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Whispers in the Dark

Chapter Text

“You’re very quiet tonight, love. Are you alright?”

The woman sat at their dresser, brushing through her long, dark tresses with a bejewelled comb. It was an heirloom of sorts, perhaps. Two silver snakes coiled around each other like lovers in a tight embrace, emerald eyes winking in the candlelight.

Her robes clung to her body, accentuating every curve, and the man could see the slim rope of her spine through the silky material.

She was talking, but he was not listening. Not tonight. Eyes closed, his foggy thoughts seem to press against the delicate petals of his lids. He pressed his fingers against them, hard enough to see a flare of red.

“My Lord?” she was saying again, turning around to look at her husband. He sat quietly on the edge of their bed, frowning into his hands. He had his fingers balled into fists so tight his knuckles bled white.

“I... It feels strange. Like I have forgotten something. Something important,” he murmured. Voice pitched low and brows furrowed, he cocked his head before sliding a long look at his wife.

The woman smiled and tossed her mane of hair as their eyes met in the mirror's reflection. Slowly, seductively, she stood up and slid her robe off those milky white shoulders and stepped towards him.

He felt his blood run cold.

“I…,” he began to say.

“Hush,” she whispered, straddling his thighs before pulling him into a long kiss.

There was a knot in his chest. Almost like sadness. He could not remember why.

“Hush,” she whispered once more against his lips, the palm of her hands cool against the warmth of his body. Their breaths quickened as the sheets rustled against now naked skin.

She blew out the candles, and then it was dark.

And in the distance, the clouds churned like a tempest as a strange company of mercenaries steadily marched towards the borders of Minrathous.

***

The soiree could have been dull, if not for the company of several prolific figures from the Tevinter Magisterium. Important families from Qarinus had converged at the Pavus’ winter home in Minrathous – and Magister Halward took pains to ensure that no costs were spared in celebrating his only son’s marriage to the daughter from the House of Herathinos.

Fine wine, luscious canapés, ostentatious décor and even a famed Nevarran musician on his lute – all these luxuries should have stayed the tongue of even the most vicious of gossipmongers in Thedas, but it was impossible in Tevinter, naturally.

No soiree worth its salt had been without some scandals to speak of. Which is why no one ignored the fact that Magister Halward had excluded a certain Magister Tilani from the guest list. Maevaris, if anything, was renowned for her aversion to the stuffy traditions of the Tevinter elites, and there had been whispers of a massive fallout between the two houses – the nature of it largely unknown to anyone safe the Magisters themselves.

If the Pavus boy was disappointed with the absence of his old friend, he certainly showed no displeasure. He smiled easily enough, standing by his father’s side, pausing once in a while to nod attentively as Halward engaged in a spirited discussion with their colleagues from the Magisterium.

The boy was obviously handsome, but he looked tired and thin. It was as if he had the spark taken out of him after his years away with the Inquisition forces in some Maker-forsaken Shithole right smack in the arse crack of Orlais and Ferelden.

The Inquisition.

Well, that was a topic made taboo in Halward’s presence. The Magister had sent a stern reminder for guests to avoid discussing such matters at all costs. Which was perfectly fine, thank you very much. No one wanted to talk about the South and its boring oddities anyway.

Nevertheless, the young mage’s wife was lovely enough. Bright eyed, sharp as a pin and perpetually armed with an acerbic sense of humour, Livia Herathinos suffered no fools, and was not averse to putting those of lesser wit in place. Which explained her growing impatience at being spirited away by two tittering friends into a secluded room some distance away from the main hall where the guests had gathered.

“Prying into my affairs, are we, Esther?” Livia said, green eyes flashing in mild annoyance as her lips curled in a small smile. Her pale skin seemed to glow in sharp contrast with her black robes, gold trimmings glittering as she moved.

“Oh, you know how it goes, Livvy,” said the offending girl, simpering, as her cheeks flushed from the censure in the former’s tone of voice. “It’s nothing short of a miracle to have that elusive fellow finally agree to be respectfully wedded. Rumour has it he was enraptured with you after…”

“Hang the rumours,” came the curt answer. “Dorian has been ill for months now, and I will not have any of this talk when he’s around. It puts him in a proper foul mood.”

“Esther, that’s quite tactless of you, my dear,” said another, her voice trilling above the hum of conversations down the hall. This one was called Julia, and she was just as much a gossip as the other. Her eyes darted between the two women, eagerly latching herself onto the conversation at hand like a thirsty Druffalo stumbling across an oasis.

“Quite,” came the response from a long-suffering Livia, “Whatever happened in the past, Dorian is quite content to put it to rest and have moved on. ”

“But there have been so many gossips abound, my dear,” Esther insisted, “The poor boy must have been so distraught to have lost his memories after that horrible sea voyage from the South back home to Qarinus.”

“That poor boy is doing very well, thank you for your concern Lady Valyn,” came the drawl from behind them. Young Pavus leaned by the doorway, arms crossed, his eyes as steely as Andraste’s blade. He did not look pleased.

“Now if you are done harassing my wife, I would like to have a moment with her, please. Alone.” 

Sufficiently chastised, the two ladies took their leave from the chamber, casting coy looks behind them as they did. 

“What ghastly creatures they are,” Dorian observed, casting his disapproving gaze at their retreating backs. “And those shoes! With that outfit! I know better women who have been assassinated for lesser crimes than those.”

Dorian turned to her, his corners of his lips curled in amusement.

“I do hope you do not intend to invite them to our home in future, my dear. I have no intentions of playing host to such monstrosities.”

Livia laughed, teeth flashing white before tilting her face up to kiss her husband.

“Well, I’d have to thank you for saving me from a rather unpleasant encounter, amatus,” she said, with a smile.

“Were they bothering you?” he asked, concerned. “What did they say?”

There was a pause.

“Nothing of importance,” came the smooth reply. Dorian peered into her eyes, seemingly unconvinced before he shrugged and offered his arm. He smiled.

“Your brother’s looking for you, you know,” he revealed, as they made their way down the long corridor towards the hall.

“Rilienus,” she groaned. “What does he want this time?”

“He’s rather upset with me for taking his dear sister away from him. Challenged me to a duel and everything. It might have been the wine talking, but my manly pride is at stake here. I'll have to take him up on his offer when he sobers up.”

Livia laughed.

“We’ve already spent too much time together as it were. Rilienus is such a child… even if he is only four minutes younger than I am.”

The murmurs of the guests increased in volume, and the musical strains of the lute became more distinct. Dorian suddenly swayed, his pulse racing as he turned a little pale. The pair paused for a moment, as he took deep calming breaths. 

“You don’t have to go out there if you don’t want to… or if you can’t, Dorian,” Livia whispered, running slim, ringed fingers through her husband’s hair. “You could return to your chambers. I know you hate mingling, especially when you feel so ill.” 

“Father expects me to,” he answered, pressing his fingers to his eyes. He looked exhausted.

“Did you drink your tea? It might help calm your nerves.”

Dorian made a face.

“I hate the taste of that thing. I have no idea what’s in it,” he complained as colour slowly returned to his cheeks.

“Well all right, I won’t tell your father you’ve missed your dose. Do let me know if you need to rest, darling.”

There was a soft exchange of smiles before Dorian took his wife’s hand, brushing his lips against her knuckles. Then, arm in arm they strolled towards the guests in the hall, looking every bit like the happily wedded couple the Tevinter Imperium expected them to be.

***

It was raining. Again. Lightning flashed across the sky, turning everything a blinding white before dissipating into nothingness. The cold seemed to lash down upon their heads like pickaxes. Fat droplets stung the Lieutenant’s eyes as the company clamoured to set up camp, foot and fingers slipping in the dark and the damp.

Their Commander stood apart from the rest, back straight and at attention, his keen eye peering into the darkness.

“See anything, chief?” he ventured to ask.

There was no response. No matter. He did not expect one anyway.

He tucked his chin against his chest and returned to the task at hand, occasionally darting concerned glances at the Qunari as he stood, motionless like a statue in the night as the storm raged around them.

Chapter Text

It was always tongues and teeth when they kiss. Her nails dug into his arms, both planted firmly by the sides of her head, as he moved furiously above her.

Eyes clenched shut, stuttering breaths, bodies glistening with sweat, he rested his forehead against hers as she peaked again. Legs shaking and still wrapped around his waist, she arched her back as she clenched helplessly around him.

“Amatus,” she gasped, exhausted, trembling fingers slipping against his skin.

He was relentless, the entire length of his body taut with tension as he rode hard against her.

How long had it been? An hour? More? There had to be something quite ridiculous about all of this. Rutting like beasts, her legs spread wide and his arse bouncing around merrily like a fucking bottle tossed into the sea.

“Just a little longer,” he choked out, biting down his lower lip as he struggled with his own climax.

It was useless.

  (It’s not working)

  Frustrated, he pulled away, growling a little under his breath as he began furiously working on the wet head of his cock with both hands. Desperate, face flushed, his palms felt both familiar and warm.

  Then he felt her cool hands on his face, and felt her whisper encouragements into his ear.

  (It’s not working)

  Just when a niggling sense of doubt started to take root at the back of his mind, he started to orgasm.

  “I’m coming,” he gritted out, plunging into her once more and spilled his seed.

  She laughed, part satiated and part relieved.

  “That was rather good,” she cooed, as he rested his head on her bosom. His head was swimming as she tenderly combed his hair away from his face. Her dark hair flowed like a river on their white pillow, and she gave a delicate yawn stretching like a contented cat.

  “It was,” he lied, already squirming against the feel of his sticky seed staining their thighs. He could sense a headache coming on, and was starting to feel rather ill.

“I love you,” she murmured, before drifting off to sleep.

“I love you too,” he whispered back.

  This time, he meant it.

 ***

 The headaches were relentless this evening, and Rilienus’ incessant chatter was starting to grate on Dorian’s nerves. The man was charming enough, of course, so he did not cause much offense to the company he was with. Tall, dark haired, eyes like jade and full lipped, he was almost as beautiful as Livia.

Almost.

Not that Dorian would have called Rilienus beautiful of course. The very thought sent an uncomfortable tingle from the top of his head right down to the tips of his toes.

(It’s forbidden)

“All flash and no heat.”

 It was Dorian who said that of Rilienus. He remembered it quite clearly. It happened one balmy summer’s night, sitting at a cozy corner with his new wife at their library. The windows were opened, and the cool breeze wafted through the room, bringing a healthy colour onto Dorian’s cheeks.

 Livia was nursing her brandy. Pink tongue running against the smooth edge of her glass and her bare feet propped comfortably over Dorian’s thighs while she immersed herself in her books.

 Dorian, sipping his tea, had made an unkind comment about the poor man and his habit of engaging in questionable activities behind his family’s backs.

 “Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if he hadn’t argued with your father so much? All those times wasted gambling and spending his coin on wine. His poor father is at his wits end trying to marry him off before he depletes the family coffers,” Dorian remembered asking, his hand absentmindedly rubbing the soles of Livia’s feet while he thumbed through some journals with another.

 “You’re one to talk,” she teased, “How long did you make me wait? We were supposed to be wedded at eighteen.”

 “I realize the irony isn’t lost on me – considering the amount of grief Father said I caused him in my youth," he had said, sniffing delicately.

"Still, bearing in mind that I couldn’t remember anything in my past life after getting off that damned ship… I’d just say I didn’t know better,” Dorian admitted with a grin before taking another sip of his tea.

He hated the stuff. It tasted like dirt, charred wood and honey with a hint of copper. But that was all he was allowed to have. Halward had banished any alcohol from his quarters and forbidden the servants from giving their young master any. Dorian would have protested if he had not been so busy throwing up blood on his floor.

Servants whispered amongst themselves as they cleaned up his mess. The young Pavus had been poisoned on his way back from the South, they said. It was the Venatori, they said. They broke his mind and took away his memories, they said. 

Dorian did not care much about those gossips. He just did not want to die. And amidst the searing pain clawing in his belly, and shattered memories, at least he had Livia.

She alone, along with his parents, had stood steadfastly by his side to nurse him back to some semblance of health. So when his father asked him to marry that perfect, beautiful woman, just one month after his return to Qarinus, Dorian had said yes.

It was only logical.

“Still,” Dorian began to say again, making a face at the lasting bittersweet residue on his tongue.

(Maker, what was in this thing?)

“He does whatever he wants, but he means no harm. Besides, he has done very well helping us managing the family estate,” Livia explained, leaning forward to run her thumb across his upper lips. She smiled a little as she felt the soft hairs of his moustache beneath her fingertips.

“Yes, yes. He’s like that thing you put on the window to attract passersby. All flash and no heat, our Rilienus,” he grumbled before draining the rest of his tea. He could feel the warm liquid starting to settle at the base of his belly, before it began to spread towards the rest of his body, dulling his mind.

Yet his body seemed to stay alert, and the warmth developed into a slow burn until it could no longer be ignored. Dorian would then eagerly take Livia to their chambers, seeking comfort in their bed and made love to her thoroughly and passionately…

***

“Dorian?” came the voice in his ear.

It was Rilienus, and he looked concerned.

Dorian was visibly startled, and his wandering mind snapped back to the present. He was starting to tremble, and the chatter that was taking place around him slowly became muted and indistinct. 

Shit.

“Amatus, are you alright? You look pale.”

It was Livia this time. She slipped her hand into his, and frowned when she found that he had turned cold.

“I need to wash my face and lay down for a bit,” Dorian murmured, running his hands over his face. The world seemed to turn to fog before his eyes.

 “Let me get someone to take you back to your chambers,” said Livia, her eyes darting around the room looking for a passing servant for assistance.

“No, I can manage,” Dorian insisted, smiling a smile he did not really feel. Both Livia and Rilienus looked unconvinced, but did not say anything further. With a small tip of his head at their direction, he sauntered off, a sick feeling coiling at the pit of his stomach.

*** 

An hour later, the party was disrupted by a loud commotion in the upper rooms. A scream born of rage ripped through the air, and sudden quiet fell over the hall like death. A wave of unease ran through the guests as the servants scrambled around under no direction.

And amidst the chaos, Magister Halward was nowhere to be found.

***

Chapter Text

The room was quiet save for the soft sounds of water dripping from his face into a bowl placed before him. The man stood by the edge of the table, fingers gripping its sides so hard he began to shake. A mirror hung in front of him, and he stared wordlessly at his reflection, lightly pressing his forehead against the cool glass. 

“Who are you?” he murmured.

The mirror seemed to ripple, like still waters that had been recently disturbed. His breath formed a mist, forming droplets as they kissed the cool surface of silver and glass.

“Talk to me,” he whispered. His reflection started contorting, twisting into an unrecognisable shape. He stepped back, sickened, his heart pumping a quick staccato in his chest.

“I don’t know who I’m looking at.”

(Hey, Kadan)

“Who are you?” he asked again, his voice rising in agitation. A pressing sense of dread has started to creep up his spine, like a snake coiling itself around the branches of a tree.

(Hey, Kadan.)

He snarled at his reflection, grabbing the mirror off the wall and smashing it into the table. It shattered with a sickening crash. And amidst the hundreds of broken pieces of –

sanity

- glass, within the slivers of silvers, there he was.

The Man with One Eye.

Then he began to scream. And scream.

***

Magister Pavus was speaking to his wife in the brandy room when he heard the first scream coming from the upper floors. Brows furrowed, and face pale; he summoned his trusted elven servant by his side. Her name was Devera. She was tall, lean yet sturdy in frame. Dark-haired greyed with age, she was still a handsome woman who had been with the Pavus family for over three generations.

“See to it that the guests are taken care of. Then follow me upstairs. I need you,” he murmured to the Elf. The crowd grew restless in the ballroom, and started to whisper uneasily amongst themselves.

There was another scream. Louder this time.

“Messere…” she began to say, twisting her hands in distress.

“Do as I say,” he answered, his voice firm but gentle.

He turned to his wife. She was looking back at him, her eyes wide with fear.

“Aquinea, please make immediate preparations. We are returning Dorian to Qarinus first thing in the morning.”

“It’s happening again,” she whispered, “You should not have done it.”

“The boy will be fine,” came the short response, “I’ll see to it myself.”

And with those cryptic words, he swiftly made his way to the rooms above.

