It all starts with sex. (So far, Bull isn’t complaining.)
“You regret that big mouth of yours yet?” Bull asked, tugging on the deep burgundy rope spanning over Dorian's back, binding his wrists, his arms together, leaving him without much in the ways of balance. Kneeling on the bed with his arms bound and his legs spread, the Iron Bull directly behind him, Dorian was completely at his mercy. Already, the mage was panting, squirming at the pleasure stirring under his skin by the rope dragging over his sensitized skin.
Bull heard more than saw Dorian bristle at his words, shoulders straining against the rope as he gritted his teeth, pressing back against Bull's fingers sliding over the sensitive skin behind his balls. Pleased with the effect his teasing words had, he leaned forward to press idle kisses against Dorian's back, lips teasing along the parts where the rope spanned over skin. His hands wandered down Dorian's sides, settling on his hips.
Bull leaned back to look down at his handiwork, at the expanses of skin interrupted by stark red rope. Dorian's cock twitched as Bull's calloused hands reached under him, grabbing his ass, kneading the flesh they found. Bull smirked as he brushed one broad thumb over Dorian's hole.
A sound almost clawed its way out of Dorian's throat. Iron Bull watched Dorian swallow it, biting his lip rather than let Bull hear the full extend of his need. Not ready to abandon all pretense, then. But not long now, either.
“I stand by what I said,” Dorian panted, still trying to sound like he wasn't rock hard and dripping precome on the sheets. “but I still would like you to get on with it, thank you.” Dorian couldn't tell how long they had been up here; time was meaningless once Bull tied the knots around his body.
Bull hummed, taking in the rich red hue of the rope. It really was Dorian's color.
He'd first seen it a few weeks ago, when he had made his way through the main hall to visit Dorian, coax him out of the library and into a few pints and some dinner. Josephine had been picking a color for the new curtains, holding fabric scraps up against the light, detailing nuances of color symbolism to a very exhausted-looking Varric.
In the middle of a exaggeratedly large palette of colors, Bull first saw that particular shade of red. Immediately he had seen it coiled and taut around Dorian's warm brown skin, the edges tainted with sweat as he strained against the bonds. The thought had shot down to his cock and set his mind on target.
He'd relieved Varric of counseling duty and got the exact address of that tailor and the name of the fabric out of the Ambassador as discreetly as possible. No doubt Josephine knew exactly what he had been angling for – their ambassador was above all one of the most perceptive people Bull had ever met and that was saying something.
On top of that, very discreet. Bull had no doubt that, had he walked up to her, saying that he needed rope in that color because it'd look exquisite wrapped around Dorian when Bull fucked his brains out, it'd never leave her office. But Josephine had enough to do. Besides, he'd set aside a favor from her when he planned on acquiring something really adventurous. He had a few ideas for that and just waited for the right opportunity to pitch them to Dorian.
The fabric, it turned out, was aptly named Tevinter Sunset.
Dorian's annoyed huff against the pillow brought Bull out of his reminiscing. The flush on Dorian's cheeks showed just how much effect Bull's lazy touches had.
“I thought you, ah,” he panted, fighting against the shudder working its way through his body. “I thought you intended for this to be a proper send-off.”
“I think 'proper' would involve a lot less of me doing this,” Bull said, dragging his fingers around Dorian's cock, squeezing the crown. Dorian gasped, arching his back against him, nearly loosing his balance, if it wasn't for Bull. “Besides, I recall you complaining earlier, that you wouldn't wanna sit on a horse all day after I had my wicked way with you.”
Dorian growled as he pressed his cheek against Bull's neck, indignantly using what little leverage he had to push up against Bull's hand. His cock was leaking and he knew Bull could feel it, could feel the moisture Dorian's cock was leaking against the palm of his hand.
Bull chuckled and pulled his hand back, drawing a whine from Dorian as he denied him the touch the mage so desperately craved. Instead, he reached down to stroke his own cock, letting out a satisfied little hum, making no move to lay hands on Dorian again.
Bull usually focused on his partners; it's what he always did, it's what he was good at, but Dorian had the most exquisite habit of growing indignant and desperate when Bull indulged, while leaving Dorian untouched and wanting.
Tonight was just the night to use that knowledge.
“I was just – I didn't mean – ” Dorian panted, jaw clenching. Still fighting it, then. “Just – please!”
“Please what, Dorian?” Bull asked, innocently. He stopped touching himself, instead settling his hand over the rope chafing along Dorian's nipple, tugging on it. Dorian gasped, his hips twitching forward. He swayed dangerously, and Bull truly gripped the rope to steady him.
Dorian gasped, blinking rapidly. His hands wandered down, fingers dancing along Dorian's thighs, straining under the strain of kneeling for so long.
“'Please let me sleep, I have an early start tomorrow'?” Bull teased in a perfect imitation of the Tevinter accent Dorian's faltering concentration laid bare.
Dorian growled, leaning to one side, trying to kick back against the Bull. The motion sent the rope rubbing along his skin, before he lost balance, dropping to the side with an undignified squeal that was luckily muffled against the pillow.
Bull's laughter sounded through the room, putting a different kind of blush on Dorian's checks, before he giggled against the fabric, too.
Bull's hand settled in the center of his chest, pulling him upright again. A second hand grabbed his thigh, dragging Dorian with his back pressed to Bull's chest, settling him over his lap. Bull was hard against him, the crown of his cock nestled against the small of Dorian's back.
Bull's hand settled against Dorian's chest, thumb rubbing soothing circles into his skin. Dorian let out a content moan, grinding his ass back against Bull's cock, burying his face against Bull's neck, the Tal-Vashoth's stubble teasing over his skin.
“Please what, Dorian?” Bull repeated against Dorian's ear, pressing kisses down his sweaty neck, free hand wandering down to drag his fingers over Dorian's hole, rubbing against the sensitive skin.
Dorian craned his head to press desperate open-mouthed kisses against Bull's lips, teeth scraping over Bull's scarred lips, his breath hot and ragged. Bull's hand wandered upwards, wrapping around his neck, slipping his tongue into Dorian's mouth.
“You know I'll need to hear it, Dorian.” Bull chastised, mumbling through the assault on his mouth.
Dorian moaned, breaking the kiss to drop his head back onto Bull's shoulder, eyes closed.
“Kaffas, just – ah, you're impossible.” Dorian panted, pressing his forehead against Bull's, trying to glare out of eyes glazed over with desire.
Bull pushed the tip of one finger into Dorian, just barely, callouses catching on Dorian's rim. The noise that left Dorian's mouth was exquisite, drawn-out and needy. For a moment, Bull regretted tying the man so he'd kneel; There was nothing quite like Dorian's mouth stretched around those sounds.
“Fuck me,” Dorian keened, finally, pressing back against Bull's chest.
Bull's cock twitched at the neediness in the man's voice, the rough quality of the words, roughened up by being withheld for so long.
“Please,” Dorian added, thighs quivering from straddling Bull's broad lap for so long.
“But,” Bull asked innocently, pressing his free fingers forward, stroking the sensitive skin behind the mage's balls, dragging them back and forth. “won't you be uncomfortable? Spending all day on a horse tomorrow?”
“I want it,” Dorian growled. “I want to feel you – I want to stumble into my tent, wet and cold, and still feel you when I get myself off wishing you were there to fuck me all over again.”
“Why, Dorian.” Bull cooed, arousal clouding his voice. “I had no idea you felt this way.”
“Fuck you.” Dorian spat out. Bull laughed, drowning out Dorian's strangled complaints with a kiss. He reached for the vial of oil standing on the nightstand, removing the cork with practiced movements.
His slicked fingers reached down, pressing against Dorian's opening. Dorian moaned, head falling back onto Bull's shoulder as he spread his thighs even wider, eager to feel Bull's fingers inside him. Bull chuckled, pushing a single finger into Dorian, reveling in the moan that left Dorian's throat.
There hadn't been anyone in some time to tempt Bull like Dorian did, if there ever was. Bull couldn't even quite put his finger on why, though the way his hips pushed back against Bull's hand, the way his chest heaved under Bull's hand, splayed out over Dorian's chest, wrapped in rope, certainly helped explain his obsession.
There had never been anyone who could scowl at the Bull because he had dared to set foot into the library with his muddy traveling boots still on, only to smile seconds later, when he read the title of the book Bull had brought him from Val Royeaux. How Bull had even remembered Dorian rambling about that particular book by that obscure author with the title Bull could barely repeat, was beyond Bull, since all the mage ever seemed to do was ramble about books. This particular one he remembered and took a chance in a store nearby.
And that smile, it had so been worth it, the questioning looks of the other patrons, the downright shock of the vendor – actually, that had rather been a treat – but that smile could have brightened the foggy banks of Seheron.
It was a good thing they had.
“You ready for me, Kadan?” Bull asked, scissoring the three fingers buried inside Dorian, tongue darting out to lick off the sweat pearling down Dorian's neck. Dorian's nod jerks through his whole body, dragging his sweat-dampened hair along Bull's chest. Bull pulled his fingers from Dorian's body, reaching for an abandoned vial of oil to coat his cock in the stuff, too.
One arm wrapped around Dorian's slim waist, the other steadying his slickened cock as he guided the mage towards him, finally breaching that tight ring of muscle with the rigid crown of his cock, moaning at the pressure against the most sensitive part of him as he let Dorian adjust.
Dorian twisted around, lips dragging over the stubble, fighting against Bull's vice-like grip around his waist. “I believe I said,” Dorian growled against Bull's jaw. “I want to feel this tomorrow.”
Bull chuckled, even as his hips pressed forward, driving the breath out of Dorian's lungs.
Dorian hissed, shuddering at the burn coursing through his veins. Bull's hips settled against Dorian's ass, waiting for Dorian to relax against him. Bull pulled back, moaning against Dorian's back. He wrapped his hand around Dorian's jaw, turning the mage's head towards him, his tongue delving into Dorian's mouth as the mage panted against the jolts of pleasure coursing through his body.
“Bull,” Dorian panted, a hazy look on his face, a silent plea behind his eyes.
Bull growled, spreading his knees further apart for leverage, circling his hips against Dorian. This part was going to be murder on his knees especially the bad one, but Dorian's tiny desperate moans, falling from his lips with every inch that Bull moved spurred him on and on. His hands wandered up from Dorian's waist, tangling in the rope spanning across his chest.
Dorian groaned as Bull fucked into him, with the intricate knots of the rope chafing across his skin.
Bull could feel Dorian's heart racing against his chest, blood pulsing under his fingers.
“Please,” Dorian pleaded. Bull laughed breathlessly, fighting against the haze of lust threatening to overtake his actions. He kept his hand tangled in the rope and wrapped his other hand around Dorian's leaking cock.
Dorian make a weak noise at the back of his throat when Bull twisted his hand over his straining cock. His shoulders jerked, he gasped and Bull knew he was coming.
Bull moaned as he felt Dorian's hole pulse around him, as the mage groaned, coating Bull's hand in his seed. White hot pleasure surged though Bull as he came deep inside Dorian. He shuddered, hips moving in small, frantic circles as he pressed bruising kisses along every sweaty inch of Dorian's skin that he could reach.
Dorian sagged in his arms, breathing harshly.
Bull took a deep breath, willing his fingers to quickly untie the knots tying Dorian's arms together, freeing him from his bonds. He gently laid Dorian down on the sheets as the mage panted, eyes closed with his mouth hanging open. Bull took a movement to brace himself before moving.
A sharp pain shot up from his bad knee when he did, as he had expected. Bull swallowed down the pain, sliding down onto the bed next to Dorian, grateful the mage was still too blissed out to notice Bull's discomfort. He really could Do without that lecture.
Dorian always worried too much about things that couldn't be helped. His knee was botched and it wasn't getting any better, no matter how many salves and potions Dorian threw together. But the Iron Bull wasn't going to let that stop him from fucking Dorian the way he wanted to.
Bull leaned closer, reaching out to carefully disentangle Dorian from the rope, mindful of the abused skin underneath. He massaged his exhausted limbs. “You okay, big guy?” he mumbled, when Dorian gave no response.
Dorian hummed, lazily turning his head to give Bull a small smile. “Better than okay,” he yawned as Bull pulled the rope all the way away from him to hang it over the headboard. Neither of them were particularly inclined to move, possibly ever again.
Still, Bull cleaned them both with a wet cloth to clean them up, throwing it over the edge of the bed when he was done. He settled down on the bed next to Dorian, pulling him close, leaning down to kiss him again.
Bull hummed against Dorian's lips, enjoying his for once pliant demeanor, that orgasm sometimes managed to bring out in the mage. Dorian looked up at him out of heavy-lidded eyes, smiling. Mindful of the raw stripes of skin spanning across Dorian's body, Bull gently stroked his back as their hearts came down from their orgasmic haze.
His muscles were the best kind of sore and though he'd definitely regret some of those exertions tomorrow when they're both still covered in a sheen of sweat, he finds it hard to regret that.
Slowly, the world around them cane back. Laughter drifted into the room from downstairs, accompanied by soft music. The tavern's evening business had not yet reached it's peak. The sun had barely set and they were already here, doing this.
Not that Bull minded the late nights, the hours of teasing in the tavern, then stumbling up here up here, drunkenly clawing at each other's clothes, but this was nice, too. The deliberateness of it all and especially Dorian following him up here, without a care for the chargers cajoling after them like the horde of drunkard children they were.
It was a good thing they had,
Especially on nights when their impending separation let passions run high.
“So,” Bull said. “are you going to miss me when you're herding druffalos?”
Dorian groaned, burying his face against Bull's chest. “Ugh, don't remind me. I don't know why am man like the Inquisitor is so obsessed with grand tasks when there's such trivial things as Rifts spouting demons about.”
“Is that a 'yes' to missing me?” Bull teased.
Dorian turned his head to rest his chin on Bull's chest, looking contemplative.
“I suppose, if the alternative is herding druffalos, you make for better company.” Dorian mused, finger drawing lazy circles over Bull's chest. “You do smell marginally better than those beasts in any case.”
“You say the sweetest things,” Bull cooed. “I'm gonna miss you, though.”
There was the slightest pause in Dorian's movements, before he huffed and settled his hand on Bull's belly, his arm stretching across the bulk of him. “You silly mutt,” he mumbled against Bull's pecs. “it's only Crestwood. I'll be back in two weeks or so.”
Bull craned his neck to press a kiss to Dorian's temple. “Still,” he mumbled.
Dorian turned his face away, bedding his head onto Bull's shoulder. “Well, do try to contain yourself anyhow. When you and the boys get too rowdy, Cabot always takes it out on me.”
“He can hardly punish you and the boys; your spendings in this shithole tavern will probably feed his children until they have children of their own.”
“I suppose you have a point there.” Bull chuckled.
“And do take care of your knee, I feel like we're finally getting somewhere with the salves, so don't go around mucking it all up again in some ill-advised stunt.”
“Yes, Tama.” Bull mocked suppressing a frown that Dorian wouldn't see anyway.
“Are you leaving?” Bull asked as soon as his brain made the connection. It had been a couple of months since Dorian last slipped away in the middle of the night, but now and then he'd leave. For different reasons than he used to, though, like early mornings or research bugging his ever-busy mind.
Dorian shook his head, cheek rubbing against Bull's stomach. “Nah, I've got everything packed. I've been packing all week actually. Last time I packed in a hurry and forgot half my things. I had to borrow a coat from Blackwall.” Bull chuckled fondly at the way Dorian's nose wrinkled and a shudder ran through his body at the memory of running around in the malodorous coat of his least favorite Grey Warden.
Bull chuckled. “If you're staying, what's with the farewell talk?”
Dorian shrugged. “We're having an early start and I figured, if I said my goodbyes I wouldn't have to wake you to do it at some Maker-forsaken hour.”
“You say the sweetest things.” Bull echoed his earlier words, wrapping his arms around Dorian, chuckling as the mage squirmed, making a great effort out of keeping his face hidden.
“Well, if you're going to be an ass about it, I'll wake you.” Dorian huffed. “And I'm going to be rude about it. There might be icy hands involved.”
“Good,” Bull mumbled, pulling the covers higher up over them both. “then I can kiss you properly goodbye.”
He couldn't see Dorian's face but he was pretty positive the prickly mustache curled into a smile on his chest.
When he woke up, someone was trying to break down their door.
“Morning, chief.” he heard Krem's voice outside the door. “Before you put me on weapons cleaning duty again, the Inquisitor sent me, he wants you to come along. The Seeker's not going.”
Bull's eye fluttered shut again, processing the words with an half-awake brain. There was barely any light coming in through the hole in his roof and the room was still freezing, barely warmed up by what little sun they got up here in the mountains.
“Give me a sign you understood that.” Krem impatiently prompted outside.
Bull groaned grabbing something from beside the bed, throwing it in the general direction of Krem's voice. It hit the door with a dull thud. Obviously satisfied, Krem's steps retreated over the stone, disappearing down towards the courtyard.
Dorian barely lifted the blanket to peak out from where he was curled up on Bull's chest. “Trevelyan's not paying you enough to put up with this.” he mumbled against Bull's skin. His voice was heavy with sleep and his eyes fought what little light filtered in from the ceiling.
“He's not paying you at all.” Bull mumbled.
“Mine is the burden of the moral high ground.” Dorian yawned, rolling off of Bull to stretch. It was even earlier than the already early start they had planned, probably to give Bull time to prepare. Dorian rolled over onto his front, onto the place Bull had just vacated, sticking his head under a pillow. Bull chuckled, reaching out to stroke the mage's back. Dorian arched into the touch, reluctant as always to begin a new day this side of midday.
The ropes had been soft and had barely left any trace on Dorian's skin. But the bruises littered here and there more than made up for it. He knew Dorian would be quite satisfied with them.
Reluctantly, Bull extricated himself from warm skin and got off the bed to get dressed and pack his things for the unexpected trip.
He was almost finished when Dorian sat up, too, rubbing his eyes. The mage shivered, pulling up the blanket, wrapping it around himself as he stared at the wall, squinting against the light.
“Do you reckon Cassandra's okay? Seems unlike her to –” He made a vague gesture, the rest of the sentence disappearing in a yawn.
“Guess we'll find out.” Bull said, holding up two axes, contemplating which one to take.
“I hope she's alright.” Dorian sighed, shuffling towards the bottom of the bed, giving the pillow a last contemplative look before swinging his legs over the edge of the mattress. “Tell you what, though.” he said, grinning up at the Bull.
