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Filling Quiet Spaces

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The quiet murmur of chatter and the clinking of glassware filled Dorian’s ears as he slowly meandered through the art gallery with a flute of champagne in his hand. His eyes briefly scanned the oil paintings resembling abstract vallaslin, but the bright and colorful artwork against the stark white backdrop of the walls did little to hold Dorian’s attention. His brain hardly registered the paintings as his nerves chewed away at him. Instead of appreciating the artwork, he was hyper aware of the squeak of his shoes upon the floor, the tug of his tight, black button up shirt, and the unfamiliar feel of the contacts against his eyes, making him long for his glasses.

Dorian knew that he looked impeccable, he always did. He never left the house in anything that could be considered shabby and that night was no exception. That evening before going out, Dorian took special care to dress well, his clothes, hair, and makeup were all done up and chosen to allure. Not that it did much good.

It was over half an hour into the gallery opening and Dorian was already approached by two women. Both were friendly, flashing pretty smiles and delightfully engaging in their conversations. Dorian was flattered as he always was and he did enjoy flirting with women in general, but he took caution to be upfront with his lack of romantic interest and the women were both gracious in that knowledge, soon leaving Dorian on his own.

There were plenty of men at the event, but every time Dorian saw someone of interest, he found that his feet were suddenly leaden and his throat became dry. Any desire to flirt shriveled up and he pretended to be interested in a painting whenever someone noticed his staring. It used to be such an easy dance and years ago Dorian wouldn’t have felt a second of hesitation in approaching a man, but he was long out of practice. That ease and grace that allowed him to talk to anyone was now replaced with awkwardness and knots of anxiety that twisted him up into something almost unrecognizable.

Dorian’s eyes took in the crowd again and caught Ellana Lavellan’s gaze from across the room where she was standing with her husband, Cullen Rutherford, who was chatting happily with the Hawke twins. His friend smiled encouragingly at Dorian and he had to resist the urge to go to her side, to sink into the comfortable cocoon of conversation with his friends and to ignore everyone else. There was a simple comfort in hanging out with Lavellan and Cullen, an old routine that Dorian could do without thinking and without putting himself out. The urge to give up and fall back upon his friends was strong.

Letting a small sigh puff from his lips, Dorian squeezed his left hand, feeling the plain silverite ring on his middle finger dig into his other digits. It gave him a small boost of confidence to not slink over to Lavellan’s side, to avert his gaze from the temptation of familiar company, and to continue trying to catch the eye of an interested man. Years ago, Dorian could draw a man in with just a smile, so he was sure that he could something as simple as introducing himself to someone.

Scanning the room, Dorian saw a man whose physical appearance ticked off several boxes for him. A tall, strong looking Orlesian man with fine blond hair and striking hazel eyes was lingering not far from Dorian at the bar and Dorian found the Orlesian man’s smirk and laugh pleasing. From what Dorian could see, he had no rings on his left hand and he didn’t appear to be with anyone.

Several long minute passed where his nerves made him waver, but finally firm resolution overtook Dorian. He had to speak to at least one man that night and he decided it would be the handsome Orlesian. His spirits were rallied and he shifted his weight to start walking over to the bar when Dorian was suddenly interrupted by a firm wall of muscle colliding into him. Despite being a tall man with a solid build, the surprise and the force he was hit with made Dorian trip over his feet. An undignified squeak shook out of him as Dorian lost balance, his glass of champagne tumbling out of his hand and shattering upon the polish hardwood floor.

A pair of strong arms wrapped around Dorian’s waist to keep him from tumbling over like his glass and large hands splayed against his back as a hurried voice blurted out, “Oh Maker, I’m so sorry! I wasn’t watching where I was going! Are you ok?”

Dorian opened his mouth, though no noise came from him as he stared up at the face of the Qunari holding him. The Qunari was shockingly gentle looking, his horns were curled backwards into a loop and bracketed the sides of his face, there was the faintest smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose, and his wide, clear green eyes were fixed on Dorian. A sudden tightness enveloped Dorian’s chest and his brain helpfully shut down, all previous thoughts of the handsome Orlesian man had quickly vanished. The only thoughts occupying Dorian’s head were circling around the searing warmth of the Qunari’s massive hands on his back.

Taking a step back and letting those strong, distracting arms fall away from his body, Dorian tried vainly to compose himself and swallowed in an effort to bring some moisture back into his mouth and throat. With a flush creeping up his face, Dorian answered ungracefully, “Oh, um, yes, I am, I’m ok.”

“Let me get you another drink,” the Qunari insisted, earnestness coloring his voice and reaching out to make amends.

