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“Help me out with something, Krem.”

“What’s that, Chief?”

“Well, you’re a human man, so I thought maybe you would know what’s going on with Trevelyan. What is his type?”

“The Inquisitor’s a flirt. Everybody knows that.” Krem took the head off a dummy in a sort of matter-of-fact punctuation to this detail.

“True, but he doesn’t flirt with everybody. He’s all over some people, and others he’s just blind to.”

“Feeling slighted?”

Bull chuckled, shaking his head. He didn’t give a damn if the Inquisitor wanted a tumble with him or not—though it always opened up new avenues of information when someone did. But at the moment, all he wanted was to figure out if the man had a specific type, because the only other conclusion Bull could reach was that Maxwell Trevelyan was dumb as a post.

“Both Cullen and Red had to shut him down hard; he just wasn’t taking the hint.” Bull could understand with Leliana—it was obvious to him that she wasn’t interested in Trevelyan, but the fact that Bull couldn’t tell if it was because she preferred women or had someone else already or what just meant that she was doing a good job of keeping her secrets, and the Inquisitor probably thought he had a chance. But Cullen? Cullen was so obviously not inclined toward men it was painful to watch the Herald of Andraste trying to hit on him. So maybe he was an idiot. But then again… “Josephine and the ‘Vint are both into him. He’s been even worse with those two since Cullen and Red asked him to quit. But that’s it. He hasn’t flirted with anyone else. So what’s the pattern?”

Krem planted his maul and leaned on it slightly. “You really have no idea?”

Bull rubbed his chin. “Lots of other people would be up for it. He is the Inquisitor. I think the Seeker even has a little crush on him, but he doesn’t notice. Damn.” He shook his head. “I thought, when I got nothing, that he just preferred humans. But then, why not the Seeker? Why not Viv or Blackwall? Not that he’d get far with them, but he tried with Cullen and Red, so that doesn’t seem to matter…”

Krem sighed. “It’s the pretty ones, Chief.” He hefted his maul again. “He’s just shallow. That’s all it is.”

Bull pondered this a moment. Pretty? It was a concept he was familiar with and could even gauge and appreciate as well as anyone; it just never had much bearing on potential sexual partners. “The Seeker’s not pretty?”

Krem shrugged. “I think so, but maybe the scar puts him off. Or the way she usually conceals her…” He coughed, “…assets.”

“I never thought the Seeker did much to conceal her ass-ets,” Bull grinned.

Krem groaned. “The front, Chief.”

“Hmm.” Bull took this idea and started trying it out with his observations. It fit…strangely. He wasn’t sure how it made any sense, though. Liking certain things was not strange; Bull famously loved redheads, but that really had less to do with color and more to do with the fiery temperament they usually had. Stereotypes were not facts to be relied upon, but it still held true that Bull had yet to meet a mild-mannered or meek redhead. They always had some kind of fire in them, and damn but that was fun in the bedroom. But just “pretty”? Pretty didn’t make someone fun in bed, though it could make them troublesome. Pretty was just for looking at. “Does he want to have sex with them, or just put them in a display case in his room?”

“You qunari sure are odd.” Krem shook his head. “People like pretty. Whatever looks nice, they want it. Some people don’t care about much else. We call those types shallow.

“Sounds like a bad thing.” Or, at the very least, it was a weakness. If the Inquisitor was swayed by any pretty face…the Ben-Hassrath were going to count that as a valuable detail.

“It’s not great,” Krem offered, setting to work on the dummy again. “But it’s not terrible. I’d rather the Inquisitor be shallow than a liar, or greedy, or power-hungry.”

“Yeah…good point.” With that, Bull filed the conversation away to add to his reports later. Krem was good to have around in more ways than one.

 

--

 

Maxwell Trevelyan was everything Dorian had ever dreamed of—gorgeous, smart, well-bred but not full of himself, charming, strong, a natural leader, utterly lacking in arrogance, funny, caring, and perhaps most amazing of all…interested in Dorian.