***

Blood. It was everywhere. On his hands, face, walls. Sweet Maker, how long had he been here? How much had been taken from him?

(Horns up)

The voices in his head were relentless, and everything he touched had turned into a deep shade of red. The room temperature had plunged, and his breath form mists as he gasped for air.

“Who am I?”

(Hey, Kadan. Horns up)

“Bull…?”

The door opened.

***

His son was shirtless when Halward entered the room. Arms and fingers slashed open by broken shards of glass, Dorian crouched over the floor, frantically running his fingers over the carpeted surface as if looking for something he had lost.

One by one, he picked up a sliver of broken glass and seemed to stare at his reflection before throwing it against the wall with deadly force. They stuck to curtains and furniture like darts.

“No, no. Come back,” he kept muttering to himself. Tears fell freely from his eyes, and he gasped for air like a fish out of water. 

“Dorian,” Halward began to say, his palms were held out and his steps cautious. He readied himself for a fierce confrontation.

The boy cocked his head at his Father’s voice, and turned his face towards the door. Halward could see that his eyes were fully rolled back into his head, leaving only the whites visible.

“Dorian?” Halward ventured to say again, sliding a dagger he kept hidden in his robes out of its sheath.

“You know who I am,” came the frosty response. The creature sat on his haunches, a glittering shard dangling from its fingers.

“I know your face,” Halward replied. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

“Yet here I am,” was the haughty reply before it launched itself from the floor, deftly chucking a shard in the Magister’s direction. It disintegrated against the barrier Halward had put up.

“Desist, and you will not be harmed.” 

The creature did not stop. It grabbed another shard off the floor before sprinting towards Halward on all fours. It no longer seemed human – only a beast born of rage, pain and fear.

The Magister slid his thumb over the length of his dagger, felt the bite of the blade before casting his blood spell. The creature was forcefully stopped in its track, its body trembling as it attempted to resist.

“No,” it choked out. The chords on its neck were standing, and the weight of the spell made its knees shake and buckle. It fell to the floor, twitching, unable to move.

“Leave and do not return. I bind you, creature, and protect him from harm.” 

The creature continued to twitch on the floor, eyes still rolled back, mouth opening and closing. It could not speak.

“Messere…” came a female voice. It was the servant. She hovered by the Magister’s elbow, biting into her fist as she watched Dorian writhe on the floor.

“Quickly, now. Help me with the ritual,”

Devera did not move. Her eyes were wet as her teeth made bruises on her knuckles.

“Devera,” Halward said, his voice soft but firm. “Do as I say.”

“Don’t, Devera,” Dorian managed to say from the floor. “Don’t do this.”

The boy had slowly regained his senses, but he was in pain. He wept like a child, his fingers digging into the carpet as he tried to crawl away.

Quickly, the Elf took Dorian into her arms and cradled his head on her lap like she used to when he was still young.

“Messere…” she began to say, tears falling fast down her cheeks.

“Don't.” 

“Hold him,” the Magister said, and began his ritual.

***

It was quiet now. Too quiet.

The guest had been sent home amidst the confusion. An apology was offered, accompanied with the best bottle of wine the Pavus household could offer.

After saying her final goodbyes to Rilienus at the main entrance of their villa, she picked up the hems of her robes and sprinted up the stairs towards her bedroom.

When she entered, she saw her husband seated at the edge of their bed. Calm. Collected. Sipping his cup of tea. His old nursemaid sat by his feet, working quickly to tend to the angry gashes on his face and hands.

Dorian nodded at her in acknowledgement. He was smiling, but his face was wet. 

Tears? 

“Everything is alright now,” said the Magister, his voice calm and reassuring. His face, however, looked drained and tired. Devena remained silent as she focused on bandaging the boy’s hands, occasionally wiping at her eyes with her handkerchief.

“What on earth happened here?” Livia asked, flabbergasted, as she took in the images of broken pieces of glass and furniture.

Sweet Maker, why is there glass stuck in the ceiling?

“We need to take Dorian home to Qarinus immediately,” Halward said, “He needs medical attention.”

“But we’ve only just arrived! We were supposed to spend the month together, Father. Can we not get the healers here instead?”

“Listen to me, child,” Halward began to say, folding Livia’s hands into his own. “The situation has changed, and we need to get him home as quickly as we can. I will follow you within the week.” 

Halward turned towards his son and ran his fingers through Dorian’s hair.

“You will get yourself home as fast as you can, Dorian. You will get yourself to the ports at Minrathous tomorrow morning. Take no detours. Do you understand me? I forbid it.”

“Yes, Father,” came the sleepy response. Dorian's eyes were almost falling shut as he started to nod off in his seat. But he was smiling.

He smiled. And smiled. 

“Good,” Halward murmured, folding his son in an embrace, stroking his hair before pressing a kiss on Dorian’s head. They stayed that way for a long time. 

“Are you alright?” Halward whispered against Dorian’s hair.

“Never better, Father,” Dorian answered, still smiling. An errant tear slipped unnoticed from the corner of his eye before disappearing into his moustache, like a secret whispered in the dark.

Chapter Text

He was ill.

Again.

The bouts of debilitating fever and intermittent dry, rattling coughs that he had to endure were of little surprise to him by now. For weeks he had been confined to his bed with no one for company save frequent visits from his concerned parents, an elderly elven servant (whose name he could not remember) and that woman – Livia. Or something. Her name escaped him. It had nothing to do with him not wanting to remember her name. It was just that he could not seem to retain any new information in his addled brain.

His thoughts seem to slip away the moment it formed in his mind. Like an eel, wriggling out of his grasp – the tighter he tried to hold on to it, the quicker it slithered away.

The book he was attempting to read remained in his hands, pages unmoving, and words swimming before his eyes like tadpoles in a pond. Suddenly exasperated he threw the book across the room before succumbing to fits of coughs.

“Vashante Kaffas,” he choked out, his hand desperately trying to reach for the teapot by his bedside.

Tea. Copious amounts of tea. That was all he had been allowed to drink for weeks on end. The pot by his bedside was not warm enough, to begin with. He would have tried to have it gently heated with some magic, but the last time he did, he nearly set someone’s head on fire. He could not recall who it was, but his Father forbade him to do it again –

(It’s forbidden)

– and so he didn’t. It was that simple.

“Something wrong with your book?” came the voice from the door.

The man frowned at the woman coming to approach him, not in anger, but in an attempt to focus his gaze on her face. Sweet Maker, his head hurt.

“I can’t concentrate,” he replied sourly, his fingers finally managing to curl around the handle of the teapot before attempting to pour the cooled contents into his teacup. His hand shook violently.

Swiftly, she came to his side, setting the tray of food she was carrying by the bedside and poured him a cup.

“Wait,” she murmured, slowly heating up the tea with her hands. Just when it started to steam, handed it over to him.

“Thanks,” he said, cautiously sipping his drink before squinting up at her. “Who are you again?”

She rolled her eyes as she began buttering his toast.

“Oh, just the person who has been by your side since we’ve dragged you off the port, that’s all,” she said, a little annoyed at his tone.

“Don’t mean to sound ungrateful, my dear. But after all your efforts to nurse me back to health, I could die tomorrow, you know.”

“Yes, you could,” she answered, her expression still a little frosty, before shoving a piece of bread dipped in broth into his mouth.

He chewed obligingly, feeling a little melancholic.

“How’s your fever?” she asked, the cool palm of her hand settling on his forehead.

“I’m fine,” he answered sullenly, staring down at his hands. They were still shaking.

“No, you’re burning up,” she murmured, running her fingers firmly over his forehead and the back of his neck. She had cast a spell, and her fingers felt icy cold against his heated skin. It felt wonderful.

His eyes fluttered close.

“You know, if I didn’t die tomorrow, I would like to have tea with you in the gardens. Only if you want to, of course. Some fresh air would do us good.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said, feeding him more bread. “You’re not going to die tomorrow.”

They shared a small smile and the man continued eating his breakfast in companionable silence.

***

The moon was still visible in the sky when two cloaked and hooded figures were spirited away from the villa towards the safety of their carriage. Under the cover of the darkness, a small light emerged at the doorway, and three shadows solemnly stood at its entrance. One of them stepped forward towards the carriage, his footsteps barely audible on the gravelly pavement.

“Ride swiftly, and do not stop till you reach the safety of the harbour,” came the whisper.

“Why can’t you come with us, Father?”

“There are matters I need to attend to post-haste. Remember, you are not safe out there until you board that ship. Our men will be there to escort you back to Qarinus.”

“But…”

“Do as I say, Dorian,” came the stern response. There was a short pause before the older man folded his son into a tight embrace. The Magister pressed a kiss upon the boy’s cheek, before helping him up into the carriage where his wife anxiously waited.

“Ride now, and do not linger,” he said, and with a flick of the reins and a proud toss of their horses' head, the carriage quickly pulled away from the villa disappearing into the long, winding path that lay before them.

***

Dorian was dreaming before he was jostled awake as the carriage went over a hump on the road. It was a strange one too. Something about ice and glass and fog. And blood. Lots of it. He gave an involuntary shudder, drawing the attention of his wife.

“Are you alright, amatus?” she asked, slipping a gloved hand into his. He raised her fingers to his lips and kissed her knuckles. The curtains were drawn, keeping both light and cold out of the interior of their carriage. A sliver of sunlight slipped through whenever the curtains moved, making light dance across their laps. He frowned a little at the bandages around his wrists and arms.

“No, not really,” he admitted, glowering at the whiteness of his wrappings against his skin. “Physically, I feel fine. But I can’t remember what happened and Father wouldn’t tell me. I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

The carriage went over a hump again, jostling them around. Dorian turned a little green.

“I’ve lost several hours of my life yesterday, woke up with blood on my hands, almost tore my face off with shards of glass and no one would tell me why,” he continued, as bitterness crept into his voice.

The carriage lurched itself forward again. This time, Livia was almost thrown from her seat on the floor of the carriage if Dorian had not caught her in time. They glanced uneasily at each other.

“Is everything alright out there?” Dorian called out and cocked his head to listen to a response.

There were none.

The wheels of the carriage continued to grate over rocks and gravels at an alarming pace. Cursing under his breath, he tore open the curtains only to find themselves hurtling through a forest instead of being greeted by the familiar sights of the buildings in the ports of Minrathous. They were miles away from civilisation.

“Dorian,” Livia began to say, her eyes darting around the interior of the carriage for ways of escape. Her face was pale as she reached for her staff tucked safely away under her seat before handing Dorian his weapon.

Heart pounding in his chest, he could hear blood thundering in his ears as the carriage came to an abrupt halt, throwing both husband and wife forward in their seats.

“Prepare yourself,” Dorian murmured, scrambling to an upright position before pulling his hood over his head. Eyes narrowed and ears perked, he quickly summoned a barrier around them.

There was a split second of silence before the door to the carriage was blasted open by a fireball, flinging debris and splintered wood in all directions. At the gaping hole where the door once was, a group of heavily armed men stood before them, clad in outfits from Tevinter. Each wore a peculiar mask and carrying deadly looking sceptres in their hands.

They were the Venatori, both feared and reviled in the Imperium. Dorian had only to take one look at them to know that they did not intend to let either Livia or himself leave the area alive.

“We cannot fight all of them,” Livia whispered into his ear. Her voice was drowned out by the rising tempest in his blood. Dorian tightened his grip around his staff – its weight both familiar and comforting in his grasp.

“We must,” came the simple answer, and with a snarl, Dorian leapt out of the carriage, unleashing a barrage of fire in their direction with Livia close at his heels.

***

A fierce battle had broken out in the distance and Cremisius Aclassi could hear the roar of fire burning furiously in the relative silence of the forest. Dark, noxious smoke had started to rise above the treetops, lingering in the air like an ominous cloud. The Iron Bull frowned, his one eye squinting against the morning sun as a deathly silence descended.

Then the screaming started. It started as a single voice, and then there were several. Shouting. Hollering. Laughing.

“Someone’s in trouble,” Bull said and sprinted towards the direction of the fray with the rest of the Charges following closely from behind.

***

They were surrounded. Backs pressed against each other, Dorian and Livia had managed to kill dozens, their bodies either burnt to crisp from fire or shattered into pieces by ice. Yet more of the Venatori advanced, and their barriers were starting to weaken.

Perspiration stood out in beads on Dorian’s forehead, his vision growing blurry with exhaustion. Finally, with one devastating spell from the enemy, they blasted his barrier apart, the sheer weight of magic slamming into him, throwing both himself and Livia backwards before they came crashing onto the rocky ground.

Dazed and bleeding from the mouth, Dorian struggled to stand. Livia remained silent and motionless on the ground, an ugly gash on her forehead where it had struck a nearby rock.

“Livia,” he rasped, beginning to crawl towards her before a boot pressed hard into the small of his back, pinning him to the ground. A rough hand pulled back his hood, tangled into his hair and lifted his head up so they could get a better look at his face.

“Ah, it’s the Pavus boy,” came the disappointed voice behind the mask, speaking in Tevene. “I thought the Magister himself would be in the carriage.”

“Say,” said another, planting a boot on Dorian’s forehead, laughing as he gurgled through a mouthful of blood. “Isn’t this the pillow biter from the… what was it called? The… Inquisition? Heard his father had some troubles bringing his boy back to heel.”

“Trash. The Imperium would be better without the likes of him,” someone spat, sinking a dagger into Dorian’s right shoulder.

And Dorian screamed. And screamed.

The louder he screamed, the harder they laughed. The pain nearly blinded him, the hot flare in his shoulder was clear indication that its tip was poisoned. Dorian felt the cold steel move around in his flesh as they twisted the blade, and shuddered when it slid out. Just as he was bracing himself for another blow, he heard a shout in the distance.

It started as a bark, before swelling into a bellow of pure rage. The Venatoris were caught off guard as a barrage of arrows and magical energy flew in their direction. They started to scatter, screaming, hissing and cursing.

Through a film of blood dripping into his eyes, Dorian could barely make out a large figure in an oddly shaped, horned helmet rapidly advancing from afar. It came towards them like a mighty tempest, cleaving all that stood before it in two – heads separating from shoulders with a swing of its axe.

It was a bloodbath. The sound of bones crunching and flesh ripping filled the air, making Dorian retch. There was a ringing in his ears that would not stop. He was losing consciousness.

Then just as quickly as it began, the fighting and shouting stopped.

“Who are you working for?” someone snarled. A man? Dorian could barely hear a reply, only another gurgle, and final croak before all was silent once more.

Dorian tried to sit up once again, but his shoulder burned like the pyres of Andraste.

“Put the throat cutters to work, Krem,” came the voice again.

“Got it, Chief. Chargers, get to work. Let’s move!

Someone was approaching, and the very ground seemed to shake under those heavy footsteps. Dorian felt big, gentle hands on him, and was gingerly turned around. The pain in his shoulder flared up again, relentless this time.

“What the fuck-“ the voice began to say. He ripped off his helmet, showing bloodstained face, scarred, mottled and battle worn.

The ringing in Dorian’s ears intensified, as his eyes slowly took in the creature’s face, horns, eye patch and the single eye staring right at him.

It was a Qunari - 

(The Man with One Eye)

- and the biggest one he had ever seen.

Dorian was felt a panic build up deep in the core of his being, nearly choking him with its intensity. He struggled to be free.

“Hey, hold still,” it said again, its voice so deep it seemed to reverberate through the length of Dorian's body. “Stitches! Get over here! Now!”

Dorian struggled harder, –

(Hey)

– before opening his mouth to say something. A protest, perhaps. Before he could even articulate his thoughts, however, he felt himself sinking irresistibly into darkness.

And then it all went black.

Chapter Text

The moon had risen to take its place amongst the stars at Skyhold. It hovered above the horizon, casting its watchful gaze upon the fortress' sleeping occupants. There were no movements about, save for the scouts on patrol on the castle walls. Their footsteps were barely audible as they paced back and forth, eyes and ears alert.

A cool breeze was blowing through the trees, making the leaves rustle, each delicate blade seeming to whisper to each other, speaking in a language no one understood save themselves. In a private quarter, far away from the battlements, a dying fire crackled in the hearth, casting a warm orange glow on two figures resting on a rickety bed. The mattress was lumpy and hard, covered untidily in hide and fur, but neither seemed to mind. One man slept while the other stayed up to keep watch.