“It’s ok, I was almost done anyway,” Dorian declined politely, somehow managing to get his wits together to make a coherent reply. “You actually did me a favor, the champagne they are serving is absolutely dreadful.”

“It is, isn’t it?” The Qunari took Dorian’s complaint with amusement.

“Quite, that’s probably why they’re handing it out for free.”

“I wager it’s not even Orlesian,” the Qunari teased, “it’s probably just a sparkling Free Marcher wine the gallery got on wholesale.”

“More and more scandalous!”

A smile curled on the Qunari’s lips. “What would you prefer to be drinking?”

“That wine looks tolerable,” Dorian nodded to the glass of red wine in the Qunari’s hand, which thankfully did not slosh out during their collision. It would be a great pity to stain the jewel blue dress shirt the Qunari was wearing, striking against his light grey skin and fitted well enough to emphasize his muscular arms and chest. Dorian’s mouth instantly went dry again.

“Then let me get you one.”

“I—” Dorian was about to refuse again, but stopped himself short. “Yes, that would be lovely, thank you.”

The smile on the Qunari’s face widened and he made his way to the bar while Dorian stood rooted in place. While being nearly knocked over was embarrassing, their exchange thus far was encouraging, though Dorian realized belatedly that he didn’t get the Qunari’s name. Dread filled Dorian at the thought that the Qunari withheld his name on purpose and used the excuse of getting a drink as a pretext to escape Dorian and his sharply defined Tevinter features.

But a quick glance over at the bar confirmed at the Qunari was in line and he even looked over his shoulder as if checking to make sure that Dorian was still there. Dorian managed a weak grin and pretended to look at the artwork, but was really trying to catch Lavellan’s eyes. When his eyes met his friend’s, she absolutely beamed at him and she even gave him a thumb’s up, which just made Dorian flush even more.

The Qunari soon returned and handed Dorian a glass of red wine, their fingers briefly brushing, the pads of the Qunari’s fingertips were lightly calloused and dragged wonderfully over Dorian’s soft skin.

“I hope you’ll find this a little more palatable than the champagne.”

A sip confirmed the Qunari’s hopes as Dorian reported, “It’s a decent Orlesian merlot, far superior to the champagne. I’m glad that they’re not serving for what passes for wine in Ferelden.”

“They were, but you look to be a man of finer tastes.”

“I certainly am.”

“I’m Kaaras Adaar, by the way,” the Qunari held out his large hand to Dorian, finally introducing himself. “Most people call me Adaar.”

“Dorian Pavus, a pleasure.” Dorian took the offered hand and his heart very much sped up at its heat and sheer size as it enveloped his own. The handshake was firm, but not exceedingly so, and it lingered a second or two longer than necessary. “What brings you to this gathering?”

“The artist is a colleague of mine at Skyhold University, we’re professors in the same department, and I promised to come to her show.”

“Oh? What do you teach? Art?”

“Maker, no! I couldn’t draw a straight line to save my soul, my colleague does this as a hobby, though I see it has become quite a passion for her,” Adaar shook his head with obvious amusement. “We’re in the magical studies department. I’m a mage, I study and teach theoretical rift magic.”

Dorian tried to keep the grin spreading on his lips under control. A mage and a smart one at that, better and better. “Theoretical rift magic? That’s quite impressive, it’s a very difficult field of study.”

“Emphasis on the word theoretical. I don’t actually practice it, I enjoy keeping my sanity. Ice and spirit magic are more my pace,” Adaar’s smile became sheepish at the admission, but Dorian’s good opinion of him did not falter.

“It’s still an impressive area of study, very few actually delve into it, I only took introductory classes on it myself while doing my undergraduate studies. It must be fascinating work.”

“I think it is, though my students seem to think otherwise, most tend to sleep through my lectures,” Adaar replied, but his smile was pleased.

“If you had been my professor I certainly would have been more than inclined stay awake in class and I would have been more than tempted to pursue it.” Dorian dared a brief touch to Adaar’s arm and was relieved when his smile didn’t wane nor did he shrug off Dorian’s touch. “Alas, you were not at my university and I was not lured into rift magic.”

“A pity, though I imagine you were a distracting student, so it’s probably for the best that you were never in my classroom,” Adaar replied. “What did you end up studying?”

“Theoretical time magic and necromancy.”

“I’m not the only mage in a difficult field of study,” Adaar sounded impressed. “Did you happen to study under Magister Gereon Alexius?”

A sharp stab of old pain spiked through Dorian, but his face remained pleasant and he also felt oddly pleased that Adaar knew about Alexius. “I did, it is hard to be in Tevinter and pursuing time magic without studying under Magister Alexius.”

“That must have been a great opportunity! Magister Alexius is a brilliant man.” Adaar mercifully switched topics and asked, “And what do you do now? Do you also put students to sleep in a classroom?”

