The desert was full of sand and Venatori. Dorian didn't like any of it.
He heard Sera cackle and taunt the remaining enemies, filthy words spilling from her mouth like a song. Dorian followed the sound of her voice and took aim. An archer staggered out of the flames and fell to his knees, cocked arrow firing limply into the sand. The poor man looked up in time for Cadash to open his belly. Foul poison dripped from her blades, mingling with bloodied sand.
A heavily armored figure approached.
Dorian steadied himself, watching for any movement. The brute aimed his axe at Dorian, shouting. His words were garbled behind the helmet, but Dorian thought he understood when the man began to run.
Lightning struck, and still the brute charged. Dorian felt hollow, down to his very bones, and all he had was empty flasks in the sand. He stretched, reaching for the corpse only a few paces away, but the Fade sighed around his touch instead of dragging some feigned life back. The brute was drawing closer. Dorian cast fire in hopes of slowing him down. It failed, of course, so he braced for impact.
But the man never reached him, because there was a shoulder in his belly and an arm around his knees—
And Dorian was lifted up, off the ground. His staff slipped out of his grasp. He cursed, raw lightning crackling in his palm, but the brute choked and died with Iron Bull's axe buried in his throat. Dorian swayed in the one-armed grip and nearly grabbed the horns for support before scrabbling at Bull's chest.
"Close one, huh," said Iron Bull, grinning. There was blood on his teeth and a fresh wound across his arm where the brute's blade caught him. He reached up with his free hand, clapping Dorian's back.
Dorian flinched at the sudden touch. His entire body felt crooked, too tense, and he thought his spine might snap if he moved an inch. He didn't know if it was the near injury, or how Iron Bull reeked of blood and sweat, or how easily Bull had plucked Dorian off the ground. Venhedis, how much strength did qunari have? Bull was holding him as though he weighed nothing at all, arm braced against the back of Dorian's knees, lone eye glancing up—
Up. Dorian was taller, now. He felt fairly dim for only just noticing. This was a strange angle; he always had to tip his head back to look Bull in the eye. Dorian couldn't look away. The thick chest under his hands rose and fell with each heavy breath.
Something curled in Dorian's belly. Tragically, he thought it might be lust.
"You may put me down," said Dorian firmly, pushing at Bull's chest. For an absurd moment, he couldn't stop looking at Bull's nipples. "Now?"
"I heard you."
Gently, Iron Bull lowered Dorian to the ground. He patted Dorian's shoulder before bracing his heel against the brute's chest and yanking his axe free. Blood followed until it slowed to a steady trickle, staining the sand below. Dorian ignored the corpse and crouched down to pick up his staff. His skin felt hot where Bull had touched.
"Everybody breathing?" Cadash called. Sera lifted two fingers, flicking her tongue between them, and Cadash blew her a kiss. She caught it and twirled, kicking sand into the wind.
"Yes," Dorian answered, tapping his staff's blade against the ground. Iron Bull held up his axe, still dripping red.
Cadash nodded and crouched next to a body, searching for coin or papers. Since she was eerily efficient at that, always finding things Dorian overlooked, he left her to it. Beside her, Sera retrieved her arrows, scowling when she found a broken tip.
"Surely the Inquisition can provide you with more than enough arrows," said Dorian. The blacksmiths in Skyhold produced well-crafted blades at an unbelievable rate. He assumed they did the same for arrows.
"Yeah, well, these are mine," Sera replied. She eyed a bloodied arrow and shook her head, splitting it in two.
"Hey," said Iron Bull, nudging Dorian's shoulder with his elbow. He wiped his axe on the brute's chest. "You good?"
Dorian was already nodding and saying, "Yes, I'm fine," before he realized he was speaking. Iron Bull eyed him warily. It sent Dorian straight back to school, insisting that he hadn't been the one to make the meat dance across the dining hall. "You startled me. That's all."
"Sorry. I had to get you out of his way, and that was the quick—oh, shit." Iron Bull touched the wound on his arm, rubbing his thumb over the blood. "He get me?"
"Well, it wasn't me." Dorian patted his pockets, searching for bandages, but Iron Bull shook his head. "It looks deep."
"Nah, I'm just a bleeder," said Iron Bull, still eyeing the wound. He wiped his hand clean, saying, "I'm glad I saved your ass." His gaze dropped south. "Hate to lose something so nice."
Dorian groaned. Iron Bull looked delighted.
Fortunately, Cadash wandered over, wiping her blades on her leathers. Poison still lingered on them; Dorian could smell it. "You boys ready?"
"Yeah," Iron Bull answered. He heaved the axe onto his shoulder and glanced over at Dorian. "Unless you want me to keep talking about your ass."
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Dorian snapped, which only made Sera snort.
Dorian couldn't remember ever being this tired.
They had been fighting through the undead since this morning. Yesterday had been a long day, and the day before, and the day before that, but Cadash was intent on ridding the plains of corpses. She needed Dorian's fire, she said, and while he was pleased to put his skills to good use, this constant work was draining. He and Solas shared their lyrium potions, though Dorian kept sneaking his flasks into Solas's pack. His barriers were stronger, after all, and Dorian couldn't set things on fire if he was bleeding.
Not that it mattered now. They both ran out around midday, and they had little strength left.
Back in school, Dorian had an instructor who insisted on drinking his urine whenever he traveled. Something to do with capturing any lyrium essence that had passed through his body. Dorian assumed this enchanter simply enjoyed drinking urine and needed the excuse, but he was one hard fight away from asking Solas if such a thing were possible. He shuddered and hoped it wouldn't come to that.
If Cadash and Iron Bull were tired, they didn't show it. Cadash was often last to bed and first to rise, drinking black tea like water. She hadn't slept at all during the last few days in Haven, Dorian remembered. Compared to those days, this was nothing. And qunari didn't tire easily. Come to think of it, he had never even seen Iron Bull yawn before.
Dorian caught himself rubbing at his arm and frowned, yanking his hand away. His arm still ached. Pain stretched from his shoulder down to his wrist. The horror's magic had torn through his barrier until Cadash leapt onto its back, jamming her daggers into its neck. The skin might scar if he didn't see a healer soon, and he was vain enough to be upset about that. Not now, though. He had to focus on returning to camp.
The ground was uneven, littered with rocks and bones. Dorian walked carefully. He didn't want to break his ankle tripping over a damned tree root or a confused halla. They scattered when they saw people, but they didn't seem to have a good sense of direction. He still felt guilty for killing one with an errant spell.
"We're close," Cadash announced, pointing at the smoke rising in the distance.
"Good," Solas murmured. Exhaustion was etched into every line in his face. He always used his staff as a walking stick, but he seemed to be leaning more weight into it than usual. "I will make supper tonight."
"It's my turn," said Cadash. She exhaled, blowing strands of hair off her face. Dorian thought there might be a smear of dried blood over her pink cheeks, and he knew how weary she was. She always kept her skin clean. "Besides, you never use enough salt."
"You can always add more salt," Solas replied. Dorian let the voices drift into the background.
Walking was easy. One foot, then the other. Basic. Simple. Yes, he could do this. Did his parents teach him how? No, he doubted that. The nanny, then. He remembered tugging on her white braids, but he couldn't recall her name. She stayed with his family for seven years, then—gone. Because Dorian was old enough to take care of himself, Mother said. Had she been a slave? He didn't know that, either. He didn't remember any marks, but Father never liked branding his slaves. That is a crude and unnecessary practice.
Dorian blinked and pushed the memory elsewhere. He didn't want to think about his father.
Large fingers brushed against his back. Dorian flinched, turning around to see what Iron Bull was doing. His staff disappeared behind Bull's greataxe.
"What—?" Dorian demanded, but the rest of his words disappeared into a yelp as Iron Bull crouched low and slipped a hand under his knees. He lifted him easily, Dorian's back resting in the cradle of his other arm. Dorian elbowed his chest and kicked against the empty air, but Iron Bull ignored him.
Cadash glanced over her shoulder and laughed. "I should've thought of that!"
"I didn't ask him to pick me up," Dorian retorted. He glared, but Iron Bull kept walking. As a last resort, he let all his dead weight sink into Iron Bull's hands, but it garnered no response. Of course, Bull could probably carry him, Cadash, and Solas comfortably, and still kept one hand free to swing his axe. "Listen, you damned giant—"
"Ah, shut up," Iron Bull cut in, loud enough that Cadash started laughing again. He bowed his head and added, much quieter, "I know you're tired. I don't mind."
Dorian considered the embarrassment of being carried by Iron Bull against the sheer weight of his exhaustion. It was a little—no, very—humiliating to be carried like a child, but Bull wasn't taunting him. He wasn't implying he thought Dorian was weak and frail, even though a strong wind might knock him over right now. Dorian needed to rest, if he was going to set more corpses on fire tomorrow. Cadash would joke, surely. Solas would probably ignore them. Dorian was grateful that Sera was stuck at Skyhold with a broken ankle. She wouldn't be able to keep her mouth shut if she saw Bull sweep Dorian into his arms.
The more Dorian thought, the longer he lingered in Bull's arms. He knew he was too tired to decline.
"Fine," Dorian snapped, too loudly. He could feel Solas's eyes on them. When he looked over, the elf strode ahead and asked Cadash how her mark was feeling. "Might as well use your muscle for something."
"Well, yeah." Iron Bull grinned and patted his knees. He shifted Dorian's weight around, grunting, but Dorian suspected the noise was just for show. "How's that?"
Dorian folded his hands together on his stomach, nodding. Iron Bull was still looking down at him. It made the back of Dorian's neck prickle. Blinking, he stared straight ahead, fixing his eyes on a spot in the distance.
There was a stocky figure in the corner of his vision, glancing back at him. Cadash stopped when Dorian lifted his hand and waved. Her concern was sweet, if a little overbearing. It had taken him a long time to get used to how fiercely protective she was. The first few times she had walked through the Skyhold library, offering sweet tarts and asking about his research, he assumed she was making idle conversation on her way to speak with Leliana. The Inquisition needed his knowledge of the Venatori and what little he could dig up about Corypheus; it made sense for Cadash to be polite and feign curiosity.
And then, one night, she brought him a bottle of brandy and two glasses. They had stayed in the library until the sun rose, drinking and talking about nothing in particular. You'll always be safe with me, she'd said, tiny and drunk and still somewhat intimidating. No one hurts my people. And he had laughed and said something about feeling safe around a dwarf who carried at least seven blades.
For a moment, Dorian felt so happy and proud to be her friend that his chest ached. He ground his teeth together, waiting for the heaviness in his throat to fade.
Looking at the sky was starting to make him feel seasick. Dorian glanced away. His eyes fell on the horde of scars across Iron Bull's chest, and he couldn't help but stare. A few looked painful, the ugly tissue twisting against the skin, but most were old and nearly faded. There was a fresh one over his left pectoral, from a dragonling's claw. Dorian remembered how much Bull complained about the scab itching. He wanted to touch it.
Dorian looked away before he did something foolish.
Iron Bull offered. Teased. He did it in public, within earshot of anyone, and no one seemed to care. Dorian still wasn't used to that. In one breath, Bull could freely mention that Dorian was welcome to watch him bathe. In the next, he could tell Cassandra how much he liked watching her hit things. People didn't care about that sort of thing here. It was a welcome change of pace, Dorian had to admit, but that didn't mean he wanted Bull announcing it to the world at large.
It all started in Redcliffe, after the dreadful meeting with Father. Dorian had been so grateful for Cadash at his side and just as miserable when she asked him to hear what the magister had to say. After, he had wished he could simply hate the man and be done with it. Cassandra had been kind enough to raid the camp's whisky supply for their trip back to Skyhold.
Dorian had spent those days in a caravan, blind drunk. He didn't remember much. Cassandra, holding his hand. Cadash telling filthy jokes until he laughed so hard he wept. His head, lolling against Iron Bull's chest. Vomiting. So much vomiting. Cursing Cassandra, who peered at him over her book and told him to handle his drink next time. Cadash's hangover cure, which only made him sick again. And Iron Bull, squeezed between bales of wheat, listening to him ramble. Dorian remembered the sound of his own voice, but not his words. He must have said some terrible things, because Bull's eye had been so soft with pity, and he didn't say Vint once.