“Hmm?” Bull decided on the Dawnstone axe.
“This sort of makes that round of glorious 'I'll miss you' sex somewhat pointless.” Dorian teased, reaching for the leather of Bull's freshly put on harness, pulling him down for a lazy kiss.
Bull chuckled against Dorian's lips, reaching out to touch the angry purple bruises littering Dorian's skin. They all carried the shapes of Bull's fingers, his mouth. “Anything that leaves such pretty bruises never seems pointless to me.” he murmured, leaning down to kiss Dorian's lips, pressing his fingers against a particular dark bruise. Dorian moaned under his breath, arching up against Bull's mouth, fingers tightening around the leather of his harness.
Bull pulled back, lifting his hand to cup Dorian's chin. “So I'll see you later then.”
With only mild complaining by Dorian's standards, the mage got dressed to make his way across the courtyard to indulge in one last bath before leaving, intent on using the early start for the only thing it was good for – a last bath before the long and dirty road to Crestwood. Bull finished packing and went downstairs to see if he could charm his way to some early breakfast.
There had to be some truth to what Dorian had said about him putting Cabot's children up for life, because the grumpy innkeeper barely needed any coaxing before Bull had something in front of him.
Call it instinct or whatever, but as he ate, his thoughts circled around Crestwood and the Seeker. Something about this didn't sit right with him. Cassandra was anything but unreliable so if she didn't go, it had to be something big.
Bull didn't like not knowing things, he never had. Of course, he had already a handful of theories about why Cassandra didn't go by the time he had pulled on his trousers, but still, that wasn't knowing.
The tavern's door flew open, revealing his limping lieutenant looking like someone drank the so-called secret supply of his favorite mead that he kept in his pack.
“Fuck.” Krem cursed as he dropped himself across from Bull in the tavern seat, holding his side. “What is Lady Cassandra's problem? I swear she cracked like three of my ribs with her glares alone. Not too mention what she did with her sword and that blighted shield”
Krem was squirming in his chair, wobbling around trying to find a way to sit that didn't make his face scrunch up with pain. He grumpily signaled for Cabot to bring him some food, finally settling on an angle that only had his mouth pressed into a paper-thin line.
“You alright, Cremisius.? Isn't it a bit early to get your ass kicked?” Bull asked, smiling a the glare he got in return. “I can't get you in the ring with me 'till you had lunch and at least two pints.”
“Hey, if you must know, the lady asked.” Krem whined. “Thought I'd do my gentlemanly duty and help the lady out. Was the last time, too.”
Bull raised an eyebrow, mentally scrapping about half his theories – obviously the Seeker was up to fighting form, and quite willing to brawl, too, if the state of Krem's ass was any indication.
So why wasn't she coming along?
Before Bull figured out a way to covertly ask, Dalish came stumbling down the stairs, her hair a mess with her clothing still askew. She dropped on Bull's other side, yawning loudly, not going through the trouble of lifting her hand to her mouth.
“You'll catch flies.” Krem said, scowling at Dalish over his breakfast.
“What's his problem?” Dalish asked, sprawling her legs over two different chairs, yawning again. Bull was pretty certain it served no purpose but to piss Krem off.
“Got his ass knocked into the dirt by Lady Cassandra.” Bull mumbled, picking at his breakfast.
Dalish gaped at the sour face Krem was making. “You sparred with her? Have you gone mental?”
“The lady asked.” Krem repeated around a mouthful off porridge.
“Still, what else is on the schedule for today? Tickling a wyvern? Humping a Bogfisher?” Dalish laughed, stealing a piece of bread of Bull's plate. She shook her head in disbelief. “Sparring with her after that thing yesterday.”
Bull perked up. “Thing?” he asked, swallowing down his relief.
“You didn't even notice? You?” Dalish cackled. “How deep was your face inside the 'Vint's ass?”
Krem dropped his spoon into the bowl, making a face. “Can you not say that while I – not ever?”
“Yeah, so anyways,” Dalish continued, unfazed, “Yesterday, she comes storming down the stairs, just as the Inquisitor walks in through the gates, with a look on her face like there's no more 'Swords and Shields', I'm convinced she's just gonna up and knock him into the dirt. I bet Skinner five silvers she would. Lost that one, sadly.”
“Lover's quarrel, huh?” Bull reasoned. That made sense – the Boss and Cassandra were head over heels for each other, but the honeymoon phase was over and the Inquisition demanded a lot from them both. Had to be bad, though, if she couldn't even go on the mission with the boss.
“More like lover's war.” Krem added, rolling his eyes.
Dalish nodded. “Tried to sneak up to hear what it's all about, with them only shouting every couple of words.” She huffed. “Damn inconsiderate. Anyways, then Ruffles comes bustling down the stairs, ushering them both inside, ensuring everyone it's fine and dandy.”
Krem snorted. “Guess who didn't get laid last night.”
“Not me.” Bull deadpanned, earning himself another glare from his lieutenant that he met with a shit-eating grin.
“Why do you always do this to me?” Krem whined, pushing the bowl away from him, cured of his appetite. Dalish immediately snatched it up, never one to turn down a free meal.
“Could be worse,” Bull shrugged. “we could be knocking your ass in the dirt first thing in the morning.”
“Ha. You never told me you were funny, chief.” Krem squirmed again, switching positions to accommodate his still-forming bruises.
“Anyway, Krem, what's your gameplan?” Dalish teased, waggling her eyebrows. “Trying to hit that? Now that the window's open, so to speak.”
A moment of horror passed over Krem's face.
“I'd rather get hit by a Highland Ravager. No way I'm getting mixed up in that.” Krem shuddered, then winced when his bruises made themselves known with a renewed flash of pain.
“So they're done for good?” Bull asked, wondering what this meant for the Inquisition as a whole. He loved the Boss, but he wasn't the most stable guy, and Cassandra had a squishy core, too. This wouldn't be easy on either of them.
Dalish shrugged. “From the looks of it. Ruffles didn't seem too happy, and the Seeker's, well – ” she pointed the spoon at Krem, still squirming on his chair. “in the highest spirits. Also the Inquisitor was saying something along the lines of it to Varric. And I use the word 'say' very loosely.”
Bull raised a questioning eyebrow.
“There was too much water involved to speak of 'said' in the strictest sense. More like 'garbled'. You know the Boss, he's a sensitive cookie. Didn’t help that Varric was probably taking mental notes for his next book, 'stead of, y'know, being a supportive friend.”
Krem raised an eyebrow, looking down at the nearly empty bowl of porridge in front of Dalish. “Can you really throw stones on that front?”
Dalish ignored him.
“Guess I should be happy then, that she's not coming along.” Bull mused.
Dalish nodded. “ To say the least. Though the boss isn't going to be much fun either.”
Bull leaned back in his chair.
The power couple of the Inquisition was no more. Not too much of a surprise really. An enthusiastically pro-mage apostate with an assload of Templar bullshit in his Circle past and a mage-critical-at-best Seeker of the Chantry? Too much like one of Varric's stories for the long run.
“Apropos pains in my ass, where's the 'Vint anyhow?” Krem asked.
“Still makes no sense for you to call him that.” Dalish mumbled around a mouthful.
“For the last time, there's Vints and then there's 'Vints. And he's definitely a 'Vint. And how's that arching going?”
Dalish stuck out her tongue, flicking a bit of porridge across the table, which landed square on Krem's breastplate. Krem glared, reaching for the bowl of fruit. Bull snatched it away before it could
“Settle down, children,” Bull said, more an automated response than any real reaction. His brain was still churning over the new intel he just got. “or I'll send you to your rooms.”
“Yes, mother.” they both mocked him in unison.
“Interrupting a bit of parenting, am I?” Dorian chuckled, entering the little corner of the tavern the Chargers had claimed for themselves.
“And breakfast, too.” Krem said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. A full-body wince shook the man, making him bite the inside of his cheek to keep from showing the pain to Dorian. Bull internally shook his head. He wondered if those two ever stopped their strange little feud.
“Ah, Cremisius, I'm hardly an expert,” Dorian sat down, signaling Cabot for his order. “but doesn't breakfast usually involve some kind of food?”
Krem's eye twitched. “You know what? Fuck the lot of you!” Krem pushed himself up, limping off towards his rooms. “I'm going back to bed.”
Dorian looked at his remaining companions. “Was it something I said?”
“No.” Bull reassured him.
“Yes,” Dalish chuckled. “but don't worry about it, he's just a bit tetchy 'cause Lady Cassandra beat him up this morning.”
Cabot came over, unceremoniously dropping a plate with bread and cheese and a mug of tea in front of Dorian without a word.
“Have a good morning, too.” Dorian mumbled under his breath, as soon as Cabot was out of hearing range again. “Any particular reason? For the beating, I mean.”
Bull fixed his eye on Dorian over the rim of his mug, waiting for Dalish to swallow the rest of Krem's porridge before dishing out the news.
“The Boss and her split last night,” Dalish said, nonchalant, in complete contrast to Dorian, who just froze in the middle of sipping his tea.
“But then again, things haven't been right between them for some time.” she added, stretching over the back of her chair.
Dorian carefully set his mug down, face an impenetrable mask. Well, impenetrable for someone without Ben-Hassrath training at least. Dorian was surprised, shocked even. For him it had clearly not been a long time coming. Bull knew they had been busy of late, with each other mostly. But Bull had not missed the cracks appearing in the Inquisitor's relationship.
Dorian apparently had. And the Iron Bull was not very surprised. Not that Dorian didn't care about the Boss – they were friends, good friends, even. But Dorian tended to forget things around him when something caught his interest, he always got a bit of tunnel vision and forgot food, sleep and pretty much the whole of the outside world, unless it came knocking with food and a pillow.
Should Corypheus march on Skyhold, they would have to pray that Dorian wasn't buried balls-deep in some nifty magic theory currently; else they would have to fight that battle without their favorite Tevinter mage.
“I see.” Dorian said, setting down the cup. “Was it … amicable?”
Dalish snorted. “Not fucking likely. Hence the beating. You should see what she did to the training dummy yesterday; Krem got off easy.”
Dorian's jaw clenched and his the look in his eyes grew distant. “Has anyone talked to the Inquisitor?”
“Varric has, but as I was saying earlier – the Boss was too much in a state to call it 'talking'.”
Dorian stood abruptly, leaving his food untouched and his mug nearly full. “I'm just going to go and see how he's doing.” he announced, hurriedly leaving the tavern.
Dalish snorted, hand sneaking over the table to steal some grapes off of Dorian's abandoned plate. “That sounds like a fun conversation to have before breakfast.”
Bull grunted in assent, not bothering to explain to explain the inner workings of Dorian's mind to Dalish. There was no doubt in Bull's mind that Dorian had started beating himself up about not noticing Trevelyan's relationship troubles the second Dalish had opened her loud mouth.
By now, Dorian had probably convinced himself, the entire thing might be his fault for not talking to Trevelyan, holding his hand through all the little fights over the new Divine and what other shit Trevelyan and Cassandra had fought over. Dorian was a great guy, but he did tend to care too much.
Especially about hiding just how much he cared.
But thinking of holding hands; there was another thing, nagging at the back of Bull's mind.
Months ago, a while before their thing had started, Bull had been aware of the flirting going on between Dorian and Trevelyan. To his knowledge it had only ever been just flirting and then Trevelyan had successfully wooed Cassandra, so that was that.
Bull may only have one eye left, but even so he saw the wince in Dorian's smile, clear as day even from across the tavern, when the Boss bought drinks in celebration.
He hadn't really known Dorian back then so he wouldn't bet on it, but thinking back, knowing now that Dorian was a big old softie, it might very well have been more. At least in Dorian's mind. Or for real. If so, that might affect their thing.
Bull rubbed his forehead. There was a lot of potential for shit to go sideways on this trip; he'd have to be careful.
At the appointed hour, Bull walked down into the courtyard to meet the others. Varric leaned against the stable door, looking bleary, clutching Bianca to his chest. Beside him, the Inquisitor and Dorian stood closely together, talking in hushed voices, Dorian's hands resting on Trevelyan's shoulders as he talked to the Boss. Trevelyan's head hung low, hiding his face.
The Inquisitor looked miserable, even from afar; the true extent became visible as Bull got closer to the others. Gone was the vibrating energy that usually carried the man through mud, snow and heat alike. Instead, deep dark bags under his eyes aged his boyish face far beyond his years.
Dorian looked up, giving Bull a lopsided smile before turning back to Trevelyan, guiding him into the stables. Bull swallowed the bitterness rising in his throat at seeing them together.
Bull took a deep breath. This would be a rather interesting trip.
Trevelyan was quiet. It took Dorian the better part of the Hinterlands to get out of the bare minimum of what had happened out of the man.
With the discussions about the new Divine came a lot of disagreement, a fair amount of choice words and some sort of ultimatum that had reached its peak publicly, yesterday in the courtyard, much to the plight of the Lady Ambassador.
And also of Ricard and Cassandra, of course, but Dorian was feeling for Josephine as well.
Granted, neither of them were the most level-headed of people and Dorian could count on one hand the times where any major decisions did not lead to some level of shouting between the two. But that was love for you, Dorian supposed. All that passion made for a tumultuous affair and when it was gone, it left – well.
The pitiful answer to that currently slumped in his saddle, tiredly staring off into the distance.
Dorian had to admit, he felt a certain amount of guilt for being so blind to it. It had been weeks ago when Trevelyan had climbed up the stairs to the library and hovered next to Dorian’s nook until the mage noticed him. Dorian had recently gotten his hands on some Rift magic books that he'd devoured, mostly to avoid asking Solas, fellow mage and occasionally condescending bastard, anything about the topic.
Ricard had told him about Cassandra’s ideas for restoring the circles and how he’d tried everything to make her see his point of view. Over the course of their friendship, Dorian had only caught glimpses of what Circles in the South, mostly through firsthand accounts, which meant mostly Trevelyan's. It had been enough to make his blood curdle.
Dorian was certain that Cassandra’s plans were not all that bad – well-meant surely, with their own merits. Unnecessary, too, of course, clinging to traditions that the Imperium had long since abolished, but in the end, fitting for a country nearly torn apart by a mage rebellion. But for a mage like Trevelyan, who had spent his life locked up and mistreated, any mention of the word ‘Circle’ was bound to get a knee-jerk reaction out of the man.
That Dorian had not made the connection to this potentially threatening their relationship had taken him aback. Sure, his own experiences with 'relationships' ending were far bleaker – as were his experiences with relationships themselves, mind you. And in those dreadful books the Seeker was so fond of, the two of them would come through eventually and ride into the sunset together.
(He had tried to pitch that to the Inquisitor; it had not gone well and had indeed caused the current bout of silence between them.)
The Iron Bull rode several paces behind them, far enough that even hushed whispers would not carry over. Dorian knew he meant well, to give Trevelyan privacy to talk, should he choose to, but as it was, the silence between them weighed heavily on Dorian, setting him on edge. More than once, he almost let himself fall behind the Inquisitor, knowing that Bull would know just what to say to make him feel better.
And at times that drove him crazy, to be so transparent to the Tal-Vashoth but he knew that more often than not he counted on the Iron Bull to do just that.
The proverbial cloud hanging over Ricard’s head was enough to tire them all out and when the sun was just about to set they all agreed it was best to spend the night in one of the nearby Inquisition camps, instead of pressing. They were welcomed with the usual wide-eyed enthusiasm these backwater recruits displayed at seeing the fabled Herald of Andraste.
At least until they noticed Trevelyan’s cloud. With everyone's spirits sufficiently dampened and Trevelyan hunching near the fire, everyone went to their tents early.
Dorian stood at the entry of the tent he shared with Bull, fumbling with the uppermost clasp of his coat, debating whether to take it off. The tent flaps were tied back, giving him an unhindered view of the fireplace where Trevelyan sat, scaring off the recruits with the persistent gloom following him around like a bad odor.
“You gonna go talk to him?” Bull asked from where he sat on the bed, if the cot on the floor could be called that.
Dorian sighed. “Been trying to do that for the last three days. I'm not sure he wants me to.”
“Didn't stop you when I kept my mouth shut after the Storm Coast.” Bull mumbled, undoing the screws of his brace.
“And weren't you happy about that.” Dorian huffed, recalling the cold and empty stares all too clearly. He had been a bundle of wrecked nerves for the entire trip. Seeing the Iron Bull quiet, reserved, utterly disheartened? It had shaken something loose inside of Dorian, the most ridiculous urge to protect none other than the Iron Bull.
Which was silly, of course.
Dorian was no fool – no, scratch that, he was, but still, he knew where the urge came from. He may be riddled with anxiety and inadequacy issues when it came to his feelings, but the one thing he never seemed to be was ignorant of them. No, he always knew when his traitorous heart once again latched itself onto something that could not be.
Which had only set Dorian more on edge, and that never helped when it came to shutting himself up. So he'd talked, mostly utter nonsense. The whole time he had been convinced the Iron Bull was a hair's breadth away from throwing him out of the tent, but at the same time, Dorian couldn't have left Bull alone, despite his better judgment. Not while he was hurting.
“A bit annoyed I was,” Bull mused. There was a smile tugging on his scarred lips. It lacked any humor. It was warm and open and it drew Dorian close like a moth to the flame. He turned to face Bull, biting his tongue to keep from prodding the man to go on.
“Took me a while to get it but then … ” Bull trailed off, just as Dorian reached him, settling down on the pallet beside the Bull, glued to his lips. “I suppose I never told you that. I don't know how I would've gone through it without you. Worse, for sure.”
Dorian smiled even as he felt a twinge in his chest at the admission. Neither he nor Bull were big at confessions of the emotional sort and Dorian, being his disgracefully emotional self always got hit over the head with Bull's casual admissions of …
'Admissions of what?' nagged a voice in the back of his head. Bull was a nice guy and Dorian had a habit of building things up in his head. But that didn't make the words any less sweet or the pain in his chest any less real.
Still, Dorian's breath hitched and he leaned forward, pressing a kiss to Bull's mouth. Bull's hand found the back of his neck, holding him close.
“You're actually good at this, because you care, Dorian. And for the most part that is worth more than finding all the right words.” Bull whispered against his lips.
And once again Dorian had to swallow down the warmth quelling up in his chest. He had to have a word with the Bull about saying such things. They were a menace at best, oil in the flame of his awry fantasies.
Then again, having words wasn't exactly their style.