“If only Father knew…” A haunting voice from atop a bookshelf. Dorian tried to ignore Cole. “And Rilienus—bitter, forgotten, look at me now…he’s ten times better, and not afraid to touch me when others might see…”

Setting his pen down with a sigh, he glanced up. “Must you? I’m quite aware that I can be petty at times. You needn’t air those particular thoughts.”

“It still hurts, but it feels good too. I’m trying to understand.”

“I think you won’t be successful,” Dorian replied.

“But it hurts…”

Another sigh. “Very well, I’ll try to explain.” He sat back. “I suppose it’s a natural instinct for us—to fight back and inflict pain in return, when we’ve been hurt. It becomes a sort of vengeance—‘You once rejected me, now I’m rejecting you by being so much happier than you could ever have made me.’ That sort of thing. It’s not very nice, and we aren’t proud of those feelings, but there they are.”

“I’ll make him sorry he ever let someone else have me…”

“Quite.”

“And that would…help?”

Dorian tapped the page in front of him. “Possibly not. I can’t say for certain; I’ve never had the pleasure. But we do so like to imagine that it would. I’d be a much better man if I could just be happy with Maxwell’s attentions, without comparing him to others.”

“But he frightens you as well. He reminds you of the hurt.”

Dorian bit his lip, only for a moment before his practiced façade returned. It was amazing how well he was beginning to understand the spirit, at least when they were talking about him. The rest of the time, he quickly got lost, but this… “It’s true. I’d feel much better if I could be the only one he noticed. Yet…it isn’t fair to make such a demand.”

“Wishing but wondering, wounded and wistful…” Cole suddenly stopped, and when Dorian glanced at the shelf again, he was gone. A moment later, he heard a familiar footstep, and he was already grinning as he turned and saw Maxwell Trevelyan approaching, lovely brown eyes warm with his beautiful, beautiful smile.

Dorian leaned back into a comfortable, inviting posture. “Did you know we’re actually related, Inquisitor?” His grin was teasing, playful. This sort of flirting was largely new to him, but perhaps Dorian was a natural—he picked up the Southern ways so quickly, in this area. No more need of furtive glances toward secretive nooks for a quick liaison, no more silent invitations with the briefest meeting of eyes. This was open, playful—so like commoners, so lacking in subtlety, and yet so…fun.

“Related?”

A bit of real alarm there, just for a moment. Adorable. “Oh, not first cousins or anything like that. Can you imagine?” Maxwell came and sat on the edge of his desk—delightfully close. They talked, close enough to touch, close enough that Dorian’s bare arm could feel the faintest warmth from the man’s body. In spite of all his mastery of his own expressions, Dorian felt himself flushing slightly. He’d been happy, in the past, to be chased by men he would never actually like. To have the attention of a man he both liked and admired, a man half of Thedas was beginning to flock to—even desire demons couldn’t invent dreams like this.

“I’d rather we weren’t related. That might make flirting awkward.” This, with a brush of fingertips along the bare curve of his bicep. Dorian’s heart did a little skip. Calling it that…so openly. It was thrilling.

When Maxwell left—and Dorian made no effort to hide the direction of his gaze as the man walked away—Cole reappeared.

“No…he’s going to see The Iron Bull now.” Then, with a smile in his ghostly voice, “I’m glad that helped.”

 

--

 

Bull dealt the cards this time; he’d also bought the next round because Varric had won. “So how did it go in Redcliff?” he finally asked. Not that he needed tactics with Varric, the willing storyteller. Sometimes being friendly was a tool; sometimes it was just being friendly. Bull preferred the latter.

“Well, there’s not much fun in that story, Tiny. It worked out, but it wasn’t pretty.”

“I gathered. The rumors are hard to believe.”