“I’m afraid that once I tell you that you will hate me for working for a dreaded rival of Skyhold University,” Dorian answered playfully.

“What? Oh!” Adaar’s eyes lit up and he chuckled, a sound that rumbled through his chest and sent a small quiver through Dorian. “You work for Herald University, huh? Are you a professor there?”

“I’m the director of the university’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.”

The expression on Adaar’s face became one of pure envy. “You get to handle those books and manuscripts all day? That’s completely unfair! While I will always curse the name of Herald University, your collection of rare texts on ancient magic is incredible, Skyhold cannot compare. Your early manuscripts on the first Inquisition are to die for! Those early writings and notes on the Fade are amazing! And you get to manage all of that, I can’t believe it!” A blush suddenly appeared on Adaar’s face, bright enough to become apparent through grey skin and to drown out the little freckles scattered across his nose. “I’m … I’m gushing like a schoolgirl.”

“No, please do go on,” Dorian insisted, excited that Adaar knew so much about his library. “I am not one to turn down flattery over my pride and joy. I’ve worked very hard to build that collection of books on ancient magic.”

“You should be proud,” Adaar said softly. “It’s amazing.”

Dorian’s heart thudded in his chest. “Thank you,” he replied sincerely.

They continued to talk as they became engrossed with one another, and Dorian was nearly dizzy and lightheaded from his present company. Wanting to press his hopeful advantage and to signal his continued interest, Dorian offered to get refills of their drinks as they ran low and Adaar happily accepted.

Dorian took Adaar’s empty glass and made his way to the bar, not even noticing that the Orlesian he admired earlier was still there. The line at the cash bar was insufferably long as Dorian was eager to get back to his conversation with Adaar, but finally he made it to the front of the line, obtained their drinks, and was soon ready to go back to his companion.

Adaar was standing where Dorian left him, next to a painting of twisting trees reaching up towards the sky. But before Dorian could take a step towards his new friend, another and somehow even larger male Qunari appeared at Adaar’s side and immediately wrapped his arm around Adaar’s waist. The other Qunari was ridiculously tall and broad with wide, pointed horns and wearing a pink button up shirt paired with a terrible purple tie, clashing with the rough looking scars and black eyepatch on his kind face.

The brightened expression of recognition and adoration that appear on Adaar’s features left Dorian’s heart sinking in his chest. The final blow came as Adaar turned his head towards the taller Qunari and offered a simple, welcoming kiss in acknowledgement of the other’s arrival. They leaned into each other to whisper greetings with a sort of familiarity that took years to build.

Humiliation seared Dorian’s entire being. He was flustered in a way that he was sure he would never recover from and he felt like an idiot, holding two glasses of wine like he might get a phone number that night and the promise of coffee or dinner for another day. His base reaction was to blend into the crowd, down both drinks, and make his escape. However, excellent breeding and manners won out, and Dorian straightened his back and held his head up high as he walked back to Adaar, knowing that he looked best with good posture.

Thankfully, Adaar looked pleased to see Dorian instead of being dismissive now that his lover was there. “Dorian, this is my boyfriend, the Iron Bull. Bull, this is Dorian Pavus, we just met after I nearly ran him over.”

Dorian managed to give Adaar his drink without showing his newfound nervousness and held his hand to the Iron Bull. His smile was firmly in place and it never faded despite his racing mind and thundering heartbeat, a performance that would have made his mother proud.

“A pleasure to meet you, the Iron Bull.”

“Good to meet you. You can call me Bull.”

The Qunari’s hand completely engulfed Dorian’s, furthering Dorian’s sense of belittlement. The Iron Bull’s other hand rested on Adaar’s waist, his long arm wrapped around the wide expanse of Adaar’s back, and his fingers dug possessively into the blue dress shirt. Dorian had no doubt that the Iron Bull knew what Dorian had been trying to do. Breathing deeply, Dorian tried to soothe his anxious desire to untangle himself from the situation.

“Do you also know Merrill and work at Skyhold University?” The Iron Bull demonstrated that he possessed manners of his own and the words came out friendly and he sounded almost genuine in his curiosity.

“No, I’m just a librarian at another university. I only know Merrill by reputation and artwork, though my friends are acquainted with her,” Dorian answered vaguely and took a large drink of wine. Once he finished his drink, Dorian could politely excuse himself and fade into the crowd.

“He’s the director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Herald University,” Adaar corrected swiftly, his earlier liveliness slowly shifting over into hesitant caution.

“Ah, a fancy librarian for the fancy private school,” the Iron Bull nodded cheekily.