His mood had quickly soured after that. Dorian had snapped at Iron Bull, something about preferring him bound and leashed. Bull only grinned and said he'd buy dinner first. As though they were in a tavern somewhere, not a cramped caravan, and Dorian wasn't miserable, half-drunk, and reeking of stale sick. Dorian had thought it was cruel for Bull to tease and needle him so soon after seeing his father again. He had sat in furious, glaring silence until remembering that only Cadash and Cole knew why he left home.
Had he apologized? Dorian couldn't recall. He remembered curling around himself in the corner of the caravan, listening to Bull hum an old sailor's song until he fell asleep.
After that, Bull had started—well, flirting was probably the right word, but he always made it sound like a kind suggestion. Dorian, I'll be sparring with Krem later, if you wanna watch me get sweaty. He used the same tone while telling Dorian to wear a thick coat, because it was cold outside. It was infuriating, and—not, at the same time. Dorian didn't enjoy the odd embarrassment he felt when Bull teased. It was a horrid reminder of his youth, when he kept himself buried under lock and key.
But still, Dorian was drawn to him. Simple curiosity, perhaps.
Or it was just biological. Dorian liked men. He liked strong men, and he especially liked kind men. Iron Bull hit all targets, mostly, so it made perfect sense for Dorian to dream about Bull taking him against a wall, fingers tight on his hips. And there was no avoiding the fact that Bull was enormous, towering over everyone else. Qunari were big, obviously, but Bull was bigger—
Dorian glared at the clouds, scowling. A Tevinter mage, swooning over a brutal, conquering Qunari. How foolish. How predictable!
For a time, Dorian had thought he simply needed to have that particular itch scratched. There was only so much a man could do alone, after all. He had spent some time with handsome soldiers in Skyhold, since the castle was overrun with them by now. But the want still lingered.
I'd pin you down, and as you gripped my horns—
Dorian tried not to want like this, even with someone like Bull.
Iron Bull was obnoxious and loud. He played the fool far too often, but he was thoughtful and funny, when he wasn't belching. He loved his Chargers. Loved Cadash. Loved anyone who called her friend. He genuinely enjoyed running into the middle of a melee and blocking a sword with his bare hand. He could kill a man in seconds. Dorian still didn't know how many languages he spoke, and he doubted Iron Bull would ever tell him. He was covered in scars from blows that would have taken the lives of others.
—and as you gripped my horns—
Dorian shifted, thankful for thick robes. Of course this would happen now. He was barely awake, his entire body aching like a deep bruise, and all he could think of was Bull, taunting him with some imagined fantasy. Which—fine, he had thought about Bull fucking him like that. He wondered how Bull knew. Perhaps Cole had plucked it from Dorian's memories and passed it on. That seemed to be his favorite hobby lately.
Iron Bull could probably carry him in one hand, cradling Dorian against his chest. That would leave the other hand free to rub his cock through the robes. And Solas and Cadash would keep walking, oblivious to what was happening behind them. He could—
Iron Bull said his name sharply enough that Dorian flinched and glanced up. When had they stopped moving?
"What," said Dorian. There was a gnawing pain in his hands. It took him a moment to realize that his fingers were twisted together on his chest, nails pressing into the back of his palms. He tugged them free of each other and met Iron Bull's eye, refusing to look away. Bull could probably tell that he was hard. He had a bird's-eye view of it all. There was no point in pretending that it wasn't happening.
Sure enough, Iron Bull's gaze drifted towards Dorian's groin. Terror shot down Dorian's spine, hot and familiar.
But all Bull said was, "You want me to put you down?"
Dorian shook his head. He wondered if Bull would put him down anyway. Or if Bull would touch him, just as Dorian had been imagining moments ago. Either would be fine, but the anticipation—Bull was saying nothing and Dorian was just waiting, to be dropped on the ground or feel a hand on his thigh. Or for Bull to laugh at him, to say he certainly wasn't serious. Something, anything—
"Okay," Iron Bull said, nodding. He started walking again.
Dorian didn't know if it was relief or disappointment flooding his veins, but it made him dizzy. His cheeks felt hot, skin stretched thinly over his bones, and he was still hard and aching. What was wrong with him? Cadash and Solas were nearly within earshot, and he had wanted Bull to touch him. Dorian rubbed at his face with both hands, grimacing. He wished they were at the Herald's Rest, or in a tent the Inquisition soldiers used as a tavern. At least he could use an excess of liquor as an excuse.
"Hey, uh," said Iron Bull. He cleared his throat. "Do you want me to stop?"
"Stop," Dorian repeated. Stop and do what? Was Bull implying—No. No, he couldn't. He wanted—had wanted, perhaps a little desperately—but he couldn't. Did Bull plan to bring him off in the middle of the plains? He lowered his hands and glanced up at Bull, who was studying him carefully. "We have to return to—"
"No, I meant," Iron Bull interrupted, and fell silent. He was walking slower. Cadash and Solas probably couldn't hear them now. "Me. Things I do. What I say to you. You want me to stop?"
This was not a discussion Dorian expected to have. He deflected, purely out of habit. "There are many things about you that I find bothersome. You must narrow it down for me."
"Talking about how I want to fuck you."
"Oh," said Dorian, his voice strangled. He should have expected Iron Bull to be that blunt.
"You can tell me to stop," Bull added. Gently, like he was trying to soothe a crying child or a frightened horse. Dorian wasn't sure if he should be offended or touched by his tone. "I thought you were interested."
"I…I might be," Dorian said slowly. He wished they were having this conversation somewhere else, and not while Bull was carrying him like he was a new bride. Preferably in a tavern. Maybe after a good night's sleep. "I don't want you to stop. I—sometimes, I…"
His voice drifted off. He couldn't articulate this mess in his head, much less out loud, and he certainly couldn't do it while Bull was carrying him. Heat rose on the back of his neck, spreading towards his cheeks. He ground his teeth together and stared at the sky, blinking. Perhaps if he stopped talking, Bull would just ignore him until they returned to camp.
"I think I get it," Iron Bull said, still so gently. He shifted Dorian's weight around, fingers brushing against a bare shoulder. "You don't need to explain."
Dorian bit the inside of his cheek and closed his eyes, hiding his face in Bull's chest. He wished he understood why Bull was acting this way. There was no reason for him to be this considerate.
"It's okay," Iron Bull murmured. Dorian couldn't bear it. Kaffas, why was he so gentle? "Yeah, you can sleep."
Bull's armor creaked. Lips brushed against Dorian's forehead—and that, that was far too much. Dorian squeezed his eyes tighter. He wished he could be angry.
"It's okay," Iron Bull repeated. "I've got you."
Dorian gave up and slumped against Iron Bull's chest. The leather strap dug sharply into his cheek.
: : :
Dreams slipped through his mind, trickling down his spine. He couldn't remember a single one.
Cadash was whistling. Mother had taught him how to whistle, sitting in the gardens with Dorian on her knee. He licked his lips and tried, but his mouth was too dry. Only air slipped out. He sighed.
Solas asked something, his voice barely audible over the wind. Iron Bull's chest rumbled against Dorian's cheek when he answered. Had they reached camp already? Dorian blinked and shifted, one shoulder popping, but Iron Bull held him tighter.
"Hey," Iron Bull said, sounding almost fond. It was dark. Dorian could see the moon over Bull's shoulder. "Go back to sleep."
: : :
Dorian was horribly alert. He blinked, trying to calm the sharp pulse in his throat. Wolves were howling.
Iron Bull stopped and cradled Dorian close to his chest with one hand, reaching for his axe with the other. Dorian fumbled for his staff before he remembered and groped blindly over Bull's shoulder. His fingers were stiff and thick with cold. Bull's skin twitched under his touch.
"They're heading east," Cadash said. She added, "Hold on," and waited, listening. Dorian relaxed when she sheathed her daggers. "We're good."
Dorian tucked his hands against his chest and closed his eyes.
"Yeah, he woke up," Iron Bull was saying. He shifted Dorian's weight around, holding his legs closer. "No, no, I'm good. Dorian—Dorian?"
Dorian grunted. He peered up, blinking. Exhaustion tugged behind his eyes.
Iron Bull was smiling at him. He chuckled, saying, "I was gonna tell you to go back to sleep."
"Heard you the first time," Dorian mumbled. He thought he heard Bull laugh again as he drifted off.
: : :
Woodsmoke. Murmured voices. A fire's sweet heat.
Cadash spoke to a private on watch. Solas said something about supper, and Cadash laughed. Her hand slipped into Dorian's, thumb rubbing over his knuckles. A larger hand, with thin fingers, rested on his forehead. Dorian tried to speak, but his tongue was too heavy. He squeezed Cadash's fingers instead and watched the stars move until they disappeared.
A tent. Inside. Cadash was gone. Dorian blinked.
He was being lowered onto a bedroll. Iron Bull muttered something about his damned knee.
"Sorry," Dorian rasped. His throat ached. He tried to sit up, but there was a hand on his chest.
Bull told him to wait. There was rustling and a hissed curse, and then he fit his hand behind Dorian's shoulders and propped him up. Mercifully, he was offering a waterskin. Dorian drank greedily, water spilling down his throat, until there was nothing left. He wiped at his mouth and looked at the tent floor instead of Iron Bull.
They should talk, shouldn't they? Since Bull had done a kind thing, carrying Dorian all the way back to camp. All Dorian had done was sprawl in his arms, fantasizing and occasionally sleeping. He winced, bracing himself for whatever Bull would say.
"Thank you," said Dorian slowly. There, that was a good start. He could still speak properly, even with Bull's hand hot on his back. "For putting up with me today. I apologize for—"
"Nah," Iron Bull interrupted. He reached for an extra blanket, folding it into a vague pillow shape, and eased Dorian back down. "Don't be sorry."
"Why?" Dorian mumbled. There was no real reason for Bull to be this understanding. He let his head roll to the side and stared up at Bull.
"Well, you're pretty," Iron Bull answered. He tugged a blanket up to Dorian's chest and smoothed it, making sure it covered his entire body. Dorian swallowed. There was a strange, heavy ache in his jaw, stretching down his throat. "I like pretty things."
"I don't think I enjoy being called a thing."
Iron Bull chuckled. He reached down and stroked Dorian's cheek, tracing the line of his jaw. The hand seemed bigger on his bare skin.
"Pretty's okay, though?"
"If you must," said Dorian. Bull had called him pretty when they first met, back in Redcliffe. "I might prefer handsome. Or dashing."
"I'll remember that." Iron Bull patted his face and checked the blanket again, folding the corners deeper beneath the bedroll. "Go to sleep. Solas says you're outta juice, or whatever, so—sleep."
Dorian nodded. He wished Bull was still touching him.
It had been a long, long time since he felt this young and foolish.
"Boss and I are right outside," Iron Bull continued. He fit his hand against Dorian's cheek and shut Dorian's eyes with his thumb. Something in Dorian's chest tore at the gentle touch. "Holler if you need anything."
"I will," Dorian murmured. He rolled onto his side, struggling against the tight blanket, and fell asleep almost immediately.
Dorian sat in the tavern with a bottle and a clear view of Iron Bull's door.
He was alone. Cullen had been with him, for a little while. He didn't leave his little tower often, and his soldiers had been pleased to see him without a sword on his hip. Dorian was, too. Cullen didn't really understand how to relax, so Dorian took any chance to sit and talk with him. They had drank and talked about the Inquisition, Vivienne's apprentices, and what Tevinter food Dorian missed, all while Dorian's attention drifted towards Bull and his Chargers.
But Cullen had left an hour ago, and Dorian kept drinking his share. The raucous crowds had dwindled into a few quiet groups. The Chargers were still downstairs, playing cards with barmaids and singing songs when the bard took a break. Bull had left before Cullen. Beauty sleep, he'd said, which made Krem snort.
Dorian eyed the door.
Curiosity. That was all this was. Dorian was curious, and he wanted that curiosity satisfied. He had never been with a qunari before. Had only met a few. None were as big as Iron Bull.
Dorian wondered if that door was even unlocked.
"Of course it is," said Cole, who had just appeared on the bench beside Dorian. He didn't flinch; he'd grown accustomed to Cole's travel methods. "He doesn't lie to you."
"Stop putting your hands in my head," Dorian told him. He studied the whisky and considered drinking more. He was already teetering on the edge of inebriation. A few more swallows and he might be able to open the door.
Cole stared, unblinking, and lifted his hands. He wiggled his fingers. "But my hands are right here."
"You know what I mean," Dorian snapped. He looked up from his whisky, but Cole was already missing. "Oh, stop that."