A sigh. “Usually they’re way off, but this time it’s mostly true. Yes, Sparkler’s father was there, and yes, apparently our flashy mage friend is here with us today because his family wouldn’t accept that he prefers men, and he wouldn’t accept the bride they had picked for him.” Varric picked up another card while Bull waited silently. “And yes,” he finally added, “it seems his father was planning to change his mind—quite literally—with blood magic. The tavern exploding isn’t true, though. They managed to talk it out without blowing anything up.”

“Talk it out?”

Varric shrugged. “Sparkler didn’t elaborate much. The Inquisitor left them inside to discuss things a bit. He didn’t relate the details.”

“How was he, afterward?”

“Pretty much like he is now—quieter. And…” Varric stopped, then nodded to the door of the Rest. Bull had already seen who’d just walked in. “Drinking, more than usual.”

Dorian Pavus crossed to the bar. By the looks of it, and by the little amount of lip-reading Bull could manage from here, it seemed he was planning to buy a few bottles and vanish again.

It was a snap decision to intervene and go grab the guy, pull him over to their table with a friendly invitation and a hand on his back steering him. In two minutes, Bull had bought him a tankard and dealt him in, and Dorian looked disgruntled and snooty about it—but he stayed. He was harder to read than most, but actions spoke loudest.

They played cards and drank; Varric bought the next round, and between them, Bull and Varric found excuses to buy the ‘Vint his drinks until he was sloshed enough not to pay attention where they were coming from or why. Bull kept expecting the Inquisitor to show up—he often visited the tavern anyway, and he also often made time for a chat with his companions whenever anything noteworthy happened with them. Good leadership. But so far, he was a no-show. When Varric hopped up to go take a leak, Bull tried a little fishing.

“You doing all right, Dorian? I understand family stuff can be rough.”

He was met with bleary-eyed suspicion. “Insight into humans gained during one of your many lengthy ‘chats’ with members of the staff?”

“Something like that.” He smiled. Smiling tended to put people at ease. “Hey, I’m not claiming to be the expert. But,” he raised a hand in a gesture around the tavern, “looks like I’m what you get, right now.”

“You certainly are the expert in making yourself available,” Dorian dryly observed before returning to his drink.

Bull laughed, but he was quietly studying Dorian at the same time. He hadn’t put much effort into this one, yet, but his most recent orders had included a request for more information on the altus. There were agents in Tevinter who could probably use just about anything Bull could find out. Dorian, however, did not seem to be opening up—not to Bull, anyway. That was good—a healthy suspicion. He’d make Bull work for his information. Not bad.

So…he poked.

“I wonder where the boss is? Figured he would have tracked you down by now to check up on you.”

One of Dorian’s fingers twitched against his cup, but that was all. “The Inquisitor is no one’s nanny, Iron Bull. He’s a very busy man.”

“Sure.” Bull kept his tone placating. “But he makes a habit of talking with his people. And he usually doesn’t neglect you…”

The cards in Dorian’s hand trembled, just slightly, but the man’s voice was steady, if a tad slurred. “He’s not neglecting me. Maxwell Trevelyan was exceptionally attentive in Redcliff, not to mention his consideration and support in even making the trip with me in the first place. Frankly, he’s been wonderful.”

“Mmm.” Bull nodded, perfectly innocent. “Then, do you know where he is right now?”

The pause was long, and Varric reappeared and was headed back over to them before Dorian quietly replied, “I believe Lady Montilyet needed his help with something.”

Ah.

So Dorian was aware that he was not Trevelyan’s only interest. Bull toyed with the idea, just for a moment, of offering his own conclusions on the Inquisitor’s flirtations. Dorian probably wouldn’t like it right away, but it might make him open up more later. Guys like him were a long game.

“Trevelyan only likes you for your looks.” Hmm. Maybe not.

