grabs the paper from his lover’s hand, and stares at the front page picture wide-eyed. It’s him. Squeezed between two massive Qunari. Of course his face is the only one clearly present - the rest of the picture is a tangle of black suit and tattooed skin - and he looks ridiculous: tiny, obviously, which he is not, and as if he is suffocating (which he is). Also, his hair is a mess. Above the picture, the text: Qunari-Tevinter Sandwich.

Trevelyan is howling with laughter. Dorian gives him a murderous glance.

”I am so glad you are finding this amusing while I can barely breathe and my body is covered with bruises.”

”Come on, this is great, you are a hero!”

Over the last twelve hours Trevelyan's opinion about the incident has gone from furious (fuck Tevinter; fuck the Qunari; fuck, they almost burned my gallery down) - to delighted (you can't buy this kind of publicity!), and there’s no telling how it might change again.

Dorian leans closer, as his curiosity gets the better of him. ”What are they saying about me?”

”Hang on - ” Trevelyan opens another paper. ”Sources close to us inform that the unlikely hero is none other than infamous Dorian Pavus. Some of our readers may remember the troubled offspring of a prestigious magisterial house, who a few years back was rumored to live a rather scandalous life in Tevinter, before abruptly leaving the country and settling in Kirkwall... ”

”Oh, for fuck's sake.”

”What inspired a Tevinter noble to run to the rescue of a Qunari diplomat is hard to understand, but we can be certain this stunt won't help Pavus to regain the favor of his estranged family.”

”Well, they got that right.”

”Can you imagine what your father will say?”

Dorian considers. The idea of Magister Pavus seeing the news makes him... actually, it makes him feel pretty darn pleased with himself. He grins.

”I bet it's going to be months before anyone in the Magisterium agrees to talk to him.” He comes to think of something: ”By the way, have you heard from the Embassy?”

Trevelyan shakes his head. ”No, not yet, but I am sure I will.”

Dorian bites his lip. After the incident the Ambassador was rushed away, the assailant was rushed to the police station, and Dorian was rushed to the hospital, where he got checked, declared ”fine” apart from some severe bruising, and was then interrogated by two rigid detectives. All in all things turned out well, but Dorian is not sure how the Ambassador is feeling about his little stunt. On the one hand, he did possibly save the man's life - on the other, he feels that he should have let the bodyguard handle it; that the mind blast was a step too far; that the press coverage might be observed as offensive. Qunari-Tevinter Sandwich, for Andraste’s sake! Chances are Beresaad is furious.

”Anyway,” continues Trevelyan, ”everyone is talking about the exhibition now. Solas of course was pissed, because he thought the opening was ruined, but after he realized the paintings were fine, I managed to make him understand that this kind of -”

Trevelyan's phone rings. Dorian stares at it, his shoulders get stiff.

”I am not here. Alright?”

Trevelyan makes a face and picks up. The phone call is short: Trevelyan mostly listens, throws in a couple of yes' and ahas, and as soon as he finishes the call, he turns to Dorian, and grins.

”They are sending a car for you. You are going to the Embassy.”

Dorian gasps. ”I am not!”

”Of course you are, silly boy. Hurry up and get dressed, they'll be here in an hour.”

“Oh for - Trev!” Dorian is fuming. ”You could have said I was in the hospital!”

”You think they wouldn't know if you were?”

A fair point. Dorian gives Trevelyan a desperate look. ”Would you go with me at least?”

”Absolutely not. This is about you.” The man pinches his cheek. ”Oh, cheer up, beautiful, they are probably going to give you a medal.”

”Or make me disappear without a trace.”

”Dori, stop being so dramatic.” Trevelyan points at the bedroom door. ”Go change.”

 

***

 

Dorian is not sure what one is supposed to be wearing to the Qunari Embassy (or to a shallow grave, as it may be), or if it matters at this point, but he ends up borrowing Trevelyan's vested charcoal suit and a red shirt, as he knows the Qunari like red. The suit fits him pretty well, considering Trevelyan is slightly taller, but he makes a mental note to bring more of his own clothes over.

A massive black car with tinted windows pulls in by Trevelyan's house exactly one hour later. Dorian, who is already waiting outside, sees the Ambassador's bodyguard from last night step out of the monstrous vehicle. He walks around the car, opens the side door, and signals Dorian to enter.

”You are a chauffeur too?” Dorian asks. The man's eye - it is silvery green in the bright day light - narrows, but he looks amused rather than offended.

”I am many things. Get in, please.”

At this point Dorian is pretty sure he is never coming back home. He gives a longing glance to the bedroom window where he knows Trevelyan is watching, and gets in. He can't help wincing as his ribs protest against the bending movement.

”The bruises bothering you?” the bodyguard inquires. He is peeking in the vehicle, and oozing heat; Dorian remembers reading how the Qunari have higher body temperature than humans, and it is quite apparent on a crisp fall day like this.

”Yes.” Dorian grimaces as he settles on the seat. “Allow me to take this opportunity to thank you for collapsing on me with your whole weight.”

”Anytime.”

Surely the man wasn't flirting? Dorian gives him a suspicious look, but his face is unreadable, and before Dorian can come to any conclusion, the door slams shut.

The vehicle is ridiculously roomy, made for a race way larger than his; the whole interior is covered in black leather; the seats are firm and comfortable; the engine barely audible.

The bodyguard glances at him via the rear view mirror. ”Apart from ribs, you okay?”

”...yes, thank you.” Dorian hesitates. ”You?”

”Am fine.”

They pull off the driveway, and head out of Trevelyan’s fancy upper-class suburban neighborhood. ”What kind of car is this?”

”An Asaara.”

”Oh.” Dorian's never heard of it - then again he isn't much of a car enthusiast. ”It is beautiful.” He clears his throat. ”Listen, I didn't mean to step on your toes last night. I just… reacted.”

”Don't worry about it. You did good.”

It doesn't feel like he did, though. Dorian fiddles with his coat buttons, and watches the buildings and intersections go by. The afternoon sun is out and makes the weather look warmer than it actually is: still mostly green trees shimmer, and the sea sparkles in the distance. Approaching the city proper, they stop at traffic lights, and Dorian lets his eyes glide back to his silent chauffeur.

Maker, but the man is huge: wide, strong, almost two heads taller than Dorian. And the horns, now that he can see them up close, remind him of old driftwood: filled with nicks and grooves, but still smooth and polished. His gaze stops at the collar of a shimmery pink shirt the bodyguard is wearing under his long dark wool coat.

”So what's with you and pink?”

The Qunari shrugs one shoulder. ”I like it.” His head turns a tad as a cute brunette on a bicycle crosses the road. ”You know what they say: only real men can wear pink.”

”They say that?” Dorian frowns. ”Well. I don't know what it says about me then, but I look dreadful in pink.”

”You have to find the right shade.”

”So what you are telling me is that anyone can wear pink after all?”

”Shit.” A small smile is pulling the side of the Qunari's mouth. Dorian looks away and smiles as well. The light turns green. They are moving again.

”May I ask your name? In case you turn out to be the last person I ever talk to.”

”You can call me the Iron Bull.”

”The Iron Bull?” Dorian sounds incredulous. ”Now there's a name. Suits you, though… handsome horns.”

”Thanks.”

They turn left, then right to a busy uphill street. Not far now, Dorian realizes. He feels his palms getting sweaty. ”Anything I should know, Bull?”

”Just relax.”

They take yet another turn, drive to the end of the street, and finally reach a tall stone building decorated with blood-red symbols of the Qun. The electric gate opens smoothly as they approach, and two giant soldiers guarding it raise their hands in greeting. Bull drives right by the entrance and stops the car.

Dorian, who doesn’t want to act like the Qunari are some sort of servants of his, goes to open the door himself, but Bull stops him - a security thing, perhaps - so he waits patiently to be let out.

”Come,” Bull commands, heading up for the door, where another set of vitaar-covered soldiers are standing. Dorian follows, his heart beating frantically.

 

***

 

The Embassy is impressive, even by Tevinter standards. Initially Dorian was worried the interior would reflect the exterior in every sense: hard, military, red, but to his surprise he finds it rather aesthetically appealing.

The reception area is grand with a long polished counter and glass-walled office spaces. There is definitely loads of red, that much is true to the Qun: the velvet curtains on the tall windows, the thick carpets, the cushions on massive chairs set here and there. As they walk deeper into the Embassy, Dorian notes that most walls are set with beautiful black marble, that the sparkly crystal chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling are fabulous, and that there is art everywhere: paintings, sculptures, glass; all modern.

”The Ambassador's office is right that way,” the Iron Bull says and points towards a wide corridor with multiple doorways. ”But you are invited to his private residence.” Bull grins. ”I hope you like tea.”

Oh dear. Dorian feels his heart beat even faster as he follows his guide through massive doors decorated with geometric gold inlays, and along a short corridor to another set of identical doors. Bull pushes in, quite unceremoniously, and Dorian follows in his steps.

The residence is, in a word, cozy. Lower ceiling, paneled walls. Not much red here, Dorian notes: golds, greens and blues instead. The window dressings are soft white, as are the carpets, and just like in the official part of the Embassy, there is a ton of art here, this time its subjects more intimate in nature: portraits, animals, flower studies.

There are two enormously fat silky white cats lying on an equally enormous navy-blue couch.

”Dorian!”

He startles and turns, just in time to see squealing Elissa Cousland rush into the room. She is beaming, delighted, and before Dorian has a chance to say a word, she has wrapped her arms around him, and is hugging him with abandon. Dorian lets out an indignant sound (mostly out of pain), and sways his arms, not sure what to do with them.

”I can never thank you enough,” she speaks in his hair. ”Never.”

Dorian pats her back, mumbling platitudes, and hoping she will let go of him soon. The woman is perfectly lovely, but he is not used to being hugged by strangers, and he is hurting.

”I believe you are crushing the poor man's ribs, your ladyship,” Bull notes carefully. Lady Cousland gasps and steps away.

”Oh, I am so sorry, I wasn't thinking… you must be badly bruised, getting crushed under all that Qunari bulk last night.” She smooths Dorian's outfit, then winks at him. ”And not in a good way.”

Dorian chokes; Iron Bull, curse him, laughs out loud. Lady Cousland gives Dorian an almost embarrassed look. ”Apologies, my Fereldan upbringing is showing.” She takes his arm. ”Come now, Sten wants to see you.”

The Ambassador of the Qunari people is standing in the kitchen, wearing a ruffled canary-yellow apron and pouring boiling hot water in a clay pot. A rich, almost fruity aroma fills the room.

”Tea in a minute,” he says. He considers. ”Well, make it five.”

”Thank you, Ambassador,” Dorian whispers. He is having a hard time getting over the apron. The Ambassador steps forward and offers his hand. Dorian stares at it, mesmerized. It is a huge hand. He is… probably supposed to shake it.

The shake is firm and warm, and all of Dorian's hand disappears in the Ambassador's.

”Thank you,” he says again, as he can't think of anything else. The man looks displeased.

”No, thank you, Dorian.” He pauses. ”I am going to be honest with you: like any Qunari, I am not a huge fan of being hit with magic unannounced, but as it is, I quite likely owe you my life.”

What does one say to something like that? Oh, don't mention it… these things happen… good times, huh? Dorian is desperately reaching for his usual eloquence.

”Oh, anyone would have -”

He stops right there. Because no: most people would not have. Not for this man, anyway. He turns his gaze to the floor. Lady Cousland snorts.

”Right,” she says, and tilts her head. ”So why did you?”

”Honestly?” Dorian makes a face. ”I was worried about the consequences. To the gallery, to myself. Not terribly unselfish, I'm afraid.”

He wonders if the answer is offensive, but lady Cousland’s smile doesn’t falter. ”You are a quick thinker, then. Managing to figure out all that.”

”Quick on your feet too,” the Iron Bull says. Dorian jumps a bit; he didn't realize the bodyguard followed them into the kitchen. ”Was it horror you hit her with? That's one ugly spell, she didn't stop screaming until they found an officer with templar training to dispel it.”

”Terror, actually. Which is... well, worse. It practically immobilizes the target.” Dorian looks wary; talking about his necromancer abilities tends to make people uncomfortable, much more so than discussing, say, elemental magic, so he usually steers away from the topic.

”Whatever it was, it was impressive.” Bull’s eye narrows. ”The other spells were beautifully executed as well. If you acted differently and I didn't know any better, I'd think you're military. Obviously you are not, but your level of magic is right there.”

Dorian, who is trying very hard not to feel like he's being interrogated again, scoffs. “I can assure you my magic is far too refined and creative for the military.”

“Well excuse me.” Bull looks amused, then thoughtful. ”Tell me one thing though: how did you notice her - the assassin?”

”...her apron was tied Tevinter style.”

Bull grunts approvingly.

They settle in the living room. Beresaad sits in a huge velvet covered armchair, Bull chooses a spot between the window and the roaring fireplace, and Dorian and Elissa take over the couch - the cats refuse to move, so they end up being separated by a stubborn, fluffy barrier. Dorian learns the felines’ names are Genlock and Hurlock, and he makes the decision not to ask.

The Ambassador - no, Sten, for he insists they should be on first-name basis - pours dark reddish liquid into exotic looking cups, and Elissa is desperately trying to find enough room for a ridiculously large tray filled with all kinds of sweet cakes and finger food.

”You do understand,” Sten says, as he is adding honey to his tea (he has a big, baby blue cup with the word Boss painted on it, and Dorian has an idea who has given it to him), ”you do understand, that what you did doesn't make you very popular.” Dorian frowns. Yes - he can see that. Sten continues. ”Now, I assume you are aware that the diplomatic relations between your country and my country have been improving somewhat during the last couple of years.”

”I know there have been steps taken towards a more peaceful existence,” Dorian says carefully. He may not live in Tevinter anymore, and he may be estranged from his family, but he comes from a long line of devilishly skilful politicians: he knows when to tread with caution. For no matter how pleasant it all seems, he is on enemy territory here. Sten nods.

”Centuries of suspicion and prejudice, not to mention bloodshed, are not an easy thing to overcome. And the fact that my people don't know how to bargain, and your people are ridiculously - excuse me for saying this - emotional, is not helping.” Sten tastes his tea, and sighs, pleased. “There may not have been an open war for ages, but even so, skirmishes in Seheron and the constant political bickering are exhausting and pointless to both parties. It's truly been a blessing that the current Triumvirate and the Magisterium have finally opened negotiations, and agreed to have diplomatic relations again.”

“Yes,” Dorian says, keeping his expression neutral. Sten taps the side of his cup.

”Sadly, this does not sit well with certain people. The resistance is mainly in Tevinter, of course; my people are too, shall we say, obedient to stand against their government. Anyway - the opening of a Qunari embassy in Tevinter has infuriated the local extremists, and they've been attacking our embassies and ambassadors lately: I was not the first, nor will I be the last. Ambassador Adaar in Minrathous is getting the worst of it, of course; he tells me he feels practically like a prisoner, since there are constant attempts to poison him or blow up his car.”

”Home sweet home,” Dorian mutters. He takes a small sip of tea as well - it is exquisite. He has tasted Qunari tea before, as there is a Qunari Teahouse in Kirkwall, but this, this is something else altogether.

Sten picks up a fragile sugar cookie; his fingers are remarkably delicate. ”What I am trying to tell you, Dorian, is that you saving my life last night has probably gained you some enemies who are angry and well-organized. And they may be prone to come after you, either to punish you or to make an example out of you. Were you a non-Tevinter nobody, they'd surely let it slide, but you are an altus, and your father is a magister: that makes your act political. Not to mention outrageous.”

Dorian falls quiet as a sudden, heavy feeling sets in his belly. The Ambassador leans back in his chair. ”Tonight we will drink tea and talk about art. After that Bull will take you home and give you a security briefing.” He pauses and lifts the tray. ”Have a cookie, Dorian.”

 

***

 

Dorian crawls into the car and collapses on the seat.

It has been such an exhausting night. Alarming, distressing - but also undeniably pleasant. Sten and Elissa were most gracious hosts, and after spending hours talking to them, he now feels oddly elevated, despite the threats hanging above his head.

”You wish to go to your place or your boyfriend's?”

Bull's deep voice makes Dorian surface. He opens his eyes, hesitates. He’d rather not be alone: the idea terrifies him, and he misses Trevelyan intensely - but then again, the idea of possibly jeopardizing his lover…

Bull gives him a knowing look. “In my opinion you should not be alone right now. Why don’t we go and see what your boyfriend thinks? I am sure he’ll be fine with you staying.”

“Yes, I suppose,” Dorian mumbles.

They don't say more than that. It is almost eight thirty when they pull in at Trevelyan's house, and Dorian feels a tremendous relief as he sees the familiar lights in the windows; he was afraid Trev would be gone, as he often goes to check on his precious gallery at night.

Trevelyan opens the front door before Dorian has the chance to touch it; he looks worried. ”You okay, Dori?”

”Yes.” Dorian gives him a quick kiss. ”I had a good time.”

”Great. And the Qunari?”

The Qunari is here to give you a security briefing”, Bull says. ”I am the Iron Bull.”

”You were with Beresaad last night.”

”So I was.”

”Why do I need a security briefing?”

”It's for me, really,” Dorian interrupts. ”I'll explain everything, it's just a precaution.”

Trevelyan nods, reluctantly. ”All right then. Come on in.”

They settle in the kitchen. It is a beautiful one; not as cozy as the Ambassador's, but notably tasteful and functional. Bull glances at the gleaming quartz countertops and black cabinets; the fabulous backsplash of mirror mosaic, and the sleek, modern sapphire-blue glass chandelier hanging above the massive barnwood table - three smaller lighting fixtures of the same style are hanging above the bar.

”Not enough pink for you?” Dorian asks and grins. The Qunari grins back at him.

”Sit,” Trevelyan says shortly, and settles into a leather-and-chrome chair by the table. ”Let's hear it.”

Dorian explains shortly what went down at the Embassy. Trevelyan listens intently: his expression is calm, but Dorian can tell he is alarmed, because he keeps on twisting his golden hair around his fingers. Once Dorian is done, Trevelyan looks at the Iron Bull.

”So you think Dorian is in danger?”

”He could be.” Bull pauses for a moment and turns his attention to Dorian; a little gesture Dorian suddenly finds he appreciates, because people seem to have the tendency to talk to Trevelyan whenever they are together, no matter what the topic. ”As the Ambassador explained, what you did can be considered treasonous by some people in your country. With luck they will concentrate on slandering you and your family, but since they are really, really angry with you at the moment, harm-doing is not out of the question. So I'd be careful and prepared, just in case.” Bull smiles encouragingly; Dorian half expects him to pat his hand. ”Still, I don't see this as something that will be held against you forever: these guys have a short attention span and more important things on their platter. You are not their primary target after all.”

”So, I am supposed to be on my toes for... what, a few weeks?”

”Something like that. I’ll keep you posted.”

”All right.” Dorian swallows. ”How about that briefing then?”

The Qunari straightens up and turns into something sharp and bone-chillingly professional. “Write this down, please.” He waits while Dorian grabs a notepad and a pencil. ”I am going to ask you to change your routines somewhat. Take different routes. Use different stores and restaurants as much as possible.”

Dorian arches his brow. ”Are you telling me I won't be able to take my weekly pilgrimage to Le Fruit Défendu to drink my fancy Orlesian cocktails and dance the night away? And what am I supposed to do about my facials? My hair, for Maker's sake?”

Bull stares at him with a blank face. Trevelyan starts laughing, Dorian snorts. ”I am kidding.”

”You think this is funny.”

”No, I don't think this is funny. Just…” Dorian bites his lip. ”I apologize.” He makes a note in his pad. “Continue, please.”

The Qunari looks displeased, but goes on: ”Never leave the house without letting someone know where you are heading. Check your car before you drive it, inside and out, and if someone follows you, drive straight to a police station. And as a general rule, stick with the crowds: the more people, the safer.”

“Like last night?” Trevelyan asks with an innocent smile. Bull huffs.

“That was intended to be a high profile attack. I don’t expect such in Dorian’s case.” He returns to the now frowning Tevinter. “There may be weird letters, calls or messages coming: do not open the letters, and hang up in case of phone calls. Save any messages. Then contact the police.”

”Alright.”

”You’ll be staying here?”

Dorian turns to Trevelyan. ”Is it alright if I do, at least for tonight?”

”Of course, don't be silly.”

Bull nods. ”In that case, how is your security system?”

”Top of the line,” Trevelyan says. ”With all the art I have here...”

“Are the fuse boxes secured?”

Trevelyan looks surprised. Bull grunts. “Get locks on them. And keep them and the doors locked at all times, garage door and car doors as well. Even when at home.”

Dorian smiles, slightly cocky. ”I can always set wards.”

Bull barely covers his discomfort; Trevelyan doesn't bother: ”Ugh. I hate those things.”

”Uncivilized, the lot of you. Perhaps we should get a cute mabari?”

“That is not a bad idea,” Bull says. Trevelyan raises his hands.

”Over my dead body.”

”I was joking, Trev.”

Bull's eye narrows, but he doesn't comment. “Smoke detectors? Fire extinguishers?” he asks instead. After Trevelyan affirms, Bull taps at Dorian’s pad with his clawed finger. “You got all that?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

They fall silent. Dorian, his mind anxious and wandering, studies Bull's hand, still resting next to his notepad. It is just massive, so out of place in the shiny, modern kitchen; there are old, shimmery scars here and there, and two of the fingers are partly missing. He wonders what happened.

Trevelyan sighs. ”This is such a fucking mess.” He rubs his face, looks at Bull. ”I mean, the boy playing hero here is fine, I just wish - don't take this the wrong way - that he had rescued someone less Qunari. This is going to make life so inconvenient. Let's just hope the situation doesn't last too long.”

Bull offers a sharp smile: ”Let's.” He turns to Dorian (who is quite annoyed by being referred to as “boy” and talked about like he isn’t in the room). ”I am going to give you my number. If you have any questions, or if you feel like something is not quite right, call me.”

Dorian takes out his phone and adds Bull to his contacts. Then he looks him in the eye. ”Thank you. I mean it.”

”No problem.” The Qunari smiles again, softer this time, and gets up. ”I will see myself out.”

Dorian watches him go, and gets hit by a strangest feeling of loss. It felt good having Bull around. Safer, certainly.

”They're such weird people,” he mutters out loud. Trevelyan shakes his head.

”Not sure I would call them people.”

”Your definitions are always so narrow, my dear.” Dorian goes silent for a moment. ”I quite like Bull actually, he seems nice. For a Qunari. After you get over the initial flight-or-fight response.”

Trevelyan rolls his eyes. Dorian looks at him. ”Listen, Trev, I am sorry. About this whole situation, I truly am. But I refuse to be sorry for saving the Ambassador, and whatever you think now, I am sure having a political scandal would be worse than this little inconvenience we are experiencing. Had he died, I highly doubt I would be alive now.”

”I suppose you are right.” Trevelyan takes Dorian's hand. ”I apologize for being an ass.” He leans closer, lowers his voice. ”Want to go upstairs and have a bath together?”

”Only if you wash my back.”

”Oh, I'll wash your back and then some.”

Chapter Text

For the next week Dorian stays at Trevelyan's house, tightly barricaded.

It is not that he is scared - it just makes sense to be careful, doesn’t it? And besides, he doesn't wish to deal with any unwanted attention: his face has just been all over the newspapers (not a face easily forgotten, mind you), so he chooses to lay low for a while.

Restrictive as it may be, the voluntary house arrest doesn’t really bother Dorian too much. He may have been a dazzling socialite in his previous life, but even back then he much preferred the solitary role of a scholar and writer, enjoying it far more than any fancy Tevinter party - and writing, as it happens, is exactly what he is planning on doing now that he is stuck indoors. After all, what better way to get his mind off things and clear his head?

Sadly, he soon finds his muse is avoiding him, and he is having a hard time concentrating. Apparently being on a hit list doesn’t add to one’s creativity. Accepting the situation, he takes on reading, cooking, and watching movies instead - which is fine, because he enjoys those things as well. And if his mood, mercurial under the best of circumstances, is somewhat touchy, and if he has trouble sleeping… well. The situation should defuse itself soon enough. Surely.

Trevelyan is gone on most days. He is dealing with the ongoing exhibition, which has turned out a roaring success: Dorian hears they have sold a number of paintings (the Ambassador purchased the piece he was examining during the assassination attempt), and apparently even Solas is acting ”less pissy”. Likewise, Trevelyan is in an excellent mood; even Dorian’s occasional snappiness doesn’t get to him as he is flying high on the wings of success, and Dorian loves him like this: happy, warm, excited.

All in all, Dorian is having a relatively nice week up until Thursday night, when he realizes that he has blissfully forgotten about Trevelyan's upcoming trip to Denerim.

Dorian is already in bed when Trevelyan begins to pack his bags. He’ll be leaving in the morning, and, pedantic as ever, wants to be ready in time. Dorian pushes himself up on his elbows and lets out an exaggerated sigh.

”I wish you didn't have to go.”

Trevelyan won’t look at him. ”Dori, you know I must. The cursed man is a major benefactor, I can't miss this dinner.”

Dorian’s face tightens. As stated, he is not afraid: he is a mage, a Necromancer for Andraste’s sake, people are afraid of him, if anything - but the idea of spending the whole weekend by himself, sleeping in the empty house… With Trevelyan gone there will be no support network for him, since Lavellan and Sera are still out of town. And he absolutely refuses to bug Bull without a good reason.

”What if Josie participated on your behalf? She deals with the Theirin foundation all the time.”

Trevelyan sits on the side of the bed, folding unnecessarily many t-shirts into neat rolls. His golden hair falls on his face, so Dorian can't see his expression, but there is no mistaking the tone of the scoff he makes.

”Josie? Don't be silly, it has to be me. It's been me every year, and there is no time for that kind of changes anyway.”

”...can't I go with you then?”

”With the potential terrorist threat hanging over your head? No, I don't think so. They probably wouldn't let you in.”

Dorian feels his face getting hot. Trevelyan sighs and lays his hand on his ankle. ”I'll be back on Sunday afternoon, it's only two nights, and as long as you remember to keep the alarm system on, you will be fine. Besides, you are hardly helpless. Right?”

“I know, but I -” Dorian, at a loss of words, goes for the physical: he reaches and pulls Trevelyan into a blistering kiss. Trevelyan kisses him back, but with an impatient side note, and when Dorian tries to slide a hand under his waistband, Trevelyan grabs his wrist.

”No, no, no. I need to get this done.”

Dorian pouts. He pulls the covers aside and shows his naked body underneath. His satiny brown skin gleams in the warm bedroom light. His cock is half hard.

Trevelyan gives him a quick glance. ”Fuck.”

”Keep that thought.” Dorian lets his hand travel along his smooth, sculpted chest and downwards, until his elegant fingers wrap around his length. He begins to stroke himself leisurely. ”Then again, if you truly are too busy, guess I'll just take care of myself.”

Trevelyan groans, throws the t-shirt he is holding over his shoulder, hitting a fragile light fixture on the wall, and jumps Dorian.

”Oh!” Dorian moans in Trevelyan's mouth, as the man begins to grind against him. They kiss again; then Trevelyan grabs the lube from the nightstand drawer, wraps his firm hand around both of their cocks, and brings them to completion quickly. He has wiped them clean and is back to packing his shirts before Dorian has a chance to properly recover from the marvelous, albeit hasty orgasm.

”...well,” Dorian says, as he is trying to catch his breath, ”that was efficient.”

Trevelyan tousles his hair, getting a furious squawk out of him, and then goes to the bathroom to fetch his toiletry bag. ”Efficient is my middle name,” he says. Dorian groans and closes his eyes.

When Dorian first began dating Trevelyan - they met in a bookstore, bonded over Orlesian poetry, and had their first date the same night - he became very quickly aware of the fact that Trevelyan’s sexual repertoire was rather limited. Dorian didn’t mind; the fact that he had met someone so gorgeous and intelligent who actually liked him back, was enough, much more than he ever dared to hope for himself.

Still - there are moments when Trevelyan’s impatience and downright unwillingness to do certain things Dorian used to enjoy (or at least dream of) when he was single and promiscuous, bothers him. Dorian understands how some of his more exotic tastes are not everyone’s cup of tea, but he misses them nevertheless, and longs to show his creativity: sex, to him, is an art form, comparable to his writing, and he is good at it. Exceptionally good. That he so rarely gets to really express himself in that field anymore, is a downright pity.

The thing that bothers Dorian above all else - possibly more than it should - is the fact that Trevelyan doesn’t do penetration. The man doesn't want to give it, receive it, or even hear about it. And sure, here, as well, Dorian can understand preference, and obviously there are other things, marvelous things, one can do with their hands and mouth; and yes, dildos are a thing, and all that aside, Maker knows Dorian’s sexual relations before Trevelyan were a long string of educational but ultimately clinical one night stands, and what he has now is so much better… but. He quite badly misses the feeling of being penetrated and filled, the overwhelming closeness that comes with it, and sometimes he wonders…

”And done.” Trevelyan collapses on the bed. Dorian snaps out of his thoughts, feeling guilty over his ungrateful musings. He lays his head on the other man's warm belly and snuggles, breathing in the clean, masculine scent.

”I'll miss you.”

”I'll miss you too, baby,” Trevelyan takes Dorian's hand and kisses his knuckles with silky lips. ”But I will return before you know it.”

”I am going to be so bored here, all by myself.”

”Gives you time to clean up my closets.”

Dorian gasps, indignant, and hits Trevelyan with a decorative cushion; Trevelyan laughs, wraps his sinewy arms around his complaining lover, and silences him with another affectionate kiss.

 

***

 

Dorian closes the closet door and stretches his muscles.

Following Trevelyan’s suggestion, he has spent the morning arranging the man's wardrobe and, in a gesture of goodwill, polished his shoes as well. He is just about to go and prepare something to eat - a nice baked potato, perhaps - when his phone rings. It is not any of the the personalized ringtones reserved for his friends, and Dorian’s heart shrivels - but then he looks at the screen. He lets out a relieved sigh.

”Hello, Elissa.”

”Hello, Dorian,” the pleasant, cheerful voice chimes from the other end. ”Listen, I was wondering if you'd like to come over for tea again? In case you have no other plans, that is. You can bring your boyfriend, too.”

Dorian snorts. ”Plans? On Friday night? Hardly. I'd love to come - but Trev won't be making it, he is out of town.”

Silence. Then: ”He left you by yourself?”

”He really had to be somewhere.”

”I see,” Lady Cousland mutters something Dorian can't quite make out. ”I will send a car to pick you up at four thirty, how's that?”

”Sounds great. I'll be at Trev's.” Dorian hesitates. ”Will you send Bull?”

”Is that a problem? I can send someone else if you want, a human or an elf...”

”Oh no, no, I like him.” Dorian bites his lip. ”I mean - he's been very helpful. I just don't want to inconvenience Sten.”

”He has other bodyguards,” Elissa says gently. ”Bull is possibly his favorite, but not the only one. I figured you'd be at ease with him since you know him from before. The Qunari can be, well, intimidating, if you don't know them, but they also have this way to make one feel safe. You could probably use that right now.”

”That's very sweet of you.”

”See you soon.”

 

***

 

Bull is punctual. Dorian is just dashing down the stairs, when he sees the familiar shiny car pulling on in the yard. He hastily sets the alarm system, slams the front door shut, and steps to meet the Qunari.

”Hello!” Dorian is trying not to sound too enthusiastic. He is so happy to be out of the house, and the idea of meeting Sten and Elissa excites him. Bull gives him the once-over. Dorian is wearing tight black pants and a slim dark blue wool coat; he has wrapped a soft blue paisley patterned scarf around his neck.

”Looking nice,” Bull says. Dorian flushes.

”I bet you say that to all Tevinter mages you’ve collapsed on,” he quips, unthinking, his nervousness channeling into reflex-like flirting. He regrets it immediately - but Bull just snorts, amused. At the same moment Dorian gets a whiff of the Qunari’s musky scent, and all that combined with the man’s steady, mountain-like presence suddenly makes him feel so much better, just as Elissa noted. His muscles relax, his mind calms down.

It’s going to be all right.

They are about halfway to the Embassy and talking about the weather (there's a warning for heavy rain, and the sky looks gloomy indeed), when Dorian's phone rings again. He digs the device from his pocket, and although it is not a contact he has saved, he immediately recognizes the number.

He recognizes the number.

His heart stops for one stomach-turning moment; then his hands begin to shake with badly-hidden fear and anger.

”Dorian?” Bull's voice sounds alarmed.

”Excuse me,” Dorian says stiffly, ”looks like I am about to do some yelling. There's also a very real chance I will cry. Will try and keep magical eruptions to a minimum, though.”

Bull makes an abrupt decision to pull over as Dorian answers the phone.

”Magister Pavus,” Dorian says, switching to Tevene. He is doing his utmost to sound nonchalant.

First he can’t hear anything, just the faint humming of the connection - then his father's voice, painfully familiar despite the fact that he hasn't heard it for years, makes his eyes sting and his breath catch:

”Dorian. How are you?”

Dorian feels a scream rising in his throat, but he shoves it back down. ”I am certain you know how I am, and I am also certain you couldn't care less.”

Halward Pavus sighs. ”No matter what you wish to believe, I do.”

”I might be more convinced if it hadn't taken all this time for you to check on me.”

”This was not an easy call to make. I wish you’d appreciate the effort and didn’t immediately start acting like a petulant child.”

”And I wish it would take longer than fifteen seconds before you begin to scold me whenever we speak!”

An uncomfortable silence. Dorian lets it stretch for a while; then he gives a weary sigh. ”Why are you calling me, Father?”

”I am calling to make sure you are all right. Also, to give you a piece of advice.” Halward raises his voice, cutting off Dorian's protesting groan. ”You used to value my advice above anyone else's, once, and even if you feel that I don't deserve to be heard anymore, I strongly suggest you hear me out now: your recent, rather unfortunate actions have -”

”Unfortunate?” Dorian shrieks. ”I save someone's life, and you call it unfortunate? Oh dear, seems like the pariah son has done it again. How horrendous! Will the shame and disgrace never end?”

”Are you going to let me finish?”

”Am I? Should I?” Dorian lets out a bored sound. “Fine - fine, say whatever you wish to say, and let us be done with it.”

“Stay away from the Qunari.”

“What?”

“I am saying this just in case they are trying to connect with you somehow. They are not people to be trusted, you know this.”

Dorian laughs out loud: ”In that case, Father dearest, I suppose it won't make you happy to hear I am on my way to the Embassy as we speak, and I am on a first-name bases with the Ambassador.”

”I see.” Halward takes a deep, steadying breath. “And I suppose it would be too much to ask you to spare the family from yet another scandal? To have mercy on your poor mother - ”

”It absolutely would be too much for you to ask anything at all from me: I have no duty nor interest to listen to your advice on this!” Dorian is squeezing his hand into a sweaty fist. ”I choose my friends as I see wise.”

”You and ‘wise’ have never fit in the same sentence. Why are you always so impossible? Why don’t you see the potential danger this puts you in?”

“Danger? Oh there is danger, but it is not from the Qunari!”

A short silence. “What are you talking about?”

Dorian clicks his tongue. “I am talking about retaliation from those idiots whose assassination plot I ruined!”

”There's been threats?” Halward sounds sharp and - Dorian has to admit - truly worried now.

“No. Not yet.” Dorian rubs his face, suddenly exhausted. ”The Ambassador believes it's a real possibility, though. He was kind enough to have his man give me a security briefing, so I am prepared at least, and they are keeping tabs on any -”

”I'll see what I can do,” Halward says. Dorian explodes all over again.

”No! No you won't! I do not want or need you meddling!”

”I absolutely will, and I know Maevaris will look into this too. She probably is already. I better give her a call right now.”

”Father -”

”I suppose it is time the Magisterium begins to take this nationalist problem seriously anyway: might as well be initiated by me.”

”Father, don't you -”

”Goodbye, Dorian. I’ll be in touch.”

Dorian stares at his phone, incredulous. His heart is beating so hard it threatens to burst out of his chest, as a mixture of pain, rage, and helpless, unwanted longing washes over him. He leans his head against the seat, and covers his face.

”Damn you to the Void,” he sobs through clenched teeth.

“Dorian,” Bulls gentle voice pulls him out before he sinks too deep. He opens his eyes and sees a huge grey hand offering him a lavender handkerchief about the size of a tablecloth. It is embroidered with tiny pink flowers. Dorian takes the ridiculous thing, blows his nose, and pats carefully around the eyes, checking his kohl lining in a tiny hand mirror he always carries with him. Then he sticks the handkerchief in his pocket.

”I'll wash it and return it later,” he mumbles. Bull ignores him, looking awfully pensive.

“You know, your father interfering might not be such a bad thing.”

Dorian scoffs. Even if there is a small part of him that might agree, that part is easily overpowered by the part that feels like a bitter, rebellious teenager every time he hears his father talk.

Suddenly he realizes something. He lifts his head, surprised. “Wait - you speak Tevene?”

”Some.”

“That’s unusual, isn’t it? For a Qunari.”

Bull smiles, but doesn’t bother giving any explanation. “If we had the time I’d take you to a bar and offer you a stiff drink. You look like you could use one.”

Dorian takes a deep breath. “I wish.” He gives Bull a pleading look then. ”Could you not mention the phone call to Sten and Elissa? At least not while I'm there. I don't believe I am ready to discuss this.”

”Sure thing.”

 

***

 

Entering the private section of the Embassy, Dorian is immediately greeted by one of the cats: he is not sure which one as they look identical to him. He bends to scratch the purring animal behind the ear.

”I’ve always liked cats,” he says. He notices his fingers are still shaking a bit, but he tries not to think about it. The silky fur feels nice and soft to the touch. ”I used to have one when I was a child.”

”So why don't you get one? Your boyfriend allergic?” Bull asks.

”Oh, no. He just doesn't want any pets; too many expensive things around to be ruined. And if it so happens that we move in together some day...”

Their chatting is cut short by Elissa, who walks in carrying the familiar gigantic tray. Her face lights up. ”Hello there!”

Dorian is seated on the couch, again, and soon Sten joins them with his dear tea pot. He is wearing the same bright yellow apron as last time, and has gathered his long braids in a loose bun in the back of his neck. He has prepared different tea, though: this one is darker in color, very fragrant and spicy.

”How are you?” he asks, his purple eyes not leaving the pot as he is pouring Dorian a cupful. Dorian has noticed that in a typical Qunari manner Sten rarely makes eye contact - Bull, on the other hand, hardly ever takes his eye off people. Bull does other un-Qunari-like things too. Like smiling. Dorian doesn’t think he ever saw a Qunari smile before he met Bull.

“I am fine. Been mostly inside, as advised. A rather solitary week, all in all.”

Sten listens to him attentively, and gives some advice about not letting the fear paralyze oneself; then he reminds Dorian that PTSD is a thing, and he should “talk to someone” if he is feeling anxious or scared.

