Dorian awoke to the sound of pounding footsteps up his stairs, and if he hadn't had half as much self-control as he did preservation instinct, he would have probably set the building on fire. As it was, it was a close thing, the heat tickling at the back of his throat before he swallowed it down and extended his senses a little, getting a brief feel for things before he sighed and gathered himself up. Blanket wrapped around him, hair a little disheveled to properly convey the hour but not enough to make him feel untidy, and barefoot across the wood, he padded to the door and opened it just as Cullen had a hand raised to knock. "However many times must I tell you not to come before noon before you realize that I mean it?" he lamented softly, shaking his head as he stepped aside to let the man in, closing the door and hiding a yawn behind a hand.
"It's important." The police officer fidgeted for a moment before pulling the paper out from under his arm and plopping it on the counter next to Dorian. It earned him a raised eyebrow, but with the hint clear, golden eyes wandered to take a read.
'SKYHOLD'S DRAGON TASKFORCE CONFIRMED!
'This week, with the third dragon defeated by local hunters, the trend is ever increasing against these mighty beasts. Known as large creatures of terror capable of summoning up magic from the elements, it is a well-known fact that most dragons have been in hiding since the times of King Cailan. However, this special report has information that indicates that Skyhold has a large dragon population, the largest outside of the Tevinter Imperium, and as such, it has become such a concern that an official from the city council has recently seen fit to confirm that they have appropriately scouted a new legion of dragon hunters, who [for continuation, see DRAGON TASKFORCE, page A7].'
Dorian snorted, rolling his eyes as he breathed a small breath of flame onto the paper, watching it curl as it burned. "Amateurs."
"Dorian-" Cullen was reaching for him, but the other chuckled and tossed the paper into the trash.
"It's nothing to worry about. In three months' time, everyone will have quite forgotten about the ghastly murders in the upper parts of the city and the hunters will go back to Seheron or Tevinter or wherever it is they came from." He waved a hand, decidedly bare without his usual rings, and stretched slightly as he padded to begin fussing with the teapot. "Now, since you've concerned yourself enough with my affairs to instead tear me from my sleep before I have to be at work, I suppose I should share my breakfast with you before you return to the precinct, shouldn't I?"
A small wisp of smoke curled up from the trash can as the newspaper burned, spluttering around a blackening picture of a posing kossith and accompanying mishmash of people under the heading "The Chargers, our last hope against the dragons!" in bold print; by the time the kettle whistled, there was nothing left but ashes and the faintest hint of smoke.
Krem let out a sigh as he turned his eyes on the man currently sprawled across the bed, snoring loudly thanks to the way that his face was pressed into a pillow and the drink that dangled loosely from his fingers. They'd all had a late night, and while the Boss probably needed more sleep, he'd made it clear he wanted to be up around noon, as per usual. He took a moment more to allow for the alarm to do its job, but the beeping that had roused him continued to shriek with no response from the tangle of scarred silver limbs on the couch.
Which absolved him of any responsibility as he upturned half of a glass of water right between the pair of massive horns currently threatening the armrest of the faithful piece of furniture.
Krem casually side-stepped the flailing arm aimed in his direction, leaning just enough to the left to avoid the pillow flung at his head. It was a familiar action, born of repetition, and he did it with his back turned too, heading back towards the small kitchenette to flip the French toast cooking in a skillet. "You need a new alarm clock, Chief. Can't just keep ruining the couch like this. People will start to think we live like pigs."
The kossith groaned, burying his face in the pillow for a moment. "What did I ever do to you, Kreme puff?" he grumbled before pushing himself up slightly, jaw cracking with a wide yawn before he heaved himself into a sitting position.
"Ask me to wake you up again, Chief. Your fault, not mine." He set the plate down on the table with breakfast before starting to clean up the dishes left to pile in the sink, a nudge of his foot pushing the empty bottles of whiskey closer to the trash can. "You're the one who insists on being up and out of the house by one."