After all, Bull wasn’t entirely sure of that. The Inquisitor’s taste ran toward beauty, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of developing deeper feelings. Bull knew something about these things, though it was observational and theoretical more than experiential knowledge. He knew the bas liked to mix sex and friendship, along with something that had been explained to him as “adoration,” which was apparently akin to ataashi. It sounded like a messy combination. Either way, he needed more time to observe Trevelyan. If there was more between them and Bull told Dorian there was less, that wouldn’t pan out well for him.

So he said nothing, and Varric joined them again, and the two of them made sure Dorian didn’t drink himself under the table.

 

--

 

Maxwell did come to chat about Redcliff—the following day. Dorian was calmer, but still not quite over the whole trip…and then Maxwell kissed him.

It was incredible; he wanted it to never end. Maxwell’s hands on him, holding him, his warm mouth and the press of his chest—it all made Dorian breathless. Kissing hadn’t thrilled him like this since he was a youth.

Alas, it had to end—with a few more murmured words of affection that had Dorian melting. Then Maxwell was gone, and Sera popped in through the window.

“So, you and the Inquisitor, hey?”

She’s as bad as Cole. He didn’t say that, though. He sat at his desk and tried not to look too giddy. “Not yet…but perhaps soon. I hope.”

“Nice.” She plopped down, cross-legged, and pulled a roll and an apple from a pouch and started eating. “Pity he’s taking Lady Josie to Val Royal-arseholes tomorrow.”

“Is he?” Dorian’s stomach tightened. “What for?”

“Meet wif somebody,” Sera mumbled through a half-full mouth. “Sumfin about killed meffengers.”

“That certainly sounds important…” he murmured mostly to himself. It was his own hope talking, and he knew it—hope that there was nothing special about Maxwell’s attention to the ambassador. There hadn’t been anything with Cullen, after all. The Inquisitor had been a flirt since before Dorian met him. Of course, that could just as easily mean that Maxwell had no serious intentions toward him…

Perhaps it was time to muster some courage and make a move of his own.

 

--

 

“Thank you for your input, Iron Bull. As soon as the Inquisitor returns from Val Royeaux, we shall discuss this matter further.”

“Sure thing.” Bull took back the letter from Par Vollen and handed over his latest reports for Leliana to check. She read in silence for a few minutes before handing them back with a tiny half-smile.

“Your lieutenant and a bard, Sera and Dagna, Varric and Cassandra—which I think you’re wrong about, by the way—and a rather confusing mess of Blackwall, Josie, the Inquisitor, and Dorian? Does the Qun have much need of the Inquisition’s romantic gossip?”

“Hey, just doing my job. They want to know what’s going on around here. I figure if they’re considering offering an alliance, they should probably know what they’re getting into.”

Leliana shrugged. “As you say. Try to correct the inaccuracies, please.”

“Which ones? I think Varric and the Seeker are doing it.”

Another quiet smirk. “They’re not, but I was referring to the last one. The way you put it, in our language at least, you made it sound like Josie had spurned Blackwall for the Inquisitor, and Trevelyan and Dorian were already making love.”

“Aren’t they?” His confusion, naturally, seemed totally sincere, even though Bull had put that in there precisely to see what Red knew about it.

“They are not, at this point. And Josie is certainly not taking two men to her bed.”

“Egh,” Bull scratched a horn. “It’s hard to convey all this in Qunlat. We have words for friends, people we rely upon, and a totally separate vocabulary for people we f—um, have sex with.”

“I can see the difficulty.” She sweetly explained, “Josie is aware of the Warden’s affection, but they are not in a relationship. Josie is not aware of the Inquisitor’s attraction to her, but if he chooses to be sincere, she will learn of it and probably reciprocate. And Dorian and the Inquisitor are very attracted to each other, but neither has taken steps to make it serious, thus far.”

“I wonder if they will…” Bull mused. Always better than a direct question.