The bard started singing again.
: : :
Eventually, Dorian stood.
Floorboards creaked under his boots until he reached the door. Iron Bull was bare-chested, sitting on the edge of the bed. He was writing something, using a book balanced on his knee for a desk. The pen looked tiny in his hands.
"Hey," said Iron Bull. He didn't look up from whatever he was writing. "You staying?"
"Yes," Dorian said, nodding. Bull didn't look at him. He felt pinned in the doorway, his hand still resting on the handle. Anticipation churned sharply in his belly.
Iron Bull glanced up. His mouth curved into a smile. "Shut the door."
Dorian did. The sounds of the tavern faded into the distance.
When he turned around, Iron Bull said, "Just gotta finish this," and patted the empty space on the bed next to him. Dorian walked over, feeling oddly numb. He had expected—passion, of sorts. For Bull to gather him in his arms and tear his clothes away. To be on his belly with Bull's hand on the back of his neck while they fucked. Not to watch him pen a report.
Dorian glanced around the room. The bed was at the center: large, with thick posts. No pillows. Well, the horns probably got in the way, Dorian assumed. A lone torch burned on the wall behind them. There were reports and candles and cutlery on the floor, along with dirty clothes and ale bottles. The door was covered in throwing knives. One of Bull's eyepatches dangled from the doorknob, twisted and broken.
Odd, that Iron Bull's quarters would be so untidy. He was careful with his weapons and armor in Inquisition camps, and always kept his tent immaculate. Dorian had expected military cleanliness.
Iron Bull was still writing. Dorian started fumbling at the strap across his chest.
"Not yet," said Iron Bull, without looking up. "I wanna do that."
"Well, hurry up, then," Dorian snapped. He flopped onto his back, fingers drifting across his chest. The muscles in Iron Bull's back shifted as he wrote. "It's late."
"I'm working on it," Iron Bull said, though he did start scribbling faster. Dorian considered that a victory and watched, his hands folded politely on his belly.
When Iron Bull was finished, he waved the paper to dry the ink and placed everything in a chest on the floor. Dorian braced his heel against the edge of the bed, pushing himself back, and opened his thighs. A rather broad invitation, but surely Bull could understand it. He linked his fingers behind his head, waiting.
Iron Bull knelt on the bed, Dorian's legs between his. He spent a long moment staring, the lone eye unblinking, before touching Dorian's arms. Dorian waited, curious to see what would happen next. Bull's hands slid up to Dorian's wrists, thumbs pressing against the pulse point. Slowly, he pushed their joined hands up as far as they could go.
"I like it rough, sometimes," said Iron Bull. He held Dorian's wrists in his left hand and touched his chest with the other, stroking idly.
Dorian nodded. He had expected that. Hoped, if he was willing to be honest with himself.
"Does that work for you?" Dorian nodded again, but Iron Bull still pressed, "If it doesn't—"
"I don't mind."
Iron Bull fiddled with the strap across Dorian's chest and asked about a watchword. Dorian was familiar with the term, but when he said he didn't need one, Bull snorted and said, "That means you do."
"Then I'll say no," said Dorian, speaking slowly to keep at least a semblance of patience. They had to do this before he sobered up. "I understand the mechanics of those words, but if I want you to stop, I will tell you. I trust you to. You trust me, don't you?"
"Sometimes," Iron Bull answered. Dorian wasn't sure if he was joking. He held Dorian's cheek, thumbing at his jawline. "You say it, I stop. No questions asked. Okay?"
Well, that was the whole point of the word, wasn't it? But Iron Bull looked solemn, so Dorian nodded and fought the urge to squirm. He'd never had a serious discussion before bedding someone. Where and when and how—those were the customary questions. He should have been naked and sweaty by now.
"Be patient," Iron Bull said, grinning. He stroked Dorian's cheek before he leaned down. The kiss was gentle, barely more than their lips brushing together, and it was—nice. Softer than Dorian had expected. He could feel the shape of the scar across Bull's mouth. "Is there anything you don't like?"
"Well," said Dorian, thinking. Nothing immediately came to mind; he'd try most things at least once. But Bull was looming over him, clearly asserting something, so— "If you're going to hit me, I would prefer that you avoid my face."
Iron Bull's expression didn't change. He rubbed his thumb along Dorian's wrists. "I usually don't bring that kind of pain into this. Definitely not without planning ahead. You want me to hit you?"
"No," said Dorian quickly. He liked being held down, with hard hands on his hips or his throat. Teeth in his neck were always good. Feeling sore after was lovely. But he spent enough time bracing for pain and washing blood out of his clothes. "No, I don't."
"I thought so." Iron Bull looked somewhat smug. He fit his hand over Dorian's bare shoulder, stroking the skin with his thumb. "What else?"
"I can't think of anything. I suppose I'll know it when it happens." Dorian pushed against the weight on his wrists. "Will you allow me to touch you? Or do you plan on pawing at me all night?"
Iron Bull grinned and released his wrists. He flattened his palms on the bed beside Dorian's head, saying, "Have at it."
It occurred to Dorian that he had never really touched Iron Bull before. Bull touched him: clapping him on the back after particularly difficult fights, nudging him to get his attention. Carried him, occasionally, but those memories made Dorian flush, so he ignored them and focused on all the hulking muscle that was available to him now. He touched Bull's shoulders, curling his fingers around the thick biceps, then his chest, and down to his hips. He fit his hands over them and tugged, but of course Bull didn't move. It was like attempting to move a small mountain that was failing horribly at hiding a smirk. Dorian gave up and slid his hand towards Bull's groin.
Well. Everything was certainly in proportion.
Dorian groped him through those hideous trousers, getting a feel for the shape of Iron Bull's hardening cock in his hand. Bull hummed happily.
"Am I up to your standards?" Iron Bull asked. His grin showed a lot of teeth.
"Ask me after the practical," Dorian answered, squeezing once more. His hands drifted up Iron Bull's stomach, up his wide chest, and traced the line of his jaw. Bull got the hint and leaned down, pressing their mouths together.
The horns had a heavy shadow. Dorian wanted to touch them.
Were they sensitive? He knew that they itched, sometimes. Bull would rub salve into his head in the mornings, and he always whined when they were in some forgotten corner of the world for too long and he ran out. Would he be offended if Dorian grabbed hold of them? Perhaps that was taboo among qunari. Dorian had never seen any of the Chargers touch them. Or maybe they were just another limb, and touching them was like grabbing someone's ankle. Unusual, but not entirely inappropriate.
Iron Bull kissed the side of his mouth before he pulled away, straightening. He rested his hands on Dorian's thighs.
"Here's what I'm gonna do: I'm going to take your clothes off. Then I'm going to get my mouth on every inch of you."
"And fuck me, presumably," Dorian said. The anticipation was back, hot and sour.
"Only when you beg me for it."
"Please, The Iron Bull," Dorian said, putting a heavy emphasis on the article. That made Bull grin. "Fuck me."
"Oh, you'll do better than that," Iron Bull said cheerfully. He flipped a buckle open, pushing his thumb into the metal. "Can I tie you up?"
Dorian tried not to show how interested he was in the idea. Of course Bull would know the sorts of things a person was into, just by looking at them. He'd done that before a few times and enjoyed the act thoroughly, even if it could be a little frightening. If it was too much, he could always burn the binds away. "Depends. How?"
Iron Bull looked pleased by his answer. He nodded at the headboard, saying, "Your hands, above your head."
"Leave my legs free," said Dorian. He didn't like being completely unable to move. "Is that acceptable?"
Something in Iron Bull's face twitched at that. He nodded, saying, "Of course it is," and stretched to reach under the bed. After a few moments of blind fumbling, he pulled out several dark scarves and dropped them into Dorian's hand. "How're these?"
Dorian rubbed the fabric between his fingers. They were soft. Not expensive, like the silks he and Vivienne favored, but it felt nice against his skin. He had expected rope, or something similar. "Fine."
"Good," Iron Bull said, nodding. He looped one of the scarves around Dorian's wrists, tying them together, and tugged his arms above his head.
Dorian tipped his head back, watching Bull tie the other scarves together, and then to the headboard. He yanked, hard. The knots held. There was enough slack for him to rest his hands and arms on the bed, but he didn't want that now. He shuffled down the bed until the scarves were taut, Bull's watchful eye on him the entire time.
"Okay," said Iron Bull, thumbing open another buckle. "Let me look at you."
: : :
Iron Bull didn't lie.
He did get his mouth on every inch of bare skin that he uncovered. He worked slowly, pushing the fabric to the side so he could kiss and touch the skin beneath. Sometimes, he murmured about how good Dorian smelled, or made appreciative noises when Dorian gasped. He never touched himself once. Oddly, Dorian found that more unnerving than having his hands bound. He had never been the focus of such attention before.
Iron Bull bent over his bare chest, maimed fingers tracing lazy circles on Dorian's skin. He had untied Dorian long enough to get the arm guards and undershirt off. Dorian had insisted on just ripping the damned things off, but Bull had said something about Dorian liking his clothes too much to even attempt that.
A wet mouth touched his skin. Dorian flinched, startled by the sudden contact. Bull made a soothing sound in the back of his throat and kissed his chest again, working his way down to nuzzle at Dorian's hip. His fingers curled in the dark hair on Dorian's belly.
"I figured you'd be shaved."
"Too much work," Dorian replied. Back home, he'd kept his chest and groin shaved. That was the style in Tevinter; some of the men he'd spent a night with expected him to be completely smooth. But it took a lot of time, and he simply didn't have the patience for it here. There were spells for it, of course, but they always left his skin irritated and red for days.
Iron Bull nodded and flattened his palm on Dorian's belly. He pushed the tip of his middle finger into a nipple. "Why'd you get rid of the piercings?"
"They kept getting caught on my clothes," Dorian answered. He didn't bother asking how Bull knew. There were no visible scars, but Bull had a keen eye. Or it was a good guess. Either way, Bull would be insufferable if Dorian implied he was impressed. "I do miss them."
"Bet they looked nice."
"Of course they did. They were on me."
Iron Bull grinned and grabbed his hips, fingers stretching back. He tugged Dorian's hips up, mouthing at his cock through his trousers. Dorian's back arched, his wrists rubbing against the scarves, but the muffled heat disappeared as soon as Bull shifted onto his side. He stretched one arm along the bed beside Dorian and palmed him roughly with the other hand. A moan slipped out of Dorian's mouth.
"Keep making these sounds," Bull told him, and placed an open mouthed kiss on his belly, just above his trousers. "I like it."
Dorian hummed and said nothing, fingers tugging on empty air. Bull's stubble scratched against his skin. "This isn't as rough as you implied."
"What'd you expect?"
Dorian was not going to answer that question. He rocked into Bull's hand and said, "You're in no hurry."
"I like to take my time. Too slow for you?"
"A bit," Dorian answered. This was lovely, but he had expected to be fucked and walking home by now. The longer he waited, the less whisky he still had rattling around in his head, and he didn't want to lose his artificial courage.
"Well," said Iron Bull, and yanked Dorian's trousers halfway down before flipping him over and straddling his thighs.
It seemed to happen in the time it took Dorian to blink. There was a hand on his chest, pulling Dorian up to his knees, and another between his legs. Bull held him close, fingers splayed across his skin. The hand on his cock stroked carefully, twisting at the tip.
"Better," Dorian managed, gasping, and Bull's teeth were sharp on the back of his neck.
: : :
Dorian was a naked, sweaty mess, sprawled on his belly. His hair was mussed and clumped on one side, his arms outstretched with the scarves taut. His prick dragged against the bed, just enough friction for him to want more, and Bull's thick fingers still teased his hole. He'd fit two in before, stretching Dorian open with his fingers and his tongue. They were bigger than Dorian was used to, but Bull worked slowly and used more than enough slick.
"Fuck me," Dorian mumbled into the bed. He pulled on the scarves, thinking about burning them up. This was torture, not having his hands free to touch and grab and hold. He wanted to wrap his fingers around Bull's horns.
"Soon," Iron Bull promised, dragging his nails down Dorian's spine. "I wanna see you come first."
That sounded like a fantastic idea. Dorian nodded, saying, "All right." He was certain he was slurring. Bull was definitely chuckling.
There was a hand on his shoulder, gently turning him over. Iron Bull was kneeling on the bed, still wearing those ridiculous trousers. He reached over Dorian and untied the scarves from the headboard, then Dorian's wrists. He inspected the pink skin beneath, frowning.