“Yes, indeed,” Dorian agreed shortly, taking the comment as a slight as there could be no other meaning, but at least the wine helping him along. “And what do you do, Iron Bull? Another esteemed scholar like your Adaar?”

“Nah, I leave all the complicated thinking to my kadan. I just herd around second graders at Divine Justinia Elementary,” Iron Bull shrugged with a lopsided grin.

“He means he’s the best teacher the district has and has two awards to prove it,” Adaar added, his eyes focused solely on his boyfriend now.

Dorian’s stomach turned and he took another drink in an ill thought out effort to settle it. “A noble occupation.”

His cheeks were beginning to ache from the unnatural cheer he was displaying and his jaw was stiff from resisting the urge to clench it. Relief flooded him as he spotted Lavellan staring at him worryingly from across the room and she was urgently giving him signals to come to her. Of course she had seen everything, little escaped Lavellan’s keen attention. Even Cullen looked more serious than usual and he dipped his head to whisper into his wife’s sharply pointed ear, no doubt asking permission to go rescue Dorian from his increasingly awkward situation.

Draining the last of his wine, Dorian decided to leave before Cullen made a fumbling attempt at a rescue.

“I have just noticed that I have been simply terrible and have neglected my dear friend over there for most of the evening. I must speak with her before she gives up on me entirely and leaves me at this gallery. Adaar, Iron Bull, it’s been a great pleasure, thank you for indulging me. Do enjoy the rest of your evening.”

Dorian gave one last fleeting smile and turned on his heel to metaphorically crawl over to safety at Lavellan’s side. Behind him, Adaar said something, but it was lost to the rush of blood pounding in Dorian’s ears and Dorian would not have replied even if he did hear what Adaar had to say. His embarrassment was to complete for him to carry on and he was desperate to leave.

“Dorian,” Lavellan started once he was finally in the safety of her orbit.

“Well, let’s never speak of this again, shall we?” Dorian cut her off with a forceful brightness. “I am in complete favor of leaving this gallery, perhaps never to return again, and going somewhere else. Anywhere else. Shall we go to the alleyway behind the building? I believe I have not humiliated myself in front of anyone there.”

“Oh, Dorian …”

“Don’t,” Dorian said swiftly and quietly.

“Maybe we can make it Sera and Dagna’s house before they start their second movie? It’s not that late,” Cullen suggested helpfully, referring to Sera and Dagna’s weekly movie night on Fridays that Dorian would normally be at.

“Yes, that is an excellent idea. I have never wanted to hear Sera talk over a movie more in my life,” Dorian answered gratefully.

They made their exit and Dorian made sure not to look back, not wanting to catch a glimpse of the lovely Qunari couple that he humiliated himself in front of. His whole body relaxed as he slid onto the leather covered backseat of Lavellan’s car and he leaned on the door, staring out the open window as the car started moving. Air from the warm summer night flowed into the vehicle and the scent of the city at the start of the season stirred old memories in Dorian that were an effort to fight back.

As the car approached his street in a posh neighborhood on the north side of the city, all lit up with the yellow light of street lamps, the desire to go to bed weighed heavily upon him. It wasn’t the same crushing weight that urged him to lie down and to never get back up again, but just a passing moment of self-pity that he could safely indulge in. A nagging little voice told Dorian that he should go to Sera’s house and be social, to alleviate Lavellan and Cullen of their worries, but he knew that he wouldn’t be good company.

“Could you drop me off at home? I’m rather exhausted.”

Lavellan’s large brown eyes flickered up towards the rear view mirror. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, it’s been a long week and I’m ready to go home.”

There was a short pause before Lavellan nodded and turned the steering wheel, taking the car down Dorian’s street. “Ok, but we’re still on for brunch tomorrow morning, right?”

“As if I would dare to miss it.”

“Good,” Lavellan nodded again, an almost inaudible sigh of relief escaped from her. Then she added, “Don’t let this get you down, Dorian, it really wasn’t that bad and it’s only your first try. These things take time.”

“And I have plenty of friends from the Order who would be interested in dating you,” Cullen pitched in.

“Always trying to push Templars on me to make me an honest man.” Dorian gave his friend a halfhearted smirk, though he quietly conceded, “I’ll think about it.”

He bid his friends goodbye once the car stopped in front of his cozy, red brick townhouse with its tiny patch of grass of a yard surrounded by an iron fence and long neglected potted plants on the steps leading up to the door. Just stepping inside of his home made Dorian feel instantly better, not totally better, but more so than he felt only a few minutes before.

The townhouse was a source of pleasure and pride for Dorian, it was the first and only place Dorian ever bought with his own money, the only place where he felt he had any real control. He was pleased with his own taste in decor, the sleek, clean lines of his furniture and appliances, balanced out with warm touches of personal photographs and keepsakes from travels, a hand knitted blanket over the couch from a friend, and books lining every shelf. Fresh paint and update fixtures made the place look fresh and modern, but the personal touches made it a home.