The kossith groaned, getting up and absently dodging around an axe leaning against the doorframe as he snatched the plate and started in on the French toast piled on the plate under a fair dusting of powdered sugar. If he didn't have better chances, he probably would have given up waking up this early a good while ago, at least while he was working. "Tell the rest of the boys to take the day off. They've earned it."
"You got it, Boss," Krem replied with a two-fingered soapy salute, not turning from the dishes. "And make sure to clean up this time. The smell of dead dragon is far less of a come hither than you think it is."
The man laughed, setting the plate at the other man's elbow even as he headed towards the shower. "I'm the Iron Bull, Krem de la Krem, I'm a come hither without even trying." Still, he supposed that the other had a point. He got enough comments on not bathing even before he took down a dragon, no need to invite the magister in and leave a blood sacrifice for him... so to speak.
"And I swear, if you bring your sticky hands to get jam all over the books again, I will have you banned from the archives!" Dorian finished, glaring daggers at the cowering research student before the boy scampered off, suitably terrified of the librarian. 'As he should be,' he comforted himself, looking over the grubby fingerprints on the cover of the manuscript. It would take several hours of tender care to fix such a mistake, coaxing out such things would require careful application of his magic. A scowl took over his face, mustache practically twitching as he delicately eased the manuscript into his hands, carrying it the way he would an injured bird as he took it through the shelves to settle it away for repairs.
Maybe he wouldn't even handle this one himself, he mused to himself as he set it down gently. After all, the student had no doubt been one of Solas', it would be quite within his resources to have the professor attend to the matter. Or perhaps he could find a mender locally, it couldn't possibly be too difficult.
"Ah, Sparkler, there you are!"
If Dorian hadn't been able to sense him coming from the moment he stepped through the doors, the dwarf might have managed to get more of a response than a long-suffering "What is it, Varric?" out of him, but then, such was one of the perks of what he was.
The man grinned one of those smiles that only spelled trouble, and indeed, Dorian greatly regretted having said anything when the question came. "So... dragon courting habi-"
"I am not giving you the intimacies of Tevinter courting habits only so that you can pervert them for your trashy novels," he interrupted sharply, sniffing haughtily. "Such drivel is hardly worth housing in a house of learning."
"You like me too much to leave my works out of your hoard." Varric had a knowing twinkle in his eye as he trailed after the other, chuckling as Dorian gathered up a few loose books from the table, left out by patrons long gone.
"Unfortunately." The word dripped with reluctance, disdain, and pride all mixed into one. Never let it be said that Dorian's Common wasn't just as efficient as his Tevene, where a single word could communicate eternal disappointment in a thousand years of careful breeding attempts and tedious warming efforts that had been performed only because the mere warmth of a fire wasn't quite hot enough for a child as finicky as himself. He swept off, reshelving books with the dwarf following him, and after he had the fourth in his hands, he sighed. "This doesn't happen to be for your Hard in Hightown series, does it?"
"Well, as a matter of fact-"
"Vishante kaffas!" Dorian huffed and pressed his lips together. "Fine. Fine. I will indulge this research of yours after dinner. But you owe me."
Varric raised an eyebrow. "What's gotten your knickers in a twist, Sparkler?" he asked; the taller male wasn't usually quite so quick to bristle at his research questions, understanding the need for accuracy even if it pained him to reveal such things.
"Waiting, wondering, wandering. 'Will he come again today? Has he forgotten? Has he given up? But he's never given up yet.' Late and early all at once, uncertainty in an unfamiliar rhythm, predicting comes easy but the waiting comes hard."
"Hello Cole," Dorian greeted in a sigh as the pale librarian perched himself on a shelf, the over-sized hat surprisingly stealthy when covering that light hair. "Did you finish reorganizing the 100s already?"
"Oh yes," Cole replied, nodding happily. "A man came and saw that I was struggling under the weight and offered to help. Usually I prefer to help people, but it was nice being helped too. We talked for a while and he said I had a nice hat!"
Varric laughed. “Glad to see you outside of the stacks, Kid,” he greeted, patting the other librarian on the arm. “Sparkler keeps you busier than a golem in the mines.”