In the semi-darkness of the room, the Qunari sat back against the headboard, studying the fireplace as it spat out red embers, the glowing flecks fluttering for a while in mid-air like the wings of a butterfly before spiralling to its quiet death on the cold, stony floor.

His companion stirred, slowly coming awake before rubbing tired eyes. The Iron Bull pressed a kiss on the tousled head and pulled the warm body closer. Tighter. It felt like they could not be close enough tonight. Not enough. Never enough.

"It's not morning yet,” Bull murmured, holding the mage closer still, and readjusting the covers around their bodies to keep out the cold. There was a gaping hole in the ceiling, and Bull wished he had taken the time to get it fixed weeks ago.

"You're still awake?" came the response, voice thick with exhaustion. Bull felt those silver eyes on his face. Studying him. Watching him.

"Yeah. Can't sleep." he grunted in response, and then watched as warm fingers curled around his. He felt an unfamiliar tightness in his chest and wondered what it meant.

Those silver eyes fluttered close, and Bull could feel if not see the smile on his Kadan's face.

"You know I'll be back soon, right?"

"Yeah."

There was a short silence as they listen to each other breathing.

"Hey, Kadan."

"Mmm?"

"You'll miss me, right?"

"Of course."

There was another pause.

"Hey, Kadan."

"Yes?"

"Don’t forget me.”

"I won’t. I promise."

Finally satisfied, Bull scooted further down into their blankets and tried to close his eye.

"Amatus?"

"Yeah?"

"Next time we meet, we’ll grow old together."

Bull gave a snort, but grinned, feeling warm from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. There was the sound of deep breathing again.

"Hey, Kadan," he tried again, but Dorian was already fast asleep, and Bull waited patiently by his side for the Sun to rise.

 

***

Fire.

He felt it burn like a white-hot brand in his shoulder, and a fever gripped him, setting him ablaze from the inside out. Yet, his hands and feet were freezing cold. He shivered violently as he faded in and out of consciousness. Amidst the fog in his head, he sensed a whirlwind of activity taking place around him.

Sometimes he was placed gently upon a rough and scratchy bedroll, surrounded by hushed whispers of voices around him as they poked and prodded at his wound. At other times, he felt himself being transported, carried like a child over the back of a large creature of sorts. His arms were fastened securely around its neck, and his legs were wrapped and strapped around its waist.

Dorian could feel the heat radiating off its back as he rested his cheek on its shoulder. Sometimes, he felt his lips pressing against its neck, and Dorian could feel its strong pulse racing beneath the skin, echoing every step it took.

This time though, it was a little different. He woke up to find himself seated on someone’s lap – someone large and distinctively male. Dorian’s could feel his back pressed almost intimately against bare chest, the back of his head leaning comfortably on a shoulder.

He could feel stubble lightly scratching against his temple as the man carefully cradled Dorian like an infant in the crook of his arm. The other arm set itself to work, sponging the mage down with a soft cloth dipped in water. Dorian stirred, flinching a little at the cold against the heat of his skin.

“We gotta bring your temperature down,” came the deep rumble above his head. “Your wounds are healing but you still have a fever.”

Dorian opened his eyes but saw nothing. There was only darkness surrounding him, and the warmth of skin against his back. Despite the haziness that threatened to seep into the edges of his consciousness, he slowly became aware that he was naked. Suddenly alarmed, Dorian wriggled, attempting to free himself.

“Hey, calm down. The poison did quite a number on you, but you’ll be fine.”

Then, there was the sound of water being squeezed into a basin, the soft splashes sound almost comforting in the dark.

“Who are you?” he wanted to say, but nothing came out of his mouth save a croaked whisper.

His strange companion made soft comforting sounds while running their large fingers through his hair.

“Hey. You’re all right, Dorian. Your friend too. I got you,” it said. And just before Dorian could ask how it knew his name, he slipped away into unconsciousness again.

***

The next time Dorian came awake, he found himself lying on a lumpy bed in a small and unfamiliar room. He heard a fire crackling merrily at the foot of his bed as he stared up at the wooden rafters on the ceiling. Outside his door, there was the loud ruckus of men making merry and the shrill voices of women as they laughed along.

He licked his lips, suddenly thirsty, and struggled to sit upright, pushing away the layers of blankets and fur. The room seemed to spin around him at the sudden movement. He sought for and found a pitcher of water by his bedside before reaching out to it to pour himself a drink. His hand still shook, but he drank deeply and greedily. The sweetness of fresh water seemed to wash away the metallic tang lingering on his tongue. He sighed and stretched, gingerly rolling his injured shoulder.

The wound, now bandaged, still stung, but he felt fine otherwise. His fever had finally broken, and his body glistened with sweat. He glowered at his nakedness and wrinkled his nose at his own smell.

Sweet Maker, he needed a wash.

A sudden roar of laughter rang out outside, and Dorian shakily slipped out of bed. A simple wooden chair stood at the corner where his clothes were carefully laid out – a travelling robe, a tunic, breeches, a pair of clean socks and boots that had been cleaned and shined. A basin of water was on the floor by the fireplace, and he padded across the room, buck naked and wincing at the cold stone beneath his feet, eager to clean himself. The water was colder than he would have liked, but he scrubbed the grime off his body as best as he could with some soap and a washing rag.

There was another round of laughter again, and Dorian began to think of Livia as he swiftly threw his clothes on. He vaguely remembered a voice telling him that she was all right, and he wondered if she was resting in a separate room. Judging from the boisterous visitors and the smell of meat cooked over a fire, he assumed he was in an inn somewhere.

He winced as his stomach gave an ungodly rumble. He was famished and wondered when was the last time he ate. Bracing himself, he walked towards his door and cracked it open.

The sudden silence that fell outside made Dorian nervous.

“Oy, mage. You alive in there?” someone called out. There was a general laughter that spilt over, but Dorian could feel them waiting for him to make an appearance. He took deep, calming breaths, combed his hair back with his fingers, pasted a smile on his face and strode out with a confidence that he did not really feel.

He paused at the doorway and blinked. And blinked again.

The Qunari was huge. The biggest Dorian had ever seen or could ever imagine seeing. Despite slouching in his seat at the far end of the long table, he seemed to tower over his companions like the Tevinter statues of old. His horns were as wide as his massive shoulders and his single eye… it seemed to stare into his very soul. Dorian felt a spark of irrational fear ignite in the pits of his belly, and would have turned back into his room if one of them had not stood up to greet him.

“Well, there you are. We’ve been waiting for you,” the man said. He was handsome, no more than thirty years of age, perhaps. Clean faced, and bright-eyed, he spoke with an accent of one who had travelled wide and far. Muddled, perhaps, yet pleasant enough to the ear.

“Livia…” Dorian began to say, but the young man gave him a friendly clap on his back and a slight shake.

“Your friend? Ah, she’s resting in the room next to yours. Skinner and Dalish are looking after her. Come, have some dinner. You must be starving.”

The series of events that occurred next was a blur. Dorian was manhandled into a chair and served some hot rabbit stew and fragrant, warm bread that made his mouth water. He dove eagerly into his food, his eyes sliding uncomfortably at the Qunari’s direction as he listened to the chatter that had erupted once again at their table.

The inn was empty save for the odd crew Dorian found himself seated with and a few serving ladies. The handsome man was “Krem”, Dorian found out, and he appeared to be in charge of this boisterous band of misfits. There was Rocky, the strange dwarf with an obsession with blowing things up. Stitches, who was responsible for patching up his shoulder, someone named Grim and a few others whose name he could not remember. He also found out, to his dismay, that he had been unconscious for almost four days. The ship that would have taken him to Qarinus would have been long gone by now.

Despite Dorian’s sombre mood, the companions seemed to have taken a shine on him, cheerfully calling him by his name and offering to keep his glass full with some ghastly concoction they called wine. Dorian frowned, briefly wondering if he had unknowingly revealed his identity when he had taken ill. Given that the Venatori had planted an ambush for his father, it would be equally dangerous for Dorian to frolic around Thedas unaccompanied and bearing the Pavus name.

Thankfully, these men were neither Venatori nor assassins. Judging from the manner in which they were earnestly discussing getting paid contracts within the village to pay for their stay at the inn, Dorian surmised that they were, in fact, mercenaries. They were dangerous men, to be sure, but Dorian was almost certain that they meant him no harm.

The mage relaxed a little, savouring the taste of food. His eyes slid once again towards the stubbornly silent Qunari, and realised that the creature had not taken his eye off him. The beast’s lone eye remained on Dorian’s face. Watchful. Mistrustful. Almost accusatory. The mage suppressed a sudden flare of temper and felt his thoughts turn once again towards Livia.

“I’m sorry,” Dorian said over the chatter, “but I’d like to see my wife now, please?”

The silence that descended over the room was almost deafening. Krem shot the Qunari an uneasy look, while the rest of the mercenaries just stared at him as if he had sprouted an extra head on his shoulder. The Qunari only snorted, offering a half-smile that bared too many teeth before standing up and striding out the front door. The door slammed behind him.

It was Krem who broke the silence.

“Erm, alright?” he began to say, while the rest of the companions hastily said their goodnights and clamoured to return to their quarters. “I think the Chief would like a word with you though?”

“Oh, is he the one in charge of you lot then?” Dorian said, feeling somewhat disappointed.

“Iron Bull? Erm, yes?” Krem responded, looking both mortified and baffled at the same time.

“Is that his name?” Dorian asked, a little perturbed, “He’s outside I take it?” Dorian began to stand, bracing his hands against the edge of the table, frowning as he did. He did not relish the thought of speaking to the strange creature alone. Mercenary or no, it was almost unheard of for a noble in Tevinter to speak with one of his kind.

(It’s forbidden)

“Hey, Dorian?”

“Hmmm?”

“Are you alright?” Krem asked, his brows furrowing.

“Yes? Is there a reason why we’re speaking to each other in questions?” Dorian chirped his response, laughing a little. Krem did not join him in laughter, his face dark with worry. Dorian cleared his throat, suddenly uncomfortable before throwing the young man a small smile and marched towards the front door.

***

The moon was high up in the sky when Dorian stepped outside, casting a soft light upon each surface it touched. A cold wind was blowing, and the leaves that littered the ground stirred restlessly. Dorian shivered, wrapping his robes tightly around his body.

In the semi-darkness of the night, Dorian could see the Qunari tending to some horses at the water trough adjacent to the inn. It took a while for Dorian to notice, but as he got closer, he realised they were the same horses that had pulled his carriage several days before. He cleared his throat to announce his presence, and the Qunari turned slightly, cocking his head at Dorian’s direction.

“Bull?” Dorian ventured to say, peering into the Qunari’s inscrutable expression.

“Feeling better?” he asked, before returning his attention to the horses. His hands were meticulously brushing their coats and manes till they shone.

“Very much so, thank you for asking. I believe I have you to thank for saving our lives? Livia and I are eternally grateful for your help. We’ll pay you handsomely for your troubles, of course. We were on our way home to Qarinus, and should probably leave for the ports of Minrathous as quickly as we can.”

Dorian realised he was rambling but did not know how to stop.

“That said, I’m rather concerned about future attacks, and was wondering if you would…”

“You have no idea who I am, do you?” the Bull suddenly said, abruptly cutting off Dorian in mid-speech.

“I’m sorry?” the mage responded, a little offended at the tone the Qunari adopted.

“Well, isn’t this a bitch,” the Bull said with a dry chuckle. Dorian bristled, already feeling combative.

“I’m tired. We’ll talk tomorrow,” he continued to say, rubbing his eye in exhaustion. Bull yawned theatrically, and just like that, Dorian felt himself being dismissed.

Visibly angry, Dorian gave a curt nod of his head and turned to storm away in a temper.

“Dorian.”

There was a slight pause.

“I don’t know what this is about. But it’s good to see you again.”

And with those cryptic words, the Bull gave Dorian a last look over before striding back towards the inn without even once looking back.

Chapter Text

The roar in his ears was deafening. Heart pounding, blood pumping, and face flushed, Dorian could feel anger burning in chest like a furnace. He was not used to being spoken to so rudely by anyone, least of all a lowly mercenary. Judging from Bull’s dismissive attitude a few moments ago, it was clear that the Qunari had little respect for the young Lord Pavus. Dorian hated to admit it, but it bothered him more than he would like to admit.

And so, he lingered outside in the miserable cold, anxious to avoid the hulking lummox as best as he could. He spent some time pretending to groom the horses, muttering under his breath. It was not till he began sneezing violently into the void that he reluctantly admitted to himself that it was time to retreat into the warmth of the inn.

Lucky for the mage, the mercenaries had vacated the main hall. Only Krem and the Barkeeper were still up and about – the Lieutenant quietly nursing his drink while the latter was feverishly polishing the pots till they gleamed by the firelight.

“Not asleep yet, Cremisius?” Dorian said, trying to be friendly. There was no harm in making small talk after all, Dorian thought. Plus, the man seemed pleasant enough, and one never knew if a little camaraderie might win him a few extra favours in the near future.

“Not yet, no,” Krem said, giving Dorian a wobbly smile. “Good night, Ser.” The man still looked uncomfortable, his eyes darting apprehensively at Dorian’s face before looking away and then back again.

It was a little ridiculous, if truth were told. Krem looked as if Dorian might stick a knife in his kidney when he was not looking. “Perhaps,” Dorian began to think, “I should just yell ‘Attack!’ and jump him. Just to see what happens.”

It would be a lot better than all this skirting around each other – two grown men caught in some strange dance Dorian had no interest in partaking. If Krem seemed nervous being around him, Dorian wanted to know why, thank you very much.

“Well, good night then,” Dorian gritted out, feeling a little foolish and very grumpy, before hurrying towards the room adjacent to his.

***

When Dorian entered Livia’s chamber, he found his wife still in bed – her face pale and white against the cloud of dark, downy blankets covering her slight body. The scent of fresh mint and lavender permeated the room. On her forehead, someone had placed a clean cloth, carefully folded into a neat square. The room comfortably warm, bathed in a rich orange glow from the fireplace.

“Dorian,” she began to say, smiling in greeting. “You’re looking well. All things considered.”

Swiftly, he came to her side and settled by the edge of her bed. He took her hand into his and kissed her knuckles.

“Are you alright?” he asked, expression earnest.

“Nauseous,” she whispered, still smiling. “I can’t seem to stay upright without falling over.”

“I should have done a better job protecting you,” Dorian responded, his tone bitter and regretful.

“Hush, it wasn’t your fault,” she said, lifting her hand to run her fingers through Dorian’s hair. “I trust the Chargers treated you well? They seemed quite lovely.”

“Yes,” Dorian lied, “and you? I heard from Cremisius that you had some elves looking after you.”

“Skinner and Dalish? Yes. Skittish folks, those elves. Don’t think they trust me much, but they have been kind.”

“I’m not sure how long we can linger here. We’re supposed to be home by now,” Dorian said, frowning into his hand. “Also, my tea has all but gone missing.”

“Well,” Livia said, yawning a little as her eyes fluttered close. “I think you’ll find our trunks and supplies stacked in the corner of this room. I don’t suppose you have managed to speak with The Bull? We could hire him to escort us to the nearest port tomorrow.”

Dorian had to bite down on his cheek to prevent himself from saying something rather awful. He opened his mouth to offer a protest, but Livia was already fast asleep.

So he held his tongue, got undressed and slipped under the covers with Livia, taking her hand into his. Within minutes, he too drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

***

“You alright, Chief?” Krem called out, watching as Bull emerged from his room from the far end of the hall.

As expected, the Bull said nothing. He ambled towards Krem’s direction before settling down with a grunt in a chair opposite his Lieutenant. He looked ridiculously large compared to everything in the room. Despite his silence, Krem could feel the tension radiating off Bull’s body.

Everything about his Commander seemed to scream in tension and frustration. Experience taught him to remain silent, however, until Bull was ready to talk. And so Krem held his tongue, taking another sip of his drink.

“Well,” Bull began to say, “Didn’t see that one coming, did we?”

Krem slowly nodded his head, watching Bull over the rim of his tankard.

“What do you reckon it is, Chief? Blood magic?”

“Could be. He doesn’t seem to be under any mind control, though. He’s still the same, in some ways.”

“You reckon it’s the wife?”