"'s good," Dorian mumbled. His arms ached a bit, but not painfully, and the fabric was soft enough that it didn't irritate his skin. "'s good, really."
"Just making sure," Iron Bull said, shrugging. He slipped his hands under Dorian's thighs and lifted him up—off the bed, and into Bull's lap. Bull settled back on his heels, rubbing Dorian's back aimlessly with one hand and reaching for the phial of slick with the other.
"Wait," Dorian blurted out and grimaced, his cheeks hot. It felt like he'd ripped the word from his throat, and this situation didn't require such urgency. He tried, "Will you," and failed, too flustered to speak the rest. Blood pounded in his temples. He bowed his head, crossing his wrists behind his back.
"Sure," Iron Bull said, as though Dorian asked to be tied up all the time. He pulled Dorian closer and looped the scarf over and around Dorian's wrists. It was loose enough that it wouldn't chafe, but tight enough that Dorian couldn't break free without fire. "Good?"
Dorian nodded. His head was swaying. He was swaying, perched on Iron Bull's thighs with his legs held wide. Exposed. He felt almost too naked, without the sheets against his skin. Thank the Maker for cheap whisky. Dorian slumped against Bull's chest, kissing the nearest scar, and listened to Bull fumble with the phial.
Iron Bull shifted, tipping Dorian back a little. He held him steady with a hand on his hip. The other touched his cock lightly. So gently. Dorian closed his eyes and let his head hang, chin bumping into his chest. This tenderness would kill him.
"Look at me," Bull said, squeezing his cock once more before those wet fingers moved back and pressed against Dorian's hole. "Let me see you."
Dorian fidgeted. He didn't want to. Iron Bull was generous and giving and not at all what he assumed, and if he opened his eyes, Bull would be staring at him. Too intimate. Something sharp was crawling in Dorian's chest, scrabbling up his throat. He opened his eyes and peered up at Bull through his lashes, feeling stupidly proud of himself for not looking away.
"There you go," said Bull, sounding pleased. He pushed a thick finger inside.
Dorian bit back a moan. His cock was hard and leaking, tip rubbing against his belly. He demanded, "Touch me," and didn't care that he was whining, or how close he was to begging. "Please."
Iron Bull's thumb moved along his hip. Dorian laughed without making a sound, his shoulders shaking.
"My cock, if you would be so kind."
"Nah," Iron Bull replied, and leaned down to kiss Dorian's collarbone. He had to hunch his shoulders awkwardly and let Dorian fall back a few inches to do it. It looked uncomfortable, but Bull didn't complain, and he grinned when Dorian hummed and tipped his head back. He slid in another finger. "Come for me, Dorian, c'mon. You look so good."
Bull's other hand slid over Dorian's hip, grabbing his arse. The grip was hard, fingers digging into his flesh—Fasta vass, he enjoyed that far too much.
"You look so good," Bull said again. He patted Dorian's arse and let the hand drift up Dorian's side, up to his nipple. Groaning, Dorian let his head fall back further, eyes drifting up towards the ceiling. He could feel the orgasm approaching, and he just needed—
Iron Bull's hand was on his neck, fingers stretching towards his skull to tip his head forward. The weight was heavy and noticeable and marvelous. Dorian gasped, unable to hide the sound, and groaned when the hand slipped away.
"Please," Dorian said, desperate and hardly ashamed of it. "Please—"
Thankfully, Iron Bull just asked, "Like this?" and held him by the throat again. He didn't apply any pressure, so Dorian swallowed the no waiting on his tongue. Bull's thumb stroked along his jaw.
"Just like that," Dorian slurred, nodding. His hips rocked into the empty air. "Just—oh, fuck—"
Bull's fingers curled expertly inside him and that hand was solid on his throat and his muscles ached from holding himself up and he was squeezing his own fingers and his thighs were trembling—
Everything tightened and released all at once. He came, spilling onto his belly.
"Damn," said Iron Bull, when Dorian was slumped and drained. He patted Dorian's cheek. "You put on a good show."
Dorian just nodded and held his breath when Iron Bull removed his fingers. There was a hand on his back, and another on the scarf around his wrists. Untying. He blinked, and he was on his back. Iron Bull was still above him. Dorian shifted, ready to draw his knees to his chest.
Instead, Iron Bull bent over him and licked the come from his prick.
Dorian swallowed, draping an arm over his eyes. The room seemed too small now: only the bed and the sheets under his back and Bull's tongue on his belly. Too much. He sucked in a deep breath and curled his free hand in the sheets before he did something vulgar, like stroke Bull's horns.
When Dorian was relatively clean, Iron Bull kissed his thigh and slipped off the bed. Dorian lifted his arm.
"Need more slick," Iron Bull explained. He was rummaging in the bedside table.
"Ah." Dorian's eyelids felt heavy, so he closed them. The room abruptly smelled of mint. He heard Bull chew, then spit something. "Don't worry about that."
Bull shoved the drawer shut. "Have you done this before?"
"Yes," Dorian snapped, bristling. He was no virgin. Had he done something to make Bull think he was? "Perhaps you've forgotten that I'm a mage? I can make my own."
"Oh," said Iron Bull sheepishly. Something heavy hit the floor. "Right. Sorry. Didn't mean to imply—"
"No offense taken," Dorian cut in, waving his hand. He opened his eyes, blinking. His head still swayed. His belly was damp, slick with sweat and spit. He desperately wanted to come again.
"Well, I wanted to be sure, anyway," said Iron Bull. The leg brace and boots were on the floor. He rested his hands on his hips, thumbing at his trousers. "Figured you wouldn't tell me unless I asked."
In that hypothetical situation, he was correct, but Dorian wasn't going to tell him that. He tipped his head, eyeing the bulge in Bull's trousers. "Come on, then. Let me see what you've been teasing me with."
"I wasn't teasing," Iron Bull replied, but the grin said otherwise.
"You're overdressed. Take them off."
Iron Bull pushed the trousers down, stepping out of them. His prick was—well. It looked exactly as it had felt in Dorian's hand. Sizable. Thick.
"You want me to choke you?"
Dorian started at the non sequitur and dragged his eyes up. Bull was smiling faintly, his eye bright. "What?"
"Before," said Iron Bull. He knelt on the bed, straddling Dorian's legs, and slid his palm up Dorian's belly to his throat. His fingers brushed against his jaw. "When I was holding you like this. You liked it."
"I did," Dorian admitted, but he didn't want to be choked. He was fond of breathing. "No. I enjoy the—weight. Not the pressure."
Iron Bull nodded, thumbing Dorian's jawline, and leaned down to kiss him. He tasted overwhelmingly of mint, though there were still traces of whisky and come on his tongue. He tipped Dorian's head back, mouthing along his throat. It was too gentle. Too much. Dorian had expected to be fucked and kicked out, not to be treated like he was something worth treasuring.
Dorian nudged Bull away and touched the hand on his jaw, holding the fingers between his palms. This was a spell he had been casting since he found a folded, sticky page in a dark corner of his Circle's library. Iron Bull flinched, his eye wide, and he stilled until Dorian told him it was finished. He tugged his hand free, rubbing his fingers together.
"It's warm," said Iron Bull, eying the slick. He raised his hand to his mouth, sniffing. "Doesn't smell like anything."
"It doesn't taste like anything, either." A friend in school liked making his taste like berries. It always made Dorian think he'd just fucked a fruit basket. "And it's perfectly safe."
Iron Bull shook his head, chuckling. "So, that's what you mages learn in your Circles. Raising the dead and heated slick."
"Well, this wasn't part of the official curriculum," Dorian replied. He was oddly protective of his conjured grease, which was a damned good spell. It had to be, after he spent his adolescence perfecting it. "How do you want me?"
"Whatever's comfortable for you," Iron Bull answered. He pushed himself up and moved back, giving Dorian room.
Dorian turned over, onto his hands and knees. A heavy hand landed on his back, tracing his spine. There was the familiar sound of skin on skin; Bull was rubbing the slick on his cock. Dorian twisted his fingers in the sheets to hide the way his hands shook, waiting.
Iron Bull took his time easing inside, inch by inch, until Dorian was hard and leaking, saying, "Oh, fuck," over and over again, sometimes in Tevene. Bull didn't start moving, the bastard, but at least he slid his palm over Dorian's hip. Dorian mumbled something unintelligible and tried to tug Bull's hand towards his cock. Chuckling, Iron Bull pinched a nipple with his other hand.
"When you come again, it'll be while I'm fucking you."
The first thrust made Dorian shout. Bull's hands slipped back to his hips, fingers pressing hard into the bone.
"That's the idea," Dorian said, with wild laughter trapped in his throat. His arms were trembling. He braced himself against the bed with his forearm and curled his fingers around his cock. "You—yes—again—ah—don't you dare stop—"
: : :
When Dorian spilled over his fingers, Bull's hand was wonderfully heavy around his throat. He lost their rhythm and, too drained to pick it up again, slumped over and let Bull fuck him. His head spun, worsening when he closed his eyes. Everything ached. It was good.
He was distantly aware of Iron Bull slowing, carefully sliding out. A hand over his arse, thumbing at his hole, then Bull's cock between his cheeks. Fingers on his hips, tight, followed by a grunt and a word that Dorian didn't recognize. There was come on his thighs. Bull pushed the head of his prick against Dorian's arse, sighing.
"Fuck," Iron Bull murmured, rubbing Dorian's back. His nails scratched down Dorian's spine. "That was pretty fantastic."
Dorian nodded against the bed. He felt boneless. Filthy. Most of the sweat on his back was Bull's. He was definitely drooling. He needed to find something to clean himself with before he left, but he wasn't quite sure he could move.
The bed creaked, and Iron Bull's hand was gone. Dorian opened his eyes, blinking. Well, if Bull was getting up, he should, too. He braced his hands against the bed, preparing to push himself up.
That sounded like an order. Dorian was too weary to ignore it.
"All right," Dorian mumbled. He stretched out on his belly, peering over his shoulder. Bull approached the bed, carrying something in his hand, and used it to wipe the come off Dorian's thighs. Fabric. It looked like a linen shirt. Where did that come from? He had never seen Bull without at least one nipple exposed.
"I could get a bathtub up here, if you want," Iron Bull offered. He fit his hand over Dorian's shoulder, rolling him onto his back, and cleaned his belly and prick. It was nice, Dorian decided. The touch was gentle, like it had been earlier when Bull used his tongue, but efficient. "The water won't be hot, but you could probably wiggle your fingers at it."
Dorian shook his head. He should go, shouldn't he? That was what he was supposed to do. And he assumed that was what Iron Bull expected. Their curiosities had been sated, and Dorian had been fucked well enough that he would sleep through the night. Possibly until the afternoon.
"Okay," said Iron Bull, tossing the shirt over his shoulder. He slid his arm under Dorian's back, lifting him up before Dorian could protest. "Hey, I need to change the sheets. You're in the way."
"You realize this is bordering on humiliation," Dorian said. Bull was cradling him to his chest with one hand, tugging at the sheet with the other. He didn't even seem to notice the extra weight. "Most adults don't enjoy being carried like swaddled babes."
"I could throw you over my shoulder," said Iron Bull. He left the dirty sheet on the floor and tugged the loose sheet up, smoothing it over the bed. When he glanced down at Dorian, he was grinning. "But then I wouldn't be able to look at you, handsome."
It was a cheap line, but it still made something under Dorian's skin sing. He looked away, muttering, "Degenerate."
"Eh, I'll take it." Iron Bull placed Dorian on the far side of the bed and settled in beside him. His knee cracked when he stretched. "You can stay, if you want."
"No," said Dorian, and absolutely didn't take one more look at Iron Bull's cock before he slipped out of bed.
"I'll pretend to be asleep when you sneak out in the morning," Iron Bull offered. His tone was light enough that Dorian knew he was teasing. Still, Dorian ignored him and searched for his trousers.
When Dorian was finished, he pushed his hand through his hair, clearing his throat. It was always good to be polite, after. "Well, thank you."
"Sure. Door's still unlocked, if you wanna go again."
Dorian didn't know how to answer that. He shrugged and headed for the door, stopping when he stepped on something squishy. It was a melted candle stub, mashed into his boot heel.
"If you clean your quarters first," Dorian replied. He scraped the wax off his boot and tossed it onto the bed. "Honestly, Bull."