Leliana saw through him, however—her eyes knew what he was doing very well. Even so, she seemed to think it harmless to answer. “Something will happen, most definitely. But the Inquisitor will not act until he is serious, and he is not serious yet. Dorian, on the other hand, is more reckless with himself. Interpret that as you wish.”

Conversation ended, Bull left for his own room, to put his reports away, and then to the tavern.

Dorian was there, drinking, and they spent some time playing cards with Blackwall and Sera and several Chargers. Bull contemplated bringing up Trevelyan, but in the end he didn’t, and Dorian offered nothing more on that topic either. It wasn’t ideal—there had been another request for more specific details on the altus, and Bull had nothing to add—but it was a damn enjoyable night just the same.

 

--

 

The Inquisitor took off for the Storm Coast the day after he returned from Orlais, and Dorian was quite uninvited. He certainly understood why, but it was still disappointing. He barely got to see Maxwell, except in passing, and then off he went, taking Bull, Vivienne, and Sera. Dorian winced to imagine the travelling conversations.

“Making faces isn’t going to magically reveal a move that will allow you to win this one,” Cullen wryly observed.

Smile instantly back in place, Doran shook his head. “Your pardon. My mind was wandering.”

“Have a care about that. You’re already losing rather miserably.”

Cullen was gloating—therefore, he deserved some retaliation. “Can I be blamed? Alone with such a dashing man, how can I help but imagine other games we could be playing? I’m so much more skilled at those that involve less armor and clothing…”

“Yes, yes, I gathered your meaning, no need to elaborate.”

How disappointing. Cullen didn’t even flush over such comments anymore. For such a good Chantry boy, it was remarkably difficult to make him squirm. Nothing to do but cheat again, I suppose.

 

--

 

Maxwell was gone again as soon as he got back, and this time it was probably on purpose, to avoid the ramifications of letting the Qunari alliance fall through. He skipped off with Solas, Varric, and Cole, and Dorian couldn’t find Sera—probably being welcomed home by Dagna somewhere—so he was left with only Vivienne to tell him what had happened.

She complied, with her usual amount of condescension, and explained the whole fiasco.

“They declared him Tal-Vashoth? Just like that?” In all Tevinter’s literature, there was no mention of the Qun kicking people out. Tal-Vashoth were rebels with a dangerous lust for violence; they left the Qun to steal and kill and live as wildly as they could. “But I thought he wished to remain under the Qun?”

“Apparently only to a point, darling, and this was a test of loyalty that the Bull, in their eyes, has failed.”

“Because he wouldn’t sacrifice his men?”

Vivienne placed her teacup silently in its saucer. “I think the vital point is unquestioning obedience, rather than his company’s fate. The Inquisitor felt that the mercenaries were a more valuable asset than the most formidable naval fleet in Thedas. Not that I mourn the loss of an alliance with the Qun, precisely, but from a purely pragmatic view, the Inquisition is weaker than it could have been, thanks to this.”

“Maxwell cares about his people; that’s an admirable quality in a leader,” Dorian shot back, almost too quickly.

Vivienne arched an eyebrow at him. “Indeed, my dear, the Inquisitor has many admirable qualities, but that does not mean he is infallible. I would suggest you remember that he is a man as capable of making mistakes as any other.”

Dorian saw her meaning and had no interest in discussing that matter with her. Instead, he calmly changed the subject. “And how is our new Tal-Vashoth handling all this?”

A furrow appeared in Vivienne’s brow, just for a moment. “It’s impossible to say, my dear. He’s made a profession out of performance. I dare say if he is suffering over this, we shall never see any indication of it.”

“Indeed.”

Dorian left the elegant tea setting shortly thereafter. His next stop was the tavern—coarse wooden tables and heavy tankards of ale.

He had no reason to care, and nothing much to offer, but…well, Maxwell wasn’t back yet. Perhaps a drink shared between outcasts…

Bull was in his usual spot, nothing to indicate any change as Dorian strolled up. “Dorian. How’s it going?”