Dorian keeps nodding, with a steady smile on his face, and then skillfully leads the conversation to the weather (apparently it is supposed to rain like something awful); to recipes (he confesses to a minor obsession with Ferelden honey bread); and is just about to touch the topic of Orlesian Satinalia customs, when Elissa takes over.

”Sooo,” she says, stretching the word with an impish grin on her face. ”I hear you are a writer.”

Dorian blinks. ”Indeed, I've published numerous essays on thaumaturgy and -”

”Erotica.”

Venhedis. Dorian feels his face flashing red. True enough, he has written and published two quite popular novels since his arrival to Kirkwall - but he used a pseudonym and maintains a strict no publicity policy: his real identity is a well-kept secret, his agent Varric sees to that. Or so he thought. He clears his throat.

”Ah. Yes, I - well. I did, I guess. Had to make a living somehow, not too many around here interested in hiring a Tevinter - a mage and a Necromancer at that - for anything.”

Especially when the said Necromancer’s filthy rich Magister Father seems to be able to reach across the continent and prevent the misbehaving offspring from getting even the meekest of jobs, Dorian thinks bitterly. It had taken forever before the University agreed to pay attention to him, and it is still hard to get an occasional lecturing gig, or his writing accepted for publication.

Elissa leans closer, her eyes sparkling. ”I must confess I have read them both. I loved Nights Of Fire And Velvet.”

Blue Silk Rope was my favorite,” Bull states. “Good job with the knots.”

Dorian gives him a stunned look. Oh... oh. The idea of this man being into bondage gives him mental images he doesn't care to examine closer.

”And I haven't read either of them,” Sten shrugs. ”Not my cup of tea, so to speak.”

”He is mostly into poetry,” Elissa explains. She gives Dorian an impish look. ”I am curious… how did you manage the occasional male-female action in the first book? I found those parts wonderfully done.”

Dorian sighs, theatrically: ”Mainly courtesy of my friend Lavellan: I interrogated her for days to get it right.”

They all laugh at that. Elissa offers him a piece of a fluffy Orlesian cake he hasn’t come around to tasting just yet; it has a shiny, delicate meringue topping and it smells of lemons.

”I am happy to hear you've found some friends here,” Elissa says.

”Two.” Dorian bites into the cake. It is delicious; the almost nutty flavor of the crispy meringue melts on his tongue. ”I regret to admit it, but apart from Trev I've only managed to make two. Amusingly enough, they are both elven.”

”Two friends? Surely this can't be true,” Elissa frowns. ”You are a most charming young man.”

”Quite so, but I'm afraid myself being from Tevinter makes me somewhat, ah, unpopular. Not that I was truly popular in Tevinter either; admired and envied, certainly, but apparently my glib tongue gets me in trouble too often. Still...”Dorian hesitates, as a faint sorrow grabs his heart. ”I had a marvel of a friend once. Felix. But he died.”

”I am so sorry.”

”These things happen, or so I hear,” Dorian forces his tone light. ”At least I was lucky enough to find love here. I could never have this in Tevinter, so I consider myself blessed.”

It feels strange confessing that, to talk about their relationship so openly. Dorian is not sure Trevelyan would approve, but he feels defiant, and he sees no point in covering something these people are already aware of.

Elissa looks curious. ”It really is that bad over there?”

Dorian makes a noncommittal sound. ”Well, no one really cares who you sleep with - as long as you keep the more deviant activities behind closed doors, and marry someone of opposite sex.” He pauses. ”I personally wasn't too keen on the idea.”

”You wanted to meet a nice boy and live happily ever after,” Elissa's voice is almost tender. Dorian shrugs.

”I may have had such foolish dreams in my youth, and after I figured out that wasn't going to happen, I may have done all kinds of stupid, rebellious things.” Dorian shakes his head. ”I honestly should have left way earlier than I did.”

Elissa hums. ”How long have you two been together?”

”For almost a year now. Trev is wonderful.”

”You do make a stunning couple.”

”Thank you.” Dorian smiles softly and sets his empty cup back on the table. Bull shifts in his spot by the window.

”He had no problem with you being from Tevinter?”

”Oh, he did, but he was willing to look past that because I am beautiful.” Dorian grins to show he meant it as a joke, even if there is some truth to it. ”He had a bigger problem with me writing smut.”

”Religious upbringing?” Sten asks. Dorian shakes his head.

”No, no. He is not prudish, even though he pretends to be Andrastian, he's just awfully snobby - yes, even more so than yours truly, as incredulous as it sounds. He doesn't consider it proper literature, and Maker forbid his friends found out...”

Elissa looks thoughtful and slightly disappointed. ”So there will be no more books?”

”I can't say,” Dorian gives her an apologetic smile. ”I still write - one has to, for one's sanity - but I haven't been planning on publishing anything non-scientific, even though my agent keeps on bugging me. Trev is generous, and I have some savings now, so a new book is not a financial necessity either.”

Elissa frowns. Sten frowns. Iron Bull frowns.

They all disapprove, Dorian realizes. ”Don't look at me like that, I am fine with it.”

Elissa pats his hand. ”Whatever you say, dear.”

 

***

 

As they drive back to the house, Dorian stares outside, deep in thought.

It is past ten o'clock, and the city looks unusually quiet and sad: the bright lights in front of closed stores and nightclubs are blinking, but there are not many people around even though it's Saturday night.

Must be the weather warning, Dorian thinks, and shifts on his seat, uncomfortable. The warm feeling the visitation has left in his chest is beginning to fade and is getting rapidly replaced by a growing anxiety.

They are about half way back, when it begins to rain, heavily and abruptly. He hears some kids scream playfully outside as they are getting wet all of a sudden.

”Wow,” Bull says and slows down, almost stops. ”This is like in Par Vollen during the monsoon season.”

Dorian stares at the headlights, incredulous: it is like staring into a waterfall that runs to a lake. He thinks quickly. ”I think we better head to my place after all, it is closer.”

”Good idea.” Bull takes the next left turn. Dorian gives him an annoyed look.

”I am not going to ask how you know where I live.”

Dorian's small, surprisingly secluded house is situated by a quiet side street. The area is old and respectable, if not exquisite, and he is rather fond of the place: the little garden - if one can call two huge, ancient rhododendrons and multiple pots of herbs a garden - is charming, the neighbors are harmless, and there's a partial view of the sea from the study upstairs. He bought the place almost two years ago, after his second book turned out to be a hit; it would have been out of his price range at that point, but the previous owner happened to be friends with Mae and eager to return to Tevinter, so he ended up getting the house dirt cheap.

Bull pulls over in the yard. Dorian stares at the house: the normally friendly-looking little blue building now seems dark and uninviting despite the dim spherical solar lights in the garden, and the tiny colorful lantern twinkling by the door.

”Fuck,” he mutters - and then it begins to rain even harder, and he swears again. Bull turns to look at him. Dorian sighs: ”Dry clean only. My clothes.”

Also, I am possibly terrified to go in.

Bull studies his face for a moment. ”I would like to come in and check on the house, if that's okay with you. Just to be safe.”

”Oh.” Dorian squeezes his seat belt so hard he can feel the hard nylon edges press into his skin. The rain is drumming on the roof. ”Certainly, if you think that's...” He swallows the rest of the sentence. Maker, he is pathetic.

”Well then.” Bull turns off the engine, and his eye seems darker somehow. ”Take off your shoes and roll up your pants.” He unfastens his seatbelt and begins to remove his coat. Dorian blinks.

”You are going to give me your coat?”

”It is pretty sturdy, should keep you dry until the door.”

”But -”

”Take it,” Bull shoves the huge piece of clothing on Dorian's lap. Dorian clicks his seatbelt open as well. He removes his shoes, as told, rolls his pants above his knees, and pulls the coat all the way on top of his head. It smells like Bull and radiates heat, and it easily covers all of him. Dorian closes his eyes for a moment, just to enjoy the sensation.

”Grab your shoes,” Bull says, ”and keep them inside the coat.”

Bull opens the door. The interior of the car is immediately hit with a whiff of chilly, damp air; then it is gone just as swiftly, as the door is slammed shut. Dorian holds his breath as the Qunari appears by his side of the car and pulls the door open.

”Dorian, quick.”

Dorian hesitates but a moment; the wind and the rain are already hitting him. He dives outside and begins to run towards the front door; he feels his feet sinking in the cold water, splashing as they go; the rest of his body, however, stays blessedly dry and warm.

It takes just a couple of seconds to reach the terrace. Dorian uses his phone to disarm the security system, pulls the key out of his pocket, and unlocks the door. He is about to step in, when a massive and notably wet arm blocks his way.

”I am going in first.”

Dorian stares up at the Qunari. He looks so alien in the vibrating lantern light with his horns and enormous shoulders, soft blues, reds, and yellows dotting his face.

”You are pretty bossy, you know that?” Dorian whispers.

Bull smirks, pushes the door open, and steps in.

Chapter Text

”Wait, wait, wait!” Dorian sets his shoes on the floor, pulls off the wet coat, and turns to the impatient looking Qunari: ”Do not move. You are going to get water all over the place -”

He loses his train of thought momentarily. Bull is practically filling the hallway. He is so ridiculously unfit for human environment, especially Dorian's small house: he had to crouch and turn sideways in the narrow doorway, taking care with his horns, when they first got in. Dorian pulls himself together:

”- you are going to get water all over the place, ruin my Nevarran silk rugs, and then I will have to murder you. Is that the way you want to go? Just let me fetch you a towel.”

”Now who's bossy?”

Dorian ignores the quip and walks into a small powder room right by the front door. He hangs the coat up to dry, throws his ruined socks in the sink, dries his cold, reddened feet with a fluffy towel, and out of habit spends a moment inspecting himself in the mirror, making sure his mustache is still perfect. Then he grabs another towel, a larger one, for Bull.

When he returns to the hall, the Qunari is shirtless and pulling down his pants.

Dorian's head snaps away, but it is too late: he has seen the muscles, the scars, the tattoos. The man's arms, shoulders, and pectorals are covered in tattoos - Qunari style, the kind that look like vitaar.

Fasta vass.

Trying his best to act nonchalant, Dorian throws a towel at Bull who is just standing there relaxed and perfectly shameless; then he retreats swiftly back into the powder room. He leans heavily against the cool, tiled wall, and closes his eyes.

There is a naked Qunari in the hallway.

He doesn't know which hits him harder, the absurdity or the horror of the thought. His Tevinter instincts are screaming, reminding him of all the terrifying facts he knows about the towering giants; how they are cruel, deceitful, and incomprehensible - but there is also a part of him that just wants to fall on the floor and laugh hysterically at the madness of it all.

Dorian stays put for about five minutes until he deems it safe to go back. He finds Bull standing in a pile of soaked clothes - the towel wrapped securely around his waist - and holding a holstered gun in his hand. He pushes the clothes with the tips of his toes.

”May I use your dryer?”

”Yes,” Dorian answers automatically, although he doesn't see what the point is.

”Great. Now wait here, I will take a look around.”

Bull turns, offering Dorian a view of his back. It is astonishingly wide and muscular, and tapers nicely to the waist slightly softened by a smooth layer of fat - a sign of self-indulgence, Dorian assumes, and quite likes it: it makes the Qunari look a little less like some war machine. The dark tattoos reach just under the shoulder blades, mercifully covering some of the long, deep scars that are webbing his silvery skin. Bull clicks on the lights in the kitchen, and Dorian stares as the magnificent muscles shift and move; his eyes glide unwittingly down, lingering on the toned, shapely glutes the tightly tied towel can’t quite hide, and finally descend to the thick calves. Only then he realizes that Bull is actually wearing a leg brace - and now that he is paying attention, he can definitely see him minding his leg a bit.

Knock it off, Dorian commands himself. No matter how innocent his interest (it is just curiosity, naturally), staring is rude. Annoyed by his own behavior, he turns away, concentrating on his surroundings instead.

The house is quiet. The patterned rug under Dorian’s feet feels pleasantly warm, and the amber toned led-lights twinkling in the small chandelier above are calming and familiar. He closes his eyes and listens to Bull’s footsteps: they are surprisingly light, almost silent, and he has to really strain his ears to hear them. Bull goes upstairs, moves around, then comes back down.

”Everything's in order,” he states.

Dorian opens his eyes and does his best to keep his gaze above the man's collarbones.

“Excellent.” He clears his throat. “Thank you.” He takes a step towards Bull’s clothes that are still lying on the floor. “Why don't you make yourself comfortable while I throw your stuff in the dryer -”

”Hold on.”

Bull bends down, picks up his clothes, and begins to empty his pockets. Dorian watches as he pulls out car keys, house keys (on his key chain hangs something that looks like a small stuffed nug with wings), a phone, and a box of mints. He sets the things on the side table along with his gun, then hands the clothes over to Dorian.

”Here.” Suddenly his eye twinkles. ”And no matter how tempting, don't go stealing my underwear.” Dorian stares at the pale pink satin boxers on top of the pile. They have dragons on them.

”Hivernal,” he says, without thinking. Bull's eye widens.

”You recognize her?”

”Certainly.” Dorian tries to sound like it is not a big deal. ”I consider it my duty as a Tevinter citizen to be able to identify the most common species.”

Bull takes a deep breath, and for a surreal, fleeing moment Dorian thinks he sees a tiniest twitch pulling the towel covering the Qunari's groin area - not that he is looking, because he is not, and even if he were he surely would be imagining things. Annoyed, and somewhat confused, he flees to the laundry room.

Once the dryer is spinning (low heat, twenty minutes), Dorian, still very much not thinking about towels, scars or muscles, walks upstairs, and pops in the shower. He stays under the shower head for the longest time, letting the hot water caress his body and calm his mind. Once done, he gets into his home outfit: soft grey pants that hang low on his hips and heavenly fluffy socks - he replaces his usual sexy tank top with a long-sleeved sweatshirt though, because he is not a total idiot. Then he pulls out his phone and speed dials Trevelyan.

”Hey,” the familiar voice sounds slightly distressed. ”Tried calling you earlier. You are having a shitty weather over there.”

”Awful. How are you, my dear?”

”Bored. Am sitting in the hotel room, switching between the weather channel and porn.” Dorian rolls his eyes. Trevelyan laughs. ”So what have you been up to?”

”As it happens, I went to the Embassy again, got back about half an hour ago.”

”Well, aren't you special…” He pauses. ”You did set the alarm system when you left, right?”

”Yes, of course. But I actually decided to come home instead of going back to your place, it's raining so hard it was almost impossible to see anything.” Trevelyan makes a surprised sound, Dorian hurries to calm him down: ”It's fine though, Bull checked out the house.”

”The ox was snooping around again?”

”Actually, he is still here.”

Long silence. ”So, I guess you are going to have a night guest then.”

Dorian freezes. ”...what?”

”Well, if you were having trouble getting there earlier… according to TV there's a shitload of flooding going on already; they are closing roads, and you know how the sewers in your street are. So unless he brought you home in a boat...”

Suddenly Dorian feels incredibly stupid. Trevelyan is right, of course: Bull is stuck here, for even if the roads were open, there’s no driving in this weather.

Still -

”Trev, this is not a good idea.” A groan.

”I know, I don't like it either; I don't trust the oxmen further than I can throw them, which is… nowhere, basically. But he is a fucking bodyguard, isn't he, so at least in theory you should be able to feel safer with him around. Right? Just put him in your guest room or spread the couch, wherever he'll be able to fit. Wait - no, his horns would rip the headboard! Pull the mattress on the floor, okay? It's going to be fine.”

Dorian is screaming in his mind. ”All right,” he says out loud. Then he remembers something. ”Oh - a most unexpected thing happened.”

”More unexpected than a Qunari house guest?”

”I think so, yes. My father called.”

”What?” Trevelyan sounds shocked. ”You're kidding me. What did Halward want?”

”Oh, pretended to be worried - “

Trevelyan swears. ”Someone is here. Listen, I’m sorry, I have to go - talk to you tomorrow.”

”...yes, all right.”

”Bye.”

Dorian stares at the wall with unseeing eyes. Then he gets up and pads back downstairs. He finds Bull sprawled on the couch, one heavy arm stretched along the backrest, watching the weather channel. They are talking about flash floods and, indeed, overflowing sewers. Dorian walks straight into the kitchen.

”Hot chocolate?”

”Shit, yes, please.”

Moments later Dorian enters the living room carrying a tray with two steaming cups - he used magic to heat the milk, but Bull doesn't need to know that. As he sinks into the armchair, crossing his legs, the Qunari turns to look at him, examines his outfit and damp, mussed hair.

”I like this better than your boyfriend's place,” he says unexpectedly. ”It seems friendlier.”

Dorian nods. His house, while not nearly as roomy and luxurious as Trevelyan's, is indeed quite pleasant. He has decorated the living room and kitchen with soft tones of sand, silver, and blue, somehow managing to make it all look warm and inviting, but unmistakably masculine. He has chosen his decorative items carefully - an old, wooden statue here, a stunning silver peacock relief there, a row of glimmering Tevinter-style lanterns on the window sill, next to a feathery, well-cared plant - and kept any magical items out of the living area; mainly because they tend to freak Sera out. His study, on the other hand...

”Your study is freaky though,” Bull continues. ”Not going there again.”

Dorian lets out a tense laugh. ”Apologies, I should have warned you.” He pauses and steels his mind. ”So, I talked to Trev. He says the roads are rather perilous and there's flooding, so it might not be a good idea to do any driving tonight. Actually it may be downright impossible at the moment, and - and I’m sure you know all this anyway since you are watching the Weather Channel.” Dorian swallows. ”He suggested you could, should, stay. In the guest room.”

Bull doesn't answer right away. Then: ”And what do you think?”

”...I am fine with it.”

”Alright.”

They turn their attention to a poor reporter on TV who is standing by some wrecked storage building, holding onto his raincoat like his life depends on it. He tells how many roads are flooded, how much rain they are still expecting, and that the situation is bad, but at least the storm should be over by tomorrow afternoon.

”You better call the Embassy,” Dorian notes. Bull empties his cup.

”Did already.” Dorian stares at him, speechless. The Qunari raises his hand. ”I didn't assume anything. I was planning on sleeping in the car or something.”

”Oh,” Dorian blinks. ”That's - oh, that's ridiculous.” He gets up abruptly. ”Well, I will go and get your bed ready then. Feel free to take a shower.”

According to Trevelyan's instructions, Dorian pulls the guest room mattress on the floor, and covers it with a clean sheet. Then he finds a couple of pillows (hopefully they won't be ruined) and a thick, powder-blue satin comforter, and sets them on the mattress.

Back in the kitchen, he begins to load the dishwasher. There are bowls in the sink he left there on the morning of the exhibition opening over a week ago, but luckily he had rinsed them after use, so there's not much mess. He is dealing with the last bowl, when he hears Bull leave the downstairs bathroom. This time the Qunari’s footsteps are heavy and deliberately loud, as if he is trying to make himself heard in order to not startle Dorian. He stops by the kitchen doorway, then moves closer.

”Here.”

Dorian stares at a large grey hand appearing in his field of vision. It is holding an empty mug.

”Oh.” He takes the mug and turns to put it in the dishwasher. This brings him face to chest with impossibly wide, steaming pectorals, only a few inches away. Dorian feels a panicky flutter in his belly, and his breath catches. His lips part slightly.

”Excuse me,” he whispers. Bull steps aside. Dorian shoves the cup in the dishwasher, adds the detergent, and presses the button to start the program. He realizes his hands are trembling a bit. He turns to the Qunari, who is still standing by the sink, watching. ”Why don't you see if there's something interesting on TV. I will finish up here.”

”Sure.”

When Dorian appears in the living room, he finds Bull standing by the bookshelf and, to his annoyance, examining the only two photographs he has framed and put on display - the only two people in Tevinter he really wants to remember.

”This your friend who died?” Bull asks, in a rather insensitive manner. Dorian steps closer and looks at Felix's dear, kind face: he is crouching in tall grass and sunlight, grinning mischievously at the camera.

”Yes.”

”He looks like a good guy.”

“Oh, he was. Much better a man than I could ever hope to be.”

Bull gives Dorian a side glance, then studies the second picture. “This one, the blonde…I believe I’ve seen her. Magister Tilani?”

Dorian turns his attention to the photograph of a tall attractive woman with golden ringlets, and can't help smiling. The picture shows Mae sitting in a swing, holding a flute of champagne, and giggling.

“Magister Tilani is hopelessly drunk, I’m afraid.”

Bull makes an amused sound. And then, then the Qunari picks up a third picture that is just lying on the shelf; the one picture that Dorian, makerdammit, has forgotten to put back in its usual hiding place between the pages of Of Poison And Roses: A Collection Of Tevinter Poetry.

This picture is not framed, neither is it pristine: it has fingerprints all over, and one of the edges is frayed. It is a studio shot of a stunningly beautiful raven-haired woman wearing a peacock blue silk blouse and holding the cutest dark-eyed baby boy in her arms. One of her hands is holding the boy’s chubby little fingers, and her face is beaming. She looks unbearably proud.

Dorian bites the insides of his cheeks, and his hands, so cold suddenly, clench into fists. He expects Bull to say something like Aw, how cute or your mother is gorgeous (because there is no way anyone could mistake the woman for anyone else; they look too much alike). Instead he inspects the photo quietly, as if trying to penetrate through the veneer of it. After a while Bull simply puts the picture away - carefully - and turns to Dorian. His gaze is sharp, but not unfriendly.

“So,” he says. “TV?”

Bull settles on the couch again, Dorian in the armchair. Dorian grabs the remote and begins to surf the TV channels. He stops at some historical-looking movie, when he catches a glimpse of Tevinter mage robes.

”Oh, hey,” Bull leans forward on his seat. ”I've seen this. It’s the new remake of Neromenian Sunset. It's not too bad.”

”A remake?” Dorian, who has mastered his feelings by now, lets out a scandalized gasp. Neromenian Sunset is an old Tevinter classic, reaching for the status of national treasure: a dramatic love story of a dashing Magister who falls for a beautiful Soporati girl. The film is filled with forbidden feelings, dramatic revelations, and moral dilemmas - and somewhat surprisingly it has a happy ending, as the Soporati girl turns out to be a Laetan. As far as Dorian knows, the film is considered untouchable. ”Who has dared to remake it?”

”Some crazy young director from Nevarra… you know how they are. And get this: they added a bunch of sex scenes.” As if to provide evidence, the screen shows a blushing maiden with ridiculously long braids sinking on the floor to embrace a dramatically gesturing young man. Dorian bursts out laughing.

”I don't believe it, this is brilliant! How come I never heard of this?” Dorian glances at the grinning Qunari. “Has there been any war declarations yet?”

”Well, the movie is banned in your country, there's that.”

”Sounds about right.”

Dorian watches, curious and amused, as the Magister grabs the blushing maiden, pulls her dress down to her waist, and presses his face - twisted by burning passion - between her heaving breasts.

“Nice,” Bull purrs, as the camera glides intimately over the maiden’s naked form, and somehow he manages to make it sound endearing. Warm. Dorian tilts his head from one side to another, as if trying to see where the attraction lies.

“She does have rather magnificent nipples,” he admits.

Bull makes a strangled sound, like he is suffocating: “All - right.” Dorian rolls his eyes.

”What is funny now, exactly? I’ll have you know I am perfectly capable of admiring female form even if I have no desire whatsoever to stick my dick in one.” Dorian waves his hand haughtily. ”Obviously I would rather watch a shirtless male, but -”

Too late he realizes he has stepped on it. The very shirtless Qunari on the couch stops chuckling and gives him a look. Dorian watches stubbornly how the moaning pair on TV falls on the floor and the scene fades into black. They stay silent for a while.

”Anyway,” utters Dorian finally - and that’s all he manages before the power goes off.

Dorian freezes. He is so stunned, so taken by surprise, that he doesn't even think about conjuring light - an act that usually comes to him almost automatically. He feels like someone is squeezing his insides with icy fingers: the unexpected darkness is so absolute, the sound of rain, now that all the pleasantly humming electronics are down, is overpowering and too hard.

They’ve come for me, he thinks.

A steady hand lands on his shoulder. ”It's just a power outage.”

Dorian spins instinctively towards the soothing voice and grasps whatever part of Bull he can find, practically wrapping himself around the mountainous presence. Even through his senseless panic he expects to be pushed away - instead he feels strong arms pulling him in, holding him, and then he is surrounded by incredible warmth and slow, powerful heartbeats.

”Breathe, Dorian.”

Dorian closes his eyes, not that it makes any difference, and breathes, in and out, in and out. After a few long minutes his racing heart begins to stabilize. His shoulders relax, the knot in his stomach loosens.

With an embarrassing realization Dorian finds he has actually crawled in Bull’s lap, and is pressing his face against the man’s chest. Bull’s hands are rubbing his back in soothing circles.

”Do you have any candles?” Bull asks, words softly tousling Dorian’s hair. Dorian blinks. Light. He can actually make light. A cluster of sparkling orbs appear above their heads; then they get brighter and explode all over the room like golden fireworks. Bull laughs. Dorian can feel the thunderous, vibrating sound echo through his body.

”Neat. Can you keep that up?”

”...yes.” He swallows. ”I'd rather find some candles, though. I don't feel too good.”

Bull doesn't say anything; he is apparently waiting for the scared mage to let go of his death grip. Dorian forces his hands off and gets up, his clumsy movements a far call from his usual liquid grace. He is ashamed, and he knows his cheeks are burning. Bull squeezes his shoulder.

”Go find the candles, I will check on the security system. It should still be functional.”

Dorian commands one of the light orbs to follow Bull, but the Qunari raises his hand in quick rejection. “Thanks - no need. I can see pretty well in the dark.”

A minute later Dorian has lit three large, vanilla scented candles and set them on the coffee table. Bull appears back from the hall.

”Still working,” he says. He stops in front of the armchair Dorian is sitting in, and squats down - it must hurt his knee, but he doesn’t even flinch. His eye is glittering dark in the candlelight, the horns cast strange shadows on the wall. He is looking impossibly frightening and impossibly safe; Dorian has to fight the urge to wrap himself around the man again. ”How are you holding up?”

Dorian bows his head. ”I don’t know.” His expression turns desperate. “I am so, so sorry, I don’t understand - I am not some weakling, I can defend myself - ”

“Hush, Dorian,” Bull’s voice is firm but gentle. “You’ve been under a lot of stress: sometimes it gets to you, no matter how strong you are. Have you been able to sleep at all this week?”

”Not much. They suggested sleeping pills, but I don't want to take any in case - in case -”

”In case you need to get up fast and defend yourself.”

Dorian doesn't say anything. Bull lays his big hands on the chair's armrests, but keeps his distance, probably so that Dorian doesn't feel trapped. ”Okay. Listen: you can sleep safely tonight. I'm here to keep an eye on things. All right?”

”But you need rest too.”

”I sleep very little, and very lightly.”

”That a Qunari thing?”

”A Seheron veteran thing.”

Dorian blinks. Shit. ”I am sorry,” he says. Bull shrugs, with the air of it is what it is. Dorian touches his lip with the tip of his tongue. Now that his adrenaline level is slowly returning back to normal, he is suddenly feeling utterly exhausted. Still, the idea of climbing upstairs to his dark bedroom… ”I think I will stick to the couch,” he mumbles. He raises his huge silver eyes to Bull. ”Could you stay here until I fall asleep?”

Bull nods. ”Yes.”

Once Dorian is curled up on the couch, covered by a soft faux fur blanket, he is trying very hard not to look at Bull who is sitting on a pile of cushions on the floor. The Qunari's wide back is leaning against the couch, covering Dorian's midsection like a shield of hard muscle. It feels blessedly warm and grounding.

”Sleep,” Bull commands.

Dorian closes his eyes, relieved.

Chapter Text

Drowsily, Dorian snuggles up to the sweet warmth next to him.

He is vaguely aware of his awkward position, but he feels so wonderfully rested he doesn't really care. There has been no bad dreams, no interruptions. He drifts for another couple of minutes, in and out of consciousness. He must be curled up against Trevelyan, as he can feel smooth, hot skin pressing against his stomach.

...oh, but he is hard too. He revels in the pleasant feeling and rolls his hips lazily, once, twice. The arousal is making him tingle all over; he wraps his limbs around the big bulk of body that is keeping him so nice and toasty.

”Dorian.”

Dorian stops and considers. He opens his eyes.

He is looking at… for a moment he is not sure what he is looking at. It appears to be a pattern of sorts, geometric and alien, but attractive nevertheless. His hazy gaze follows the black swirls. Must be a tattoo, he realizes.

He begins to tremble.

A soothing hand lands on Dorian's thigh. ”Easy now.”

Dorian looks up and finds a gigantic Qunari inspecting him with a pale, kind eye.

Oh, no -

Dorian groans. “Fasta vass!” He hides his face in his hands. “Bull - shit, shit, I am sorry!”

The Qunari pats his thigh affectionately. ”No harm done.”

”No harm done?” Dorian’s voice, still hoarse from sleep, rises another octave. “I just sexually assaulted a house guest!”

Bull laughs out loud. ”It's okay, Dorian. Seriously.”

Mortified, Dorian pushes himself up until he is sitting on the couch, his quickly waning erection carefully covered by the blanket. His cheeks are burning.

”What time is it?”

”Almost nine. It’s still raining.”

Dorian glances at the window. The curtains are drawn, but he can hear the raindrops hitting the glass with a metallic tingle - it is nothing like the last night’s drumming, though. The room seems dark and quiet.

”I take it the power isn't back on.”

”No.”

”Crap.” He rubs his forehead, gets up to his feet, and shuffles to the powder room with his phone and a conjured light ball. He flushes the toilet without thinking - he swears at the realization that the water tank isn't filling again; of course it isn't, the pump is not working. Refusing to get discouraged he uses towelettes to clean his hands and face, then sends Trevelyan a short message:

Storm over, having a power outage. The Qunari well-behaved. Miss you!

As Dorian steps back out, he finds Bull has pulled on his pants and shirt from yesterday; the clothes are wrinkly and the shirt is unbuttoned, partly revealing the heavy pectorals and the soft curve of his belly - and somehow that is just as, if not even more, distracting than the man wearing no shirt at all.

Annoyed with himself, Dorian ignores the Qunari and walks into the kitchen. He opens the refrigerator and peeks in. The interior is still cool, but he can already smell a hint of the musty, plasticky scent which comes with a warm fridge. He waves his hand and the interior gets covered by a thin layer of sparkling frost.

He ogles the contents with growing displeasure. He likes cooking, but he has been eating mostly take-outs lately, and as it is, he spent the past week at Trevelyan's, so apart from a selection of sauce bottles and jars of hot peppers and pickles, his fridge is depressingly empty.

”I regret to inform you, but it looks like our breakfast will consist of browning apples and chili sauce.”

“I’ve eaten worse.” Bull sounds all too accommodating. Dorian shakes his head.

“This is unacceptable.“ He grabs the bowl of apples, and carries it to the living room along with a small, half empty canister of water and two cans of raspberry soda. Bull frowns.

“That’s all you’ve got to drink?”

“Oh, don’t be silly, I have more wine hidden in the house than you can carry in those ridiculous arms of yours.” Dorian sits down and bites into an apple. It feels leathery, tastes too sweet. “Just thought it is a tad early for Sun Blonde.” Bull snorts.

“What do you know, there is a limit for Tevinter decadence.”

Dorian covers a smile. He is still having a hard time confronting Bull’s gaze though, the embarrassment from before yet lingering. ”Will you get in trouble for missing your work?” he asks. Bull shrugs, looking not too worried.

”It's my day off. The guy overseeing the garage is probably pissed off about the car missing, though.”

”I am sorry you got stuck here with me, I'm sure you have better places to be.”

Bull picks up an apple as well. ”I don't, really.” He pauses, gives Dorian a tentative look. ”Listen, I don't mean to make you uncomfortable, but would you like me to stay until tomorrow?” He makes a calming gesture (he really is an expert on those). ”You'd be fine on your own, of course, but in case you want some company... I have nothing but time today.”

Dorian tenses and feels his face show he’d taken offence. ”Feeling sorry for me?”

”I just think it would be good for you to have someone around.”

Dorian battles with himself. There’s a mix of relief, panic, and uncertainty churning under his ribs: he likes the idea of Bull staying - he is alone, and the Qunari makes him feel safe - yet he can’t help feeling suspicious. He spends a moment trying to interpret Bull’s expression, but it is impossible to read.

“Did Sten, by any chance, tell you to babysit me over the weekend?”

Bull doesn’t answer right away. “Could be. But I’d suggest it anyway.”

“Well isn’t that just awfully unselfish of you,” Dorian utters, aiming for sarcastic. Bull shakes his head, always a sight with those huge horns.

“No.”

“No?”

“It’s not unselfish if it’s something I actually want to do.”

“And why do you want to do it?”

“Perhaps I have a strong protective instinct. Perhaps, like any proper Qunari, I live to serve. Perhaps I think you’re good company. Take your pick.” Bull cracks a genuine smile. “But hey, if you don’t want me here… I totally get it.”

Dorian considers. He highly doubts he is good company at the moment, but he appreciates the thought anyway and sort of feels like an ass.

“Oh, fine then,” he sighs, “I suppose.”

“Great.” Bull rolls his shoulders and grins. “You got any board games?”

“Do I ever.”

They are in the middle of playing Enchanter’s Jewels when the power comes back on. Dorian startles as the air conditioning and the fridge turn on, the pipes start hissing with water running through them, the lights switchback on with vengeance.

”Oh, thank the Maker!” He leans back in his chair and stretches his arms. “Let’s hit the grocery store and make some lunch.”

”Ah, ah, ah,” Bull says. ”You are just trying to sneak out of this because you are losing.”

”Temporary setback, I assure you.”

“Right.” Bull moves his pawn. His maimed fingers are surprisingly delicate; first Dorian had doubts about the Qunari being able to play the game at all, but he seems to have no problems. “How’s the rain?”

“Why don’t you turn your head and see?”

“If I move my eye from the board your pawn mysteriously advances multiple steps.”

“How dare you!” Dorian does his best to sound offended, but it is hard because he is rather amused. He decides to glance at the window though: the garden is still misty, but there’s more light now, and some sparrows are chirping faintly amongst the rhododendrons. “Seems like it’s done raining.”

“Excellent. Now throw, it’s your turn.”

Dorian throws the dice, and gets a six; he cackles wildly, then serves a cunning smile to the extremely suspicious-looking Qunari. ”Tell me, have you ever had Archon's Delight?”

”Sorry. Never got close enough to the man.” Bull manages to sound perfectly innocent and absolutely leery at the same time. Dorian groans.

”It is a pie.”

 

***

 

Bull throws a bag of grated cheese in the cart. Dorian removes it promptly.

”Let us not be barbarians.”

He replaces the bag with small chunks of fine Fereldan, Orlesian, and Tevinter cheese. Bull makes a comment in Qunlat, but Dorian is in too good of a mood to pay any attention. He is delighted to get out of the house, even if for a quick shopping trip.

They stroll slowly along the aisles, Bull pushing the noisy cart, and Dorian filling it determinately. He picks up a bottle of expensive Antivan olive oil, a tub of sour cream, some eggs, garlic, cherry tomatoes and red onions, three types of peppers, two types of olives, four types of fresh herbs, a bottle of high quality ale...

”This is going to be some pie.” Bull examines the bottle’s label curiously. He has stayed so close, pretty much the same way he does when accompanying Sten: hovering, covering, keeping an eye on the environment. It could have been annoying - instead it feels nice. Dorian scoffs.

”Mock me now, cry tears of joy later.”

As they are passing the cookie aisle, Dorian bends down to grab some chocolate covered shortbread cookies from the bottom shelf. He does this with a slow, alluring movement so typical of him, offering a perfect view of his magnificent jeans-covered ass. He doesn't think much of it - for Dorian posing and preening are pretty much reflexes - but when he turns to set the container into the cart and sees Bull's intense stare and raised eyebrow, he nevertheless feels slightly embarrassed.

”I believe I have all the ingredients on my list and then some,” he declares. ”Do you need anything?”

Bull blinks slowly, takes a bit too long to answer. ”Yeah, but I’ll get it later on.”

 

***

 

Cooking with a Qunari, Dorian finds, is not an easy task. At least not in a human-sized kitchen: they just take too much room, and the heat of the stove combined with the ridiculous body heat of an all-too-warm giant is agonizing.

Frustrated, sweaty, with hunger grating his patience, Dorian commands Bull to sit down and stay out of the way. He gives the man small tasks: slice the tomatoes, cut the onions, chop the herbs. Bull calls Dorian bossypants, but obeys without further complaining. He is extraordinarily skilful with a knife, and reluctantly Dorian has to admit that just as with the board game, watching those huge hands work is mesmerising - no matter how impractically small the tools.

In the end the pie turns out wonderful: it is lush and fragrant with golden brown top and spicy, mouth-watering filling that is smoothed by a delicious mixture of cheeses. Dorian carries it to the living room in an almost ceremonial manner, and they collapse in front of TV.

”This,” Dorian states, “must be the best pie I have ever baked.”

“Damn right amazing,” Bull mumbles, and takes another huge bite of his slice. Dorian follows the example; then he uses a way too fancy napkin to pat his mouth and mustache clean, and nods at the TV.

“And that could be the most stupid thing I have ever seen.”

Bull shakes his head. ”You say that because you haven't seen the spin off. It is way sillier.”

”What could be sillier than a dwarven soap opera called Legions of Love?”

Paragons of Heart. It's the teen version.”

Dorian groans. On the screen a fancily dressed deshyr with a wonderful silver beard threatens a scarcely clad casteless girl with his mighty axe. Bull hums.

”They also have a late night version called The Deepest Roads. That one's actually pretty entertaining.”

Dorian is just about to share his opinion on that, when his phone comes alive with Trevelyan’s ringtone. He picks up. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Trevelyan answers. Dorian can hear from his voice that he is moving around. “Sorry I didn’t call you earlier. What’s happening?”

“Nothing much. It’s finally stopped raining. I’ve baked a pie.”

“If you made Archon’s Delight without me, I’ll never forgive you.”

Dorian chuckles. “I’m sorry, I’ll make you another one.”

“I’ll hold you to that. Anyway, I’m just getting ready to go. Forgot my damn cufflinks, had to improvise... you don’t want to know. Did the ox leave?”

Dorian bites his lip and tries not to look at Bull. “Actually, he is still here.”

“...alright,” Trevelyan says slowly. “Why?”

“He is having a day off, and he - I - thought it might be a good idea if he stayed until tomorrow since I don’t fancy being by myself with the power outages and whatnot.”

“He still behaving?“

Dorian, who gets his meaning, groans. “Of course he is! He is a professional.”

“Oh, I don’t know, an ass like yours has the tendency to make people forget about professionalism.”

“Don’t you have a dinner party to attend to?”

Trevelyan laughs, ignoring Dorian’s icy tone. “Yes. Yes I do.”

“Go, then. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Alright. Bye, gorgeous.”

Dorian disconnects the call - and then spots a notification of a received message he apparently missed earlier; probably while they were in the store. It is sent from an unknown number. Dorian hesitates, but against his better judgement opens it anyway.

He swears out loud.