Dorian didn't want to leave now, not really. He wanted to stay and see if maybe he could lure more kind words out of Bull. But he really should go out and check on Ricard and not stay here and dig himself into a deeper hole. He cleared his throat. “I'll see what i can do. After all, I can hardly make his mood any worse.”
Bull chuckled. “That's the spirit.”
Dorian stepped outside, tugging the tent flaps closed behind him. He took a deep breath, trying to shake the queasy feeling Bull's words had left in his stomach. Trevelyan sat at the fire, staring into the flames. His shoulders tensed as Dorian stepped closer, eying him nervously as he sat down. Ricard only glanced at him before staring down into the flames again.
“Care to voice your troubles?” Dorian finally asked when Ricard offered nothing.
The Inquisitor snorted, looking down on the still closed bottle of wine he held in his hands.
“Looking to drown them, then?” Dorian prodded.
“To be determined.” Ricard mumbled, holding the bottle up against the light. Dark liquid swilled around behind the glass.
The fire did the weariness on the Inquisitor's face no favors. Quite the contrary, Dorian had raised the dead and had them look more alive than Trevelyan did in this moment. Sympathy wailed keenly in his chest. There had been mornings, late afternoons and evenings where it had taken all of Dorian's capabilities with powder and kohl to make himself presentable. “Well, there's one thing I can tell you and that is whether you'll drink or not, you will regret it in the morning.” he recounted the wisdom he had gained from too many nights that he had started in Trevelyan's place.
Trevelyan snorted. “That hardly seems fair."
“Don't I know it.” Dorian sighed, putting on a sympathetic smile. “The only way you'll get through this will be tired and miserable. I like having the alcohol to blame instead of my own personal failings, but apart from that there's not much drinking can do for you.”
The ghost of a smile crept onto Trevelyan's lips. “Are you just saying that 'cause you want it all for yourself?”
“You wound me,” Dorian mock-sighed, reveling in the first not-sad expression from Ricard since the morning they had left Skyhold. It wasn't much, but it lent some credence to Bull's earlier words. Dorian didn't know how to feel about that. “Besides, anything that you picked, I wouldn't drink except under threat of bodily harm.” he added, coaxing the expected smile out of Trevelyan.
True to every stereotype about the Free Marches, Ricard preferred the swill Cabot served in that ramshackle hut he called a tavern. As such he also had no qualms to drink any wine that was a hair's breadth away from vinegar.
Ricard fumbled the cork of the bottle, taking a swig.
“I miss her.” he finally said. Dorian made a vague noise of assent as Trevelyan swallowed another mouthful of wine. The crease in his brow betrayed how much he did not enjoy the wine. “I thought it was the right thing not to take her, and now I'm missing her like like a limb. Two, actually.”
“I can assure you, you would miss her just as much were she right in front of you. It's not the distance that makes you miss her. It's the moment in time that's gone now.”
Trevelyan made a face. “When did you get so philosophical?”
“I was always a very gentle and old soul; it was your Southern brutishness that failed to notice it before.” Dorian huffed, his reward being the first laugh he'd heard from Ricard since … he had to admit, he didn't know when. They hadn't really spent any time together, over the last few weeks, except for occasional greetings when the Inquisitor had business near the library.
Dorian almost cursed out loud. Maybe it was for the best he never had many friends; it seemed he wasn't particularly good at it.
“At least it turned out well for you,” Trevelyan grinned at him, nodding towards the tent.
Dorian swallowed heavily. To have this mentioned right after the romance the Inquisitor and Cassandra once shared felt like cruel mockery, though that was hardly Ricard's intent. The blighted man probably truly was blind to the true nature of their relationship. Dorian wondered if he gave the impression that the Iron Bull and him shared more than a bed, a familiar edge of panic following on the heels of that thought.
Not that it mattered, not like it did in Tevinter. If anyone came up to the Bull, asking about their 'romantic entanglement', Bull would laugh good-naturedly and correct them. And Dorian could do the same; retain plausible deniability and handle a clean break, when things came to their inevitable end.
From experience, Dorian knew denial would be met with knowing smiles. Deflection was the way to go. “He does make these dreadful Fereldan winter nights more bearable.” There; not an inch of emotion admitted, purely non-committal.
Trevelyan frowned. “It's the middle of summer.”
“So people keep telling me. I fail to see any proof of that.”
Trevelyan chuckled, shaking his head. “Anyway, I'm sorry I've been so unbearable. And I am also sorry for how I will continue to be so for an indefinite amount of time.”
“Don't mention it.” Dorian said, carefully laying out his next words. “I've been there. I've been worse even. Once after,” Dorian halted. 'Break-up' would be too good a word for what had happened. Instead of words, he settled for a vague gesture and counted on Trevelyan to fill in the gaps. “I worked myself into such a state, I set a gazebo on fire. As long as you don't go that far, I really can't throw any stones.” He could mostly attribute that to the alcohol, but also the rage and hurt that had always intoxicated him in far worse ways than alcohol ever could.
Trevelyan frowned. “What's a gazebo?”
Dorian chuckled. “They're wooden … constructions. Don't serve much of a purpose so I don't see what all the fuss was about.”
“I'll try to contain myself.” Trevelyan chuckled, holding out the bottle of wine in a silent offer.
Dorian sighed. “Well then, let's see which acidic substance you're trying to pass off as wine.”
Later, Dorian stumbled into their tent, pleasantly buzzed. All hopes for not waking Bull were already lost before they had started. It was worse on the road, but the Tal-Vashoth always woke at the smallest noise and Dorian was not at his most graceful with sleepiness and alcohol botching his steps.
Bull sat up, leaning on his elbow, just as Dorian struggled with his shoes. Dorian threw him a lazy smile, unbuckling his shirt.
“So,” Bull said, voice gravelly with sleep and didn't that do all kinds of pleasant things to Dorian's stomach? “you guys talked.” It wasn't a question, and if Dorian wasn't tired and tipsy, he might have panicked over Bull overhearing Dorian saying anything about the both of them fooling around, something the Bull objected to. But as it was, he just tugged off the bulkier parts of his robes, smiling.
“A bit, yes.” Dorian said, opening his pants, sliding them over his hips.
“And,” Dorian echoed, stepping out of his pants. “we drunk a bit of, well, he called it wine. I'm not so sure.”
Bull chuckled as Dorian slipped under the covers, sliding one leg over Bull's lap. “Hey,” he said, pressing a kiss to Bull's lips.
“Hey yourself.” Bull smirked, tilting his head to deepen the kiss. He pushed Dorian back, rubbing his thumb along Dorian's hip. “You good?”
“Aren't I always?” Dorian teased, pressing kisses along Bull's jaw line.
“Just figured. Not that easy seeing him like this, is it?”
Dorian pulled back, ceasing his kisses. He couldn't shake the feeling that Bull was really asking something else, but his drunk and tired mind couldn't piece it together. Even his awake and sober mind mostly despaired when it came to understanding the Iron Bull and what he really meant.
“I'm not a fan of the cloud, of course,” Dorian said, laying his head down on Bull's chest. “But he'll get through this just fine.”
“The cloud?” Bull asked, his hand coming to rest at the back of Dorian's head, fingers sliding through Dorian's hair.
“The one that's hovering above the Inquisitor.” Dorian huffed, leaning into Bull's touch. “Surely you've noticed it.”
Bull chuckled, as Dorian tried and failed to suppress a yawn. “You tired, Kadan?”
“Mmmh, no.” Dorian settled his head against Bull's shoulder burying his nose against Bull's neck.
Dorian awoke atop Bull's chest with a mild pressure behind his eyes. He groaned, rolling off of Bull. His recollection of last night was a bit foggy, as always when he was slightly inebriated and his brain stopped paying too close attention to what his mouth said. But he couldn't remember anything too embarrassing, except for falling asleep on Bull after a string of much too chaste kisses.
And that was hardly the first time, though it usually involved a lot more sweating beforehand.
He hadn't drunk much, he really hadn't. There had only been one bottle between them, but the wine made the quality it sorely lacked up with making your skull throb like you had raided an entire wine cellar. Dorian rolled off of Bull, pulling the blanket over his head.
“I really should start taking my own advice.” he mumbled against the cot.
“What was that?” Bull asked sleepily.
“Nothin',” Dorian mumbled, reluctantly lifting his head from the pillow. “'m still asleep.” He heard Bull chuckle and then blessedly fell asleep again. That was the great upside of these barely-hangovers – one could actually get a decent amount of sleep.
Crestwood was as dull and terrible as always. How any strip of land managed to merge those two exact traits without imploding from the paradox, Dorian would never know. But he had been here several times and it always blew his mind.
Within the span of three days there was a village dispute that started over stolen eggs and ended with a barely prevented blood magic ritual, then there were neighbors squabbling over stolen cabbages, then a horde of dragonlings that caught them off guard, an entire day of herb hunting in the most mosquito-ridden swamp Dorian had ever seen, and then enough rain to make anyone believe the end times were upon them – followed by a mild morning and a missing cat.
Dull and terrible. It was a mystery for the ages.
When they finally rode up the gate towards Caer Bronach, it took all the self-restraint Dorian had left not to fall over his own feet in his hurry to slam the door behind him. It barely touched the frame, when Dorian hurled his pack across the room, cursing under his breath in Tevene.
The Iron Bull came in after him, taking in the scene – Dorian's pack, huddled in the corner, and the mage himself seething. “This a bad time?” he asked, stepping into the room anyway. Not that Dorian had any grounds to stop him really, after all they shared the room and had for the past week.
“What,” Dorian huffed. “is his problem?”
Bull chuckled. “That a rhetorical question or do you want a list?”
Dorian glared at him. “I mean, I get the dragonlings, and the rain was just bad luck. But the farmer's missing eggs? The herb hunting? The cat?”
“Probably just keeping busy, y'know?” Bull reasoned, sitting down on the bed.
“Don't you take his side and be all sensible about it! I've got claw marks.” Dorian held up the arm, displaying the faint red lines the unwilling subject of their rescue had ungratefully left on him.
“I did warn you not to touch her, scared cats are tetchy.” Bull lectured, leaning back on his arms, smirking up at Dorian. It should have made the mage angry, to be so mocked while upset, but there was softness in Bull's eye, translating into a soft pleasant warmth in Dorian's chest. Also, with Bull all splayed out like that all Dorian wanted to do was ravish him.
Dorian glared at him, rolling his eyes, even as his shoulders sank and his anger evaporated as he looked at Bull. He tried to catch onto the last wisp of anger, much more preferring it to whatever frailty was blooming in his chest when Bull looked at him like that.
“I'm going to take a nap.” he announced, clearing his throat, “enduring such frivolities tires me out.”
Bull nodded and scooted over to the edge of the bed, letting Dorian lie down after he changed into light linen clothes. Dorian sank into the mattress, hiding his face in the pillows, sighing audibly. It wasn't anything like the luxurious comforts of his home in Minrathous, but Dorian wondered if they ever truly were as soft as he remembered or if it was simply a metamorphosis, courtesy of his mind remembering not easier, but simpler times.
“Got you pretty worked up, huh? The boss and his antics,” Bull said, gently placing one hand atop Dorian's back, thumb sliding over the tightly wound muscles of his shoulders. Dorian sighed, arching into the touch.
“He is a rather infuriating man, if you hadn't noticed.” Dorian grumbled. “Not that you would know, with your equally infuriating lack of a temper.”
“It's very annoying.”
“Last I checked,” Bull teased, turning to let his free hand join his other on Dorian's back, full-on massaging Dorian's shoulders now. “yelling at clouds does not make them stop raining.”
“It's cathartic.” Dorian griped. In a fit of frustration, Dorian had turned to yelling at the skies to quit the downpour that had been harassing them all day. Bull had been given a unique chance to brush up on his Tevene curses.
Bull chuckled. “Also, it was funny.”
Dorian let Bull have the last word for once in favor of reveling in the warmth of the hands working out the knots in his back. He merely acknowledged the quip with a mild grumble, before arching his back as Bull got to a particularly tense spot.
He felt his eyelids droop. Together with the pain in his back, all the anxiety of the last days disappeared, leaving nothing but pleasant exhaustion and ease.
“You falling asleep on me, big guy?” Bull asked, quietly, so as not to disturb him, should he already have drifted off.
“Technically,” Dorian mumbled. “I am falling asleep under you.”
He closed his eyes to the sound of Bull's gentle laugh.
He awoke to the smell of stew wafting through the room. The warm light of dusk had left in favor of night, with the pale sliver of the moon, visible just at the edge of the window. Slowly, he turned on his back, seeing Bull read at the table, harness and brace discarded, barefoot. Even his eyepatch had come off, lying in tangles on the table. The only clothes on him were a particularly garish pair of those wide pants he favored. In front of him on the table stood two bowls, one empty, one still filled with steaming stew.
Dorian's mouth watered, probably sending his ancestors rolling in their graves. He chuckled as he got to his feet.
“What's funny?” Bull asked, looking up from his book.
“Just my ancestors, scaring the worms.” Dorian chuckled, pulling out the chair. Bull looked at him, eyebrow raised. “I am actually looking forward to eating this, which means somewhere in the north, my ancestors are dying all over again. Loudly.” Dorian explained while he lifted a spoon to his lips, hesitating momentarily. “Don't tell the others.”
Bull chuckled. “Your secret's safe with me.”
Dorian finished his stew without pausing for another chat, sinking back in his chair with a content sigh once he finished, feeling fatigue at the edges of his mind again.
“There's a bath waiting for you, too.” Bull said over the edge of his book.
Dorian immediately perked up again. “I knew there was a reason I kept you around,” Dorian quipped.
It was a testament to his natural grace that he didn't fall over himself walking to the adjacent room, where the tub was steaming.
In the next room there was a large stone tub ready and steaming. In times like these, Bull's eerie ability to predict him and his actions were a true blessing. Some of his favorite bathing oils had been poured into the water, he recognized, breathing them in deeply.
Dorian dragged a hand through the water, finding it perfectly tempered.
“Is everything to your liking, Serah?” Bull mocked, coming up behind him, leaning against the door frame.
“Quite alright.” Dorian replies, tugging of his shirt, throwing it over the chair standing nearby. “Are you going to join me?”
Bull shrugged. “Had one earlier.”
Dorian turned to smirk at Bull over his shoulder, while untying his pants. “Here for the show, then?” he said, pushing his pants down.
“Maybe.” Bull grinned. “If it's a good one.”
Dorian huffed, untying his smalls, throwing a heated glance at Bull. “I resent the implication that any show involving me will be anything so mediocre as good.”
Bull smiled, reclining on the nearby chair, eyes on Dorian as the naked vision of a man stood before him, climbing into the tub with his usual grace.
Dorian slid into the water with a content sigh, the heat seeping into his bones. He shut his eyes, taking a moment to soak before he had to move again to wash himself. Bull moved somewhere close to him; he could feel him nearby.
Then, water rippled at his chest. He opened his eyes again. Bull sat next to him on the edge of the stone tub, his hand drawing lazy circles in the water, edging closer to Dorian's chest.
“Thought you were just going to watch.” Dorian said through a smile.
“Only got the one eye,” Bull murmured, fingertips gently touching Dorian's chest, thumb catching onto a nipple. “Got to compensate somehow.”
Dorian bit back a moan at the touch; unwilling to surrender quite so openly. Instead, he laughed. “In all the time I have known you, you have never had to compensate.”
“Well, thank you for that.” Bull mumbled with a smile, leaning down to kiss him.
Dorian sighed, wrapping a lazy arm around Bull's neck, opening his mouth to let his tongue tease at Bull's lips.
Bull pulled back, producing a rag from somewhere.
“You're not going to wash me like a babe, are you?” Dorian complained, not even sure if he was actually opposed. The idea had a certain … pull.
“Only if you ask me to.” Bull replied without a hint of irony.
Dorian snorted and grabbed the rag out of Bull's hand, taking it upon himself to get clean.
“You're … strangely accommodating tonight.” Dorian mused after a moment of silence, craning his neck to look at Bull sitting beside him. “A massage, food and a bath – are you going to ask me for some special deviancy tonight?”
“Do you want me to?” Bull asked, threading his fingers through Dorian's slightly tangled hair, massaging his scalp tugging ever so slightly on his hair..
“No deviancy planned then.” Dorian concluded, tasting a familiar flavor of doubt. Something uneasy settled in his chest, latching onto every breath. He wished he could just let it go and tell Bull to do with him as he pleases, he physically fought the words, even though he knew it was a loosing battle. “So what brought this on?” he asked, his tone falling rather more flat than teasing. Not even that his traitorous body would grant him.
Bull's fingers stopped circling for just a moment before continuing. “Do I have to have a reason?”
“I'd rather you did.” Dorian said, twisting his head to get away from Bull's touch. Dorian felt bile rise in his throat; he's been here before. Wrapped in meaningless kindnesses to pacify him for harsh words to come. As if kindnesses beforehand would lessen the blow instead of further sharpening a blade about to thrust into unsuspecting flesh.
Bull moved back, barely on the edge of the tub now. “Dorian.” he prompted, when Dorian showed no further reaction except biting his lip.
“You've been distant the whole trip.” Dorian snapped. “I thought it was because of Trevelyan because you were giving us space to talk, but now we're alone and you're still acting different. If you're trying to butter me up to tell me something, just do it.”
Bull was quiet next to him. Dorian didn't dare look at him.
“I just wanted to,” Bull started, groaning as the words wouldn't come. “The last few days have not been easy on you, taking care of him.” he began again. “I just wanted to do something, y'know, nice, since you've been – ” Bull ended the sentence with a vague gesture.
Dorian bit his lower lip, hard enough to draw blood this time.
Frustration. That was that undertone in Bull's voice.
And who could blame him? All he'd done was treat Dorian nice and Dorian had gone and all but yelled at him. Then again, Dorian had always known that his head was a fun place, but he preferred to keep that to himself as much as possible. Nobody wanted the needy, insecure mess he was when they could have the snarky, suave mage.
Bull's hand rested on the side of the tub, fingers itching as if they wanted to reach out, curling around the cold stone instead of warm skin. “I swear you 'Vints are like kicked dogs. Always expecting another boot.” he murmured.
“I'm sorry.” Dorian breathed, as his heart kept picking up pace.
“Didn't say I blamed you.” Bull reassured him. Dorian hesitantly looked up, swallowing heavily. “You need a moment?” Bull asked as Dorian felt moisture gather at the corner of his eyes.
Dorian nodded, his chest shuddering around a breath.