Dorian sat, placing one of the tankards he’d purchased in front of Bull and drinking deeply from the other. Then he delicately wiped the foam from his moustache. “I’d thought to ask you that, but perhaps we might skip the maudlin reflections and just have a drink. One pariah to another, yes?”

There was a silent pause as Bull just stared at the tankard in front of him, his face impassive. Dorian made a mental note to leave the labels out from now on—no need to remind him what he was or wasn’t anymore; Bull knew. Then, one side of Bull’s mouth lifted in a half-smile. “Thanks, big guy.” Bull raised the ale and toasted: “To drinking!”

A whole lot of drinking later, Cabot kicked them out—the last ones to leave, long after closing time.

Neither of them were very steady on their feet, but Dorian was deeply certain in his own mind that he had surer footing than the Bull did, so he made every effort to be the gentleman and help Bull get back to his room. The process was a slow one, with much stumbling, and Dorian found himself half-supporting Bull as they climbed to the ramparts. That this put him in contact with a lot of shockingly warm skin was…well.

He smells… Not at all like Dorian remembered from traveling and fighting together. Stale sweat and dried blood had been all he noticed before, but now… He’s not supposed to smell good. Warm and musky and strange, but not a bad strange—the sort of strange he wanted to keep inhaling until he could place it, or until it became familiar, maybe…

Dorian swallowed. Maker, he wished Maxwell were here. “Ah, just a little further…there we are. Your door, Ser Iron Bull, and I hope you haven’t locked yourself out.”

“Mmmmh. Door’s always open, Dorian, you know that.”

“Savage.” He smiled as he said it, though, and propped Bull against the wall. Then, as Bull kept missing the handle, Dorian hauled the door open for him and stood back to let Bull shuffle inside.

“Hey, Dorian?” Bull leaned against the doorframe and blinked dizzily at him.

“Mmm?”

“Thanks.”

Affecting regal benevolence—hopefully—Dorian straightened up. “Never let it be said that Dorian Pavus forgets a kindness. I believe I owed you quite a few drinks; this is nothing but the settling of a debt.”

“Still. Thanks.”

He sniffed. “Well. You are quite welcome. Good night, Iron Bull.”

Unfortunately, as Dorian made to turn, he swayed badly—having forgotten to move slowly and carefully—and the next moment he crashed into a very broad, warm chest. Large arms caught him and kept him from falling all the way to the floor. “Your pardon…” Dorian began, but then he made the mistake of looking up.

Half in shadow and half in moonlight, there was Bull’s face—looking at him. There was something raw about his expression that Dorian wasn’t equipped to deal with in the moment, so instead, he relaxed into the Bull’s arms, and then they were kissing.

It wasn’t giddy and thrilling like Maxwell’s kiss—it was something else entirely. Bull’s tongue in his mouth, the flavor of alcohol and need, the burn of his lips upon Dorian’s…everything hit him like a runaway fireball. He could feel his heartbeat, hard and thudding, through every inch of his body.

Dorian wanted.

Still, it wasn’t merely a lustful kiss—he knew those very well, too. It had an edge of exhilaration, like tasting the forbidden, but at the same time it overpowered his mind with one thought—more.

Their gasped breaths mingled as their mouths just barely parted. They hesitated, and Dorian just began to lean in again…when Bull suddenly pulled back and straightened up. “Sorry,” he mumbled, hands steadying Dorian before letting go of him entirely. “Sorry, I didn’t mean…I mean, maybe, but…” He shook his head. “Too drunk. Sorry.”

“Mm.” Dorian swallowed. Nodded. Turned—slowly—and left.

He wobbled all the way back to his room, and didn’t think about anything until he woke the next day with a headache and soiled smallclothes.

 

--

 

Bull was hung over, but the Chargers had a mission, so he went. He didn’t see Dorian beforehand, and they returned a week later—just ahead of Trevelyan.

