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half the lies you tell aren't true

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Dorian expected the Iron Bull to hate him on sight. In truth, he expects everyone south of Vyrantium to hate him; it saves him rather a lot of time and trouble to do so. Certainly their first meeting did little to dissuade the assumption. The giant Qunari -- giant even by Qunari standards -- had tipped his horned head and narrowed one remaining eye, hefting a battleaxe as tall as Dorian over one shoulder. He was spattered in blood and ichor, looking every inch the savage brute Tevinters consider all his kin.

"Careful," he growled, "the pretty ones are always the worst."

"Suspicious friends you have here," Dorian remarked, masking annoyance with a smirk.

So the Qunari didn't trust the Tevinter mage. Shocking. If circumstances had been different, Dorian would have happily taken the opportunity to antagonize the man further. But at the time, they all had more pressing concerns. It isn't until two weeks later -- or a year and two weeks later, depending on how you want to count it -- that Dorian has a chance to really apply himself to the task. By then, Dorian has officially joined the Inquisition and claimed a room near the apothecary. The Iron Bull and his oh-so-cleverly named Chargers are camped just outside Haven's walls, along with the rest of the Inquisition soldiers and recruits.

They have little occasion to see each other, much less converse, until the Inquisitor decides to take them out into the Hinterlands.

They spend less than a week there, but to Dorian the days last an eternity. Their purpose is ostensibly to close rifts and spread the Inquisition's reach, but more often to carry messages and fetch things for inept farmers. Hiking up and down the Blighted countryside to carry out trifling errands is not what Dorian signed on for, but the alternative is going back to Tevinter, which is no alternative at all.

To distract himself from the mindless tedium, rough terrain, and miserable climate, Dorian turns his attentions to the Bull. Any day now, Dorian is sure, the Bull will pick up where he left off and force some kind of confrontation. Dorian doesn't relish the idea of fighting the man, but he will be damned if he lets the Qunari catch him off guard. Whether it is trading blows or words, they will have it out on Dorian's terms.

The problem is, whatever hint of animosity the Bull had shown upon their first meeting seems to have disappeared entirely. Every attempt at provoking anger is met with steady unconcern or, insultingly, mild amusement. Dorian is convinced it is all an elaborate act -- it has to be, nobody can listen to his endless stream of complaints and escalating insults while remaining completely unaffected. Eventually, Dorian gives up all pretense of subtlety and forces the issue, point blank.

The next time they stop to rest for a few hours and resupply, Dorian approaches the Bull and leads him to the edge of camp. The Inquisitor watches them walk past with a raised eyebrow, but makes no comment. Sera is preoccupied with checking her bow or some such; Dorian only cares that she is too distracted to draw attention to them. Once they are more or less out of earshot of everyone, Dorian sets his jaw and turns to face the Bull.

"Let's have it, then," Dorian demands, hands on his hips.

If Bull had a hairline to speak of, his eyebrows would have disappeared into them. As it is, he is gratifyingly taken aback by Dorian, for once.

"Here? In front of everyone?" Bull asks. He sounds impressed.

"If you would prefer to do this in private, I suppose we can wait until we get back to Haven," Dorian sighs.

"Hey, whatever you're into, I'm up for it," Bull says, grinning broadly. Which is... not the reaction Dorian had expected. "Although the rocks kind of limit our options. I could pin you up against that boulder, though."

Dorian blinks. "Excuse me?"

"Well, this ground would be murder on our knees, and while I don't mind holding you up that means I won't have any hands free to--"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Dorian sputters, although he has a horrifyingly good idea.

"What are you talking about?" Bull asks, sounding genuinely bewildered.

A dozen different emotions roil through Dorian, vying for precedence. Indignation wins out in the end, and Dorian hears himself saying, in scathing tones, "How could you possibly think I'd ever proposition you?"

"Ouch," Bull chuckles. He scratches his chin and shrugs, a decidedly less casual gesture when executed by that particular set of shoulders. "Alright, why did you lead me out to this secluded spot and ask to 'have it,' then?"

"Is that really all it takes for you?" Dorian asks, then immediately holds up a hand. "Don't answer that. Let's pretend the past few seconds didn't happen."

The Bull crosses his arms, another simple gesture turned needlessly showy. Can't he just stand still for a second? And put on a shirt, while he's at it?

"What I meant," Dorian says, valiantly regaining his composure, "was, let's hear whatever it is you want to say to me. Accusations, insults, threats, or all of the above. I'd rather you get it all off your chest" (do not think about his chest) "instead of letting it build and go off when I least expect."

"Do I seem like the type to avoid saying what's on my mind?" Bull counters. Which, alright, fair point. But that can't possibly be the end of the matter.

"You are a Qunari! And I am a Tevinter mage!" Dorian says, voice rising in frustration. So much for composure.

"And Varric is a dwarf, and Sera likes to shoot things with arrows, and the Inquisitor has a glowing green hand, and--"

"Yes, I get the joke. Well done, you," Dorian snaps. "But you must see what I mean, surely. Even you can't be that daft."

"Let's say I am," Bull drawls. "Why don't you explain it to me. Use small words so I can keep up."

"You and I may both be working for the Inquisition, but we can hardly be considered allies to each other," Dorian says, irritation mounting. The Bull was toying with him now, acting the fool only to prolong the satisfaction of seeing Dorian unsettled. So be it. Dorian crosses his arms, mirroring Bull, and says, "I've been waiting for you to finish what you started at Redcliffe."

"I wasn't aware I'd started anything," Bull says, sounding bemused.

"You made it clear that I wasn't trustworthy, a sentiment I'm sure you still hold and one I'd like for you to express plainly," Dorian says, scraping the very last dregs of his patience. "Because I'll be honest with you, it is exhausting to fight alongside someone who might at any minute turn his blade on me."

Of all the things Dorian has said to Bull so far -- barbed comments and petty remarks, childish insults and pointed accusations -- not one of them has prompted the reaction this last confession earns him. The Bull goes very, very still for a moment, his expression turning unsettlingly blank.

The moment passes. Bull shakes his head, lets out a single, humourless ha.

"You're afraid of me," he says. Not a question, but something Bull seems to only just realize.

"I wouldn't go that far," Dorian says, though it's more or less true. "But do you blame me for being wary? I know what you do to your mages. Should I expect kinder treatment when I'm a Tevinter besides?"

"I am Ben-Hassrath, not Arvaarad," the Iron Bull says, his voice going hard and clipped around the foreign words. "I do not report to the Antaam and I have no interest in converting anyone."

"No interest in converting?" Dorian echoes. "What sort of Qunari are you?"

"And what sort of 'Vint are you?" Bull rejoins. He seems to be settling back into his usual good humour, a lazy smile pulling at his mouth. "Kill any slaves or perform any blood magic rituals lately?"

"Not lately, but it's been a busy couple of weeks," Dorian replies, somewhat subdued.

The Bull draws in a deep breath, his chest (do not look at his chest) swelling with it before he blows it all out in a great rush. Dorian half expects the grass to rustle at his feet.

"The only way you and I will ever have a problem is if you try to hurt innocent people, got it?" Bull says simply. "Now, I may not have known you for very long, but I'm pretty good at reading people. And I'm willing to bet that's not something you're interested in doing."

"That... would be a safe assumption to make," Dorian concedes.

"Then we're good!" Bull declares, with entirely too much enthusiasm. He follows the sentiment with a bracing slap on Dorian's shoulder that nearly bowls him to the ground. "Stop worrying, big guy. I've got no quarrel with you."

Dorian rubs the imminent bruise on his arm, wincing. "If you say so," he says, feeling thoroughly foolish and resenting every bit of it. Unwilling to let it end there, he adds, "I still can't believe you thought I was trying to seduce you."

"I thought we were pretending that never happened," Bull grins.

"We are," Dorian says firmly. "And it didn't. I am just saying, for the record, that it was ridiculous for you to assume that."

"Can't blame a guy for getting his hopes up," Bull says wistfully. "I did call you pretty when we met, remember?"

"That's like saying the sky is blue," Dorian says, out of reflex. He ignores the pleased rumble of laughter this draws from Bull, because there is absolutely nothing about it worth noticing, and continues, "You also called me 'the worst.'"

"And I stand by that, too," Bull says cheerfully.

Dorian hates to let anyone have the last word, but he weighs the risks and decides to quit while he is marginally ahead. With one last aggravated sigh, he turns and heads back to camp. The Bull follows close behind, whistling tunelessly to himself.

---

It takes a long, long time for Dorian to realize that he is still waiting for the Bull to finish what he started.

+++++

Dorian honestly does not see it coming. In hindsight, of course, it all seems so obvious. They have been moving inexorably towards this since that first initial misunderstanding -- the thing they both agreed to pretend never happened. Only Bull would insist on turning everything into a sexual overture, and Dorian couldn't tell him to stop because it would mean admitting that the thing that never happened did, in fact, happen.

The truth is, they both know that it did, and neither of them ever did a good job of pretending it didn't.

Which means this, this new thing...

"I mean it," Dorian gasps, slamming a hand hard against Bull's shoulder to get his attention. "This is only going to happen once, and if you tell anyone, I will-- fuck!"

"Whatever you say," Bull replies, and Dorian can hear the blasted grin in his voice, even if he can't see it.

Bull is on his knees, face pressed against Dorian's belly, one of his hands working fruitlessly at a buckle, the other wrapped around nearly the entire width of Dorian's thigh. If he only bends his head a little, the tips of his horns would be digging into the wall on either side of Dorian. Pinning him in place, quite literally. The thought is not at all appealing, and Dorian's knees do not go weak.

"I need you to take me seriously," Dorian says, hoping he doesn't sound as breathless as he feels. He keeps his hand on Bull's shoulder, seeing as it's right there, conveniently.

"Oh, I intend to take you," Bull says. "Very seriously."

Dorian groans. It has everything to do with the fact that he is letting a man who makes a joke that terrible touch him, and nothing at all to do with the way Bull's grip tightens around his thigh.

"So many buckles," Bull mutters, biting at one reproachfully. He is still trying to get the first one loose, his fingers surprisingly nimble but evidently not up to the task.

"If you can't even work out how to get me out of my clothes," Dorian says, "I hardly think you deserve to enjoy what's under them."

"I could rip them off easily, but--"

"You value your life? Smart man."

"It's not like you don't have more," Bull protests. He keeps squeezing Dorian's thigh. It's very distracting.

"They're not disposable," Dorian says peevishly. And, because he fears for the integrity of his favourite set of clothes and for no other purpose, he reaches up to undo his own damned buckles.

He does have rather a lot of them, and even with practice it takes some time for Dorian to get undressed. Bull stays kneeling before him, watching avidly as Dorian removes each piece. Dorian wants to say something, but can't for the life of him think what, so for a long while all he hears is their laboured breathing, the scrape of cloth and leather, that final whisper of silk.

Some innate, primal part of him curls up in fear when he finally stands naked before the Iron Bull. It's been months since Dorian had thought of Bull as a threat, and he doesn't think of Bull that way now, not truly. But as the last of his clothes drop to the floor and the Bull slowly rises to his feet, Dorian looks up -- and up, and up -- at him and is momentarily seized with the instinct to run.

Bull takes a step back from him.

"Where do you think you're going," Dorian demands, horrified to hear his voice rising in alarm.

"Nowhere," Bull reassures. He reaches out to run the back of his knuckles down Dorian's chest, a carelessly affectionate gesture that Dorian isn't sure what to do with. "Just admiring the view."

Dorian is well aware how good he looks. He is not a shy person. There is no reason for this to make him blush, so he is not blushing.

"I hope you intend to do more than admire," Dorian says, with perhaps a bit more bravado than he feels.

"Oh, I don't know," Bull teases. "You could stand there and look pretty while I take care of this." He reaches down and casually cups his own cock, the loose folds of his ridiculous pants outlining the shape and size of it.

"I will walk out of this room," Dorian says. It takes a second for him to realize he's not looking at Bull's face as he says it. Does it matter? His mouth is watering and he can't even pretend to himself it isn't. He swallows. "I will pick up my clothes and leave right this instant if that's all you intend to do tonight."

"Now that would be a damn shame," Bull murmurs. He is still standing just out of Dorian's reach, no outward inclination to move any closer. Dorian opens his mouth to object when Bull starts to undress (if one could ever truly call him dressed), and whatever protest Dorian had been about to make stutters to a halt and dies a quiet death.