"It's not that bad," Iron Bull protested. He was sweaty, sprawled in bed with one knee bent, scratching at his belly. It was annoying, how good he looked. "Sleep well."
Dorian opened the door and fled back into the tavern.
It was nearly empty. Cabot was gone, and so was the bard. He heard Sera snoring when he walked past her alcove. There were a few drunks in the corner, slumped against each other with a half-finished bottle of rum between them. Dorian stopped and checked, but they were still breathing, so he moved on.
Downstairs, he lifted a bottle of wine from behind the bar and left far too much coin in its place. He wrenched the cork out with his teeth, spitting it onto the floor. Oh, he'd been in the south for far too long. Somewhere, his parents were shuddering.
Dorian hopped onto a stool and drank from the bottle. He wiped at his mouth, sighing. The weight of Bull's hands still lingered, and his skin reeked of come and sweat. He wanted to go back upstairs and see what Bull's horns felt like.
"Fuck," Dorian announced to the tavern, and drank again.
There was a key in Dorian's pocket.
A key. It was too heavy. Dorian felt oddly lopsided every time it shifted in his pocket. He didn't want it. It was overwhelming, and it was just a key, so Iron Bull didn't have to keep his door unlocked or crawl out of bed in the middle of the night. A hunk of metal shouldn't have been so distracting. It wasn't a ring, or some token of affection. It was only a tool. It didn't mean something. Anything.
The metal pressed against his thigh with every step.
Was it customary to give Bull a key to his quarters in return? Probably. Dorian had no idea what he was supposed to do. He doubted Iron Bull knew much, either, but that wasn't much comfort.
Dorian scowled and tried to ignore the weight. His boots clicked against the stone floor, echoing down the corridor. This floor was mainly personal chambers, with a few storage rooms; his own quarters were just around the corner. He wanted nothing more than to sprawl in bed with cheap liquor and a good book. Perhaps he could toss the key out the window and pretend he'd misplaced it. Bull would understand.
Something clinked behind him. Dorian knew who it was before he turned around.
"Hey," said Iron Bull, from the opposite end of the corridor. For such a big man, he could walk silently if he wanted to. He usually dragged his heel against the ground when he wanted Dorian to hear him. "You busy?"
"Not particularly," Dorian answered. He folded his arms across his chest, waiting. Iron Bull started walking.
They had been sleeping together for a while now. It had been one night of drunken curiosity, and then another, and then…well. It just kept happening. People knew, because Iron Bull couldn't kept his damn mouth shut. Cole wasn't much help, either.
Cadash seemed to think their affair was sweet. Outside of Skyhold, she offered them a private tent, and no one—not a single Inquisition soldier—said a damned word. Dorian had spent days with barely restrained panic throbbing in his belly until he finally realized that what he expected and what would happen were two very different things. People truly didn't care who shared his bed. The worst was Sera asking how he could still walk; he had assured her it was simply practice, and she had punched his shoulder and told him to keep at it.
Yesterday, Krem thanked him for keeping the chief happy. Skinner, who had never said anything to him but colorful, lovely phrases about his parentage, bought him a drink. Dalish invited him to play darts. Stitches said it had been ages since he'd seen Bull disappear into the kitchens with a barmaid.
And this morning, Bull had given him a key, and—
"Stop making that face," said Iron Bull, offering Dorian a lopsided grin. The scar stretched over his mouth. He tilted his head in the direction he'd come from. "You can tell me to fuck off, you know."
"Yes, I'm aware," Dorian replied. He caught himself squeezing his own arms and stopped, letting his hands fall to his sides. Bull's eye followed as he took a deliberate step closer, linking his fingers together behind his back. "Perhaps I don't want to."
One of Iron Bull's hands landed on his shoulder, skimming down his arm to hold his wrists loosely. It was a simple touch, but it reminded Dorian of many satisfying nights in Bull's bed. He closed his eyes, sighing. This was far better than fretting about the metal in his pocket. He understood this.
Dorian flexed his fingers, waiting for the grip to tighten. It didn't.
"Hey," said Iron Bull softly. His thumb stroked along Dorian's wrists. "Tell me what you need."
There were plenty of things that Dorian needed. His new set of robes were torn and bloodied from their last trip to the Storm Coast. There were several tomes about the old magisters that he needed, and his contacts in Tevinter were refusing to part with them. If Bull could somehow pluck this swelling tension from his mind, the one that always whispered about how he was never worthy of any of the things he wanted, that would be lovely. His personal stock of Antivan brandy was running low.
And he wanted to be touched and held and loved—
"Let go," Dorian replied. Bull released him before he said the second word. "Come with me."
He turned around. Iron Bull followed.
Once they were inside his quarters, Iron Bull shut the door and crowded Dorian against it. Dorian felt the weight of his arms hit the door, palms flat against the wood. When he tipped his head back, Bull cupped his face in both hands and leaned down. Their mouths met clumsily in the dark.
"The," Dorian tried, but Iron Bull was stealing every word with a kiss. He turned his head, managing to say, "The torch. Let me light it."
Iron Bull stroked his cheek with one hand and groped along the wall. Dorian followed his arm until he found the torch and conjured flames in his palm. As soon as light flooded the room, Bull grabbed his arse with both hands and lifted him up. He pressed Dorian against the door, hard enough that the sting lingered.
"I think you enjoy carrying me too much," Dorian muttered, tightening his knees around Bull's hips. He flattened his palms over the broad chest. The scarred skin was hard and warm against his, and he liked how Bull relaxed under his touch.
"Well, yeah," said Iron Bull. He inched closer, slowly trapping Dorian between the door and his chest. Dorian's thighs flexed instinctively. "You fit nicely in my hands."
Dorian worked a hand between them, aiming to slip inside Iron Bull's trousers, but Bull caught his wrist and pinned it to the wall. Lust stabbed sharply down Dorian's spine. He dug his fingers into Bull's shoulder.
"Of course." Iron Bull brought Dorian's hand to his mouth and kissed the center of his palm before releasing his wrist. "You know that."
"I suppose it helps that I look good in everything," said Dorian. He wiggled his fingers above the horns. "May I?"
Bull's mouth split into a wide grin. "You don't have to ask."
"Well, just the other day, you said I couldn't touch them unless we were fucking," Dorian countered. He touched Bull's head, dragging his fingers along the horns. Iron Bull bowed his head and Dorian pulled him towards his neck, sighing when Bull sucked a wet bruise into the skin. "Unless that's what you intend to do?"
"I wanna try something else."
Iron Bull's voice was low, like he was sharing a dark secret. Dorian wondered what he had in mind. Something new, undoubtedly. Bull was remarkably adept at expanding his horizons. He twisted his fingers around Bull's horns, asking, "Anything in particular?"
Iron Bull didn't answer and kissed him instead, dirty and slow. His hands worked quickly, unfastening and unbuckling, until Dorian's chest was bare. He slid his hands under Dorian's thighs.
"Move your legs. Let me—yeah, like that."
Dorian relaxed his grip on Iron Bull's hips, letting all his weight sink into the strong hands. He nearly yelped when Iron Bull lifted him up, his back scraping against the door, until his groin was at Bull's eye level. Oh. Oh. Iron Bull tilted his head, grinning.
"You can't be serious," said Dorian, stumbling a little over the words. His legs were dangling, thighs still tight in Iron Bull's grip, and the only thing he had to keep balance was those horns. Bull didn't even seem to notice the weight. "Are you?"
"I'm always serious," Bull said solemnly. He leaned forward, waiting a beat, and pressed his mouth against Dorian's cock through his trousers. The slow exhale made Dorian groan. "Wanna?"
Dorian's first thought was that it would be interesting to see if Iron Bull sucked cock just as well when he was holding a man over his head. This was Bull showing off, deliberately flaunting his strength. Dorian enjoyed that, and Bull definitely knew it.
Well. Dorian was hardly going to turn down such an opportunity.
"All right," Dorian said, nodding, and stroked the horns. A little obscene, perhaps, but Bull always found it amusing.
"You're too good to me."
Dorian scoffed, ignoring the heat in his cheeks. "You're the one offering to suck my cock."
Together, they managed to get Dorian's boots, trousers, and smalls off without someone getting kicked or Dorian's feet touching the floor. He felt strangely weightless, suspended only by Iron Bull's hands and the door at his back. Panic plummeted in his belly when Bull took a step back, and he gripped the horns tighter. He didn't want to imagine the look on Cadash's face when she heard how Dorian cracked his skull.
"Don't you dare drop me," said Dorian, his voice unsteady. His fingers were damp with sweat.
Iron Bull nuzzled at Dorian's thighs for a little while, biting and licking. There was still a faint bruise from a few nights ago, which Bull avoided until Dorian nudged him towards it. He sank his teeth into the skin around the bruise, pressing down, and Dorian hissed.
"Okay," said Iron Bull, nudging Dorian's thighs farther apart. "Sorry I can't use my hands."
And then he opened his damned throat.
Dorian gripped the horns and tipped his head back, hitting the door hard. He grimaced, instinctively touching the back of his head, but his fingers were dry. Iron Bull was trying not to laugh.
"Damn you," Dorian grumbled. He showed Bull his clean fingers before taking hold of the horns again.
It was good. It was always good, and Dorian struggled to keep his hips still. He was afraid to thrust too much into that glorious heat. Iron Bull was capable—Dorian was well aware of that—but he didn't want to lose his balance, or inadvertently wriggle out of Bull's hands. Instead, his thighs flexed every time Bull sucked.
Iron Bull's mouth slipped off his cock, a wet trail still connecting them.
"You should put your legs over my shoulders."
Dorian's mind tipped neatly sideways. He froze, fingers still wrapped around Bull's horns. "You're getting tired already?"
"Nah," said Iron Bull, dropping one shoulder low. Dorian reached back with one hand to brace himself against the wall. He lifted his leg, the back of his knee settling over Bull's shoulder. "But I know you've thought about it."
"Oh, do you?" Dorian asked. He was babbling, now, and Iron Bull surely knew it. Bull just grinned and helped him with the other leg. "Why do you say that?"
"You want the long or the short answer?"
Dorian wriggled in Iron Bull's hands, trying to get comfortable. He dragged his fingers along the horns. "How about you tell me both?"
"Well, you're not touching your cock at all, like you're afraid you might come if you do. You keep asking questions, like you're trying to sound casual. You really like holding onto my horns. And when I suggested it, you turned bright fucking red, so." Iron Bull tightened his hold on Dorian's thighs, still grinning. "But the short answer is, I know you."
"Yes, yes," Dorian muttered, kicking his heels into Bull's back. "Very impressive."
"Thanks," said Iron Bull, beaming. He slid his hands back, cupping Dorian's arse. "Next time, we'll do this on a bed. I want a better angle on your ass."
Next time. Because Bull still expected a next time. For half a moment, Dorian let himself wonder if there would be one if he returned the key—no. No, the key was in his pocket, on the floor, and this was now. He could worry about the key later.
"You're welcome to do all sorts of things to my arse later," Dorian said, and wrapped his fingers around the base of his cock. He used the horns to guide Bull's mouth back.
: : :
In the end, the curtains caught on fire.
Dorian cursed as Iron Bull started to laugh. The wall disappeared from Dorian's back and he fell backwards, one leg slipping off Bull's shoulder—but only for a few, horribly stomach-clenching inches, because Bull caught him with one hand, shrugging the other leg free. He yanked him upright, Dorian's legs dangling, and lunged for a water pitcher. Swaying, Dorian dug his fingers into Bull's shoulder and summoned ice, just as Bull flung the contents of the pitcher at the curtains.
The flames dissipated, water dripping down the stone. The ice cracked and crumbled.
Iron Bull kept laughing, even when he gently placed Dorian on the bed.
"Oh, no," Dorian muttered, groaning. He shrank back against the pillows, covering his face. Something like this hadn't happened since he was thirteen. "Stop it."
Iron Bull cleared his throat and, thankfully, stopped. The bed dipped when he sat down. "Means it was good, right? I mean, you set the fucking curtains on fire."
"Well—yes," Dorian admitted, peeking at Iron Bull through his fingers. His mouth twitched, like he was going to start laughing again. "Stop that."
Iron Bull pressed his lips together.
Dorian lowered his hands. The embarrassment was starting to fade, though he was certain he would remember this incident with dreadful clarity a few weeks from now. Possibly in the middle of a conversation with Cullen or Vivienne. At least Bull had found it amusing.