The Inquisitor was loudly declaring his wish to remain in Skyhold for two days together, but upon the conclusion of his first war room meeting, he fell sullenly silent on that point again. He showed up at Bull’s door later that day, asking him if he could be ready to leave in the morning. They apparently had urgent business in Val Royeaux.

He didn’t spend too long in the tavern that night, but Bull did linger a little later than he’d planned. He couldn’t help hoping Dorian would show up. He didn’t know what to say, exactly—was sort of hoping the ‘Vint would give him some clues to go by. But Dorian didn’t show, and Bull didn’t go looking for him. Maxwell was around, and Bull was, perhaps, just a little bit afraid to find them together. He told himself his reluctance was on account of not wanting to interrupt or spoil anything for either of them.

He told himself.

Then he left at dawn with the Inquisitor’s party, and he was happy to have something to do, happy for a bit of fighting…and happy that Maxwell didn’t smell like anyone but himself.

Vivienne was traveling with them this time. Bull had started the respectful, obedient behavior around her because he knew she’d like it, she’d relish having a big brute like him jump at the snap of her fingers…and she’d let her guard down around him if she felt like she had the power, because that was what she wanted. He didn’t know if his reports on Madam de Fer had been used by the Ben-Hassrath for anything significant; all he knew was that he didn’t have reports to write anymore, and if he wanted to stop acting like a trained mabari pup, now was probably the time.

“Iron Bull, did you clean your weapon after that last fight?”

No, of course not. After all, he was really hoping there was something else waiting to attack them just around the next bend in the road—fighting, protecting his companions, did wonders for his mental state. But his excuses fell on deaf ears, and—out of habit more than anything else—he finally grumbled, “I’ll go clean it now.”

“Thank you, darling.”

Two fights later—and two cleanings of his axe—he tried to point that out. “You know, if the blood doesn’t get a chance to dry between uses, there’s really no benefit to cleaning it off.” It was a half-hearted attempt to assert a little independence, maybe warn the lady so she wasn’t shocked when he dropped the obedient act. He expected a stern response—Madam de Fer trying to whip him back into line, so to speak.

“My dear Iron Bull, if you wouldn’t charge after every halfway threatening wild animal, there would be a bit more time between battles.”

“Oh. Uh…sorry ma’am.”

“Not at all, darling.” Then, a probing look. “However, I do wonder at your unusual alacrity for battle today.”

“I’ve always liked fighting.”

“Yes, dear, but this is still more than usual for you. Are you quite well?”

Solas, of all people, decided to interject then. “Perhaps our recently turned Tal-Vashoth companion enjoys having a task at hand to focus upon.” A placid glance. “Is that a fair assessment, Iron Bull?”

He sighed. “Yeah. I’ve been trying to keep active. Fighting gives me something clear to focus on.”

“Of course, dear.” Nothing but gentleness and understanding. Weird, Bull thought. That wasn’t her usual act. Wouldn’t have guessed she really cared.

“Perhaps another focus, when there is no imminent fighting to be done?” Solas offered.

“Like what?”

“King’s pawn to E4.”

And that was even stranger. There had never been a friendly word between them; Bull’s file on Solas had contained: “Apostate elven mage, no specific training, Fade expert, hates the Qun.” If he’d been ordered to learn more than that, he had planned to start asking others what they knew; he wasn’t going to get much out of Solas himself.

And now here the elf was, trying to help. And he continued trying to help all the way to Val Royeaux—and the strangest thing of all was that he did. Having something to think about that followed rules he understood make Bull feel more at ease than he had since before the Storm Coast.

Vivienne took him shopping in Val Royeaux, and—just to be agreeable—Bull let her dress him up and order the tailor around. They also met Lady Montilyet in the city, and she and Trevelyan disappeared somewhere together.

When they came back, the Inquisitor was…different.