“Show me,” Bull says. Dorian shoves the phone to the Qunari.

ut non obliviscar

“We will not forget,” Bull translates. Dorian jumps on his feet, stomps loudly around the living room, sits back down. He is grinding his teeth.

“Vishante kaffas!”

Bull gives the phone back. “I recommend you change your number.”

“Could this be traced?”

“Would be tricky. It shows no ID and is probably sent from a now trashed prepaid. I suppose the police might still try, and perhaps they could find out the location where the message was sent from, but I don’t think these guys are stupid enough to do that while at home. So.”

Dorian closes his eyes for a moment. “I see.” His chest is hurting slightly. “I guess something like this was to be expected.”

”Are you okay?”

“I am absolutely wonderful, thank you, whatever would make you think otherwise?” he snaps. Bull doesn’t answer, just keeps looking at him in an inspective, patient manner. Dorian bites his lip. “I apologize, that was… uncalled for. I have trouble dosing my sarcasm when in distress.”

“It’s alright.”

“No, it is not alright. You don’t deserve it, and furthermore - “ his eyes flash, “I refuse to let those idiotic second-class travesties of a mage ruin my evening!” He sits up straight and turns to look at the TV. ”Please tell me more about that Deep Roads show.”

Bull, apparently deciding that distracting Dorian is indeed the best thing he can do, goes on to describe the latest episode he saw in great detail. Dorian listens to him intently, letting out scandalized gasps and giggles. After that they spend a long while discussing other TV-shows and movies. It turns out Bull likes cute animal shows and romance; Dorian likes science programs and Tevinter comedy shows; they both enjoy cooking programs, movies, and erotica.

It is around this time that Dorian, despite his barely disguised anxiety and wandering thoughts, comes to realize he really, really likes Bull. As big and initially intimidating as the Qunari may be, he is easy-going, knowledgeable, and clever in a very good-natured way. There’s pleasantness about him Dorian finds appealing.

Dorian, who has developed judging and whining to an artform, is stunned by Bull's willingness to see something good in pretty much everyone and everything. Dorian complains about yesterday's weather; Bull points out it was probably good for groundwater reserve. Dorian notes a man in the commercial has awful hair; Bull thinks he has beautiful eyes. Dorian is convinced Antivans are insufferable; Bull defends their brandy and shoes, and one must love their food, surely.

Inspired by this thought, Dorian fetches some Antivan wine he has stashed for special occasions, and serves it in tall, fancy glasses with shortbread cookies. In a bit they end up playing Diamondback, and Dorian wins, but only because he cheats outrageously; he gets a feeling that Bull knows but lets it slide nevertheless. Then they talk some more, about dragons, Qunari attire, and Seheron - but only on a general level. Dorian is smart enough not to poke that particular hurt.

”Did you start working for the Ambassador soon after you returned from the war?” Dorian asks. Bull shakes his head.

”Nah. I was working here and there, mainly in Orlais.”

”What were you doing? Security?”

”Whatever was required from me.”

”Well, that's awfully vague.”

Bull hesitates for a fraction of a second. ”Ben-Hassrath dealings.”

He says it like it is nothing. Dorian’s heart misses a beat, and for a moment he is incapable of uttering a word. He is also feeling incredibly stupid. Should have known, he thinks, and swears in his mind.

”I see,” he manages, and takes a steadying breath. Considering how deeply rooted the fear of Ben-Hassrath is in him - in any Tevinter citizen - he is quite proud of himself for not screaming and throwing fireballs at the Qunari's face.

Bull softens his voice, non-threatening. ”I am not here to hurt you.”

Dorian gives him a suspicious glare. Bull has the gall to look entertained, which, frankly, is offensive and annoying. ”You find this funny?”

”Borderline, yeah.”

”Why is that?”

”Your expression was pretty great.”

Dorian groans. Then he contemplates for a moment and looks at Bull again. ”Isn't a Ben-Hassrath agent working as a regular bodyguard a bit unusual, though?”

”There are many branches within Ben-Hassrath. And we have an inclusive training, so we are fit to work in different positions.”

”As a cover.”

”Hey, not all Ben-Hassrath are spies.”

Dorian doesn’t look convinced. ”What’s your rank then?”

Bull hums, as if unwilling to answer, but answers anyway: “Hissrad.”

“I’ll bet good money that doesn’t mean bodyguard.”

There’s no answer; Bull just watches Dorian calmly. His eye twinkles. Dorian lifts his chin and crosses his arms defiantly.

“Well, I suppose this explains why you are driving me around and chatting me up, doesn’t it, why you wanted to stay here today. You’re keeping an eye on me. Digging up info.”

Bull snorts. ”First of all, I never said I am a spy. Second, if I actually were a spy, a politically meaningless, estranged altus would probably not be my first choice for a target.” Dorian gasps.

“Are you hinting I am not important enough to be properly spied on?!”

“Well…”

”Oh, this is ridiculous,” Dorian waves his hand. ”Obviously I am terribly important and worth keeping an eye on. Look at me!” He leans back, and relaxes: for whatever reason he does not feel overly threatened anymore. ”In case you are a spy, just be sure to put in your little report that the Pavus boy has immaculate hair and a great sense of style.”

Bull is laughing out loud. ”Anything else?”

”Well, you can tell them I am allergic to stripweed, and that I loathe blood magic and dull people. And do not forget to mention my exquisite ass.”

”I am sure my superiors would love to hear about that.”

”Who wouldn't?

Bull gets serious, and studies Dorian's face. ”Are we okay?”

”Why?”

”Because I like you, and I'd rather you don't hate my guts.”

It takes a moment before Dorian, all flustered now, finds himself capable of talking. His lips quiver, as if not sure how to form the words. ”I don't find myself hating your guts. Specifically.”

”Good.” Bull seems genuinely relieved.

They end up watching another movie - a stupendously illogical Fereldan thriller that gets them laughing uncontrollably - and it is almost half past one in the morning when Dorian becomes aware of the time.

”Shit.” He looks at Bull apologetically. ”I am keeping you up, and you'll have to work tomorrow.”

”Not until afternoon,” Bull notes. Dorian shakes his head.

”Oh, no, none of that: I’ve been a bad host all around, and I better let you go to bed.” He raises his finger. ”And this time you will sleep in the guest room, no sitting on the floor.”

“And you?”

“The couch wasn’t too bad, but I definitely prefer my mattress.”

Bull watches him intently for a moment, as if searching for something. ”Need me to tuck you in?” he asks, his rumbling voice dropping to a level Dorian finds somewhat unsettling.

”I'll be fine, I'm sure.” Dorian gets up, almost knocking the chair over.

”You need anything, you know where to find me.”

”...yes. Well. Good night then.”

”Good night, Dorian. Thank you for the nice day.”

Dorian flashes him a clipped, bright smile. “Thank you.” He heads for the stairs, knowing he is fleeing but unable to stop his feet.

 

***

 

Dorian's bed is wide, warm, and comfortable, and he loves it. Despite this, tonight he spends a ridiculous amount of time trying to find a position that feels right; once he finds one, he still lays awake, staring in the darkness, gathering his thoughts.

The text message, no matter how threatening, has moved to the back of his mind now. It is still bothering him somewhat, but at the moment there’s something else, something more urgent, disturbing his peace.

Need me to tuck you in?

It might have been just teasing.

Certainly it was just teasing.

Dorian closes his eyes. He can feel Bull in the house: it is as if the Qunari’s scent and body heat are creeping in the bedroom, and he imagines what Bull might look like lying on the mattress, how he would set his head, and horns, and limbs, if he snored or not. He is not snoring now, Dorian is pretty sure he could hear it, as a snoring Qunari would be pretty loud. Probably awake then.

For a vanishing moment Dorian plays with the idea of getting up, walking to the guest room, and curling up next to him. He remembers how it was being held by those big arms, how utterly small he felt, how secure, and suddenly he is longing for the sensation.

Preposterous.

Dorian pushes the thought away, performs a simple relaxing exercise one of his mentors taught him when he was a child still, and falls asleep soon after that.

 

***

 

The next morning, when Bull is long gone, and Dorian is pulling the sheets off the bed in the guest room, a silly whim overtakes him, and he presses his face to the pillow Bull used. He breathes in the soothing, musky scent, strangely familiar already, then shakes his head, and carries the sheets to the laundry room.

He finds himself smiling.

Chapter Text

The moment Dorian opens the door, Sera crashes into him.

”Poncy arse!” she shrieks. Dorian is fighting laughter as her warm, bony arms wrap tightly around his persona.

”...eloquent as ever, I see.”

Lavellan, who is following her, grins and leans in to hug Dorian as well, albeit in a much more restrained manner. ”You really can't be left on your own, can you, Pavus?” She kisses his cheek, sighs. ”You good?”

”Perfect as ever.” Dorian buries his face in the dark silk of Lavellan's hair for a moment, comforting himself in the familiar scent of her dawn lotus shampoo. Then he unwraps them both gently and closes the door. Sera offers him a small, pistachio green cardboard box that looks like someone’s sat on it.

“Got your fancy ass some candied dates,” she says. Dorian lets out a delighted sound; Sera waves her hand, tries not to smile. “Yeahyeah. Now, would you please tell us what the heck is going on?”

”Certainly. Let's sit down, I'll explain everything.”

They settle in the kitchen. The girls listen intently as Dorian describes in detail what went down at the art exhibition and how he was invited to the embassy: they don't interrupt him or ask any questions, but Sera swears and groans a couple of times. Lavellan looks horrified, and keeps squeezing Dorian's hand with tense fingers. Dorian feels his heart warming, and reminds himself how lucky he is to have these two as his friends.

Sera and Lavellan were pretty much the first people willing to talk to Dorian when he moved to Kirkwall over four years ago. He was hopelessly lost in a local park when he saw a skinny, badly-dressed elf girl with a kind-faced friend, and stopped them to ask for directions. They were nice enough to help him, and he was nice enough to re-freeze Sera's ice cream that was melting in the mid-summer heat. She freaked out, called him daft magic tit, and ditched the cone immediately. Dorian felt guilty, apologized profusely, and bought her a new ice cream, even though he couldn't really afford it. They've been friends ever since. (Dorian suspects Lavellan had a pretty severe crush on him at first - who could blame the poor girl - but after realizing that he really did not go that way, she philosophically settled in the role of a friend.)

”Holy shitter,” Sera says after Dorian is done. ”So you saved the Qunari big wig and now you have those Tevinter assholes after you?”

Dorian sighs. ”I am not going to lie: I've been very much on the edge ever since the art show, practically hiding in my den, and when Trev left for the weekend - ”

”He left you alone?” Sera's voice raises abruptly; as do Lavellan's eyebrows. Dorian clicks his tongue.

”He had to fly to Denerim, but he was only gone for two nights, it is not a big deal. Besides, I had company.”

”Who?” They both look baffled, almost suspicious - as they should: beside them and Trevelyan Dorian truly has no friends in the city. “You hired a bodyguard or something?”

“Ah, funny you should say that…“ Dorian hesitates. How can he explain this without it sounding all too ridiculous? ”As it happens, one of the Ambassador's bodyguards stayed here until Sunday afternoon. It was all quite coincidental, actually: Bull - that's his name - brought me home and got stuck here because of the rain.”

Sera, never one for constraint or tact, begins to cackle. ”You spent the weekend with someone called Bull? And he got stuck?” She is almost crying now. ”Bet he did 'cause he is a friggin Qunari!”

Dorian groans. ”You can quit with the innuendo right there, Sera. I'll have you know he is very nice and well-mannered, and there was nothing inappropriate going on.”

“But those guys are so horny…”

”Give her something to eat,” Lavellan suggests. ”Nothing with sugar though.”

A couple of minutes later Sera is sitting on the floor and chewing a piece of cheese. Lavellan is absent-mindedly checking on some newspaper articles about the assassination attempt. Dorian has wisely excluded the Qunari-Tevinter Sandwich fiasco, because Sera really doesn't need to get all riled up again.

”You know,” Lavellan muses, ”I wouldn't mind seeing this exhibition.”

”Wait.” Sera stops munching her cheese. ”Isn't that all elfy stuff?”

”Yes, but I like elfy stuff. Since I am an elf.” She gives Sera a look. ”As are you.”

”Not a friggin reason enough.”

”It is an amazing exhibition,” Dorian gets excited, ”you must go, you'll love the paintings.” He hesitates. ”Actually - we could go there right now if you have some free time. Trev would be happy to see me leave the house. I've been indoors far too long.”

Lavellan's eyes light up. Sera makes a face.

”Great!” they both say, at the same time - just in two very different tones.

 

***

 

The first thing Dorian sees as he walks through the Gallery's wide glass doors is Trevelyan. He is standing right by the huge Fen'Harel painting and flipping through some papers, his beautiful face frowning in concentration. Dorian steps closer to greet him.

”Surprise!” He grins at the man's shocked expression. ”I decided to join the living. And look, I brought friends!”

Trevelyan's face changes from dumbfounded to uneasy. ”How... unexpected,” he says.

”Why?” asks Lavellan coolly. ”Surely an elf should be interested in elven art?”

”Actually -” Sera begins, gets interrupted.

”Shut up, Sera.”

Trevelyan gives them a condescending smile. ”I just didn't take either of you as a, well, cultured person, if you get my meaning.”

”Oh, I get your meaning,” Lavellan says sweetly. Dorian resists the urge to cover his face. He gives Trevelyan a pointed look, and raises his voice.

”I'll have you know Ellana is very cultured.”

”Yeah,” Sera pipes in, ”she reads proper books and has artsy stuff on walls too!”

Dorian can see what Trevelyan is about to say: imagine that or some variant. Shame and hot anger are burning on his cheeks, and he is just about to tell his lover to shut up, when Lavellan makes a small peculiar sound. Dorian turns his head.

The side door that leads to the office rooms has opened and there, accompanied with Josie, stands Solas. The first thing Dorian notices is the elf's outfit: he is wearing a wonderful fitted dark coat with an upturned collar; something he definitely should have worn to the opening instead of velvets and fur. He looks tall, cool, and dignified. He says something to Josie, then turns to face Dorian’s crew - and freezes where he stands, his blue eyes on Lavellan with immediate pinpoint focus.

A moment passes, then another. Solas glides closer.

”Aneth ara,” he says, and his voice sounds even smoother than Dorian remembers. Lavellan presses against Dorian's side.

”...aneth ara,” she replies. Sera lets out a groan, is ignored.

”I’m Solas,” Solas says, without taking his eyes off the woman. Lavellan bows her head.

”Ellana Lavellan.” The tips of her ears are turning delightfully pink. Abruptly, she waves her slender hand somewhere around Fen'Harel's gloomy face; thin silver bangles on her wrist make a soft tingle. ”I love this painting.”

”My personal favorite as well.” The elf’s gaze as if caresses her face. Justly alarmed now, Dorian pulls Lavellan firmly under his arm and positions himself between her and Solas. He is not sure what in the Void is going on: it’s easy to see that Solas is mesmerized by his friend, but is Lavellan interested in Solas? Who can tell? Women are so hard to read.

Dorian clears his throat. ”Hello again. I trust you are good?” He smiles, shows teeth. “I don’t think I ever thanked you for casting that extra barrier on top of mine during the attack.”

”There's no reason to thank me,” Solas states, ”I wasn't casting the barrier on you, I was casting the barrier on the painting behind you.”

Dorian stares at the man, blank-faced. ”What?”

Solas ignores him and turns his attention back to Lavellan, who is looking somewhat confused. ”Now, Ellana, I was wondering if -”

”Wait.” She raises her hand, cutting him off. ”You’re a mage? And you helped Dorian?”

”Indirectly, perhaps.”

Lavellan's eyes narrow into cold crescents. ”You did not help Dorian?”

Solas visibly hesitates. A slow grin spreads on Dorian's face. ”And here, my friend, is where I advise you to choose your next words with utmost care.”

”Obviously,” Solas says, very carefully indeed, ”my inconsiderate notion was meant to be taken as a mere playful quip.” He lays his long, pale fingers on Dorian’s shoulder in a rather impudent manner, as if they were friends or something. “Dorian here was a hero par excellence and did a magnificent job saving the Ambassador as well as my precious art, I’m sure, whereas I concentrated more on… protective measures, helping whichever small way I could.”

Pretend friendship? Mock modesty? Sucking up? Speaking Orlesian? Dorian stares at the elf thoroughly impressed. Lavellan, shockingly, looks satisfied, and smiles.

”Well that's… wonderful.”

Solas steps closer, offers his arm. ”May I present you some of my paintings?”

Dorian should probably be offended by how quickly Lavellan pulls out from under his arm and glues herself to the artist. ”That would be lovely,” she murmurs, and they walk away. Dorian shares an amused look with Trevelyan. Sera swears.

”Okay,” she says, ”what the fuck just happened and am I supposed to do sumthing about it?”

Eventually, Sera ends up doing nothing but sulking in the small cafe attached to the gallery; the sulking lessens considerably after Trevelyan buys her a big pile of lemon cupcakes.

”These are pretty good,” she admits, and stuffs the third cupcake in her mouth. She gives Trevelyan a grim look. ”But you are still an arsebiscuit.”

Trevelyan snorts. Dorian doesn't offer a comment - mostly because at this particular moment he tends to agree.

It takes almost an hour before Lavellan and Solas appear in the cafe. They are not walking arm in arm anymore, but they are both smiling. Lavellan sits next to Dorian while Solas leaves to order two cups of coffee; her eyes follow him dreamily as he goes.

”Isn't this an unexpected turn of events,” Dorian says after a short silence, his voice innocent. Lavellan's cheeks flash rosy red.

”What do you mean?”

”You've got the hots for the baldy,” Sera states. ”Kinda obvious.”

”Don't' be silly!” Lavellan hisses, so that Solas can't hear them. ”I just find him interesting.”

”Mmmyes,” Dorian twirls his moustache, his rings sparkling in the cafe’s blueish light, “the way you were ogling as he walked away proved you definitely find certain part of him interesting.”

Lavellan slaps his arm, but doesn’t say anything, because Solas is now approaching with two steaming cups and two heart-shaped cookies.

”Oh, for crying out loud,” Sera says. Unflinching and shameless, Solas sets a cup and a cookie in front of Lavellan, and sits down next to her. He samples his coffee, apparently approves, and then looks at Dorian.

”Ellana tells me you might be willing to give me a ride home.”

Dorian blinks. ”Excuse me?”

”We can take him, can't we?” Lavellan touches Dorian’s hand, looks sweet. Dorian contemplates: he is not too keen on the idea of driving the artist anywhere, but unfortunately he is not good at saying no to Lavellan either. He lets out a resigned sound.

”Oh, very well then.”

 

***

 

Dorian's sophisticated, semi-sporty Tempestas sparkles coal-black in the sunlight. It is one of the few things he chose to bring from Tevinter when he left: he’d purchased the vehicle right after he graduated from the Circle years ago, basing his choice completely on aesthetics, and while that was not the smartest thing he ever did - Tempestas is not very practical - he never regretted it, and is quite attached to his pretty little car. (Trevelyan, unsurprisingly, keeps urging him to exchange it for something ”less Tevinter”.)

Due to his very limited social circle Dorian doesn't think Tempestas has ever taken more than three people, but they fit in pretty well: Sera and Lavellan are tiny, and Solas, while tall, is not very wide. Still, it feels funny driving a vehicle full of people.

They travel through town, chatting cheerfully; Lavellan and Solas have settled in the back seat, and Dorian has a hunch they are holding hands. Once they reach the city limits, they take an intersection and head North. Apparently Solas lives in some old, isolated farmhouse he has renovated. He explains it is ”not very far”, whatever that means, but there is a bunch of side roads they have to travel in order to get there.

They have just taken another turn to a quiet road framed by huge trees, when Dorian realizes that an unassuming looking car that's been driving behind them for a while, takes the turn as well. He frowns, and feels suddenly very, very uncomfortable.

He stares at the car in the rear view mirror. ”I think we are being followed.” The girls cut their light-hearted babbling immediately. Sera turns in her seat to look back, and growls.

”Is it those asinine guys?”

”'Assassin',” Dorian corrects. ”And yes, I believe there's a fair chance for that. Looks like… three of them?” His jawline tightens. “Venhedis.”

Solas hums. ”Take the next right and then the second left. That's my private driveway, so if they follow, we'll know for sure.”

The car does follow. Dorian drives slowly along the long, winding driveway, contemplating what to do. He really wishes the girls weren't with him.

”Call the police,” Lavellan commands, ”now.”

Solas shakes his head. ”There is no way they'll get here in time.” He taps Dorian's shoulder. ”Right by those trees - stop there.”

Dorian sees the spot Solas is referring to, slows down, and finally stops. The car following them stops as well. They are about fifty feet away now.

”Well then,” Dorian says, and detaches his seat belt. It’s funny - considering how anxious he’s been for the last week, he now feels oddly calm and determined. Solas sighs.

”Why is it that every time I meet you, something like this happens?”

“Many a thing I may be but never a boring company.” Dorian casts a barrier on the car to protect Lavellan and Sera; Solas does the same. ”Stay here,” the men say at the same time. Sera shrieks.

”Fuck that!”

”Sera,” Dorian commands, as he opens the door. ”Stay.”

”Ain't no friggin mabari!”

Dorian gets out, looks at Solas. ”You any good?”

”Oh,” the elf wiggles his fingers, ”don't worry about me.” He leans down to pick up a sturdy, sufficiently straight bough that has fallen from nearby tree. Dorian watches as the dry bark gets covered by a glimmering layer of frost under the elf's slender fingers.

”Nice,” he says. ”What else?”

”Rift.” Solas grins at Dorian's widened eyes. ”You?”

”Fire and necromancy, mainly.” Dorian chooses a piece of wood as well; it’s a far cry from a proper staff, but at least wood works well with his type of magic.

They cast barriers, and step as far away from Dorian's car as possible. The doors of the other car open and three people get out: two men and a young woman. The taller male steps forward, raises his staff.

”Pavus,” he barks.

”Gripus?” Dorian gasps, and begins to laugh so hard he has to lean on his knees for a moment. ”You've got to be kidding me! And I was so damn close to feeling flattered over the fact that they sent three hitmen after me - but now that I see it’s you...” He wipes his eyes, addresses Solas: “Gripus here used to study in the same circle as myself. Good times: once he managed to set the First Enchanter’s wig on fire and filled the cafeteria with - “

“Shut up! Shut up!” Gripus screams. Dorian puts an apologetic look on his face.

”Oh, I'm sorry - I suppose it is perfectly possible you've learnt to conjure by now.”

Gripus shows his teeth, and the female lets out a nervous hiss: ”Fuck you, traitor!”

”My dear,” Dorian tsks the way that would make her mother proud, ”such manners!”

The second male, heavily built and slightly older, steps in the front. He doesn't waste any time on talking; instead he raises a barrier, points his staff, and the next thing Dorian knows is being surrounded by a scorching storm of fire.

Dorian grunts, feeling uncomfortably hot despite the barrier. ”Excellent casting there - Gripus, pay attention!” he shouts, and then his voice is drowned by a loud cacophony of crackling, hissing, and explosions. The air around them is filled with fantastic sparkling colors, as if they were inside a rainbow-colored storm, and despite the double barrier Dorian can feel the sting and burn of elements as they hit them with relentless force. He shakes his head to clear his mind, takes a deep breath, and draws from the Fade, letting the vibrating energy fill him like an empty vessel.

Ever since he became a Necromancer, Dorian took a habit of opening his battles with Terror. Now, too, he almost automatically spreads his arms, calling for the spirits of Fear, and those old friends, always circling right by the edge of his perception, hear him and obey. They are cold, dark, and hungry, burning with intent, as he lets them in and channels them the best he can through the piece of wood he’s carrying -

come on, darlings -

and surges them forward, at their adversaries. The mages sway, as if physically hit, and although none of them falls and loses it like the assassin at the exhibition, they are all impacted and weaker for it: scared, uncertain, incapable of concentrating properly.

The girl, showing how they all must feel, screams again; Dorian laughs and hits her almost arrogantly with a rapid burst of fire that makes her dress smoke.

“You - you beast!”

“Been called that before,” Dorian quips. “Or something like that; my dick was so deep in their throat I can’t be certain.”

“Your fighting skill is fine,” Solas cries over the girl’s offended screeching, “but I could do without the commentary, thank you.” He does sound sort of amused though, so Dorian just laughs and casts elegant flashfire again.

The battle rages on. Despite Dorian and Solas being outnumbered and without proper staffs, they manage to hold their ground, sending and barring spells rather effortlessly. Still, as the fight continues, Dorian begins to feel exhaustion creeping up on him, and finds, to his slight annoyance, that he is tremendously grateful for Solas being there. Dorian has always been more about offense than defense, whereas Solas is skilful with his wards and barriers, maintaining the balance of dealing damage and keeping up one’s protective measures beautifully; he allows Dorian to concentrate on his fire and horror, and backs him up. Dorian secretly wishes he had more time to study Solas' technique, because it is fascinating: where Dorian’s style is flashy and passionate, the elf seems to cast his spells in a simple, cool, airy manner, oddly relaxed like he is only half serious.

“You good?” Dorian shouts, sounding calmer than he feels. Solas makes an affirmative sound, and Dorian laughs forcefully. “I could do this all - “

- and right at that moment a particularly powerful flash of electricity shatters his first barrier and weakens the second one enough to bite his skin: every hair on his tingling body is standing up and vibrating. Dorian freezes for a moment, stunned and blinded by pain. Solas scoffs, annoyed, renews the barrier quickly, and pushes his fist forward: a large boulder materializes and slams into Gripus, making him fly backwards. Painstakingly, Tevinter gets back up, but he is visibly injured. He swears vehemently in Tevene.

Dorian, somewhat recovered now, sees an opening and sets a Spirit Mark on the man; too weak to keep up a proper barrier, Gripus is immediately shrouded in purple glow, and begins to wail and twist helplessly, as the spirit hammers into him, and finally takes over his body. Dorian smirks and gives a short command: used-to-be-Gripus turns stiffly, as if pulled by a string, and goes abruptly after the horrified girl; she, being the young and fidgety thing that she is, can’t hold up against all the attacks suddenly pointed at her, and her barrier breaks under Solas’ ice and her ex-companion’s clawing - the very moment this happens, Dorian promptly curses Gripus’ body with a Walking Bomb, triggers it, and the unfortunate mage explodes with a massive golden and purple blast, hitting the girl in the process. She falls with her chest torn open and explodes as well.

Solas grunts, pleased and impressed, and as if deciding that he has played enough, simply dispels the still standing pyromancer's barrier and finishes him off with a sharp, devastating veilstrike.

”...dirtahara-ma!” Solas spits. Dorian closes his eyes and drops the stick, as if it is burning his hand. He feels himself beginning to fall down on his knees.

Solas grabs his arm. ”You have to go. I'll take care of this.”

Dorian blinks, somewhat stunned by the fact that the elf seems to be able to support his body weight, and shakes his head. ”Absolutely not, this whole thing is my fault - ”

His protest is cut short by a sweet caress of healing spell washing over him like a wave of warm water, removing the lingering, pulsing pain in his nerve endings. He sighs gratefully - and then Sera and Lavellan, who have now jumped out of the car, are practically falling on him, smothering him with their attention. Dorian tries to push them away.

”I am fine, I am fine, just out of mana.” He gets properly up to his feet and looks at Solas. ”I will stay.”

”Don't be foolish,” Solas snarls. ”You are a Tevinter, the officials won't be happy to learn you’ve engaged in a magical fight, whereas I am a citizen and well-respected. Furthermore, this is my driveway: I am more than justified to protect myself.”

Dorian, who arched his eyebrow at 'well-respected', opens his mouth, but Sera, who is still dangling on Dorian's arm, interrupts him: ”Yeah, but why would those crazy Vints come after you? You gonna tell the cops they were pissed off art critics?”

Solas rolls his eyes. ”They are Tevinter nationalists, racists, who dislike Elven people, and who less than two weeks ago executed a hit in my art show, I don't need to know their exact motives: they appeared on my drive way; they attacked me; they are dead; end of story.”

Sera looks unconvinced. ”Think they're gonna buy you beating them all by yourself?”

”I am exceptionally powerful,” Solas states without too much modesty, ”and if they require proof I am willing to give it to them.” He points at the car. ”Now get in the vehicle and take off. Immediately. You don't have much time.” He digs out his phone ”I am calling the police, although they are probably on their way already.”

Dorian, still apprehensive, steps towards his car, then stops and touches Solas' arm. ”Thank you.”

”Go.”

”I'll stay,” Lavellan says. She turns to Solas. ”It won't hurt for you to have a witness.”

”Ellana -”

”I will stay,” Lavellan repeats, and her dark blue eyes flash in a manner that makes it clear that further arguing is pointless.

 

***

 

Dorian and Sera are about a mile out on the highway, when they hear the sirens; three patrol cars sweep by them, paying them no attention.

”You think that Solas guy is going to get in trouble?” Sera asks. She has taken over the wheel, because Dorian really is no in condition to drive.

Dorian chews his lip. The guilt and worry weigh heavily on him: despite Solas' assuring words, he is not convinced Kirkwall's finest will treat an elf too kindly, not even a famous one. Then again, he knows his own presence would not make things easier for anyone.

”I hope not.” He rolls his shoulders, and rubs his face. Solas’ healing spell may have taken care of his burns and scratches, but he is so low on mana he is feeling cold and shaky, and the psychological side of thing is not any easier to handle. It's been years since the last time he fought anyone: he used to love dueling when he was young and felt like he had something to prove, but those times are long gone. He realizes there is no reason for guilt - it's not like he was given any options - but there there is no euphoria of victory either.

Better call Bull, he thinks hazily. The people at the Embassy should know; they'd be interested in any news on the extremists, and Bull told Dorian to inform him if anything odd happens. Besides, he could use Bull's presence right now. He takes his phone in his cold, shivering fingers. ”I am going to call that Qunari I told you about.”

Sera looks unsure. ”You gonna tell him what really happened then?”

”I think I should. They have the tendency to find things out anyway, and they don't share their information with outsiders.” He speed dials Bull.

”Hello, Dorian.” Bull sounds warm, if a bit wary, and just hearing him makes Dorian immediately feel better.

”Hey. So, listen.” He realizes his voice is trembling and he is speaking too fast, but he is incapable of slowing down. ”I just got attacked by three Tevinter mages. I was driving Solas home, he’s the artist, remember, so, I was driving him home, and they followed us, and -”

”Wait!” Bull cuts him off, agitated. ”Are you alright?”

”I am… uninjured.”

”And the attackers?”

”Dead.”

A short silence. ””Where are you now? Who is driving?”

”Almost back to the city. And my friend Sera is driving.”

”You took off from the scene?”

”I know, it's stupid, but Solas insisted, he said I might end up in trouble, and - ” Dorian takes a deep breath, ”and he says it’s his driveway so it’s okay, and he has someone there who'll back up his story, and -” he takes another breath, ”oh fuck, this is such a fucking mess, I don't know, am I doing the right thing here, should I go back? I should - ”

”No,” Bull interrupts him. ”Do as he said: stupid or not there's nothing else to be done now. Would you come down to the Embassy? I'll try and find out more about what's going on.”

”Yes. Please, yes.”

“See you soon, then. Be safe.”

He hangs up. Sera gives him a peculiar side eye. “You should probably call your precious boyfriend as well, don’t ya think?”

Dorian blinks. Oh - right. He should.

 

***

 

Dorian is just done with his phone call to Trevelyan (the man was outright livid), when they reach the Embassy. Sera parks the car on a quiet side street behind it. Dorian finds himself glancing over his shoulder as they make it to the gates, but no one is following, as far as he can tell.

The stone-faced guards nod at him, and open the gates. Bull is already waiting by the stairs, talking on his phone. When he sees Dorian, a relieved expression spreads across his face; he says a couple more words in Qunlat, and hangs up. He rushes to meet them.

”Sounds like you put up quite a light show.”

”Yes, well,” Dorian lets out an exhausted laughter. ”Solas assisted with that, so I'm afraid I can't take all the credit.”

”No injuries then?” Bull studies his face closely and sets his hands on Dorian’s shoulders; Dorian can feel them tremble, but it could be his own shoulders too, at this point he can't be sure.

”I was healed, but I am still rather - rather - ” Dorian's legs give in, and he stumbles forward; Bull catches him, lifts him up and carries him easily.

”Alright, big guy,” Bull says softly, and weren’t Dorian so tuned in to listening to the man, he might have missed the ever so slight breaking of the voice. Chagrined by the idea that he might have made Bull worry, Dorian closes his eyes. His head feels like it is filled with cotton, and he is very close to throwing up - he really hopes he won’t, though, because puking on Bull would be just too embarrassing. As if through a great distance he can hear Bull addressing Sera. ”Don't worry, he just needs lyrium. You Sera?”

”Yeah. You're the Bull?”

”I am.” Bull softens his voice again. ”Dorian - Boss is in a meeting and Lady Cousland is gone today, so I am going to take you to my quarters. We'll get you fixed.”

Bull carries him easily somewhere around the house, presumably to a side door. Dorian feels, rather than hears, the heavy footsteps on the gravel (there’s a slight quake to Bull’s step, probably due to his injured leg), and the quickened heartbeat under his cheek. The powerful arms are holding him just a tad too tightly, but their grip is grounding and safe; comforted, Dorian snuggles closer, searching for body heat.

When Bull lays him down, Dorian opens his eyes. He finds himself in a huge room, stylewise an odd mixture of military and teenage romance. The scarce furniture is utilitarian and simple, and a pair of humongous axes hung above the bed look downright scary - but then there are bright pink curtains casting a rosy glow through the space, and the bed Dorian has been set on holds a ridiculous amount of decorative pillows. The walls are covered with glaring dragon themed velvet posters.

”You need help,” Dorian mumbles. Bull laughs, covers him with an enormous rose-colored blanket, and leans down to look at him. He touches Dorian’s chin with light fingertips, and turns his head carefully from side to another. It feels weird having Bull staring at him from this angle; Dorian can’t help his body from shivering, and he thinks Bull notices. “I’m cold,” he blurts. It is not a lie. They stare at each other intently for a long moment; then Bull clears his throat and straightens up.

”I'll be right back with some lyrium.”

Dorian frowns. Lyrium, strictly regulated, is almost impossible to find outside Templar headquarters and Circles, unless one has connections with the black market. “You really have lyrium here?”

“Just wait.”

Bull disappears. Sera sits by Dorian, crossing her legs. ”You smell like smoke.”

“I know.” He pulls his hand from under the blanket and looks at his scorched sleeve grimly. That used to be a nice shirt.

“You made a proper mess out of them, bloody incredible,” Sera grins and pats his hip, then lowers her voice. ”By the way, I like your Qunari. He’s awful big and friendly.”

“He is not mine, but he is… something alright.”

Bull returns in a couple of minutes, and to Dorian’s surprise he is not alone: he brings with him a tall, serious female with delicately curling horns and golden eyes; she is followed by a congenial-looking young male. She offers Dorian a tiny ceramic bottle.

“This is Arvaarad,” Bull explains, his demeanor notably respectful. “She’s the only one here allowed to handle lyrium, and she agreed to give you some.”

Dorian’s eyes widen. He stares at the woman, then glances at the massive youth standing in her shadow: he is dressed like any other kid, in jeans and a green shirt; he has no collar or chains - but his horns are cut and capped, and he carries a thick, faintly glowing cuff on his wrist. The boy confronts Dorian’s stare, almost amused, and Dorian turns away. He knows the Qunari don’t treat their mages the cruel ways they used to in the past, but the idea that the Saarebas still have appointed caretakers and that their magic is usually suppressed doesn’t sit well with him.

“Saarebas will check on your injuries,” Bull adds. “If you wish.”

Dorian, barely able to disguise his discomfort, clears his throat. “That won’t be necessary. All I need is lyrium.” He takes the bottle with shaky hands. “Thank you.”

Arvaarad nods, then gestures Dorian to drink it; like most Qunari she doesn’t seem too keen on talking to bas. Dorian brings the bottle to his lips. The moment the cool, metallic burn hits his tongue, he begins to feel better. It is like the sun rising inside him: his power surges back, strong and brilliant, and settles in its familiar place within his core. He can see and think clearly again, breathe deeper. He drinks greedily to the last drop, then gives the bottle back; Arvaarad, who’s been keeping a hard eye on him, gives him another one, and Dorian empties that as well. Then he sighs and smiles gratefully. ”Much better.”

With a quiet humph, Arvaarad snaps the second bottle from his fingers (she has long claws, painted with pearly lavender), turns, her long braids swinging, and walks promptly out the door. Her slouching companion follows her quietly.

Sera collapses on her back on the mattress and squeals. “Wow.” She covers her mouth. “Their gals are big too!” Dorian rolls his eyes.

“Really, Sera? You really think this is the proper time to develop a Qunari fetish?” He tousles her unruly hair, and turns his desperate eyes to Bull. ”I should have said this first thing when we got here… allow me to apologize beforehand about everything she says. She is not famous for her tact.”

Bull cocks his head. ”I don’t think I can lure Arvaarad back here, but I could make some tea. You like cookies, Sera?”

“Why is everyone stuffing stuff in my face all the friggin time?” Sera protests. Bull blinks.

“You don’t want cookies?”

“I do.”

Bull's tea is almost as good as Sten's, and he serves it in enormous pink mugs with a ridiculous pile of ladyfingers. Sera devours about half of them, while Bull and Dorian discuss what happened at Solas'. Dorian gives him all the details he can remember. In the end of it, Bull studies his face closely.

”How are you feeling now?”

”Almost back to normal. Kind of shaky, but the nausea and pain are gone.”

”And mentally?”

Dorian considers. His topmost feeling is… relief. He's been so tense ever since the art exhibition, just waiting for something to happen, and now that it has, and he survived - it is like breathing fresh air after a long-awaited thunderstorm.

”I am rather good. Still upset, but, you know. I won.”

”You did an excellent job.”

”I haven't had a chance to exercise my skills in the past years, but it's like riding a bicycle, I suppose.”

Bull’s eye narrows. “I take it your boyfriend is not aware of the incident yet.” Surprised, and slightly embarrassed for reasons he can’t quite put his finger on, Dorian looks away to avoid the cool, piercing gaze.

“Oh, he is.”

Dorian can’t see Bull’s expression, but he can sense his disapproval. “And why is he not banging on the Embassy door as we speak?”

“Oh, I talked to him, and told him not to worry.” Dorian shrugs. “He was upset, of course, but there’s no reason for panic since it’s over and I am alive and well. He’ll cut his day short I’m sure, and I’ll see him once I get home, it’s fine.”

“It is not fine,” Bull states. Sera agrees:

“Trev is such an ass.”

“Oh, shut up,” Dorian pokes her gently with the tip of his foot. “Have another cookie.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Dorian drinks a couple more cups of tea, still lounging on the bed like a lazy teenager, and is just about to ask when Sten is expected to return from his meeting, when his phone rings. It is Lavellan.