“I'll be right here.” Bull stood, walking towards the door with heavy steps. He hovered in the door frame for a moment. “I'll leave the door open, okay?”
Dorian nodded again. Breathing got easier once Bull wasn't near him, forcing unwanted thoughts to the forefront of his mind. He found himself closing his eyes, listening for the sounds drifting over from the other room – Bull moving around, settling down, probably picking up that book again.
He fished the rag out of the tub where he dropped it and finished washing with a minimum amount of movement, trudging over to the table were he'd set his bag of cosmetics. Vanities were unheard of this far south, except maybe the more refined parts of Orlais, and not once had Dorian neglected to complain about that but right now the lack of mirrors was a stale comfort.
Of course Bull wasn't trying to manipulate him into a mood where he took ending things well. This was just his own mind digging into too many memories of men treating him little better than the dirt sticking to their shoes. But Bull wouldn't put him on the spot like that.
Not out here, on the road at least. If the Iron Bull was going to break things off, he would handle it with as much discretion and consideration as Dorian would need to maintain his dignity.
“And that's enough.” Dorian told the crumbling gray wall in front of him.
His usual routine of getting ready was calming. By the time his hair and he had lined his eyes with dark kohl he almost felt like his better self again, the one that could get through the day. He forewent putting on any clothing, instead stepping out of the tepid, darkening bathroom into the candlelight of their chamber.
Bull lay on the bed, looking up from his book he had been reading before. The minute he heard Dorian's footsteps he set it aside onto the bedside table. Dorian saw Bull's nose wings flutter as his eye roamed over Dorian's body as he slid towards the edge of the bed.
Dorian smirked, sauntering over to him, putting on a smile. He sat down astride Bull's lap, leaning forward against Bull's bare chest, their skin sliding together as Dorian leaned their foreheads together, their lips almost touching.
“I could've handled that better there,” the Bull murmured against his lips. “I can never really tell what'll set you off and I'm – ” Dorian placed a finger on top of Bull's lips, effectively shushing him.
“Don't.” Dorian asked, placing a kiss against Bull's lips. He saw the resistance behind Bull's eye. Dorian knew Bull hated hurting people; he was always afraid of overstepping boundaries. Even those he didn't know.
Especially those he didn't know. But this one Dorian couldn't explain, he couldn't say what he wanted to say.
'Don't ever be nice to me if you don't mean it.' wasn't particularly good conversation.
'Don't ever make me believe you care if you don't.' was an even shittier follow-up.
“Please,” Dorian added, hoping that Bull wouldn't press further.
“Okay,” Bull said, hands still clenching in the sheets instead of reaching out to touch. “What do you need?”
Dorian breathed a sigh of relief, gently tugging on Bull's leg as he slid down to kneel next to the bed. “Let me?”
“'Course.” Bull complied and set his feet down on the ground with Dorian in between his legs. The mage leaned forward, pressing a kiss just below Bull's navel, his hands squeezing Bull's thighs.
“You're so beautiful.” Bull breathed, canting his hips forward when Dorian tugged on the fabric of his pants. Dorian swallowed down both the dismissal and the enthusiastic agreement, and simply smiled as he leaned forward to press kisses along Bull's thigh with his tongue darting out to lick gray skin.
Bull's cock twitched, slowly filling with blood the further up Dorian's mouth wandered. When he reached Bull's stomach, he looked up, dragging his tongue down over Bull's flaccid length, pausing to lick around the head, before wrapping his lips over his teeth to suck.
Bull moaned, his hand coming up to tangle in Dorian's hair as his cock filled, stretching Dorian's lips.
Dorian sucked, smiling around Bull's cock at the involuntary jerk his hips made. He reached down to squeeze his own cock, before reaching up to curl his fingers around Bull's balls, tugging slightly as his mouth sunk down, lips stretching around swelling flesh .
“You're so good,” Bull groaned, cradling his hand against Dorian's jaw. “Always so good for me.”
Dorian took a deep breath through his nose, pressing his tongue up against Bull's cock, relaxing his jaw to let the head of Bull's erection push into his throat. He reached up, pressing his hands against Bull's chest, sliding them up to feel Bull's chest heave with his exerted breaths.
He pulled back, moving his head up and down, blindly reaching for the bedside table to grab the oil from the top drawer.
“You want me to – ” Bull panted, reaching for the vial, but Dorian made a noise of protest sending that thought flying. Dorian pulled off, wrapping his free hand around Bull's split-slick cock, jerking him off.
“I got it,” Dorian said, one-handedly popping the cork off the bottle. “Just let me.” he added with a smile.
Their eyes met, a question clearly written on Bull's face. This wasn't their style, not at all, with Bull hanging back and Dorian doing all the work? Bull always took good care of Dorian, and his every need. He was a pleaser, with every fiber of his being. More than once, Dorian had come down from an orgasmic high to find Bull had tugged himself off, as if his pleasure was a mere afterthought. Sometimes he hadn't even gotten off, when Dorian was too worked up from their play or for whatever reason of his own.
And even when Dorian was making it tough on Bull, Bull never stopped taking care of him.
And Dorian? More than once he had thrown it all back into Bull's face.
“Just let me.” Dorian repeated, and Bull smiled wryly, leaning down to press a kiss onto Dorian's spit-slick lips. He relaxed, leaning back on his hands, watching Dorian intently.
Dorian swallowed around the lump in his throat, masking the motion by kissing his way up Bull's thighs again, as he sloppily poured oil over his fingers. He prepared himself with perfunctory movements, keeping his lips on Bull's skin.
Working his third finger into himself, Dorian felt his hips move of their own accord, his cock leaking precome as he fucked himself on his own hand. He felt Bull's palm settle against his cheek, warm and slightly damp, pad of his sword-calloused thumb dragging over Dorian's tightly stretched lips.
Dorian moaned, forcing his eyes open to look at Bull from under his lashes.
Bull growled, curling his fingers along Dorian's jaw. “How about you climb up here and I make you feel good?” His voice was thick with desire, making Dorian smile around Bull's cock, pulling back to laugh.
“Why don't I don't climb up there and make you feel better?” Dorian countered, putting on his best smirk. Pulling his fingers out of his body to he grabbed the still open vial from the floor.
“You always do,” Bull said, sincerity ringing through the thick timbre of sex and he found Dorian's free hand on his knee with his own, threading their fingers together. Dorian bit the inside of his cheek, as Bull pulled him up into his lap and into a kiss.
Their straining cocks slid together, making them groan into each others mouths. Dorian darted his tongue over Bull's lips. Bull took the vial from Dorian's hand, coating his cock in the sticky substance, wrapping his hand around the base, guiding the swollen head against Dorian's slick hole.
Dorian wrapped his arms around Bull's neck, moaning as Bull's cock slipped past his tight ring of muscles. A relieved sigh escaped Dorian's lips as his hips rested flush against Bull's skin. Bull kissed down Dorian's chest as Dorian braced his legs on either side of Bull's hips, lifting himself up.
“You feel so good, kadan.” Bull whispered against Dorian's sternum, reaching up to twist one of his nipples. Dorian moaned, thrusting his hips down again, finding a steady, frantic rhythm.
Bull groaned, leaning back to watch Dorian. Sweat pearling from his skin, with his mouth hanging open around the little sounds escaping his throat as he bounced on Bull's cock – he must paint a truly stunning picture, if the look on Bull's face was any indication.
Dorian whined, throwing his head back. His thighs were quickly burning with exhaustion and pleasure already curled tight in his abdomen. He hastily disentangled one of his hands from around Bull's neck to touch his aching cock.
“Easy, kadan,” Bull whispered, stroking up and down his sweaty back. “I've got you.” he mumbled against Dorian's temple, wrapping one hand around Dorian's hips, bracing his feet atop the ground, slamming his hips up into Dorian.
Dorian gasped, letting himself fall back against Bull's hold, letting Bull fuck into him as he jerked himself off.
Bull leaned forward, his free hand wrapping around the Dorian's frantically moving over Dorian's cock, his broad palm sliding over the sensitive crown. Bull wrapped his lips over sweaty skin on Dorian's shoulder, sucking hard enough to bruise.
Dorian cried out as his body jerked, coating his and Bull's stomach and chest in long white stripes. Bull groaned, giving into pleasure as he felt Dorian come, pushing him down onto his cock as he came, too, poorly muffling his groans against Dorian's neck. For a moment, they stayed like that, wrapped up in each other, panting against each other's skin.
When their cooling sweat chilled their skin, Bull fell backwards on the bed, dragging Dorian with him.
Dorian laughed, ungracefully falling forward onto Bull's chest, rolling himself off of Bull. He settled against his side again, staring up at the ceiling. It had been long since he'd spent his afterglow freaking out how many moments until he was politely urged to leave.
Now, Dorian traced idle patterns on Bull's chest as he regained his breath and fought against the renewed urge to sleep.
Bull caught his arm, thumb tracing along the faint red scratched the adversary cat had left there earlier today. “Got yourself quite some battle scars there, huh?”
Dorian chuckled, slapping his hand against Bull's chest. “It's not funny. That dragon in the Exalted Plains didn't leave a scratch on me and then this tiny, furry beast comes and draws blood. If that scars, I'm officially throwing a fit.”
Bull smiled, pressing a kiss against Dorian's temple. “Knew a guy once. Dodged around forty assassination attempts, and then he chokes on an apple.”
“And what's the moral of this story? Chew your food properly?” Dorian mocked as Bull slipped his arm around his body, pulling him atop his chest. Now, they could, pretty much had to look each other in the eyes. Dorian rested his chin on top of his arm that lay upon Bull's chest. He could feel Bull's heart pump blood in slow, steady beats.
Dorian tensed as Bull smile dissipated and his face grew serious.“There's something you've been meaning to ask me, isn't there?”
There was grim satisfaction in dreading and being right to do so, for once. Dorian huffed, recoiling from the hand that sought to touch his cheek. “I only ask because it weighs on you, Kadan.” Bull added. “I won't prod you, you know that, but if there's anything I can do, you know I will.”
And he would.
Problem was, what if all the Iron Bull could do was to be nice about turning Dorian down? Dorian knew it was only a matter of time before he slipped up and said something, did something that betrayed him and how he felt about Bull.
“I – I guess I've been wondering if – “ Dorian lifted a hand his free hand, vaguely gesturing between the two of them. “if we are – if this is good. For you, I mean.”
“Why do you ask?” Bull let nothing show on his face. Could be he was still cautious, figured that too much reassurance could send Dorian over the edge again. Could be he was deflecting. For reasons Dorian would rather not know.
“Can't you just answer?” Dorian pleaded, feeling his earlier demons claw their way up his throat again.
“I'm good with this.” Bull said quickly, running his hand up and down Dorian's back, his other hand still wrapped around Dorian's wrist.
A brief moment of relief washed over Dorian. It was pathetic, he supposed, the way a simple word of praise from Bull – from anyone really, but from Bull especially – uplifted him like it did.
“Now, why did you ask?” Bull repeated,
Dorian sighed. “I guess I sometimes can't ignore, that, at my core, I am a very selfish person.”
Bull's mouth twisted in a way that clearly said 'I couldn't disagree more, but I know if I say anything you're going a stubborn bastard about it'. Dorian spoke from experience; Bull wore the expression quite often and more than once he had voiced that exact thought immediately after wearing that smile.
So instead of saying something, Bull pressed a kiss to Dorian's hand. “I'm good with this,” he repeated.
Dorian took a deep breath, settling his cheek against Bull's chest. “Would you be … good with changes, too?” Dorian forced out, not daring to move anything but his lips. Even his breath seemed to desert him for a moment. There was a long-stretched quiet under him, before Bull spoke.
“If they're out of my hand, how could I not be? I'm not going to start yelling at clouds.” Bull said, his voice rumbling against Dorian's ear.
Dorian frowned, internally shaking his head at how little he understood Bull sometimes. “Good thing, too. I've heard it's quite ridiculous.” he commented, sitting up, giving Bull one of his best smiled. It had been a long shot, anyways. Like Bull was going to just up and confess his undying love because Dorian alluded to possibly maybe wanting to change something about their relationship.
Still, any sign would have been nice. Anything but the borderline cryptic comment he had gotten.
“I'm gonna go and check on the Inquisitor.” Dorian announced, swinging himself off of Bull and onto his feet. Even with his back turned, he could feel Bull stare at his back as he walked over to his pack to draw out a new set of robes.
“You that worried about him?” Bull asked as Dorian pulled on his pants.
“No, not really.” Dorian huffed. “But I'll sleep better if I know he's not doing something, well. Something I would do, I guess.”
“That's a good idea,” Bull admitted, as Dorian dared a look in the mirror, still buckling his shirt. His hair wasn't too badly askew, a light touch at the back and good as new. Not that the lighting in this damp, dark castle did anything for his looks in the best moments.
“One more thing,” Dorian sighed, cursing himself, even as the words came out of his mouth. “You're honest with me, right? You wouldn't lie to me just to – I don't know.” Even saying it felt ridiculous, but he couldn't exactly take it back now, so he endured Bull's piercing stare and waited for his answer.
“I won't lie to you. I never have.” Bull said and Dorian, strangely enough, believed him.
Dorian nodded, and went out of the door without looking back.
It had been half an excuse, really, going off to find the Inquisitor. Mostly, Dorian needed some more space, to air his thoughts and clear his head. Their room was too small for that, especially with the Iron Bull in it. Especially with Bull being so indifferent about everything.
As he walked down the dimly lit corridors of Caer Bronach, he figured that maybe, he could learn to live with it. He could do worse – he had done worse. Having someone so indulgent and kind at his side was more than a lot of his past selves had ever dreamed of.
The cold night air hit his skin as he stepped into the courtyard of the keep. Soldiers patrolled at the far end and a bunch of people sat around the fire, laughing and drinking. At the far end, Dorian saw Varric, balancing one leg on his seat, animatedly gesturing as he entertained the whole round.
In the shadows near the ruins of the tower, another figure sat atop a stone windowsill staring at the muddy plains of Crestwood.
Dorian chuckled. At least he wouldn't have to get past the Ben-Hassrath training later when Bull asked how his talk with the Inquisitor went, he thought as he made his way over. He saw Trevelyan turn, listening to Dorian's boots crunching over the gravel.
“Copper for your thoughts?” Dorian greeted him, still a few steps behind the Inquisitor. Trevelyan turned, giving him a half-hearted smile over his shoulder. He slumped against the stone walls, clutching a book to his chest.
Dorian recognized it from a hush-hush search they once did, when Ricard's giddiness about wooing the seeker had still tugged at his insides in a rather unpleasant way.
“You sure that's the best thing for you right now?” Dorian asked, looking at the well-worn leather cover.
“These days there doesn't seem to anything that's good for me, let alone 'best'.” Ricard huffed, holding the book in front of him, tracing idle patterns on the cover, as if writing a letter of all the things he couldn't say.
Dorian wordlessly held out a hand and after a moment of hesitation Trevelyan handed over the book.
“Actually, that's better.” Trevelyan sighed, taking a deep breath of freezing air into his lungs. “I know you're trying to talk to me, but I still don't really know what to say. I figure talking about it might help but when I try, I just draw a blank. All I know is that it's over and there's nothing I can really do.”
Dorian held the book behind his back, leaning against the damp stone walls as the last light sank behind the hills. “It … does make you want to just get the whole thing out of your system, doesn't it?”
“What, love?” Trevelyan asked. Dorian nodded.
Trevelyan shook his head. “Nah.”
“Nah?” Dorian echoed. “Why?”
“Because there's nothing like it, Dorian.” A sad smile tugged at Trevelyan's lips. His eyes still looked tired, weary even. But still there was something else in them. The last few days he had seemed agitated, hopeless.
Now, as he looked on the horizon, he looked serene.
Dorian snorted. “I wasn't contesting that. There is nothing like being burned alive either doesn't mean you have to be fond of the concept.”
“True.” Trevelyan chuckled. “Still. Even now, that I can barely go a moment without wallowing in my misery; I would not trade one moment with her to ease the pain. If I went on another trip through time I would still make all the same choices. My time with her will forever be a treasured memory, even if I never kiss her lips again.”
Dorian felt his jaw clench at the raw spike of emotion at the forlorn smile on Ricard's lips. “You should write that down, give it to Varric. I'm sure he'd appreciate it.” he quipped.
Trevelyan laughed. “I'm sure he would. But it's getting kind of freezing – ”
“ – and I'm gonna see if I can't find something to eat around here.” Trevelyan continued, without acknowledging Dorian's interjection. “I might actually be regaining my lost appetite.” He swung down from the ledge, lingering a few steps away.
“Do go on,” Dorian reassured him, “I'll find you, after I caught a bit of what passes as fresh air in this dirty swamp.”
When he was alone, he pulled forth the book from behind his back. He'd always appreciated a well-worn book, a book that carried the love of its owner in the cracks of the bindings and the tears in the paper.
“Not a moment, huh?” he asked of the wind whistling through the cracks of Caer Bronach.
The first shut-eye Bull got back in Skyhold was fitful, but long. When he woke, the sun stood high and he was alone in bed.
He'd fallen asleep alone, too, with Dorian excusing himself to his own rooms.
The way back had been tense; whether it was Trevelyan's moods setting everyone else on edge or just the endless days of terrible weather, or Dorian, dealing with whatever crap was rattling around in his brain.
Bull sat down on his bed, stretching his bad leg.
That night in Caer Bronach, Dorian had brought up their 'thing' for the first time. But he'd also brought up changes. And since then, he had barely talked to Bull, lingering on the edge of camp, doing a piss poor job at pretending to read.
Ever since they left Skyhold, ever since Trevelyan and Cassandra had broken up, something had been rattling in their dynamic and Trevelyan was right in the middle of it all. The Inquisitor and Dorian were close friends, Bull knew that, so it wasn't surprising that Dorian had been affected by Trevelyan suddenly spending every breathing moment with Cassandra.
That had been why he went over to Dorian in the first place, when the mage had been sitting on his own in the tavern for the fifth night that week, brooding into the ale he professed to hate so much. Bull had half-expected Dorian to tell him to piss off. Instead, the mage had seemed glad for the company.
And when they fell into bed together a couple of nights later, well. Bull had always suspected that Dorian had a bit of a thing for the Inquisitor and Trevelyan hadn't seemed too averse, either. He'd been flirting with Dorian from the start, but at the end of the day, Cassandra seemed to be where his heart truly lied.
So when Dorian suddenly responded to Bull's flirting – Bull quickly thought he had it all figured out.