All the way back to Skyhold, he was…strangely cheerful, and constantly inattentive to his surroundings. Bull wasn’t sure why, exactly. Vivienne clearly noticed, and she seemed unsurprised, but he didn’t get a chance to talk to her privately, away from Trevelyan, while they were on the road.

When we get back to Skyhold, he promised himself. Maybe she can explain this for me.

Then he remembered that he didn’t need an explanation, because he didn’t have to report on the Inquisitor to the Ben-Hassrath anymore.

Still. Maybe he’d ask anyway. Just out of curiosity.

 

--

 

Dorian waited and waited, and when the Inquisitor’s party finally returned, he was ready. He had made up his mind what he would do, and he did it—with only one glass of liquid courage, too.

He knocked on Maxwell’s door shortly after the Inquisitor had retired for the night, and when Maxwell let him in, Dorian made a very charming, very clear offer to engage in “something more…primal.”

Maxwell had smiled to see him arrive, but as he understood the proposition, his smile froze. Dorian felt his stomach clench nervously.

“Oh.” Maxwell stared at him, his smile now almost a wince. “Oh, you…that is, um…huh.” Then the unbearably handsome Inquisitor flushed, hunching like a schoolboy caught misbehaving. “Maker, Dorian, if you had asked me that a couple weeks ago…” His eyes scanned Dorian, regretful.

“Truly?” He pulled on his best mask and affected casual curiosity. “But not now? Have I done something to offend?”

“No, no!” Regret, apology, reaching for him, hands on his arms. “No, you’ve done nothing, Dorian, I still like you very much, and…and I would enjoy it, really I would. I just…don’t think it would be fair to you, when I, um, have feelings for…someone else.”

Kaffas. I knew it. Dorian’s heart ached. “Someone such as…our delightful lady ambassador?”

Maxwell blushed so obviously Dorian felt sick, but his smile didn’t falter. “Josephine…she’s…” He broke off with a sigh that became a little laugh. “I can’t explain it at all! She’s such a remarkable woman. I mean, she’s always been beautiful, but the more I talk to her…” Another sigh. Maxwell turned away, and Dorian let him go. The young man paced with a nervous energy. “I mean, everyone thinks she’s frightening, and her competence in business and politics truly is intimidating, but at the same time she has such a tender heart, and she’s so sweet, and sassy, and I don’t know what to do with myself but I want to be around her all the time, and…!” He stopped suddenly, seeing Dorian still listening. The energy and happiness faded again, and Maxwell returned and took his hands. Dorian could feel the calluses from his daggers in the gentle touch. “I’m so sorry, Dorian. I hope you don’t feel I led you on, I…I really was sincere. You are a very handsome man, and charming, and I wanted…” He trailed off, apologetically shrugging. “Well. You know.”

Don’t offer… “I understand. And I wouldn’t mind, you know, even if it were just for a bit of fun.” Kaffas.

But Maxwell shook his head. “Just for fun is…fine, usually. But not…like this. Not when there’s someone…”

“Someone else you love?”

Regret mingled with silly happiness—and it wasn’t fair that Maxwell Trevelyan could make such a foolish expression look so lovely. “Yes. I just couldn’t do that to you, Dorian.”

Time to cut my losses. Dorian nodded. “You are a very good man, Inquisitor.” Then, he swept back in a deep bow and brushed the faintest kiss over Maxwell’s knuckles. “And I hope you will find happiness with Lady Montilyet.”

“Thank you.” Spoken softly, and then Dorian turned to go.

Cole was standing at the foot of the stairs, and for once, he didn’t start rambling some disjointed alliteration. He only looked at Dorian, and Dorian shrugged, smiling sadly. “He’s still better than any other man I’ve known. Every last one of them would have told me after he took what he wanted.”

“Rilienus all over again.”

His smile was pained, bitter. “It does seem I’m developing a habit of losing the man I care for to the charms of a fair lady.”

“Care more carefully.”

Dorian opened his mouth to argue, but Cole was gone.

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