”Let's just say,” she whispers, ”that the police are not happy, but they are understanding. There is still someone here taking statements, and a bunch of people investigating the scene.” She lowers her voice even more. ”Do you think they'll be able to tell there's been two mages fighting those guys?”

Dorian hums. ”I highly doubt it, the whole place is a mess. Did they bring a templar in?”

”Yes, of course, since it was an incident of magical nature. It’s that dumbass Varnell, he gave Solas some dirty looks, but that’s about it.”

”Alright. Well. I am not too worried: since Solas is an elf, and the dead people are mages and from Tevinter, in the end no one will be too inclined to investigate or care.” He can’t quite keep the bitterness out of his voice.

“But they must see the political connection, how this is related to the Ambassador - “

“Oh, they’ll inform Beresaad, I’m sure, but beside that… they have no reason to really care about Qunari-Tevinter politics.” Dorian sighs. “Just call me when it's over, we’ll come and give you a ride home.”

Lavellan pauses, just for a moment, and Dorian can hear her blushing over the phone. ”Actually, Solas sort of offered to take me.”

Dorian clears his throat, innocently. “He what now?”

“I said he offered to take me!”

“I bet he did.”

“What?”

“Oh, nothing… nothing at all. Try and have fun then.”

”I don't see how any of this is even remotely fun.”

”It might turn out to be. Eventually. Considering how skilful Solas seems with his hands.”

Lavellan hisses. Dorian laughs and hangs up. He looks at Bull. ”My friend is about to get laid, so I suppose this day didn't turn out to be a total disaster.”

”All right!” Bull pumps his fist. Sera pretends to stick her fingers in her throat, and makes a heartfelt puking sound.

 

***

 

Later that night, after a long and rather painful discussion with Trevelyan, Dorian makes a decision to send his father a message. He doesn't wish to actually talk, there’s been too much talking as it is, and Dorian certainly doesn't need another fight - but he figures it’d be best to let Magister Pavus know.

Got attacked by three mages today - feels like home! I am uninjured, they are dead. Amongst them was Magister Prycis' nephew, Gripus, the others I didn't recognize. One was a short and stocky elder male who used powerful fire magic, I am tempted to say Vyrantium trained; the other one a young woman with red hair and Eastern accent.

(Do not call me, for I shall not answer.)

He gets a reply about ten minutes later: So very proud of you, son.

Dorian spends most of the night lying awake in his bed, feeling furious, nauseous, and despicably happy.

Chapter Text

...Special Forces raided the villa early this morning arresting fifteen people, amongst them magisters Erimond, Prycis, and Vyrantus. The Spokesman for the Magisterium has expressed their shock, sadness, and disappointment, calling for total transparency in the matter, and declaring the detainees ‘enemies of the State’. The Spokesman emphasized that the Magisterium as a whole denounces all acts of terror, as it always has. Archon Radonis, in a rare statement -”

Dorian stares at the TV-screen, incredulous. Trevelyan whoops and claps his hands.

”Fucking great! Looks like Halward didn't hold his punches there.”

”He never does,” Dorian mumbles, still in shock and unsure what to feel. It's been eight days since he first spoke to his father: now the extremist leaders have been arrested. He has no doubt that their identities have been known for ages; the fact that it took only a week to convince the Archon and the Magisterium to actually do something about it is pretty incredible, though.

Dorian chews his lip. He supposes he should feel happy. He is certainly relieved - but also sort of annoyed, as ungrateful as that may seem, and a little bit worried for his father. Not that he would ever admit to it.

The reporter keeps on talking about the recent attacks against the Qunari embassies; pictures of the disgraced magisters flick on the screen on a loop. Trevelyan laughs again, and wraps his arm around Dorian’s shoulders. ”Looks like your prisoner-like days are over, dear,” he smacks a kiss on Dorian’s forehead, then looks him in the eye. ”Call your father.” Dorian turns away, presses his cheek against Trevelyan’s hand.

”If he has something to say, he can contact me.”

”He did this for you, Dori. Just call the man.”

Dorian groans. Trevelyan is right, of course: Halward did do this for him. But that’s no reason to start making any stupid phonecalls, is it? He snuggles closer, and begins to wrap a lock of Trevelyan’s long, golden hair around his fingers in an absent-minded manner - and then, for whatever damned reason, he is hit by a memory of Father's voice from decades ago, firm yet gentle: papa will take care of it; papa will arrange it; papa will talk to them; don't worry, don’t cry -

- and it is like a punch to his gut. Blinking back angry tears, Dorian retires to the bedroom. ”I didn't need you doing this,” he yells into the phone, harsh, “again.” His Father listens to his raging, lets him get it out.

”Anything to keep you safe,” Halward says, ”anything,” and isn't that ironic. Dorian tells him that much and laughs bitterly. And then it is the same old, same old all over again: I never meant to hurt you, I wanted what's best for you, why don’t you come home…

”I hate you,” Dorian hisses.

”Whatever you have to give me, I'll take,” Halward states, that's the end of that.

It takes a while before Dorian finds himself strong enough to return to the living room. He is barely done pointing to Trevelyan that his father is an utter ass, when his phone begins to ring.

The first callers are Sten and Elissa. They both seem pleased and relieved; Sten accounts the arrests will be good for relieving the tension of the political climate, and Dorian almost mentions the involvement of his Father, but then decides against it. He has a feeling Sten knows anyway. Elissa is just happy for Dorian, and promises to invite him and Trevelyan to the Embassy for a celebratory tea. The next one to call is Sera - she keeps cackling madly through the brief and spirited conversation - and right after her Dorian has an emotional conversation with the ecstatic, sobbing Lavellan. The final caller is Bull. He sounds warm, but in a proper Ben-Hassrath manner is careful not to say anything too definite; he points out that not all involved have been arrested, but that Dorian should be pretty safe, since whoever is left have much more urgent things to consider at the moment.

After Bull hangs up, Dorian collapses in Trevelyan's lap. He feels like he has run a mile. ”Let's go and celebrate tonight,” he says. He needs it: he needs to get out, drink his full, forget for a moment.

Trevelyan rubs his shoulders - he has such wonderful hands - and makes a pouting face. ”I wish I could, but I have things to do at the gallery.” He pokes Dorian's nose with his own, avoiding the disappointed stare. ”You go, though, ask Ellana to join you.”

Dorian scoffs, displeased. ”You're no fun.”

”We'll go together come Saturday, I promise.”

 

***

 

Dorian enters Trevelyan's home office, spreads his arms, and takes a slow spin.

Feeling slightly defiant - fine, offended - he has pulled on a pair of slim, dark cargo pants and a deep red button-down so tight and delicate that it practically licks his body and shows pretty much every well-defined muscle, as well as the faint glistening of his nipple piercings. He has added casual short boots, his usual diamond studs, and stacks of sparkling garnet rings on his fingers.

”Andraste's ass, you look hot!” Trevelyan's golden eyes widen. ”That shirt should be illegal.”

Dorian walks around the desk and straddles the man. ”You still sure you don't want to go?”

”I truly have work to do, I'm sorry. You go with your little elven friend and enjoy yourself.”

”I’d rather enjoy you...”

Trevelyan chuckles, and squeezes his bottom. ”Suck me off, pretty boy,” he whispers in Dorian’s mouth. Dorian lets out a delighted squeal and falls on his knees. Trevelyan leans back, and closes his eyes.

 

***

 

When Dorian arrives, Lavellan is already waiting for him by the club's entrance.

”Wow,” she says, and glances at the shimmering shirt peeking from under his fitted suede jacket. ”How did Trev let you out dressed like that?”

”Who knows, he must be crazy.” Dorian leans down and kisses her cheek. ”You look lovely.”

She does: she is wearing a sleeveless light blue dress and cute silver sandals; her dark hair is hanging loose, reaching her elbows. Dorian lays his hand securely on the small of her back, and guides her through the door a druffalo size bouncer is guarding. ”I am going to be shooing drunk guys away from you all night.”

”Going to play my date again?”

”Well someone has to since our useless boyfriends have abandoned us.”

”I'm not sure you make a believable date in that gay of a shirt, sweetie. Besides, I wouldn't call Solas my boyfriend, not yet anyway.”

Dorian raises an eyebrow. ”What would you call him then? A fuck buddy? Haven't you been on two dates already?”

”Three.”

Dorian snorts. He stops and lets his gaze sweep the club. The place is not full, probably won't be either, since it is Thursday. The dance floor is almost empty, but the DJ sounds enthusiastic enough. He turns towards where he knows the nearest bar counter is -

- and there, right there, in the reddish light, he sees a huge bulk of a body and a pair of ridiculously wide horns.

Lavellan, noticing Dorian's expression, lets out a gasp. ”Is that, what's his name - Bull?”

Dorian stares at the Qunari. He looks different: instead of his usual suit he is wearing blue jeans and an offensive pink-and-yellow button-up that stretches over his muscular chest in a rather distracting manner. He has a juicy, buxom blonde on his knee; they are laughing and chatting with the third member of the group, a strapping young man with auburn hair.

”Why yes, yes it is.” Dorian feels a smile spreading on his face. ”Come on, let's get drinks, and then I'll introduce you.”

”I didn't expect him to be so, well, big.”

“How could you?”

Dorian walks by the counter to meet a grim-looking dwarf bartender. ”Greetings. Fereldan ale, please.” He glances at Lavellan, who nods. ”Make it two.”

The dwarf grunts, and fills two shiny glasses with amber-colored liquid.

”Thanks.” Dorian smiles again, even though it is a wasted effort, and then turns to look at Bull who has taken a sharp turn after hearing his voice. ”Hello, Bull.”

The Qunari is staring at him, transfixed. ”Dorian,” he says. He sounds slightly out of breath. His eye roams over Dorian's shirt, stops at the ghost of the nipple piercings, and raises back to his amused face. ”...Dorian,” he repeats, as if he’s forgotten he said it already. The auburn-haired male rolls his eyes. Dorian serves the rest of the entourage a dazzling smile.

”Hello, Bull's friends.”

The blonde on Bull's knee leans closer, fascinated, like a moth reaching for a flame. ”Oh wow.” She blinks. “Are you a model? Is that mustache for real? Wanna dance?”

Dorian feels Lavellan tensing, and then her slender arm is wrapping tightly around his waist, protective and just a little bit jealous. Dorian covers a smile; he doesn’t mind female attention, but Lavellan, bless her, has always been kind of touchy when it comes to girls swarming around him. The blonde takes note.

”Oh,” she says. She backs off, then frowns. ”With that shirt I kinda thought you were gay.”

Everyone bursts out laughing. After the ruckus dies down, Dorian turns his attention back to Bull, who's been watching him with a peculiar expression. ”Fancy meeting you here. Taking a night off?”

”Yeah.” Bull shifts on his seat, looks down, and seems to just then realize that his hands are on the blonde's thighs. He snaps them off - which is just as well, because right at that moment she notices someone across the room, shrieks, and jumps up.

”Hey,” Bull says. The woman turns to look at him.

”I'll be back! Don't forget your promise!”

Bull clears his throat, raises his voice a bit so that it carries over the music. ”Actually, would you mind if Krem took you home tonight?” He looks just a little bit embarrassed. The blonde stops and pouts.

”I thought you were going to.”

”After you were ready to ditch me for the first dashing mustache that comes by?” Bull snorts at the offended face. ”I'm kidding. Don't be mad, I'll call you.”

She smirks and wanders off to join a group of giggling women further away. Dorian shakes his head. ”Nice,” he says. Bull laughs.

”She is. Very nice.” He moves his eye to Lavellan. ”So who's this?”

Dorian pulls Lavellan up and front. ”Allow me to introduce my dear friend Ellana Lavellan. Sweetheart, meet the Iron Bull. Big Bad Ben-Hassrath...” he studies Bull's shirt. ”...in abhorrent poppy print.”

Bull takes the elf's hand, delicately. ”You're the one who fucks that weird mage artist?”

Lavellan groans, and gives choking Dorian a murderous look, then turns back to Bull. ”And you are the one Dorian shares too many none-of-his-business things with?”

”Feisty,” Bull growls, and winks. He leans back, allowing Dorian and Lavellan a better view at his companion. ”Here's my friend Krem.”

”Hello,” says Krem curtly.

Tevinter accent. Dorian takes a closer look. Quite a handsome young man, this one: smooth golden skin, just a shade lighter than his own, dark lustrous hair, copper eyes. Not very tall, but notably muscular. Clearly soporati. Clearly aware of who Dorian is, judging by the stare - then again, most Tevinter people are.

”Placet, Cremisius.”

”The big lummox here has been talking about you,” the young man says in Common, ignoring Dorian's Tevene. ”Good job saving the Ambassador.”

”Thank you.”

”Not really anything I'd expect from an altus.”

Dorian smiles sweetly and takes a sip of his drink. ”I am quite famous for doing what is not expected from me.”

”So it's true then?” Krem looks suspicious. ”You really left it all? The money and all that shit?”

Dorian glances at Bull, who is trying to look like he is not listening too closely, and failing. Dorian can feel Lavellan squeezing his arm; a gesture of encouragement or solace. He really isn't comfortable discussing his personal life with strangers, but he doesn't want to sound rude either. Krem is a friend of Bull's after all.

”I did. Didn't have much choice in the matter, at least not from where I was standing.”

Krem relaxes a bit. ”I thought the rumors were exaggerated.”

Dorian laughs. ”Some of them were.” He moves a bit closer and lowers his voice. ”I did not run from Tevinter because I made someone pregnant. Neither did I join a cult, get a nervous breakdown, or try to hide from Carta.”

”Why would you hide from Carta?” Bull acquires, amused. Dorian sighs.

”Apparently I lost millions by gambling and ended up borrowing money from them.”

”You wouldn't be that stupid.”

”No, I wouldn't. Besides, it is offensive to even think that I, in my old life, would ever have to borrow money from anyone.” Dorian pauses. ”What else?”

”I heard you were fucking some Magister,” Krem says. Lavellan giggles.

”Oh. That I did,” Dorian informs him promptly. ”Multiple times. But it was not the reason I left.”

”Why did you leave?” Krem asks. Dorian swallows, his face darkens.

”Let's say that families aren't all what they are supposed to be.”

Krem goes quiet and stares into nothingness for a moment. ”Yeah,” he says.

 

***

 

Three hours later Dorian, happily intoxicated, finds himself sitting in a small, sheltered den, sharing a soft velvet seat with the just as intoxicated Qunari. Krem took off a while ago, a girl on each arm, one of them being the blonde Bull had rejected earlier, the other Lavellan, whose longing for Solas got worse the more beer she drank, finally reaching a point where she began to send stupid text messages. Dorian, feeling benevolent, suggested she should just go to the man, and Krem was chivalrous enough to offer his assistance and see that she got there safely.

Dorian squints his eyes and examines Bull's hand that is resting on the table. Such a scary thing at first glance: huge, maimed, and grey, and he has claws… the kind of hand one would judge clumsy and barbaric, doomed to handle things like weapons and shovels. But then, if one looks past the obvious, it is also surprisingly elegant with long fingers and graceful movements.

”You have such big hands,” Dorian says, and smiles like an idiot. ”I like them.” He has emptied his… sixth? glass, and he is absolutely not going to drink any more. Bull smiles back, warm and easy.

”Yeah?” He lifts his hand and turns the palm so it faces Dorian. Dorian presses his dark, elegant hand against it; the fingers, as long as they are, reach barely above the first joint. He snorts, delighted, and just a little bit terrified.

”I like your hands,” Bull says and squeezes Dorian's carefully. It feels pleasant. Warm.

”I like your horns.”

”I like your hair.”

”Everyone likes my hair,” Dorian scoffs. He leans closer and stares at Bull's shirt. ”I hhhate your outfit, though.” Bull laughs out loud, Dorian leans even closer and examines the black pattern peeking from under the collar. ”But, admittedly, I like your tattoos a lot.”

Bull says ha, fumbles open two of his shirt buttons, and reveals the decorated pectorals. Dorian stares, charmed. Not the first time he sees them, but the sight is no less impressive for it.

”They mimic vitaar, yes?”

”Proper vitaar is not very practical outside warfare, so this is the next best thing,” Bull explains with conviction. He looks at Dorian's bare lower arms; as usual, he has rolled his sleeves up to his elbows. ”Your snakes look good too. How far do they go?”

Without thinking too much Dorian unbuttons his shirt as well, and pulls clumsily out one of his arms, showing off the whole glory of his tattoo and part of his magnificent upper body. Bull's eye widens. His stunned gaze follows the black slithering form curling gracefully around Dorian's wrist and arm, all the way up to his shoulder, finally reaching his pectoral, where the triangular head lies, right next to a sparkling nipple ring. Some of the scales are touched with metallic ink, the snake's eyes are gleaming like sapphires.

”Shit,” Bull says. He comes closer and studies the tattoo. ”Normally I'd say it is a shame to cover skin this beautiful, but damn.” He touches Dorian's arm with the tip of his dulled claw and begins to trace the shape curiously.

The touch is slow and light, and it tickles. Dorian snickers, but doesn't pull his arm away. Bull's finger climbs up his arm, oh-so-slow, caresses his bicep, makes a soothing circle there, not just with the tip of the claw anymore, but with the pad of the thumb, before gliding along his shoulder muscles and collarbone, and descending to touch the snake's head. He traces the head, still slow and gentle, and the side of his big thumb swipes accidentally the nipple ring. Dorian's breath catches, and for a moment he could swear there is an electric current running through Bull's fingers - which is impossible, of course, because Bull is not a mage.

Bull lifts his eye, the hand stops. ”Would you like to dance?”

Dorian recovers from his hypnotic state and bursts out laughing. ”You dance?”

”Of course I do.” He shows teeth. ”It's part of my training.”

”You're kidding me.”

”Pull your shirt on and let's hit the floor.”

Up this close Bull is impossibly big and incredibly warm. Dorian sways slowly along with the music, and presses his cheek against the hideous fabric of Bull's shirt, breathing in the soothing scent. Bull's heavy arms are wrapped securely around him, one hand resting on his hip, the other rubbing his shoulder. It feels all too nice.

”I wish I could fall asleep here,” Dorian mumbles, and snuggles closer. Bull purrs; Dorian can feel the vibration all over his body, and sighs happily.

”I wish I could carry you to bed,” Bull answers softly, his mouth moving against the crown of Dorian's head. Dorian snorts.

”You are too drunk to carry me. We'd fall over, and you'd end up crushing me again.”

”...I’d like that.”

”Would you now.”

Bull stops moving and pulls slightly away. Dorian lifts his head, baffled, and squints in the brilliant blue lights spinning slowly on the floor.

”I - don't usually do this,” Bull states. His eye is hazy, there's a slight slur in his voice. Dorian tries to concentrate: clearly Bull is attempting to say something important here, so he'd probably better not laugh, but it is hard because he is so drunk.

”All right,” he manages. Bull licks his lips.

”I never do this.” He pauses. ”Unless it's a job. Or - if they come to me and I don't know them, and it's a one night thing, whatever, I might, 'cause, you know, us Qunari don't care, we have a different system. Except that nowadays I kinda care and - ”

Dorian tries to concentrate. ”What are you talking about?”

”I don't mess with people who are taken.” Bull looks so ridiculously serious. Dorian giggles, despite his decision not to.

”Yeah?”

He can feel tender fingers traveling down his spine, then slowly rising all the way up to his neck, and stroking the short hairs there; the hand on his hip glides lower to partly rest on the curve of his ass. Dorian blinks, a bit unsure now. He has no problem flirting wildly with people, and he had no problem with Bull touching his tattoo, but this… this might not be a good idea.

Bull pulls him closer, until he is glued to the wide chest again.

”You are so, so beautiful.”

There's something hard pressing against Dorian's upper belly area - and suddenly he is totally sober. Painfully so. His eyes fly to Bull's. The Qunari seems silent, steady, but Dorian can feel the hastened rise and fall of his chest, the slight tremble of his fingers.

He wants me, Dorian thinks, and the realization, while not totally shocking, is as horrific as it is exhilarating. His cock, the traitor, twitches, as pure panic clenches his insides, and the next moment an impossible, scorching shudder of want goes through him. Bull presses closer and breathes in deep, smelling him.

”See, that's the shitty part of this,” he growls in Dorian's hair, ”you want me too.” Bull sets both hands on Dorian's hips and pushes him carefully. ”So, I am thinking, were I to pull you in here...” He guides Dorian around the corner to a short, empty corridor that leads to an emergency exit. He presses Dorian gently against the wall. ”...and kiss you...”

He leans down, towards Dorian's lips, but stops, waiting for permission. Dorian is frozen where he stands, breathing in shallow gasps: he doesn't think he has ever felt so hot, so small, so terrified. The warm, heaving chest before him is pulling him like a magnet, the thumbs digging into his hips are burning his skin through the fabric of his pants.

He feels like he is falling into a dark pit.

When Dorian was all too young and went through his harrowing, he met a Desire Demon: a charming, divinely beautiful thing with silky smooth skin, sensual mouth, and all the right words. The Iron Bull has scarred skin, thin lips, and he is blunt and unfair.

The Desire Demon's got nothing on Bull.

”I can't,” Dorian whispers. He is trying desperately not to feel Bull, to smell Bull, to see Bull. He is so hard it fucking hurts.

Bull swallows, stays still for a moment.

”Alright,” he says, because of course he does. ”It's alright, Dorian.” He presses his face on top of Dorian's head again, lets out a sound that is dangerously close to a sob, and holds him for a moment. ”I'm sorry - I'm sorry.”

Dorian twists himself free, takes a couple of steps until his back hits the wall, and glides down to sit on the floor. Bull sinks to the floor as well.

”Venhedis,” Dorian mutters. He squeezes his eyes shut as tight as he can, as if that would help or make any difference. The hypnotic rhythm of the music and people laughing is still there, but now he feels strangely detached, like he has transcended into another time and place altogether and what he is hearing is just an echo of something hopelessly far away.

”Yeah,” Bull says. Dorian opens his eyes.

”You're drunk. That's it, you are not thinking straight.”

”In that case I've been drunk for weeks.”

”All right.” Dorian rubs his temples. ”Listen. These things happen. Who could blame you, I am magnificent, this is totally understandable. But you must see -” He pauses, searching for words. ”This can't be. It won't. You must not think about me that way.”

Bull turns his head. Dorian swears out loud. ”No. No, no, no - don't do this.” He searches for Bull's gaze, finally finds it. ”Do not do this, Bull: if you do this, I can not see you again, and I want to see you again because I like you, so do not do this.” He lets out a desperate sound. ”Please.”

Bull stays silent for a long time. ”Are you happy with Trevelyan?”

Dorian feels a hot, unexpected sting of anger. He is Tevinter enough to immediately suspect manipulation: he knows all about different ways to make one feel insecure. Or - he is too suspicious, and Bull is sincerely worried. Either way -

”Perfectly happy, thank you.”

”I am not a huge fan of his,” Bull says, and his silvery green eye is very serious now. Dorian laughs, a bright, bitter thing.

”Well, isn't it marvelous that you are not dating him then! Next thing you are telling me how he is not worthy of me, or not good for me, right?” Dorian's eyes flash. ”What would you know about relationships! You are a Qunari!”

”I know nothing about relationships,” Bull admits readily, his voice distant and calm, and Dorian can smell the ale on his breath. ”But I know quite a bit about people's needs. And he is not giving you what you need. Or deserve.”

”Don't you dare. You are so full of shit, you would say anything because you want me!”

”No.” Bull suddenly looks stern. ”I would not.”

Dorian lifts his chin, defiant. ”You would. That's what your people do! And as far as Trevelyan goes, he indeed gives me what I need! I owe him everything!”

”He left you alone. I would never have left you alone, I didn’t -”

”Bull, for Maker's sake -”

”I know people, Dorian, it is my job. And he doesn't care as much as you'd like to believe.”

”Shut up.”

”He doesn't even want to be seen with you!”

”I love him, you big idiot,” Dorian hisses - and then he sees Bull's face wince as if he’s been hit. Dorian feels an immediate sting of guilt and regret. He wants to say that he’s sorry, that he didn’t mean it, but it is too late, isn’t it, and what’s worse, he’d be lying: he did mean it - and somehow the thought makes him even angrier, angrier at Bull, and at himself.

”...well then,” Bull whispers. He seems to collapse, shrink somehow, and turns his head away. The side of his horn hits the wall with a faint clanking sound. Annoyed with everything, Dorian hardens himself, and forces himself to get up. His limbs feel like lead.

”I have to go,” he says. Bull's hand, always gentle, reaches out and settles on his arm, careful not to restrain.

”You want me to see you home?”

Dorian knows it is a mere friendly gesture, professional courtesy perhaps, but he can’t, he just - can’t. He slaps the hand away, too hard. ”Maker, no. Please do not touch me again.”

 

***

 

Dorian, as a rule, doesn't consider himself a particularly good person. He is well aware of his numerous shortcomings: he is arrogant, selfish, impatient, and overly sarcastic; he knows he flirts too much, and there was a time in his life he considered himself a poor excuse for a human being… but he has tried to make better of himself. He really has. So as he walks away from the club, and away from Bull, he knows with a bitter certainty that he is doing the right thing. Sadly, it doesn’t stop him from feeling like shit.

He is honest enough to admit to himself that he is attracted. Were he single, he'd climb the Iron Bull like a tree. But he is not single, and under all his flirty decadence there’s a good deal of loyalty and devotion: his relationship with Trevelyan is the first real relationship he's ever had, and right from the beginning he has wanted to do it right. Perhaps it is not perfect in every way, but he is old enough to know there is no perfect relationship. Theirs is good. Very good, even. And Dorian is planning on keeping it that way, because, really, how could he even imagine finding someone better? Trev is gorgeous, intelligent, funny, wealthy, generous…

Dorian stops by a blinking lamp post and pulls out his phone. He realizes his fingers are cold, that he is cold, period. Instinctively, he sticks his hands in his armpits for a moment, conjures some heat in his palms, and glances around. Without realizing it, he has walked to the end of the street; there are no clubs here, and not many bypassers, just dark buildings and damp pavement gleaming in the white, vibrating light. Dorian closes his eyes for a moment, shielding his heart from the feeling of utter loneliness trying to creep in. The abrupt yet undeniable longing for Bull’s warm heavy arms around him is nothing short of physical pain.

Cursed Qunari.

Angrily, he grabs his phone again, and speed dials. “You home yet?”

“Dorian?” Trevelyan sounds slightly irritated. “I am working - so no, I am not home yet. What time is it anyway? I will be there in an hour, I promise.”

Dorian hangs up. He is upset and miserable, and he misses Trevelyan. For a moment he considers just going home, jumping in the hot shower, and waiting under warm sheets for his lover to return - but the idea of being alone is too much to bear. Surely he could go to the Gallery instead; wait around while Trevelyan finishes his work, and then they can grab a midnight snack from some bar afterwards, and go home together.

 

***

 

Dorian steps out of the cab. He walks around the Gallery building to the secluded back door, uses the keycard Trevelyan has given him for emergencies, taps in the code, and lets himself in.

He strolls along the corridor until he reaches the exhibition area. Solas' paintings look eerie in the dimmed lighting, even more alive than before. Dorian mutters under his breath, feeling the twitch in the Fade as he passes too close to a tall, narrow painting of Falon'Din. He heads towards the office rooms, and takes the dark corridor to the Trevelyan's door. He pulls it open.

For the second time in this gallery, Dorian feels the time slow down.

Trevelyan is sitting on the couch. His shirt is open, his pants down to his knees. In his lap, squirming, is a girl.

Dorian stares, flabbergasted, and for a moment he dares to hope he is dreaming - that this is not happening, that what he sees with an almost inhuman clarity - the creamy skin of her bare bottom, his lover’s carefully manicured hands on that bottom - is not really there - but then Trevelyan makes a sound, breaking the spell, and the realization hits Dorian like a ton of bricks. He grabs the door frame to balance himself; must’ve made a sound too, because the girl turns to look at him, surprised - she is pretty, of course she is, and so young - and then Trevelyan is pushing her away, grasping for his pants.

He was inside her: he was inside her, and somehow that hurts more than anything else.

They stare at each other for a mere second: Trevelyan looks shocked, like a little boy with widened eyes, and the moment his expression begins to change from stunned to helpless, Dorian turns around and flees. Trevelyan is calling after him, crying, but he doesn't care. He finds his way to the side door, more by muscle memory than anything else, and steps outside. He walks briskly for a block or two; his phone keeps ringing - he ignores it.

He calls for another cab.

Back at Trevelyan's house he grabs his stuff - some clothes and cosmetics - and throws them in a plastic bag, feeling absolutely numb. Then he walks to the front door, drops the keys on the mat, and steps out.

Only after he is sitting in the taxi again, squeezing the plastic bag with cold white knuckles (he has enough presence of mind to know he is too drunk to drive), he stops to think. He's been running on adrenaline, too shocked to really consider what he’s doing.

Is he overreacting?

Like hell he is.

”Where to?” the driver asks. He is a middle-aged man with a thick Nevarran accent and tired, sympathetic eyes.

Dorian tries to concentrate. The whole terrible truth of it, the idea that he has lost both Trev and Bull tonight is beginning to properly form in his foggy mind - but he can’t possibly deal with it yet, so he pushes the thought firmly away. He doesn’t manage to suppress the dull, pulsating pain though.

Where to?

He doesn't want to go to his house: Trevelyan might show up, and right now he doesn't trust himself not to hit the man with a lightning bolt in the crotch. He could go into a hotel, of course, but…

He lifts his head and faces the driver's patient gaze. ”Lowtown,” he whispers.

 

***

 

”The fuck is it?!” Sera's crabby voice on the other side of the door makes Dorian's heart swell.

”It's me.”

Sera opens the door. She is wearing faint green pajamas with an outrageous daisy print; her hair is even more messed up than usual, her expression suspicious. Dorian looks at her, unable to say anything. Sera takes in his miserable, stained face.

”Well, shite,” she says.

Chapter Text

Elissa: Good morning, handsome, care for some tea later today?

Dorian: I am sorry, this is not a good time. Rain check?

Elissa: Everything all right?

Dorian: Actually, no.
Dorian: I broke up with Trevelyan.

Elissa: Oh no! Oh Dorian, I am so sorry!
Elissa: Could things still be fixed?

Dorian: I don't see that happening.

Elissa: Anything I can do? Anything at all?

Dorian: I appreciate you asking, but no.

Elissa: Are you at home?

Dorian: At my friend's place. Hiding, basically.

 

***

 

Sten: Meraad astaarit, meraad itwasit. *sad kitten emoji*

Dorian: …right.

 

***

 

“Oh, that’s good - right there.“ Dorian lets out a content hiss. His head is set securely on Lavellan’s lap, and her fingers, cool and tender, are rubbing his scalp. He’s got to admit it feels quite wonderful; even if it doesn't remove the dull, bitter pain under his ribs, it does calm him down and keeps him from running through the city and shooting fireballs at innocent bystanders. Lavellan hums, pleased. She arrived early this morning, as soon as she got Sera’s hectic phone call, and despite her own hungover-ish state has been doing her best to console her friend.

Sera has settled on the floor with her laptop: she's still wearing her daisy pyjamas, and has been reading out mage jokes to ”cheer Dorian up”. So far she hasn't had much luck. She keeps on trying nevertheless.

”Oy, Dorian: what is a mabari's favorite school of magic?”

Dorian cracks an eye open. ”Mabari don't have schools of magic.” Sera slaps his leg hanging over the edge of the couch.

”Don't' go ruining it! Guess!”

”I think not.”

”The barkane!”

Dorian groans, and Sera bursts into bright giggles.

She reads out a couple more jokes, all terrible, then turns on the TV. She clicks through the channels until she finds her favorite Avvar reality show they have often watched together on weekends. She claps her hands enthusiastically; Dorian snorts, but tilts his head to take a look anyway.

”Just what I need,” he mumbles. “A dose of trash.” Lavellan pats his cheek.

”You love this, admit it.”

”Never.” He turns to look up at Lavellan, his eyes huge. ”I was wondering...” Lavellan turns her whole attention to him, immediately worried.

”Yes, vhenan?"

“I was sort of hoping you’d feed me some grapes while I lie here.”

“Fucking Vints,” Sera snorts. Lavellan pats his cheek again, hard.

“I am not going to feed you grapes, Pavus.”

“...I don’t think you really love me.”

On TV a loud Avvar wedding party is invading the clan headman's garden, against their specific instructions. As the first guest gets punched right in the groin with a rake, Sera lets out a delighted shriek, and begins to swear out loud.

”I believe there’s someone at the door,” Lavellan raises her voice over the ruckus. It takes a moment before Dorian realizes that she is talking about the apartment's door, not the set on TV; he waves his hand sharply, and manages to make Sera shut up. Indeed, there is a soft knock on the door (the doorbell has been broken for as long as Dorian remembers), and they all exchange a look. Sera, with a tight expression on her face, jumps to her feet.

”If it’s you-know-who,” Lavellan growls, ”punch him in the face and tell him to go to the Void!” She softens her voice and smiles down at Dorian. ”Don't worry, we won't let him in here.”

Dorian takes her small hand and kisses her knuckles. He’s been getting numerous messages and phone call attempts from Trevelyan, and ignored them all; the idea that the man would appear here seems pretty far-fetched - Trevelyan doesn't know where Sera lives, and would rather die than be seen in Lowtown - but he appreciates Lavellan's fierce protectiveness. He strains his hearing, but whoever is at the door doesn't seem too talkative.

Sera peeks back into the living room, with a strange expression on her face, and looks at Dorian. ”It's for you.” Dorian feels his heart shriveling. There aren’t too many people beside Trev that would be looking for him. And only one he can imagine being capable of finding him on such short notice.

“I don’t wish to see him.” The words are out before he can really think them through; Sera shakes her head.

“Just get up and haul your ass over here.”

Dorian rolls his eyes, but then reluctantly twists himself off the couch and up on his feet. He is feeling a bit wobbly due to the sleepless night, but manages to shuffle to the foyer - and sure enough: the Iron Bull is standing on the threshold.

”I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” he says, tightly. He is gazing somewhere around Bull's left ear, decidedly avoiding his eye. He is angry - angry that Ben-Hassrath has traced him here, angry about what happened between them -

You are so, so beautiful.

Dorian closes his eyes, as the ghost of Bull’s voice from last night makes him shiver; he can feel the hot breath caressing his skin again, the kind fingers in his hair, and for a vanishing moment he turns warm and tender, ready to fall against the oh-so-inviting chest just to feel those arms around him once more -

Are you happy with Trevelyan?

- but just as quickly the warmth disappears, and his fluster is being replaced by a cold grudge.

are you happy with Trevelyan, he is not giving you what you need, he doesn't care as much as you'd like to believe

Everything was fine before Bull said those things, everything was fine before he said those things.

Pain and spite almost make Dorian double over, and Bull gives him a sharp glance which he feels rather than sees.

“Dorian?” The voice is careful, thin somehow, nothing like Bull’s usual good-natured grumble. When Dorian says nothing, the Qunari offers a small basket decorated with a pale pink muslin ribbon. ”I brought you some cookies.”

”Of course you did,” Dorian hisses. He battles the urge to set the basket on fire; then he gets a hold of himself, takes the basket, bows stiffly, and closes the door, shutting Bull promptly outside.

There's a careful knock on the door.

”No!” he yells. There is no further attempt after that. Sera and Lavellan, who’ve been pretending to watch the show, have fallen silent and stare at him. Sera makes a face.

”If you ask me...”

”If I find myself in need of an opinion, I'll request it.” He sounds too snappy, he knows it. Lavellan leans closer and uses her silkiest voice.

“Dorian...”

“Ellana: no.” He can’t look them in the face. Sera scoffs.

”Geez, crabby ass, at least pass the cookies. Are they chocolate or what?”

Dorian sets the basket in her lap, and sits next to her. He watches how an enormous young man with yellow hair is pushed in the swimming pool by his equally enormous and excessively drunk sister-in-law, and chaos ensues. Normally at this point Sera would begin to guffaw and call them crazy sons of nugs, and Dorian and Lavellan would join in with enthusiasm. Now they sit in silence.

“He’s a good guy, you know,” Sera says after a while. Dorian bites his cheeks.

“You don’t know him.”

Sera pops another cookie in her mouth. “Oh yeah? Well he seems friggin nice, and he brings you friggin cookies, and he is not the one who friggin cheated on your fancy ass, so I don’t see why you’re being a bitch at him.”

Dorian pretends he can’t hear. On TV the drunk sister-in-law lands in the swimming pool as well, pushed there by her heavily-tattooed cousin and wannabe-elf step-son. Sera, who should definitely know better by now, goes on: “Whatever did he do to get your knickers so twisted? Why would you - ”

“He wanted to kiss me!” Dorian didn’t mean to shout it, but somehow it comes out that way. Sera’s eyes widen with shock and glee.

“Knew it!” she whoops. “He fancies you: I friggin knew it!” Lavellan, looking thoughtful but not particularly surprised, frowns.

“This was after I left? What happened?”

Dorian groans and covers his face. “Nothing happened. We were drunk and - he - I - ” He can’t finish the sentence. Lavellan’s eyes narrow and turn steely blue.

“Did he get handsy with you?”

No. Well yes, sort of. But I didn’t exactly discourage him.” Dorian rubs his eyes. “Fuck.”

Sera points a finger at him. “And you, you totally fancy the horny giant dude.”

So he does. Or - he did anyway. Does it matter? Does anything matter anymore? Suddenly Dorian feels like his head is about to explode.

“I’m sorry, I can’t deal with this right now, I need a moment.” He gets up, abruptly. “I’ll be in the bedroom.”

Before he leaves though, he snaps a hold of the pink ribbon attached to the basket, pulls it loose, and stuffs it in his pocket. Lavellan gives him a knowing look, and he pretends not to notice.

Dorian has spent a good fifteen minutes sitting on Sera’s narrow bed, staring at the sparkling, apple green curtains with unseeing eyes and twisting Bull’s ribbon around his fingers, when his phone bings.

Bull: If you need anything, let me know.

Dorian reads the message three times - but doesn't bother answering. Five minutes later, another message:

Bull: I fucked up last night, and I am sorry. Also, if this situation is my fault somehow, I'd like to know.

Dorian almost throws the phone on the floor. Yes, he thinks, it is all your fault! Which is wrong and unfair, of course. Bull may have acted stupidly, but he had nothing to do with the break-up. Dorian's just too hurt to deal with things yet. He may also feel guilty. Even though nothing happened, because nothing happened.

Then he comes to think what if Bull contacts Trev, and the thought makes his skin crawl; it would be an idiotic thing to do, but Bull is a Qunari, that is to say blunt, and as a Ben-Hassrath he has the tendency to dig. So he sends a reply after all:

Has nothing to do with you, stay out of this, stop messaging me.

 

***

 

It takes a whole day before Dorian realizes that Bull really has stopped messaging him, and another one before he admits to himself that he is an ass and that he misses Bull. A lot.

It is ridiculous, of course: they've known each other for a mere month, and it's not like they've communicated daily - but in a terrible, humiliating way he is already used to the idea of the big oaf being there for him. Bull is such a strong, reliable presence, and now that Dorian's life is in shambles, again, he needs that.