He had gone to bed with people for worse reasons. People went to bed with the Iron Bull for worse reasons. And Dorian was one hot piece of ass, so he hadn't expected to get a good deal of mind-blowing sex.
What he hadn't expected, Bull thought, looking at the empty mattress beside him, was how often he'd think about using some of his old contacts to get some of that fine 'Vint wine that Dorian was always yapping on about, and he'd bribe the kitchen and set up a ridiculous over the top dinner table – maybe even with roses – if he felt like being a particular ass and Dorian would roll his eyes, call him a silly lummox, but he'd smile in that small, particular way when he was really happy and really didn't want anyone to know.
He would regret never getting to do that, should Dorian end things. If he did.
Bull groaned. His head started to ache with all the back and forth he was doing on this.
Relationships – there was a reason the Qun forbade them.
Bull walked outside leaning against the battlements where he could overlook the courtyard.
Bitter, obscure references from Dorian were the only thing Bull knew about the man's past relationships, but it had been enough to gather that someone with Dorian's past experiences would be hesitant to break things off. Someone that had his heart broken so many times would, especially someone who cared about people as much as Dorian wouldn't do the same to someone else.
He'd have to talk to Dorian, tell him that it was okay for him to walk away from their thing.
Then, Bull spotted Dorian and the Boss walking down the stairs from the mage tower. From their wild gesturing Bull could tell they were talking magic once again.
Trevelyan looked better than he had. There were still some dark circles under his eyes, but the color had returned to his cheeks, and most importantly, he was laughing at whatever Dorian was saying.
Ricard hopped up the stairs towards the keep, waving Dorian goodbye. Dorian looked up the stairs after him, lost in thought, before he made eye contact with Bull over the courtyard.
Dorian smiled, making his way over, coming up the stairs.
“Hey.” Dorian greeted him. He threw a glance over his shoulder, checking on the by now largely dispersed crowd behind them. “Can we go inside? I … I want to talk about something.”
Apparently had worked himself into a headache for no reason at all and Dorian would resolve this himself after all.
“Just talking? That's disappointing.” Bull reveled in Dorian's small smile, wondering how often he'd get to see it after today.
Stupid, of course. The Boss would put that smile there least as often. And ideally, they'd still be friends. Still, there was so much memory on these stairs for them; all the times he had stumbled up there, crowding Dorian up against the stone walls to steal kisses in the dark, despite the mage's half-hearted protests.
Now he wanted nothing more to do that one last time, to pull Dorian close and kiss him; make use of the fact that it had been forever since the man had voiced any concern at all that people might see them.
But he didn't.
Bull walked back into his room, Dorian following close after. Walking in there, suspecting what was about to happen, Bull was acutely aware of how much of Dorian's stuff was in his room. A couple of spare robes, most of his make-up things, multiple stacks of books and notes – he didn't even remember how it all ended up here. it had happened so gradually.
He sat down on the bed, taking in Dorian's tense back as the mage closed the door and took a deep breath, forehead leaning against the old wood and iron fixtures of the door.
“I've been thinking a lot.” Dorian said against the door.
Bull smiled fondly. “You always do.”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Dorian turned around, a smile tugging at his lips. He kept his eyes down to the floor, though, fidgeting with the sleeve of his robe. He came towards Bull, standing right between his legs. Bull wasn't sure whether he was searching out his proximity because he wanted to be touched or if he just wanted to keep his voice down and this conversation intimate. “But I meant, I was thinking about … us.”
The nervousness, hesitation before the 'us', Dorian's refusal to meet his eyes – Bull knew Dorian was building up to something. Bull suspected this moment had been looming on his horizon since the seeker was skewering the training doll into wood chips.
Bull looked up at him, saying nothing, watching Dorian swallow heavily.
Then, Dorian leaned down into a kiss. Bull needed a moment swallowing the rejection already lingering on Dorian's lips. It should taste bitter; like the blood on your tongue after a battle that cost you a dear comrade. Like stormy mornings on Seheron's coast and the days your legs are too weak to carry you out of bed.
Dorian sighed against his lips, pulling himself into Bull's lap.
“Thinking about us, huh.” Bull teased, unable to stop himself from falling into his flirty habits.
Dorian's lips curled into a smile against Bull's mouth. His hands slid over Bull's skin when Dorian slung his arms around Bull's neck as their lips moved against each other.
It''d be so easy to sink onto the sheets and put off the inevitable for a little while longer. But it wouldn't be fair, not to Dorian, not to himself.
“Kadan,” he whispered, catching Dorian's attention. “you wanted to talk.”
“I did, didn't I.” Dorian chuckled, sliding off of Bull's lap to sit next to him on the bed. “You are ever so distracting..” He bit his kiss-swollen lip, averting his eyes. “Still, I have made up my mind to see this through.”
On his lips, Bull tasted the bitterness he'd been expecting , but he nodded as Dorian extricated himself from his lap.
“It's probably better if I stand for this,” Dorian explained,. He took a deep breath, pressed his
“We, together, always made little sense and every day this still works is a surprise to say the least and I … ” Dorian let out a shaky breath that turned into a nervous laugh, visibly flustered. “I mean, I don't know what you're thinking because you're famously, frustratingly unreadable, but – ”
Another shaky breath. “But I like to think that I'm not completely wrong about you – which I could be – but I still want to believe that I can make a little sense of you and if I've been reading you right you're not going to entirely hate me for saying what I'm about to say. About us. Me. Both.” Dorian made a vague gesture between them, bit his lip, laughing nervously.
Bull knew he should make this easy on Dorian – he knows the man spent all his life yearning for companionship. Giving up anything resembling that yearning, even if it was to pursue better opportunities, couldn't be easy.
Dorian chewed on his bottom lip, reaching out to touch Bull's shoulder, circling his thumb along the scarred skin. He had that same raw vulnerability shining bright in his eyes, that he sometimes gets when Bull has driven him so far over the edge that he's holding on to the rope that binds his arms and not much else. The same openness their arduous travels coax out of him, making him curl into Bull's side in a drafty tent and complain loudly, even as he looks up at Bull with that content smile on his lips.
“Maker's Breath, I'm babbling, aren't I? What I'm trying to say is I'm tired of going round in these circles and I might be ready to move on with this, if that's alright with you of course.” Dorian looked at him expectantly, biting his lip.
“I know.” Bull said, smiling weakly at the way Dorian's eyes went wide.
“You … do?” Dorian asked, swallowing heavily, relief washing over his face.
“You know I won't keep you here.” Bull added, reaching out to touch Dorian's cheek.
Dorian recoiled, letting Bull's hand touch thin air instead. He took a step to put some distance between the two of them.
“Come again?” he asked.
Bull shrugged, forcing himself to smile at Dorian. He'd been going over the words he was about to say next. “You and I made no promise to each other and I've always told you, this could be whatever you want it to be. If you want to be with the Boss, that's good with me. I won't give you a hard time. I'll even buy you two drinks to celebrate, no hard feelings.”
“I'm afraid you've lost me.” Dorian abruptly, ending his endless pacing to look down on Bull with his arms crossed in front of his chest. Bull quietly looked at him, assessing the unforeseen turn of events.
“Explain.” Dorian snapped.
Bull gritted his teeth. He hated admitting he was wrong, which he obviously had to be, because Dorian hadn't shown the relief Bull had expected. “I figured, you coming with me that first night always had a bit to do with the Boss and the Seeker shacking up couple days earlier.” he explained, seeing Dorian's eyes widen. So he had definitely been wrong about that, then. No use denying it the rest. “Now that they ended things, I thought you would want to – ”
“You had sex with me,” Dorian interrupted, nosewings flaring as his fists clenched at his sides. “because Trevelyan hooked up with Cassandra?”
“I thought that was a big part of your reasoning.” Bull explained, “that and the half a dozen pints.” he joked, reaching out to trace the love bite on his clavicle, the one he'd left that night in Caer Bronach.
Dorian's hand slapped across Bull's palm like a whip. “You pity-fucked me?” Dorian yelled, anger twisting his face. “Because you thought I was – what? Heartbroken over the Inquisitor?”
Bull sorted through his thoughts, trying to string some words together that would make Dorian understand that it wasn't like that, but the words wouldn't come. From Dorian's lips it all sounded so bad, almost malicious. Bull had just wanted to make him feel better, sex hadn't been part of the plan. And neither had ending up with half of Dorian's stuff in his room, but Bull doubted that would be a comfort.
In Bull's silence, Dorian's anger grew cold. “Is that why you always said this could be whatever I want – because it was all nothing to you anyway?” Dorian asked, his face an impassive mask.
“No,” Bull hastily said. “You were upset and you seemed better when I was with you – that's all.” He only ever wanted to make Dorian feel better but the saw the hard lines in his face. There was no talking to him when he got like that.
“That's all.” Dorian echoed, swallowing heavily. “That's all indeed.”
Dorian was blinking too rapidly, which meant he was blinking back tears. This talk had gone so sideways, Bull wanted to punch something solid.
“Dorian, wait, I didn't mean – ” he tried, but Dorian just shook his head.
“Shut up.” Dorian snapped. “Just … shut up, I need to – ” His hands dug into his hair, messing up the black curls. “I need to not be here right now.”
The door slammed shut before Bull could get in another word.
Dorian stormed up the stairs of the main hall, no clear goal except getting away from everything, his mind racing with too much anger and no targets. From down the corridor a familiar laughter rang.
Dorian's eyes narrowed.
The kitchen was filled with the crackling of fire as Ricard and Varric had a late dinner, courtesy of sleeping through the proper ones. Ricard took another bite out of the chicken leg as Varric told another tale of their merry band of misfits roaming the streets of Kirkwall.
Varric was just about to spill the beans on their very own Commander when Ricard heard rapid steps along the corridor. Ricard cursed internally, saying his goodbyes to a peaceful evening, expecting said Commander or another one of his advisors with urgent reports that definitely could not wait until the morning.
What he doesn't expect is Dorian looking like he'd been dragged through a bush, face screwed up in anger.
“You are a truly atrocious person, utterly incapable of just about anything and it's a wonder we all weren't slaughtered months ago!” Dorian yelled at the Inquisitor, before turning on his heels and storming off again.
Ricard stared at the spot in the door the mage just vacated, mouth hanging open, still holding the chicken leg. Some moments ago everything had been fine between them, talking about the new acquisitions for the mage tower they had inspected together.
“What did you do to Sparkler?” Varric asked into the uncomfortable silence.
Ricard shrugged. “No idea. But I'm pretty sure that was Dorianspeak for 'I'm upset, please talk to me'.”
“If you say so.” the dwarf murmured as the Inquisitor already made a beeline for the door. “I'll write a nice eulogy, in case he blows your head off,” Varric called after him.
“It's so nice to have friends,” Ricard threw back over his shoulder. He climbed the stairs to the wing housing most of his trusted companions, stopping at Dorian's door to listen.
Ricard could hear his friend pacing and muttering to himself on the other side of the door. As he lifted his hand to knock, he noticed he never put down the chicken leg he was eating when Dorian had burst into the kitchen. He grumbled, knocking with his free hand instead, awkwardly holding the half-eaten chicken piece in the other.
The door was torn open almost immediately, revealing Dorian's disheveled figure glaring up at him. Ricard feels his heart skip a beat. Dorian could truly rival Vivienne when it came to smiting the unworthy with a single glare.
“You, ah … wanted to speak to me?” Ricard stated, almost flinching at the snarl on Dorian's face. But then the man turned on his heel, pacing over the threadbare carpet once more.
Ricard stepped inside, sitting down on the perfectly made bed as Dorian passed by him, again and again, occasionally glaring at him, turning to him with his mouth open as if to say something, before snarling again and resuming his pacing.
“Take your time.” Ricard said, earning himself a particularly cruel glare.
“This is all your fault, you know.” Dorian spat.
“I gathered that much. What exactly is this, though?”
“You with your talk of love and romance and how it's worth it even when it falls apart,” Dorian spat. “Just thinking back on it makes my skin crawl.”
Ricard frowned. “A … pologies?” True, he had spent their last trip lamenting over the break-up a lot, but then … what had any of that to do with Dorian? It wasn't like he had held him down and forced him to listen. Dorian had sought him out, all but poked him with a stick to get him to talk about things.
“You better apologize!” Dorian yelled. “Making me think that after weeks and weeks of pondering, of never daring to even think of bringing it up, that I should just tell Bull that I – I – .” Dorian's voice cracked. “Because in the end it's all going to be worth it,” he spat, mocking Ricard's words from that talk they had in Caer Bronach.
When he'd be talking about how the chance of love was worth all heartbreak.
Things clicked into place in Ricard's head. “Oh, Maker. He rejected you.”
“You told him you loved him and he rejected you.”
“No!” Dorian yelled, gritting his teeth, swallowing heavily. “No,” he repeated, much quieter. “I never even got that far. Before I could say anything – and isn't that sort of a blessing – he told me that the only reason he ever came onto me, was that he thought I was heartbroken over you being with Cassandra.”
“Oh.” Ricard blinked. “Oh. Wait, what?”
Dorian huffed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “He's got this idea in his head that all we had was because I couldn't have you.”
Ricard blinked, wrecking his brain for a reason why Bull would think that. Then again a former Ben-Hassrath would see a lot of things an ordinary man wouldn't. “And was it?” he asked before he could stop himself, curiosity burning on his tongue.
“Really?” Dorian spat.
Ricard shrugged. “Just wondering.”
Dorian threw up his arms in frustration, turning away from Ricard. “I don't even know, I was … for the longest time you were the only one who was nice to the evil magister and you're not too hard on the eyes. I never claimed my affections were hard to win.” he admitted, before glaring at Ricard once more. “But rest assured, I was duly cured of them once I got to know you as the blundering fool you truly are.”
“Don't spare my feelings.” Ricard huffed. “I still don't see how any of that is my fault, really.”
“Quiet, you. Just sit there and let me rant at you, I'm angry and I need to yell at someone because once I lose momentum, this is going to become so far from pretty.”
“Alright, then. Keep it up, I got nowhere to be right now.” Ricard said, smiling tentatively, taking another bite out of his chicken leg.
And just like that Dorian deflated, dropping onto the bed next to the Inquisitor, burying his face in his hands. “Maker's breath, I am a fool, aren't I?” he choked. “I get dumped moments before I want to confess my feelings. Why does this keep happening to me?”
Ricard understood now what Dorian had meant with 'losing momentum'. The man seemed to shrink right there next to him, shoulders slumping. All of a sudden the man looked so much older.
“Dorian, I … ” Ricard started, reaching out to touch the man's shoulder in sympathy.
“If you get chicken grease on these robes, I will murder you.” Dorian hissed. “You already ruined one set of robes this week by getting snot all over them. See if I let you cry on my shoulder again.”
“Well, excuse me.” Ricard grumbled. It was by far not his proudest moment when he'd spent the night crying into Dorian's silk robes, but in his defense, it had been a stressful few days. “But are you sure he doesn't just, I don't know, want the best for you? That seems like a very 'Bull' thing to do.”
Dorian snorted. “Are you subtly calling yourself the best for me? Because as I said before, – ”
“Alright, alright. Just … don't describe me. Ever again.” Ricard huffed, looking at Dorian sitting next to him. “So he just … dumped you? Out of the blue?” Ricard wondered out loud. He wasn't an expert, if his recent romantic adventures were anything to go by, but he had seen the way those two were around each other.
Dorian frowned, turning over all that was said in his . “Not in so many words, he just offered to … step back I guess.” He laughed without humor. “Even if he didn't mean for it to end this way, how can I go back? He was with me out of pity, he thought he was doing me a favor. How pathetic does he think I am? He doesn't care about me, he just – .”
He choked on the last part of the sentence, running his hand through his hair again. “Has the world ever seen such a sign from the Maker? It's probably telling me I should just give up.”
“But we could look at this in a positive light. We can bond over mutual heartbreak.” Ricard tried.
Dorian glared at him, opening his mouth for a retort. His face dissolved into a blank mask before he could get it out, though, and he shook his head. “No, no, there's been no heartbreak, no break-up.”
“Dorian, – ” Ricard warned, almost physically feeling Dorian retreat into a shell.
Dorian cut him off with a glare. “No. There was no break-up. We were never together, not really. We spent time together, until he went and patronized me.” He smiled at Ricard, shrugging as if he were talking about a spilled mug of tea. “I'm better off without him. It's not ideal, since we have to work together, so it might be awkward for a bit, but what can you do?”
“Dorian,” Ricard tried again, on the sympathetic route this time, but Dorian just shook his head.
“It's for the best,” Dorian said, finality clinging to his words. “I'm fine, really.”
“Don't you look like nine buckets of sunshine,” Krem cackled, dropping down into the chair beside the Iron Bull with an arm full of tankards.
“Wasn't aware I was in charge of making your day brighter,” Bull murmured into his drink.
It had taken Krem and Dalish about half an afternoon to hassle the story out of him. After Bull had told them the basics of what happened and assured them that he was okay, Dalish's only comment was a very impressive string of fart noises that would have made Sera jealous. Krem's only comment had been 'what she said'.”
After that, they had kept their distance, always keeping a watchful eye on the Iron Bull, but not prodding him any further.
They seemed to be over that now. Dalish hopped onto the chair on his other side grinning up at him. Bull was immediately suspicious.
They probably just wanted to let Bull steam in his own crap for a bit, knowing that it'd wear him down.
Damn them for being right. With none of them pawing at him, Bull had been alone with his thoughts, playing that scene in his room over and over again, with Dorian looking up at him, hurting. Embarrassed. Devastated.
And Bull never did find out what Dorian had actually wanted to talk about. It was driving him up the wall. He really hated not knowing things.
“At least your mood's better than your looks.” Krem sighed, giving Dalish a look across the table.
Stitches and Rocky had fled Bull's somber aura, playing a drinking game two tables over. One that apparently involved spilling a lot of beer and a fair amount of rude gestures. Grim and Skinner settled next to the other two, as moral support in their quest to nudge Bull out of his apathy.
Bull had sat down in the corner for once, intent on avoiding the ruckus. That had lasted a whooping hour before the rest of the Chargers poured in just now. He had briefly contemplated leaving, but that would just be a challenge to corner him, and that could end up being more than he bargained for. Krem and Dalish were a force to be reckoned with when there wasn't anything at stake.
With their hearts set on something, they were positively terrifying. But the Iron Bull could handle it; in Seheron he once endured a full-on siege for three weeks without batting an eye. Compare that against one 'Vint and a skinny elf.
