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An Unquenchable Flame

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Dorian was accustomed to being a pariah.  Even amongst the nobility of Tevinter his opinions weren’t popular ones.  He’d never owned a slave, never participated in blood magic… never slept with a woman.  Aside from his sexuality, he had kept his thoughts largely to himself, knowing that that would put a further chasm between him and his peers.  It was of little import if he became an undesirable  amongst the Inquisition.  He had come here to stop his countrymen from further spoiling the world not to braid hair with quaint southerners.

That that wasn’t what happened shocked him perhaps as much as the masses of the faithful.  Oh, there were those who kept a watchful eye on him, hardly surprising when it turned out they were not only fighting a Tevinter cult but one led by a Blighted magister.  What was surprising was the amount of welcome he’d received.

The Herald, from nearly the beginning, has been practically chummy, even flirtatious - which just proved her to be a woman of good taste.   ‘There’s no one I’d rather be stuck in time with, present or future.’

In another lifetime the flirtations he offered to the young Free Marcher would be heated with desire.  In this one they were merely banter between two people who were - against all odds- becoming quite close.  That she dragged Dorian and Bull into the field more often than any other of her companions hadn’t been lost on anyone, least of all the gossips of Skyhold.

It set the tongues to wagging that Dorian often shared her tent, and sometimes even her bed.  What none of them were likely to guess is that it wasn’t the least bit sexual between them.  Perhaps once the Inquisitor had believed such a thing possible, for that he had some modicum of regret; but that had passed in a tavern in The Hinterlands when she’d discovered the reason he’d fled Tevinter.  Evelyn had every right to have hurt feelings, Dorian wouldn’t have blamed her in the least; instead she’d commented on how he’d caught Bull’s eye and they’d discussed the merits of Qunari physiology over far too many glasses of foul southern wine.

Their bond - as Dorian often thought of - was formed not of desire but of fear.  The rest of the Inquisition had read the reports of the ‘dark future’; but they alone had witnessed it.  So when the nightmares gripped the young woman in terror he could not help but offer her whatever solace she found wrapped in his arms.  That he, himself, slept better with her warmth curled beside him was something he’d confessed to her and her alone.

“You’re torturing him, Dorian.”  Evelyn pushed her bedroll closer to his.

“I am not sure who you mean.  Perhaps the young Commander?  Do you believe he has developed a taste for aberrance?”

“You’re not aberrant, Lord Pavus,” she sneered, dodging the pillow he tossed at her head.  “Also I’m not sure our Commander has a taste for anything but a well ordered army.”

Dorian chuckled at that as he nestled himself under the thick furs of their joined bedrolls.

“I’m referring to Bull.”

“Oh.” Dorian sighed as she snuggled close to him absorbing her warmth greedily as she wrapped her arms around his waist.  For such a small woman she was practically a heater though she complained about the weather as much as he.  That, or far more likely, his refined northern blood wouldn't let him acclimate to the freezing climbs of Ferelden.

“Didn’t he mention something about conquering ? I couldn’t quite hear you two drifted so far behind…”

He groaned, rolling his eyes despite the fact she couldn’t see him from where her cold nose was buried against his hairless chest - something she’d remarked upon the first time they’d cuddled like this.  “What a marvelous notch he could put in his bedpost.”

“Don’t tell me you aren’t tempted. ” she wheedled.

“Tempted? Perhaps when I am exceedingly drunk.  But it is a temptation bourne of a spectacular dearth of choices.”

“There are many men that share your inclinations, it isn’t shameful as it is in the Imperium.” She said, her eyelashes brushing against his flesh as she snuggled into him, any closer and they might have to extract them surgically; not that he truly minded.

“Oh yes,” Dorian groaned, “they share my inclinations as well as the southern fear of Magisters: blood mages, seducers of virgins.  I’ve only just gotten them to stop blessing themselves whenever I walk past.”

“Suit yourself, Bull is spectacular.”

“Have you?” he said, pulling back to try and catch her eye and being rewarded with the sight of her red hair against his copper skin.

She burst out laughing.  “No, no I have not.”

“And why not? If he is so spectacular?

He almost regretted the question when he felt the tension fill her body, heard the sigh of regret break loose from her chest.  “Because for me, it is impossible.”

Dorian wanted to push, wanted to pry out the sadness he heard in his friend’s voice but he knew whatever was their was too deep and painful to touch right now.  So he let it lie and told her stories of the wonders of Minrathous until he felt her breathing slow and her body go lax.

~

Bull took the first watch, letting Blackwall have their shared tent to himself.  Standing with his back to the fire so as not to ruin the night vision in his one good eye, he watched their sentries farther afield.  He was surprised when he heard the soft cries in the darkness. More nightmares.  Then, moments later the soft rustle of the canvas tents, by the lightness and quickness of the gait it was Evelyn. 

He hadn’t mentioned them to her.  He’d long ago learned not to let the humans (elves and dwarves) know just how good his sense of hearing (and smell) was compared to their own.  Still, he’d been surprised to hear her cry out.  Usually she slept through the night when Dorian shared her tent.