Krem could feel, if not see, Bull flinch, and immediately felt like a prick.

“Too early to say. She doesn’t seem the kind, but you never know with these Vints.”

Krem briefly wondered what it felt like to acknowledge that your lover’s current wife was nice. He then decided that he never wanted to know. Ever.

“So. Now what?” Krem ventured to ask.

Bull shrugged.

“I dunno. Send them back home. That’s what he wants.”

Krem watched Bull carefully.

“What do you want?”

Bull was silent for a split second.

“Haul him over my shoulder and bring him back to Skyhold.”

Krem took a deep breath.

“Well, that’s honest, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea, Chief.”

Bull chuckled, his mouth smiling but his eye humourless.

“We’ll think of something. Tomorrow.”

Krem nodded his head, chugged the rest of his drink and stood up from his seat.

“Tomorrow,” he agreed, clapping Bull on his back and trudged back to his room, feeling somewhat wretched.

The quiet that came after Krem returned to his room did nothing to cool Bull’s head. He felt the corners of his smile slip and rubbed a tired hand over his face.

Shit.

Before he knew it, he was up on his feet and found himself shuffling towards Dorian’s door. He paused, considering the dark wood presented before him, and wondered if he should knock or just barge in and shake the mage like a rag doll.

He stood outside for a while, straining to listen for sounds. When he heard none, he cracked open the door slightly to take a peek inside.

Dorian was not in his bed.

Disappointed, Bull returned to his quarters, undressed and laid on his cot – horns pressed against the headboard and feet sticking out from his tiny blanket – wondering what the fuck to do next.

***

The Sun had raised from its slumber, illuminating the sky with its glorious light – and Dorian was locked in a bitter argument with the Bull, their voices carrying through the inn like a loud, obnoxious bell.

“No,” Bull said, jaws set in a stubborn line as he folded his arms across his massive chest.

“Now you’re being difficult!” Dorian snarled, slapping an open palm on the table for emphasis.

“Find someone else to take you home. As far as I’m concerned, the Chargers have done our bit of charity for the day.”

“You’re turning down paid work?” Dorian said, almost spitting in anger.

“Hey, I said no,” Bull said again, starting to get annoyed in his turn. “Find someone else. There’s no way we’re taking you back to Minrathous.”

“What’s going on here?”

Bull and Dorian turned in unison. Livia was awake, face still pale with exhaustion, but she was dressed for the day in her simple, travelling attire. Soft breeches, and flowing shirt held together with a black and gold corset. Her long, dark hair was swept back in a neat braid that hung like a shiny rope down to the small of her back, swinging from side to side as she moved.

“Apparently our mercenary will not be accepting our coin,” Dorian snapped, waving a hand at Bull’s direction.

Livia frowned in disapproval at Dorian’s tone.

“Let’s just sit down and discuss this, please. Over breakfast. Without yelling,” she said, and called for a serving girl to bring some hot water for Dorian’s tea.

By the time tea arrived, Dorian was reasonably calm. He sat quietly by Livia’s side, sipping at his cup and playing with her fingers, listening to her attempting to negotiate with the Qunari. Bull set opposite them, his expression inscrutable, but was willing to partake in a conversation over a hearty meal of bread and sausages.

“Dorian is very ill,” Livia was heard explaining to the Bull just as Krem appeared at their table. She carefully buttered Dorian’s toast, drizzling it with some honey before enticing her husband to take a bite. Dorian did, chewing petulantly as he adamantly refused to look at Bull.

“The tea is helping for the moment with his debilitating ailment, but he needs to be home with his family for his safety and mine.”

“What’s in the tea?” Krem asked, settling down at the table.

“Sedatives, as far as I am told,” Livia answered truthfully. “It keeps him calm.”

“Sedatives, huh? It’s a wonder he’s still standing up on his two feet,” Bull said, snorting a little. Dorian opened his mouth to argue, but he decided against it when Livia shot him a warning look.

“We only have enough to last for another week. Two at most. We understand if you are not able to take us to Minrathous, but we would appreciate it very much if you could find someone to help us.”

“It’s not that we don’t want to help, my Lady,” Krem began to say, furrowing his brows. “I’m not exactly welcomed in Minrathous.”

Livia raised her eyebrows in question. Krem offered a grim smile.

“I’m wanted for falsifying military documents in Tevinter,” Krem explained. “As such, having me accompany you into the Capital is not a good idea. That’s probably the reason why the Chief said no.”

Dorian shot Bull a dirty look.

“You could have told me that,” he said in an accusatory tone. Bull shrugged and calmly continued eating his breakfast.

“I see,” Livia said, “Perhaps you could take us to the port near Asariel? It’s two days away, and we should be able to make the next ship out to Qarinus.”

Bull remained stubbornly silent. With an inward groan, Krem took charge and nodded his head in agreement.

“Unless the Chief has better alternatives to put forward,” he said, giving Bull a pointed look, “this seems to be the best solution we have right now.”

Livia smiled, looking relieved.

“Good,” she breathed.

“We’ll need to travel light and follow the Imperial Highway,” Bull said, suddenly in speaking mood. “Lessens the chance of an ambush, especially with the traders and caravans frequenting the path.”

“Thank you. We’d be more than happy to pay for your troubles,” Dorian began to say, but Bull cut him off with a wave of his hand.

“Don’t need your money,” he said bluntly. “Pack your things. We leave in four hours.”

Dorian felt himself turn red in the face and was about to say something rude in response. By the time he thought of a suitable retort, Bull was already walking away with Krem close to his heels, offering the couple an apologetic smile before disappearing outside the inn with his Commander.

Chapter Text

Judging by the stiff lines of Bull’s back and shoulders, Krem could tell he was pissed. It was cruel irony - despite Bull’s claim of perfecting the ability to mask facial expressions under the Ben-Hassrath training, he was absolutely clueless about relationships.

Fucking was fine. Bull certainly had his dalliances when Dorian disappeared and did not return for almost a year. There had been no attempts at contact from the mage. No letters. Nothing.

So, Bull did what he thought he needed to do. There was a servant girl or two in the dead of night, always when he was almost too drunk to function. The girls did not stay long in his quarters, often sneaking back to the kitchens once the deed was done. Krem wondered if Bull felt a little guilty doing what he did. He was uncharacteristically discreet about the entire affair, and a gold coin or two ensured that the girls kept their silence.

With Dorian, it had been different. Bull bragged about their relationship - as much as a newly wedded man bragged about his young wife’s excellent cooking. It was rather embarrassing to watch sometimes, but no one could deny that the big oaf had it bad for his mage. For all of Dorian’s protests and faux complaints, they cared for each other in their own awkward ways.

On one hand, there’s Dorian, fretting and fussing over Bull’s wounds during battle, no matter how superficial. On the other hand, there’s Bull and his desire to serve someone - anyone - therefore spending hours and hours showering the mage with the attention and the touch he craved.

Dorian, probably against his wishes, was hopelessly charmed and seduced. And Bull, for the first time in his life, found someone who unselfishly and full heartedly cared for him as an individual. As cliched as it may sound, Dorian made Bull feel special. He was not another faceless servant of the Qun. He was Amatus, and Dorian was Kadan. It was as simple and as perfect as that.

Bull had relentlessly teased him about it, his harsh words softened by a fond, lopsided grin. Dorian had vehemently denied any feelings of affections, only to turn up in Bull’s room each night to share some of the best wine he had pilfered from Skyhold’s cellar.

Krem remembered the look on Dorian’s face the last day he was at Skyhold. He was talking too loudly, and too quickly. His smile was too wide, and teeth too white. For all the bravado he had put on for Bull’s benefit, Krem thought the man looked as if he had wanted to cry. Bull had stood by Dorian’s side as he helped the mage onto his horse. He said nothing. His face purposefully blank, and mouth unsmiling. Yet, Krem knew the look on Bull’s face. He had seen it once before when Bull lost his place in the Qun and officially became Tal-Vashoth.

And here it was again - that look - it was as if Bull found himself lost and uncertain about which way to go; it showed itself distinctively on every line on his body and in his demeanour.

“Hey, Chief,” Krem said as he hurried after Bull, making their way towards the stable. “I know it’s not my place to say anything but… are you absolutely sure about this?”

Bull said nothing, busying himself with the horses.

“You don’t have to be so stoic about these things,” Krem said, “Look, if you need to talk, I’m right here.”

Bull paused. He had taken a shine to one of Dorian’s stallions, running his hands over its nose. It was an impressive looking beast with a shiny black coat, and a pretty white star in the middle of its forehead. Krem reckoned that it would receive an embarrassing name from the Qunari. Bull loved his damn nicknames.

“Yeah, I’m losing him, Krem,” Bull said, scratching at the base of his horn.

Krem felt a wave of pity like a kick in the guts.

“We could send Magister Tilani a letter? She might know what to do,” Krem said.

Bull frowned, but Krem pressed on.

“Look, Chief, if it’s blood magic, we need to help him. We’re already under the Magister’s protection. She signed and stamped on our border passes and everything, so it’s not as if we’re asking her for extra favours. Plus, I’m sure she’d want an update if we found Dorian. Didn’t he say something about being friends with her when he was back at Skyhold?”

“What if it isn’t blood magic?” Bull asked. “What if he’s really happy? I don’t want to take it all away.”

Krem looked flabbergasted. The Bull he knew loved poking around and knowing things. Krem did not understand why he wanted to just roll over and… give up. Now of all times.

“Chief, with all due respect - are you even listening to yourself talk? You really think it’s normal for folks to have memories wiped out just like that? Does this look like the same Dorian you used to know?”

Unconvinced, Bull remained silent, but Krem pushed on. “Let’s try. Let Magister Tilani know. If something has happened to Dorian, it is our Maker given responsibility to find out what it is.”

“Yeah, we can try,” Bull said, relenting. “We’ve been sending her weekly updates, haven’t we?”

“Yes, she’s close. Last letter we received was from Vol Dorma. We can arrange a meeting at the harbour. If Dorian is under a spell, she will know.”

“All right. Send Skinner to deliver our note,” Bull said, as he fastened a saddle on the black stallion. “Starlight here can take her there.”

“You named a damn stallion, Starlight?”

“It suits him. Now get the team ready, Krem Puff.”

Krem snorted. “It’s getting a little old, Chief.”

Bull chuckled giving his horse a brisk rub down. Krem gave a mock salute, clicked his heels and was about to return to the inn before he paused at the entrance to the stable.

“Hey, Chief. Are you ever going to talk to him about his amulet? You’re still holding on to it aren’t you?”

Bull’s hand instinctively went to the small, leather pouch by his belt, his fingers tracing the familiar shape within.

“Soon,” he said, before turning his attention back to the horse.

***

The Sun was already high above their heads when the company left the inn. True to his word, Bull had led a brisk march towards the highway, cutting down numbers of the team and the items they carry to a bare minimum.

Most of the Chargers were left behind to take on contracts within the village. Lord and Lady Pavus’s expensive robes and remaining horses were mostly sold off in exchange for a large amount of coin, and were left with only their necessities, much to Dorian’s chagrin. Only Bull, Krem and Dalish accompanied their Tevinter wards, and Skinner they had sent away earlier to scout the path ahead on some poor horse named Starlight–or so Dorian was told.

Bull had taken two more horses with to accompany them. One was a white mare named Scoundrel, and another was a bronze stallion named Peacock. Scoundrel was tasked to carry their gears, while the men (and Dalish) agreed that Livia, due to her continued illness, should ride Peacock. The Qunari had lifted Livia on top of the stallion while Dorian hovered nearby casting dark looks at their direction when Bull’s hands lingered too long around her waist…

“Did you say something?” Krem was asking, breaking Dorian away from his train of thoughts. They had been on the road for hours, it seemed, and Dorian’s feet had started to ache.

“I’m sorry?” Dorian said, giving himself a mental shake as he turned to look at the man walking next to him.

“You were muttering under your breath.”

Dorian gave a self-conscious laugh. “Yes, I tend to do that a lot, I apologise.”

“And you were giving Bull quite a stink eye.”

Dorian cocked his head and raised an eyebrow . Bull was up at the front, holding Livia’s reigns, gently guiding Peacock down the road. They were immersed in an animated conversation. Livia had been cautiously trying to engage the Qunari in a conversation, and it did not take long before both seem to slip into a friendly conversation.

Too friendly, perhaps. Then again, Livia had that quality about her, charming the Bull out of his broody silence, and now laughing and chatting. Dorian felt strangely jealous.

“For someone who dislikes me as much as he does, it seems odd he has taken a liking to my wife,” Dorian said with a shrug.

Krem just smiled, his face looking impossibly young when he did. “They seem to get along well, yes.”

“Not too well I hope.”

The comment from Dorian seemed strange, and Krem was not sure what to make of it. “Do you disapprove?”

Dorian snorted but did not respond. They walked in silence for a while before Krem spoke again.

“And you’re wrong, you know,” Krem offered.

Still, the mage did not know what to say. “Oh,” he responded instead.

“Look, he put you on his back when you were ill, nursed you back to health when you were burning with fever, and he now doesn’t want payment to help get you to the harbour. Why do you think he’s doing this? Because it’s a job?”

A nervous laugh from Dorian preceded a flash of memory; a vision of a night spent naked and shivering burning with fever. It lingered for a moment, like red embers spat into the air by a crackling fire before they spiralled down to their quiet death upon the cold, stony floor.

It’s forbidden.

“You’re making it sound like the man is in love with me, Cremisius.”

When Krem remained quiet, Dorian panicked.

It’s forbidden.

“Which is impossible, of course?” Dorian ventured to say, a strange fear unfolding in the pit of his belly.

Hey, Kadan.

Krem shrugged, refusing to say another word as Darkness began creeping in Dorian’s head, like a blanket of fog, sending dread and chills down his spine.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

There was a cool breeze in the air, and the wind whistled against his ears, pressing against his cheeks and lips like a lover’s caress. All was quiet save for the soft sounds of water running merrily over tiny pebbles at his feet.  

He opened his eyes and found that he was standing by a creek in the middle of the woods. Spring must have arrived because flowers were blooming – their petals a fiery red against the lush greenery. No one was around, and for a fleeting moment, he felt the small prick of panic in the pits of his stomach before it faded away like the remnants of a bad dream in the early mornings.

It was almost strange, but he felt like he truly belonged here. It was as if this was a place created for no one else but himself.

A sanctuary.

The morning sun was shining brightly through the treetops, and amidst the green canopies that seemed to surround and engulf his entire being, he saw the dark figure of a man swiftly approaching him in the distance.

He frowned, not liking the intrusion as the Stranger finally caught up to him. He was a strange looking one, clad in black robes with silver accents. His boots shone like mirrors, and he wore an amulet around his neck – two golden snakes coiled tightly around each other, emerald eyes winking in the sunlight. The man was rather handsome, all things considered, even with that tiny black mark beneath his left eye.

“Fancy meeting you here, Dorian,” the Stranger said, his face serious and unsmiling. He took his place by the mage’s side and peered wordlessly into the creek. It was odd, but where the Stranger stood, the lush green and flowers seem to wilt and die at his feet.

Dorian frowned again. “Who are you?” he asked, his breath suddenly forming mists as he spoke.  

“You know who I am,” the Stranger said, his voice lightly scolding. He paused for a moment before continuing, “You just don’t remember anymore.”

“I don’t understand. I don’t think we’ve met,” Dorian said, already starting to shiver violently as the temperature around him plummeted. Frost had gathered upon flower petals and lightly dusted across leaves. It was as if the Stranger brought winter with him wherever he went.

  “We’ve had this conversation before. Many, many times,” said the Stranger, his voice already impatient as he paced back and forth across a dying patch of grass. “We cannot linger. My presence weakens you.”

Dorian found that he could no longer speak. His teeth rattled in his head as he desperately tried to draw his cloak around him. It was all too strange, slowly freezing under the bright, morning sun. He felt fog gathering in his head as he began to slip away from consciousness.

“Listen to me,” the Stranger said, his gray eyes wide as he looked earnestly into Dorian’s face. “When he calls my name, know that I will come. It’s going to hurt you, but I won’t stay for long. I promise.”  

“Who are you talking about? What’s happening to me?” Dorian wanted to say, but his mouth was locked shut as his body slowly turned stiff as wood. Yet, the Stranger seemed to understand, his face darkened with sympathy as he placed his hand on top of Dorian’s head. It felt as if Dorian had plunged headfirst into a bucket of ice.

“You’ll find out soon enough. Shame you won’t remember all of this. Ah well. Time to go for now,” the Stranger said, lifting another hand and placing it over Dorian’s heart.

  “Time to -”

***

“- wake up. Hey. Stay with me.”

Dorian heard Bull’s voice above his head, sharp with worry while someone lightly and repeatedly tapped the side of his face in an attempt to rouse him. He opened his eyes only to find himself on the ground, his head resting on someone’s lap while surrounded by faces stricken with panic. Everyone spoke at the same time, yelling out orders and now shoving a bottle up that smelled strongly of camphor and Embrium up against his face.

“What happened?” Dorian tried to ask, his voice slurring. He attempted to sit upright but felt a sharp pain flare up in his chest and head, and almost blacked out from the pain.

“You fell and started twitching, Dorian,” came Krem’s voice. Livia hovered by the mercenary’s elbow, patting her husband’s face with a wet handkerchief, while her own was deathly pale with fear.

“Can you get up?” Bull asked. Dorian attempted to raise his head from the Qunari’s lap, was too weak to move. He wanted to speak, but he heard himself slurring at every word. Frustrated, he ran a trembling hand over his face and felt hot tears prickle behind his eyelids.

To be reduced to a babbling and incomprehensible fool – it was more than Dorian could bear.

Kaffas!

 “It’s all right. You’re okay,” Bull murmured. There must have been something about Dorian’s facial expression that troubled the Qunari. Swiftly, Bull helped Dorian onto his feet and put the mage on his back – his large arms locked securely behind the backs of Dorian’s thighs.

“We have to make camp soon, Chief,” Krem began to say, “The Sun’s setting and we’re not going anywhere in the dark.”

 “Where’s the nearest village?” Bull asked as Dorian rested his cheek upon Bull’s shoulder. The Qunari’s skin was comfortably warm and Dorian fought the urge curl up into a tight ball upon that broad back.

“We won’t reach the nearest inn till tomorrow,” Livia answered, throwing a blanket over Dorian’s body, rubbing her hand soothingly up and down his back. Already, he was starting to feel better, and he wiggled a little, wanting to walk on his own.

“Put me down. I’m fine now. Thank you,” Dorian began to say, but Bull was having none of it.

“You’re not,” came the firm response. Despite the curt tone, there was an underlying kindness in his face. So Dorian decided to remain silent for a change, settling once again on his strange perch and, against all odds, drifted off to sleep.

***

It was the crackling fire that woke him this time. Dorian was on his back, snug and warm beneath layers of blankets. Livia was fast asleep next to him her face buried into the crook of his neck.

All was calm.

Darkness had long since fallen, and the Chargers were huddled around the sole source of heat for the night, also sleeping, while the Bull kept vigil some distance away from the camp. The mage stared into the Qunari’s face staring intently into the fire – the warm, flickering light casting the angles on the creature’s face into sharp relief. It was a face weathered and worn with hardship and battle weary. For a brief moment, Dorian felt a tug of sympathy somewhere deep in his heart.

The mage must have made some sound because Bull suddenly turned his eye towards his direction. The Qunari frowned, made a slow movement with his head, seemingly to acknowledge Dorian’s presence, before turning his face away again to look into the fire.

Dorian began to extricate himself from Livia’s embrace – carefully so that she would not wake. She sighed in her sleep, stirred but curled up into her blanket when Dorian brushed her hair away from her face and kissed her temple. The mage paused. When he was convinced his wife was still asleep, he slowly made his way towards the fire to sit next to the Bull.

The great beast remained silent and watched Dorian shuffle quietly up to him before offering a water skin for the mage to drink.

“Honey,” came the rumble. “The Tamassrans let the children drink them so that they’d grow up strong.”

“Didn’t take you for someone who still follows the Qun,” Dorian murmured, his voice barely above a whisper as he took a sip of the cool, sweet drink before drinking greedily. It was indeed honey and watered down with fresh water.

“Left several years ago,” came the short response. There was a story to be told, perhaps, but the Qunari gave no indication that he was in a story-telling mood.

Dorian paused, unsure how to fill the silence.

“I’m sorry,” he said instead, his eyes downcast, watching the firewood glow and flame dance in the dark.

“Don’t be. It’s a long time ago,” Bull grunted, retrieving the water skin that dangled haphazardly from Dorian’s fingers before taking a long drink.

“No, I meant… I’m sorry for being an ass for the last couple of days. I haven’t behaved well towards you – despite all your help saving my life and Livia’s – and it was unworthy of me.”

Bull looked surprised at Dorian’s apology. He scratched at the base of his horn, as if unsure of how to respond, before taking another long drink and shrugged. 

“There must be a reason why you’re in Tevinter. If there is something you’re looking for here, I can help,” Dorian pressed, eyes focused on the Bull’s face wiped clean of any expression.

 “Is there?” Bull answered, his tone breezy and politely disinterested.

Dorian snorted a little before flashing his teeth, offering an encouraging and friendly grin.

“Well, don’t play coy with me, Iron Bull. You’re Qunari and Cremisius is a wanted man in the Imperium. Every second you stay within the borders of Tevinter endangers your lives. So, the only reason why you’re still here must be because you’re on a mission of sorts. I’m offering my help, however I can.”

Bull remained silent and took another drink of water. Feeling emboldened, Dorian clapped his hand on Bull’s back in an extravagant show of friendship.

“You’ve proven yourself trustworthy and generous with your help, and there is no one else I’d entrust our lives to,” Dorian chirped, feeling charitable, his chest swelling in size with pride and unexplained happiness at this new friendship he was forging. “If there is anything I can do to help, just say the word.”

“A mission, huh?” Bull said with a low chuckle. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, you can call it that.”

“I want to help. I know people here, and I dare say you need me,” Dorian repeated, and from the stubborn set of his jaw, Bull knew the mage was serious.

“All right,” Bull said, his expression resigned as he clasped his hands behind his head and lay down on the ground. His eye lifted to the heavens above as if he wanted to count the stars. “I’m looking for someone.”

“Of course,” Dorian said, nodding his head sagely, “One of the Chargers perhaps? Was he captured? I could write a firmly worded letter, demanding his release.”

“We're... in a relationship.” 

“Oh, okay,” Dorian responded, his voice faltering a little, “Lovers then. Is she a slave somewhere? I could ask my father to…”

It was Bull’s turn to give a derisive snort.

“It’s a man, and he’s a noble from some very important family. He’s been missing for a year and I’m here to take him back.”

Dorian just stared at the Bull. And stared.

Mouth hanging open and eyes wide, he said the first and only thing that came to his mind after many, many minutes –

“Oh!”

 

 

Chapter Text

Dorian Pavus

~ 9:43 Dragon, Spring, The Return to Qarinus ~

A storm must be brewing on the horizon. The ship swayed and surged in the choppy seas as young Pavus found himself violently ill in the privacy of his cabin. The decorations in his narrow space were gaudy and yet ostentatious - the best gold could buy on this Maker-forsaken vessel. Canopied bed, plush pillows, hanging chandeliers and a fiery red carpet with gold trimmings. Definitely Antivan.

None of those mattered. Dorian plodded across his room barefooted, his stomach lurching each time he swayed. His meals were left largely untouched - mostly dry meat with a sloppy mess of vegetables on the side. He felt himself turning green and hastily reached out for the bottle of sweet wine he had ordered. He brought it to his lips and took a long, satisfying pull, relishing the warmth that had settled in his belly.

He would be arriving in Tevinter soon. The latest message from the captain said they’d be arriving at the port of Minrathous in a few hours or so. The servants had been generously plying him with bottles of fine wine to pass his time - sweet to the tongue with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The alcohol dulled his senses a little, but it was perfect.

Anything to take his mind off his situation… and the blasted heaving of the sea.

A letter stood by his bedside, read so many times that the ink had started to smudge and the paper frayed at the edges. Bull’s handwriting left something to be desired - bold, blocky, the letters huddling so closely together it almost appeared as if they were sharing secrets on the page.

The message was simple, to the point and, as usual, a little inappropriate.

"Kadan,

Stay safe. Stay alert. Write me when you get there.

Yours in so many different positions,

Your Amatus."

Dorian smiled - the first real smile he had shown in days since his sea voyage. It had not been easy leaving Bull back at Skyhold, but Tevinter called to him. Mae had sent a strongly worded letter about facing his responsibilities, changing the world and all that rot. Fine.

Saying no to Mae was like saying "no" to the Maker himself - so, Dorian had no choice but to go. Bull remained stoically silent when Dorian had broken the news. He remembered pacing nervously across their shared chambers, almost stuttering as he explained why he had to leave. It was difficult. They've spent so much time together it was hard for Dorian to imagine going anywhere without Bull by his side.

It was not until Bull pulled Dorian into his arms that he realised that he was shaking and his hands had turned cold from stress. Bull was good like that. He just knew what to do when Dorian was slowly falling apart under his watchful eye. There had been hugs and kisses (and a lot of sex) after the news, and Bull had simply promised that he would send letters every day, waiting for Dorian's return back to Skyhold.

So here he was, alone and sick, on a creaking wooden mess, floating closer towards his birth home, and further away from his Amatus. It evoked an odd feeling that left a tight knot in his chest - a mixture of hope and fear, happiness and sorrow.

The ship lurched again. Dorian felt himself turning green once more and tried to take another swig of his bottle. It was empty. How much had he drunk? He glanced at the two empty bottles on his table.

'Well,' he thought with a wry smile, 'not nearly enough!'

He contemplated calling for more drinks into his cabin before he heard a hesitant tap on his door. A young servant boy stood at the entrance, bringing more wine in a goblet, some dried fruits, and a cheese platter. Dorian was grateful for the offerings - those were the only food he reckoned he could stomach anyway.

"For you, Lord Pavus, ser. Ship's arriving at the Port of Minrathous within the hour, mi'lord Pavus, ser," he squeaked, handing Dorian his tray before scuttling off.

"Twitchy little thing, isn't he?" Dorian declared into the emptiness of the room before turning his interest towards his drink. He took a cautious sniff, found its contents to be satisfactory, then drank greedily till the last drop.

It was not till his third piece of cheese that he began to feel the first onset of an inevitable headache that escalated into an excruciating pulse behind his eyes. Dorian staggered as his vision swam before him, and then his knees buckled, and he fell forward onto the carpeted floor - motionless but still very much conscious.

It was an odd sensation - to be fully aware of his surroundings and yet immobilised.

" Typical ," he thought. His face was turned towards the door of his cabin, and he felt as if his little heart had sunk into the watery darkness beneath him.

As footsteps approached his cabin seemingly hours later, he wanted to scream and shout.

"Not like this!"

The door creaked open, and a well-polished pair of boots appeared, making their way slowly towards him. Then there were more pairs of shoes, and the alarm in his head roared like a tempest in a storm.

" Don't touch me," he tried to say, but the words in his mouth turned to dust and he remained helplessly silent like a graveyard.

"Don't hurt him," his father said. Dorian felt strong, cruel hands digging into his arm as they tried to lift him off the floor.

" Don't fucking touch me! "

Someone chuckled as they tossed him unceremoniously onto his bed.

"A little too late for any show of concern, Magister."

Dorian heard the frown in Halward's voice.

"Do not hurt him," came the steely response. His father's voice trembled. Was it fear perhaps? Regret? A little bit of both? Dorian didn't know. As the men rolled up the sleeves on Dorian's robe, he stared straight up at the ceiling above and watched as the chandeliers swung back and forth. Back and forth.

" Typical," Dorian wanted to say again and felt tears build up at the corners of his eyes and trickled down, unbidden, into the pillows.

A warm thumb traced the tracks they made, as if in apology.

"Someone left a letter, Magister," came another voice. There was another low chuckle again, as they read out its contents - a voice full of mockery. "Seems he has left a lover back in Ferelden."

"Be quiet," Halward hissed, his voice dripping with venom. Dorian felt the hand resting on his forehead shake.

More laughter and then the soft, almost comforting sound of a fire crackling as a piece of paper was burned to nothingness.

"Of course, Magister. You did pay us to do a job after all.”

Dorian heard his father take deep, steadying breaths.

Then the ritual began, and he remembered no more - his world torn asunder, his very soul forced to flee, seeking refuge in the deep, secret recesses of his shackled mind.

***

Livia Herathinos

~ 9:43 Dragon, Summer, The Magister’s Son ~

Dorian Pavus had always been the boy with a huge chip on his shoulder, and a complete beast towards his peers. He struts around, confident in his cleverness and his abilities, turning his nose up at boys and girls less privileged and less clever than he was.

At least that was the story that had circulated around the circle. Livia was only six years of age when the young Pavus had created such a huge ruckus and had gotten himself expelled as a result. She shook her head and buried her nose into her books when her parents had first told her about it.

“Is this the boy you’d have me marry?” she’d asked, her eyes never leaving the pages in her hands.

“It’s tradition, Livvy,” Mother said.

“He’s a very clever boy, Livvy. Almost as clever as you are!” Father piped in.

“He’s handsome, Leafy,” her twin brother, Rilineus, said with a lisp.

“It’s madness. I won’t marry such a child,” she had scoffed, tossing her book aside before tugging at her brother’s hands to play in the gardens.

That, as far as she was concerned, was that.

Ten years later, Livia had met Dorian for the first time at a ball. It might have been one of their many relatives’ birthday celebrations, or something. Livia hadn’t really cared. Apparently, Dorian hadn’t either as he spent most of the evening steadily making his way through several glasses of the house’s best wine, making small talk with Rilineus.

“Wonderful. A child and a drunkard,” she had thought to herself while both her parents and Dorian’s attempted to make introductions.

As chance would have it, Dorian had taken that exact moment to look up from the rim of his glass as if he had heard her. Their eyes met, eyebrows raised simultaneously, and they had then proceeded to ignore each other for the rest of the day.

Dorian, according to rumours, had thought that she was too uptight, rigid and had an unpleasant, sour expression perpetually plastered onto her face - like she was sucking on lemons the whole day. Livia had, of course, refused to dignify the insult with a response, opting instead to say it was beneath her to trade words with a man so unteachable, no tutor wanted him.

It was a low blow, perhaps, but Dorian had steadfastly avoided her presence whenever they chance to meet at various other locations.

Years passed, and Livia dreaded her impending marriage into the Pavus family. Her betrothed ignored all calls to return to Qarinus, disappearing for months on end before eventually making his way down towards Ferelden to fight in a war brewing in the South.

“What a strange person he is,” Rilineus said one night as they sat on their patio, nursing their brandy.

“Indeed,” Livia responded dryly. “You knew him better than I did. I’d have to trust your judgment on his character.”

Rilineus made some mention once again about the war in the South, but Livia’s mind had wandered by then. It was really none of her business what Dorian wanted to do with his life.

Then, just as suddenly as Dorian had disappeared, he reappeared again in Qarinus. This time, the man she saw was a shadow of his previous self. He was thin, gaunt and had such a haunted expression on his face that she could not help but feel sympathy for the man.

“He fell ill on the sea voyage home, Livvy,” Mother whispered when they dropped by for a visit at the Pavus’ estate. “Poor boy lost his memories. Won’t stop throwing up blood.”

On some days, there had been terrible yells coming from the bedroom as Dorian burned like a furnace in his feverish fits. When the night terrors turned violent (Dorian had stabbed one of the healers entering his chambers) Magister Halward had banished all the servants from Dorian’s sight and began personally tending to his son. No guests were allowed into the Pavus household and even Magister Tilani was turned away at the door.

Halward’s days were long and dreary, his expression dark as he shuffled in and out of his son’s bedroom. His wife, Aquinea, was curiously absent, keeping herself locked away in her room, drinking herself into oblivion. It was as if she was so anxious to chase away her personal demons, it was better to remain in a drunken stupor than living her life as the mistress of her own home.

It distressing having to sit and watch such suffering in such a powerful household. Yet, at her parents' pleas (and Magister Halward’s fervent request), Livia came by frequently to render aid however she could - mostly preparing powders and sedatives for the young master’s consumption.

It was only when Magister Halward was certain Dorian was relatively calm that Livia was allowed into his chambers. The room reeked of herbal tea and stale perspiration while Dorian trembled under a mountain of blankets and pillows, face pale as a ghost. Livia worked tirelessly by his side, taking on the duties the servants were no longer allowed to do.

Being Dorian’s nurse meant Livia had to keep vigil by his side, tending to his needs and whims. There had been the occasional tense moments and harsh words exchanged, but slowly yet surely, Dorian became fond of her company. He relished the quiet moments when they would read in silence or just… talk. About his health, about her studies, their families… about everything.

Finally, with Magister Halward’s blessings and encouragement, Livia fully established herself into the Pavus estate and took charge of running Dorian’s affairs while Magister Halward busied himself with the nation’s politics. His wife had since retreated to their winter home in Minrathous.

“Will it interest you to walk with me in the gardens tomorrow morning?” Dorian would ask almost nonchalantly whenever it was time for her to retire for the night - his pride preventing him from saying anymore, and his loneliness from saying any less.

Livia would always say yes - and when young Pavus, at his father’s urgings, asked for her hand in marriage just two months later, it seemed natural to accept the proposal.

It had been a small, private ceremony, filled with people Livia cared nothing for. Dorian was dressed in regal black with gold around his collar and cuffs, his hair artfully slicked back and his moustache waxed. Livia could not help but stare.

She stared and stared, and for the first time, felt her heart stumbled and skipped a beat. When he looked adoringly at her with his stormy grey eyes as they exchanged their vows, she knew she loved the man.

And nothing would ever come between them.

***

Iron Bull

~ 9:41 to 9:42 Dragon, The Beginning ~

The first time they had sex, Dorian had managed to claw red grooves down his back, biting so hard into Bull’s shoulder that he left marks that lingered for days. The mage had displayed interest, and so Bull had dropped hints about keeping the door open, fully expecting him to drop by for a tumble or two before they both go their separate ways.

It suited him, being with Dorian. The mage had an insatiable appetite, and Bull was more than happy to “give him a good one”. Dorian, thankfully, was more than happy to receive and had ferociously returned whatever passion Bull had shown him between the sheets.

The best sex they had was when Dorian threw up his barriers. The mage would smile, his expression sly. “You have one minute,” Dorian would whisper, and Bull would dig his fingers into Dorian’s hips, racing to finish before the magic wore off.

It was fucking amazing.

Bull was a huge male in his prime, and sex with these humans could be a tricky thing. He always had to be careful, opting instead for his bedmates to “ride him” as it were. Bull was happy to fuck anyone, but he didn’t want to break bones or twist any joints.

Then came Dorian with his barriers and it took sex to a whole new level. Bull could, for the first time probably, be himself in bed - if only for a minute. One glorious minute of letting himself go - abandoning restraint and focusing, for once, on his own pleasures instead.

There was comfort being with Dorian. The sex was rough. It was noisy. It was, largely, safe. And it was hot. Literally. Dorian had came the same time he did that one time, accidentally making his barriers explode and set the curtains on fire.

Dayyyy-um.

“Let’s not do this again,” Dorian had laughed, watching the fabric go up in flames as they scampered around the room buck naked and shaky-legged, trying to put out the fire. Dorian started casting some ice magic (for reasons unknown), while Bull grabbed his boot and tried to slap the shit out of burning things with it.

It was ridiculous. It was perfect. They had laughed about it till Bull almost pissed himself and Dorian had tears running down his eyes.

Sometimes, they talked. They’d lay side by side on the bed, looking up at the fucking hole in the ceiling and watched the stars. And they’d talk. About family, growing up and places they’ve been to, places they’ve never been to, and places that they would like to go to.

Some conversations come easy, but Dorian balked every time they started to talk about doing things together in the future.

 If we survive all this, of course,” Dorian would end his sentences, blissfully unaware that Bull was listening hard to the word “we” as he continued to chatter on happily about nothing in particular.

Bull thought about it for a long time, laying down quietly by Dorian’s side.

“Yeah, we could,” Bull responded finally, but Dorian was already fast asleep, his head on Bull’s shoulder and hand on his heart.

It was a weird moment, really. But in a good way. It kept Bull up all night and warmed him from head to foot as he listened to Dorian snoring softly by his side.

Then came the Vintiest Vint of all Vints. It was unexpected. Skyhold was in an uproar as every single able-bodied person fought for their lives. There were demons pouring from the sky, sending a sliver of unease down Bull’s spine.

And then there was Dorian - eyes narrowed, his magical fires burning like the furnaces of Seheron, standing by his side like a fucking beacon in the midst of chaos.

“Behind you,” Dorian cried out, throwing up his barrier for both of them as a red Templar charged at their direction.

“Don’t die on me now, you big lummox.”

Bull laughed and then went silent, swinging his axe at a Venatori assassin as Dorian busied himself with some demons.

“You know, Dorian,” he finally said, yelling over the sound of metal clashing against metal, “I’d die for my men once. But for you, I’d wish I’d have several lives to give.”

Dorian paused, his expression of utmost surprise before he turned red as a plum.

“Really? Now? You’d say this now ? Right here?” he spluttered, almost going purple with embarrassment. Yet he was smiling, and his eyes were suspiciously wet.

“Yeah,” Bull said, grunting as he sunk his blade into someone’s neck. He grinned. He was having the time of his life.

“Yeah,” Bull said again, as hot blood poured over his boot. “Hey, Kadan , once this is over, I’ll buy you a drink. Then we do that thing we said we wanted to do.”

“Really? Just you and me?” Dorian hollered, throwing up barriers again.

Fucking demons.

“You and me,” Bull agreed.

“We’ll talk about this back home… Amatus .”

They shared a secret smile and a moment together before throwing themselves fully into the raging heart of the battle - Bull leading the fight, and Dorian… his Kadan …  by his side.

On the Road to Qarinus

~ 9:43 Dragon, Letters to Skyhold, from the borders of Minrathous ~

Your Worship,

Following our previous conversation at Skyhold, I’m writing in now to inform you that Lord Dorian Pavus has been found. It appears he was on his way towards the Port of Minrathous with a young woman, before he came under attack by the Venatori. Luckily for us, the Chargers have arrived just in time. He would be dead otherwise. 

Dorian and his friend are both hurt and almost delirious with fever. Still, with the Maker’s blessings, I am confident they will recover. 

The Chief is pleased. He hadn’t been himself since Lord Dorian disappeared from Skyhold a year ago.

Will keep you updated.

Yours in Service,

Cremisius Aclassi

***

Your Worship,

It appears that Dorian has no recollection of any of his time spent at Skyhold - and the woman in question is his wife.

The Iron Bull appears to be holding out well and volunteered to accompany them to the Port to secure their return back to Qarinus - but I know him better.

I've sent word to Magister Tilani in the mean time. We hope to be able to meet her at Vol Dorma - with Lord Pavus. 

Will you come? I fear Lord Dorian’s family may have played a role in his current “ailment”. The wife may know more than she lets on.

Yours in Service,

Cremisius Aclassi

***

Cremisius,

I'm in contact with Magister Tilani. We will converge with Maevaris at her villa two weeks from now. 

Bring Dorian home by any means necessary.

- M. Trevalyan

***

Boss,

I got this. See you soon.

Horns Up.

Bull

~ 9:43 Dragon, The Present ~

The Chargers broke camp the next morning, and Dorian was unusually quiet as Livia enquired after his health. She prepared his customary tea for breakfast, made small comments about how they were running low on supplies, how there was a chill in the air and how anxious she was to reach the harbour as soon as possible - and still Dorian remained deep in thought, head cocked to one side, eyes focused on the dying embers of their fire as Livia fussed over him.

Bull secretly smiled. He could almost see the wheels in Dorian's head whirling. The significance of the revelation that Bull's lover was a Tevinter Altus was not lost on the mage. It was deliciously scandalous, and Dorian could not help but be fascinated. The man, whether he knew it or not, had a vivid imagination - it was hard to dissuade him from a topic once he latched on to it.

And Dorian, Bull was certain, was hooked.

How was it even possible? How did they meet? How did they keep it secret? The mage had wanted to grill Bull about it further, but Livia had noticed her husband's absence in the middle of the night and had called him to bed. He reluctantly agreed, and with a quick whisper made for Bull's ears alone ("We'll talk about this further!") he scrambled off to bed with his wife.

Bull had watched him go, contemplated telling the truth for five brief seconds, or worse - grabbing Dorian by the foot and shaking the fuck out of him. Thankfully, reason and restraint took over as he quashed his disappointment deep within him like a fist over a pesky bug.

"Chief, we're good to go. We should be reaching the Ports by tomorrow morning," Krem was saying, frowning a little when he caught Bull absorbed in his thoughts. "Again, I know it's not my damn business, but shouldn't we be trying to get Dorian to stay and figure out what's wrong with him?"

Bull shrugged, hoisting his huge axe over his shoulder. 

"We're not getting there by tomorrow morning," he said, jerking his chin towards Livia's direction. "She's ill but she's trying to hide it. Caught her being sick in the bushes before Dorian was awake."

Krem frowned in concern. "Take it slow then?"

"Yep," Bull grunted, muttering under his breath, "With some luck maybe they'll miss the ship."

Krem squirmed, he looked as if he was going to say something before Dorian called out to them.

"Got to get a move on, men!" Dorian hollered, suddenly full of life and vigour. "Chop, chop! Onward to Qarinus!" 

What the fuck was in that tea? Thought it was sedatives?

"Or maybe we put him on the first ship home so he can get on someone else's nerves," Bull snorted. Krem punched Bull's arm.

"You're not serious!" he whispered.

"Of course not," Bull promised, adjusting his harness where his leather had pinched him uncomfortably. His keen eye gave his group a once-over and when he found everything was prepared to his satisfaction, he grunted again and began the long journey towards the harbours of Asariel. 

 

Chapter Text

“Magister Halward,” the fool was saying, looking as if he might faint at the mere sight of the imposing figure before him. “Magister, ser, we was knocked out that night, and when we woke up - he was gone ser.”

“I have no interest in hearing the tales of your incompetence, boy ,” Halward answered, his voice frosty as the cold air. Winter has finally descended in Tevinter, and the temperature had plunged in the days since Dorian has left their home to return to Qarinus.

Where had he disappeared to? Is he well?

“Sorry, ser,” the poor man stammered, “We was knocked out bad, ser. Might have been magic or sum’thin. Put us out for the whole night, and when we went after ‘em - there was blood ev’where ser, but yer son’s gone ser. And his missus. Johnny has gone to follow their tracks, and he said he would send us a letter if he found ‘em, ser.”

Halward paused, trying desperately to squash the slow panic that has crept up in the base of his spine.

This is my doing.

“Prepare the carriage. We’ll follow their tracks. They couldn’t have gotten far on foot. And if we need information - well, there’s nothing coin can’t fix.”

With a nod and an awkward salute, the boy rushed off to do his master’s bidding.


 

~ 9:38, Dragon, Pavus Estate ~

Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy
I was once like you are now, and I know that it's not easy
To be calm when you've found something going on


But take your time, think a lot
Why, think of everything you've got
For you will still be here tomorrow
But your dreams may not

A storm was raging outside as Magister Halward paced in his study, his footsteps silent and yet sure as they moved across the carpeted floor. The fire crackled merrily in the hearth, but no amount of heat could melt away the bitterness in his soul. He picked up the letter on his desk, his steel-grey eyes glancing at its contents.

We’ve found the boy, Magister.

~ C

He poured himself a glass of wine, and his hands shook as he drained his cup. It wouldn’t be long now. His son would return home after months living on the rough streets of Minrathous - he only wished that it would have been the homecoming every parent could look forward too.

It must have been past midnight when Halward finally heard poundings on the front door. There were voices, loud and high with agitation. Swiftly, he made his way down the lonely hallway, his footsteps barely echoing upon the stony floor.

When he reached the top of the stairways, he could see Dorian standing by his captors. Fresh off a boat and, as rumours would have it, from the bedroom of his latest conquest. His eyes, so much like his father’s, were wild and defiant - and the dark smudges beneath them stood out against his pale face, whether from lack of sleep or khol, Halward did not know.

The boy knew better than to resist. Halward had taken great troubles (and a lot of coin) to find those highly trained in magic to subdue him when necessary. From the bruises on Dorian’s face and arms, he could see that his boy had put up a fierce fight. While they were somewhat restrained during their mission, they were not gentle. Anger began to burn in Halward’s chest - whether towards his son or the mercenaries, he did not know.

“Thank you for your efforts,” he said instead, his voice cold.

The mercenaries nodded, performed a salute, and left into the dead of the night without another word.

“I didn’t think you’d actually resort to getting hired help to reclaim me, Father. I was in the middle of something, you know.” Dorian’s voice rang out like a bell in the empty house. The Magister made his way down the stairs but Dorian was not finished. “I hope you intend to compensate that Lord, somehow. Your henchmen took down the guards while I was busy fucking his son.”

“That’s enough,” his father said, his voice sounding almost unbearably loud. “You will return to your quarters. We will speak further tomorrow.”

“We have nothing to discuss.”

“Dorian,” Halward said, and as his anger turned into a keen sense of desperation. “Have you no sense of decency or considerations for me as your father?”

“None whatsoever,” came the retort as he walked purposely towards the sanctuary and prison of his room. Halward pursued him, determined to reach out. To make him understand .

“You’re my son. My only son. I raised you with these two hands. I cared for you and gave you everything you ever needed or wanted. And this is how you repay me?”

Stop.

“I wasn’t aware your… considerations were something you’re expecting payments for,” Dorian said, his insolent air of indifference quickly giving way to contempt.

Stop this.  

“Ungrateful boy,” Halward snapped, “Why are you so selfish? All this time, I’ve done all I could to give you the best of everything!”

“If you want what’s best for me, then stop trying to FIX me!” Dorian screamed. There as a stunned silence as Halward watched Dorian tremble before him, looking as if he might cry before steeling himself once again.

Without another word, his boy turned around abruptly and disappeared into his room. The door slammed, and Halward was left standing alone in deafening silence of his house.


“I can’t wait to get home, you know. To finally be able to sleep on a proper bed to sleep off this blasted illness. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Livia was saying as she winced, holding a scented handkerchief to her nose. Two times now, since they have broken camp, Livia had made a desperate call for a rest. Bull hurriedly helped her off her horse so she could be sick in private, retching helplessly into a shrub as Dalish rubbed her back and offered her water and some preserved lemon rinds to settle her nausea.

Peacock snorted in response, and Livia patted the gentle beast’s head.

“Your safety and comfort come first, though,” the Qunari said, as he gently led Livia’s horse down the smoothest path on the road. Any movements that are overly jerky made her head swim and have her running to the nearest bushes to hurl the contents of her stomach.

“I just don’t know if you could handle the sea-voyage in your condition,” Bull continued.

“I do realise that,” Livia agreed, “That said, Dorian’s father is anxious to have us return home quickly, so I would hate to think I would disappoint him.”

“Oh? The Magister?” Bull said, taking a warm interest in the subject on hand. “Where’s he at?”

“Back at our villa, I expect. He intends to follow us home within the week,” Dorian interjected, feeling a small resentment at being neglected by both his wife and the Bull. “We’re terribly delayed as it is - so… hopefully we’re still be able to get on that next ship before he does.”

Bull wasn’t convinced. “I dunno. It’s a pretty shitty thing to want your kids to board a ship if they can’t even walk without falling over.”

“Well, he would have been informed that we have been attacked by now and might send someone to come after us,” Dorian said, already cheering up since he’s had the full attention of his companions again. “With some luck, he could even catch up with us. I expect he’ll be pleased to see that you have been so helpful to us. He might even know the whereabouts of your paramour if you asked.”

Livia frowned. “Paramour? Bull’s?”

“Apparently our burly companion here has taken a Tevinter Altus as a lover,” Dorian said, sliding a long look at Bull’s direction and grinned.

Livia’s face lit up. “Oh! How exciting! Both of you must come visit us someday.”

Bull felt like he needed to punch something or someone in the face, but mastered a sunny smile anyway. “Provided I could find him,” Bull said, marvelling at the calm, cool response he had offered.

“Well, we could help, but you didn’t want to give me his name,” Dorian retorted, looking at Bull admonishingly, a little hurt that his new friend didn’t trust him enough to furnish him with the juicy details.

Bull just shrugged, and returned to silence, now deep in thought at the new information given to him.

Right. His father’s coming to collect him. No fucking way I’m gonna to let that happen.



~ 9:39, Dragon, Pavus Estate ~

How can I try to explain
Cause when I do he turns away again
It's always been the same, same old story

From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away

The year came and went, but his father’s anger had not dissipated. Since his visit to the young Lord back at Minrathous, Dorian had been stripped of his monthly stipend, and was all but confined to the Pavus estate. He was not allowed visitors nor leave his home for fear that he might be, according to his father, "up to mischief". His stash of coins had all but dwindled and they were safely locked away in his drawers.  Servants hovered around him both night and day, looking embarrassed, averting their eyes, as if they were sorry for the predicament he was in.

“Can’t even take a piss without him knowing,” Dorian muttered bitterly to himself, as he lay on his bed, trying to read a book. Winter had come, and a cold air that no fire could warm had seeped into the very stones in his house. The hours yawned before him, and every day seemed to stretch into eternity.

This is not working.

How long was it since he had spoken to his father? Months, it seems. It was unbearably lonely, and Dorian had a mad thought of breaking his father’s door down just to scream at him again. Halward, however, was locked in his studies and refused to meet him. His mother was, of course, nowhere to be found.

Today was a little different. There were voices in the hallway, and when Dorian had poked his head out of his room, he saw three men following his father into the study. Halward’s eyes caught his for the moment, and the expression on his father’s face darkened a little before he closed the door firmly behind him.

Alarms when off in his head. His father had refused close friends and family after Dorian’s stunning display of debauchery last year. For him to accept three strangers into his private study was unheard of. He stopped a servant (who was steadfastly avoiding his eyes) as she was making her way towards the kitchen to prepare some refreshments for their unlikely guests. Her name was Devera, and she had been with the family since before Dorian was born.

“Devera, are we expecting guests?” he whispered to his trusty servant, his eyes darting towards his father’s door, still stubbornly closed.

When Dorian saw her face turning white as a sheet, his heart fell to the floor.

Leave tonight or live and die this way.

“What are their names?” he asked instead, his voice cracking as he spoke.

There were three men, the elven woman explained. Magister Halward had arranged for a meeting with them in secret for fear of causing a scandal. Cerastes, Harach, Nomaran they were called. Dorian repeated them to himself till they were embedded into his brain like a brand. Those were the names of known Maleficars within the Imperium - experts in the art of blood magic and members of the Venatori.

“So it has come to this then,” he said as fear and anger washed through him like a fiery tempest.

Leave tonight or live and die this way.

Without another word, he grabbed his winter coat as well as the last of his savings from his drawer before striding firmly towards his father’s room.

“Master Dorian,” Devera was saying, her eyes and nose red and looking as if she was going to cry. She hurried after him, tugging helplessly at his robes. Still, Dorian would not be stopped. With a deep breath, he waved his hand and conjured a massive force spell that blasted his father’s door into splinters.

His father was seated at his desk. Dorian vaguely remembered being five, settling on his father’s lap as he watched Halward at work. It was a distant memory now as he slammed his hands on Halward’s desk, and brought his face close to his father’s.  

The Maleficars made a motion as if to attack, but Halward raised a hand to stop them.

“I’m leaving. I want no part of whatever you have in store for me,” Dorian gritted out, his teeth clenched so hard his veins stood out in cords on his neck.

“Dorian,” his father began to say, but Dorian could no longer listen. Blood was rushing in his ears, and he could hear nothing but his own pain.

Leave tonight, or live and die this way.

“You have no hold over me, and I cannot be bought with your gold, so I’m leaving. The only way you’ll stop me from getting out of this fucking house is if you killed me. It’s better than being kept like a prized stallion waiting to be bred with a mare.”

Halward snapped and swiftly got his feet. His open palm smashed so hard against Dorian’s face that his son staggered back, tasting blood in his mouth. Their steely eyes glared at each other in challenge, faces so similar it was as if they were both looking in mirrors.

“Get out,” Halward finally said, his voice going quiet. Dorian knew that Halward meant every word. “You’re no son of mine.”

Wordlessly, Dorian turned on his heels and left his father’s study.

Cheek stinging and face wet, he walked by his room and past his weeping servants. He continued down the long and lavish flights of steps, through the halls of his family and with nothing more than the clothes on his back - Dorian Pavus walked right out his father's front door. Even when marbled floor gave way into the cobblestones of the streets, still he walked - leaving footprints in the snow and never once looking back.

I'm on my own now.


 

~ 9:41, Dragon, Skyhold ~   

All the times that I cried
Keeping all the things I knew inside
It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it

If they were right, I'd agree
But it's them they know not me
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away

Skyhold was calm at night. The hustle and bustle of life in the fortress was certainly enough to wear anyone out - and so Dorian welcomed the peace that darkness brought him. The lamps were lit, and the interior of the castle was basked in a warm, comforting glow from the flickering flames.

Pity no one thought it prudent to perfume the rooms. Ferelden smelled like wet dog and shit.

The library, especially, was quiet, and it was there Dorian chose to spend his late nights devouring his books. Fiona had long since retreated to her chambers, bidding him a polite if not distant goodnight before retreating into the shadows. There were the occasional rustling of papers as Solas shuffles through ancient manuscripts at his desk, but he too disappeared, leaving nothing but a single candle almost burned down into a stump.

Tonight was different. Tonight, Dorian sat drinking at his usual corner, accompanied by a little lamp and a book. It was one of Varric’s - incredibly silly and scandalous, but it did absolutely nothing to calm the storm in his heart and mind. So Dorian stared at the pages, watching the words swim before him like little fish in the lake near his home in Qarinus.

It had been days since the last confrontation with his father in Redcliffe, and it took every last bit of energy from him. Dorian drank again from his bottle. He was contemplating pilfering more wine from the Inquisition’s cellar, but footsteps coming up the stairway distracted him from his thoughts.

“Isn’t it a little too late for you to be roaming about Skyhold, Bull?” Dorian called out into the semi-darkness before the Qunari emerged, carrying a plateful of food. From the looks of it, Bull had carried with him a meal fit for two Qunaris - it was loaded with fruits, cheeses, breads and some grey mess that might have been meat.

Bull shrugged and grinned, before beginning to set the plate down on Dorian’s table. The mage made a half-hearted protest about his book getting dirty, and hastily placed it onto his lap.

“Didn’t see you at dinner,” came the deep rumble as Bull, to Dorian’s surprise, decided to settle down opposite him.

“Didn’t feel hungry,” Dorian admitted, reaching out for a piece of cheese. His stomach rumbled in anticipation. He realised that he hadn’t eaten all day.

“Didn’t see you at several dinners,” Bull said, looking at him pointedly before helping himself to some fruit.

“Oh, are we sharing these then?” Dorian teased, “Here I thought you were being thoughtful and had brought me a meal to last for several days.”

Bull chuckled and helped himself to Dorian’s wine. The mage protested once again, a little more passionately this time.

“You doing alright?” Bull said, carefully looking hard down onto their plate for the ripest grape in the bunch to eat. Dorian paused, felt his heart fall into his stomach, before shrugging.

“If you’re making reference to whatever happened at Radcliffe - I’d say I am fine. It’s been a week. I’ll get over it,” Dorian said as he frowned into his hands, barely noticing they were clenched into tight fists. Bull remained silent, patiently waiting for Dorian to continue.

“We’ve had these arguments before, my father and I. It's been going on for as far as I can remember. It’s really nothing new.”

“Doesn’t mean it hurts less every time it happens,” Bull said, his voice quiet. Dorian felt tears prickled behind his eyelids, and grew angry. He snorted.

“I didn’t think you’d be bothered about this, to be honest. You don’t seem the kind to be terribly affected by family disputes. You don’t even have one.”

Bull looked at him, his expression almost steely, but his voice was kind.  

“Maybe, but I know what it’s like to disappoint people who cared about me. I grew up with my Tama back in Par Vollen. She comforted me, cared for me, raised me with her own two hands and was the kindest person I've ever known. She saw me as a kid, not another soldier, and she’s the only one who knew the person I was before I became Ben-Hassrath. So trust me when I say - as someone just recently declared Tal Vashoth - I get it.”

It was Dorian’s turn to be silent, but Bull wasn’t finished.

“I’ve always wanted her approval, so right now? This feels like shit. Doubt it’ll ever go away but you know - I just wanted to tell you that you don’t have to be alone.”

Dorian smiled, oddly touched.

“Well, that’s quite a passionate speech you made there. Didn’t think you’d have it in you.”

It was Bull’s turn to snort.

“Hey, you know me. I’m nothing if not passionate. Look, I care about my people. A lot. And I care… that you’re not eating right. That you’re stuck here all day, avoiding friends. You don’t have to keep pretending that things are alright. It’s okay to be mad, as long as you know that we got your back.”

Dorian did tear up this time, and Bull rummaged around in his pocket to pull out a well-washed handkerchief the size of (in Dorian’s mind) a tablecloth.

“Really, now. A handkerchief? You never cease to surprise me,” Dorian said with a sniffle, as he dabbed the corners of his eyes with it.

“It's a hit with the ladies,” Bull muttered, clearing his throat as Dorian laughed.

“I thought you just needed coin for that.”

They grinned at each other and then quietly snickered like school boys. Dorian paused for a while before speaking.

"I love my father. He was everything I aspired to be," the mage said, tracing the grains on the wooden table with a finger, his brows furrowing a little. "You know, I used to sit on his lap, just watching him work when he was in his study. Once, I was wailing and carrying on about a broken toy - a wooden duck with wheels, I think. Servants chased me round the entire house trying to calm me down."

Bull chuckled as Dorian smiled at the memory.

"I was so young, no more than six, perhaps. Father was meeting some important members from the Magisterium in his room, and there I was - a little terror on legs barging into his room, screaming at the top of my lungs about a damn duck. He didn't even blink an eye. He just lifted me up, put me on his lap and carried on the meeting like it was normal."

Bull laughed this time, loudly and heartily while Dorian scowled at him in play.

"Shit, my Tama would have knocked me on my ass if I did that," Bull said with a chuckle. "I was always a handful as a kid though. Once I left the vegetables on my plate at lunch, and she told me I couldn't go out to play if I don't eat two more items. So I took out two pieces of meat I hid in my pockets, looked her in the eye, ate them and ran off."

Dorian laughed till he cried, while Bull beamed in his direction.

“Hey, Dorian. I’m heading to dinner with the boys. Do you want to come?”

“Again? Didn’t we just eat?” Dorian said, his tone incredulous, looking pointedly at the unfinished food before them.

“Nah, this was just a snack,” Bull answered, slapping his round belly before making a move to stand up on his feet. He winced and sighed happily as his back issued an ungodly crack when he stretched. “Someone caught some ram, and they’re making stew.”

“And after?” Dorian continued, raising an eyebrow full of meaning.

“Yeah, after, we’ll get some sleep. It’s been a long day.”

As if on cue, Dorian protested again (“What, just sleep ?”) as Bull chuckled and wrapped Dorian in a tight embrace, almost lifting the mage off the floor when he did. It startled Dorian, but the contact was not unwelcome. Bull was warm, and as Dorian buried his face into the Qunari’s neck, he could feel Bull’s pulse beating beneath his lips. Rhythmic. Strong. Steady. Echoing the pitter pattering of his own heart.  

“I got you. We can talk after dinner. All night, if you want,” Bull murmured into Dorian’s hair and then pressing a hard kiss on his cheek. “You’re not alone.”

When they parted, Bull’s face had softened in a way Dorian hadn’t seen before. So when Bull extended his hand, Dorian didn't hesitate to slip his into that big, warm palm. They shared a smile and then, hand in hand, they too disappeared into the dark leaving the silence of the room behind them.


“Chief, you ok?” Krem asked as concern marred his face, his voice pitched low so no one else could hear. Bull hadn’t spoken since he traded a few words with Livia and Dorian. The Qunari had remained deep in thoughts, snapping out once in a while to answer Livia’s questions or laugh at Dorian’s clever jokes before returning to his stubborn silence.  Krem saw Dorian cast a not-so-secret glance at Bull’s direction, and looked anxious - as if he wanted to speak further with his stoic saviour, but didn’t know how to start a conversation without making some silly comments about the weather or the muddy ground they were trudging across.

“Heard anything from Skinner as yet?” Bull suddenly asked. Krem shook his head.

“We should be expecting her to return soon - with word about Magister Tilani.”

“Good,” Bull murmured, “We probably need her to back us up. Soon.”

“Back up? For what?”

“For when we’re attacked. We’ve got the Magister on our heels, and we’ve stalled long enough for whoever attacked Dorian to catch up.”

Krem groaned. “Stuck between shit and a shithole.”

Bull chuckled. “Pretty much. Keep your eyes peeled.”

Krem nodded and both men returned their attention to the roads as the sun began its slow descend across the horizon.

Chapter Text

Qarinus, 9:14 Dragon

It was a Sunday morning, and Qarinus began her day with the prettiest blue skies its citizens had yet seen that year. The air was cool and crisp, and the golden sun hid behind a large, fluffy cloud as little Dorian skipped along the street that led to the town fair near his home. He was dressed in his best outfit as he held Deveda’s hand, occasionally catching her as she would stand up very straight and smile slightly to herself as passers-by cast long, admiring looks in their direction.

They had good reason to stare. Small in stature, dark haired, and with a handsome profile, Deveda was a pretty woman for her age, Dorian would think, and though he was too young to know it, she was one of the luckier elves within the Imperium to be given honest and paid work.  She had been his nursemaid and servant to the Pavus family for as long as he could remember.

“One, two, three,” Dorian muttered to himself, as he counted and hopped across puddles, always careful not to let his shiny boots get dirty with mud.

His father had joined them for their walk today. Dorian watched as Halward strode in front of them, robes fluttering ever so gently in the morning breeze, and Dorian could smell the faint scent of sandalwood oil as he trotted behind him.

“One, two, three,” Dorian said again.

“Come along now, Dorian. No dawdling,” his father said without turning back. His voice though firm was gentle.  Still, Dorian knew better than to argue as he walked as fast as his legs could carry him, tugging at Deveda’s hand urgently.

“All right, all right,” Deveda said with a laugh. “Would you like me to carry you?”

“No, I’m a big boy!” Dorian cried, his voice shrill, almost breathless, as he stamped his polished boot on the dusty ground.

Halward did chuckle then, his voice velvety smooth. “Do not pamper the boy so, Deveda.” He held out a large hand and Dorian clasped it eagerly, his heart filled with love for his handsome father.

“Could we go look at the toys today, Father?” Dorian asked, his pale eyes large with excitement as the bright colours and delicious smells of the fair greeted him. The air was filled with the scent of freshly baked bread and the sweet aroma of jam and candied fruits. Dorian’s belly rumbled, but he decided that hunger could wait for later. There are more important things , he thought, as the memory of the wooden duck by the window flashed across his mind. He had wanted it for as long as he could remember.

 

“If you behave, yes,” said his father. “We’ll go to that shop that sells the wooden crafts you like so much.”

“Oh yes, please. And I’ll be good! I promise,” came the small voice in response.

Halward flashed a rare smile, tightening his grip on his son’s hand ever so slightly. Then together they pressed on, father and son meandering through the riot of colours and activity in the heart of Qarinus on that perfect, sunny day.

***

Par Vollen, 9:14

The imekaris were awake earlier than normal today. The mood was unusually high, and the little ones’ faces were shining with excitement as they watched the older boys and girls lining up to be accepted into their new roles.

The Antaams had been selected the week before, and Ashkaari had stood close to his Tama then, his heart skipping at the sight of the serious faces solemnly standing in perfect straight rows as they were inspected by the stens. Swords had been placed in their small hands, and then shields, their collective weights almost pulling them into the ground, making them stumble. Yet they had retained their composure, their small bodies straining under the weight of iron and steel -- the perfect soldiers as they marched away towards their destiny.

Today, the Ben-Hassraths had arrived. Finally, it was finally Ashkaari’s turn to become a man. His belly gave a weird flip-flop of excitement, as the Ariqun made a rare appearance, speaking quietly with the Tamassarans. Several high-ranking officers stood by his side, some smiling in encouragement, and some stern. There were elves among them, Ashkaari could see, their function and position within their ranks displayed clearly in the armor and colours they wore on their belts.

“It’s him!” someone whispered to his left, another child whose voice was pitched low to avoid being heard. Ashkaari trembled a little as the Ariqun’s keen, amber eyes swept across the eager faces before him.

“Today...” the Ariqun began, his voice ringing out loud like the clashing of steel on steel. “Today is the day you will no longer be Imekaris. You will be so much more - you are to fulfill a purpose for our people. To serve. To protect. To defend. To become the beating hearts of the Qun.”

Ashkaari listened in shining admiration, his heart full and his expression enraptured. Then the speech ended, and all too soon, it was time to go.

They had received no weapons - and needed none. For now. That was not their purpose. Yet it was a day of purpose. Eagerly, Ashkaari followed as the Ariqun led his people and the children away. Then, from the corner of his eyes, he saw his Tama standing under the shade of a palm tree, watching as her wards were finally taken away from her.

Ashkaari gave a slight pause. He wanted to reach out to her to say his goodbyes. To thank her. To say he would never forget her. But the children jostled behind him, eager to move forward, and he was torn away from the moment. When he looked again, they had already gone too far past.

Was that pride he had seen on her face? Or sadness at the knowledge that she would never see him again?

Before Ashkaari could decide, she had slipped away into the crowd and disappeared without a trace.

***

Asariel, Present Day

The port of Asariel was a mere few hours away, but the company had had to make one last pit stop before pressing onwards.

The Sun was already setting, casting long shadows upon the path before them. Livia was getting weaker by the minute, and the brisk pace they had set since daybreak had drained colour from her cheeks. Still, her determination to get on that ship to Qarinus had given her the motivation she needed to stay on her horse without swooning. Sweat was beginning to form on her face, and it wasn’t long before Dorian demanded that they stop in order to allow her time to catch her breath.

“I’m fine, Amatus,” she said, even as she struggled against her heavy breathing and dizziness. She tried to breathe shallowly to  suppress her nausea. “I’m fine,” she said again.

“No, you’re not,” Dorian insisted, “You need rest.” He lifted her gently but firmly off her horse and set her upon a tree stump by the side of the road. She swayed, but relented, resting her head on Dorian’s chest.

“Here, this will help,” Dalish said, pressing a small leather pouch into each of their palms. Livia gratefully accepted the offer, and proceeded to nibble on several lemon rinds.

“Oh, don’t they taste absolutely horrible?” he said, his upper lip curling a little to express his disgust, but he stopped when Livia shot him a dirty look.

“It does help,” she said, her voice terse.

“I apologise, love. Let me get you some water.” He left Livia in Dalish’s care and moved closer to Bull, who was locked in a deep conversation with Krem.

“Bull, do you happen to have any more of that honeyed water with you? Livia could do with a few sips.” he asked, frowning at the flustered look on Krem’s face.

Bull’s face was aloof;  impassive and courteous, conveying nothing. “Of course.”

“No, I’ve got it,” Krem answered instead, raising his own waterskin in reply. After glancing briefly from Bull to Dorian, he quickly fled to Livia’s side leaving the two men alone. Dorian did not know it yet, but the Bull had lots to say.

“She’s not going to make it to the Ports in time - not in her current condition. Are you sure you don’t have any other alternative routes or anyone to lay low with until some of your backups arrive?” Bull asked, his tone low and measured.

“Father must be close behind, but I’d rather not wait around to be caught in another ambush. Those people who attacked me thought I was him . He’s the real target. He has his guards with him, so he should be safe for now - which leaves myself and Livia exposed, and I simply cannot afford to wait for him to catch up.”

Bull did not look convinced. “If your attackers are on board, what will you do then? Bash them on the heads with your stick while she’s unconscious? Because that worked so well the last time.”

“Then come with us ,” Dorian said, almost desperate. “I can guarantee you safe passage back once I’m safe in Qarinus. I don’t have much in way of coin for now, but I promise you - you'll be well rewarded for your time and efforts.”

“This isn’t about the coin , Dorian. I’ve worked with nobles who’d pay more for less work. This is about you putting my men at risk, and me allowing you to put yourself and your wife in danger of being ambushed and attacked on that damn ship. It would be irresponsible of me to agree to that.”

“Then what would you have me do?” Dorian hissed, gesticulating exasperatedly with his hands around at the dusty road that yawned before them — as well as the ominous rows of trees at the edge of the woods. “I’m running low on my supplies. There’s no telling when my next “episode” will occur or who I’d try to stab the next time. Livia’s getting sicker by the minute and desperately needs healers. Proper healers. I appreciate what Dalish has done, but the dried lemon peel isn’t going to help her. We don’t exactly have the luxury of staying with relatives in this godforsaken place. I’m running out of options here.”

“Is everything all right?” Livia asked, appearing by Dorian’s side unexpectedly. She smelled pleasantly of lemons and honey.

“It’s getting more dangerous trying to get you to the port,” Bull answered, “Like I was telling Dorian - you’re not well. You’re not going to make the trip, especially if there’s only the two of you on that ship. You need guards - real guards -  that can handle those mages that are tracking you. Not mercenaries - and certainly not people like Krem and me, who are either being hunted by the authorities in Minrathous or looked upon suspiciously for being a Qunari.”

Livia sighed unhappily, but it was obvious from her face that she could not disagree. “So what do we do now?”

Dorian paused before continuing to speak. “The only one I know who might be close enough to reach out to would be Magister Tilani. I think she’d help, even if she has had a fallout with Father before.”

Livia nodded her head. “Yes, she’s a good woman. I believe you were still friends with her when you left Tevinter for the South. I’m not sure what the fallout was about, though. Father had been reluctant to talk about her, but she seems lovely enough.”

A grimace passed over Dorian’s face. “Well, I don’t remember anything about that. So I’ll have to take your word for it. How do we get in contact with her?”

Bull took a deep breath. “As it happens, she’s already aware I’m near the harbour. I should be receiving word from her soon.”

Dorian frowned. “What? How do you even know her? A Magister from the Imperium of all people?”

Bull shrugged. “We’ve been in contact with her since I was recruited into the Inquisition several years ago. As you know, I’m looking for someone -”

“Your lover?” Livia said, inquiringly.

“ - yes, him,” Bull said, with a cool nod of his head, “She’s an ally and friend of his. He got the Inquisition to send some of their best templars to protect her in Qarinus. So, in return for the favour, she has helped me to write up some letters that get me easily past the borders in Tevinter. Been sending her a weekly update ever since we arrived.”

“That’s quite an ally you have there, Iron Bull,” Dorian said, his expression turning thoughtful and almost admiring.

Bull chuckled.  “Yeah, we’ve done well for ourselves, all things considered. We know people. You’re not the only one with the connections.”

“Well, this is wonderful news indeed,” Livia said, breathing easily for the first time in days. “Perhaps Mae could help us get on that ship and back home. We could even wait for her for a few days for the next ship to Qarinus if we miss it - rent a few rooms for all of us. We’re out in the open, yes, but no one would possibly attack us in a crowd of people without attracting unwanted attention. Even the Venatoris wouldn’t risk being exposed.”

Bull gave Livia something akin to an admiring look if only a little begrudgingly. “Yep. That sums it up. Very good.”

“Well, all right, then,” Dorian said, still a little cautious at the suggestion. “We could set up camp here tonight and leave at first light.”

Bull nodded again and offered a small smile. “Couldn’t say no to that.” He barked an order and the rest of the company prepared to settle down for the night under the white moon of Asariel.

***

Dorian

It was not the cold that woke Dorian up from his restless sleep, but the low crackling of the campfire a short distance away from where he slept. Groggy and aching all over, he found himself bundled up in several blankets and Bull, apparently, had thrown his own cloak over Dorian and Livia as they slept.

Dorian glanced at his wife, and found her sleeping peacefully by his side, her cool hand resting on his chest. The dark smudges under her eyes revealed how tired she was, but her breaths were restful and easy. By the dim flickering of flame and the sliver of moonlight through the trees, Dorian felt strangely alone as his thoughts drifted to Bull.

In a few hours, they’d part ways, Dorian thought to himself, and the mere suggestion of it in his brain brought a twinge in his heart. The man had been a great friend and ally, and it would be a shame indeed to do so forever, with no hope of speaking to each other again. Dorian had precious few friends, and even in the short time they had been together, Dorian knew Bull was different. He remembered the kindness Bull had shown him, and despite the gruff and curt attitude Bull had displayed on occasion, Dorian knew he would have been dead without the Qunari’s help.

With that thought in mind, he sat up from his bedroll, slowing extricating himself from Livia’s embrace, and he decided to search for Bull.

He did not have to look far. After almost tripping over Krem and Dalish, who were curled up and asleep by the fire, Dorian found Bull sitting alone, away from his companions, his massive back slouching as he sat upon a log. There was something incredibly sad about the image presented before him, and Dorian could not help but feel a small knot in the pit of his stomach... and a lump in his throat.

“I’m going to miss him.” It was a soft voice that took root at the back of his mind, like a secret whispered in the dark, but it was enough to make his heart clench in his chest. He paused for a split second, wondering if he was intruding on the Qunari’s privacy before firmly stepping away from the comforts of the shadows into the silvery moonlight, making his way towards The Bull.

***

Bull

The night was quiet enough, so once Bull was confident that Dorian and his men were safe and soundly asleep, he crept away to settle down on a fallen tree not too far away from their camp. The wind had started to howl, making the leaves in the treetops rustle and the branches sway and snap. Bull did not mind the cold; he needed the solitude more. To think. And, perhaps, to try and not to feel so much. To be physically hurt is one thing, but to endure a quiet and prolonged suffering of the heart - it was not something Bull had had to face very often. And it was definitely not an emotion he enjoyed.

It would not be long now. Bull knew time was running out for him, and there were not many excuses left that would stall Dorian and prevent him from boarding that damned ship. It was an unusual situation, perhaps. Bull had never before undertaken a mission without meticulous planning beforehand, after all.

But this. This was different. He had not expected to meet Dorian the way he had, and given that Dorian’s memory had been entirely wiped clean, he did not want to run the risk of putting Dorian under unnecessary stress. He had seen what that did to Dorian - eyes rolled all the way to the back of his head, body going stiff and foaming a little at the mouth. The truth would have been easy to tell, but he did not have the heart to potentially put Dorian through that again.

Bull slid his hand into his pocket, his fingers wrapped around a solid object safely hidden in a leather pouch. It was an amulet - Dorian’s of course. Bull had wondered what would happen if he had just presented the amulet to Dorian and Livia, but decided he really did not fancy dealing with the drama that would arise from such actions given two very, very ill individuals.

“Fuck,” Bull said aloud, to no one in particular. There was a sudden rustle from behind him, and Bull’s hand flew instinctively to the pommel of his blade as he swiftly leaped to his feet.  He paused in surprise when he saw Dorian stepping cautiously towards him into the moonlight.

The soft lights seemed to kiss the mage’s cheekbones, picking out silvery highlights in his tousled, dark hair. Dorian looked beautiful, Bull thought to himself. Even more so than usual. Ethereal almost - and Bull felt that familiar deep sense of unhappiness in his heart that he could barely shake off.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Dorian said, his eyes watchful and mouth unsmiling.

***

Dorian

The Bull stood before him, quiet and, despite the hand on the pommel of his massive blade, unthreatening. Slowly, Dorian sensed the tension leaving Bull’s body, and he could almost hear the Qunari heave a sigh of relief.

“You should be asleep,” Bull began to say, his voice pitched low, husky with exhaustion.

“I was. Now I’m not,” was Dorian’s answer as he walked tiredly towards Bull, wrapping his cloak tighter around him and settling primly on the log. It felt damp under him, but he did not really care.

Bull cocked his head to one side, watching Dorian for a moment before he too sat down next to the mage, his body comfortably close to Dorian’s and radiating no small amount of heat.

There was a short, companionable silence for the moment, as Dorian watched his breath misting slightly in the cold air. Bull did not seem to have much to say either. But the night was beautiful and stars twinkled in the sky like precious gems. There was a rare moment of peace in Dorian’s mind, and he was happy enough to enjoy the moment when he could.

“Bull, have we met? Before this moment, I mean,” Dorian heard himself asking. It surprised both of them, and Dorian could sense Bull watching him carefully from the corner of his eye.

“What makes you ask that?” came the easy response.

Dorian frowned, deep in thought. “You said it was good to see me again when we were at the inn’s stable. And you knew my name without my even telling you. It stands to reason that we knew each other at some point.” His slid a long look at Bull. “I just don’t know why you don’t seem to be keen on talking about it.”

A corner of Bull’s lips curled up in a smile, but there was no real joy in it.

“We’ve met,” Bull simply said, “some years ago, when you were with the Inquisition.”

Dorian was quiet for a moment, his heart pounding in his chest. “Were we close?”

Bull smiled—a real one, this time—and gave a small snort of laughter. “What do you think?”

“You saved my life. You’ve protected me, taken care of me, and now you’re committed to seeing me home. I can’t think of any reason why you’d do that for a stranger.”

“Maybe I’m just a nice guy.”

“Maybe you are. Just not an honest one,” Dorian said. But there was no heat behind his words. His eyes never left Bull’s. “Did I know him? Your lover.”

It was Bull’s turn to be silent. “Yeah. Yeah you did.”

Dorian frowned again. “And he just… disappeared?”

“He got on a ship to Qarinus and didn’t come back. Didn’t even send a letter.”

“So you followed him up North.” There was another pause.  “Have you found him?”

Bull looked Dorian straight in the eye. “Yes.”

( It’s forbidden )

“And you found out he got married to someone else after all that time away, I expect. Typical,” Dorian said, putting up an attempt at humour, yet he suddenly felt incredibly unhappy. The bitterness in his voice was evident, and both men did not really know how to continue the conversation.

The truth was easy enough to know, of course, but the reality of what it implied crushed Dorian. So, he shoved those thoughts, unpleasant and increasingly alarming as they were, into the back of his mind, and refused to pay them any further heed. It was too much and too soon. Suddenly he could not bear to be in the same breathing space as the Bull and quickly got to his feet. He started to feel ill.

( It’s forbidden )

The alarms in his brain were relentless, and he felt searing pain began throbbing behind his eyes. Then, “Bull… I-I don’t think we could go back to where we were,” Dorian whispered, feeling a lump began to grow in his throat.

Silence. Dorian felt Bull freeze in shock for a moment beside him before giving a small, humorless chuckle. “I know. I don’t expect that from you - not after all you’ve been through. Whatever you were, whatever we had before… it’s gone now. I get that.” He tossed his leather pouch in the mage’s direction. Dorian caught it easily enough. It was light, and whatever was inside was small but incredibly hard. “There. Take it. It’s yours. Open that when you’re on the ship,” Bull said. He got to his feet and began to walk away, into the opposite direction.

“I’m truly sorry, Bull,” Dorian started to say, hurrying after the Qunari. Bull stopped in his tracks as Dorian paused, his expression almost desperate, by his side.

“Yeah,” said Bull softly. “Yeah, me too, Kadan .”

Dorian gave a start, and felt as if he had fallen face first into icy, cold water. 

“Wait. Wh-what did you call me?” Dorian stuttered, feeling a strange cold creeping down his spine. His heart started to pound and he felt faint. The bells in brain rang louder, both deafening and relentless.

( Hey, Kadan )

His knees were the first to buckle, then he felt himself falling before Bull rushed to his side, holding him in his arms.

( So warm. So… familiar .)

“Hey, you alright? Kadan?” Dorian could barely hear Bull’s speaking, or see those lips moving.

( It’s been so long, Amatus. Have you missed me? )

It was his voice, Dorian was quite certain of it, but he was no longer in control of his own body. He saw Bull’s eye widen, and felt himself pull the Qunari in for a blistering kiss. Then, like a candle being snuffed out at its wick, Dorian felt his world engulfed by darkness and he slipped away into nothingness.

***

Krem

It was still dark when Krem was rudely jolted awake by Dalish’s cold feet pressing into his back. The elf had tried to seek heat beneath Krem’s undershirt, her toes curling comfortably into his warm flesh. Krem shivered, grumbled a little and cracked open an eye before noticing that Dorian was nowhere to be seen. