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Dorian was on the list to attend the ball in Halamshiral. That is, before he was unceremoniously dropped from the list. That doesn’t bother him in the least. He would be a poor choice politically. Imagine, the Inquisitor marching her pet Tevinter in front of the court of Orlais. Scandalous. That and everyone would call him a Magister, he’d correct them, and they wouldn’t care. Best for all parties involved that he stays at Skyhold. Varric is his substitution. Now there is someone who will cause the correct sort of stir. The Inquisitor is a better political player than she lets on. It’s by design. With her, everything is by design.

He does go to see her and the rest of the traveling party off. It’s still in the early moments before dawn and there’s fog licking at his boots. Skyhold is cast blue-gray and he should have worn an overcoat. The sun won’t warm the ground for hours yet. But it’s no use, he’s always cold.

It will be boring without them. She’s taking the best conversationalists and the only ones with any manners: Vivienne, Varric, and all three of her advisers. He can only assume Cassandra is going for the name recognition. That and the Inquisitor won’t be seen on Inquisition business without the Seeker at her side. Dorian suspects that’s a ploy as well. She could have thrown him a bone and left the Commander behind. Then he could at least play chess. And have something to look at.

She doesn’t look the part to charm the court, with her hair piled and pinned messily atop her head and daggers on her back. But they still have a few days travel ahead of them. She’s not armored, but she’s prepared. She claims not to be Andrastian, but something is always looking out for her well-being. He doesn’t know how it could be anyone but the Maker. Dorian tries to understand her better. He thinks they’re alike in many ways. Sometimes he makes progress, but they’re too alike maybe, and they shut down just short of a meaningful friendship. Maybe soon, maybe never. He shouldn’t worry about it.

It’s not until she’s satisfied that her saddle pack is secure that she acknowledges Dorian. She’s sure in her words because she has to be. It must be a tremendous weight, all of this.

“I’m sorry you’re not coming with us,” she sounds sincere.

“No, no the party you’ve selected is perfectly reasonable. You’ve made solid choices.”

She smiles and shoves his shoulder. They pretend to be coarser people than they actually are. “I just wanted to get you in for the wine. And, you know, tiny foods.”

“I do enjoy tiny foods. Pity I won’t see you in that dress, though. You did go with the purple one, with the low dip in the back? And that you’ll finally do something about that hair.”

She waves him off. “We’re going in formal uniform after all. Vivienne, shockingly, did not object. I think she just wanted to use me as a dress-up doll for a bit.”

“Admit it, you loved it.”

“Of course I did,” she winks at him.

“You’d better keep an eye on your Commander. If I know anything about court, he’s going to be quite popular.”

That makes her smile fade. “He can handle himself, I’m sure.”

Dorian doesn’t want to part on bad terms so they talk nonsense about fashion and dancing and wine until the Commander arrives to inform the Inquisitor it is time to depart. They are stilted, formal, and the Inquisitor pulls her horse alongside the Seeker’s.

The sun is only now coming up and he walks to the tavern for breakfast. With any luck, he’ll be in and out before Iron Bull wakes. Last he heard, the Qunari has taken to fucking the night-shift barmaid with red hair into the early hours of the morning. At least, that’s all he can talk about. Dorian figures that’s quite alright, as long as it keeps the beast off him.

Dorian’s luck has always been shallow and Bull is seated at the bar, a plate of food in front of him and a mug of something in his hand. It’s in his best interests to leave but Sera is already crashing down the stairs and throwing herself into his arms.

“Yeah, I could smell you come in.” She smashes her head against his chest like an exuberant puppy. Sera’s an odd one for sure. She also seems to be unable to tell him apart from the Lady Inquisitor. Whatever affections or motivations she has for Trevelyan, Dorian is equally likely to receive.

She talks about shoes and spiders and leads Dorian by the hand to the bar. At the very least she seats herself between Dorian and Bull. Bull doesn’t acknowledge that Dorian is even there but does put his massive hand on Sera’s head until she bats him away, using both hands to slap his.

Sera talks, picking at her food like a bird and talking about Lady Trevelyan this and Lady Trevelyan that. One would think that the girl loves nobles, rather than despising them. Neither Dorian nor Bull add to the conversation. Dorian thinks Bull would be up on the banter, were he not present. He admires the Inquisitor as much as anyone does, as they all do. It must be so tiring.

Dorian excuses himself and tries not to notice Bull is on his heels. Instead he keeps his eyes straight ahead, marching back in the direction of the library. At least there, Bull will not follow.

But it doesn’t come to that because a great big gray hand wraps around his arm and pulls him back. He starts to protest but he’s already pressed against Bull’s chest and his other arm wraps around his waist, holding him in place.

“Come on,” Bull mumbles into Dorian’s dark hair, “let’s go somewhere more private.”

“I’m not simply here when it is convenient for your needs.”

“I could say the same to you. So are you coming or not?” His hand drifts dangerously lower against the small of Dorian’s back. He doesn’t like the difference in size. He’d much rather someone smaller, more finely boned. But there aren’t other options, now are there? So for now Dorian is stuck with this Qunari brick if he wants anything at all. And his hands.

“That’s what I thought,” Bull says matter-of-factly and heads to his room.

Dorian doesn’t try to hide that he’s following. There’s no reason for anyone to notice, or to care. Again, the Inquisitor is the topic of virtually all rumors. Maybe after she’s been gone a few days they’ll have to be more discrete. But everyone who was up to see her departure is still gossiping about her and the Commander.

Bull’s bed is made, with a kind of military precision that always startles Dorian, no matter how many times he catches a glimpse of it. And he’s over-stoked the fire to bring the room temperature up, like he knew all along Dorian would come today. The thought makes his blood boil in his veins, that the Qunari could be so presumptuous.

Bull’s hand wraps around his neck from behind and squeezes lightly. Not enough to bruise, or even really choke, but enough to warn, to tempt.

“It’s been awhile,” Bull sounds sure of himself.

“Not that long.”

Bull’s fingers press down again and Dorian gasps just short of his air being cut off. But it’s only brief. He pulls in more air than he needs. His other hand is busy working the buckles to his trousers and working them off his hips. Once Dorian is naked from the waist down, Bull finally removes his hand from his throat. He works his cock instead, making sure Dorian is fully erect and whining from the edge.

“Really, because you seem, eager.”

“Like you’re not. Let’s just get this over with.”

Sex is a chore mostly. Sometimes it is a pleasant chore. Sometimes an unpleasant one. For the most part, Dorian’s pleasant encounters have been with his own hands and a particularly vivid fantasy. Too vivid sometimes, edge of possession vivid. Sex with Bull is a little like that. He comes up to the edge of something that could destroy him.

Bull bends him over the bed and tussles with his tunic. Dorian laughs at the way his big fingers struggle to get him out of the harness. He could help, he, obviously, knows exactly how it comes apart, but he likes watching Bull sweat over it.

He’s naked, and Bull is not. But it’s Bull on his knees at the side of the bed. He spreads Dorian apart and licks at him. First just the insides of his thighs. He mutters something about the color of Dorian’s skin. He’s always hated that most of all, when partners talk like he’s odd, but it seems particularly vulgar from the gray-skinned Qunari.

He can’t see Bull, but he can feel him. Feels the wet laps of his tongue against his entrance, then just inside, preparing him. Feels the rough scrape of his scarred skin against him and short nails digging into the flesh of his legs. He’ll have marks, but they’ll be hidden.

Bull reaches for the bedside drawer and Dorian re-arranges his weight into a more comfortable position. His head is buzzing and he’s trying to not feel ashamed. He should be past that point by now. He should just accept he likes getting fucked by Bull, by a man who, under different circumstances, would be just as likely to kill him. More likely, even. Being in his bed and under his hands is the most unlikely event under any set of circumstances.

The oil is warm as it slides against Dorian’s skin. It’s the bottle he gave Bull, because he knew after that first time this would happen again. And again. Dorian knew the first time Bull cut off his air. That time, it was with his cock, not his hand.

He mounts Dorian from behind, like an animal. But human men have taken him like this too, so that’s not very odd.

Bull pushes into him and be bites the inside of his cheek, not wanting to give Bull the satisfaction of his pleasure. At least not yet. He hasn’t earned it yet. Bull’s pace is slow and even, one hand is supporting his weight above Dorian, trying not to crush him. The other hand lingers over his neck. But Dorian can’t ask, Bull has to take or it won’t work.

“Get on with it you lout. Before I have to get one of the Commander’s boys to finish what you started.” Dorian growls against the mattress. It has the correct effect, Bull pressing down on him, making him choose between breathing and speaking. His body chooses life on its own accord. The choice actually stripped away. Dorian closes his eyes and gives way to the dizziness of Bull fucking him.

But not really him, as the edges of reality become thin, as he starts to hang between wakefulness and dream. He can touch the tip of the Fade here. Not submerge himself so far that the demon will catch him, but enough that it can see him. Dorian can taunt the demon with that which it can not have. With himself.

It can kiss him, in a way Bull can not. In a way Dorian will not permit Bull. That would only give him the wrong idea. Neither of them need the wrong idea about this. But he can part his mouth for this Fade spirit, and that is all it is, no form this time, but he knows it is there, pulling his lips apart, reaching inside.

Dorian snaps back in time. Taking in deep breaths of air as he comes around Bull’s cock, splashing semen against his sheets. Bull is smug, whispering in his ear that he was a good boy with a fine ass, made for getting fucked. Bull will fuck him so hard he wouldn’t walk straight. Pity that he couldn’t send pretty Dorian to the Ball, bow-legged and flushed.

He lets Bull think that he could make him come without touching him. It is simpler this way. There is absolutely no way this charade would continue if Bull knew the truth. If Bull knew why Dorian needed him, his weight, his giant hand. If he knew Dorian could be the very worst of his countrymen when it came to this.

With the air returned to his lungs, Dorian repeats simpler things. How big Bull is, how he is a beast, how he wants more of his cock. They aren’t lies, technically.

Bull spills into Dorian, messily. He can feel it running down the insides of his legs. Unpleasant. The Inquisitor left him the key for her rooms. He’ll take a bath later. For now, Bull rearranges him in the bed. He uses that great big hand to push the dark hair away from Dorian’s forehead. He rubs the pad of his thumb over his cheek and looks at him with his one good eye. The pristine bed is a mess now. And Dorian can focus on nothing but the holes in the roof that have yet to be mended.

Bull’s voice is full of unneeded concern. “You were up early. Need some more shut eye?”

“Maybe, I guess.” It’s a concession for Bull.

“You know, people think you and the Inquisitor are a lot alike. But she’s a much better liar.” Bull rolls away, onto his side so he no longer faces Dorian. “I’m not stopping you from leaving.”

Dorian stays.