The townhouse was also laden with memories of better times.

Dorian’s feet automatically led him upstairs to the master bedroom and he only took a few minutes to take out his contacts in the connected bathroom rather than going through the ritual of his nightly routine. He then stripped himself of his clothing as he walked back into the bedroom, not bothering to turn on the light or hang up his clothes or place them in the hamper. Down to his briefs, Dorian crawled into bed, settling on the right side, and curled up on his side to face the empty bed space next to him.

“You would not believe my night, amatus,” Dorian said aloud. “It was straight out of a TV show or movie. I went out with Lavellan and Cullen to a gallery opening in hopes of meeting a ‘nice man,’ as Lavellan would say and it’s the first time I’ve tried since … Well, anyway, I did meet a nice man. He’s a professor, a mage, and he studies theoretical rift magic. Of course I know that a career in magical studies doesn’t make a good man, but still, it made for good conversation.”

A small smile tugged on his lips, but it quickly disappeared.

“He’s also a Qunari, I know, not quite my type, but he was very muscular and very cute. He’s also smart, funny, and he knows all about my library, so basically he was going straight for my heart.”

Dorian snorted, thinking back on his night and sighed into his pillow.

“But get this, amatus, he has a boyfriend! I should have known it was too good to be true, right? And of course I met his boyfriend, the Iron Bull. Such a terrible name! But it is fitting as he might be the largest Qunari in all of Thedas, I felt like a child standing next to him. I must have looked pathetic in comparison, but at least he was wearing the most horrid outfit. Maker, I made such a fool of myself,” Dorian’s voice wobbled. “You would have cried laughing at my mortification.”

His eyes burned and his vision blurred.

“This is far harder than I thought, amatus. Andraste help me, is it even worth it? I thought I could do this, but the thought of anyone else is just ...”

Clenching his left hand, Dorian brought the silverite ring on his middle finger to his trembling lips.

“I miss you so much, Felix.”

-

“This is Delrin Barris,” Cullen practically shouted to Dorian over the thrum of music and constant din of people laughing and talking in Varric’s sports bar as Marian Hawke’s birthday went into full swing. “He was my last apprentice before I left the Order a few years ago. Delrin, this is Dorian Pavus, he and Ellana work together at Herald University.”

The man in question certainly looked the part of a Templar, handsome, clean cut, and fit. His manner of dress was disappointing, Delrin’s collared shirt was on the baggy side and Dorian disapproved of his tan khakis, but he was unbearably cute and was forgiven for his crimes of fashion. He also appeared rather young. Dorian didn’t try to figure out the young Templar’s age, especially if he was an apprentice only a few years back. The dark lighting and flickering lights of mounted televisions did nothing to emphasize Delrin’s more mature qualities and it left Dorian feeling old.

“A pleasure,” Dorian raised his voice over the noise, holding out his hand which Delrin took immediately and leaned in closer.

“Nice to meet you, Dorian, Cullen has told me a lot about you.” Delrin’s white toothed smile was blinding in the bar. The grin made him look even more boyish, almost innocent, and it made Dorian’s chest squeezed painfully.

Their age difference could not be that great, Dorian tried to reason with himself, it had to be less than ten years, maybe even only five years. But Dorian felt older than his own age, like he lived several dozen more years than he actually had. Experience wore him down, life’s challenges left an exhaustion that sank into to his soul, and at thirty-five years old Dorian felt nearly ancient.

Cullen was enthusiastic as they talked, though that initial enthusiasm waned at Dorian and Delrin’s fumbled attempts at a connection as they seemed to lack a common ground on almost every topic. They both had a fundamental knowledge of magic, but they approached it from opposite ends and could not connect on the topic. Dorian spent most of his time reading and doing research, while Delrin loved the outdoors and camping. Dorian was unapologetically Tevinter and Delrin was a Fereldan through and through. Though it was Delrin’s strong faith and involvement in the southern Chantry that made Dorian truly wary, and from there it became obvious that they did not share like interests or views in life.

There was an awkwardness of trying too much, of reaching for something that wasn’t there, and Dorian found the process tedious and tiring. Thankfully, it didn’t last for too long and both Dorian and Delrin disengaged themselves from the conversation. Dorian couldn’t help but think about the natural and easy talk he had with Adaar just a couple of weeks ago and the pleasure of an instant connection with someone. Dorian banished those wistful thoughts as Delrin disappeared into the throng of party attendees and he accepted Cullen’s hurried apologies.