“Hey boss,” he said, turning back towards the fire where she was huddled close for warmth.

“Guess it is my turn for watch.” she said, not looking at him.  She was hunched over, leaning into the warmth of the fire.  The golden light from the flames dancing across her skin serving only to highlight the shadows beneath her eyes, the tension around her mouth as she ground her teeth.  

Shit.  Must’ve been a bad one.

“Not tired, maybe you should get some more rest.” he offered, hopeful that the young woman might get more than a few hours tonight.  

He knew what the soldiers of the Inquisition saw when they looked at her… a prophet, practically Andraste reborn and no matter how much he knew she privately believed otherwise she let them think that; perhaps because it was advantageous to garner allies or perhaps because in the back of her mind she wondered ‘what if?’ .  

The Iron Bull?  Well, he saw a young apostate who’d lost everything in her life - twice.  Once when the Templars had dragged her away to the Circle and another when the family she'd made there turned on one another and began an unwinnable war.  He saw a woman who stared into the abyss and held against it because it was the right fucking thing to do; and it was breaking her.

He dropped down onto the log next to her, stretching out his bad knee.

“Wanna talk about it?” he said, checking her shoulder with his, happy when he saw the ghost of a smile tug at her lips.

He didn’t miss the way she leaned toward the heat of him but he didn't comment.  Bull reached around her and plucked the saddle blanket, still folded, off the end of the log before draping it around her shoulders.  If he conveniently left his arm around her, well, she didn’t complain.

She shook her head, staring as sparks flew upward from the flames.

“You and Dorian-” he began before she cut him off.

“Not what you think it is.”

“Oh,” Bull chuckled, “It is exactly what I think it is.  I’m probably the only one who’s got it right.”

She tossed her mane of red hair, free from its perpetual braids, off her shoulder.  Damn, she was gorgeous but then again he’d always had a thing for redheads.  They were rare amongst Qunari.  But, amongst the humans they’d bought into that whole fiery redhead crap - as if the colour of your hair made a damn bit of difference in your personality.  Not that he believed that.  But, if you grew up hearing it maybe you were a bit more inclined to behave that way, or have people perceive you that way.  Certainly the ones who'd shared his bed were a bit more interesting.

“So,” she pinned him with her green eyes, “What do you think you know?”

That’s what he liked about Evelyn, he was easily more than twice her size and she wasn’t intimidated in the least.  “That it isn’t about sex.” he enunciated, letting the words fall between them and turn into silence, punctuated by the crackling of the flames.  What he didn't add was that she probably wanted it to be.  He would've told Evelyn she was barking up the wrong tree, or whatever the human expression was, but he didn't really feel that was his place.

She stared at him for a long while her eyes scanning over the planes of his face.  He considered kissing her, drinking the sorrow from her lips.  But then, her eyes became soft, a forgotten pain suddenly filling them.  “I saw you die.”

When she didn’t continue he said, “Yeah, I know.”

“I see it again.  Tonight… every night.  Every soldier who swears fealty to the Inquisition, every agent who joins our cause, every friend I make…  I see their bodies pile up in that blighted throne room.  They stand between me and Corypheus and it isn’t enough to stop him… to stop that future.  If I could give my life to end it-” the words choked off in her throat and Bull couldn’t stop himself from pulling her into his lap.

He was shocked how gratefully she came, letting him hold her and brush away the tears with the rough pad of his thumb.  She may stand firm against the darkness but that didn't make it easy.  She was so damn young, maybe twenty five and most of that spent sheltered away.  She’d accepted him - accepted them all.  They were a ragtag bunch of misfits but they were hers, all sworn to her side.  Anyone of them would gladly lift the burden from her shoulders if it were possible.  As it was, all Bull could do was try to be her shield.  That Blackwall had once said something similar to him over too many pints of ale - his voice dripping with romantic notions of courtly love - was not lost on him.

After a long time in silence she moved to get up, but he held on.  “I’m probably crushing your leg, Bull.”

“You humans weigh nothing at all, don’t worry about me.  Stay.”

He helped her back into a comfortable position, an old Qunari lullabye coming to his lips unbidden.  It wasn’t long before sleep took her again.  Just as she went boneless in his arms he heard the canvas flap rustle again, the Tevinter mage coming to join them by the fire.

“Is she…?” Dorian whispered, taking the vacated spot next to him on the log.

“Asleep again.”

“I was worried when I awoke to find her missing.  Do you intend to hold her all night?”

Bull stopped himself from shrugging as she wriggled in his arms. “You got a better idea?”

“A moment?” Dorian said, flashing a cheeky smile before leaving.  He returned from his tent a moment later with his staff and leviatated her right out of his arms.

“That’s impressive.” Bull said, rubbing the slight tingle of magic lingering on his arms.

He held the tent flap back while Dorian maneuvered her back onto her sleeping roll.  As he headed back to his position near the fire he heard Dorian’s voice call, “Well, are you coming?”