“I don’t mind,” Cole replied. “It makes the hurt less if I help him. He rests easier when he’s not the only one tending the books, and sometimes the man comes in and makes the hurt even less.”
“Cole.” Dorian’s voice was frosty, a warning clear, but Cole had long since blundered past it.
And Varric had picked up on it as well. “The man?”
Cole nodded. “Yep! He’s large, with hands that hurt, and he has his own hurts too, but he finds comfort in him, safety in spitting hot words where he can’t fire. They don’t quite fit right but that’s okay because they’re not meant to fit any other way.”
“Cole,” the tanned man stated tersely, slamming the remainder of the stack on a shelf with far more force than he would have normally, “don’t you have some work to do back at the desk?”
“Aww, let the kid have a break.” The voice, booming from behind him, was enough to have the man jolting in shock, whirling around to take in the hulking form of the massive kossith leaning over one of the stacks, a wide smile on his face even as he tilted his head to the side and exaggerated a wink to ensure that the action wasn’t lost to his eyepatch. “Live a little.”
“Kaffas, you oaf, what have I told you about appearing like that?” Dorian snapped, eyes narrowing in an attempt to hide the fact that he actually had been taken by surprise. He was never taken by surprise. Period. But no, this was a troubling development to be carefully filed away for later examination, preferably with Cullen or a bottle of Antivan red. Perhaps both.
“Never said anything ‘bout it.” The kossith was cheerful in the admission.
“I would think I wouldn’t have to, savage.” That tongue was whip-quick, honed to an edge thanks to one Halward Pavus, and yet it still drew back without blood.
“I’ll know for next time.” He shrugged, unconcerned before tilting his head slightly. “Let me take you out as an apology?”
The urge flared for a moment before Dorian hastily stamped it down again. Three months of faithful visits every day around one-thirty was hardly an acceptable substitute for proper courting, even if the flirting had been enough to leave him wondering hours later. “When are you going to get it through that thick skull of yours that you’re going nowhere?”
“I don’t know, Sparkler,” Varric remarked, the suddenness of the voice making Dorian jump even as it served to remind the tanned man of the company he currently kept around him, “eyeing him up like that probably doesn’t help your case.”
“You- I- I do not!” Dorian spluttered, indignation making his tongue falter for a moment before he pressed on. “Regardless, this is not a matter that concerns you!”
The dwarf ignored him, offering a hand to the kossith. “Varric Tethras. And you, my friend, are quite a large qunari.” He grinned. “Care to explain just how you met Sparkler here?”
A large silver hand with more than a few scars across the palm and fingers came out to shake the much smaller, whole counterpart. “I took out a book a few months ago, and when I brought it back, he noticed a folded corner. You’d think I’d’ve kicked a puppy for all the fuss he kicked up over it.”
Varric nodded solemnly, having watched his friend explode more than a few times at the more careless patrons. Never get between a librarian and his books. Especially when said librarian owned said books.
“It was a first edition!” Dorian protested, already feeling his grip on the situation slipping. Andraste’s holy knickers, why was it that the dwarf had picked now of all times to come sniffing around for research?
“And I promised not to do it again,” the larger man replied, holding his hands up with the palms out. “Books are important and I’ll never again maim them if I can avoid it.”
If it had been just about anyone else, it would have sounded placating and patronizing, but instead, it came off as sincere. Maker, Dorian couldn’t even manage to hold onto his anger at that, sighing heavily. Even he could sense when a defeat had been placed soundly upon his doorstep. “Varric, may I introduce Iron Bull.”
“The Iron Bull,” the kossith corrected. “I like the article.”
“Making a mockery, so you would never be that,” Cole murmured airily from his position across from Bull and a little to the left, cocking his head to the side like a confused puppy. It was only practice that had Dorian and Varric ignoring him, convention that let Iron Bull do the same.
“Maker knows what meaning you find in it,” Dorian scoffed, the heat drawn back for a moment, a rare concession from the proud man.