“I’m going to step outside,” Dorian told Cullen after he ordered another drink, needing to wash down the bitterness of disappointment with something sweet and alcoholic.

“I’ll come out with you,” Cullen offered, signaling the bartender for another beer.

“You will certainly melt the moment you’re outside. I won’t be long,” Dorian reassured his friend, patting Cullen’s arm, “and then I will be back for you to introduce me to the next Templar you want me to sleep with.”

Cullen snorted with a shake of his head, but he let Dorian go without further protest.

Stepping outside instantly fogged up Dorian’s glasses. The air conditioning in the bar was working hard to overcompensate for the unusually sticky, humid night, but Dorian preferred the natural heat over the chilled air. He was practically alone out on the bar’s second floor deck overlooking downtown Skyhold, almost everyone was inside to celebrate Hawke’s birthday and were driven away by the heat. While Dorian openly scoffed at Varric’s sports bar, he did have to give it to the dwarf that he understood a good location.

Dorian sank down in the wrought iron chair, holding a slushy monstrosity of a blended drink that tasted strongly of rum and watermelon. His cheeks were satisfyingly flushed from his second such monstrosity of the night and his palms were slick from the condensation weeping from the glass, which dripped down and left a small pattern of wet spots on his tight jeans. It spoke to his mood that he didn’t care.

Still, despite his retreat outdoors, Dorian wasn’t in such a terrible mood. He only wanted some fresh air, a moment to himself, and little heat to soothe his wounded pride before heading back inside. He needed to gather his wits together before Cullen insisted on introducing Dorian to more Templars as a potential boyfriend.

The movement of someone approaching his table caught Dorian’s attention and he suddenly knew he needed another drink to deal with the person sitting in the empty chair next to him. Dorian took a long, deep drink of his watermelon slushy, hoping to wash away his growing concern.

“Hey! Good to see you! Dorian, right?”

The Iron Bull sat next to Dorian, close enough that he could feel the Qunari’s body heat rolling off of him, which Dorian promptly ignored. He also did his best to ignore the fact that the Iron Bull was not wearing a shirt, as was the fashion with most Qunaris in the summer. While Dorian had admired the hint of Adaar’s muscular form under a well-chosen dress shirt and slacks, he had to consciously force himself not to stare at Bull’s chest and arms. Dorian managed to occupy himself with focusing his attention on the Iron Bull’s choice of drink, which was a tall pint of a golden color beer, probably a Fereldan beer that Dorian had a secret fancy for.

A bland smile plastered itself onto Dorian’s lips in greeting, reminding himself that it was not Adaar or the Iron Bull’s fault that Dorian misread the situation when he met Adaar a couple weeks before and it would not do to be impolite. “Ah, yes, I am indeed Dorian. And you are the Iron Bull, correct? No, wait, there is no question to it, I could hardly forget such a descriptive name.”

Iron Bull laughed, coming out like a deep, short boom of thunder. “That’s why I picked it, keeps it simple. Better than listening to southerners completely butcher a complicated Qunlat name.”

The corner Dorian’s mouth twitched up in a brief, real grin. “Yes, we northerners must protect the southerners from their own ignorance. I am truly blessed that my name is not overly complicated.”

Iron Bull nodded in agreement. “Your parents were thinking ahead.”

“In more ways than one.” The statement came out as a bite and nearly caught Dorian off guard as an old bitterness and pain bubbled up in him and was only fueled by the alcohol in his blood, like dumping gasoline onto smoldering embers. In a much more easy tone, Dorian quickly added, “Now, I would say it is a surprise to see you here as this is a private event, but I believe Marian Hawke knows everyone in Thedas.”

His earlier retort did not go unnoticed, Iron Bull’s eye narrowed just a bit, and Dorian caught the gesture with a small amount of shame for being so transparent. But Iron Bull let it slide and instead rolled his massive shoulders, “Adaar is the one who really knows Hawke, I just know her in passing. But one never says no to a party thrown by Varric.”

“That is true, it even gets me into this bar of his.”

“What? You don’t come here regularly?” Iron Bull sounded incredulous, shock washing over his features. “This is the best place in the city to watch football!”

“I sincerely hope you mean real football, or soccer as they call it here, and not Fereldan football,” Dorian sniffed.

“Of course I mean real football,” Iron Bull rolled his pale blue eye. “In Fereldan football they hardly even kick the ball and they stop all the time!”

“Well, at least now I know you aren’t a savage.” Despite himself, Dorian could feel a genuine smile spread on his lips. “Which is your favorite team?”

A tension that Dorian didn’t notice before began to unwind from Iron Bull, as if he knew of Dorian’s reluctance to speak with him. An inkling of surprise filled Dorian’s mind, wondering why Iron Bull might be nervous to talk to him. If anything, Dorian expected a firm warning to stay away from Adaar, an acknowledgement of Dorian’s attempt to flirt with his boyfriend, but the casual conversation was a surprise.