Unfortunately, he is not good at apologizing, at all.

You probably don't care one way or the other, but I realize that I may have overreacted, and I am rather regretful. All the best, etc. DP

He shuffles back by the kitchen table, where he's been drinking bitter Orlesian coffee and reading flower seed catalogs (why Sera has them is a mystery: there are certainly no plants anywhere), and sets his phone on the counter. He is on his second cup when the reply arrives. With trembling fingers, he swipes the screen.

Bull: Thank you for contacting me.

Dorian stares at the screen for a moment, feeling sanguine, but not quite sure what to make of the message. It seems sort of, well, stiff, but it is an answer, and a positive one, supposedly. He types How are you? - and then deletes it immediately, because even though it’s a sincere inquiry, it seems too generic. He considers. Another apology would be too much (he has his pride); Missed you is out of the question. Finally he does what he always does when unsure - he goes for the snark: You sound like a customer service representative.

Bull: Funny boy.

Dorian frowns. During the time he’s known the Iron Bull, he’s gotten about a dozen text messages from the man, most of them sent after the incident with the three Tevinter assassins: they were always filled with all kinds of atrocious stickers. Now there isn’t any, and since he can’t quite read the tone, he is definitely beginning to panic - and then another message arrives.

Bull: I’d like to come over.

Dorian lets out a relieved sigh, and feels something akin to a smile spread across his face. He makes Bull wait for a while, though, just to make it clear that things are not to be taken for granted. Then: I suppose... If you promise not to bring more food. Yes, do come, I shall chase Sera outside for a couple of hours.

 

***

 

Bull is huge.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, Dorian has certainly spent enough time with him to be well aware of the fact, and it is not like he has forgotten - but there are other kinds of distances than physical and temporal which change things. And now, now Bull seems just enormous, filling Sera’s small foyer, and looking alien and painfully unapproachable with a carefully guarded expression on his face. It is almost like they were meeting for the first time.

Were his damn horns really that big?

Dorian, in a bout of unexpected shyness, becomes acutely aware of the fact that with his swollen, unshaved face and messy hair he is a far call from his usual meticulously groomed self, and the notion stings. Now that he knows that Bull considers - or at least used to consider - him beautiful, he hates to be seen anything but.

“Would you sit please?”

Bull looks around. Dorian points at a sturdy wooden bench set by the lone living room window (clearly the only option big enough for him), and Bull takes a seat. He doesn’t take off his coat.

He is ready to leave at a moment's notice, Dorian realizes, and feels bad about it. He notices the coat is the same Bull loaned him as a protection against the rain a few weeks ago, and isn’t it strange how it seems like years. He shakes the thought off, and clears his throat.

”So,” he says.

It is all so awkward. Of course it is: the last time they saw each other Dorian didn't even let Bull in, and the time before that… well. They almost kissed, and now he can feel all the things said and unsaid hanging heavy between them.

Dorian rubs his face and tries again. He is not a dishonest person in his core, but emotional openness is difficult for him. Admitting being wrong is not easy either.

“So,” he repeats. “I am sorry.”

Bull doesn’t answer. Dorian stares at his feet. He realizes he is wearing socks he loaned from Sera this morning: they have ladybugs on them - they were the least crazy pair he could find. He wonders if Bull has noticed, he probably has. He wonders if Bull finds it funny.

“Sorry about what?” Bull asks finally. His voice is calm and reveals nothing. Dorian keeps his eyes on the socks.

“About everything. About being rude, mainly, there is no excuse.” He raises his hand to cut Bull off in case he’s about to protest, but there is no protest, just a very loud silence. ”So - I am sorry, and I apologize. And - ” he takes a shaky breath, and feels something inside him give in, and then, then it all just pours out, words following each other so quickly it is hardly comprehensible: ”- and about that night at the club, I know we drank too much, and things got weird, and I was mean, and I understand perfectly if you don’t want anything to do with me anymore, I’m sure I wouldn’t want anything to do with me anymore, but truthfully, right now I - can't handle any more losses, my life has turned upside down, and I feel like absolute shit, so I'd very, very much like to keep you as a friend if at all possible.”

Dorian squeezes his hands into sweaty fists, blinking furiously to keep tears from emerging, still too scared to check what kind of an expression Bull has on his face.

”Sure thing,” Bull says. Dorian’s eyes fly up to his, surprised and suspicious - and then he laughs, because it really is too ridiculous.

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

”...things are so very simple with you.”

Bull shrugs. He is not smiling, but the line of his mouth seems softer. ”I am a simple man.”

”Oh, I beg to differ.”

The small, poisonous voice in the back of Dorian’s mind - the one that always speaks in Tevene - whispers that Bull probably wants to stick around because he’s been told to do so by his Ben-Hassrath superiors, but Dorian refuses the idea: he is certain that Bull genuinely cares for him - and even if it were a lie and there were other reasons... well, he doesn’t want to know, and he doesn’t care.

Bull is here, Bull is big and wonderful, and he is not mad at Dorian. Nothing else matters.

They look at each other, still a bit wary. Bull shifts in his seat, which is rather uncharacteristic. He is nervous, Dorian thinks.

”About the club,” Bull says slowly. ”I want you to understand that you did nothing wrong.” He looks down. ”I, on the other hand - ”

Dorian cuts him off: ”Don't. I detest apologies as much as I detest confessions, let's leave it at that.”

Bull straightens himself, somehow managing to loom even though he is sitting down. “No.” His stare is the hardest one Dorian has ever earned from him, but not unkind. “I let you apologize: now you are going to let me apologize.”

Dorian blinks. Usually, when people get stern and bossy with him, he gets offended and annoyed - Bull, for whatever reason, has quite a different effect on him: Dorian feels a hot shiver running through his body, tingling along his spine and groin area, and finally settling somewhere deep in his belly. Confused and a bit embarrassed, he lets out an exaggerated sigh. “Oh fine then, go ahead,” he flutters his fingers theatrically. “But make it short.”

“I am sorry I touched you,” Bull says, “against your will.”

Dorian’s brows knit. Against his will? Ludicrous - but he keeps his mouth shut. Bull examines his face carefully, as if trying to figure out how his words are affecting him.

“And I am sorry about the inappropriate things I said.”

“Anything else?”

Bull confronts his stare. “Am I forgiven?”

“There is nothing to forgive.”

“I disagree.”

“Fine, you are fucking forgiven, better now?”

“Yes.”

They both lean back, a bit touchy still, but definitely less tense. Feeling more light-hearted than he can remember being for days, Dorian studies Bull’s face, hoping to catch his eye so he could try and smile at the man. But Bull is staring out the window, looking as if he still has something to say, but he is not quite sure how to go for it.

”Do you wish to tell me what happened between you and Trevelyan?” he asks finally.

Dorian hesitates - but he has no real reason not to answer, has he? He forces his voice light and nonchalant: Tevinter trained him well, after all. ”Oh, nothing terribly original, I'm afraid. I found him under a badly bleached blonde.” He lets out a joyless laughter. “Such a cliché, of course; one would have expected more from someone who spends their days with artists and bohemians... a decadent orgy, or something along those lines. Rather disappointing, really.”

Bull rubs his face. ”Shit.”

”Apparently there is such a thing as getting bored with perfection.” This time Dorian doesn't quite manage to hide the venomous edge of his tone. Bull hums.

”You may laugh, but I was kinda worried it was my fault. That someone saw me being an ass at the club and told him, and you guys got in a fight.”

Dorian snorts. ”Oh, no. He wouldn't care about that. He may have tried to control my looks and opinions as long as I've known him, but he never minded someone giving me attention, anymore than he'd mind someone admiring a painting in his gallery.” Bull looks sceptical.

”Really?”

”Really. Why would he have minded?” Dorian’s voice turns openly bitter. “He knew he could trust me.”

Bull stays quiet for a moment. ”You are not interested in trying to work things out?” Dorian's face twitches.

”Why do people keep asking me that? Do you think I should?”

”You should do what feels right,” Bull states. Dorian shakes his head. In a typical Tevinter manner he may not have reserve in love, and he sure as hell has no reserve in anger, grudge and contempt. When he burns, he burns bright.

”There will be no working things out. People only betray me once.” He bares his teeth. ”Ask my father.”

 

***

 

On the fourth day after the break-up, Dorian decides it is high time for him to fetch his car.

He is timing his visit to take place around noon, which is when Trev is always either at work or out to lunch, but the thought terrifies him nevertheless, so both Sera and Lavellan offer to go with him. After a short consideration he decides that this is one of those extremely rare occasions where he actually trusts Sera to be the one with a cooler head and more restraint in case they happen to bump into Trev, so he suggests that Lavellan should go and see Solas instead. Reluctantly, she agrees.

Dorian and Sera stuff themselves in Sera’s car, and despite his grim mood, Dorian can’t help smiling a bit. The vehicle is a tiny, round, friendly-looking thing with fiercely yellow paintwork, striped seat covers, and a bumper sticker featuring an angry bee and text Buzz Off (knowing Sera Dorian initially expected something ruder, or at least something related to arses). By the rear window sits a collection of small stuffed bumblebees, and from the rearview mirror dangles a pink plastic hand giving a finger (which is very much what Dorian expected). Sera calls the car Honey.

Honey takes them safely through town - Sera is a surprisingly good driver as long as nothing annoys her, which, granted, is not very often - and they reach Trevelyan’s street right before noon. Dorian makes Sera stop two houses down, as he inspects the view from afar.

The house seems the same: meticulous, peaceful, beautiful. Trevelyan’s car is nowhere to be seen, but his darling Tempestas is safely parked out on the driveway, looking familiar and unharmed. It is as if nothing had happened, as if nothing had changed. Dorian lays his forehead on his hands and takes a deep, steadying breath. His heart is beating so hard.

“You alright?” Sera’s concerned voice brings him back. “Hey if you want just give me the keys and I’ll go and get your girl for ya.”

“No, it’s…” Dorian gets a hold of himself. “It’s fine.”

Sera pulls over shamelessly on the driveway. Dorian, keys already in his hand, gets out. Everything seems quiet. He bites his lip, and approaches the car, getting more and more nervous by the second; his fingers glide along Tempestas' cool, smooth side, find the chromed handle -

”Dorian!”

A voice, sharp and painfully familiar, cuts him like a knife, and freezes him where he stands.

”Dorian - ” The voice breaks. Dorian turns like a sleepwalker.

Standing by the front door, is Trevelyan. He looks pale and frantic: he has dark shadows under his eyes, and his hair, normally a well-maintained cascade of golden strands, is a tangled mess. For a moment Dorian is sure his knees are about to give in; then a strange feeling of unreality takes over. He stares at the man, speechless, and - not knowing what else to do - just turns away. Trevelyan runs forward, grabs his arm with icy hands.

”Dorian, please.”

Dorian catches a whiff of the familiar cologne and it is another punch in the gut, but he lets it bother him just for a moment; he twists himself free and raises a warning finger - if there's a crackle of lightning erupting under his nails, who can blame him?

”Stay away, Max.”

Trevelyan starts - Dorian never calls him by his first name - and then Sera is there, yelling.

“Don’t you fucking dare to touch him like that you friggin piss-tossing cheat-arse fuck!” Trevelyan blinks, stunned, and backs off. Dorian pats Sera’s shoulder.

“Let’s go.”

“No!” Trevelyan makes a desperate sound. ”Please - please, I miss you!”

”I miss you too,” Dorian states, because it is true. Trevelyan's eyes light up, he reaches for Dorian again; Dorian steps away. ”No.”

“Arsebag!”

Trevelyan’s eyes begin to glimmer and fill slowly with tears. ”I love you.”

”I believe you.”

Sera growls; Trevelyan ignores her. ”Please, please don't leave.” He swallows, offers his hand again. ”Please, Dori, I love you so much, I am so sorry!” He falls on his knees; he actually falls on his knees right there out on the driveway for all the neighbors to see. ”I don't know what to do without you, I am losing my mind, please.”

”Oh,” says Dorian coolly, ”surely there is no need for this kind of drama, my dear.” He forces himself to stay calm, although his heart feels like it's about to explode and his sinuses are tingling with barely held back tears. ”With your looks and your wallet you will find someone to suck your dick in no time.”

”Don't be cruel,” Trevelyan whispers. Dorian closes his eyes. He doesn't really know what to do, how to handle this: he has never had an amicable separation - any proper separation, really - and he is not usually the one to take the high road… but. For there is a but here: even with all his shortcomings, Trevelyan is - was - wonderful in so many ways, and what Dorian had with him was important. And although Dorian got betrayed at the end of it… well. Perhaps they both deserve better than a pointless screaming match.

”You know what. Let's play adults then,” he hears himself says. ”Let's go inside.”

Sera hisses and grabs his hand. “You sure?” Dorian shakes his head.

“Not really. But I’ll be fine either way.”

“Call me if the nug-humper gives you trouble.”

They settle on the couch, a safe distance from each other. Dorian turns to face Trevelyan and inspects him silently. Despite his sorry state the man is so, so beautiful. Dorian feels a sting of longing and regret thinking he is not to touch that loveliness anymore.

Such a waste.

”Never thought we'd end up like this,” Dorian shakes his head. “What a pathetic business.”

”I love you,” Trevelyan blurts, again, as if incapable of saying or thinking about anything else. His mouth is trembling. Dorian tears his eyes off it.

”As clichéd as it is, you know that love is not enough.”

”And - and you know that people make mistakes and, and we are supposed to forgive each other's imperfections!” Trevelyan's eyes are blazing. ”A little mistake is not worth throwing away everything that is good and amazing!”

”A little mistake?” Dorian spits. He squeezes his hands into such tight fists that his nails are cutting into his skin. ”Did you think it wouldn't be a big deal? That because I used to debauche myself in my youth I would accept this, settle for - ” He pauses and shakes his head, his voice drops. ”You never understood, did you? That to me love is fucking sacred. A thing above all things; all my life I've been yearning for it, looking for it - a true relationship, something I knew I could never have in Tevinter. And then I met you, and I felt so blessed -”

”Dori, we can have that, I swear to Maker this will never, ever happen again!”

”I trusted you. And I can't anymore. I just can't.”

”Are you so mad because she was a woman?”

Dorian's mouth falls open. ”What?”

”...I was just wondering."

”No, I am not mad because she was a woman, I am mad because you fucked her!

Trevelyan licks the side of his mouth nervously. “It meant nothing, she was nobody, she and I never - I have this thing - ”

“Oh, nonono,” Dorian raises his hands. “We are not going there. I want no details - I don’t care. At all.” He makes a disgusted face. “But allow me to say how absolutely delighted I am to learn that you chose to destroy our relationship over something that meant nothing to you."

Trevelyan holds his head in desperation, sways. ”Dori, what do you want? Anything - anything!” Tears are now falling openly from his eyes. ”Let's take a nice long vacation somewhere, let's go to Orlais - I'll even get you that damn mabari - a whole pack of them - ”

Dorian scoffs. ”My own father couldn't buy me or force me to go against my nature. What do you think are your chances, Max?” He stares at Trevelyan and his eyes look like molten silver. ”I can not be bought. I can not be forced. And my nature, regrettably, is petty and unforgiving.”

He gets up, walks to the door. Just before he steps out, he turns to look at Trevelyan for the last time.

”You know - that night at the club, I was approach by someone. Someone I like and find attractive. But I refused them. Sort of ironic, don’t you think?”

Trevelyan’s shoulders are shaking with uncontrollable sobs. ”I will always love you.” It is a mere whisper: thick, bleak, inconsolable. Dorian nods.

”Oh, yes.”

He closes the door softly behind him, and steps outside. The midday sun is cold and bright, and Sera is leaning against Tempestas, waiting for him.

He survived Tevinter. He survived his father. He survived the first lonely, poor years in Kirkwall, and the damned assassins sent after him. He will survive this too.

Chapter Text

Loneliness is Dorian’s old acquaintance. Two weeks to Satinalia, and its weight feels even heavier than usual.

He has always had mixed feeling about this time of the year. On the one hand, he has always been fond of Satinalia. Ever since he was a child, he loved the carnival: the music, the costumes, the food… his parents used to fill their garden with colorful string lights, serve spiced wine, and share presents (exquisite presents, if not overly personal or well-thought). On the other hand, he can't help but remember the wondrous Satinalias he spent with Trevelyan, and that wound, all too fresh yet, stings.

All in all, he is feeling pretty miserable, and the weather doesn't improve the situation. Kirkwall doesn't usually get much snow, if any, so the month of Umbralis is filled with rain, sleet, and darkness. He tries his best to cheer himself up, and decorates his house in a festive manner: he sets a sparkling tray filled with candles on the coffee table, hangs two round paper lanterns in each window symbolizing the two moons, and frames the doorways with tinsel.

Days go slowly. He tries to write, but he is having a hard time finding inspiration. People say one must suffer to create art; Dorian is pretty sure he is suffering rather horribly, but the inspiration eludes him nevertheless.

His friends, thank the Maker, are still there: Sten and Elissa have invited him to the Embassy's reception on Satinalia Eve; Lavellan and Solas have invited him for celebratory dinner the next day. He has promised to come.

Trev still keeps sending him messages every now and then. He deletes them all without reading.

 

***

 

Dorian is not sure where he gets the idea, but as he is going through his wardrobe, trying to figure out what to wear to the Embassy's Satinalia celebration, he remembers a large box he has stuffed in the back of the closet, convinced he will never open it again.

He pulls the box out, lifts the lid, and removes the layer of silky tissue paper on top of the contents. He sees the tight weave of the magnificent black fabric, the golden sparkle of the decorative runes and wards. He sees the belt, gleaming with skilfully crafted filigree snakes.

He pulls out the ceremonial mage's robes his father got him when he graduated from the circle.

It is insanity, of course. Traditional Tevinter robes? If he can get to the Embassy without causing a major riot or suffering serious physical damage, he should consider himself lucky. The Qunari would probably be… furious? Uncomfortable? This has bad idea written all over it.

But. But - despite it's shortcomings, he loves his country and he wants to represent it. He has been invited officially after all.

So when Bull appears to pick him up (because of course Bull does) at five o'clock next day, he is feeling proud and terrified in equal amounts, stepping out the door. He is not in full regalia, as he is missing his staff - the Qunari wouldn't let him inside the Embassy armed - but there is no doubt about who or what he is: an altus mage in his prime, gorgeous, privileged, deadly.

Bull, who has gotten out and is waiting by the car, winces at the sight of him; he schools his expression quickly enough, but Dorian has taken note already. He stops in front of the Qunari, and lifts his chin.

”That bad?”

Bull, in a most atypical manner, turns his gaze away for a moment, and draws his hand across his face. ”Sorry. It's just that,” he lets out a forced laughter, ”you kinda scared the living shit out of me.”

It takes a moment before Dorian understands. He swears under his breath. “Seheron?”

”Yeah, your officers wear robes pretty similar to,” Bull waves his hand towards Dorian's outfit, ”those. You gave me a flashback stepping out.” He grins apologetically. Dorian makes a miserable face.

”Bull, I am sorry, I wasn't thinking.”

”Don't be. There's no need to tip-toe around me, I'll get over it.” Bull seems to steel himself, and takes a proper look at the glittering mage before him. ”You look fucking gorgeous, seriously. Holy shit.”

Dorian smiles, a bit unsure but pleased. Then he takes a quick glance around. ”Are you planning on opening the car door anytime soon? I think you have about ten seconds before someone else realizes what I am wearing and begins to throw rocks at us.” Technically, people might think his outfit was a costume, but he doubts that would stop anyone from getting offended.

Bull snaps out of the half-mesmerized state he seems to have fallen into, and lets him in. Dorian shifts on the seat, arranging his hems so that they won't wrinkle too much. Bull looks at him in the mirror, as he's prone to do. Dorian confronts his stare.

”Do you think Sten will be mad?” he asks. Bull shakes his head.

”No, I actually think he'll like it. Gonna be a nice symbolic gesture having a Tevinter mage in ceremonial robes at the reception… with the political situation improving, and all.”

”Good,” Dorian says. ”Hang on -”

Bull stops the car that has moved an inch. Dorian digs into the shiny black gift bag he is carrying. After careful consideration he decided to get Elissa a beautiful leather-bound edition of Classic Tevinter Erotica vol. 1-2 and a stylish black silk box filled with impossible to find Tevinter chocolates (he had to contact Mae to get his hands on some). For Sten he bought a pair of sparkly, lemon-yellow oven mitts (to match his apron) stuffed with fancy citrus tea and a huge cat-shaped cookie jar, as he had noticed that despite all the ubiquitous confections there is no proper cookie jar in sight in the Ambassador's personal kitchen. And, as it happens, he got a gift for Bull as well - he's just unsure if it's appropriate to give him one. Especially, because the gift cost more than Sten's, and because he considers it kind of... silly.

Oh well. He offers the Qunari a dark blue rectangular gift box. Bull's eyebrow rises.

”For me?”

”It is silly,” Dorian states and looks pointedly out the window. Bull hums, amused.

”Uh-huh.”

He opens the box carefully. There's a bright, unexpected sparkle, as he reveals a clear case holding a small Dawnstone dragon with pink crystal wings. It is beautifully done and detailed; scales, claws, and teeth are all skilfully carved in the brittle stone, and the faceted wings glitter like stars.

Bull gasps. He stares at the dragon, incredulous, then turns to Dorian. His lone eye is wide, his pupil blown out. ”Fuck.”

”I saw it in an antique store window and thought of you. So.”

Bull's hand rises, as if wanting to reach and touch Dorian - but then he pulls it back and just smiles instead. ”Thank you, I love it. You are so damn sweet.” Dorian blushes.

”Oh, don't mention it. It was the least I could do.”

”I have a gift for you too. But you'll have to wait until tomorrow.”

Dorian looks genuinely surprised. ”You got something for me?”

”Of course I did.”

”But...” Dorian bows his head. He really doesn't feel like he has deserved anything; Bull has been beyond helpful during his ordeals, all he has been is a pain in the neck. Bull looks worried.

”Am I making you uncomfortable?”

Dorian hesitates. ”No. I just - oh, never mind.” He smiles. ”Thank you.”

Bull winks at him. ”Don't thank me yet.”

 

***

 

The Embassy is all lit up and bustling with people.

Sten, dressed expectedly-but-not-so-creatively in his impressive Qunari harness, lifts his eyebrow when he sees Dorian's outfit, but doesn't say anything. Dorian decides to take that as a good sign, and bows, then they shake hands. Elissa, breathtaking in a silver Antaam-saar and wearing a glimmering double moon headpiece, kisses his cheek.

”Happy Satinalia, Dorian.”

”My dear,” Dorian purrs, allowing his eyes to glide over the silver knotwork webbing her arms, chest, and hips, ”that is plain scandalous.”

”Well look who's talking...” Elissa smooths her hand along Dorian's silky, embroidered collar, admiring the fantastic fabric. Dorian lowers his voice:

”I bet the Ambassador enjoys that outfit.”

”Oh, he did. Twice.

Dorian covers his mouth to suppress a gasp, and Elissa bursts into laughter; Sten gives them a chagrined look. Elissa pats his arm. ”Ignore us, my love.”

“I intend to,” the Ambassador rumbles, and turns pointedly away. Elissa leans towards Dorian.

“Never mind him, the Qunari rarely have any sense of humor.” She fondly rubs Sten’s smooth, bronze-colored back - she is always touching him, it seems, as if it is some kind of a necessity, like breathing - and looks around. ”Which reminds me, where's Bull?”

”He had to go and check on something, he should be here shortly.” Dorian forces his eyes off Elissa’s narrow hand tracing the Ambassador’s harness; seeing how much she adores him and how readily he allows it warms Dorian’s heart, but it also hurts a bit.

”Alright. Go and find a drink, I'll catch you later.”

Dorian sets his presents on the gift table, and roams to a huge, festive ballroom he has never been to before. He knows the Qunari don't celebrate Satinalia the way the rest of Thedas does, but they've done a good job mimicking the appropriate decorations and food selection - not that he is surprised by any of this, as the Qunari are nothing but meticulous. There are perhaps a hundred guests; all the Embassy personnel seem to be present and the basra invited consist of local bigwigs. Dorian recognizes Seneschal Bran Cavin, a tight, obnoxious bureaucrat if there ever was one, wearing a dullest grey suit and a huge silver star on an antenna dangling above his head, and Aveline Vallen, the head of the police force with fiery hair and a stern expression. Dorian remembers meeting her shortly after the assassination attempt at the Gallery; he also remembers being rather terrified. She is not wearing any proper costume, but she has wrapped some red tinsel around her neck.

Predictably, next to Vallen stands her famous friend Marian Hawke. Originally a Fereldan nobody, she revealed a huge scandal within the Templar order a couple of years ago - drugs, torture, corruption - and got all the top officials replaced and sentenced, thus gaining a celebratory status and a cult-like following she couldn't care less about. Trevelyan was a big admirer of hers, and considered her the most remarkable person in all of Kirkwall; Dorian, while not quite as enthusiastic of a fan, agrees: Hawke is special - clever, brave, and rather attractive, even - but there is also an aura of ferociousness and unpredictability about her that makes his spine tingle. The fact that she is wearing a pair of gilded cow horns as an accessory for the Qunari Embassy's reception says a lot about her character. Right now she has something weird going on with Seneschal Bran; for a moment Dorian could have sworn he saw Hawke throwing snacks, peanuts, perhaps, in Bran's drink when the man wasn't looking.

Dorian makes his way towards the punch bowl. He greets a couple of attachés he’s seen but never actually met before (they stare at his outfit with badly-disguised sneers), and is almost to his destination when he hears a soft, amused chuckle.

”And what do we have here?”

Dorian turns. Right behind him - too close - stands an elf. He is lean and muscular, sharp, somehow, with a shrouded gaze, long blonde hair, and caramel skin. He is dressed as an Antivan Crow of old: his black and silver armor is extremely well-made, and the helmet with a metal bird skull looks truly impressive; where he has managed to find one is anyone's guess. His cheek is decorated with a curvy tattoo - not an elven vallaslin, as far as Dorian can tell, but something else altogether. He is devastatingly handsome.

The stranger grins, baring the perfect white teeth. ”The pictures in the news didn't do you justice,” he says, his soft Antivan accent hard to miss. ”Neither did they show the size of your balls,” the man tsks and touches Dorian's belt with slender, brown fingers, ”- magister Pavus.” He lifts his half-lidded eyes. ”Anyone tried to murder you yet?

”I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” Dorian bares his teeth as well, puts his Tevinter mask on. ”I don't know your name.”

The elf bows gracefully. ”Zevran Arainai, at your service. I am an old friend of Lady Cousland's.”

”Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.”

”I am not a huge fan of gatherings like this,” Zevran sighs. ”Been to too many, I suppose, and usually it's work-related.” Before Dorian can ask what his line of work is, exactly, the elf moves closer and softens his voice. ”And let's face it: these people are not famous for their wild parties. Too damn ceremonial, with everything.”

Dorian smiles politely, but doesn't say anything. He doesn't know enough about Qunari customs to comment, really - Bull seems to be prone to celebrating, but by now Dorian is well aware that Bull is not a typical Qunari.

Zevran, who remains almost glued to Dorian's side, studies him with keen eyes. ”I must say. You truly are an exceptionally handsome man.” Dorian blinks slowly.

”I'm aware of my qualities.”

”As you should be.” Zevran lays his narrow hand on Dorian's arm. ”Such boring things, these parties, no? Meeting you, however, makes me think this evening might turn out to be quite enjoyable.” He parts his lips, just a bit, and lets the very tip of his pink, shiny tongue glide slowly, slowly across the opening. It is so subtle, that for a moment Dorian wonders if he is imagining it. Then he can feel a slender finger slip inside his sleeve, as if by accident, and brush the bare skin.

“Ah,” Dorian says. He doesn’t pull away, but he doesn’t press closer, either.

”I have a rather cozy room upstairs,” Zevran continues, casually, “if you like, we could take this conversation there and see if we can come up with something... more interesting than mere talking.” Dorian hums.

”Rather sudden, don't you think? I haven't even gotten any punch yet.”

”I’m afraid I can't help it,” Zevran leans even closer, so that Dorian can feel the side of the bird skull pressing against his temple, and hot breath caressing his neck. A rough fingertip begins to draw slow, sensual circles on his inner wrist. ”You have utterly charmed me.”

Dorian, more than used to quick trysts at lavish parties, considers. He hasn't slept with anyone since the breakup five, six weeks ago. He hasn't been feeling like it either, to be honest, but he must admit he finds the elf more than alluring. And the physical contact, the touch with intention… it feels nice.

”Zevran.”

They turn to find Elissa before them. She has a disapproving look on her face. ”What are you doing, Zev?” She shakes her finger at the Antivan. ”Seducing my guests? Again?

”Cara mia.” Zevran takes Elissa's hand to kiss the knuckles lightly. ”I would never.”

”No?”

”Of course not.” The elf leaves a trail of kisses along her arm bound with delicate glittering ropes.

”Then how come I just heard you inviting Dorian to your room?” Elissa lifts her eyebrow. Zevran looks shocked.

”I did? Oh - well, I must admit it does sound like me, doesn’t it?”

”A friendly advice: fly away from this one, little crow,” Elissa tilts her head to her left, ”you are beginning to annoy someone.”

They glance towards the hinted direction. The Iron Bull is leaning against a marble half-wall about fifteen paces away, arms crossed and - despite the fact that half of the guests are Qunari - towering above the crowd, staring right at them. His face is blank, but his eye is glinting sharply. Dorian notices he has put on shiny horn caps and changed his eyepatch; the black one he was wearing earlier has been replaced with a silver disc that looks like full moon.

Zevran hisses and clicks his tongue. ”I see I must apologize.” He steps away from Dorian and bows. ”I had no idea.”

”Oh,” Dorian laughs. ”Oh no, we are not involved. He just likes looking after me.”

”Well, he certainly is looking.”

Dorian smiles at Bull across the room; the Qunari nods ever so slightly. ”He has been a good friend to me.”

”To us all,” Elyssa sighs. ”I sure hope we can keep him.”

Dorian pauses. ”What do you mean?”

”I mean,” Elissa speaks softly, ”that because he doesn't really work for Sten but for you-know-who, they may remove him at any given time. He is very skilful, and in high demand - that we've had the pleasure of his company in the first place is only because Sten specifically asked for him.”

Dorian stops breathing. He can feel his mouth forming the word what but no sound comes out. The idea of Bull disappearing from his life leaves him dreadfully cold and sick to his stomach - but he gets his expression under control, and makes a non-committal sound.

“...I see,” he says.

Elissa gives him a thoughtful look, then touches his hand. ”Why don't you get some of that punch and go and see him before he weighs the wall down.”

Dorian nods stiffly. He fills two cups with red, sugary-looking liquid, and heads towards Bull. The closer he gets, the better he feels - as if he was walking towards an inviting hearth in a cold night, drawn in by his safety and warmth.

”Hey,” Dorian says and offers him the drink. ”I didn't see you come in.”

Bull doesn't answer. His gaze is sweeping the room - he seems to be doing that at regular intervals wherever he is - then finally sets on Dorian.

”He is an assassin,” Bull states. ”You might do well to stay away from him.”

Dorian blinks. Zevran? Bull must be talking about Zevran.

”He is dressed as an Antivan Crow - ”

”No: he is a Crow.”

Dorian's eyes widen. He glances quickly back at the elf, who blows him a kiss and winks. He turns back to Bull. ”Really?”

”Really.” Bull agrees to take the drink finally, and empties it in one gulp. Dorian frowns.

”An assassin dressed up as an assassin? How novel.”

”Well, you are pretty much a magister dressed up as a magister.”

”I am not a magister,” Dorian snaps automatically. He looks thoughtful. ”So, he's a friend of Elissa's.”

”Yes.”

”And the Ambassador's?”

There's the shortest of hesitation. ”Yes.”

”...but you don't want him to be a friend of mine?” No answer. Dorian tilts his head. ”I can be friends with a Ben-Hassrath but not with an Antivan Crow?”

Bull refuses to look at him. ”I don't kill people for money.” Dorian arches his eyebrow. Bull sighs. ”I don't kill people for no other reason than money.”

”Ah. But that's semantics, isn't it?”

”He is sleazy.”

”I find him rather charming,” Dorian turns to look at Zevran one more time. The elf points his fingers upwards with a questioning look on his face; Dorian shakes his head. ”He is trying to lure me to his room.”

”I see. You’ll be joining him then?”

”I believe I prefer the present company.”

For a moment Bull looks almost baffled; then he smiles, as if he can't help himself. ”You sucking up on me, Vint?”

”Until I get the promised Satinalia present. Naturally.” Dorian bites his lip and moves closer, lowering his voice to a silky whisper. ”So what is it? Is it a scarf? Earrings? Gloves, perhaps?” Bull huffs.

”You have to show some patience. You are not a five-year-old.”

”Ah - but I am not a patient man.” Dorian flutters his long, dark lashes. ”Just tell me. I'll serve you spiced wine tomorrow if you tell me.” Bull gives him an almost pitying look.

”You can't bribe a Ben-Hassrath, Dorian.”

”Can I threaten you then?”

”Doubtful. You are kinda puny.” Dorian gasps.

”What?”

”Come on. I am two heads taller than you. My wrists are as thick as your thighs.”

Instinctively, Dorian's eyes gravitate to Bull's wrists. They are thick. He stares at them, fascinated, momentarily forgetting where he is; he pictures those wrists gliding under his thighs, lifting him up, spreading him wide -

”Dorian?”

Fasta vass. Dorian turns, blushing furiously, and crosses his hands in front of his robes. He clears his throat. ”Yes, well, first of all, I am not puny, and - and second, may I remind you I knocked your precious Ambassador down and beat three mages not so many weeks ago?”

Bull laughs. ”All right, that's true.”

Dorian covers his embarrassment, and tastes his punch. It is sugary - but it also carries a sharp, satisfying kick. He takes a few steadying breaths, and lets his gaze linger on the other guests. He notices Aveline Vallen holding Hawke's arm and scolding her over something, whereas offended-looking Seneschal Bran is pointing at his glass. It's half-filled with peanuts and popcorn.

”Oh,” Bull says suddenly. Dorian follows his gaze, and notices that the small orchestra playing for the party has brought out a singer. Dorian hasn't been paying too much attention to the music so far; partly because he's been getting distracted by an overeager elf, and partly because the tunes - quite exotic with deep, strong beat - are unfamiliar to him. But now the orchestra is beginning to play a traditional Satinalia song, and once the singer, an attractive young female in a tight, golden dress and sporting a towering hair-do that threatens to overshadow her twinkling, crystal-crusted horns, opens her mouth, Dorian can't help but be impressed. She has a wonderful voice: deep, dark, enchanting.

”Too bad Sera isn't here,” Dorian whispers. ”She'd appreciate her.” Bull nods, looking like he is very much appreciating her himself. Dorian feels a faint sting of what might be jealousy, but doesn't let it show. The singer finishes the song, bows, and the orchestra begins to play a soft, catchy tune.

Dorian watches as Marian Hawke drags desperate-looking Seneschal Bran to an uncrowded spot, and forces him into dance. Three, four other pairs join them in short order. Dorian gives Bull a side eye.

Come on, ask me...

”Lady Cousland has requested me to dance with some of the ladies here,” Bull says casually. ”I better get that out of the way. Would you excuse me for a moment?”

Dorian stares at him is disbelief. Ladies? Bull is going to dance with ladies? What about him then? Without further ado Bull turns, and steps towards a small group of Orlesian nobles nearby. He stops in front of a beautiful middle-aged woman with shiny copper curls, and bows.

”M'accordez-vous cette danse, Madame la comtesse?”

His pronunciation is perfect - not that Dorian expected anything less. Comtesse blushes in a very attractive manner, and allows Bull to lead herself to the floor like a sleepwalker. Dorian watches, with no small amount of annoyance, as Bull gently takes her hand in his, and lays his other one on her narrow waist. He remembers what it felt like, he remembers exactly what it felt like.

Dorian takes a deep breath and looks away. There's no need to get worked up over this, surely. He lets his eyes roam the crowd, until he spots Zevran again. The elf seems to be flirting with a confused-looking Arvaarad - the same who gave Dorian lyrium when he fled to the Embassy ill and drained. She is staring at Zevran with an incredulous expression. Her Saarebas is standing faithfully behind her, mesmerized.

Dorian walks over, and grabs Zevran's arm. ”Let's da- ”

He doesn't quite have the time to comprehend what’s happening, but next thing he knows, he finds himself in a firm chokehold. Stunned, he catches the arm wrapped around his throat, and prepares to deliver a mild electric shock - but as soon as the hold grabs him, it eases off too; warm hands rub his arms, an amused voice chuckles in his ear. The whole thing lasted less than two seconds, Dorian's sure, and to an outsider it probably looked like a rough, playful hug, the kind men sometimes share when goofing around. Dorian turns to face the elf, speechless.

- and then, of course, Bull is there. He pushes himself between Zevran and Dorian, and looms. Zevran raises his finger.

”Ah, ah, ah, my large-framed friend. I caused no harm.” He looks at Dorian, ignoring the Qunari's murderous stare. ”That, you must not do again. Reflexes, yes? You might get hurt, and where would that leave us?” He tsks and shakes his head. Dorian, embarrassed, apologizes.

”Are you alright, Dorian?” Bull asks, without taking his eye off the elf. Dorian sighs.

”I am perfectly fine.”

”I told you to stay away from him.”

”Oh,” Dorian puts a polite smile on his lips. ”But I just wanted to ask Zevran here if he would like to dance with me.” Bull gives him a hard side-glance. Zevran claps his hands.

”Yes - yes! This is marvelous, let us dance!” He grabs Dorian’s arm and winks at the Arvaarad, who has followed the scene with endless patience and mild curiosity. ”I'll be back, my dear, and finish the story then.” Arvaarad gives a dignified nod.

Zevran, turns out, is a terrific dancer: he floats across the floor with liquid grace, making the dance look intense yet perfectly effortless, all the while maneuvering his partner with firm certainty. To Dorian's delight he also smells nice, chats non-stop, and smiles in a most charming manner. The only problem, really, are his hands, which tend to roam.

Bull dances nearby with his Orlesian lady friend. Dorian's eyes are glued to Bull's hand on her hip; Bull's eye is glued to Zevran's hand Dorian keeps pulling upward off his ass. As they swing by, Bull hisses something in Antivan. Zevran snorts; Dorian gives him a look.

”What?”

”He says that if I wish to keep my hand, I'm supposed to move it.” Dorian covers a smile.

”Ah. Well. He is a tad overprotective.”

”Also a tad too sure of himself.”

They do another dance - slower, more intimate - and Dorian finds himself pulled tightly against the elf's narrow, sinewy body. It feels nice enough, but it doesn't feel right. Dorian misses a bigger, warmer body pressing against him, bigger, warmer hands holding him.

Bull held him so gently -

Bull appears on the dancefloor with Aveline Vallen. Dorian's eyebrow arches.

”Oh,” he says a bit too loudly, ”another redhead, what do you know.”