He'd take the siege any day. There, he could at least hit his way out.
“Guys, I appreciate you worrying, but there's really nothing to it. We fucked, we stopped, everything's back to how it was.” he said. Krem and Dalish shared another look. Skinner chortled, dragging the edge of her knife over the already mangled table in a suspiciously phallic shape.
“Is that why Dorian hasn't set foot in here?” Dalish asked. “'Cause everything's 'back to how it was'?”
For the past three days, any time the door opened, Bull had looked up, expecting Dorian to come on, complaining about whatever poor soul bothered him in the library that day.
“He hasn't been in the library either.” Krem added. All heads turned to him, questioning eyebrows raised in unison. “I wasn't checking on him or anything.” he huffed. “I was dropping off something for Sister Nightingale and I noticed. Not like I watch out for the guy, it was just – can we get back on topic here?”
All eyes turned back to the Iron Bull.
“Dorian's a busy guy, I'm sure he's holed up with Dagna, blowing stuff up or something. You're all overthinking this.”
“Well, nobody ever accused me of overthinking, that's more your style, chief.”
A noise of assent moved through their corner.
“He's got a point chief. I mean, we all saw how you and the 'Vint were looking at each other, and half of that had nothing to do with tearing each other's clothes off.”
Bull shrugged. “Not that I don't enjoy you all telling me how I feel about stuff, but none of you know what you're talking about. He's got some stuff to figure out, I'm just giving him the space he needs.”
Krem rolled his eyes. Dalish sighed. Grim said nothing. Skinner kept on carving rude stick figures into the table.
“Chief,” Krem said, patting his arm, “I know we don't do the heart-to-heart thing all too often, so I wanna be clear.” He took a deep breath with his eyes closed, before looking up at the chief, meeting his eye dead on. “I mean it, with all my heart, when I say you are by far the biggest idiot I've ever had the displeasure of meeting.”
“That's a bold claim coming from someone getting knocked on their ass as often as you do. Look, guys, I can't do anything about it. And I still think he's got some unresolved feelings for the Boss.”
“Oh, please everyone got a li'l starry-eyed over his Inquisitorialness, even Grim here.” Dalish claimed, earning a shrug from the man himself.
Krem huffed. “I didn't.”
“Krem didn't,” Dalish echoed. “but my point is everyone has eyes for the prophetic heroes, but that's not real. What you and him had, that was real.”
“Hey, who died between your thighs and made you the queen of feelings?” Bull mocked, but Dalish didn't bite, keeping that thin line etched onto her forehead, the frown cutting through her vallaslin like a scar.
“We're just worried about you, chief.” Dalish said. “You've been a bit off since … y'know.”
Bull ground his teeth before catching the movement with a smirk, just as Krem came back to the table. “Aww, you guys are cute. Worrying about me the way you do. But I'm fine really. I mean he is a fine piece of 'Vint ass but he's not the only one.” Bull waggled his eyebrows at Krem, who promptly choked on his ale.
“Ugh, gross, chief.” Krem pulled a face. “Don't you ever dare mention my ass and his in the same breath again.”
Silence settled over their corner, as much as silence could settle in the tavern. Bull emptied his mug, an easy enough tactic to hide his face.
Somehow his deflection had died, and if the look on Dalish's face was any indication, the elf would bring it up any second now.
“I mean, not that I care.” Krem started again. “About the 'Vint, that is. But you're wrong about this.”
“Ah, Krem.” Bull said, patting his lieutenant on the shoulder. “It's so sweet how much you 'don't care', but we're fine, really.”
“You know what? Be like that if you must, I'm only trying to help you out here.” Krem huffed, shrugging Bull's hand off of his shoulders before leaving the table to join Rocky and Stitches. Dalish offered him a weak smile before taking off too. With Skinner still occupied and Grim being Grim, Bull finally got what he had wanted all along – everyone leaving him to his own thoughts.
When he finished what was probably at least one and a half ales too much, he dragged himself up the stairs, his bad knee aching along with every step of the creaking wooden stairs. When he reached the wooden attic, he slumped against the wooden beams enough to shake them. A groan escaped his lips as his eye drifted towards the dark door to his rooms. Faint light came out from under them.
Had he left a candle burning? Had the fire been that high when he had left?
The only other person who ever bothered to stoke it, was Dorian. Dorian, always complaining about the cold.
He choked back the lump in his throat, took a deep breath to still his heart fluttering.
Dorian couldn't be waiting for him, not after their last talk. The mage was skittish at the best of times, had needed weeks of smooth sailing to show enough initiative to wait in Bull's room and even then it had been rare.
But Bull wanted Dorian to be there, teasing him gently about drinking too much, about being an old and foolish man. And then he'd notice the way Bull couldn't hide his limp like always when he drank after overdoing it during training.
It wasn't a fantasy as much as a memory from a night a few weeks back.
Dorian had sat on his bed that day, a pile of books beside him. They had had sex that night and Bull had made a joke, just as Dorian pressed open-mouthed kisses along his jaw. He didn't even remember the joke, but he remembered Dorian laughing, shaking his head as he leaned forward, his head touching Bull's shoulder.
A smile curled over his lips at the memory, as he heaved himself up the last few steps towards the door, his knee feeling lighter all of a sudden.
A figure sat on his bed, alright – pale, blonde, skinny. Smiling up at him.
“Dalish. What do you want?” Bull grumbled as he dropped himself on the groaning bed.
“I know, I know. You'd rather I was someone with a mustache and magic abilities and a butt the bards will sing about when we're all just ash and dust.” Dalish sing-songed, skitting across the bed until her bony shoulder collided with Bull's side.
“What do you know about that butt?” Bull murmured, while reaching to undo his brace.
“You don't remember that time you got drunk in the Emerald Graves and started spouting poetry about it? I think Stitches wrote it all down. We were thinking, maybe we'll get Maryden to turn it into a ballad.”
Bull smiled weakly at her. He vaguely remembered the incident. It had been three weeks into a Charger's quest and they had finally taken down the last of the Freemen that were still roaming around, harassing Inquisition troupes. They were reveling in their success and all that Bull could think about was Dorian, about how this was somehow less of a victory because Dorian wasn't there to share it with him. It had taken the boys the whole trip back to stop teasing him. Krem had needed intensive weapons cleaning and latrine digging duty to finally shut him up.
“You didn't answer my question, though. What are you doing here?”
“I am either here to express concern for a dear friend or I am here to use your tendency to overthink stuff to manipulate you into thinking Dorian waiting for you, so that you might pull your head out of your ass and admit that you miss him something fierce.” Dalish smiled up at him, entirely too innocently. “But it's probably the first thing, because the second is far too scheming for my young, naive self.
“You're so full of crap, it's a wonder you don't weigh as much as six druffalos.” Bull murmured shaking his head. He felt a twisted twinge of pride in his chest at the cunning scheme, before setting on the task of getting Dalish out of his metaphorical hair. “I told you, it's nothing. Krem just worries too much, he always did. Took me months to get him to stop moaning over that eye I lost 'cause of him.”
“Yeah, because that's so … unreasonable.” Dalish rolled her eyes. “I don't want to figuratively throw Rocky's moonshine into the fire but I'm pretty sure Krem's right on this one. He's pretty worked up about this and he know you loads better than all of us, so I know you're not as good with this as you say you are. What I'm saying here is, kiss the boy.” Dalish made a face. “Not Krem, of course. Dorian. Though I'd pay good money to see that sucker punch land on your face.”
Bull snorted as he undid the last of the screws on his brace, letting it fall to the floor. Dalish still looked up at him expectantly when he had kicked the brace under the bed to avoid stepping on it in the morning.
Bull shook his head, not really finding the words.
“Why won't you? Sure you messed up, but he'll forgive you, you know that. And he should – he pulled some dubious crap on you, too, over the past couple months.”
“That's not it.” Bull murmured.
“I can't ask him to – Nobody ever wanted to – ”
“Wanted to what?”
Stay. That was the word. Nobody ever wanted to stay. People were happy enough to climb into bed with him, the exotic adventure, the most impressive notch in their bedposts, but rarely repeated.
And the Iron Bull was fine with that.
When Dorian had returned to his bed the first time, it hadn't been too weird. It was a fluke, sure, but Skyhold wasn't the biggest place and familiarity wasn't a terrible thing. Also, the sex had been really, really good. But when he kept coming, well, Bull could make no sense of that. Once the adventure wasn't novel anymore, there wasn't much he could offer.
Except maybe a distraction from a heartbreak.
“I can't tie him down like that.”
“Funny choice of words, you made there; I doubt there's anything the 'Vint loves more than being tied down. Both literally and the way you meant.”
Bull raised his eyebrow.
“My room's really close to yours and your voice kinda carries.” Dalish explained. “Also, there's this.” Behind Dalish, peeking out from under the pillows, was the rope he'd used on Dorian the night before everything went to shit.
“But honestly,” Dalish continued. “Do you really think you can keep him here, if he doesn't want to be here? Those chains haven't been forged yet.”
“In case you haven't noticed, he is not here.”
“That's because you basically told him to fuck another guy,” Dalish huffed. “He thinks you don't give a crap.”
“It'd be better for him.” Bull mumbled.
Dalish frowned, leaning back from him to study all of him. “That's what this is about? You think you're not good enough?” Bull didn't react. It didn't really matter. “You're fine with being a consolation prize but the second you get that this is about you, you're – what? Too chicken?”
Bull shrugged. He didn't mean it in a derogatory way, but there wasn't much good when it came to shit like that. “I come with a lot of baggage.
“The 'Vint can't exactly throw stones on that front.”
“There's stuff I can't do for him. I mean, down here he can have stuff he couldn't in Tevinter. And he should have that. Anything he wanted. The Qun has no relationships.”
“Oh, Fen'Harel take the Qun, Chief. Don't hide behind that.”
“I'm not hiding behind that. It was only a matter of time before I'd do something like this, upsetting him. Hurting him. Driving him away. I don't know how this works.”
“Well,” Dalish said, clearing her throat. “the Qun has no families, but you're not doing too bad there. You've given all of us more of a family than we ever had.”
Bull looked at Dalish, not knowing what to do with that confession. So instead he grinned, waiting for Dalish to blush.
And she did, along with mumbling “oh, shut up.” below her breath.
“You're cute,” Bull teased, patting her head.
“Shut up,” Dalish grumbled, shoving his arm off. Bull laughed, pulling her into his side. She squirmed in his arms, easily breaking out of his loose grip.
“But seriously, at least try and fix this.” she huffed, still scowling at him. She jumped to her feet.
“I'll think about it.”
“Good. We just wanna see you happy, Chief. We're even willing to endure endless rants about Fereldan food and the Southern cold to see it so.”
“I will, I promise.”
Dalish smiled, leaning forward to press a kiss against Bull's stubbly cheek. “Good night, Chief.”
“Night, Dalish,” he called after her, sinking back onto the bed.
After two days, Dorian left his room again. He wasn't avoiding anyone, of course. Everyone knew, when he wasn't in the library or the tavern, he must be in his room. It wasn't avoidance if anyone could come and find him at any time.
The only one who did was Ricard, insisting on bringing him food and letting Dorian rant at him for whatever short amount of time the Inquisitor could spare. Mostly, Dorian ranted about whatever book had just caught his attention, since he spent most day ordering the books in his room in no less than five different ways. He'd been meaning to do that anyway – first by title, then by author, then by subject matter. Then by the amount of vile Chantry propaganda. Then by title, again.
Seemed the most reasonable way after all.
And he finally caught up with his correspondence. Most of the letters ranged from irrelevant to downright insulting. His countrymen had after all perfected making inquiries while offending the ever-loving crap out of someone. He piled them all next to the fireplace, in case he'd ever need help getting a fire started.
He never did, of course, but it was the most purpose they could have.
The only letter he truly enjoyed was one from Maevaris, detailing her ever so amusing dealings with other magisters deigning it wise to challenge her.
When he finally did step back out into the world, his little corner in the library was just as he left it. Even the book he'd been reading before they had left for Crestwood was still lying on the windowsill, open, not a page turned.
“Back to work,” he mumbled to himself, picking up the book, blowing off the dust gathered there.
He was quite positive that the stares following him in the library were no different than usual. His being from Tevinter still invited a particular brand of hostility, even after all the months without blood magic and soul stealing.
But he had work to do – more than enough, actually. It had piled up over the last weeks – research requests, mostly, from the mages in the tower – when he'd been too busy warming the Bull's bed. Ending their little dalliance was therefore also in favor of the Inquisition. The list of reasons why it was for the best that things had ended just kept growing and growing.
Heavy steps ascended the stairs. For a moment the sound of boots and armor rattling made Dorian's heart flutter, before he remembered.
And on second thought, it didn't sound like the Iron Bull anyway. Too light. Probably one of Cullen's soldiers, carrying a message for Leliana. And it wasn't even time for dinner yet. Bull always came at dinner time to make sure he ate.
Had come, Dorian corrected himself. Wouldn't be coming anymore.
Still, the steps stopped right next to him, a presence lingering in the corridor. When he looked up, he was still disappointed not to see Bull standing there anyway. Maker, he hated himself sometimes.
In the entryway, Krem stood in front of his little library nook, looking mildly annoyed. Though, not more than when he usually spoke to the mage. But the staring was new, and the clenched jaw. Whatever it was, it was clear, the lieutenant of the chargers was working up to something.
Whatever it was, Dorian was positive he absolutely didn't want to hear it. He huffed, turning back to his book again.
“Look, I – ” Krem started.
“There are absolutely no books containing pictures in this section,” Dorian snapped without looking up from his book again. “So move along.”
“Look I don't give a shit about you, but – ” Krem started, again.
“So glad we talked about it. Now shove off.” Dorian's neck was straining from the effort not to look up. He only relaxed when he heard heavy boots shuffling over the floor, away from him. Moments later, the same steps returned and Dorian ground his teeth, just as Krem reappeared from behind the shelves, one accusing finger raised, pointing at the mage, mouth open and ready to yell.
“Got confused on the way down?” Dorian interrupted while Krem gathered his breath for whatever ill-advised conversation he was planning. “There's a window over there, if the steps prove too much of an intellectual challenge.”
“Mock me all you like, I'm only trying to help you.” Krem growled at him, throwing his hands up in frustration. “Maker, you two idiots deserve each other.”
Dorian slammed the book shut, and threw it on the pile in the corner. “Whatever you think you're helping with, I can handle it by myself and most definitely better than you ever could.” he hissed, stabbing Krem's breastplate with his finger.
Krem snorted. “I can see that. It's all too obvious, you don't give a crap about the Chief ending your little flirt. You practically ooze indifference.”
Anger rose in Dorian's chest like a Flashfire, and he darted forward, roughly shoving Krem's armored shoulder into the shelf, rattling the books. “I don't know what you think you heard, but I assure you, it is far from the truth.” he hissed.
“Whatever's going on down there,” Leliana's lilting tones drifted down from the rookery. “it ends now or I'm coming down to end it myself.” Dorian hesitated, dropping his hand from Krem's shoulder, never neglecting the scowl, though.
“Yeah, like I said, I don't give a crap.” Krem repeated in a flat tone, not even bothering to throw Dorian out of his personal space. Instead he sighed, glancing around the room, before leaning in to – Dorian would call it 'whisper', if the word could convey the threatening quality of Krem's tone. “I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but you're good for the Chief. He's alright all the time, but you made him happy. Maker knows why, because I still think half the shit coming out of your mouth is the same poison I've been fed all my life.”
Dorian bit the inside of his cheek hard enough to draw blood. “I don't care,” he forced out between clenched teeth.
“And there's the poison.” Krem said, stepping away, back into the corridor. He hesitated, shaking his head before turning back to Dorian. “You know, I've been hesitating to talk to you because half the time I think you actually mean that – that you don't care. And you know why I think that?”
Dorian crossed his arms in front of his chest, stretching up his chin in defiance, lips curled into a cruel smile. “Enlighten me.”
“Because you've never even bothered to ask what 'kadan' means.”
Only years of training, years of hiding everything even in the face of verbal abuse kept the smile locked. “How do you know I didn't?”
Krem snorted. “You didn't.”
With that he left, leaving Dorian behind with white-hot anger boiling in his stomach, even as an edge of nausea crept into his stomach. He picked up his book from the corner, leafing through it, trying to find his spot. He soon realized that he had no clue what he had been reading all morning. Slammed shut, the book flew into the corner again.
Someone cleared their throat behind him. Leliana stood there, one perfectly plucked eyebrow raised.
“Oh, keep walking, Nightingale,” he huffed, “there's nothing to see here.”
The corners of Leliana's mouth crept upwards as she walked, her hard stare never leaving Dorian as she disappeared behind the shelves.
Dorian felt an icy shudder run down his spine. He made a mental note to check his meals for poison and not to frequent any dark alleys in the next few – forever, probably. The fear passed however, and it took the anger with it, leaving Dorian behind with a rekindled flame of hope.
He sank into the armchair by the window, feverishly clinging to the last bit of carefully laid out reasoning of why he was done with all this, forever.
Three days later he said goodbye to Kaaras, soldier of the Inquisition and the third Vashoth that did not speak Qunlat at all or at least not well enough to translate the word that had been ringing in his head since Krem had said them.
Countless times Bull had called him that. Why had he never asked? He barely even acknowledged the word. Certainly, he never thought to ask what it meant.
Maybe, subconsciously, he had deemed it better not to know. Left more room for interpretation. And in his experience, the less you knew about your paramours, the better. Maybe Krem was right and he was just damn inconsiderate.
He shook his head at no one in particular and focused on his quest again. Maybe he would have to resort to asking one of the Tal-Vashoth in the tavern, those that had lived under and left the Qun – which he had wanted to avoid at all costs, since those also happened to be regular drinking companions of the one Tal-Vashoth that could never ever hear about this.
Or he could requisition books on the Qun, or at least Qunlat. Maybe he could find one in Val Royeaux. He was pretty sure he could needle Trevelyan into taking him on a trip there. Surely there was some Inquisition business in the capital of Orlais.
And if at the end of this odyssey, 'kadan' turned out to be some creative insult for a Tevinter or a mage, he was grilling Soporatus for dinner.
Before he could fantasize about what other cruel fates would befall Krem, should he just be messing with Dorian, something hit the back of his head and shattered. His hand flew up, catching the last of the crumbs that did not already disappear down his robes. He turned around to see Sera sitting atop the wall, a bowl of cookies on her lap.