Dorian stretched his arms above his head and kicked one leg into Iron Bull's lap, trying to nudge him closer. Bull leaned back on his hands, glancing at the pocket watch on the bedside table. He tilted his head to read the time.
"Is it okay for me to spend the night? It's late, and I have a long walk back."
Well, that was odd. Iron Bull didn't make excuses like that. If he wanted something, he asked for it. He didn't dance around the subject, and it was part of why Dorian liked fucking him. There were no signals to interpret, no hidden meanings to parse. Perhaps this was Iron Bull's attempt at playing coy?
"Yes, I suppose," said Dorian slowly, and moved over to give Bull space. He grabbed the corner of the blanket, tugging it up to his chest.
Iron Bull removed his boots, the leg brace, and the chest piece. He left them in an tidy line on the floor and lay down, resting his head carefully on the pillows. Dorian had replaced them seven times now. If he asked Josephine for another set, he would never hear the end of it. Bull lifted his arm, humming happily when Dorian leaned against him, and threw his arm over Dorian's back. Dorian rolled onto his side, slipping a hand under the blanket, but Bull caught his hand and linked their fingers together.
"Ah, don't bother," said Iron Bull, tugging Dorian's hand up to his chest. "Think I've had enough excitement for tonight. I gotta sleep."
That was disappointing. Dorian liked sex, especially with Iron Bull, but if Bull was content to just lie in bed with him—fine. They did that sometimes, when they were traveling and too tired to do anything but crawl into a tent. Bull snored, but he was a nice, solid weight to sleep against, and he didn't care if Dorian drooled on him.
Dorian kept his hand on Iron Bull's chest, feeling the bulk rise and fall with each breath. The silence stretched between them, interrupted only by the wind outside as it whistled through the cracks in the stone. Iron Bull stroked his hair, fingers pushing gently into his temples.
"You can give the key back."
Dorian couldn't hide the flinch. It rippled through his body, lurching like nausea, but Iron Bull said nothing. He kept stroking Dorian's head, as though nothing happened, and that was almost worse. Dorian curled his fingers, pushing his fingertips into a thick scar. How foolish of him, to react like this. Bull was talking about a key. And it wasn't like this meant something. Whatever this was. One drunken night that kept turning into another.
"You don't have to tell me why," Iron Bull added.
As if he didn't already know. There were things that Dorian had never allowed himself to hope for, and he knew Iron Bull understood. They had never discussed it, but Bull was familiar with Tevinter. And Dorian had never imagined he might wish for those things with Iron Bull, of all people. He still didn't know if that was what he wanted. Thinking about it made him feel queasy.
But the key was in his pocket, in the pile of clothes by the door. Dorian didn't want to give it back.
"I'm keeping it."
Iron Bull nodded and let his hand drift lower, stroking Dorian's side. "You can talk to me, you know. I won't bite. Unless—"
"You want me to," Dorian finished. Iron Bull chuckled. "Well, I prefer to remain an enigma."
That earned a quick bark of laughter. Iron Bull turned, taking hold of him with both hands and lifting. Dorian sprawled over Bull's chest and shifted, trying to get comfortable without kneeing anything tender. He folded his arms, resting his chin on his wrists.
"I mean it," said Iron Bull, so quiet that Dorian barely heard him. He curled his fingers in Dorian's hair, fingernails pressing into his scalp. They skimmed down his neck, his spine, then back up again. A muscle in his jaw twitched, and he added, "Don't be afraid."
Of course he worried about something like that. Dorian's throat ached. He inhaled through his nose until it passed, watching Iron Bull blink.
"I'm not," Dorian lied. He uncrossed his arms, sliding his palms over Iron Bull's chest, and turned his head. The steady heartbeat thumped against his ear.
Bull flattened his arms against Dorian's back and held him close. Dorian traced circles on his chest, frowning. The body beneath him was awkward and stiff. It felt like Bull was clinging to him.
"You can talk to me, okay?" Iron Bull pressed. He rarely sounded this nervous, unless there was a demon or something he couldn't solve by flailing around with an enormous axe. "Tell me if something's wrong."
Ah, of course. Dorian mentally slapped himself upside the head for not realizing sooner. This was about the incident with the Chargers and the dreadnought, and how Bull wasn't really a proper Qunari anymore. After they had returned from the Storm Coast, it took weeks for Bull to speak about it with anyone except Cadash and Krem. He was spending a lot of time with Solas now, which seemed to be helping. Dorian had never been so grateful to hear a conversation about chess.
Worrying over a simple key seemed childish now. Dorian grimaced.
"Look, Dorian, I know it's gotta be diff—"
"I'm not afraid of you," Dorian interrupted. The arms on his back tensed, which was a hell of a lot more than Bull usually allowed him to see.
"That's not what I meant."
"Perhaps not intentionally." Dorian rubbed his thumb along the broad chest, nail catching on a fresh scar. "Tal-Vashoth or not, you're still the same man."
Iron Bull seemed to crumple into the bed. He cradled Dorian's skull in his hand, saying, "Dorian," and nothing else.
Dorian didn't say anything. His name hung in the silence.
Bull hadn't changed, really, since being disavowed. He still drank copious amounts of beer with his Chargers. Still boasted about cutting men into pieces and how many times he'd survived a dragon's claws. Still delighted in making sausage and eggs for everyone in the morning. There was no internal switch that turned him into a brainless savage. Dorian didn't know the particulars of Bull's work for the Qunari, but he knew that Bull had spent some time killing the ones who left the Qun. Did he think another Ben-Hassrath was coming to kill him? Doubtful. Cadash had told Dorian about the assassination attempt, which Bull had dealt with. The bodies were still hanging off the edge of the mountain.
It was likely something else, then. Something Iron Bull hadn't shared with him. Dorian tipped his head back.
The lone eye was damp. Dorian murmured nonsense under his breath and stretched closer, pressing their lips together. Bull sighed against his mouth.
"No more of that," said Dorian firmly. He wasn't sure if this was the right way to go about it, but Bull was nodding. "You are. You're still the same man."
"Okay," Iron Bull said. He was still nodding. "Okay."
Dorian wasn't sure if this was helping or hurting. Iron Bull's face was blank, though his hand still stroked Dorian's head. Slowly, Dorian wriggled closer, resting his head between Bull's neck and shoulder. "I'm sleeping now." He stretched one arm under the pillow and waited for a response, but Bull said nothing, so he added, "You may push me off if I get too heavy."
"Okay," Iron Bull repeated. He sucked in a quick breath and exhaled. The hand on Dorian's back softened, fingers tracing small circles over his spine.
"You can say other words, you know."
But Iron Bull was struggling not to laugh; Dorian could feel it building in his chest. He shoved his fingers into Bull's belly until he heard laughter.
"Yeah, yeah," Iron Bull said, still chuckling. He kissed Dorian's forehead. "I get it. Thank you."
Dorian closed his eyes. He could sort out whatever was happening in his head tomorrow. "You're welcome."
Varric hosted weekly card games whether they were in Skyhold or traipsing around some hidden corner of Thedas. They were in the castle's armory tonight, thankfully, where there was good food and better wine and a strong fire.
"Fold," said Cullen glumly. He dropped his cards and dragged his palm over his face.
Josephine beamed. She swept the coins towards herself, stacking them into a neat pile. "Ah, thank you. Are we still playing?"
"Oh, yeah," said Varric. He gathered the discarded cards, shuffling them with a practiced ease. "Curly, you out?"
"Stay," Dorian insisted, nudging Cullen's side with his elbow. Cullen was attempting to win his dignity back and failing miserably, but it was admirable to see him try. "At least until Josephine wins your clothes again."
"I hate you all," said Cullen, but he indicated for Varric to deal him in.
It was a good night so far. Vivienne had stopped by earlier to leave a rather expensive bottle of wine in Dorian's hands. He had pleaded with her to stay, but she brushed him off in favor of dining with some Orlesian nobles. Sera, who had already drank too much, sprawled on the bench with her head in Cadash's lap. She hummed happily while Cadash combed her fingers through Sera's hair. Cassandra and Cole had left to read a draft of Varric's newest serial, which Cassandra won earlier that night. Dorian was certain Varric had lost that hand on purpose, but he didn't mention it.
"Solas," Cadash greeted. Dorian looked away from the table to see Solas lingering in the doorway, thumbing absently at his necklace. "You playing?"
"If there is room for me," Solas answered. He rarely joined in with these games, or even group meals. Dorian assumed that after so many years of traveling alone, Solas wasn't used to crowds.
"Well, there goes the rest of my coin," Blackwall grumbled. He moved over to give Solas a seat, pulling Sera's legs into his lap.
Iron Bull laughed, nodding at Blackwall's meager pile. "Not like you had much to begin with."
They played a few more hands. Blackwall bowed out whenever Solas made a bet, muttering about how he had already learned that lesson. Solas just smiled and won again. Even Josephine had trouble parsing Solas's tells, which Cullen found delightful.
"He'll take your smalls, too," said Blackwall. Solas barely hid a smirk. "At least I had a bucket."
Dorian refilled his wine glass. He offered the bottle to Bull, who shook his head and said, "Nah, I don't need the good stuff."
"I'll take it," Sera announced. Her hand popped up from under the table, fingers stretching in Dorian's direction. Blackwall tugged her hand back. "Oi!"
"You've had enough," Blackwall murmured. Sera must have made a face, because he stuck his tongue out at her. "Stop that, you. I'm not the one who'll have to clean sick out of your hair."
"Sorry, love, it won't be me, either," Cadash said.
Sera made an unhappy noise. "I'll do it, then."
"I'll drink for you, Sera," Dorian offered, and drank two deep swallows. Bull's eye fell to his mouth, long enough for Dorian to notice. "There. One for you, one for me."
"I'm keepin' up," Sera mumbled. Cadash pressed her lips together to hide a smirk. "Yay?"
"Yay," said Varric, and dealt another hand.
: : :
They played until Sera was snoring and Solas had taken the rest of Josephine's coin. He wished them all a good evening and left, pockets clinking. Josephine waited until he was out of earshot before letting loose a truly impressive string of curses.
"You can't win all the time," Varric pointed out.
"Maybe he was using magic," Iron Bull suggested. He pressed his knee against Dorian's. "Can you do that?"
"Oh, that would be wrong," said Dorian, who had certainly never done something that like that. Cullen narrowed his eyes. "I'm sure Solas wouldn't cheat. We're playing with real coin, after all."
Cadash gathered all the cards into a single pile. "I'll pick his pockets tomorrow, Josephine."
"Oh, that won't be necessary," said Josephine quickly, and stood, straightening her clothes. "But I think I am done for the night." She rested her palm on Cullen's shoulders. "Would you like me to reschedule our meeting tomorrow? It's quite late."
Cullen shook his head and patted Josephine's hand. "No, no. I'll be there."
"I think we'll follow you," said Cadash, pushing the cards towards the center of the table. Dorian picked them up before Cullen could.
Blackwall offered his help, which Cadash accepted. He gathered Sera in his arms and stood, heaving her onto his shoulder. She grumbled, her arms dangling loosely against his back.
Cadash eyed them both. "I probably could've done that. Might look a little funny, though."
"She'd just be grabbing your arse the entire way," Blackwall replied. He patted Sera's back and told her not to be sick. Sera just kept snoring.
"Sleep well, boss," said Iron Bull. Everyone else around the table offered similar farewells.
When the door closed, Dorian shook his head. "Ah, youth." He fanned the cards out on the table. "Shall we?"
"I'm in," Iron Bull answered. His knee was still pressed against Dorian's. "Mind yourself. I'm watching your hands."
Dorian gathered the cards back into a single pile and tilted his head, smiling. He kept his eyes on Iron Bull as he hid a face card in his glove.
"I would never."
: : :
They played a few more hands. Dorian continued to cheat until he forgot which glove had the hidden card and lost spectacularly to Cullen, who would be unbearably smug for the next few days.
"Finally," said Cullen gleefully, palming the new stack of coin. "We ought to bet on our chess games, Dorian."
"I am a man without a title, lost in a foreign land," said Dorian, pushing as much mock outrage into his tone as he could muster. Iron Bull snorted. "You would take what little I have left?"
Cullen went horribly still. "I—oh, I—"
"He's joking," Varric murmured. Cullen flushed, ducking his head. "Oh, look what you did, Sparkler."