Aveline, who's doing her best to keep up with her enormous Qunari partner, gives Dorian a sharp glance. Bull spins her around; she almost falls over, and swears. Dorian sighs.

”I suppose they don’t teach you how to dance at the police force,” he quips. “Step, shuffle, spin, ma’am.” He is not sure why he is so irritated, and feels even more irritated because of that. Zevran's hand, quick and clever, glides lower and pinches the curve of his ass in an affectionate warning.

”Hush, dear boy.”

Bull, noticing the pinch, frowns, and, apparently forgetting his own strength, inadvertently pulls Aveline too hard against his chest. The woman lets out a miserable whiny sound, as her lungs get emptied. Bull moves them closer to Zevran and Dorian.

”You - behave,” he tells the elf, and narrows his eye. He spins Aveline around again, a bit too fast; her long red braids whistle like whips through the air - and then one of them gets tangled in Zevran’s pointy head piece.

Next, many things happen simultaneously. Trapped Aveline lets out an angry snarl as she comes to a stop. Zevran, surprised, grabs his moving headpiece with both hands, pulling her hair painfully in the process; Dorian, who's just been slightly bent over, loses the support as Zevran's hands leave him, and falls heavily against Aveline's side, and Bull, realizing Dorian is falling, steps hastily forward to catch him - only to step straight on Aveline's foot.

”Makerdammit!” Aveline lets out a howl, and pushes Bull away - she is shockingly strong, and the expression on Bull’s face, as he almost trips over himself, is worth seeing. She rips her braid off Zevran's bird skull, ignoring the amount of hair this costs, steps clumsily over Dorian who has fallen on his ass on the floor, and backs away until she reaches distance she deems safe.

”Alright,” she growls, ”that's it! I don't know who you morons are or what's going on between you, but knock it off.” The tone of her voice makes everyone close enough to hear it snap their mouths shut and stand straighter.

”Yes, ma'am,” Bull mumbles. ”Sorry, ma'am.” He is looking ashamed, and absolutely entranced. Dorian, who has been helped back on his feet by some amused bystander, resists the urge to roll his eyes.

”I am so sorry, my fire-haired goddess,” Zevran croons, ”please allow me to make this up to you - ” Aveline points a stern finger at him.

”Watch it, elf.” She turns sharply to her left, where curious Marian Hawke has appeared with drained-looking Seneschal. ”Hawke - switch.”

Hawke's eyes, very keen, very blue, light up. ”Ooh, I've never danced with a Qunari.” Something about her hungry expression makes Dorian feel a sudden, overwhelming urge to wrap himself protectively around Bull's bulk.

Seneschal Bran lets out a relieved sigh; Hawke pushes him towards Aveline, and jumps at Bull.

 

***

 

”Well,” says Dorian, as they are both hiding behind a giant palm tree, ”that was interesting.”

”One way to put it,” Bull grimaces and rubs his behind. ”That's one handsy woman.”

Dorian mimics Bull's gesture, letting out a faint moan: he is going to have a handsome bruise on his right cheek from his fall come tomorrow. Bull gives him a side eye; Dorian answers likewise, and then they both burst out laughing. Bull leans back against a black marble column, relaxed, and inspects Dorian warmly. The string lights wrapped around the column make his eye sparkle, he looks kind, happy - and suddenly Dorian, feeling tender of all things, is reminded of Elissa's words, and the irrational fear of losing Bull grabs his heart again.

”I don't mean to ruin the mood,” he utters, before really thinking it through, ”but Elissa said - she said - ” he falls silent, as his courage leaves him. Damn. Bull cocks his head.

”She said what now?”

”She - said they might call you back. To Par Vollen.” Dorian manages to sound calm enough. Bull's face closes, turns reluctant; then he shrugs.

”Yes, it's true.”

”And is it… likely?”

”You saying you'd miss me?” Bull is smiling, but it doesn't quite reach his eye. Dorian looks down.

”Well. I don't have many friends, so it'd be a shame to lose you.”

Bull studies him closely: Dorian can feel the long, slow gaze sweeping his face, as if Bull was trying to see inside him, to desperately find something. Finally he just sighs, and shakes his head.

“Listen - there's no use worrying about it. Whatever happens, happens: we can’t help it. But I tell you this: they're quite happy having me where I am now, so I don’t see any major changes happening in the near future.” Dorian, still staring at the floor, bites his lip.

“But - “

“Dorian.”

Dorian closes his eyes. ”Is this where you are telling me to drop the topic?”

”Yeah, pretty much.”

Dorian nods. He fusses with his robes for a moment, pats his face, as if to check that the gold powder on his cheekbones is still there, and smiles at no one in particular. ”Well. I, for one, could use another cup of that punch.”

Chapter Text

Preparing for Solas and Lavellan's dinner the next day, Dorian makes a decision not to wear his ceremonial robes. He feels he was pushing his luck last night; today, without Bull around, he doesn't dare to. Still, he knows the girls will be disappointed if he shows up in his everyday clothes, so he puts on a sparkly Orlesian mask he bought a couple of years ago, and wraps himself in a long, blood red cloak.

To everyone’s shock and delight, the city’s gotten a couple of inches of snow during the previous night. After a chaotic morning the main roads are pretty much back to normal now, and there’s quite a bit of traffic as everyone is visiting their families or going to yet another party. The closer to Solas’ house Dorian gets, the fewer people he sees; as he passes the point where he and his friends were attacked just a few weeks ago, he notices how the trees by the road are still charred, but the thin layer of snow has mercifully covered the violated ground. He shudders at the memory.

Solas’ huge, grey log home is beautifully lit up with green and blue lanterns. The paths are neatly shoveled, a massive silver wreath is set on the door, and someone has attempted to build what might be a small snow halla under one of the windows: Dorian suspects this is Lavellan’s doing, as the result is rather hideous, but he appreciates Solas humoring her. Dorian spends a moment admiring the twinkling lights, then grabs his gift boxes (moonstone earrings for Lavellan, Cookie Store gift card for Sera, fine wool socks for Solas), and walks to the door.

”Happy Satinalia!” he chimes.

Ten minutes later Dorian finds himself sitting by a roaring fire with a mug of wonderfully fragrant spiced wine, listening to Sera's out of tune humming, and watching his friends with a content smile.

Lavellan, who is setting plates on the table, is looking impossibly cute in a short white dress and a pair of tiny silver halla horns; Sera, adorned in stripy leggings and sparkling bee wings, is working on napkins - for whatever reason she is trying to make them look like frogs. Solas, who’s taken over most of the kitchen duties with utmost solemnity, has refused to dress up in anything celebratory; he is roaming in and out of the kitchen in a soft grey sweater and tight blue jeans. Dorian, nurturing his drink, keeps casting inconspicuous glances at his physique.

Dorian, as a rule, tends to like his men on the larger side: he enjoys tall and muscular (finding someone taller than himself had not been an easy task in Tevinter), but when meeting a nice specimen, he also appreciates the graceful, sinewy type. Solas very much falls into this category. He has a wonderful posture, beautifully shaped limbs, and a rather attractive behind; his thighs are notably muscular for such a slender man, and Dorian wonders if Solas is into fencing or cycling. He is just leaning forward and tilting his head to get a better view, when Lavellan's delicate hand lands on his neck.

”What are you doing, Pavus?”

Dorian blinks innocently. ”Nothing, dearest. Just admiring the view.”

Lavellan grins; Solas, who is passing them with a serving tray, gives them a suspicious stare. ”What?”

”Nothing,” Lavellan and Dorian answer simultaneously. Sera snorts.

”They are checking out your bony ass.”

Solas swears and disappears back in the kitchen.

The meal turns out to be delicious. Dorian, usually not a great fan of Elven cuisine, very much enjoys NugNug served with sweet apple and walnut salad and corn, and falls in love with Deep Forest Comfort, which, he finds out, is mostly squash. Still, Sera has loaded his plate so full, he can barely finish it all. He manages with the help of some mead, but he has to take a little break before he can even think about digging into the dessert (berry sorbet served with thick, aromatic cordial, and spicy crackers shaped like crescents).

”I believe you have killed me,” Dorian states, as he collapses into the armchair by the fire again. Lavellan and Solas, who are not doing much better, are sprawling on the couch, their heads tilted back, staring at the ceiling. Sera, still sitting by the table, is nibbling crackers and picking candied walnuts out of the salad.

“Amateurs,” she says. Lavellan groans and gives Dorian a berating look.

“How come you didn’t bring the Iron Bull over? You should have: he would’ve eaten most of the food and saved us from ourselves.” Dorian sighs.

“He is busy until later tonight. I think it might have something to do with my gift.”

“Aw... sweet.”

“We shall see about that. He’ll probably give me something pink, and then I’ll have to fry his horns.”

“Justifiably so,” Solas mumbles, and closes his eyes.

Dorian's phone rings.

Dorian frowns. He is not expecting anyone’s call: his closest friends are here, he already talked to Mae early this morning, and Bull would likely send a text message, unless it was an emergency. He takes a look at the screen.

It is his father.

”Fasta vass,” he mutters. He turns to Solas. ”May I use your balcony?”

Solas waves his hand in agreement, without bothering to open his eyes. Dorian gets up with a grunt, shuffles to the balcony door, and pushes it open at the same time as he answers his phone. ”Hello?”

"'lo Satinalia, Dorian.” The connection is not as good as usual, but Halward’s voice, cool and ever-careful, is still too close. Dorian takes a deep breath.

"‘lo Satinalia, Pater.”

“How are you?”

“I am fine.”

“Are you alone?”

“Not at all. I am with some friends, we just had dinner.”

“Good. Good.” Halward pauses. “We decided to invite some guests over this year as well.”

“You do that every year.”

Silence.

“Not since you’ve been gone.”

Dorian doesn’t know what to say. He manages a faint oh. Halward clears his throat, uncomfortable. ”I wanted to let you know that I put some funds on your account.”

“You what?” Dorian’s voice rises an octave. He hasn't gotten any gifts from his family since he left, and the idea of his parents giving him money makes him feel… he can’t quite decide. Shocked? Grateful? Irritated? He goes with irritated. “That was absolutely unnecessary.”

“No, Dorian. It’s been too long.”

“Father - “

”Hang on, your mother wants to talk to you.”

Dorian's heart jumps in his throat, and his annoyance over the gift (and the fact that his father is always interrupting him when they talk), is replaced with cold fear. He hasn't talked to his mother in almost five years - and he sure as Void is not prepared to talk to her now. He pulls his phone away from his ear, ready to turn it off, but then he hears her voice, and it freezes him where he stands.

”Dorian?”

No one - no one - says his name the way his mother does. Dorian bites his lip so that the physical pain overrides the pain in his chest, and brings the phone back. Whatever she says, she can't hurt you, he tells himself, and it is a rotten lie.

”Mother.”

”Dorian.”

“Mother.”

A hesitant pause. “How have you been?”

Dorian, overwhelmed, opens his mouth to give the same generic fine he gave to his father, just to get it over with it - but then he changes his mind. If Aquinea truly wants to know how he is... well, he's about to tell her: ”Actually, mother dearest, it's been a rather eventful fall for me. Saving Ambassadors, slaying assassins, befriending the Qunari, getting rid of my cheating boyfriend… you know how it goes.” Dorian should probably feel ashamed for enjoying the awkward silence that ensues.

”Well,” she says finally. Dorian thinks he can hear the smallest hitch in her voice - then again, he could be imagining it. He must be imagining it. ”I am sorry to hear how hard things have been for you lately. But at least that dreadful mess with those nationalist filth is over, and you are alright.”

“I never said I am alright.”

“It… takes time, I’m sure.” Aquinea moves a bit, as if anxious, and Dorian can hear the faint rustle of her dress - silk, no doubt. He closes his eyes, and can almost smell the neroli and jasmine of her perfume, and oh, does it sting. She sighs. “I would advise you to be careful with all your dealings, but I don’t think you’ve listened to one word I’ve said since you turned fourteen.”

I never stopped listening to you, Dorian thinks. He might have acted like he didn’t care, and he certainly disobeyed after certain age; but he always paid attention. “Quite,” he says out loud.

“Just - know that I wish you well. And that I hope better times are ahead, and you can find whatever happiness and peace of mind you are capable of.” Dorian, uncertain what to make of this, hesitates, and before he can get his mouth open, his mother continues: “I also want you to know that we miss you.”

Dorian’s vision gets blurry with angry tears. He has a nasty reply on the tip of his tongue - but he has never been able to lash out at his mother the same way he does with his father - and then Aquinea is already ending the call: ”I don't wish to keep you from the festivities.” Dorian feels an unexpected jolt of panic. He is not ready to let her go, not yet.

“Mother - “

“I hope to talk to you again, sometime. Happy Satinalia, Dorian.”

“Mother, wait - this was - how are things? How are you?”

“How am I? Oh, I’m always fine.” Aquinea’s voice is perfectly cool and smooth as satin. Dorian closes his eyes.

”So you are.” He lets out a small, bitter chuckle. “So you are. Goodbye, mother.”

“Goodbye.”

Dorian hangs up, puts the phone back in his pocket and covers his eyes. He would never, ever admit to it, but he misses his mother rather horribly. She was never the kind of warm, loving mother Felix had (oh, how jealous Dorian used to be), and Maker knows they’d never been friends - but she was always so very proud of him, so furiously protective of him, she taught him so much…

Fuck.

Dorian lets out a litany of swear words in multiple languages, and shakes his head. Useless. Grieving over this - of things done and gone - is absolutely useless, and he refuses to ruin his perfectly wonderful Satinalia with it.

He takes a couple of deep breaths until he feels somewhat calm again, and turns on his heels to face the window. Inside he can see Sera has disappeared, probably into the kitchen, as the dishes are gone as well, and Solas and Lavellan are…

Well.

The couch they are lying on has its back to the balcony and they have collapsed deeper in, basically hiding behind it, but as it happens, Dorian can see them clearly via the huge, silver framed mirror on the wall. They are kissing.

Dorian lifts his eyebrow, amused, and watches as Solas presses tightly against Lavellan. His fine, narrow hand is cupping the woman's face; the other is sliding under her thigh, traveling towards her undeniably juicy little bottom; once there, it slips readily under the shiny fabric of her panties, and kneads the smooth cheek. Lavellan immediately pushes the hand away with a mock shocked expression. Solas grins wolfishly, and kisses her nose.

”Naughty, naughty,” Dorian mumbles and tries not to laugh. He is happy for them, he really is - but he can't help feeling a faint sting of grief and envy as well. The same kind he felt with Sten and Elissa last night.

He used to have that. He used to have love and companionship, someone to hold and kiss, and although he can take care of himself and even enjoys his own company - how could he not? - he misses the connection, the warmth of another body next to him.

He stares at the distant, dark sky, feeling utterly alone. Cold air is pinching his cheeks and nose, but he ignores it and leans against the frozen bannister. He moves his eyes to the snowy courtyard that glows under him in the lantern light. The icy tree branches glitter like they were sprinkled with sapphires and emeralds, and he recalls how his parents hung star-shaped crystals all over the garden one year: it looked amazing.

Bull would love this.

The thought makes him smile, and then, then he finds himself thinking how big and warm Bull would be standing next to him; how it might feel like to have that heavy arm wrapped around his shoulders. The image is so vivid, so life-like he can almost smell Bull...

Dorian closes his eyes and lets the fantasy linger for a little bit longer before he heads back in.

 

***

 

Dorian almost hates himself for feeling so relieved when Bull appears on his doorstep.

He doesn't want to rely on him for emotional support as much as he does, even though Bull clearly doesn't mind, so being the little shit that he is at times, he pulls a haughty expression on his face and crosses his arms. ”You are late.”

”Yeah.” Bull looks apologetic. ”Sorry. I had to go and get some stuff and it took a while.”

Dorian notices a huge box on the floor behind Bull. It is wrapped in cheerful pink and red. ”You wrapped my present in pink paper? How dare you?”

”...uh, it's not really for you.” Bull lifts the box inside. Dorian frowns, confused.

”Then who is it for? I don't understand.”

”It's for this guy,” Bull says, sticks his hand inside his coat, and pulls out a tiny lump of shiny black hair. Dorian stares, speechless, as an impossibly cute kitten blinks and lets out a faint, high-pitched meow.

Dorian squeaks. He picks the tiny animal up carefully. ”Oh Maker,” he whispers, ”oh Maker, he is - he - you - he - ” He fondles the kitten's huge, butterfly-like tufted ears and lustrous, silky coat. A sudden swiff of shock and incredule flashes over his face. He checks the tiny paws. Six toes. His eyes grow even wider. ”This is a Vyrantium Black!”

”Yes,” Bull says.

”You got me a fucking Vyrantium Black!” Dorian is screeching now, squeezing the kitten against his chest. ”How?”

”Pure luck,” Bull reaches and touches the top of the kitten's head. ”I went to the shelter looking for a cat for you, and some Tevinter family had just brought this fellow in last week. Apparently their kid developed an allergy. They sure were surprised I wanted him.”

Dorian gasps. ”Vyrantium Blacks are ridiculously expensive, and they are considered to bring good luck!”

”Yeah - in your country. Here they are thought to bring bad luck.”

”That's the most stupid, ridiculous, uncivilized thing I have ever heard!” Dorian kisses the kitten and holds him protectively. ”Anyone can see he brings good luck, and he is the most beautiful thing ever to grace this stupid country.” He steps in front of Bull, and wraps his free arm around the bulk of him, squeezing tight. ”Thank you. This is the best gift anyone has ever given me.”

Bull hums and stays close, but doesn't return the embrace. “I’m glad you like him.”

“I love him! How could I not? He is just precious, and we are both from Tevinter - related, practically, this is perfect.” Dorian presses his cheek against Bull’s chest and inhales. Maker, he’s been missing this: the warmth, the muscles, the scent. Bull pats his shoulder ever-so-slightly, and pulls away.

”Alright. Now - open the box I brought.”

The huge box turns out to contain a bag of good quality litter stuffed inside a sleek litter box, a fancy black carrier, a tiniest crystal-studded harness, a variety of dry and wet kitten food set in stylish metal containers, a set of steel bowls, clippers, combs, brushes, shampoo, toys... and a collapsible cat tree.

For the next half an hour Dorian is swearing and running around as he tries to find a suitable place for everything. He empties a kitchen cabinet for the cat food containers, grooming equipment and all the small stuff, sets the food and water bowls in the corner by the fridge, carries the litter box to the bathroom, and finally (after some assembly) sets the cat tree by the living room window, so that the kitty has a chance to look outside. Then he takes the kitten from Bull, who's been told to sit down, shut up, and hold him.

Dorian carries the kitten around and shows him where everything is. When finally put down, the kitten climbs in the litter box and falls promptly asleep.

”Ohhh no, no, no,” Dorian scolds, lifts him up, and carries him back to the living room. They sit by Bull on the couch. Dorian turns to look at him.

”Why?”

Bull tilts his head. ”Why what?”

”Why would you do this?”

”You know I like you. And when I like someone, I tend to show it.”

Dorian bows his head, pleased; he still doesn’t quite dare to believe that Bull’s fondness is hundred percent genuine, but he appreciates it nevertheless. So what if it is a Ben-Hassrath scheme? Bull makes him feel good, and Dorian chooses to believe in his sincerity now - just like he chooses to believe that the kitten actually comes from a shelter.

They sit in deep, comfortable silence for a while; Dorian keeps stroking the silky black coat, the kitten twitches in his sleep.

”What are you going to name him?” Bull asks. Dorian considers. His first thought is, naturally, Felix - but that name belongs to someone else. And he doesn’t want a painful reminder.

”He is black, so... I don’t know, Nox? My aunt used to have a cat with that name, and I always liked him.”

”Night?” Bull shrugs. “Not bad, but I am voting for,” he pauses dramatically, “Radonis!” Dorian lets out an exaggerated gasp.

”I am not going to name my cat after the Archon! Are you out of your mind? The man is a pompous jerk and deadlier than a snake!”

”True, but he’s also a great lover of cats.”

“Absolutely no.”

“Well how about Vinsomer?” Bull suggests, innocently. Dorian rolls his eyes.

”But of course. Dragons.”

“Well - “

“Don’t think that I don’t see what you are doing, ser Ben-Hassrath: you give me an awful, ridiculous suggestion first, so that I’ll be more accepting about your next suggestion!” Bull looks thoroughly impressed. Dorian points his finger at him. “I am from Tevinter, do not try that trick on me.”

“Oh, Dorian, you are so smart...”

“Flattery won’t work either: I don’t care what you say or do, this kitten will not be named Vinsomer.”

“But I like dragons…” Bull looks sheepish and kinda depressed. Dorian bites his lip. He really does have too soft of a heart.

“Well fine then. I will name him after a dragon, but only because you gave him to me.” He raises his hand. “Just not Vinsomer!” Bull’s eye lights up.

“Kaltenzahn?!” Dorian groans.

“No - no. If we are going for dragons, I’d rather pick something Tevinter-y, like... “ Dorian considers, then snaps his fingers. “Toth.” He lifts the sleepy kitten and stares at him. “Baby Toth,” he pronounces slowly and carefully. The kitten lets out a long, wailing meow. Dorian looks shocked. “By Dumat, I think he likes it!” Bull guffaws so hard he almost falls off the couch.

“You’d name your cat after an archdemon? Really? You don’t think that’s risky, don’t you guys say nomen est omen and all that?” Dorian looks offended.

“It is a perfectly lovely name.”

“For an archdemon.”

“For an Old God,” Dorian clarifies, sharply. “Just look at him - how bad could he be?”

“You really want me to answer that?”

Dorian purses his lips and kisses the kitten's head. “Baby Toth,” he croons in his velvety sing-song baritone. He turns the tiny face from one side to another. ”You know, his eyes are going to stay blue. Like sapphires.”

”I know. He is going to be gorgeous.”

”He is gorgeous.”

Bull, not looking at the kitten anymore, nods. ”He really is.”

Dorian smiles, changes his position a bit, and moves closer, so that his knee ends up leaning on the side of Bull's muscular thigh. It is perfectly accidental, of course. Bull's mouth twitches, but he doesn't pull away or comment on it. ”The naming out of the way… how was your dinner with Solas and Lavellan?” he asks instead. Dorian sighs airily.

”Oh, perfectly lovely. Even Sera did her best to behave... I ate too much, but that’s a Satinalia tradition, I suppose.” Dorian rubs Baby Toth’s ear absent-mindedly; the point where his knee and Bull's thigh connect feels so warm, it is hard not to think about it. ”How are Sten and Elissa?”

”The Ambassador is fine, but Lady Cousland slept until noon, and I believe she had a bad hangover. I don't think she and Zevran went to bed before sunrise.” Dorian raises his eyebrow. ”Not together,” Bull adds. ”As far as I know.”

”Sten wouldn't like that.”

”Qunari don't get jealous.”

”Oh, bullshit.”

”Well,” Bull gives a good-natured shrug, ”we like to say that anyway. I guess it's true most of the time, since we rarely do romantic relationships.”

Dorian is tempted to point out how Bull surely seemed jealous over Zevran last night, but then decides not to go there. He could be mistaken anyway; perhaps Bull was just looking after him in his own overpowering way.

“Have you ever been in a relationship?”

“Nah. I’ve had some fuck buddies, but nothing like the Ambassador and Lady Cousland have.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Is it?” Bull looks curious. Dorian bites his lip.

“Well, I don’t know. Depends on what you want from life, I suppose.”

Bull makes a noncommittal sound. Dorian looks down. He is pretty sure he does know what Bull wants: he likes his friends, and he likes sex, and the Qunari don’t usually mix the two. Such sensible people.

Dorian finds the thought troubles him. It is silly, of course; he is far from ready for any kind of relationship anyway - still over-sensitive, still bitter - but he can’t help it. He stares at Bull’s hand at the edge of his vision. He wants to touch it; to pull it closer, kiss the scarred, bony knuckles… but he doesn’t dare to. He has an idea where it might lead, and he is not willing to take the risk and possibly ruin what they have now.

Some things are just too precious. Genuine or not.

He changes his position so that they are not touching each other anymore - he misses the connection immediately - and kisses the kitten instead. He can’t stop a small shiver running through his body.

“You cold?” Bull asks.

Dorian ignores the question. “Would you like to watch a movie with me? I think Miracle In Dark Town might be on.” He speaks against Baby Toth's fine fur.

”Always.”

 

***

 

Baby Toth keeps Dorian up half the night by chasing a kibble of cat chow around the house. In the morning he pees on the rug, knocks a remote off the coffee table, and eats Dorian’s favorite mustache comb; then he painstakingly climbs up into the bed and curls up on Dorian's neck, clearly pleased with himself.

“Baby Toth Pavus,” Dorian says sternly. “We need to talk.”

Baby Toth squints his sapphire eyes and purrs contently, burying his tiny needle-like claws in Dorian’s chest. Dorian pokes his nose.

“Just wanted to let you know that you are the best cat ever.”

Chapter Text

As winter slowly turns into spring, Dorian and Bull's friendship grows and flourishes. They have taken on a habit of seeing each other almost every weekend: they go for walks, they go to movies, they try a variety of restaurants. They talk, laugh, and argue. Bull fixes Dorian's furnace and his car; Dorian gets rid of Bull’s hideous ties and buys him some new ones, and fixes Bull's belt that needs an extra hole (and stops serving him Orlesian Silk Pie every time he comes over). By mid Drakonis their relationship has molded into something secure and easy, and eventually - and somewhat depressingly - Dorian comes to realize that this is probably all it is ever going to be.

The saddest part is, he still desires Bull; so much so, that on many nights he finds himself masturbating to the thought of sleeping with the man - but since there hasn't been even the smallest hint of interest, he won't push it. He doesn't dare to, in fear of losing one of the few good things in his life.

Secretly, though, he wonders if all the sexual tension, all the heated glances, the flirting, even the straightforward confession at the club were only a dream, something he imagined simply because he finds the man attractive. And even if those things were true, back then... well. Perhaps Bull is one of those people who tend to fancy something they can't have, and now that Dorian is single and available, he isn't a challenge anymore. Or, perhaps it's just a simple case of feelings changing. Because as scary and unfair as it is, it happens: Dorian remembers being gut-wrenchingly smitten by one of Felix's friends once; nothing came out of it, of course, the man - a pretty, red-haired army officer of all things - was straight as an arrow (but not as sharp, admittedly), and six months later Dorian found himself wondering what he had ever seen in him anyway.

Whatever the case, Bull's relationship with Dorian never goes beyond friendship, and whatever physical needs Bull may have… well. He has no shortage of willing partners, certainly; Dorian has seen how people look at him. Conquering Qunari is a fantasy common enough, and Bull's easy going confidence, combined with striking physique, is hard to resist.

So Dorian decides to leave the matter be, and as much as it is against his instincts and character, he won't approach Bull sexually. Instead he goes out with a couple of guys, and since months and months of celibacy are slowly taking their toll, he lets one of them, a ridiculously handsome Nevarran athlete, suck him off. It is enjoyable enough, but he feels empty afterwards. It's been a long time since he had meaningless sex, and although it's what he at some point was used to, it's never been what he wants. Dorian craves for love, always has.

Such a fool you are, he thinks. Always such a damned fool.

 

***

 

“Still shaking, Auriel stopped by the fallen giant lying on the ground. His instincts were screaming, telling him to back off, but the temptation was too strong: he leaned forward to take a closer look.

The Qunari was massive. He had backswept horns capped with bright copper, and an oddly sensual face. His long white hair spread like a shimmering fan under him, and just like the two other soldiers Auriel had seen by the tent, he was wearing only a simple loincloth.

Auriel watched, mesmerized, as the muscular chest fell and rose. The Qunari was definitely still alive. His painted eyes glided over the wide pectorals, caressed the heavy, powerful arms, and traveled downward. Through the thin, red fabric he could see the tempting outline of the savage's impressive…”

Dorian pauses and stares at the blinking cursor, considering the next word.

“...length.”

Dorian sighs. Why, oh why is it always so hard to choose what word to use for cock?

He stretches his arms, lets out half a yawn, and glances at the clock. He realizes he has been working all morning and afternoon, and feels pretty pleased with himself. He has finally started writing again, forced himself into it, basically, and is actually getting pretty excited. For reasons better left unexamined, he has been working on a piece of Qunari erotica. He hasn't told anyone about it; partly because he is not sure it will ever be more than a mere writing exercise, partly because it is such a damn cliché, and partly because it would be all too… well. Obvious. In-your-face. He doesn't wish to make Bull uncomfortable.

There is a sharp knock on the door. Dorian, who was planning on brewing himself a cup of tea, swears, gets up, and walks to the door.

He finds himself staring at Cremisius Aclassi.

”Wha -” Dorian says intelligently. Krem crosses his arms; he looks very muscular, and very grim.

”Pavus.”

Dorian blinks, pulls himself together. ”Come on in then.”

He has met Krem a couple of times after their initial encounter in the club, but they don't really socialize; they may be from the same country, and they may both like Bull, but they are also so vastly different that there is hardly any need or desire for a relationship.

Krem marches in and sits precisely in the middle of the couch, without taking off his coat. Dorian frowns, and without really thinking about it, speaks his next words in Tevene: ”Can I help you with something?”

The young man gives him a glance, changes to Tevene as well. ”Chief is an idiot.” Dorian's brows knit even tighter. He is not sure why Krem would come and complain to him of all people about Bull's behavior.

”I see.”

”Yeah. So, he is an idiot. But, he is my idiot.”

Dorian sinks in his armchair, as something painful grabs his chest. His first thought is that Krem apparently has a crush on Bull, and Krem has found out that Dorian has one as well. Chances are he is going to get his ass kicked. ”You two are intimate now?” he asks weakly.

”Maker, no.” Krem shivers. ”Shit, no.”

Dorian looks at the man expectantly, trying to hide his relief. Krem leans forward. ”He doesn't sleep properly. He has stopped telling leery jokes. Last night he drank only two beers, and he refused a redhead. A fucking redhead.”

”Is he sick?”

”He is an idiot.”

”...yes, I believe we established that.”

”He has taken on listening to Nevarran love songs.”

”Well, this sounds truly ominous and alarming, and we must take action immediately. What do you suggest we do?”

”Yeah, you think this is funny, don't you? You would.”

”My good man, I have no idea what you are even talking about!”

Krem shows his canines. ”He is pining. For you.

Dorian stares, confused. ”What? No. I mean - I mean, I am aware that he used to have a little crush on me, yes, but that was months ago.”

”Months ago, my ass. He's got this weird, pathetic ongoing thing for you.”

Dorian looks suspicious. ”How do you know? Has he told you this?”

”Let's put it this way: last night he called me - in the middle of the night, mind you - to give me a long-winded report on how much fun you two had going to the bookstore, how nice your hair smelled, how you put a bandaid on his stupid finger after he got a papercut - and then he sent me this picture he took of you and your cat. Did you know he fucking printed it out and framed it? I'd bet money it's on his nightstand!”

As if summoned by the words, Baby Toth appears from the bedroom. He stretches his muscles, and after giving Krem an indifferent glance, jumps on the couch, and collapses against the man's thigh. He begins to chew the seam of Krem's jeans. Krem frowns.

”Hello, cat.” Krem examines Baby Toth, who seems determined to destroy his outfit. ”What is he doing?”

”Who knows, he is crazy. Also, possibly an archdemon.” Dorian gives an impatient wave of a hand, unwilling to change the subject. ”But to return to what you said… if Bull is interested in me, why hasn't he said anything - or, I don't know, tried to kiss me? It doesn't make any sense considering how damned straightforward he is.”

Krem rolls his eyes. ”Why? Why? Because you fucking told him not to touch you, that's why. And when you tell Chief something like that, he listens.”

It takes a moment before Dorian connects the dots. The club. That fateful night at the club: he had specifically told Bull never to -

do not touch me again

Dorian lets out a groan. ”You're kidding me.”

”Nope.”

”You're fucking kidding me!” Dorian could tear out his hair out of frustration: talk about taking things literally! Then he comes to think of something. ”Wait - how do you know about that?” Krem gives him a dry smile.

”We talk.”

Of course they do. Obviously Bull would talk to Krem instead of Dorian, that makes perfect sense, as much sense as everything else, makerdammit! Dorian grinds his teeth, but decides to let it slide. ”Well. I am not delighted, but be that as it may... I find it hard to believe it hasn't crossed his brilliant Ben-Hassrath mind that myself being single for the last five months might change things.”

”Ah,” says Krem in a most annoying way, ”you say that because you don't know him the way I do.”

”Care to clarify?”

”Chief, as a rule, never approaches anyone, outside his stupid work, that is. He lets people come to him. He never initiates, he never pushes - ” Dorian raises his hand, and interrupts him.

”Excuse me, but I beg to differ: he has definitely approached me and suggested things.”

”If you'd let me finish I'd tell you that for whatever makerdamn reason you have been an exception to that rule. First I thought it was because you're kinda easy on the eyes and Chief likes that kind of thing, but he's too smart to fall for that alone - ”

”Smart? Didn't you just call him an idiot, multiple times, in fact?”

”Would you stop fucking interrupting me!”

”Pardon.”

Krem clears his throat. ”So anyway. As I said, he doesn't usually initiate anything. He knows he's a big ass Qunari and that's scary to people, so he just kinda waits. With good results, I might add. But that night at the club he did not wait: he went against his personal code, and what do you know, he got burnt.” Krem lowers his voice. ”He learned his fucking lesson, and will absolutely not approach you again.”

”Oh.” Dorian frowns. He guesses that makes some sense, in a rather idiotic way. He looks back at Krem. ”So, he's… waiting.”

”Yeah, he's waiting.” Krem lifts Baby Toth in his lap and begins to rub the kitten's head. ”And meanwhile he is driving me and everyone else insane, so I'm here to tell you to do something about it. Meaning, you either make it absolutely clear that there will be nothing happening between you two, ever, or you go and... I don't know, fuck him? Get it out of his system.” He looks deeply irritated. ”I take it you fancy the big lout?”

Dorian, pretending nonchalant, raises his eyebrow. ”Whatever gave you that idea?” Krem looks almost bored.

”Come on, Pavus.”

”What?”

”I've seen the way you ogle his muscles. And the whole Tevinter-Qunari forbidden fruit thing - totally something you'd go for.”

Dorian feels his face getting red, but he refuses to look away. ”You assume quite a bit there.” Krem keeps on staring at him, blank-faced. Dorian groans. ”Fine, yes, I fancy him.” He crosses his arms. ”And he must be aware, I'm sure.”

”He sees it. He smells it, sure, the Qunari are annoying like that - hard to keep anything a secret from them. But desire is not the same as want, and it doesn't mean consent. Chief is huge on consent.”

Dorian blinks. As often happens with things related to Bull, he can't decide whether this is wonderful or infuriating. Krem straightens his posture, juts his chin forward. His copper eyes narrow to gleaming slits.”Now - the next part is important: pay attention.”

”...I can hardly wait.”

”Whichever way you go with this, ditch him or fuck him, you are going to be nice about it. Because if you hurt him, I will fry your ass.”

Dorian feels the side of his mouth pulling. He brings his hand on his chest. ”I don't believe it - my first shovel talk!” He begins to laugh. ”Oh, Cremisius. You are adorable, looking after poor little Bull the way you are.”

Against expectations Krem doesn't get riled up by Dorian's words; instead he falls quiet. Dorian, taken aback by the sudden change in the dance, frowns. ”Cremisius?”

”He gave his eye for me.”

”Excuse me?”

”He gave his eye for me: I owe him.” Krem crosses his arms again, shielding himself, and looks away. ”So there.” Dorian stares, incredulous.

”I always assumed he lost his eye in Seheron.”

”He lost it in a greasy bar by the Nevarran border. Some soldiers were harassing me, and Chief stepped in; saved a perfect stranger, that idiot.”

Dorian's heart swells, beats a bit faster. ”I knew he is protective, but that's just ridiculous.”

”He is a fucking mother hen,” Krem groans, ”every stray, every misfit…”

”Every dashing mage on a hit list.”

”Yeah. I guess that's part of your charm.”

They sit in silence for a moment: Baby Toth falling asleep in Krem's lap, Dorian staring outside. The sun is about to set; the twilight is creeping upon his street.

”Just don't hurt him,” Krem mutters. And although he doesn't say it, Dorian can hear the word please.

After Krem is gone - he leaves unceremoniously, without a proper goodbye, so typical - Dorian stays put, still deep in thought.

Dorian's father once said his son has a brilliant mind ruined by an unwise heart and a terrible temper, and secretly Dorian believes he is correct. Yet, there are rare moments when the fog clears and the doubt and fury cease, and all that is left is cool, calm certainty.

Like now. Because he knows.

He wants Bull.

He sure as Void does not deserve Bull. But he wants him anyway.

For the thousandth time he thinks back to the night at the club, everything that was said and done; the tentative touches and the fumbling words; the way Bull looked when Dorian retreated cold and absolute, the way they've been ever since -

Bull won't come to him. Ever. He will just wait, wait and maybe hope. If there is ever going to be anything to come out of this, it will have to be initiated by Dorian.

So he pushes the feeling of unworthiness, the fear of loss, of messing things up, in the back of his mind. He is perfectly aware that Bull is not the relationship type, and there’s no doubt in his mind that once they have scratched this particular itch, that will be it - but he must have him. Even if it is just for one night. Their relationship is on borrowed time, Bull will be leaving at some point, and the more Dorian thinks about it, the more he becomes convinced he'd rather have a painful yet fulfilling memory of something that had been, than something that could have been.

So he begins to create his plan. Of course he could just ask - but where's the fun in that?

 

***

 

Dorian: What does he like?

Krem: who is this?

Dorian: Your Fellow Vint, of course. Got your number from Bull.

Krem: isn’t this an invasion of privacy?

Dorian: Says the man who appeared on my doorstep uninvited.

Krem: fair enough

Dorian: So what does he like?

Krem: chocolate, dragons, color pink

Dorian: Elementary. Give me more.

Krem: booze, boobs, kittens, redheads, striped pants

Dorian: I can provide liquor and a feline, the rest is out of my comfort zone. Anything else?

Krem: u do know he is not exactly hard to please?

Dorian: Humor me, Cremisius.

Krem: people, puppies, movies, filthy sex, bad jokes, orlesian opera

Dorian: Filthy sex?

Krem: spices, melee weapons, handcuffs, redheads

Dorian: I believe you mentioned redheads twice.

Krem: cause he really likes them. get a wig.

Dorian: I don't see that happening.

Krem: btw, you may want to stretch before you go at it. he is on the larger size if u know what i mean...

Dorian: I am going to go now.

Krem: thought you wanted to come

Dorian: Dumat save me, you are as bad as he is.

Krem: oh btw your cat from void chewed a hole in my pants

Dorian: Don't worry, he's got all his shots, he should be fine.

Krem: fu

Dorian: Working on it, Cremisius, working on it.

 

***

 

Dorian Pavus decides to buy himself a pink shirt.