“You idiot tryin' to make Bull jealous?” she huffed, glaring down at him. “Gettin' yourself a new hunky lover?”
Dorian snorted, fishing the crumbs out of his hair. He walked up the stairs towards the flighty elf. If he had to have this conversation, he'd rather have it quietly. If that was at all possible with Sera doing half the talking.
“No, that's not what I'm doing. Just … trying to figure something out.” he murmured, squirming against the crumbs of shattered cookie still sliding down his robes. Meeting Sera had led Dorian to form a thesis about relationships – quite possibly one had only a limited amount of anger per person. Ever since Sera had used up hers with Dorian, he found it impossible to get mad at her.
Could be he just liked her, though.
“Somethin' like what?” she asked glaring up as he stood atop wall she sat on.
“Just … something the Iron Bull's been calling me.” he sighed, sitting down at the edge beside Sera, letting his feet dangle over the edge just like she did.
“Like a sexy thing?”
“I have no idea. That's why I'm trying to figure this out.”
Sera hummed, holding out the bowl in her lap. “Cookie? They're terrible.”
“Interesting sales tactic.” Dorian commented, taking one anyways. The first bite already churned his stomach.
“How much salt did you put in these?” he coughed around a mouthful, trying his damnedest not to just abandon all manners and spit it out.
“So you tryin' to make up with him?” Sera asked, not even acknowledging Dorian's plight.
“To be determined,” Dorian answered, taking another bite. He shuddered.
“Why are you still eating them?” Sera cackled.
Dorian flung the cookie over his shoulder and down into the snow-covered abyss of the Frostbacks. “Possibly for the same reason I do most things; a severe lack of good judgment.”
Down in the courtyard, all of their soldiers were training under supervision of their trusted Commander. In the corner, the Chargers were cajoling and Dorian was very much not looking out for a huge horned shape. Even as he avoided the Iron Bull, his eyes fell on another figure he didn't really want to see.
As if he had read Dorian's thoughts, Cullen looked up at the unlikely duo sitting atop the battlements. When he caught Dorian's eye, he hesitantly waved, before dropping the hand down to his neck, rubbing the skin there.
“What did you do to Cully Wully?” Sera asked.
Dorian wished she was just about half as stupid as she liked to act.
“Nothing.” he lied.
Some hours after Krem's visit to the library, when Dorian still held onto the belief that he truly did not care and would do nothing about it, he figured a game of chess would distract him for a little while. The Commander was willing enough to leave his duties behind to embarrass Dorian at a friendly match.
The game had been going fine – not when it came to winning, of course, the Commander was crushing him as usual – but the conversation was pleasant and utterly inconsequential. Dorian was so relieved, he didn't even bother to cheat. That was, until Cullen had cleared his throat and said, “so, listen, uhm.”
And then he had committed the unforgivable sin of telling Dorian that if he ever needed to talk about anything, his office was always open to him, day or night. Dorian had stormed out of the garden before Cullen could finish. He had been angry as he stormed back into his rooms, throwing the door closed behind him, wondering if this was going to be his life now.
Every single friend he'd made prodding at his feelings. He still shuddered at the thought – and evidently, he hadn't been wrong. Because now he could put Sera of all people on that list, too.
How did they all know about this anyway? Didn't they have their hands full with their own business? These days, he almost missed the cold and uncaring ways of Tevinter. Back home, no one would have noticed if he had just locked himself in his rooms or if he had gone on a bender. And then another. And another.
Except maybe a family retainer. Good times.
Here, not half a day passed with someone asking if he was okay.
One of these times, he'd throw a punch in response.
And now even Sera was looking at him, unnervingly serious, biting her lip. Maker knew what she expected to hear from him. He almost reached for another cookie, desperate to do something with his mouth that wasn't talking.
“Anyways, you should make up with him.” She interrupted his train of thought. “It's stupid in the tavern, without the both of you making googly eyes at each other.”
“It's not that easy.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“No, it isn't.” Dorian sighed. “Even if I did, what would I even say?”
“Fuck if I know,” she cackled. “Just walk over there, say 'hi' and then – whatever. The right stuff comes tumbling out of you. It's what I always do.”
“You mean to say you do not carefully turn over each word before you speak?” Dorian gasped in mock-surprise, lifting a hand against his chest.
Sera laughed, hurtling her bony fist towards Dorian's shoulder, smacking it with surprising force. “Gotcha there, huh? Turns out I make this shite up as I go.”
Dorian laughed, leaning back on his hands. His eyes drifted towards the corner of the courtyard, where the Chargers were – well. Everyone would probably call it training for lack of a better term, but they themselves referred to this specific kind of session as 'mayhem'.
Krem was busy running circles, dodging an armada of fizzling fireballs, yelling at a cackling Dalish to control her damn arrows.
And in the middle of it all was the Iron Bull, giving Skinner the world's deadliest piggyback ride while Grim and Rocky tried to pull her down.
If he was there with them, he'd make a half-hearted complaint about how this was not going to help in any battle, not ever, before being booed by all of them for being a spoilsport. He'd done so on countless afternoons he'd spent with them.
Dorian smiled, even as something in his chest ached – helping Dalish hone heir skills, having out his not-so-friendly rivalry with Krem, before a few pints in the tavern.
Spending the night with Bull.
Maker, he missed him. The nights in his own bed were restless. Now, he intimately knew each crack in the ceiling of his room – what a waste of his superior brain capacities.
He still hadn't figured out whether Krem's talk was supposed to convince him to talk to Bull or scare Dorian into staying away.
Dorian wondered if they had ever really accepted him or just tolerated him for Bull's sake. He had been wondering many things, but generally, he'd been wallowing, he knew that. He just didn't know how to stop.
Dorian groaned, burying his face in his hands.
“Hey, you know,” Sera said, one dainty hand patting Dorian's shoulder. “I knew this girl once and I thought I'd bollocksed it all up, yeah?”
“Andraste's tits, if you are going to start giving me love advice, Maker help me, I will walk of this ledge and be done with it all.” Dorian hissed, shrugging off Sera's arm.
“Alright then, be a pissbag about it. Not like I give a shit whether Bull's friggin' you or not,” Sera grumbled, clutching her bowl of cookies to her chest while scrambling to her feet. “But make it right again. Tavern's not so fun without you two.” She hopped down the stairs, cheerfully offering cookies to a tired-looking Scout Harding making her way to the tavern.
“Well, fun's not everything.” Dorian mumbled to thin air. He got to his feet, feeling his bones ache as he walked down the stairs. Whether he wanted to or not, to get back into the keep he had to pass by the Chargers.
Across the courtyard, Krem looked up from behind the simmering barrel he was using as shelter against Dalish's projectiles. He gave her the secret signal to cut the crap for a minute.
Dorian was walking towards them, very pointedly not looking at any of them, fumbling with his sleeve as he made a beeline for the stairs leading up to the main hall.
Krem didn't even need to wonder whether Bull had noticed the mage walking past. Of course he had. So Krem made his way over to Bull, roughly grabbing his harness to pull the towering Tal-Vashoth down. “Go talk to him, or I'll get the Demon stick and show you something to be afraid of.”
Bull sighed, carefully disentangling Krem's hand from his harness. He'd told Krem he would talk things over with Dorian, at the very least apologize. And he would, he had just been … busy. With other stuff. Now, he walked past the rest of the Chargers, who were collectively doing a piss-poor job of subtly watching the exchange.
“You being firm with him?” Dalish asked, coming to stand beside Krem.
Krem crossed his arms in front of his chest, smiling victoriously as Bull trudged over to Dorian.
“Someone's gotta be.” he shrugged, smirking down at Dalish. “And there another thing I gotta do.”
“And what's that?” Dalish asked, bemusedly watching Dorian's skittishness
“Revenge my charred hair tips,” Krem murmured, twisting his arm around Dalish's waist to tackle the elf.
Bull walked away over to Dorian to the sound of the Chargers cheering and Krem yelling at Dalish to 'archer her way out of this one'. He smiled, looking over his shoulder to see Dalish in Krem's infamous headlock, with the rest of them standing around yelling and making bets on the fight already.
Stitches had that sour look on his face like he knew he was spending his entire night treating burns and bruises.
Before him, Dorian had almost slowed to a standstill, eyeing him warily, looking behind him to see whether the Bull wasn't walking up to him after all.
“Hey,” Bull said. Dorian turned to glare at him, eyebrows scrunched together, mouth pressed into a thin line.
“If you never wanna talk to me again, I get it.” Bull explained, all too aware of the tension in Dorian's shoulders. “But if you're willing to hear it, there's some stuff I wanna say.”
“Haven't you said enough?” Dorian spat, his jaw clenching immediately after he spoke as if he tried to swallow down the words after they had already left his mouth. Dorian was quiet for the longest moment after and Bull watched him, silently churning things over.
Finally, Dorian threw his arms up, exasperated. “Out with it, then.”
“Maybe somewhere a little quieter.” Bull nodded towards the stairs leading up to his rooms. Behind him, Krem dropped to the ground with a pathetic whine of “Tickling's not fair”, even as Dalish rolled on top of him to finish him off.
Dorian rolled his eyes and grumbling below his breath in Tevene before storming past Bull.
Dorian knew this was a bad idea. He had given up on repressing memories, the Bull was too … Bull for that. Someone like him didn't exactly not leave an impression. It might have been easy to forget some of his more enduring alliances in Tevinter – they all looked alike, the men he fucked. Good looking, well-mannered (outside the bedroom or broom closet or wherever, at least), well-dressed.
The Iron Bull stood out in any crowd but particularly so in the crowd of Dorian's ex-lovers.
Dorian stomped up the stairs. Just his luck, that apparently some southern bullshit custom involved talking over every single shitty thing you did to each other. And then talking over the same shitty things with all your friends. He stormed into Bull's room, throwing open the door, like it was his own.
Force of habit. He'd have to get rid of that.
Rarely had any room so much emotional impact on Dorian as Bull's room.
There had been his father's library. He still could recall the smell of the centuries old leather, candles burning and air full of heat and the ocean breeze drifting in from the streets of Qarinus. He vividly recalled stains in the carpet, next to his father's desk. Candlewax had dripped down during the hours Dorian had spent there as a child, leaning back against the heavy, dark wood of the desk, with a book in his lap that was half as tall as him, while his father sat at his desk and worked.
More than once Dorian had fallen asleep there, dimly recalling his father sweeping him up in his arms, carrying him to bed.
The memory hurt less now than it had, the sharp need to belong had been watered down as the years passed. Stern talks had been given from that same desk. And sometimes, Dorian thought about the notes that must have rested there, research for a ritual that was meant to change everything.
He wondered how it would feel to step into that room now.
Alexius' study – now there was a fresher hurt. The home he had found there had come with less burdens and as such dug itself under his skin easily. It was gone now – with Felix dead and Alexius disgraced, it would go to distant relatives and people he had never known. He'd never set foot in it again, and if he did it wouldn't be the same room, not anymore.
Here and now, he struggled with how to feel about this particular room. It had only been days since he last was here. Littered all over the table that a mirror had turned into a makeshift vanity were most of Dorian's vials, oils and powders. He had made do without, because he didn't want to come back here.
Slung over the headboard of the bed was still the rope that Bull had used on him the last time he spent the night here. His wrists ached in memory, but the pleasantness of it was mingled with something else.
“You okay, big guy?” Bull said from directly behind him, startling him.
Dorian cleared his throat. “You wanted to say something.” he said, stepping forward, still facing away from Bull.
“I did.” Bull said. Dorian heard him sit down, the old, rickety bed groaning under his massive frame.
“I know I was wrong to say that to you. I got this idea into my head that the only reason you were with me because you weren't with the Boss. It built into this giant thing until it was all I could think about.”
“You said that already.” Dorian hissed over his shoulder, regretting his choice to face away from Bull. It made it hard to glower.
“I know. I thought, I could make it easy, you know. Ending things.”
“But don't you get it, that's just it!” Dorian burst out, turning on the spot to glare at Bull. “You tell me to just walk away after months, like it's nothing. Like it all meant nothing! Like everything was just – ” Dorian caught himself, turning his back to the Bull again, exhaling a long, unsteady breath.
“It's not nothing.” Bull said after silence lingered between them, only pierced by Dorian's ragged breathing.
“Well, I guess that's something.” Dorian commented, dryly.
“That's what not nothing means.” Bull supplied, unhelpfully.
“Not the time, Bull.” Dorian snapped over his shoulder, rubbing his fingers against his temples, trying to sort through his thoughts.
“I just need to know one thing.” he continued after a moment to catch himself. Slowly, he turned back to face Bull, weighing every syllable he was about to say on the tip of his tongue.
“Just answer – and don't worry about my pride or anything, it has taken far worse than you could ever do if you put all your weight into it. I just want to know if there was anything … real. Or if this was just you and your manipulative, misguided ways of helping people. If it was just pity.”
Bull reached out, fingers brushing along Dorian's shoulder. “Kadan.”
Dorian flinched at the endearment – by now there was no denying that it was an endearment. There were only so many possibilities for a meaning when Bull said it like he did – as an afterthought to a smile, with such reverence that it took all of Dorian's will power not to laugh, the deep laugh from his belly that came with a giddiness in his stomach that he thought he'd lost a long time ago, somewhere in a whiskey jar in a shady bar in the slums of Minrathous.
Of all the things to say it had to be the one straw of hope Dorian had been clinging to. He shook his head. “I want an answer.”
Bull gently tugged at Dorian's shoulder, coaxing the mage to face him. “I didn't pity you, I never would. I thought there was something between the Boss and you. I figured you needed a distraction.”
Dorian exhaled slowly. “So you did never intend anything more than a distraction.”
“Yes.” Bull said. “I was happy to provide that for you.”
Dorian laughed without any joy. There he had his answer “I guess that's at least one step up from pity.”
“All that emotion stuff is rough, I didn't hold it against you.”
“And when I came back? Again and again? I mean, you kind of got caught up in more than you bargained for here.” Dorian said, his words coming out breathless. He knew he had to reign himself in, or he'd get hysterical. Maybe prove to Bull that he was worthy of being pitied after all.
“But don't you feel bad about it, it's my specialty.” he continued, because he never did take his own advice. “I mean you wanted to distract me and now half my belongings are in your room and I can't even remember when I last slept in my bed before all this.”
Dorian didn't like the way Bull was looking at him. It looked like Bull was just figuring out something out. In this case, him.
“Is that what you wanted you meant ask in Caer Bronach? If somehow you had conned your way into my life and I couldn't get rid of you? Is that why you asked me if this was a good thing for me?”
Dorian shrugged, his fingernails digging perfectly manicured half-moons into his palms. “Maybe. You kind of didn't say much about it, though.”
“I feel like an ass, now. I didn't say anything much about it because I thought you were feeling me up about how I'd take you shacking up with the Boss.”
Dorian frowned at that. Back then, he had kind of felt like they had been talking about different things. A small victory, at last.
“You wanted to know, if I didn't just keep my door open, if I didn't just indulge you all this time because I have 'misguided ways of helping people'?” Another tumbler clicked into place in Bull's head. “Is this what the thing in the bathtub was about?”
Dorian smiled. “No, actually.”
Another small victory, a bitter victory, but at this point, he'd take anything. “Yes, to the other one but no to the last one.” he said, smiling, because he absolutely didn't feel like it.
“What was that about?” Bull asked.
Dorian wasn't looking at him. He was looking at the floor, leaning against the desk. He could hardly make anything worse, so he might as well dump everything on the Iron Bull. “I am a selfish person, I told you that. I take advantage of people and I never know when to stop. And I know I get angry when I don't get my way, because in some ways my mother's right and I am still five years old. So people try to put me in a good mood before delivering bad news.” he confessed, leaving Bull to fill in the missing pieces.
“You thought I was buttering you up to dump you, didn't you?” Bull concluded. Correctly, of course.
It wasn't a question, not really, so Dorian didn't give an answer. “Mind you, it's not entirely a bad thing. Getting suspicious of niceties.” he said, chasing after the next best thought that came to mind. “See, the day my father planned on practicing a blood magic ritual on me, we had my favorite dish and a lovely bottle of wine. And both my parents, oh you should have seen them. Most lovely conversation we had in years.” Dorian smiled at the memory, remembering exactly how the food had turned to ash in his mouth the precise moment he had realized something was wrong.
“The whole evening was so heartwarming, in fact, that I got suspicious.” he continued. Bull was glued to his lips, face unreadable. “I found out about the ritual and I left. That's not so bad, is it?”
He finished the story off with a shrug and a smile, because what else could he do about it?
Bull's stare was hard and for a second Dorian wasn't sure if he was breathing. Then, Bull took a deep breath. “Just so you know,” he said, tone flat. “on the list of people I wanna kill the most, I newly ranked your father just above this guy that got away from me on Seheron. He used to drink blood out of babies' skulls.” Bull explained. “That's a guy I now wanna kill less than your father.”
Dorian nodded absently, hating how Bull being so willing to defend him pulled his heartstrings in all the right ways. For someone that didn't want to be pitied, he sure dished out his saddest stories every chance he got.
“It warms my heart to hear that,” he said, “but besides that fun factoid you still haven't said a thing I didn't know already.”
“Dorian, I didn't sleep with you because I thought you needed a distraction, to help you, whether in a misguided way or not. If anything, I thought you slept with me because you needed a distraction.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better? That you thought I'd just used you?”
“I didn't mind. People use me all the time.” Bull said it like he said 'the weather's not too shitty today'. Suddenly, Dorian got a taste of what it was like to want to kill someone more than somebody who drank blood out of babies' skulls. Right now, he wanted to kill 'people'.
“You stayed though. For a bit. And I really liked that,” Bull said.
“You said you didn't care, whether things changed or not.” Dorian lamented, trying to wrap his mind around the inner working's of Bull's mind. He thought the man's hours-long teasing was frustrating, but this? This left it all behind.
“I didn't want you to stay for my sake. No one had stayed before and to be honest, I didn't really know what to make of that. I wouldn't have minded if you'd left to plow … greener fields.”
“First of all, if that was meant as a pun, I am furious with you.” Dorian said, thrumming his fingertips against the battered wood of the table. Bull grinned at him. “And secondly, in the unlikely event that it wasn't meant as a pun, I am still furious with you.” he said, pointing an accusing finger at Bull.
