Dorian shivered, sweat cooling on his overheated skin, in direct contrast to the heat radiating between him and Bull where they touched. He shifted, moving to sit up, to search for his hastily discarded clothing.
Bull’s hand gently pressed him back down. “I’ll get it, kadan.” He spoke so gently, so warmly, the words acting like a blanket, themselves.
He returned, not with Dorian’s clothing, but with a finely woven blanket, heavy and warm. He wrapped it around Dorian’s shoulders, draping his enormous chest across his back, arm reaching across Dorian’s chest.
“Relax, Dorian,” Bull murmured. “You should stay. Sleep.” His fingers caressed the length of Dorian’s arm, and then–
Bull was holding Dorian’s hand.
The Iron Bull was holding Dorian’s hand, and Dorian couldn’t breathe.
He focused on the feeling, the sensation that should have been as natural as–well. Every breath felt alien, and the connection of their skin, palm to palm, burned as though it were the source. He gasped to find his breath, pulse throbbing in his neck, his wrists, his brain.
Bull pulled his hand up to his mouth, perched just over Dorian’s shoulder, and pressed a gentle kiss to the ridges of Dorian’s knuckles.
Dorian couldn’t breathe.
He pulled away, his hand tugging from Bull’s gentle grasp, the blanket falling to the bed where Dorian’s body had lain.
Bull watched him carefully, but said nothing.
Dorian’s legs shook beneath him, his fingers trembling. He’d been naked with other men before, but never had he felt quite so vulnerable, even with the men who’d hurt him, who’d used him and left him, after.
Dorian’s mind was a compass needle who couldn’t find north–all because Bull had held his hand.
“Kadan?” Bull ventured. Oh, that word, laced with an affection that felt like cobwebs against Dorian’s skin. He didn’t know what it meant, didn’t want to ask, but it was always spoken softly in moments like this, in the gentle rocking of their heartbeats. “Dorian, look at me.”
Dorian and the Iron Bull had explored each other thoroughly. Had pressed each other, sweaty and sticky, into Bull’s mattress, had ventured tongues in foreign places, and whispered each other dirty promises fit to make a whore blush.
Bull had distilled it to a system, a promise, one word to make it all stop, and not once had Dorian felt the need to speak it aloud.
Bull’s brow furrowed with confusion. Then, in realization, his eye widened, flickering a wounded expression for only a second before it swept away. His training, of course. It was always so easy, Dorian thought bitterly, for Bull to hide his feelings, to feel nothing at all.
Right now, Dorian didn’t know what he, himself, was feeling.
“Did I hurt you?” the Iron Bull asked, his voice even, without a hint of the confusion, of the hurt Dorian had seen just seconds before.
Dorian shook his head. “No. It’s not…I–I can’t…”
Bull sat up, his knees draped over the side of the bed, upper body hunched over–as if a man of his size could ever appear small. “Please, Dorian, kadan, tell me–”
“What does that mean?” Dorian snapped. “Kadan,” he spat. “You say it all the time, but you’ve never–” He frowned at himself.
“You’ve never asked,” Bull replied.
Dorian waited, but he provided no explanation. “I’m asking now.”
Bull hesitated. “Why?”
Dorian began to pace in the small room. “Why what?”
“Why are you asking now?”
The question brought Dorian to a halt. Why was he asking now?
“Why use the watchword now, in this moment, if it had nothing to do with–”
“You said we stop, no questions asked,” Dorian said, as though he’d caught Bull in a loophole. His voice wavered slightly, and he clamped his jaw shut.
The Iron Bull nodded. “I only wish to know how to avoid hurting you, how to avoid this in the future.”
Dorian gave him a brittle, sarcastic smile. “And if I say this is it?” He wet his lips before he could put voice to the words, “If I say we’re done?”
Bull stood slowly, an invisible force weighing him down. “Kadan. It means my heart, Dorian.” He spoke slowly, as though saving enough breath for every word. “But if this is truly what you wish–I shall not force you to endure it further.” His words were carved from stone.
My heart. Dorian thought the words in the common tongue, then again in Tevene. Kadan, Bull had been calling him, and far longer than he’d realized.
“You can’t mean it,” Dorian said quietly.
Bull snorted. “That I will agree to end this between us?” he asked with an arched eyebrow, skeptical.
“No,” Dorian corrected. “When you–kadan. It’s–it’s not what we are. Not what this is.”
The Iron Bull’s face gave away no secrets.
“Is it?” Dorian asked.
Bull stepped closer to him. Then again. And again, until he was so close, Dorian could feel his breath. “Don’t ask questions you don’t wish answered.”
Dorian closed his eyes. “You held my hand.”
“When–when I used the watchword. Because you–it was–no one has ever…” Dorian swallowed the jumble of inelegant words clotting in his throat. “When we have sex, I know what to feel. I know what you make me become, what you can give me. Outside of that…what are we?”
“We are what we always are: flesh and desire,” answered the Iron Bull. “But not always desires of the flesh.”
“And–what do you…desire?”
Bull stepped back, and Dorian masked the ache in his chest. It made as much sense as his panicked breaths at the sensation of Bull’s hand against his, and radiated down to the joints of his hands until they felt as though they should creak under the pressure from the inside out. It was cold and hot, dread and anticipation, and it lasted the lifetime between Bull’s steps and his words.
“I desire you, Dorian. My heart desires you.”
Dorian felt as though he was breathing water–as though he could breathe water, thick and heavy, filling him up, soothing the ache that had bloomed in the center of his chest.
“But,” Bull continued, “only if it is what you wish.”
“I don’t know,” Dorian admitted.
Bull smiled–genuine and gentle–for the first time since the watchword had crossed Dorian’s lips. “A truth at last, if ever I knew one.”
“I might need you to…start slow,” he said, smiling at his own intentional mirroring of Bull’s words to him the night of their first tryst.
“I am patient, kadan.” He reached out to Dorian’s hand and wound their fingers together. “Katoh?”