Obviously he can't just go and buy any old shirt from any old store, so he walks into the most exquisite men's clothing store in all of Kirkwall. The clerk, a distinguished Orlesian gentleman with nicely cut hair, greets him politely and listens to his woes: he wants a sophisticated yet casual button-up that compliments his figure, preferably not-too-shiny silk or lustrous cotton, in a pleasant shade of pink, please and thank you.

The clerk takes a good look at him, purses his lips, and after a great deal of sighing walks away. He returns with a pile of shirts in varying materials and shades so vastly different from each other that they look separate colors altogether.

”Your skin tone is very warm” he says, as he leads Dorian to a nearby fitting room, ”but I have a feeling you'd look good in cooler pinks. Still, it pays to try out a variety of shades, one may be surprised. I am sure we can find something that suits your golden complexion and brings out the silver in your eyes.”

First Dorian tries on a salmon pink cotton shirt. It is not a bad color on him, but it is a bit unusual and he suspects it is not pink enough, so he rejects it. The clerk, getting a better picture of what he is looking for, ditches all the shirts leaning to peaches and corals. The next one, a blush button-up, gets ditched as well, as do all the other overly pale shades.

”Raspberry, magenta, cerise...” the clerk nods. ”Yes, it is there somewhere.”

Dorian agrees. He tries on a jewel-toned raw silk shirt (too festive), a casual muted magenta shirt (too dark), an almost neon pink cotton shirt (just no), and, finally, a sinfully smooth sandwashed silk shirt in fresh fuchsia that somehow manages to be bright but not loud - and something clicks. The color is right. The material is right. The fit is right. The feel is right.

”A-ha!” the clerk says. Dorian stares at himself in the mirror. He looks... stunning. He loves the way the cool silk clings to his shape and enhances it, and how the color - indeed - makes his eyes pop and casts an enchanting rosy glow on his face.

”Oh, yes,” he says. ”Yes, yes, yes.”

”I must agree, messere, you look wonderful.”

Dorian brushes the fabric; it feels like peach skin, and has a slight dusty shimmer to it he likes. The clerk moves in to fuss with his collar.

”The fit is nice… and the color does look great on you.”

Dorian grins, all teeth. ”Would you call this hot pink?”

”It is closer to soft fuchsia,” the clerk says. He clears his throat and gives Dorian a sultry side-glance. ”Looks definitely hot, though.”

 

***

 

Dorian: I need your help!

Bull: What's wrong? You alright?

Dorian: I'd like to consult you.

Bull: About what?

Dorian: It's for my book...

Bull: You are writing about bodyguards now?

Dorian: Not exactly. Can you come over?

Bull: I'll be working late today. Tomorrow afternoon ok?

Dorian: Perfect. Thank You!

Bull: Anytime. :)

Chapter Text

When it comes to his looks, Dorian has never been one for modesty. He knows he is attractive, he’s been told so all his life: his mother, at the time she was still trying to love him, used to call him handsome; his grandmother, when intoxicated enough, used to call him striking; the starry-eyed girls in the Minrathous circle, hopelessly infatuated, used to call him hot (he turned them all down, of course, but gently, for whatever Tevinter tried to shape him into, they never quite succeeded in making him cruel). His past lovers, without exception, called him gorgeous.

And even if Dorian rarely trusted the sincerity, or rather the motives, of those people, and even if he sometimes secretly had pitiful doubts about himself, ever since boyhood he's been well aware of his beauty and of the fact that much is forgiven because of it. ”Compensates for your venomous tongue,” Trevelyan once told him half-serious.

Bull now - Bull, too, likes the way Dorian looks. But as Dorian is standing in front of a mirror, inspecting himself on the day of the Grand Seduction, he finds the thought doesn't elate him as much as it should. When it comes to Bull, he yearns to be liked for other reasons than just his pretty face and tight ass - unfortunately he isn’t certain there’s much else to like there. Admire, certainly; envy, absolutely. But like?

He's going to fuck you and walk away.

The mean little voice always whispering in the back of Dorian’s mind surfaces, but he forces it back down. No. No. If the past few months have taught him anything, it’s that Bull does like him, and deserved or not, Bull is his friend. Bull won’t just use Dorian and toss him away. He may walk away eventually - the thought makes Dorian's stomach ache- but it won’t be today.

Soothed by grim fatalism, Dorian opens his eyes and faces the mirror again.

Whatever anxiety and doubt he may carry inside, it doesn’t show. He is looking exceptionally good today. He has pulled on a pair of tight blue jeans and his new pink shirt (he left the top buttons undone, of course), and his hair is a carefully constructed mess; a far call from his usual sleek style, but undeniably sexy in a charmingly innocent way, and he knows it makes him look young. He's been chewing his lips to make them puffy and lush, lined his eyes, and rubbed a tiny bit of sandalwood-scented cream perfume on his wrists and neck.

Dorian grins at his reflection, blows himself an encouraging kiss, and then goes and checks on the set he has created in the living room. There are two tall crystal glasses and a bottle of delicately pink Rowan's Rose sparkling on the coffee table next to a big bowl of Bull's favorite chocolates, some Orlesian opera playing (at low volume) in the background, Baby Toth sleeping on the couch… Perfect. Dorian lets out a content sigh, sits by the window with a book he knows he won't be able to concentrate on, and waits.
Bull arrives just before five o'clock. His expression, as Dorian opens the door, is worth seeing.

”Wow,” Bull begins to laugh. ”Damn, Dorian. Pink, really?”

”I found a shade that suits me, I guess.” Dorian smiles coyly, steps aside. ”Come in.”

”Is that silk?”

”Do cows fly over Minrathous?”

”Ben-Hassrath reports are unclear on that.” Bull examines Dorian's hair. ”What's with the bedhead?”

”Oh, I tried a different style for a change. Like it?”

”Sure. It's cute.”

Bull takes his coat off; he is still in his work clothes, a black suit and a black button-up with no tie. He looks sharp, stern and delicious, and Dorian feels his knees go weak. Luckily Bull doesn't notice, because he has now stepped into the living room, and is taking in the wine, the chocolates, the music. He frowns and turns to Dorian. ”What's the occasion?”

”Just a little thank you for your help.” Dorian hurries to pour some wine, and asks Bull to sit down. Bull empties his glass with one gulp, and pulls offended-looking Baby Toth in his lap, apparently unconcerned by potential cat hair.

”So what is this about?”

Straight to business then. How very Qunari. Dorian refills Bull’s glass without a comment, grabs his notebook from the side table, and settles in an armchair. He notices his fingertips are slightly sweaty.

”Well. As it happens, I have come up with this idea for a historical novel. Been working on it a bit already, actually.” He pauses, considers how to set his words (as if he hadn't already had this conversation a hundred times in his head). ”The thing is, I've always wanted to write a love story that takes place during the Dragon Age, and make it reflect the modern times somehow - and in the light of my recent experiences, I figured the Qunari-Tevinter conflict would make an interesting topic. You know, show how two very different people can find a common ground and even grow fond of each other...” Dorian takes a deep breath, and raises his storm-grey eyes, smiling disarmingly. ”What I am trying to say is, I need cultural consultation. Please.”

Bull lets out a thunderous laugh: ”What you are trying to say is that you have decided to honor the long tradition of your home country and write Qunari smut.” Dorian groans.

”It is going to be an epic romance, thank you very much!”

”What? No smut? At all?”

”Yes - loads! But that is beyond the point!”

”Uh-huh.” Bull looks all too amused for his own good. Dorian rolls his eyes.

”Anyway, I've read books and checked online, but there are some details I'd like to get clear.”

”What kind of books?” Bull asks, and pops a piece of chocolate in his mouth. Dorian sighs, annoyed by getting derailed again.

”Publications by the University of Orlais mostly, they have some interesting studies on Qunari societal roles and physiology as well - then again, I don't trust them one hundred percent, which is why you are here.”

”Ever read the Randy Dowager's 'The Horned Ones' edition?”

”Yes, obviously, I've read enough smut to last a lifetime, but now I am looking for facts. The rest of Thedas publish so much rubbish about the Qunari it is not even funny.”

”True.” The side of Bull's mouth twitches again. ”Okay, so let me guess… this is going to be a historical piece where a handsome Magister gets captured by a huge Arvaarad.”

”How charming - but done to death, so no. This is a story about a stoic Kithshok who gets injured during a military campaign in Seheron, and, against all odds, ends up being saved by a cynical Tevinter army camp prostitute. There's going to be cultural misunderstandings, life-changing revelations, steamy jungles - ”

”- sand in every orifice imaginable.” Bull fails in his attempt to keep a straight face and snorts. Dorian swats him with his notebook.

”Would you please behave yourself, oaf? If you are not going to take this seriously...” Bull raises his hands apologetically.

”Alright - I'm sorry, I'm sorry. So what do you need from me then?”

Dorian, flustered, takes two long swigs of wine. It is excellent. ”I was thinking we could start with Qunari physiology, if that’s alright with you. And I am telling you right now that some of these questions will be of a rather intimate nature.”

”I think I can handle that. Shoot.”

Dorian studies his notes for a moment, lays his pen on the paper. ”Alright, here goes: all the sources say that you have no feeling in your horns. Verify?”

Bull stretches his neck, showing off; his huge horns tilt from side to side. ”There isn't. I can usually tell when someone touches them, but that's about it. The base of the horns… that's sensitive.”

Dorian makes a note: Horns: no feeling, base sensitive. He looks at Bull. ”May I touch them? I'd like to be able to describe them right.”

Bull lowers his head. Dorian reaches and wraps his hand around a massive horn protruding from heavy skull. He lets delicate fingers glide from the base to the tip and back again, feels curiously the seam where the bone emerges from the skin, and then pulls his hand back. Bull sits up and opens his eye. His gaze looks darker than before. Dorian nods politely.

”Thank you.”

”No problem.”

Dorian writes down again: Bony core covered w. keratin. Bumpy with grooves but not rough. Worn, feels slightly cooler than skin. Frightening.

”All right,” he says. ”Now. Do your toenails grow out to be claw-like, similar to your fingernails?”

”Yeah, but we blunt them. And they grow fast, just like our hair.” Bull considers. ”Our wounds heal fast too; superior immunity system and all that, I'm sure you're aware.”

”Quite,” says Dorian, ”I remember how your superior immunity worked last month when you got the flu and whined non stop for a week.”

”Come on...”

”But you mentioned hair, which reminds me: the only naked Qunari I've seen have been in porn clips, and those never show anyone in their, uh, natural state, so I was wondering, considering that you don't really have hair on your chest, or arms, or -”

”We have pubic hair.”

”Thank you.”

”Watched many porn clips then?”

Dorian ignores him. Toes have claws that grow at fast rate. There is pubic hair. (Reminder: collect the bet from Sera.)

”Then… do the Qunari kiss?”

Bull frowns. ”That's a silly question.”

”Is it? I read somewhere that traditionally it is thought that you don't.”

”We do kiss. Just not in public.”

”I see.” Dorian writes feverishly: They do kiss! with a tiny smiley face in the end. ”Then…” he touches his upper lip with the tip of his pink tongue. ”I am pretty pleased with my description of the Qunari smell: musky, warm, sharp, slightly metallic. What do you think?”

”You people smell and taste different to me, so, sure. Call it how you see it.”

Dorian cocks his head, curious. ”Tell me about the taste.”

”Well, depends on the person, of course, but you humans taste kinda sweet and sour, whereas the Qunari taste… saltier, perhaps? We sweat more since we are larger, so that might be part of it.” He pauses. ”Qunari semen smells and tastes similar to human's though.”

Dorian makes another note: Semen tastes like semen. Saltier skin? Explore? Then he raises his eyes to Bull's.

”May I taste your skin?”

Bull blinks, surprised, and there's a hesitation there - but then he sticks his arm out. ”Go at it, big guy.”

Feeling brave and oddly defiant, Dorian sets his notebook on the coffee table and takes a light hold of Bull's thick wrist and massive elbow; then he faces the Qunari's slightly alarmed stare and arches his brow elegantly before bending down and pressing his full, silky lips right below the bend of the arm.

Bull starts a little, and his muscles tighten. Dorian holds his grip, swirls his tongue against the skin, and sucks gently. After he is done, he pulls off and inspects the small red mark he left. The characteristic metallic shimmer of the skin seems more intense now that it is wet. He wants nothing more than to kiss it again, but pulls himself together, lets go of the arm, and sits back up.

”Thank you,” he says. He returns to his notebook without giving Bull so much as a glance.

Taste: salty, sharp, similar to the scent, with a hint of sweetness. Skin texture thick, smooth, leather-like, soft, almost velvety. Very warm. (Want to suck his cock!)

”You are most helpful,” Dorian says.

When there is no answer, he eventually lifts his eyes and takes a careful look at his quiet guest.

Bull is staring at him with an ostensibly neutral expression, and for a moment Dorian is uncertain how to interpret what he is seeing. Behind his usual good-natured mask Bull is hard to read on best of days, and Dorian, never good with people and relationships anyway, is far too self-centered to be overly perceptive - but he is pretty good at detecting want. Especially when it's aimed at him. Therefore, initially slightly disappointed with the lack of a clear reaction he was hoping for, he takes note of Bull's hands squeezed into tight fists; the slight flaring of his nostrils; the way his iris is eclipsed by the blown out pupil.

Dorian covers a smile. Perhaps he should just climb in Bull's lap and straight up kiss the man. He is not shy, and Bull would appreciate the gesture, he's pretty sure… but there is such a strange fragility to this moment, that suddenly he is feeling insecure and quite overwhelmed, and decides to prolong the game a little further. It's not like he isn't enjoying himself.

”Alright,” he says and stretches his arms casually, so that his shirt pulls open and reveals a wider triangle of soft, golden skin. ”If you don't mind, I have some questions about the... act. Anything particular one should take into account when sleeping with a Qunari?”

Bull blinks slowly, then shrugs. ”Since we have such big dicks, preparation is important,” he says coolly. Dorian's cheeks turn crimson, but he keeps the eye contact. Bull continues: ”Also, there's a chance of getting crushed, scratched, bruised, and bitten, especially if the Qunari counterpart is inexperienced with humans. And since we have notable stamina, our partners tend to get sore before we get worn out.”

”Sounds intense.”

”It can be. Then again, there are folks who enjoy that kind of ride.”

Sex: Big Dicks, Must Prepare Well. Great stamina. Scratching & biting? Bull possibly being an asshole about this. Still hot though.

Dorian twirls his pen, then sticks the end of it between his front teeth, as he pretends to check on his notes. ”Hmmm,” he says - and sucks the pen thoughtfully, pouting his lips. ”How about oral? How does it work with such big dicks?”

Silence. They stare at each other, calm, quiet. The moment stretches between them, until it reaches the point where it is too late to make a joke out of it anymore. The air is beginning to gain that particular charged quality that starts to build before an explosion or a lightning strike.

”I like games well enough,” Bull says finally, his voice deep and thick, strained tighter than Dorian can ever remember hearing it. His shoulders have risen, horns pointing forward. ”But I am telling you right now: do not - ” he pauses, his face twists ”- just do not. Not with this.”

Dorian tenses and feels a sharp sting of guilt. He never wanted to be cruel, certainly not towards Bull, but now he feels like he is. Ashamed, he looks away. “Oh, Bull.”

“Dorian.”

“Bull, I am not playing. Well, I am, but it's not - it's just that - ” Dorian bites his lip. Shit. How can this be so hard? It's ridiculous: he is not shy and far from a blushing virgin. Come on, Pavus. Dorian opens his eyes, bright and impudent. ”I want you.”

And there it is.

Bull sits absolutely still. His pupil seems to dilate, then sharpen to a pinpoint.

Slowly, he sets Baby Toth aside, and spreads his arms on the back of the couch, opening himself up. ”Come here,” he says, his voice so low it resonates on every surface of the room.

Dorian feels a shiver run through his very core, and it takes a moment before he manages to move: he puts his notebook and pen away, scrambles up, and steps right in front of Bull, positioning himself between the muscular legs.

Bull is warm. Bull is always warm, but now he is burning, and this close Dorian can feel his heat enveloping him, pulling him in. He tries his best to keep the eye contact, yet it is so hard: too intense, too much, but he tries because it seems the right thing to do. He tries to smile too: honestly, simply this time, without all the overtones he usually gilds his smile with -

- and then, right then Bull swallows, as if nervous, and something about that small gesture devastates Dorian. He is suddenly overwhelmed by the strangest feeling: it is some kind of joyful, overpowering tenderness that makes his heart swell; it aches under his ribs, catches his breath -

Abruptly, Dorian falls down on his knees. He presses his cheek against Bull's soft lower belly, and wraps his arms tightly around his bulk, as the last traces of pretense leave him. He can feel tears burning under his lids, and he is both surprised and deeply irritated by his own reaction, for he is not tender, never has been.

Bull's fingers are immediately in his hair, kind and soothing; he is making low, comforting noises, and the next thing Dorian knows, he is lifted up and positioned sideways in Bull's lap, held securely in the ring of those impossible arms. Dorian can feel Bull’s erection - hard, huge, unsurprising - against his bottom, but at this moment it is just as meaningless as his own.

”Look at you,” Bull mumbles in his hair, ”look at you - ”

It should be humiliating, being held this way, but Dorian finds a shameless thrill in how small and helpless Bull makes him feel; intoxicated, he snuggles closer. They stay like that for a long while, but finally Bull touches his chin, urging him to look up. Bull gives him a hard stare.

”You wish to sleep with me?”

At this point it should be a statement: it is a question instead. Dorian feels a snarky reply coming, but shoves it back. No room here for anything but honesty. ”Yes.”

“Good. That’s good.” Bull’s expression softens a bit, and Dorian dares to let his gaze wander. He’s never seen Bull up this close, and it feels... strange. He studies the old scars striping the silver skin and gentle mouth, the stubby eyelashes framing the sharp, pale eye. It is all so wonderful to him, as if he is seeing it all for the very first time. Bull touches his cheek, draws his attention back. “Now, listen, Dorian. The thing is, I so - so - want to just jump and ravish you. But that’s not the way to do this. Not the first time.” He touches the tip of Dorian’s nose. “What do you need? What can I do for you?”

Dorian feels his mouth trembling. ”...whatever you want.”

”Oh, but that's dangerous.”

”I trust you.”

Bull studies his face, serious. ”I know.”

”I think I’ve trusted you ever since you took me home for the first time.”

Bull presses his finger to Dorian’s lips, as if to shush him. ”Oh, I wanted to take you alright.” His lone eye narrows with a warm laughter. Dorian blinks, surprised.

”You desired me back then?”

”The moment I laid my eye on you,” Bull slowly kisses his temple, the shell of his ear, gently sucks his earlobe. ”You were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.” Dorian shivers and closes his eyes, overwhelmed by the touch and the words, the sheer closeness of the man. He allows himself just to drift blissfully for a moment, before steeling himself.

“Bull.”

“Yes, Dorian?”

“Since you asked - there is something I need from you though.” He faces Bull’s steady gaze. ”I want you to promise that we will remain friends, after.”

Bull winces, as if he’s been hit. ”Always,” his rushed voice is thick and impossibly tender. He kisses Dorian’s hair. ”Always.” And somehow the fact that he doesn’t laugh or call Dorian silly makes all the difference. “Anything else?”

Dorian thumbs a pearly button on Bull's shirt. It feels smooth and hard. “Well. If you could kindly consider properly fucking me into the mattress, I’d be grateful.” He intends to make it sound humorous, but it comes out too harsh, defiant. Bull, curse him, notices, and pulls away. He gives Dorian a pointed look. Dorian groans. ”Sorry. It's just that it's… been a while.”

”You've been celibate?”

”No! Well, almost. What I mean is, it's been ages since I had - penetrative sex.” Dorian looks away, ashamed, although he knows he shouldn't be. ”And before you ask, no, Trev never wanted to be inside me.”

”Some people have that preference,” Bull says carefully. ”How long has it been?”

”I don't know.”

”Yes, you do.”

”Yes I do, but that is none of your business.” He gives Bull an irritated side glance. Bull won’t push it: he simply nods, and moves the hand that is not supporting Dorian's shoulders to his ribcage. He smooths his fingers over the silk of Dorian's shirt; the fine fabric rasps as his rough fingertips glide over it.

”I am going to fuck you so hard,” he whispers, and Dorian answers with a whole-body shudder. Smiling, Bull bends down, speaks against his skin. ”It’s going to be good.” Then pulls back and looks him in the eye again. ”Things you should know.”

“More things?”

”Yes. More things.” Bull ignores Dorian’s eye roll. “I prefer to take the lead in the bedroom. If I’ve been reading you right, you don’t have a problem with it - if I am wrong, I want you to tell me now.” Dorian grins, feels a pleasant heat coiling in his belly.

”Oh, no. I don’t have a problem with it.”

Bull nods. “Just know that I will never, ever, do anything you don't want, and if at some point, any point, for whatever reason, you feel like you can't go on, that is fine: you can refuse me. You understand this?”

”I understand.”

Bull’s hand begins to glide along Dorian's sides and chest again, back and forth, back and forth, down to his hips, and up to his shoulders, having a short feel on Dorian's nipple rings every time they pass.

”Mmmh,” Dorian arches greedily into the touch, lifts his head. His eyes are huge, glimmering orbs under the dark fans of his long lashes. ”Kiss me now?”

Bull shifts, and Dorian finds himself lying on his back, Bull looming above him. It should be terrifying, being positioned under someone so huge, but all Dorian feels is safe and hopelessly aroused. Bull catches his face in his large hand and hums, as the smaller man leans into the touch; then he bends down, until their mouths are almost touching, and stays there, calm, immobile, breathing on Dorian's lips.

”Ask me again,” he mumbles. Dorian lets out a sharp little laugh.

”I most certainly will not.”

Bull's other hand curls in his hair and takes a firm grip. Dorian moans, as his whole body flashes burning hot. Bull noses his face. ”Be a good boy for me now.”

”Kiss me, please,” Dorian practically whines, and he would hate himself for it, if the whole situation wasn't so unbearably hot.

Satisfied, Bull begins to pepper feather-light kisses all over Dorian's face: his cheeks, nose, forehead, temples, down along his jawline... instinctively, Dorian bares his neck; Bull laughs at the blatantly submissive gesture. ”That's better.” He goes to press his wide open mouth on Dorian's throat, covering most of it.

Dorian feels a pang of panic as Bull worries the sensitive skin with his sharp teeth, but Bull is gentle, so gentle - until he sucks hard and abruptly, enough to leave a mark. Dorian cries out, but is quickly silenced by two of Bull's fingers gliding into his mouth.

Without hesitation, Dorian sucks. He closes his eyes to better taste and feel Bull's skin as the blunt, rough fingertips press down on his tongue; too soon though Bull pulls them out and circles Dorian's full lips, spreading saliva around. ”So gorgeous,” he mumbles. Dorian tries to suck the fingers back in, but Bull has other ideas: he takes a gentle hold of Dorian's chin and leans down to finally kiss him.

Bull's mouth is wide, warm and dominating, and after only a couple of seconds Dorian decides he would happily do nothing else for the rest of his life. Bull kisses him sweet and slow, cradling his skull and rubbing his back and hips; Dorian responds by whimpering softly and caressing Bull's horns.

Back in Tevinter kissing used to be an afterthought, a rarity. With Trevelyan it was an everyday occurrence; either a friendly greeting or a formality before getting to sex. With Bull… it has never been like this with anyone else: intoxicating, definitely, but also unbearably intimate and kind. There's such a feeling of care and affection there, that although Dorian doesn't dare to count on this ever becoming anything more than a one time thing, he hopes.

Oh, how he hopes.

Dorian presses closer and opens up properly, inviting Bull all the way in. Bull deepens the kiss immediately, and lets his tongue slip inside; he begins to swirl it around, suck and tease. Dorian, feeling dizzy and more and more uncomfortable in his tight jeans, tries to reach up to grind himself against Bull's bulk - but Bull stops him, and interrupts the kiss. ”Let's take this to the bedroom,” he pants, and gets abruptly up on his feet. Dorian squeaks, and tightens his grip. Bull laughs. “Easy there, big guy.”

Venhedis! Excuse me, but I can walk!”

”Nah. I am not going to let go of you before I've fucked you at least twice.”

In the bedroom, Bull lays Dorian down on the mattress. Dorian goes to unbutton his shirt, but is stopped by a low growl erupting from Bull's throat; he rolls his eyes, but goes limp all the same, allowing Bull to take the lead.

”I like the shirt,” Bull admits, as he starts unbuttoning the piece of clothing in question. “Got it just for me, didn’t you?”

“Maybe.”

“Clever boy.”

Bull’s fingers are surprisingly nimble, considering he is missing some, and it takes only a moment before he has undressed Dorian's upper body. He stares at the beautifully sculpted muscles and shimmering plains of golden brown skin, and growls again. “I must say I like what's underneath the shirt even better.” He lays his hand on Dorian's chest, letting it run all over his torso. Dorian, enjoying the simple touch, sighs happily and studies Bull's expression: he doesn't think anyone has ever looked at him quite so adoringly.

Bull traces Dorian’s snake tattoos with his blunted claw, the same way he did on that night in the club, and glances at his face, checking in. ”Doing okay there?”

”Yes.”

Bull sets his hands on Dorian's hips, leans down and runs the tip of his tongue along Dorian's belly. He makes some slow, random patterns before moving higher and higher until he reaches a dusky, puckered nipple. He flicks the glittering ring attached there with his tongue, then sucks the nipple in his mouth. Dorian draws air through his teeth; Bulls's hands glide to cover his sides, while his mouth keeps on moving from one nipple to another, sucking and nipping.

”Beautiful,” Bull mumbles. He kisses both nipples one more time, then smacks a big one right on Dorian's lips, and gets up. Dorian whines and reaches for him, but Bull pushes him back on the bed. ”Patience. I need to take a look at something.” Unceremoniously, he unzips Dorian's jeans and opens the button; then he pulls his pants and underwear off with a practiced movement.

”Well hello there,” he says, as a pleased grin spreads on his face. He eyes Dorian's cock, delightfully hard and leaking already, and just as pretty as the rest of him. ”Very nice.” He leans down again, blows some air on the silky skin. ”We two are going to have some fun.” Dorian lets out a heartfelt groan.

Fasta vass, would you please stop talking to my dick, you ridiculous man!”

”Now, now, no need to be jealous.” Bull winks, of all things. ”There's also another thing I've been wanting to make acquaintance with as long as I've known you.” Dorian has a pretty good idea what that might be, but he doesn't get the chance to voice his guess, because Bull flips him easily on his stomach, interrupting him. Tingling with anticipation, Dorian closes his eyes.

”Fuck.” The dreamy sigh Bull lets out is nothing short of reverent. ”Fuck, I knew it'd be nice, but just look at that thing.” Dorian can't help a half hysterical laughter; Bull pokes one of his cheeks with his finger, as if checking if it is real, and then lets his hand glide greedily over the plump, smooth arches. ”You know your ass should be cast in gold and worshipped.”

”...help yourself to the worshipping part.”

”Intend to.” Bull takes a good grip on both of Dorian's cheeks, and begins to knead them earnestly, squeezing and pinching as he goes. When he bites Dorian in the middle of his left cheek, it is not exactly a surprise, but Dorian jumps and cries out nevertheless. Bull does a couple more sharp nips, then slaps the behind, hard. ”Damn, look at that bounce.” He presses a string of gentle kisses across the reddened, soft skin. ”Can't wait to get in here.”

”Could we please get down to business, then?” Dorian glances at him over his shoulder, peeved. ”Why are you still dressed, exactly?”

Bull smirks, but apparently doesn't feel like arguing. He pulls off his suit jacket, then palms his erection, adjusts himself a bit. ”I am wearing my Hivernal underwear.”

”Of course you are.”

The thing with the Qunari is, they have no shame when it comes to their bodies. Dorian knows this; he remembers all too well the fateful night when Bull stood wet, naked, and as carefree as you please in his hallway. And he is reminded of it again when Bull finally steps out of his precious underwear, sets his hands casually on his hips, and presents Dorian his cock.

”Gonna write that?” he asks, and points at the organ, then goes to flip it so that it springs outward and right back with a satisfying heavy slap.

Dorian makes an incredulous sound, and stares at Bull's erection with pure, unadulterated awe. It is… impressive. Proportioned, definitely; The Iron Bull is a mountain of muscles and scars, and his cock fits that image perfectly. It is also, as far as Dorian is concerned, utterly gorgeous. He lets his eyes take in every detail: the frighteningly thick veiny shaft, the pleasantly shaped crown gleaming purple and satiny silver in the low light of the room, the small tuft of coarse-looking hair, the ridiculously heavy balls.

Maker have mercy on me.

”Not all talk, then, I see,” he utters weakly. Bull laughs and sits down on the side of the bed. They stare at each other for a long moment.

”Hey, we don't have to do this if you are having second thoughts,” Bull says. Dorian's eyes bulge.

”What?”

”I am just saying it's a lot to take -”

”Shut up and get your ridiculous bulk over here!”

Bull takes Dorian's hand, and kisses his knuckles. ”Alright.” He moves himself properly on the bed, stacks some pillows up against the headboard, and leans back, taking care not to scrape the wall with his horns. He looks pretty amused, probably due to Dorian’s bossiness. Dorian sits up on his knees and inspects his lover-to-be for a moment.

“Bull, may I see you?”

Bull frowns. “I don’t see how I could get more naked than - ” and then he understands. A ghost of an expression flashes over his face: vulnerable, uncomfortable. His hand goes to touch his eye pad. “Ah.”

“I am sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s okay, but I’m warning you: it won’t be pretty.” He pulls the pad off.

Dorian blinks and bites his tongue so as not to say anything inconsiderate. The scar is ugly, no way around it. But - it is Bull. He touches the injury carefully: his delicate fingers run along the edges of the hollow socket and the ragged, shimmery marks, and his heart swells with sorrow and pity. He leans in and kisses it softly. He can hear Bull hissing; whether it’s because he is embarrassed or something else, he can’t tell. “Does it hurt?” he whispers.

“Some nerve pain every now and then. But seriously, I didn’t carry you up here so that you can examine my damn injuries, so…”

Dorian glances at Bull’s bad leg - all those knotted scars - and thinks how he wants to take a good look at that too and see if maybe there’s a way he can bring some relief for the aches he knows bother Bull on most days -

“Dorian.”

“Yes.”

“Get on top of me, sweetheart.“

Dorian winces at the endearment, but goes.

The first time their naked bodies make contact is electrifying: they both gasp and immediately melt into the embrace, wrapping tightly and securely around each other. Dorian closes his eyes, almost delirious, and soon the surrounding world ceases to exist, and all there is is the cocoon of warmth, breathing, and heartbeat.

It is impossible to say how long they stay like that, enthralled by the closeness of the other. At some point Bull mutters something in Dorian's hair, but it's in Qunlat, and he doesn't understand.

”What was that?” Dorian whispers against Bull's chest; he spreads his fingers carefully, feeling the incredible heat of the silver skin and the thunderous boom of Bull's heart. Bull ignores the question, begins to caress Dorian's body instead, and soon they are kissing again. This time there is no gentleness, no patience; their tongues entwine as they are devouring each other, and their breathing turns hot and ragged. Dorian's hands travel over Bull's scarred body, wherever he can reach, with adoring curiosity, eventually wrapping around the marvelous throbbing member. Bull grunts, and freezes for a moment, clearly unable to concentrate on anything else than the feel of soft fingers on his cock.

”Fuck,” he says.

”I want you. I need.” Dorian swallows. ”Please.”

”Yeah - yeah.” Bull pulls Dorian up and unceremoniously turns him over so that his back is against his chest. ”I kinda wanted to lick you all over first, but let's save that for the next round.” He kisses Dorian deeply, then wraps his arm under Dorian's knees and pulls them up, so that his ass is lifted and properly exposed. ”You know you make a surprisingly compact little bundle.” He rocks Dorian on his chest, amused, and pats his thigh benevolently.

”For Maker's sake -” Dorian chokes when warm, hard fingers press lightly under his balls, then glide down to his opening. ”Oh!”

”Lube?”

”...in the drawer.”

 

***

 

Bull is very gentle, very persistent, very controlled. Almost too aware of everything. He kisses Dorian soothingly through the preparation, his fingers working relentlessly, in and out, patient, methodical, and despite his disheveled state Dorian can feel him watching every little reaction.

Calculative bastard, Dorian thinks hazily, out of his mind with pleasure, and then the sentiment is swept away, as the fingers disappear, his body is lifted up, and turned again. Dorian finds himself under Bull, staring at his kind and serious face.

”Alright, sweetheart,” Bull says. ”Ready?”

”Stop - calling me - sweetheart - ”

”No.”

”I am not sweet.”

”Yes you are. Are you ready?”

”I was ready half an hour ago!”

Bull chuckles, spreads Dorian's trembling legs as wide as they can possibly go, and pushes the tip of his heavy cock inside him, never breaking the eye contact. Dorian arches and moans, reveling in the almost painful stretch. It's been so long, and it feels so good -

”Oh!” He is panting now, so shamelessly turned on it almost horrifies him. ”Bull! Oh!”

”Yes,” Bull mumbles and takes a good grip of his knees, ”that's it,” and then he slides all the way in, bottoming with a content grunt. Dorian makes a shuddering noise - and comes, abruptly and violently, incapable of stopping himself. Bull lets out a surprised laugh, and then kisses him through the long orgasm, undulating softly against him; Dorian moans in his mouth, as his body twitches and trembles.

Once Dorian is back down, Bull touches his face, ice green eye wide with awe. ”You good?”

”I'm -” Dorian tries to open his eyes, to talk. ”Bull, I'm sorry.”

”No! Shit, that was so hot,” Bull noses Dorian's cheek. ”You want to take a minute?” He pulls almost out of Dorian's body; Dorian, panicking, grabs him. He is feeling borderline over-stimulated, but the idea of Bull leaving fills him with fear.

”No!”

Bull makes a soothing sound. ”It's alright, I'm not going anywhere.” He takes both of Dorian's hands in his, and rubs them gently. After a couple of minutes he rolls his hips, experimenting. Dorian gasps; sensing Bull moving inside him sets his whole body on fire again.

”You feel fucking incredible,” Bull mutters, and thrusts again, a bit harder. ”I can't believe I finally get to do this to you, I've wanted you for so long.”

Dorian slots his fingers tighter in between Bull's and kisses him feverishly; Bull reciprocates and begins to fuck Dorian slow and steady, angling himself in a way that makes Dorian cry with pleasure. He won't move his eye off Dorian's face.

”Dorian...” he sounds so helpless, so tender - and Dorian can't prevent a small sob, and that's when he can feel Bull just lose it. The Qunari's face winces, and he pulls Dorian flush against himself, letting out a desperate growl; his fingers curl in Dorian's hair, and he kisses him with a devastating force, the control of the body still there, but the control of emotions absolutely gone.

”Dorian,” he mumbles against Dorian's panting mouth, ”Dorian, Dorian - ”

He loves me, Dorian thinks, and the thought makes a sweet ache bloom under his ribs.

Bull picks up his pace, thrusting harder and harder, until Dorian feels blinding pleasure building and finally exploding inside him again, and he spends himself on his belly. Just as he is beginning to come down, Bull gets tense above him, and comes with a thunderous groan.

 

***

 

Bull is purring.

That is the only word Dorian can think of. They have settled in the bathtub under the shower head; Dorian has positioned himself in Bull's lap - his new favorite place - and Bull is purring and washing his hair lovingly . He is also speaking in Qunlat again, and Dorian has no courage to ask, but he enjoys the way he can feel the guttural words inside his body, resonating through Bull's chest. He presses tighter against the wet, massive pectorals, and kisses the skin affectionately. They've gone two rounds, and he is sore, sated, and craving for more. More sex, more… everything.

I want him to stay, Dorian thinks, and dares to hope: surely he will stay.

”Would you spend the night?” he asks quietly. There are water droplets hanging from his long lashes. Bull stops. His face changes, barely noticeably, but Dorian sees it anyway, and his heart shrivels. He turns away, suddenly cold. ”I am sorry, I shouldn't have assumed.”

”I never stay,” Bull says. ”I've never stayed, after, not with anyone.” He sighs. ”It's mostly a Ben-Hassrath thing, being overly careful, too suspicious, really, to trust anyone enough to share your bed with. A Qunari thing too, I suppose -”

”You don't have to explain.” Dorian attempts to get up, to remove himself from the tub, from Bull's lap; Bull lays a hand on his arm, lightly, not forcing him.

”But I would like to stay with you.”

Dorian blinks, looks at him. ”You would?” His heart is beating again, fast, breathless.

”Unless you kick me out.” Bull gives a sheepish smile. “But I rather you wouldn’t.”

Dorian, feeling bashful all of a sudden, buries his face in Bull's armpit; the idea of sleeping in the same bed with Bull and waking up next to him is overwhelming. They fall quiet for a moment. The water is still showering on them, warm and soothing.

”You must be aware that I am in love with you,” Bull says matter-of-factly.

Yes, Dorian thinks. But before he can decide whether to say it out loud or respond some other way, Bull presses a finger on his lips. ”You don't have to say anything, I just wanted you to know. That's all. No pressure, no expectations.”

”Oh.” Dorian doesn't know what to do. He wants to say it back - he is in love with Bull, isn't he? - but he is feeling insecure, and something is holding him back, because the last time he said it to someone...

So instead he begins to knead the soft tissue at Bull's sides, and licks the dark nipple enticingly. Bull makes a pleased sound, and presses his hands on his ass, grinding against him. ”Feel like getting creative?” he rumbles. ”I might tie you up this time and suck you off if you ask nicely...” Dorian shows teeth.

”You’ve still got energy left, old man?”

”Keep up with that attitude, and you'll get spanked, brat.”

Dorian gasps, delighted.

 

***

 

Dorian doesn't think he has ever slept as well as he does when resting in Bull's arms that night. He has never, ever, felt so safe and protected, so warm - and when he wakes up the next morning, he finds himself curled up on Bull's chest, and Baby Toth curled up on his butt.

Bull laughs and calls them ”the cutest pile”. Dorian is laughing too. Baby Toth gets offended by the trembling of his chosen sleeping spot, and leaves. Just as well, because Bull has plans for Dorian's butt. Dorian, still quite sore from last night, calls him cruel - but then again, he likes a little bit of cruel every now and then.

”Savage,” he mutters against Bull's morning breath. Bull nips his lip.

”Sweetheart.” His eye goes oh, so soft. ”Kadan.”

Chapter Text

I wish I could tell him I love him, Dorian thinks.

It is a sunny morning, mid Harvestmere, and they are making their way to the marketplace to buy some vegetables and carnations, if Bull gets his way. Bull is describing some silly happening down at the Embassy, his demeanor still soft and languid, his voice mellower than usual this early in the morning, as if they were still in bed together and people passing by didn't exist.

Dorian examines his open face, his kind eye that looks like a piece of light green glass in the fresh slanted light, and feels unbearably fond.

The realization that he has never been happier should, perhaps, come as a shock.