“The Seheron Fog Warriors,” Iron Bull answered. “Let me guess, you’re a Val Royeaux Chevaliers fan? No, wait, you root for the Redcliffe Mabaris?”

“Absolutely not!” Dorian replied in real horror and offense, causing Iron Bull to rumble out a laugh at his reaction. “Minrathous Dragons, of course, like any proper civilized Tevinter.”

“I figured, never met a vint interested in sports who didn’t love the Dragons,” Iron Bull grinned.

“And any Tevinter who isn’t. The Dragons are a matter of national pride.”

“True. You must be pissed that they didn’t make it into the playoffs this year.”

Dorian’s mouth twitched, he was pissed that his team was not in the playoffs, but he took the standoffish road and said, “I suppose Minrathous can’t always be in the playoffs. How else would your beloved Fog Warriors make it beyond the regular season?”

“Ouch! Right in the heart.” He pressed his massive hand to his chest, pretending to be faint.

“Though I do admit I would rather see Seheron win over Redcliffe, we northerners must ban together against the uncouth Orlesians and Fereldans.”

“You’re willing to consider a Qunari as a part of the more civilized world?”

“Not quite, but Maker, the Qunari certainly know how to use spice on their food. Unlike Fereldans and their obsession with frying or boiling everything or Orlesians and soaking everything in butter.”

“Don’t forget that the Qunari also make the best cocoa.”

Dorian wrinkled his nose. “Qunari ruin it putting in far too much sugar into it.”

“What would you know? Vints ruin it by dumping spices into it.”

The natural banter he and the Iron Bull fell into was startling. The teasing was lighthearted as they ribbed each other over their sports teams, culture, and background. It was never cruel or demeaning and was gentler than what Dorian would ever expect from a Qunari, even from those born and living outside of the Qun. It was felt good to laugh at himself, to be teased and treated like he wasn’t frail and ready to break. Dorian couldn’t remember the last time he actually laughed so much.

Perhaps it might do him some good to make new friends, Dorian briefly considered, to get to know people who knew little about him.

Dorian finally relaxed and his previous tensions about being around the Iron Bull were gone. The lingering embarrassment faded into the back of his mind as he verbally sparred with the Qunari. However, that merriment and confidence he gained suddenly lost ground as Adaar approached the pair, obviously looking for his missing boyfriend. Dorian’s chuckle died off at the jarring reminder of just a couple of weeks ago when he was considering what it might be like to take a Qunari to bed. Not that the consideration ever really left since then, but it was now firmly in the realm of fantasy rather than an actual possibility.

His own blunder and misunderstanding shouldn’t have disqualified such a lovely couple from making his acquaintance, but for a reason Dorian couldn’t pin down seeing them together made Dorian long for things that no longer belonged to him.

“Dorian!” Adaar sounded happy to see him. “I see you found my boyfriend.”

“I was borrowing him for only a moment,” Dorian rose from his seat, his glass of now mostly melted beverage in hand. “I found out that he is a proper football fan.”

“That’s great! The more people Bull can talk to about football who aren’t me, the better. I can hardly follow the damn game to know what’s going on.”

“Then you cannot possibly find fault in him for his terribly misplaced team loyalties and for that I will gladly hand him back over to you.” Dorian stepped away from the table and offered his abandoned seat to Adaar. “I’m afraid I’ve been out here too long.”

“Oh, ok,” Adaar blinked, his voice falling on the flat side at Dorian’s obvious exit.

“There’s plenty of me to share,” Iron Bull insisted, reaching over to the empty table next to them with his long arm and dragged an extra chair for his boyfriend.

With reluctance, Dorian sank back down into his chair and Adaar beamed.

“I had hoped to talk to you more when we were at the gallery, but I feel bad that I distracted you from your girlfriend,” Adaar started. “I hope I did not get you in too much trouble.”

Dorian had the misfortune of taking a drink right as Adaar suggested that Lavellan was his girlfriend and very nearly drowned in watermelon and rum. High pitched coughs rattled his body and the Iron Bull thumped gently on his back in a vain attempt to help him clear out his lungs.

“I have a feeling she’s not his girlfriend, kadan,” Iron Bull teased.

“Certainly not,” Dorian asserted once he was able to speak. “Lavellan is a treasured friend and nothing more. If anything, I would be far more interested in her former Templar husband, he is more my type than she is.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to assume,” Adaar apologized. “Then I hope there was no seething boyfriend waiting for you at the gallery, angry that you were ignoring him for the Qunari that nearly knocked you over.”