Dorian took a deep breath. “You really need to work on asking for stuff. Like, not only during sex, which you absolutely need to work on, too. If you wanted me to stay with you, why didn't you say so?”
Bull shrugged. “What if you ended up miserable?”
“No offense, but I kind of did end up miserable.” Dorian admitted, taking another step towards Bull. He had this feeling he was doing the same in a more figurative sense.
“You could have asked, too. Make this a serious thing. All official and such, if that's what you wanted.”
Dorian bit his lip.
Bull groaned. “You were going to do that. The night I told you to go fuck the Boss.” he concluded, looking a bit miserable at that revelation.
And now everything was out. It was funny, how easy breathing had been before all this. Dorian had quite forgotten. Now that he had it back, he almost felt lightheaded with it. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, the strain of the last days falling off of him.
Dorian opened his eyes again taking the last step towards Bull, standing in front of the bed, their legs almost touching. Bull looked up at him, mischief glinting in his eyes. “I have to admit, this was at least two thirds my fault.” he said, grinning.
Dorian gasped. “Two thirds? Are you joking?”
“Half, half?” Bull teased, resting his hands on Dorian's hips.
“I don't see how this is a bit my fault at all.” Dorian bristled, settling down into Bull's lap.
“I know, I'm just teasing you.” Bull said.
“I know, I just wanna be clear on that.” Dorian huffed, straddling Bull's hip. “But maybe I did overreact a little … and I did storm out rather disgracefully.”
“Well, you always we're a fiery one.”
“You're thinking about the curtains again aren't you?” Dorian huffed.
Bull hummed, grinning at him.
“I concede that this was maybe one seventh my fault if you never bring that up again.”
Bull looked down at him, contemplative. “One fifth and I'll embarrass Krem in front of that waitress he likes tomorrow at breakfast.”
“Done.” Dorian said, grinning stupidly at the mock-bargain they had reached. Bull's arm wrapped around his waist, pulling him close against his chest.
Dorian tucked his head against Bull's neck, taking a moment to reacquaint himself with Bull's presence, his cheek resting against Bull's chest. He always forgot just how large Bull was. Even straddling his lap, Dorian barely reached his shoulder.
Maker, it was good to smell Bull again.
He tugged at Bull's arm, and Bull understood, turning around to lay Dorian down on the bed, Dorian's legs still stretched around Bull's broad waist. Bull was careful to keep most of his weight off of Dorian, but still, feeling Bull on top of him
He reached up to touch Bull's stubbly chin, running his thumb across his jawline.
“I am truly sorry, though. I got caught up in the idea that you wanted to leave and it build up into this giant thing, so big that I couldn't see everything else.” Bull explained. If Dorian was a better man, he'd tell Bull it was all forgiven but as it was, he wanted to hear as much as Bull would tell him.
“Every new fact just had to fit into the puzzle that I had already figured out, even if it meant punching the piece in with my fist.” Bull continued. “I thought if you could be happy then I would do anything I could to make that happen. Even if it meant … ”
Bull shifted putting all of his weight on his other arm to reach out with the other to hold Dorian's hand threading their fingers together. “I wanted you to be happy, Dorian.”
“Well, you kind of tried to fix something that wasn't broken.” Dorian laughed, feeling giddy with the admission. He knew it was stupid, getting excited over the admission that he was happy with someone. It should be easy and natural, but for Dorian it never had been.
“Yeah, I get that now.” Bull deadpanned.
“Anyways, apology accepted.” Dorian added.
The Iron Bull smiled, leaning down to press a kiss to Dorian's jaw. Dorian twisted his head to catch his lips instead.
Kissing the Iron Bull after he thought he never would again burnt every detail into his mind. The scars on his lips, the stubble dragging over Dorian's skin, his tongue – Dorian moaned inadvertently. Bull pushed him further up the bed without breaking the kiss, one hand sliding under Dorian's hips, one behind his head.
Pleasure shot through Dorian at the reminder how easily Bull could manhandle him. He opened his eyes, tongue darting out to lick into Bull's mouth. Bull pressed his hips forward, pressing the fabric against Dorian's hardening cock.
Bull pulled back, looking at Dorian and his lust-clouded eyes. “You want this, Kadan?”
Dorian nodded, reaching down to undo the clasps of his shirt with few practiced movements. Bull grabbed the hem, dragging it over his head. Dorian flopped back onto the bed, feeling the linen beneath his shoulders. He smiled, opening his eyes to look up at Bull.
He barely saw the ceiling beside Bull's broad shoulders. His cock twitched in his pants at the hungry look Bull was giving him.
“You look so good spread out on my bed.” Bull said, resting his palm against Dorian's stomach, thumb rubbing over the tight muscles there.
“Do something about it then,” Dorian teased, reaching down undo his belt buckle one-handedly. He was in absolutely no mood to let Bull set the pace, because Bull set the pace in exactly three speeds – slow, slower and glacial.
Today was not a day for either of them.
Bull grabbed his pants, dragging them down his hips, smalls and all, discarding them somewhere behind him on the floor.
Dorian gasped as his heated skin was bared to the chill mountain air, his half-hard cock, resting against his stomach.
Bull leaned down, pressing a kiss to the root of Dorian's cock, snaking his tongue along the side of it before wrapping his lips around the tip, sucking on the rapidly hardening flesh.
Dorian moaned, tightening his legs around Bull's head on reflex. He didn't want slow right now and Bull had gotten the message.
Bull pulled off of his cock, pressing a kiss to the tip before kissing his way up Dorian's stomach, sucking small patches of skin into his mouth here and there, scraping his teeth over skin when Dorian was least expecting it, drawing sharp gasps from the mage.
Dorian turned his face to the side, baring his neck to Bull's mouth.
Bull littered small kisses over the skin there, grinning as Dorian grunted impatiently. He wrapped his lips around the skin there, sucking hard, feeling Dorian's moan vibrate against his mouth. Dorian's hands flew up to grab Bull's shoulders, his blunt fingernails uselessly scratching against Bull's thick skin.
Bull pulled back, inspecting the outline of the forming bruise, biting down at the edge for good measure. Dorian gasped, his hips twitching against Bull's clothed thigh.
“Damn you,” Dorian panted as Bull pulled back. Bull chuckled, reaching down to trace one finger around Dorian's hard cock. Dorian's hips twitched again, his stomach undulating in the most captivating way.
Bull growled, pushing Dorian's legs apart to settle between them, resisting the urge to rub his hard, clothed cock against Dorian's, instead pressing a kiss to Dorian's knee, looking down at the mage. Dorian's chest was heaving already, the barest hint of sweat droplets forming at his neck.
Bull leaned down to lick them away, kissing Dorian's jaw, pressing a kiss to his lips, then. Dorian blinked up at him, a question in his eyes that wouldn't make it to his lips, Bull knew that much. So Bull just kissed him again, slow, deliberate. Dorian's hand same to rest against Bull's neck, his fingertips barely brushing his earlobes as their lips moved together.
“You're not going to get soft with me now, are you?” Dorian asked, grinning up at him. Bull couldn't quite place whether Dorian teased because he wanted that or not. Dorian was funny that way, and sometimes Bull couldn't tell which one it was.
Bull looked past him, contemplating. “Maybe a bit,” he said, kissing him again.
“Do you want me to?” he asked, studying Dorian face intently.
Dorian sighed, pushing his hips against Bull's thigh. “Maybe another time,” he said, pulling Bull down in another kiss.
“Impatient?” Bull chuckled against his lips.
“Shut up,” Dorian growled, pulling Bull down by the neck, mashing their lips together in a bruising kiss. His legs wrapped around Bull's waist, pulling him down against Dorian's naked skin.
The rough clothing elicited a moan from Dorian's lips, and another one as Bull's hips pressed against him on their own volition, the outline of his cock sliding against Dorian's skin.
Bull growled, pulling back to grab Dorian's hips, flipping him over on all fours. Dorian gasped in surprise, feeling his cock twitch at the rough handling. He pressed his face into the cool linen sheets below him, muffling his panting breath against them.
Bull was over him in an instant, Dorian could feel him hovering. Bull's presence should be dwarfing him, maybe even scare him, but all it ever did was ground him.
Bull's lips pressed kisses to his shoulder blades before kissing down his arched spine, hands grabbing each of Dorian's muscular thighs.
He hummed and took his time, pressing kisses against the small of Dorian's back. He drew idle breaths against Dorian's heated skin, watching Dorian squirm impatiently.
“Want something?” Bull murmured against Dorian's skin as Dorian huffed.
“Bull, I swear if you're going to – ” Dorian hissed, interrupted by a sharp jolt of pleasure as Bull pressed his tongue just behind his balls, licking upwards and pushing against his entrance. Dorian's entire body jerked, as a strangled moan left his body.
Only Bull's grip around his legs kept him right where Bull wanted him – kneeling, with his ass right in front of Bull's face. Bull licked past Dorian's hole again and again, alternating between sharps flicks and broad strokes.
“Maker, I missed your tongue.” Dorian groaned into the pillow, thighs clenching under Bull's fingers as he eagerly moved his hips back against Bull, unable to stop himself
Bull pulled back, thumb sliding over Dorian's rim, instead, rubbing in insistent circles over the puckered skin. “Anything else you missed?” he chuckled.
“A few other parts, maybe.” Dorian huffed.
Bull pressed his thumb forward, the dry tip of his finger breaching Dorian's hole. Dorian gasped at the dry intrusion, jerking his hips forward. He reached for the oil on the bedside table. “Just a few?” he asked, smirking to himself.
Dorian turned his head to the side, looking up at him with mischief flickering in his eyes.
“Definitely just a few,” he grinned.
Bull's hand slapped against Dorian's ass. Dorian's gasp quickly turned into laughter.
Bull smiled, still amused at Dorian's antics.
“If you wanna get bent over my knee, all you have to do is ask, Kadan.” Bull murmured, drizzling a generous amount of oil over his fingers, reaching down to rub his fingers against Dorian's entrance, keeping the pressure gentle.
“More fun this way.” Dorian moaned, putting force into the movement of his hips, jerking back against Bull's hand. Bull tightens the grip of the hand holding Dorian's hips in place. Not that he needed to – Dorian was not even a little close to breaking free.
He'd have a nice bruise in the shape of Bull's hand on his hips tomorrow thought. Bull suspected that that was why he kept squirming, why he was always fighting Bull's grip in the first place.
One finger breached Dorian, sliding past his entrance with little resistance. Dorian let out a tense breath, relaxing almost immediately around him.
“You're doing so well,” Bull chuckled, lazily moving his hand in and out of Dorian. “Eager to be fucked?” he teased, curling his finger just so. Dorian gasped, going perfectly still for a moment before his body went slack again.
“Put your tongue to better use.” Dorian grunted, face scrunched up against the pillow,
“Thought you missed my tongue?”
“Not 'cause of the talking.”
“That hurts, Dorian.” Bull chuckled, leaning down to press kisses against Dorian's skin anyway. He easily worked another finger into Dorian, watching the mage. Dorian's head lay on the pillow, mouth open around little gasping moans.
Bull groaned and adjusted his grip on Dorian's hips, seeing the reddened skin beneath. Yeah, that'd be a nice one. Dorian loved to be bruised, to be marked.
Claimed, even. Bull swallowed the growl that's building low in his throat, but his still-clothed cock still twitched at the idea.
Gently, Bull pulled both fingers out, reapplying oil before pressing against Dorian's entrance again, this time joined by a third finger. His free hand rubbed soothing circles into Dorian's skin, as he pressed three fingers into Dorian.
“You're doing so well, Kadan.” he murmured against Dorian's skin, getting a low keening sound in return. The muscles around his finger relax and inch by inch, Bull pushed his hand into Dorian.
Dorian panted against the sheets, feeling droplets of sweat hurrying over his skin, straining against Bull's iron grip on his hip. Bull curled his hand, just the way he had avoided nearly the entire time. Dorian keened, his hips twisting forward and back onto Bull's hand.
Near constant moans fell from his lips.
Bull pulled his hand out of Dorian, his fingers sliding easily out of Dorian's loosened hole. He groaned, sliding off the bed, to get rid of his straining pants. He near-fumbled for the lube, quickly coating himself, settling behind Dorian again.
Dorian reached back, fingertips grazing along Bull's chest.
“Kadan?” Bulls asked.
Dorian laid down on his side, turned onto his back to smile up at Bull, pulling him up again. “Like this,” he said, pulling Bull down for a kiss. Bull nodded, hooking one hand under Dorian's knee, hoisting his leg up against Dorian's chest. His free hand grabbed his cock, the broad crown pushing against Dorian's slick hole.
Dorian's free leg settled around Bull's hip, pulling him in. Bull moaned against Dorian's lips.
All breath left Dorian and his eyelids fluttered shut, just as Bull pulled out again.
Bull shifted his angle until he found the one that made Dorian squirm the prettiest.
His hips snapped forward and Dorian cried out, hand flying up to grab Bull's something, anything. Bull smirked, as Dorian's fingernails dug into his skin.
That was the angle.
He set a brutal pace, lust coiling tight inside him already. Dorian was far from complaining, moaning in a pitch Bull knew he'd find embarrassing in a minute, but right now he was pressing back against the pillows, his dark hair messy and clinging to his face.
Dorian's leg hitched tighter around Bull's hips, pushing up as well as he could, his arms dropping down on the pillow next to his head to steady him, give him more leverage.
Dorian bit his lip, frustrated with the results. “Touch me, Bull,” he panted.
Bull was too far gone for teasing. He let go of Dorian's leg, reaching down to wrap his fingers around Dorian's cock, stroking him in time with his thrusts.
“Come for me, Dorian,” Bull grunted, already feeling Dorian clenching.
Dorian made a choked-off sound, jerking against Bull as he shot ropes of come over Bull's chest and his own.
Bull gave into the warm, hot pleasure building in his stomach, groaning as he came.
Dorian keened, feeling Bull pulse inside him. He slumped back against the bed, fucked out and done with the world. Bull pulled out of him, carefully avoiding touching any tender places – the love bite on Dorian's neck, the still forming bruise on his hip. He cleaned them perfunctorily, eager to cuddle up against Dorian.
Dorian lay still except for his still-calming breathing.
“I'm really glad we worked things out.” Bull admitted, lying down next to Dorian.
“Me, too,” Dorian mouthed, his voice still tender from his moans and definitely-not-mewls. Dorian cleared his throat, intent on giving this speaking thing another try. “It really is about a fifth my fault. I've been stressed out lately, about you and me. I guess I was afraid I was just … convenient.”
He was fishing, he knew. But seeing how this entire week had been rubbish, he could forgive himself.
“Kadan,” Bull said, smirking down at him. “you're not that convenient.”
Dorian laughed, to his own surprise. “I suppose I'm not.”
Bull shrugged. “I don't mind a bit.”
The sun was barely starting to set, or so the gaping hole in Bull's ceiling informed them. Still Dorian felt tired, like he hadn't slept all week. Which was pretty much entirely true though. As if reading his thoughts, Bull gathered him against his chest, pulling a blanket over them.
Bull awoke to a breeze sweeping through his room. That wasn't too unusual, after all, there was a hole in the ceiling he'd been meaning to get fixed.
It took him a moment to realize what was off – Dorian wasn't there. He blinked, sitting up just this side of too fast.
One of the doors leading out onto the battlements was propped open with one of Dorian's ludicrously voluminous books, letting the first light of morning stream in from outside.
Bull strained his ears, hearing someone swear under their breath just outside the door. In Tevene. He stood and pulled on a pair of pants. When he went to open the door, he picked up the book crammed between wood and stone. He wasn't in the least surprised to find Dorian leaning against the wall there, muttering to himself.
“Hey,” he said, startling Dorian out of his monologue. “You okay?”
Dorian nodded, shrugging towards the book in Bull's hand. “I didn't want to close the door.”
“Literally or figuratively?” Bull asked, depositing the book on the floor behind him, closing the door behind him as he stepped outside.
“Sort of seemed the same.”
“Why'd you open it?” Bull asked, actively suppressing his mind supplying theories. It hadn't done him much good lately, at least when it came to Dorian.
“I woke up early.” Dorian said. “I busied my self as long as I could, but then I needed some air to think. The book was because I didn't want you thinking I had … well. Picked up old habits.”
“I didn't think that.” Not after he'd seen the book at least. It was very much like Dorian to do something like that. “Why are you out here, though? What's on your mind?”
“Picking up where we left off felt like a step forward last night but in the cold light of morning I see it for the step back that it was.” Dorian said, tone flat, avoiding looking at Bull like the plague.
“You regret anything?” Bull asked.
“No, not at all, I just – .” Dorian wrapped his arms around himself. “This is great, it is, but it's not what I had in mind.”
“Alright.” Bull said, biting down any other words. No theories.
“That night when we … that night.” Dorian took a deep breath. “I was going to tell you that I love you.”
He played that night all over in his head again; Dorian's apprehension, the evasiveness. Then, the raw anger, the betrayal when Bull offered to call things off.
Maybe it was for the best he was no longer Ben-Hassrath. He must be loosing his edge, if he could misread a situation so thoroughly.
He had suspected it before, of course. Dorian wasn't exactly the type that played his cards close to his chest, he liked to pretend he was, but when it came to a great many things, he simply wasn't.
So Bull had suspected Dorian loved him, but that Dorian would say it? That it was important to him that Bull knew?
“Kadan.” he choked out, framing Dorian's face with his hands. Bull felt Dorian's pulse jump at Bull's words where his thumbs rest against his neck.
“I've been meaning to ask what that means.” the mage said, voice shaking. “That I haven't was, well … in case it wasn't what I hoped it was but now since I've played my hand – it seems rather pointless.”
“My heart. ” Bull said.
Dorian's eyes fluttered shut, a fine wetness clinging to his long black lashes when he opened them again. “You've been calling me that for so long.” he said, voice trembling with emotion.
“A heart is a heavy weight to carry, I didn't dare put it on you when I thought it unwanted.” Bull admitted, welcoming Dorian's arms wrapping around him.
“Oh, trust me it's wanted.” Dorian huffed against his chest.
“Yeah, I get that.”
“Figure that out all by yourself?” Dorian mocked, the grin spreading across his lips betraying how he really felt.
“Had a bit of help from this gorgeous, smart guy.” Bull reminisced, wrapping his arms around the mage, holding their bodies together as he breathed in the scent of Dorian's hair.
Dorian smiled up at him. “He sounds like a catch. You should keep him around.”
“Oh, I intend to.” Bull said, leaning down to kiss Dorian.