“Awww, that hurts,” Iron Bull returned, putting a hand to a chest that was covered by a tank top, something that Dorian had many times watched him pull on just outside the library doors after he’d used the complaint of being indecent as a reason not to allow him inside.
“You’ll get over it.” Dorian knew that he should be returning to reshelving, and he would have if it hadn’t been for Varric and Cole there. He felt like he didn’t have enough to do with his hands and yet he had too much at the same time. It was one thing to allow the kossith to flirt with him when it was just two of them in the stacks, but having company… that was different. Far different.
“I’d get over it faster if you’d come out with me.” It was surprising how a man so large, so scarred, and only possessing one eye could manage such a convincing puppy pout, but Bull had it, and only someone with a phenomenal amount of self-control could resist it.
“You’ll manage just fine without me.” It was a close thing, but Dorian held strong.
“Awww, come on Sparkler,” Varric encouraged, an immense effort keeping the wide grin on his face as he sidled up next to Iron Bull, going for a much watered down version of the same pout. “What sort of monster would say no to that face?”
“Easier to say no, yes means only hu-”
“This one.” The best thing to do in such a situation was to cut Cole off before he could start building up momentum, and Dorian hurried to do just that, fumbling with the rest of the books before shoving them into the arms of the boy perched up on the shelves. “Go put these away, you know where they go.”
“I’m sorry.” And Cole was gone, leaving a sense of guilt gnawing at him again. Why telling the boy off felt so much like kicking a puppy, Dorian didn’t know, but it wasn’t fair.
“Right,” he said, clapping his hands and plastering a smile on his face, “I have some work to do repairing some of the lesser abused tomes, so if you would excuse me.” He was so close to being able to duck away, he could almost taste it, because yes, Cole was dead on with the hints that he ran away from his problems. Much easier to deal with things by running away from them than dealing with them the painful way. This one would be no different.
A large hand curled around his arm easily, warm even as it held him still. “Wait. I brought something for you.” Dorian turned, another long-suffering sigh heaving from him, but to his surprise, Varric was already walking away, no doubt shooed a short distance by the kossith, though he would likely remain close enough to eavesdrop. Before he could do much more to react, he found himself presented with a surprisingly beautiful scrap of leather, the yellow and orange worked in a pleasing pattern that drew the eye without being too distracting - a true delight given the garish pants that the man wore when visiting Dorian in the library. “It’s a bookmark. You mentioned you lost yours a couple days ago, and since you were still looking yesterday, I went to find you one to use until you found your old one.”
He’d been courted with gifts before, but never ones that were… quite as nice. And Bull had catered to something that was painfully obvious to be important to him yet in a way that he had barely mentioned but in passing. The leatherwork was high-quality too, smooth and supple even as it was thinned so as not to strain the book, and it was even tasteful in the design. The kossith had gone to quite the effort for a mere temporary holdover, that much was clear despite the casualness in the man’s tone.
Tongue wetting his lips, Dorian risked one glance to the side, where Varric lingered at the end of the shelf feigning interest in some tomes that he would have found as exciting as watching a nug sleep, before he threw caution to the wind. “I… thank you,” he began before he pressed his courage. “I suppose that I can wait to take my lunch break an hour later than usual. But if you don’t pick me up by one, I’m leaving without you.”
A laugh startled out of that throat before Dorian found himself clapped on the shoulder, something that nearly bowled him over from the surprise and the force of it. “Wouldn’t miss it!” the man declared before grinning. “Just don’t get too lost in those books, otherwise we’ll both go hungry.” A squeeze of the hand on his shoulder was the last that Dorian got before the kossith was walking out, whistling some pop song casually as he stuck his hands in his pockets.
“So,” Varric started, a shit-eating grin on his face, “what happened to managing just fine without you?”
Dorian groaned and shot him a glare. “Not a word,” he hissed, stamping down the heat flaring in his cheeks. “It was a moment of weakness, nothing more.”
“Sure, Sparkler,” the dwarf droned sarcastically. “I thought they didn’t teach weakness where you come from?”
“Vishante kaffas, go find someone else to inspire you for a while!”