Ever since they fell into bed together, his relationship with Bull has become the most joyos and satisfying thing in his life. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, of course; Dorian is fiery and entitled and easily annoyed by Bull’s firm patience - but their arguments are never serious or truly hurtful. They are so charmed and intoxicated by each other, that being apart has become almost unbearable. Unfortunately Bull's work ties him up on most days and some nights too, but whenever he gets a chance, he comes to Dorian: they talk, they laugh, they have sex. Marvelous, creative, mind blowing sex.

As exhilarating as touching someone for the very first time may be, there's something to be said about getting to know someone: they are learning each other in new ways, mapping each other's bodies and souls not merely as friends anymore but as lovers, and having a blast with it. Bull especially is downright delirious with this, as he’s never had a chance to do it before: he may have had a ridiculous amount of one night stands in his life, but he’s never had anything akin to a relationship. He is appreciative, and Dorian, emotionally so often neglected, feels grateful as well: Tevinter to the bone, he shows it by showering Bull with unreserved affection; Bull reciprocates with praise, adoration, and care.

They are connected. They are close. They are happy.

It is all rather sickening, really.

The only thing Dorian has a problem with are the public displays of affection - after all he couldn’t do that in Tevinter, and even Trevelyan kept their relationship sort of hush hush - but he is getting better, and occasionally Bull's shameless adoration melts his prickly exterior, and Dorian agrees to be kissed in the grocery store or, as it happens, allows Bull to hold his hand on their way to the marketplace.

I wish I could tell him I love him.

Because Dorian does. He really, really does.

It was easy telling the words to Trevelyan; he meant them too - but not quite this way, not this deeply, this desperately. He wants to say those words to Bull, and make the other understand how much he means them, but he never seems to get his mouth open. Hiding it all in his heart feels safer than letting it out in the open.

Bull gets his carnations, of course. Dorian handpicks them himself, putting together a delightful combination of pinks and reds. A little boy who can't be older than five, possibly the vendor's son, is gaping at Bull.

”Are you one of those Qunari?” he asks. Bull turns to look at the serious little face, and smiles. He loves kids - Dorian, as a rule, not so much. He is not familiar with children, and truth be told, they kind of scare him. Bulls taps the side of one of his impressive horns.

”Yep.”

“You’re big.”

“I am huge,” Bull confirms, and winks at his Tevinter paramour who lets out a faint groan. The boy looks suspicious.

“You eat people?”

Bull lays his hand on Dorian's shoulder and opens his mouth, but before he can even begin to say the filthy thing he is about to, Dorian slaps him with the bouquet of carnations.

“Enough! We are leaving.”

“He’s bossy,” the boy makes a face. Bull nods vehemently.

“You have no idea.”

 

***

 

Back at Dorian's house, Bull arranges the carnations in a vase and sets them on the kitchen table. Meanwhile, Dorian has received a phone call from Sera and collapsed on the couch.

”Everyone is so friggin dull now that they are seeing someone,” she complains. ”Ellana and Elfie Elf are attached by the hip and all lovey-dovey-kissy-shitty, and you are not any better.”

”I am sorry,” Dorian sighs, ”I know I have been neglecting you. Why don't we go and do something outrageous this weekend?”

”Yeah? Wanna throw water balloons at Chantry robes?”

”...I was thinking something along the lines of going to an amusement park?”

”Alright, I guess.” She pauses. ”So how is it going for you and the big horny dude anyway?”

“It's been good. Big Horny Dude is quite sweet. And horny.” Dorian smiles at Bull, who has appeared in the room, and winks at him.

”Haha, ew, I bet you and your dirty bits love it.”

”Maker help me, we do.”

Bull steps closer and leans over Dorian, his eye twinkling. He mouths the words I’m horny? Dorian presses his bare foot against his massive chest, keeps him away. ”So how about you?” he asks Sera. ”Met anyone interesting?”

”Well there was this dwarf girl in the bar the other night...”

”Oh? Tell me more.”

”She's all tiny. Real cute and such, laughs a lot and can’t shut up for the life of her, but that’s okay. I hear she’s good with crafting and machinery and shit.”

“Does she have a name?” Dorian watches as Bull steps back, leers, and unzips his jeans.

“Dagna. Is that a weird ass name? I dunno. But she’s a dwarf, so.”

”It’s a lovely name and you should ask her out.”

”But d'ya think she'd like me?” Sera sounds uncharacteristically sheepish. Dorian hesitates. Sera, as funny and loyal as she may be, is sort of an acquired taste, definitely not for everyone.

”I don't see why not,” he says carefully. He is beginning to find it hard to concentrate, because Bull is sticking his hand inside his jeans now, all the while grinning in a most annoying way. ”You said she laughs a lot, so she probably likes wild and hilarious. I say go for it.”

”Yeah, I suppose. Might give it a try.”

Dorian stares as Bull pulls out his magnificent cock, and begins to stroke it leisurely. ”Let me know how that goes. Listen, sweetie - could we continue this later on?” He confronts Bull's eye. ”I have to go and eat something.”

 

***

 

”Actually,” Dorian says afterwards, ”I really am kind of hungry.” He is situated securely in between Bull’s muscular thighs, nuzzling his groin: Bull’s scent is strongest here, and it makes Dorian feel safe and wonderfully dizzy. Bull rubs his scalp affectionately with his claws.

”I think you just want to rinse your mouth, pretty boy.” Dorian snorts. Bull caresses his pouty lower lip - one of his favorite things to do nowadays. ”We could go to that small restaurant just down the street.”

”Yes. Let's do that.” Dorian kisses Bull’s softened cock. ”Thank you for the appetizer.”

”Hah.”

The restaurant, pompously named Comtesse, is not one of Dorian's favorites, but it is nice enough and it is close. They park the car across the street, and as they step out of the vehicle, it begins to rain. Bull pulls Dorian immediately inside his coat; Dorian looks up at him and smiles. He thinks back to the night Bull brought him home and got stuck because of the rain. Has it really been almost a year since that happened?

Bull steers them towards the door. Once in, they get a secluded corner booth, and order some Orlesian chicken, bean salad, and a bottle of Sun Blonde.

Dorian sips his wine and stares out the window. The afternoon suddenly looks so dark: slow, cold rain is pattering the glass, muffling the sounds of slow traffic outside, and painting the world with flickering shadows. On days like this he misses Tevinter so bad it hurts his stomach. Still - there is no place on Thedas he’d rather be right now. He glances at Bull across the table. A tealight casts golden shimmer over the man’s face, softening his scarred features, making his lone eye look even more gentle than usual - and then he smiles. Charmed, Dorian takes his hand and squeezes.

”I've been thinking,” Bull says, and fondles his fingers delicately. Dorian tilts his head.

”Been thinking about what?”

”Been thinking that we should… you know. Talk. About us.” Dorian blinks, immediately alarmed.

”You're unhappy with something?”

”Shit, no. You are fucking perfect. I just wanted to see if we are on the same page here.”

”And which page is that?”

Bull looks lost. He really has no idea, Dorian thinks. It is quite endearing. ”I was just wondering,” Bull clears his throat. “Would you say we are a couple?” Dorian raises a teasing eyebrow.

”Would you?”

”I don't know shit about this relationship stuff, but - yeah?” Bull looks hopeful. ”I mean, I'd like us to be.”

”Me too.” Dorian kisses his knuckles, then hesitates. ”Exclusively?”

“I assume that’s what you want?”

Dorian can’t keep a frown from flashing across his face. “From my part, I don’t want or need anyone else. And you know that I am devoted.”

“Even when they don’t deserve it.”

Dorian looks away. He hasn’t thought about Trevelyan for ages, and he certainly doesn’t miss the man, but it still stings. He turns his eyes back to Bull. “And what about you then?” He continues before Bull has a chance to open his mouth, feeling a bit jittery: “To make it clear, I am aware that you have a diverse appetite, and there are things I can't give you. So I understand if I am not... enough, and I want you to know that I am fine with you looking for those things elsewhere, as long as you are honest about it.” He almost manages to sound sincere.

Bull leans back in his chair, his expression somewhere between amused and all too matter-of-fact. “You are thinking I might wanna go and fuck a woman.” Dorian wrinkles his nose in distaste.

“Like I said, I don’t have a problem with it as long as you don’t lie. And agree to take a long bath afterwards. And - “ Dorian closes his eyes, “don’t fall in love with anyone else.” Bull stays quiet for a long moment; then he begins to laugh. Dorian looks up, irritated.

“I fail to see why this is funny.”

“You are so full of shit.”

“...excuse me?”

“Don’t pretend that you’d be fine with it, because you absolutely would not be.” His voice softens to a velvety rumble. “And just so you know: I am not missing anything. You are almost more than I can handle, in bed and outside of it, you are enough.”

”Well if you put it that way, I am not sure whether I should be flattered or - “

And that’s when Dorian realizes that something is wrong. Bull has frozen, staring somewhere behind Dorian's shoulder. His warm grin has vanished, his face showing only a blank mask now.

”Bull?” Dorian turns, worried, and follows the line of his stare. He finds it aimed at a young, dark-haired female elf with intense, carefully lined pale green eyes and a thin smile.

”Dorian,” Bull says slowly, without looking at him. ”You have to go.”

”Excuse me?”

”Go to the car, please.”

Alarmed, Dorian takes a closer look at the girl. She is sneering at him - not an uncommon reaction from an elf towards a Tevinter - but there's something strange about her, about her sharp, shameless stare, the way her willowy frame is curled up like a snake ready to strike... And then it hits him.

Ben-Hassrath.

Now, Dorian.” Bull’s voice has a clear edge; Dorian fumbles up to his feet, and sets an offended look on his face.

”Fine then. I trust you'll take care of the bill.”

”Yes.”

He turns and storms away - but instead of doing as he was told (he really is not very good at that), he fade-steps behind a nearby column. It is by a corner, and makes an excellent hiding spot; neither Bull nor the girl will be able to spot him there.

This is it. The thought he’s been actively avoiding, the fact he’s been refusing to face ever since he and Bull became lovers, surfaces sharp and painful. They are going to send him away.

Dorian takes a deep breath and forces himself to stay calm. There’s no way Bull would go for it, not now, not anymore - and besides, this could be about something else altogether. After all, wouldn’t a notification of transfer arrive through some official channels, not by some random agent in a restaurant?

The girl walks by Bull's table, and Dorian watches with terrified curiosity as Bull changes. He hasn't seen this Bull for a long time, and it is like watching a stranger: the man he has come to know, while hard to read at times, is endlessly gentle and easy-going - this one belongs with Ben-Hassrath, and is cold, stern, and distant.

"Shanedan, Hissrad," she says softly. Bull doesn't invite her to sit down; she does anyway.

"Tallis," he says.

Dorian presses against the column and strains his ears. During the last few months he has been trying to learn some Qunlat - not only because he has come to love it during all the intimate moments when those harsh consonants and long vowels are spoken tenderly against his heated skin, but also because of the book he is writing - and although he is far from fluent, he knows some by now. Enough to eavesdrop anyway.

”How are you?” Tallis asks. She keeps on smiling; Bull doesn’t return the smile, but looks relaxed enough.

”I didn't - - (a few words Dorian doesn’t understand) see you in Kirkwall.”

Tallis' voice sounds teasing. ”Oh, you know. I was around. And they - - me the right person to deliver you a message.” She pauses. Her smile turns thin. ”I heard you - - pretty bas boys nowadays, looks like it is true.”

”Always did. None of your business.”

”Ah, ah, ah, Hissrad. This one is bas saarebas, you - - careful with it.”

”What do you want?”

Tallis lowers her voice so that Dorian can only hear a word here and there: “Viddasala”, “a fool” and “this boy”. Dorian bites his lip. It is about him, then. Shit. His hands begin to sweat.

Bull stares at Tallis, blank-faced. Then he stretches his neck as he always does when he wants people to pay attention to his horns. Dorian thinks how Tallis must have seen so many horns in her life that she probably is not very impressed or intimidated. When he speaks, his voice is even deeper than usual with a commanding tone: “I don't see how - - at all. He may be a Vint, but he saved Beresaad, and we - - . Viddasala agreed on this.”

”Yes, but now you are - - . And Qunandar thinks - - too far.” She looks annoyed; Bull's expression doesn't change, but he waves his hand dismissively.

”If Viddasala - - so much, she can - - .”

”Really, Hissrad?”

”Go home, little girl.”

The elf’s eyes widen; then she shows teeth, hisses, and Dorian catches just the beginning “You will - - “ and the end: “ - - unless you want me to pay him a visit. That’s an order.” Bull stares at her, his eye blazing with anger he doesn’t bother hiding. He gets up, and turns to walk away without goodbye.

”Anaan esaam Qun,” Tallis calls to his back.

”Yeah,” Bull says. He heads for the counter to take care of the bill; meanwhile Dorian slips outside, then into the car. He realizes his whole body is shaking.

Bull appears a minute later. He doesn't look at Dorian, just starts the car without buckling his seatbelt, which is a first.

”Are you alright?” Dorian asks carefully.

”Wait with it until we get to your place.”

At Dorian's house Bull doesn't take off his coat. He walks by the window, either to keep an eye on the street, or in order to not see Dorian's face. Probably both. He shoves his hands into his pockets. ”Sit down, please,” he says. There's a ghost of Qunlat in his speech. Usually Bull's accent is barely there; now it is apparent, and it puts a strange distance between them.

”I'd rather stand.” Dorian leans against the wall though, just in case. He knows - he thinks he knows - what is coming, but he asks anyway: “So what is this?”

”I have to come clean with you.”

Dorian waits, his heart pounding.

”My orders have changed.” Bull takes a long steady breath, closes his eyes. ”We are done.”

Everything goes quiet. For a moment Dorian can’t feel or think: he is filled with a numb stillness, a short blessing before the pain hits.

His thoughts and emotions crash in and begin to swirl chaotically, his mind refusing to believe what he is hearing. He knew something like this was coming, of course he did - but he had expected it to be along the lines of we have a problem and this is what we are going to do to fix it, because Bull always, always knows how to fix things, and Bull would never leave him, not after the conversation, the wonderful conversation they just had -

He curls up and makes a small pained sound - he thinks Bull winces at that - and when he finds he can finally talk, he manages just one word, immediately hating his own voice, because he sounds like a child lost: ”...Bull?”

”Don’t.”

Dorian grabs a nearby shelf to keep himself from collapsing to the floor. A minute goes by, maybe another. He opens his eyes. ”You - are telling me this was a lie?”

”Yes,” Bull says, his voice light as air. He is still staring out the window, apparently incapable of facing Dorian. His back is so tense, as if he's on the brink of tears, and Dorian wants nothing more than to go to him and offer his touch and comfort until the tension eases away. ”For what it's worth, I am sorry.” Bull squeezes his hands into tight fists. ”You deserve better.” He turns abruptly, and heads for the door; as he pulls the handle, the door slams shut. Bull freezes where he stands.

”Dorian,” he rumbles.

”No.”

”Open the door, Dorian.” Dorian shakes his head, and maintains the spell. His heart feels like it is about to burst out of his chest.

”You lie.”

”Yes, I told you, I lied, that's what I do.”

”No - you are lying now. About us. About how you feel.”

“Please don’t do this to yourself.”

“The way you touch me, and look at me, and kiss me - ”

Bull turns, faces him finally. ”You are seriously underestimating my skills as a Ben-Hassrath.”

”No. I may have underestimated your loyalty to your Masters, however.”

”Open the door, Dorian, I am warning you.” Dorian shakes his head again.

”I am not afraid of you.”

”Well you should be!”

”Bull, this is absurd. I know you love me. I know. Please, don't do this, just talk to me.” Bull grabs his own horns.

”I can't talk to you!” He slams his fist on the door so it makes a loud cracking sound. ”If I talk to you I can't make myself leave, and I have to leave.”

”Why?”

”For your safety.” His hand moves helplessly like it wants to reach for Dorian, pulls back. ”Please. Understand.” Dorian's eyes fill with tears.

”I can't stop you from leaving if you truly wish to go, but - ” his voice breaks, ”you said I deserve better, and it's only because of you that I believe that nowadays. If you walk away from me now without another word, you will absolutely destroy me. I am a rather fragile thing, unfortunately.”

Bull covers his face. Dorian watches him in silence. Then: “What did Tallis say?”

Bull doesn't ask how Dorian knows her name; he just looks up at the ceiling, and drags his hand over his face. ”They are... not happy. About us. They told me to get close to you, and befriend you, dig up whatever info I could find - but obviously they never meant me to love you. So now they are worried about my capability of doing my job, and to prove my loyalty I'm supposed to leave you.” Dorian swallows.

"Do they know that I know that you are one of them?” Bull gives him a regretful glance.

”I never should have told you.”

”You were hoping I'd find it sexy, weren't you?” Dorian aims for his usual snarkiness; it is a pitiful try, but Bull snorts nevertheless. Dorian hesitates. ”Did they tell you to kill me?”

”No. What you did for the Ambassador, even my superiors appreciate it.”

”Ah. How fortunate, that.”

”What the fuck was I thinking, I knew they'd never, ever let this be.” Dorian watches as Bull's long fingers spread on the wallpaper, his claws scratching the surface as if in pain, and his heart swells with pity. Then again, there’s a small part of him that thinks Bull deserves some pain after the show he put up - even though Dorian sort of understands why he did it. Just rip it off, and all that. Easier that way. Very professional. Bull leans his horns against the door, and closes his eye. ”There's more.”

”More? More than this?”

”They want me to visit the re-educators.”

Dorian's heart stops.

No. He is not sure he said it out loud, but perhaps he did, because Bull's back trembles. Dorian dashes forward, and then he is in Bull's arms, pressing against his warm chest. Nothing has ever made him feel safer, yet now he realizes it is the most dangerous place he could have ever put himself, dangerous for both of them. He sobs and tries to speak but his voice fails, the pain clawing his insides almost unbearable.

”You - the way you are is going to be gone! You are going to be gone, and - I will never see you again.” Dorian is wailing without shame now, and Bull gathers him tighter in his arms and kisses him in desperation; Dorian answers, then tears himself off and steps away. ”No. No: I will not give this up, I will not let them take you.” Bull reaches and wipes his eyes gently with his thumb; it comes out stained with black kohl.

”Sweetheart,” he says.

”I have no right to ask you this, but could you just quit?”

”One never really stops being Ben-Hassrath. At least not without qamek.

”Then we can… go somewhere, disappear, you‘re good at disappearing, surely?”

”Wherever we went, they'd find us. Especially since we are not the most discreet looking couple. A giant one-eyed Qunari and,” Bull touches Dorian's cheek, ”the most beautiful man in all of Thedas.”

Dorian ignores the compliment for once in his life. ”I'll make peace with my parents and we can hide in one of our family villas in Tevinter. We can make it like a fortress, we can -”

”Hush.” Bull smiles sadly. ”How many operators do you think we have in Tevinter? Besides, your parents would never allow it. They'd rather get me assassinated themselves than put you in such danger.”

Dorian buries his face in Bull's shirt. ”Then what do you suggest? What are we going to do?” He can feel Bull's fingers combing through his hair.

”You really should just let me go.”

Dorian tightens his grip. ”Never.” He can hear Bull sighing, but there is no answer to this question.

 

***

 

They spend the night wrapped tightly around each other. They don't sleep much; Dorian lies on Bull's chest, as he usually does, holding on like he is about to drown; Bull keeps stroking him and mumbling into his hair. They are soaking in each other's warmth, and as the first rays of sun reveal the pale horizon, they begin to kiss. There is not much tenderness, just bristling desperation, the dire need to get as much out of the other person as possible, something to hold, something to remember, as the precious seconds and minutes go by. They make love, but neither one manages to orgasm - neither do they care, sex is just an excuse to get closer before the chance to do so is gone.

My love, Dorian thinks, and the thought is like a dagger to his heart.

 

***

 

At 9.03 a.m., when Bull is already long gone, the phone rings. Dorian considers setting the device on fire, but picks up anyway.

”I heard,” Elissa says. Dorian doesn't ask how.

”Yes,” he says simply, his voice thick from crying and lack of sleep. Elissa stays quiet for a moment.

”I have no doubt they are listening to my phone - hello, there, Viddasala, you still owe me that beer - but I am going to say this anyway: there is...” Elissa stops, as if considering how to set her words just right. ”I believe there is a string to be pulled.”

”A string?”

”Well, he is more like a rope. Or possibly a chain.”

Dorian's heart beats faster. ”The Ambassador?”

”Grumpy and strange he may be, but he owes you his life, and he never forgets.”

”I mean no disrespect, but I don't see how he could help here. He is not part of the Priesthood, as far as I understand.”

Elissa chuckles. ”Let's just say that he has a friend.”

Chapter Text

On his way to the Embassy, Dorian is not sure what to anticipate, even less how to feel. He is so exhausted, so over-sensitive yet numb somehow, so emotionally fucking finished, that despite Elissa's encouraging words he doesn't really dare to hope for anything. However, as soon as he steps through the massive front door, collar still raised against the wind and the rain that is drumming the city today, there is a subtle change in his mood.

Perhaps it's the warm lights and the calming scent of tea after the wet, noisy outside world; perhaps it’s the overall feel of serenity and power that always seems to prevail in this place; whatever it is, suddenly Dorian feels a bit more stable, a bit less desperate. Which is silly, of course, considering that the Qun is the one trying to take Bull away from him. But then he always associates this place not so much with the Qun as he does with Sten, and Sten… well, perhaps the Ambassador can actually do something after all? Elissa had hinted he has some remarkable connections.

The receptionist, a young male with polished ram-style horns and an unfairly handsome face, greets him politely - that Dorian doesn't even think about checking him out speaks a lot about his state of mind - and leads him to the Ambassador's office.

Dorian finds Sten sitting behind a huge ebony desk. He looks severe and dignified in a dark suit and blood-red tie, his tight, silk-white braids gathered neatly in a ponytail. The stately impression is only ever so slightly ruined by a poster-size studio photograph of his cats he has framed and set on the wall behind him, right next to a propagandist piece of Qunari art (two members of the Antaam grabbing each other's arms in greeting). There's also a heart-shaped picture frame on his desk. Dorian can't see who's in it, but he has a good hunch.

”Dorian,” Sten says and shifts the square bifocals he is wearing down on his nose. He nods at an oversized, comfortable-looking chair. Dorian sits down. He has never met the Ambassador during business hours, in the official setting, and normally he'd try acting all courteous and elegant, but today he just can't manage it. He still has the good sense of feeling ashamed when Sten eyes his puffy, unmade face and damp hair, however.

”Thank you for seeing me,” Dorian mutters. Then, knowing bluntness would be appreciated, looks the Qunari straight in the eye: “I came to cash in a favor.”

Sten leans back in his chair. He blinks slowly, once, the small gesture painfully familiar, as Dorian has seen Bull do that whenever he wants to calm someone down or appear less intimidating. “Alright,” he says. Dorian, comforted, relaxes somewhat.

“It’s - about Bull.”

“Yes.”

”As you probably know, they - Ben-Hassrath, I mean, some official there anyway - they told him to end our relationship.” Dorian squeezes his hands into fists. His fingers are so cold. “Which is simply exorbitant in itself, especially considering how attached we are, but on top of that - “ he almost chokes: his throat feels like it is full of sand, his sinuses are tingling, ” - it sounds like they are planning on re-educating him, in which case I’m sure I’d lose him beyond all hope, and if I lost him, I just don't see how I could go on. So I was wondering, is there something, anything, you could do to help us?”

Sten watches him silently. When he finally speaks, there is a mild note of sympathy in his deep voice. ”Twenty years ago I would have called you a fool. Meant it too. Nowadays, of course, I have a slightly different perspective.” He looks vaguely disappointed with himself, lets out a sigh. ”Off the record.”

”Yes?”

”The Qun... is a grand system. The order, the security, the effectiveness, the equality - there’s nothing quite like it. Our society is a well-run, well-functioning machine, and it offers a good life for many people.” Sten pauses, ignoring Dorian’s skeptical eyebrow. ”However, it is not perfect, and occasionally one finds their needs challenged.” He taps the hand rest of his seat; his claws are slightly longer than Bull's, and he is wearing a couple of thick silverite rings; one of them would be a wedding band if the Qunari had such a thing. ”As you know, I have done some unconventional choices in my life.”

”Elissa.”

”Yes.” Sten's face softens. ”I love the damn woman.” Dorian can't help smiling; the confession is so uncharacteristic. Sten clears his throat. ”The times may be changing within the Qun, and what you call romantic relationships are becoming more acceptable, but since I am an official, they were expecting better from me: I was supposed to stick with the tradition and not get a spouse.”

”So how did you manage it?”

”At the time I was appointed we had already been together for nine years. I told them that if they wanted my expertise, they would have to tolerate her existence, and they agreed, as long as we, in turn, agreed to be discreet and not pursue formalizing our relationship.” Sten sighs again. ”Where I am going with this, is, I understand, on some level anyway.” His jewel-like eyes narrow. ”But.”

”But mine and Bull's situation is not like yours.”

”No matter what services you may have done for me, you are still a Tevinter altus, and Bull is a Ben-Hassrath. His superiors are not happy about your relationship. Bull is valuable to them, more so than you can probably imagine, and although he has never been a very typical Qunari, in the end he has always been loyal. They absolutely expect him to leave you.” Sten frowns. ”That said... I feel there is a very real chance that Bull, now finding himself in a situation where he is being forced to choose between you and the Qun, might choose you.”

Dorian flushes. ”Well, I suppose that is - ”

”And please don't get me wrong when I say that I would not be thrilled by that outcome. Mainly because it would be potentially dangerous to you both, and also because I find it distasteful. I’d rather he stays, even if it’s in name only.”

Dorian studies his face. He wonders if Sten would abandon the Qun for Elissa if push came to shove - but he knows better than to ask it out loud. None of his business anyway. ”Do you think there’s any way to make Bull's superiors change their minds?” he asks instead. Sten makes a noncommittal sound.

”First of all, they should be convinced that Bull does not need re-educating. Which he probably does, and Viddasala would figure that out during the first questioning.” Dorian blinks to keep his tears back. Sten continues: ”Then, if he by some miracle managed to pull their leg and pass the check-up, I should find a believable reason to keep him in Kirkwall in his current position. Granted, they know how much sense it would make to keep Bull here: he so experienced, so familiar with foreign cultures, and astonishingly good with the bas… but, in the end, I don't think it would matter. As long as he is with Ben-Hassrath, they'll want to keep him away from you.”

Sten gives Dorian a pointed look. It takes a moment before Dorian, overcome by grief and anxiety, understands that the man might be hinting something. ”As long as he is with Ben-Hassrath,” Dorian repeats.

”Yes. As long as he is with Ben-Hassrath.”

Dorian hesitates. ”And - is there a way to make it so that he is not?” Sten doesn't exactly smile, but there's a slight chance in his expression.

”Ben-Hassrath state of mind is difficult to remove, but the officiality of it...” he tilts his head cunningly. ”You must understand that I am by no means superior to Bull's superiors. However, I have some pull, mostly because certain people owe me favors. Not that there is nepotism or corruption under the Qun, of course.”

“Of course.”

Sten pauses again, allows the silence to stretch. Then: ”He is kind of old.” Dorian blinks.

”Excuse me?”

”For a field agent. Or for a bodyguard, for that matter. And, let's face it, mostly blind. Barely able to walk on cold and rainy days. Not to mention scarred and traumatized for life after all that time in Seheron. Are you aware that the recommended maximum service time in Seheron is two years, and he spent almost a decade there? He shouldn’t be capable of functioning at all.” Sten looks straight at Dorian. ”It might be the time for Hissrad to retire.”

Dorian stares at him, speechless. Sten continues: ”Of course, the Qun hates giving up their agents as long as there's some use left in them: even after they are deemed old or unfit to serve otherwise, Ben-Hassrath prefers to keep them close, partly so that that they can keep an eye on them, partly because they really do appreciate their agents and want to give them as safe and comfortable of a life as possible. And most agents, in turn, cherish that.” He pauses. “But there are exceptions. Those who need more independence. More distance. And often, if they are commendable and trustworthy enough, Ben-Hassrath lets them go. Especially if someone puts in a good word for them.” Sten manages to keep a straight face. Dorian presses his nails into his palms.

“And do you think they’d let Bull…?”

“In Bull’s case, it would require some serious persuasion, because they are suspicious about you and your influence over him. There would also be endless amounts of annoying paperwork, of course; my people are nothing but bureaucrats to the bone. But, in theory... they might allow him to retire, and if they did, it would be far less important for them where he lives and who he dates.”

“And - would there still be Qamek involved?” Dorian’s voice trembles. “Because I am telling you right now there can’t be Qamek.” Sten considers.

“The standard procedure with retiring agents - “

“There can be no Qamek,” Dorian repeats. “I don’t trust them to not attempt to wipe out everything that involves our relationship, so there will be no Qamek. No procedures. No travelling to Par Vollen. He must stay here, with me, and - and no one is touching his wonderful mind.” His eyes are blazing. He knows he must sound like a petulant child, and he knows he is pushing it now - after all, he hardly has any right to present ultimatums here. But he can’t back away from this. He won’t.

Sten arches his brow. “You are not very diplomatic, Dorian.”

“Neither were you when they asked you to give up Elissa.”

Sten scoffs. He studies Dorian sharply, but there’s an almost amused glimmer in his eyes now. “Well. Be that as it may… in all honesty, I don’t see Bull being willing to go through with the procedure either.” Sten taps his hand rest again. “Alright.” He opens a desk drawer and pulls out a cell phone - an unofficial one, Dorian thinks - and without further ado, presses speed dial. Almost immediately someone on the other end picks up.

”Ariqun,” Sten says, his voice tired but surprisingly warm. ”Shanedan, kadan.”

Dorian's eyes widen. When Elissa hinted the Ambassador had an influential friend, Dorian did not expect them to be quite on this level on the Qunari hierarchy. The Ariqun, one of the Three Pillars of the Qun, the head of the Priesthood, the ultimate Commander of Ben-Hassrath -

Sten takes note of Dorian’s stunned expression, stops talking, and looks at him. ”You speak Qunlat?” Dorian makes a gesture somewhere between a nod and a shrug. Sten points at the door. ”Out.”

Heart pounding, Dorian obeys and goes to sit in the waiting room. He stares at the cool marble wall with unseeing eyes, chewing his lip. Sten's secretary, a soft-spoken female in a baby-blue cardigan and silver horn caps, gives him a side eye.

”Can I get you anything?” she asks. ”Tea? Coffee?” Dorian attempts for a smile. He couldn't drink or eat anything even if the tried.

”No, thank you.”

”Very well. Let me know if you change your mind.”

Sten's conversation takes a good twenty minutes, but eventually Dorian is called back in: he sits down without an invitation, and stares at the Ambassador, holding his breath. The length of the phone call could mean the Ariqun was not too eager on the idea. That, or they talked about other things as well.

Sten, always straightforward, doesn't keep him in suspense: ”Bull can stay,” he says simply.

Dorian bends over until his forehead is leaning against his knees, and takes a deep, shuddering breath. The relief he is feeling is indescribable; it is as if his body has lost all its weight, and he is floating. ”Thank you,” he whispers, incapable of deciding whether to cry, scream, or laugh. He wants desperately to ask for details, but holds his tongue: those are something between the Ambassador and Bull, and he’s probably better off not knowing anyway.

Sten shuffles some papers on his desk. ”If this was all...”

”Yes, I'm sorry, I have taken enough of your time.” Dorian gets up on his wobbling legs. He walks to the door, but stops there. He turns to look at Sten. ”May I hug you?” The Qunari doesn’t look up.

”No.”

”I love you.”

”Get out.”

”Tea on Sunday?”

”Of course.”

 

***

 

Two hours later Dorian has curled up on the couch in his living room, trying to catch a nap, when he is alarmed by the opening door. He lifts his head, and sees Bull march in. If Dorian didn't know Bull as well as he does by now, he would probably be much more impressed by the approaching Qunari's glaring eye and flaring nostrils. As it is, the only effect the fuming giant causes in him is a tingling arousal.

”You went and talked to the Ambassador,” Bull rumbles. Dorian yawns and stretches his arms, looks thoughtful.

”I might have.”

”Behind my back.”

”Maybe. It is a large back. Many things can happen behind it.”

”Don't you get cute with me.”

Dorian flutters his eyelashes. ”I can't help being cute.” Bull tries to keep the murderous look on his face, and steps closer.

”I guess you can't. But you are asking for trouble here. Whose idea was this retirement thing exactly?”

”Not mine.” Dorian softens his voice and touches Bull's arm, feels the muscles twitching under the silver skin. ”Granted, I did go and see if there's anything Sten could do, but he came up with it. He figured it would be for the best anyway.” Dorian pauses. ”Since you are so old.”

”What?”

”And frail.”

”I am… frail.”

”We agreed you must stop putting so much strain on your poor body.”

Bull groans, grabs Dorian, and throws him over his shoulder, effortlessly. ”You strain my body more than anything, Vint.”

Dorian squeals, but there isn't much he can - or wants - to do. In a couple of seconds he finds himself pinned on the bed. Bull leans over him, the way he does, and presses closer until he is the only thing Dorian can see and feel. Dorian sighs happily, and wraps his legs around Bull's waist. “I get to keep you,” he mumbles against Bull's scarred lips, ”I can't believe I get to keep you.” Bull cups his face with both hands and kisses him carefully, then pulls back.

”I would have found a way,” he says. There’s a hint of guilt and embarrassment in his voice. “Had the Ambassador not interfered, I would have found a way.” Dorian hums.

”Yes, I suppose you would've had to. I don’t see how I would manage without you after all.” Bull smiles, pleased, and Dorian studies his face, so open, so loving - and decides it is time. ”Bull.”

”Yes, sweetheart?”

”I need to tell you something.”

”Yeah?”

”I am... rather fond of you.”

Bull snorts. ”You are crazy about me.” Dorian rolls his eyes.

”I’m willing to admit your confidence is one of your most attractive qualities, but that’s just obnoxious.” Bull arches his brow.

”Is it?”

”I am trying to tell you that I love you, you insufferable oaf!”

”About time too.”

”Wha- ” Dorian's indignant squawk is muffled by a blistering kiss; he melts into it almost immediately. Bull growls and pushes his tongue in, examining the soft mouth until Dorian arches under him, moaning wantonly.

”You taste so sweet,” Bull mumbles. Dorian can hear his breathing getting faster, feel his touches turn more purposeful; next thing he knows he is flipped over, and Bull is spreading him flat under him, nibbling his ear - and right at that moment Baby Toth decides he is probably missing out on something, and jumps on the bed.

“Oh, hello,” Bull says. Dorian sighs.

“Good timing, cat.”

Baby Toth stares at their amused faces with half-open eyes, gives Dorian’s nose a light poke, and then, apparently disillusioned, goes and finds a comfortable spot by Bull's leg. He curls up and begins to wash himself.

”Aw,” Bull reaches to scratch Baby Toth behind his ear, ”now we just need Krem, and then all my favorite boys would be here.” Dorian gives him a long-suffering look.

“Truly?”

Bull goes to scratch behind his ear as well, but Dorian slaps his hand away. Bull plants a huge kiss on his temple. ”Hey, I've been thinking. We could get a house outside the city.”

”You've been thinking about us getting a house?” Dorian feels his face getting hot.

”Well, yeah, I mean this one is nice and all, but it's not Qunari-size.” Bull's hands are working on Dorian's waistband. ”So perhaps we should get a bigger one and remodel it a bit. Taller doorways and such. And we should get bigger furniture. Bigger bed.” Dorian giggles.

”Bigger bed would be good.” Bull pulls his sweatpants down, so that the perfect globes of his ass are revealed. He smooths his fingers across the soft skin.

”Could we have another cat and - and a puppy?” he asks. Dorian closes his eyes, enjoying the touch.

”...I suppose.”

”How about a nice garden and some chickens?” He sucks on Dorian's neck, spreads his legs a little. Dorian groans.

”It's - extremely unfair for you to ask me these things when you are doing that.”

”Come on, baby.” Bull bites into the junction of his neck and shoulder. ”Just picture me in the garden, carrying a hoe and donning a straw hat, my chest glistening with sweat…

”...your horns tangled with weeds and chicken feathers.”

Bull laughs, and stops his ministrations. He wraps his arms around Dorian, and for a moment they just lie there in warm gentle peace. Dorian draws slow circles on Bull's arm. He thinks about everything they've been through, and what brought them together; it's been a painful journey, but the place where he is now, the precious, precious thing he has been blessed with...

”You make me happy,” Dorian whispers. Bull makes a soft sound.

”You make me happy too.”

”I can be - will be - rather impossible at times. I am sorry about that.”

”Hey, I can be pretty impossible too. So what? It will still be worth it.” Bull allows more of his weight on Dorian, to the point where it is a bit difficult to breathe. ”I have a question, kadan.” Dorian bites his lip so as not to moan. The feel of Bull's weight always turns him on.

”Yes, amatus?”

“Would you like to make it official? You know I don't much care about things like that, but...” Dorian lifts his head, squints his silver eyes.

”Are you proposing to me?!”

”I guess? If you want.”

”By Dumat, you are the Romance personified.”

”...I can be romantic.”

”You are proposing to me while you're groping my ass, using the expressions I don't care and I guess.” Bull snorts.

”Yeah, well, how about it?”

Dorian turns to look at him properly. ”You're serious?”

”Sure I am.” Bull looks down on him with devastating tenderness. ”I love you, and I need to give you what you need. That's my nature.”

“And - what you think I need is - ”

“What you need is care, commitment and stability. And my understanding is you humans feel more secure about your relationship if you have it on paper… look, I don't really get all of it, but as a Qunari I at least understand the importance of a good ceremony and proper paperwork. And there’s a party involved, right? I’m all for parties.”

“Hm.”

“All I’m saying is, if that’s what you want, I want to do it for you.” Bull grins. “Sera could be the flower carrier.”

“Flower girl,” Dorian says weakly. He is feeling dizzy and disorientated; there’s been too many things, too many huge, profound things going on today, and he can’t quite keep up anymore. Then a thought dawns on him. A wild, horrified smile spreads on his face. ”My parents would be livid.”

”I know.”

”I don't care.”

”I know.”

Dorian lets out a small, tired squeak, and buries his face in Bull's armpit. Bull laughs; it is like a thunder booming. ”Is that a yes?”

”It’s an ‘I’ll think about it.’”

”I’ll take that. And you, if you don’t mind. Let's get you out of those pants.”

 

***

 

When they wake up in the morning, the room is filled with golden light.

”Oh,” Dorian mumbles, and blinks his eyes sleepily. He finds he is lying on Bull’s chest - the only place he’ll ever sleep on from now on, if he gets his way - and lets out a relieved sigh. His hand, so gentle, fumbles to find Bull’s; their fingers entwine effortlessly.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Bull says. Dorian swears under his breath: he hates mornings with a passion, even if waking with Bull is always special. He cracks his eye open again, and glances at the window. ”It’s not raining anymore.”

Bull looks down lovingly at Dorian's crabby expression, both of their faces gilded with warm light. ”No.” He kisses the crown of his head. “It’s not raining anymore.”