“Ah, no, there wasn’t. That is a vacancy that is waiting to be filled,” Dorian’s smile became forced and his chest contracting at having to make the admission.

At least Adaar did not seem to notice as his grin became wider and it left Dorian wondering if Adaar was the type of person who liked to flirt with other people to make his boyfriend jealous. But there was nothing untoward in Adaar’s manners as they started to chat, Adaar was interested in his work at Herald University and started gushing again about Dorian’s library. Dorian was equally interested in Adaar’s work in rift magic and now that he knew that he could not have Adaar, he could be safe in his interactions with the other mage.

The Iron Bull was mostly quiet, but a small smirk on his face showed his enjoyment, like listening to complicated magical theory was something of a regular occurrence. He only interrupted long enough to fetch them drinks once their glasses became alarming low. “Can’t let you two magic nerds get too sober or else you might get boring,” Iron Bull winked with his one eye as he got up to head back inside to the bar.

“So, how do you know Hawke?” Adaar asked.

“Through Varric, I’ve lost more coin to Hawke playing Wicked Grace than I can to admit. At least her brother, Carver, is a terrible player.”

“He is! I love Wicked Grace nights at Varric’s house, he always invites the most interesting people. He has this friend, Sera, she always comes to play, but can never stay sober enough to make through an entire game.”

Dorian chuckled as he knew exactly what Adaar meant as he spent an obscene amount of time with Sera. “That’s because Sera is an awful lightweight and can barely make through a pint without getting drunk. Her wife, Dagna, can hold her own, though hopefully she isn’t damaging her valuable brain cells with her hearty dwarven thirst.”

“You know Dagna? Isn’t she brilliant? She used to work at my university until last year, I’m still fuming that she took that job at Herald University, she was one of our best researchers.”

“I know, that’s why my university offered her so much more money,” Dorian was rather smug about that and Adaar shook his fist at Dorian in jest.

“It’s a wonder that we know so many of the same people, but the gallery opening was the first time we’ve met,” Adaar commented, his cheeks delightfully flushed from the alcohol and heat.

It was odd that they never crossed paths before, but then Dorian asked, “How long have you and Iron Bull been in Skyhold?”

“About two and half years,” Iron Bull answered as he came back to the table with their drinks.

Their lack of acquaintance made more sense, in the years that Adaar and Iron Bull were in residence at Skyhold, Dorian was detached from the rest of the world. Dorian closed his eyes briefly, his mind skimming over the deep well of emotions about the past few years of his life. The way his world unraveled and narrowed and became insulated in despair and grief.

“I’ve been on sabbatical,” Dorian fibbed, “and my life was so disorganized afterwards that I haven’t been out much, though I do confess that I have become more of a homebody in my advancing age. Dreadful, isn’t it? You get to a certain age and suddenly you look forward to watching movies at your friend’s house and farmers’ markets on the weekend instead of going out to bars and meeting new people.”

“Where did you go for your sabbatical?” Adaar asked.

“Around the north and Tevinter,” Dorian answered, that was less of a lie. He did spend time back in Tevinter, though he couldn’t remember much of it. He just remembered how disconnected he was at the time, of others shuffling him from place to place, and no small amount of anger directed at him.

“Back home to see family?”

That last word was like barb to Dorian, it caught in his heart and dug in deep. “Something like that.”

“Hey Dorian, want to join me next weekend to watch the playoff game? I told you that this is the best place to watch football,” Iron Bull cut in, effectively putting an end to the increasingly uncomfortable train of conversation.

Iron Bull’s interruption was a small comfort to Dorian, though he felt embarrassed at the intolerably kind expression on Iron Bull’s face. To further Dorian’s awkwardness, Adaar blinked a few times and shared a look with his boyfriend. They were speaking the silent language of a close couple, communicating with each other in a way that no one else could understand. It made Dorian ache.

“I’m not sure if I would be the best of companions for watching the game with, I am still bitter about my team not being in the playoffs,” Dorian tried to politely decline.

“Come on, everyone else here will be cheering for the Mabaris, I need a northerner to stand in solidarity with me against the Fereldans and Adaar won’t come with me.”

“I certainly won’t,” Adaar confirmed. “And Krem won’t go with you because he’s still sobbing over the Dragons.”

Dorian hesitated, but he could think of no reason to refuse the offer. In truth, he found that he liked the Iron Bull almost as much as he liked Adaar. Apart from his previous humiliation in flirting with Adaar, Dorian could see no reason why he shouldn’t associate with the couple. If anything, he could keep them as casual acquaintances.

“Alright, I suppose I must protect you from the Fereldan masses if Adaar will not.”

Dorian figured that one outing couldn’t hurt and then he could put some distance between him and the Qunari couple.