The pauldron comes off with a few snaps and lands with a heavy thump. The boots are kicked off, one after another, the second clattering as if armoured as it skitters across the floor. The wide belt is removed next, and that is apparently all that keeps his pants up because those instantly start sliding down his hips. They come to a reluctant halt at the last possible second, hanging off Bull's erection in a manner that would probably be hilarious to an objective eye, except Dorian is not finding any of this in the least bit funny.

His palms ache, his fingertips burning with barely restrained magic. Dorian has never in his life wanted to see someone naked so badly.

Bull reaches down to tug loose the drawstring; later, Dorian will remember to feel rightly ashamed that he is sleeping with a man who wears drawstring pants. The final offending garment falls away, and Bull steps out of them. Dorian feels a wave of white-hot heat wash over him from head to toe.

His first thought, with a slight edge of hysteria: Maker, he's going to cripple me. But Dorian manages to choke back his shock and maintain some semblance of composure.

"Well," he starts, then stops. What else is there to say, really? The last thing Bull needs stroked is his ego.

"Well," he tries again. "Aren't we eager."

Bull lets out a rumbling sound more growl than laugh, one of his hands wrapping loosely around his cock to stroke it languidly. It's only then that Dorian realizes he's still staring at it, that he hasn't looked anywhere else since Bull had started undressing.

With an effort, Dorian looks back up at Bull's face. It takes a while for his eyes to get there, and he enjoys the view along the way. Bull is grinning, huge and smug and not at all attractive.

"Oh, hello, remembered I'm here, did you?" Bull says.

"You're hilarious," Dorian says flatly. "Are we going to do anything besides stand five feet apart and stare at each other?"

"You looked like you could use some space," Bull shrugs. "You seem a bit..."

Dorian narrows his eyes. "You think I'm nervous?"

"It would be alright if you were."

"Vishante kaffas, I am not a blushing virgin!" Dorian snaps.

Bull grins. "It can be a lot to--"

"Oh, don't flatter yourself," Dorian hisses. And, before Bull can say another word, Dorian launches himself at him.

To his credit, Bull does not falter for an instant. He catches Dorian easily, hands wrapping around his waist and lifting him clear off the floor with no sign of effort. Dorian wants to find it insulting, and some part of him does, surely. That part of him is nowhere to be found, at present. He wraps his legs around Bull's middle as best he can, knees high up on either side of his expansive chest, hands gripping Bull's shoulders for support he doesn't really need. Dorian's cock is hard and hot and pressed between their bodies, and when Bull growls this time it goes straight to Dorian's balls. Maker preserve him.

"Move," Dorian orders. "If we're doing this, we're doing this on a bed."

"Kiss me," Bull says. Which has nothing to do with anything, but Dorian supposes he can oblige.

Bull has a wide mouth, thin lips slashed with scars and framed all over with a rough, ill-kept beard. Dorian is not nearly drunk enough to admit, even privately, that Bull kisses more tenderly than anyone he has bedded before. His tongue is searing hot and slightly rougher than what Dorian is used to, but there is nothing unfamiliar about kissing Bull. Which is worrisome, considering this is the first time they have ever kissed.

Dorian pulls away to remind him, "Bed."

"Now who's eager?" Bull says, sneaking in another kiss.

"I never said I wasn't," Dorian points out. He arches his lower back ever so slightly, pressing his cock more firmly to Bull's chest for emphasis.

Bull kisses him again, smiling into it like he just can't help it, and Dorian doesn't find it sweet.

A few quick strides, and Dorian is dumped unceremoniously onto the bed, bouncing off the mattress with the breath knocked out of him. He swears and kicks lightly at Bull's ribs in reproof. Bull catches his foot, hand wrapping easily around his calf, thumb stroking idly against his ankle bone.

"You look good in my bed," Bull comments. It dips under his great weight as he knees up onto it. He keeps his grip on Dorian's leg, slowly moving it off to one side, easing Dorian's thighs apart. He settles himself in the space he makes, and says, "You should be in it more often."

The fingers wrapped around Dorian's leg are tipped with blunt claws, and once again, an instinctive, subconscious part of him quells. Dangerous, it whispers, to bare his belly like this. But Dorian is not, has never been, prey. He bares his teeth in a smile, stretching his arms above his head as he rolls his hips, once, twice. Bull is staring at him like his life depends on it, mouth parted and that too-hot tongue darting out to swipe across his lower lip.

"Why don't you focus on the present," Dorian says, in what a past acquaintance had once coined his 'fuck me voice.' Rather crude, but apt.

It certainly has the intended effect.

---

Some time later, Dorian manages to gasp, "No marks, if you please."

"You're a mage, aren't you?" Bull asks, but leaves off at once. The air is shockingly cold against Dorian's slick throat.

"Not that kind of mage," Dorian grits out.

"Then what kind are you?" Bull teases.

"The kind that bruises rather easily, if you must know, and also the kind that can set things on fire with their mind, so no marks."

"What if I make them where nobody can see?" Bull asks, his voice pitched low and full of promise. He ducks down to lick a hot stripe down Dorian's chest, teeth scraping lightly across his nipple.

Dorian absolutely does not whimper.

---

There will be marks after all, Dorian is certain, but at the moment he finds it hard to care.

"Bull," he says. And again, "Bull--" biting down hard on his lip to stop himself from pleading.

"It's the Iron Bull, actually," lifting his head to correct Dorian on this, of all things, grinning like the fool he is, "I like the article."

"I am not calling you that while you-- I am not calling you that!" Ridiculous.

The Iron Bull stifles his laughter against Dorian's skin.

"Just, just get on it with it," Dorian says. Please.

"I'll take you there, don't worry," nipping at his inner thigh, a sweet, sharp pain to offset the steady ache, "I want to make this last."

"Don't be cruel." He isn't begging, he isn't.

"You said this was only going to happen once," Bull reminds him, but he twists his wrist just so, his other hand pinning Dorian's hips to the bed, "Let me savour it."

"I didn't--" I didn't mean it, how could you not know I didn't mean it "I meant just this one night, not this one time."

"Oh?" There's a gleam in his eye, and Dorian feels a dawning sense of trepidation.

"That wasn't a challenge," he adds hastily.

"Sure sounded like one," grinning again, hands moving with renewed purpose. Dorian wants to protest, but claps a hand over his own mouth instead. He can't trust himself to speak.

---

Bull rolls Dorian onto his stomach to fuck him. Easier like this, he says, after spending hours opening Dorian up on his fingers, bringing him off twice, his own completion a mere afterthought. And it is simply impossible that Dorian should still want more, drenched in sweat and every limb sore with exertion, but he does, and he lets Bull move him how he wants him. As much as I'd love to see you ride me, Bull says, and Dorian should be scoffing at that terrible line, but he can barely draw enough breath to fill his lungs, and all he manages is a shivery sort of laugh that earns him a kiss on the shoulder.

His legs are coaxed apart, spread so wide his inner thighs ache with the strain, and Bull fits somehow, inside him and around him, one thick arm wrapped around Dorian's middle, his broad palm warm against Dorian's heart, the other hand braced on the mattress. He is heavy, and huge, and the only thing keeping Dorian in one piece, whispering That's it, that's it in his ear, endlessly patient as he rocks into Dorian inch by inch. Dorian imagines the arc of Bull's spine, the great muscles of his back tensed and flexing as he hunches over Dorian, covering him entirely. The hand he has braced on the bed is right beside Dorian's head, and Dorian watches like it's someone else slowly reaching out to slip their fingers underneath Bull's palm.

Bull covers Dorian's hand with his, lacing their fingers together as best as he can and squeezing tight. Holding hands while he fucks Dorian to within an inch of his life.

---

The sky is starting to turn grey. In a few hours, the sun will rise and this night will be officially over.

Dorian should be making his way back to the castle, to his own quarters. There is a stack of books he still needs to go through, a letter to write to Maevaris. He is stone cold sober and feels rather like someone has wrung him out to dry, and nobody can see him like this, sneaking out of Bull's room in the early hours of dawn.

He will get up and leave. Any second now.

It is unreasonably cold in the room, mainly because there is a large piece missing from the roof. Barbaric. They may as well be sleeping outside, exposed to all the elements. The only reason Dorian isn't leaping out of bed is because it happens to be extremely warm. More to the point, Bull is extremely warm. And surprisingly comfortable, his great bulk softer than it looks.

"We are not cuddling," Dorian says aloud.

"Whatever you sa-ay," Bull replies, the last word stretched out into a yawn.

"Are you going to sleep?" Dorian demands.

"You're not?" Bull asks, rubbing at his eye. "Damn. I'm tired, but if you wanna go again--"

"Can you think about anything else for one bloody second?" Dorian groans. "I only meant, if you're going to sleep, I can... I should go."

"Mm. If that makes you feel better," Bull says. He sounds unconcerned, which is a good thing. Not at all disappointing.

"It's just, if I fall asleep here--"

"You don't have to convince me, Dorian," Bull laughs, laying one of his giant hands on Dorian's head. He cards his fingers through Dorian's hair, an offense punishable by death on any other occasion, except Dorian's hair is a hopeless, tangled mess already and Bull is scratching lightly at Dorian's scalp, the cheat. "If you wanna leave, you can leave. But if you wanna stay, that's alright, too. It doesn't have to mean anything if you don't want it to."

"Well," Dorian huffs, tilting his head a little so Bull can scratch the parts he's missed, "just so long as we're clear."

+++++

When it becomes abundantly obvious that this... whatever this is, is indeed going to be a recurring thing, Bull asks for a watchword. Dorian is familiar with the concept, has dabbled in this sort of play in the past, but nothing to the extent promised in the careful, measured way Bull asks him.

"I don't have one," Dorian says. He considers for a moment, peering over the edge of some unknown precipice. "Do I need one?"

"Yes." The answer is immediate, firm. Dorian feels something hot curl in the pit of his stomach.

"You think I don't know my own limits?" Dorian asks, lifting his chin slightly in challenge.

Bull smiles faintly, his expression incongruously soft. "I think you like pretending you don't have any."

"Oh, very profound," Dorian says, rolling his eyes.

Bull only waits, brow raised expectantly. Dorian feels mutinous.

"Pick one," Dorian snaps. Whatever he thinks of, Bull will no doubt read too much into.

"Katoh," Bull tells him. A Qunari word, and Dorian doesn't ask what it means, even though he wants to.

---

Dorian learns new things about the Bull every day.

He learns that Bull likes dirty talk -- eye-wateringly filthy talk -- which is no real surprise. But never the demeaning kind, which sort of is, a bit. Dorian is ashamed to admit he had expected it, the insults and threats and mocking that always seemed to crop up when he found himself enjoying the company of self-proclaimed dominant types. Men smaller, weaker, and far less imposing than Bull had called him all manner of things while fucking him, and Dorian tolerated it to a point. He had no intention of letting Bull get away with more than he was willing to put up with. When Bull asked for a watchword, it only confirmed what Dorian thought he knew. It had all seemed so predictable, after that talk of conquering and Bull's predilection for pinning Dorian to flat surfaces.

So Dorian had braced himself for the inevitable name-calling and jeering, only it never came. Until Dorian had ventured, once, You like seeing me like this, don't you? You'd like to see me begging. And Bull had stopped, mid-thrust, the absolute bastard, and looked him in the eye to say, Only if you'd like it, too.

As if it were that simple. As if the only thing Bull needs to feel good is knowing he makes Dorian feel good.

There isn't a single mean-spirited bone in Bull's extremely large body, is the thing. And Dorian, for all his initial fears, is starting to realize he is far more likely to harm Bull than the other way around.

It isn't anything like what Dorian had expected at all. Bull is-- No. Dorian won't even allow himself to think the word gentle. It can hardly apply to the things they do, when Dorian is walking away from it sporting bruises and aches that last for days, when they nearly burn down Bull's quarters and break no less than three bedframes in various rooms across Skyhold. Bull certainly doesn't treat Dorian like he's fragile, either, pushing him to the very edges of every single limit Dorian has, and others Dorian hadn't known he had, until he can't move or speak or think or do anything except feel, like a raw nerve, sobbing for breath and too shaken to stand.

But there is a deliberate restraint in everything Bull does, and it occurs to Dorian that a man of his size and strength has to take care, constantly, not to break the things he lays hands on. Dorian doesn't know what it says about him that it only makes him want Bull's hands on him more.

---

Everyone knows about them now. Dorian supposes he couldn't have asked for more than a few weeks' discretion from Bull, but he could do without hearing Varric offering up early drafts of their torrid love affair.

"You're just mad because you know I'm the best you've ever had," Bull leers.

"What in the Maker's name does that have anything to do with it?" Dorian asks, exasperated. He is half-tempted to lob his boot at Bull's head, but that would be a step backwards to getting dressed, a process that's already been interrupted twice since he started an hour ago.

"It has everything to do with it," Bull says smugly. He stretches, an unnecessarily extravagant production that truly demonstrates the phrase 'rippling muscles.' A phrase that Dorian has never even thought, let alone said aloud. Bull cracks his neck, making Dorian wince, and adds, "I notice you don't deny it."

"I merely refuse to acknowledge the statement," Dorian snorts. He finishes putting on his boot, and reaches for the other.

"Because it's true," Bull insists.

"Because it's ridiculous," Dorian retorts. The second boot is on, and he stands up, fully dressed at last. Ta-da. He pulls on a cuff to cover up the edge of a rope burn and continues, "Especially when we both know I'm the best that you will ever have."

It doesn't draw out the laugh he had expected, and after a second he looks up to see Bull's face. His expression is slightly startled and unsure. Dorian is confused, until he hears his words again and realizes what he's done.

Bull had been teasing, bragging about himself in comparison to Dorian's past experiences (and not without merit). And Dorian, in his carelessness, had taken the joke a step too far. The best you will ever have, referring to a future when they're no longer doing this. And of course that future exists, they can't possibly keep this up forever. Dorian certainly has held no such delusions, not even for a second. But they have never spoken of it before, and now Dorian has gone and made it all too real.

"Fasta vass, you don't need me to reassure you of your prowess, surely," Dorian says hurriedly. He wants to sound nonchalant, like he hasn't noticed the slip, but comes off sounding irritated, which is the next best thing. He runs a hand through his disheveled hair and glances back at Bull, still sprawled out on the bed like he has nothing better to do than lie there all day with his muscles out and most assuredly not rippling.

Dorian sighs, giving up the rest of his plans for the afternoon, which weren't all that interesting, anyway.

"But if you'd like to make your case," he says, stepping into Bull's reach, "I suppose I won't mind you trying."

Bull smiles, a little too knowingly and far too fondly for Dorian to deal with. He is more forgiving than anyone Dorian has ever known -- has to be, when he is Dorian's... when he's the man Dorian is sleeping with on a regular basis. So he plays along, murmurs, "I've got some ideas" and foregoes all teasing to grab Dorian by the waist with both hands, hauling him onto his lap.

---

Sometimes, Dorian will remember, helplessly, that he watched Bull die.

They hadn't even known each other then, not really, and that had been months ago, in another lifetime that will never, ever happen. The amulet has been destroyed, Alexius has been given over to a life of servitude, and poor Felix is dead for good. Dorian stopped that future from ever coming to pass, and he never before dwelled on the few hours they had been trapped there. Until now.

Stupid, stupid thing to be fixated on. A pointless thing. It does nobody any good, but Dorian can't stop himself from remembering. We'll hold them off, Bull had said, because even with red lyrium poisoning his veins, even after a year of imprisonment and torture and waiting for a rescue that never came, he had wanted to protect them.

The image of Bull's crumpled, broken body, the last thing Dorian saw in that hellscape before the amulet undid it all, surfaces to the forefront of Dorian's mind every so often. A terrible memory, and not even a real memory -- you can't remember something that never happened -- and each time he thinks of it, Dorian is struck with the worst sort of impulses.

Like getting up in the middle of the night and running, flat out running, clear across Skyhold and up the ramparts to slip into Bull's room.

The oaf could sleep through a second breach tearing open the sky, but of course he wakes the instant Dorian is standing by his bed.

"What's wrong?" he asks, still sounding half-asleep but struggling to sit up.

"Nothing," Dorian says, laying a hand on his chest to push him back down. "Go back to sleep. This is just a dream."

"If it was a dream, you'd be naked," Bull mumbles, but lies down as directed. He gropes blindly at the air until he catches Dorian's hand, tugging like an insistent child until Dorian climbs into bed beside him. When they are arranged comfortably he hums contentedly and asks, "You okay?"

"Yes, I just. I wanted to check something," Dorian says. It feels alright to admit that much, here in the darkness, with Bull's heavy arm slung around his waist. "I'm sorry to wake you."

"M'not awake," Bull says sleepily. "This is a dream, remember?"

"Quite right," Dorian agrees.

end.