"Apologies," said Dorian, and he did mean it. He offered what remained of his whisky, but Cullen declined. "We shouldn't bet on chess. I would have to feel guilty about cheating."
"Well, we can't have that," said Cullen. He scooped the coins off the table and dropped them into his coat pockets. "That's enough for tonight. Thank you for your company."
"I'm out, too," said Varric, sighing. He pushed away from the table and stood, stretching. Something cracked. His face twisted into a grimace. "Ah, shit. I can't sit this long."
"I'll make you a cushion, old man," said Iron Bull. He took Dorian's discarded whisky and drank it in a single swallow. "Are there any fabrics you like?"
"Is he serious?" Varric asked. He directed the question at Dorian, who shrugged. "I'm too tired for this. G'night."
"Night," Dorian said, nodding at Varric and Cullen as they headed for the door. Iron Bull echoed the same.
They were alone in the armory now. The fire still crackled with heat, and Iron Bull was staring at him. The constant noise outside had subsided hours ago; the only people still awake were likely soldiers, or researchers in the library. Anticipation crawled up Dorian's spine.
He planted his hands on the table and pushed himself up. Before he could swing his legs over the bench, Iron Bull caught his wrist and slid a finger under the glove, pulling the hidden card free. He glanced at the card, then up at Dorian.
"Oh, how did that get there," said Dorian flatly, plucking the card from Bull's hand. He tossed it onto the table.
"I like watching you cheat," said Iron Bull. He held Dorian's hand in his, rubbing his thumb along Dorian's palm.
"Reminds me how talented you are with your hands. It's hot." Iron Bull shifted, widening his legs, and patted his knee. "C'mere."
Dorian was a little drunk, but nowhere near inebriated enough to sit in Bull's lap in a public place. Certainly not when Bull was eyeing him the way he was. "Here?"
"It's where we are, so. Yeah."
"Later," Dorian promised. He tugged his hand free and stepped away from the table. Another card fell out of his glove. He swore, kicking it under the table.
"Saw that," Iron Bull murmured. He stood up and fit his hands over Dorian's hips, bending down to nuzzle at his neck. How much he had enjoyed watching Dorian cheat at cards was currently nudging at Dorian's arse, so Dorian reached back and palmed him. Bull groaned.
"I can't believe you took so much pleasure from that," said Dorian. He tilted his head to the side, sighing when Bull's teeth dragged along his neck. "It wasn't even my best work. Nowhere near it! It was damned clumsy, and I only got away with it because Varric thinks it's funny."
"You could've used magic," said Iron Bull. He slid one hand over Dorian's hip towards his thigh, stopping when Dorian shook his head. "Bet that would've helped."
"But that's really cheating. I have some standards."
"Not all of 'em, though." Iron Bull placed a final kiss on Dorian's neck before he stepped away. "You tired?"
Dorian shrugged. He wasn't, really, but he had grown so accustomed to traveling with the Inquisition that he only realized the extent of his weariness when he was in a tent or a bed.
"Then let's go for a walk," said Iron Bull, nodding at the door. He didn't wait for a response before he tapped his back. "Want a ride?"
Dorian was just tipsy enough to agree, though he did say, "Only because you like it when I do the riding." Honestly, they had walked right into that one.
All Iron Bull did was grin and pat his back again, so Dorian gripped his shoulders and pulled himself up. Bull slid his palms under Dorian's knees and straightened, holding him steady. Dorian slipped his arms over Bull's shoulders, hands roaming across the bare chest.
"Good?" Iron Bull asked. Dorian tucked his chin against Bull's neck, nodding. "Off we go."
Bull opened the door and went through it sideways, ducking his head low. Outside, he ignored the tavern and the stairs into the castle, walking towards the stables instead. Dorian said nothing, though he was curious to see where they were headed.
The path they took was meandering, looping through the infirmary tents and the front gates. A few soldiers greeted them cheerfully, and one commended Dorian for finding such a sturdy ride. He couldn't tell if it was mockery or amusement—or both—so he gave the man a lazy salute and kneed Iron Bull, who grumbled and kept walking.
When they were near the kitchens, Dorian smelled bread. It had to be later than he thought, if they were already baking. Much later. He realized how heavy his eyelids were and swallowed a yawn, pushing his tongue into the roof of his mouth. Iron Bull asked if he was hungry, but he declined, so they turned towards the steps leading to the battlements.
At the crumbling part of the wall, they stopped. Iron Bull tilted his head back, gazing up at the sky.
"You mean a lot to me, Vint," he said quietly.
Something sharp in Dorian's chest twisted. This sounded like the beginnings of a goodbye. Was it? He knew which answer he preferred. They had—something, though Dorian couldn't put a name to it and Bull had never asked. It was more than he had expected, and certainly more than anything he had ever experienced. He didn't want it to end.
"I think we're familiar enough to use names," said Dorian, prodding Iron Bull's chest with his index finger. "I suppose you could call me Pavus, if you like, but—"
That was a new word. It wasn't a curse or a battle cry, which were the only parts of the qunari language Dorian knew. He asked what it meant, fear building and boiling in his belly.
"My heart," Iron Bull answered. He tilted his head back, looking Dorian in the eye. "How's that? Is it okay?"
Of course it was. Dorian felt warm, his skin prickling with relief. He almost wanted to laugh and turned it into a sigh, flattening his palm over Iron Bull's chest. The heartbeat thumped steadily under his touch. He was not afraid, he told himself. He didn't have to be.
"Kadan," Dorian repeated. The word had more weight when Iron Bull said it. "Yes. Yes, I like it."
"Good," said Iron Bull, with a grin wide enough to make Dorian's chest ache.
It quickly dawned on Dorian how much he cared for this foolish man.
That was an unnerving thought to have. Dorian regretted it almost immediately. The panic twisted in his veins, pushing against his skin until he asked, "Does this mean you're courting me?" He aimed for teasing and ended up somewhere between miserable and paralyzed. Sighing, Dorian knocked his forehead against the nearest horn.
"Oh, yeah," said Iron Bull, sounding casual enough for the both of them. He shifted, moving Dorian's knees to a different spot, and headed for the stairs. "I'll buy you fancy wine next time we eat. And we're going dancing every week."
The only dancing Dorian knew was the stiff, uncomfortable kind that nobility did at fancy dinner parties and balls. He and Josephine had taught Cadash, to prepare her for Orlais. She was graceful in battle, leaping and spinning between enemies with ease, but she was no dancer. Dorian doubted Iron Bull was much better.
"I don't dance."
Iron Bull tipped his head back, nuzzling at Dorian's cheek. "Of course you do."
When they neared the castle, Iron Bull lingered at the door until Dorian directed him to the tavern, making an excuse about having clothes there. He had clothes in his own quarters, of course, but Iron Bull's bed was larger, and the tavern's breakfasts were large and greasy. They took the long route around, Bull muttering mock complaints about Dorian's weight on every step.
The door closed. Dorian rested his head against the back of Iron Bull's neck.
"I," said Dorian, because he needed to say something, and all the words clambering up his throat were the wrong ones. He inhaled sharply through his nose. There was no need for him to be this flustered. Iron Bull understood. "I've never been with someone like this."
"That's okay," Iron Bull said, squeezing Dorian's knees. He walked towards the bed. "Me neither."
"Aren't we a pair," Dorian muttered. He slipped off Iron Bull's back, landing on his side, and rolled onto his back.
Iron Bull tilted his head and stared at him for a moment, smiling. There was such obvious pride on his face that Dorian wanted to look away, embarrassment curling in his belly. Instead, he beckoned Bull closer.
"We can manage it," Iron Bull replied. He stretched over Dorian and grabbed his hip, tugging him closer. "We've done okay so far."
They rocked together lazily, Iron Bull placing open-mouthed kisses on Dorian's neck. When Dorian reached for the buckles on the chest strap, Bull grabbed his wrists in one hand and pinned them above his head, on the pillow. Dorian pushed back, just to make Bull's grip tighten.
"You know," said Iron Bull, rubbing his thumb along Dorian's wrist, "you forgot our anniversary."
Dorian actually had forgotten. He still couldn't remember the exact date. It had been months, but he didn't know exactly how long it had been since he drank himself stupid and waited until he was sober enough to walk to Iron Bull's door.
"Well, I don't even know your birthday," said Dorian. Iron Bull told him. "Oh. Just missed it."
Iron Bull's eye was bright. "We killed a dragon."
"I remember." Iron Bull had come back to camp grinning, half his body soaked in blood, and Dorian had started setting up the noise-canceling wards on their tent before Bull had to ask. Cole had been curious, asking impolite questions, and Dorian had babbled about warding the structure against rain until Varric dragged the boy away. "You were drunk from it for days."
"It was a good fight," Iron Bull said dreamily. He reached between them, groping Dorian through his trousers. His touch was light and careful, his eye watching Dorian for a reaction.
Regrettably, Dorian's thoughts were still focused on the anniversary. Wasn't he supposed to give Bull a gift? Some token of his affection. That happened in books, anyway. His parents had certainly never exchanged gifts. "I should get you something. For the anniversary, I mean. That's what people do."
"I'm not fucking you—sorry, courting you—so I can get gifts," said Iron Bull, releasing Dorian's wrists to poke his chest. "Because you are a gift, kadan."
"Stop," Dorian ordered, watching Bull's grin with growing horror. He became sappy at the worst times, and Dorian hated it. And loved it. He still couldn't decide. "Don't you dare."
"But you are," Iron Bull protested, but he stopped to duck down and kiss him. He stroked Dorian's hip with his thumb. "Tell me your word."
Dorian did. He liked having this word. Iron Bull obeyed it, without question. Before, when Dorian needed whisky and wine to come here, he thought that he would have to shout it over and over, or that Bull wouldn't listen to him at all. Once, he had whispered it, just to see what Bull would do, and he was ashamed to remember how relieved he was when Bull stopped. Just checking, Dorian had told him, trying to sound lighthearted, and Bull had held him close for a long time.
He didn't deserve such a kind man.
"Okay," said Iron Bull, and repeated the word. He hooked his finger under the strap over Dorian's chest. "What do you need tonight?"
The Hissing Wastes were cold and littered with Venatori.
Dorian curled his fingers at a corpse, tugging on the magic still lingering in its blood until it exploded through the skin, splattering a nearby enemy. The man dropped and died, staining the ground below. Vivienne neatly avoided the blood, wielding her conjured blade with practiced ease.
An arrow whistled past Dorian's head. He stepped to the side, cursing, and shoved himself backwards. The Venatori had managed to push them towards the edge of the rock. The ground was crumbling under their feet, and it was a long, long drop. Not survivable.
"You're next," Cadash called, pointing at the archer. She pulled knives from her belt and threw them in a graceful arc at his throat, laughing.
Dorian felt the fire's heat before he turned and saw Iron Bull dart out of its path.
The ground trembled and broke—
Bull's axe slipped from his grip—
Dorian didn't hear it land.
The world dimmed and splintered around him as Dorian yanked. The remaining mage and brute still fought, sluggish and muted, and Iron Bull was still falling. He wasn't strong enough. He wasn't fast enough. Bull was falling and Dorian could do nothing but twist the Fade around him and desperately hope for some measure of luck—
It was demanding work. Conjuring was easy. If he cast fire, he controlled the flames: their creation, their movement, their heat. Bull existed in this world, and manipulating objects in motion was always precarious. If there was anything around to manipulate—wind. Dorian would murder several woodland creatures for wind. There was only empty air.
Time slipped back to normal with an audible pop.
Some unknown force pressed against Dorian's skull, and his vision tunneled. Frantically, he searched for Iron Bull—There. Bull was back on solid ground, staring at his empty hands and the crumbling rock behind him. Alive and well.
"You fool," Dorian said weakly, propping himself up with his staff. Heat whipped through his barrier.
The mage—he had completed forgotten about the mage, and a fresh burn was splitting across his aching hands—
"Got him," said Iron Bull, and launched himself at the spellbinder. He tackled the man to the ground and broke his neck. It was quick and clean. The staff slipped out of the man's fingers, rolling off the cliff into the gorge below. Dorian's stomach rolled.
Vivienne and Cadash dealt with the brute. The poison on Cadash's weapons made Dorian's nose run. He wiped at his nose with the back of his hand, but it came away red. Blood. He touched his nose again, then his ears. Red, red, red. He could taste it, sour on the back of his tongue. He thought he might faint.
Vivienne said his name. She was glowing, warmth and golden light echoing with each footstep, and then she clasped Dorian's cheeks in her palms. Her hands were cold, always cold, but heat was spreading from his toes up to his scalp.
"I didn't say anything," Dorian mumbled. There was a ringing noise, just under his right ear. It felt heavy, like he'd been underwater too long. He scowled and tried to tip his head sideways, but Vivienne held him still.
Iron Bull, sounding oddly small, said, "Dorian?"
"Can I—?" Cadash asked, and sucked in a sharp breath.
Dorian's knees buckled. Someone caught him. Iron Bull. The hand on his chest was huge, holding him steady with a familiar touch. He dropped his staff and touched the knuckles, fumbling for a decent grip, and managed to link their fingers together. The wounds on their hands and arms were mending, the skin stitching over itself.
"No, no, I'm good. What about him?"
"He's doing just fine," said Vivienne. Dorian felt Bull nuzzle the top of his head.
"I have lyrium, if you need it," Cadash offered. Dorian looked around, trying to spot her. His vision was too blurry.
"Later," Vivienne said. She sounded calm. At least someone was. She pushed her fingertips into Dorian's temple and tilted his head back, so he could look her in the eyes. "Are you feeling better?"
"Oh, yes," Dorian answered, nodding. The world shifted around in his skull. He felt peculiar and warm, balanced on the line between sober and drunk. Laughter sputtered in his chest. "What are you doing to me?"
"It's a healing spell, darling."
Dorian grinned, wobbling in Iron Bull's grip. He heard Cadash chuckle. "Well, it's lovely."
"Of course it is," said Vivienne. Something thrummed in her palms. "Bull—?"
"Focus on him," Iron Bull snapped. He squeezed Dorian's fingers.
It was a few minutes before the pressure behind Dorian's eyes dissipated. Vivienne released him and fixed her gaze on Bull. Dorian felt the bulk behind him stiffen. "Bull."
"Mind your footing next time," said Vivienne sharply. Dorian could have embraced her, if his arms were up to the task.
"Yes, ma'am," Iron Bull repeated. He tugged Dorian closer. The strap across his chest dug into Dorian's back. "Hey—"
"I'm fine," Dorian cut in. He was. Bull was alive, his vision had returned to normal, and Vivienne had healed any open wounds. He was weary, but it was nothing a good night's rest couldn't solve. Cadash still eyed him with concern, so he added, "Really. It's like pulling a muscle. Vivienne, tell them."
"He's not injured," Vivienne assured them. Her gaze dropped to the hands interlocked on Dorian's chest so quickly that Dorian might have imagined it. He felt abruptly, stupidly embarrassed and ground his teeth together, ignoring the heat traveling up the back of his neck. "Bull, there's no need to clutch him like that. I'm certain he can move around without assistance."
Dorian almost said something stupid, like if he's touching me, I know he's alive or something equally mortifying, but managed to keep his mouth shut. He slipped his fingers free and nudged Bull's hand away, taking a tentative step forward. His knees were a little unsteady, but he had no trouble walking. Bull watched, his shoulders hunched terribly.
"Told you," said Dorian. He bowed to Vivienne, murmuring his thanks. "I'm fine. Are you?"
"Of course I am," Iron Bull said, frowning. His hand fell to Dorian's shoulder. "I'm gonna hug you now."
"You don't have to announce it," Dorian complained, but he let Bull tug him closer. The hand slid up the back of Dorian's neck, thumb stroking along the skin. The other settled into the small of his back. Tension crept up Dorian's spine.
He shouldn't feel this uncomfortable. They rarely did anything like this in front of people, but it was only an embrace. Cadash and Vivienne certainly didn't care, and Dorian doubted the wildlife or the corpses had much of an opinion. It was an old habit, he supposed. All that time he spent wishing and hoping for something like this, and his mind still stumbled. He kept bracing for the scorn and the lectures, but they never came.
And they likely never would. Not here.
Dorian wrapped his arms around Bull's middle and turned his head into the scarred chest, thankful he could hide his face.
"Incoming," Cadash declared, right before she barreled into them. She leaned against Dorian's side and stretched, resting one arm on each of theirs. "Vivienne, we're having a group hug."
"No," said Vivienne. Dorian was certain she was inspecting her robes. "You're all filthy."
"Yeah, a bit," Cadash admitted, shrugging. She poked Dorian's back. "Neat trick. I didn't know you could do that. How'd it feel, Bull?"
Iron Bull pushed his fingers into Dorian's scalp and waited a long moment before answering. "Weird. I was—falling. And then I wasn't."
"I doubt Dorian can do that again today, so try to avoid any nearby cliffs," said Vivienne. Dorian would have to thank her later, for somehow knowing exactly what he wanted to say and speaking it for him. "Manipulating physically large objects is not an easy task."
"I am pretty big," Iron Bull admitted, sounding too proud of himself. Dorian turned to look at Vivienne, who rested her hands on her hips and eyed them with some amusement. She offered him a kind smile, which he returned. "Oh, shit! I dropped my axe."
Cadash made a pained noise. "We can't tell Dagna. She'll be devastated."
"Shit," Iron Bull said, sighing, and pressed a kiss to the top of Dorian's head. "Better it than me."
Dorian's skin felt prickly and hot. He staggered away from them, patting aimlessly at Iron Bull's chest. "All right, enough of this. Both of you smell terrible."
"It's the blood, mostly," Cadash said, sniffing. She stepped aside and adjusted her daggers. "Nearest camp is an hour or so away. Think you can make it?"
"Yes," Dorian answered, unable to hide his annoyance. It was true that he had pushed himself too far. Twisting the Fade into itself, manipulating time, probably hadn't helped. But he wasn't an invalid.
Iron Bull kicked the brute's corpse over and picked up his axe, testing the weight. "I can carry you."
"I'm fully capable of putting one foot in front of the other," Dorian replied, scowling. He picked up his staff and slung it over his back.
"I like carrying you," said Iron Bull, as though that was an utterly normal thing to say in public. He pressed his thumb into the axe, frowning, and wiped the blood on his arm. "Hell, I'll carry all of you. Cadash and Vivienne can sit on my shoulders."
And he would, too. Iron Bull would happily show up to an Inquisition camp with Dorian in his arms and a woman on each shoulder. Dorian hoped it wouldn't come to that, even if Cadash seemed to find the idea amusing.
Vivienne didn't deign to give Iron Bull a reply. She looked in the direction they had been going and said, "Shall we?"
"Yes," Dorian answered, and they began walking. Behind them, Bull grumbled while Cadash consoled him over the loss of his favorite axe.
After a few minutes, Vivienne asked him how he was feeling.
"Fine," Dorian answered, though his mind kept helpfully replaying the moment he saw Iron Bull fall. "Your healing helped a great deal."
Vivienne hummed in agreement. "I'm pleased that you managed to save Bull without seriously injuring yourself. I felt a…shift, when you cast that spell. As though you were tearing the Fade into pieces with your bare hands."
"I reacted," Dorian said stiffly. Vivienne was beginning to remind him of an instructor in his Circle, who would ask probing questions and make casual remarks until her students blurted out what exactly they had done wrong. "Perhaps poorly, but—"
"I'm not scolding you, my dear."
"Are you certain?"
Vivienne tipped her head back and laughed. "You would know if I was disappointed in you."
"I didn't," said Dorian, and promptly lost his words. Iron Bull was still falling, and the spellbinder was still casting, and the rocks were still crumbling and everything in Dorian's belly was dropping—He shook his head, sighing. "I didn't want him to fall."
"I know," said Vivienne, sounding uncommonly gentle. "You did well, Dorian."
Dorian ducked his head and brushed tiny remnants of sand off his robes. He blinked, all too aware of how his eyes burned, and cleared his throat. Before he could thank her, Iron Bull called his name. Dorian glanced over his shoulder.
"You sure you don't want me to carry you?" Iron Bull asked. He held out his hands, palms up, and wiggled his fingers. Cadash snorted.
"I think I'll manage," said Dorian, though he did slow his pace until Iron Bull and Cadash caught up to them. He slid his hand under the strap across Bull's chest, tugging, and continued walking backwards. "Perhaps you should stay close. Three eyes are better than one, if we plan on avoiding any other cliffs."
Iron Bull covered Dorian's hand with his, squeezing their fingers together. He leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to Dorian's cheek.
"Whatever you say," Iron Bull murmured, quiet enough for only Dorian to hear. He tugged Dorian's hand free and touched his back, turning him around. His hand slid to Dorian's bare shoulder and remained there.
: : :
When they arrived at the Inquisition camp, Vivienne left to dictate a report of their findings. Cadash pointed at a tent and told them both to rest, adding, "And no strenuous activity until Dorian is back to full strength."
"Wildly inappropriate," said Dorian, just as Iron Bull muttered, "He doesn't set shit on fire all the time."
Dorian looked at his boots and groaned. Of course Bull would tell her about that. At least she hadn't let the story slip to Sera. She would never stop laughing at him.
"Not a word," Dorian ordered. Cadash smiled and pretended to look innocent. "Stop that. I can hear you."
Iron Bull placed a hand in the small of his back before Cadash could reply. "We're going, boss."
The tent was on the outskirts of camp, away from the Inquisition soldiers. It was a little larger than the others, to accommodate Iron Bull's frame. They left their weapons and Bull's chest plate outside.
Dorian settled onto the bedroll, stretching his arms above his head until his shoulders popped. He beckoned Iron Bull closer. Bull stepped inside the tent, tugging the flaps closed. He lowered himself to his knees and sat, hands on his thighs.
The tent was dark. Only a sliver of light slipped through the opening. Dorian waited, his eyes adjusting to the darkness, but Iron Bull didn't move.
"When I do this," said Dorian, demonstrating again by crooking his finger, "it usually means I want you on top of me."
A crooked grin spread over Iron Bull's face, but there was no light to it. "No strenuous activity."
"Maybe I just want a kiss," said Dorian. His hands itched for Bull's skin. He could still see the axe disappearing over the edge— "Please?"
But Iron Bull did nothing, so Dorian pushed himself up and crawled over to kneel between Bull's legs. He rested his palms on Bull's hands and leaned against his chest, listening to the steady heartbeat. Alive. Yes, Bull was alive.
"Shit," said Iron Bull softly. He turned his hands over, dragging his fingers along Dorian's wrists. "Can't believe I almost died like that."
"It wouldn't be a dignified death," Dorian replied, keeping his tone light to hide the tightness in his throat. "I imagine you would prefer to be eaten by a dragon."
To his surprise, Iron Bull shook his head. "Nah. Well—it depends. I don't want to die because I did something stupid, like fall off a cliff. I want—"
"Let's not talk about this," Dorian cut in. He stretched closer, aiming for Iron Bull's mouth, and ended up placing a kiss on Bull's jaw. "I don't want to hear you talk about dying."
"Well, it'll happen. Kinda has to."
Dorian fit his hand over Iron Bull's shoulder, trying to push him down. "Eventually. Not now. Not any time soon."
"I can't make any promises," said Iron Bull. He slid his hands under Dorian's thighs, lifting him up. Gently, he placed Dorian back onto the bedroll and stretched out beside him, one arm above Dorian's head and the other on his own belly. "But I'll try to avoid those long drops."
Dorian rolled onto his side. Iron Bull's hand was firm against his back. "Thank—"
"No, I should," Iron Bull interrupted, and cursed again. "I didn't even say thank you."
"That's all right," Dorian assured him. He blinked and saw the fire's path, the axe slipping from Bull's hand. The misstep. He swallowed and curled against Bull's bulk, stretching his right arm over the broad chest. "I didn't even notice."
Iron Bull covered Dorian's hand with his. "You know—"
His voice broke. He was quiet for a moment. Dorian waited.
"Ah, fuck it," Bull muttered, squeezing Dorian's hand. "I love you."
Once, Dorian had thought those words would terrify him. No one had ever said them, and they should have paralyzed him. He was delighted to realize that they didn't. Bull cared for him; he knew that. Putting another word to it didn't frighten him anymore.
He doesn't lie to you.
Still, Dorian asked, "Do you really?"
"I just said it."
"Well," said Dorian. It would be polite to return the sentiment, but the words were trapped in his throat. He settled on, "As luck would have it, I'm somewhat fond of you, as well."
Iron Bull brought Dorian's hand to his mouth and kissed the center of his palm. "Glad to hear it."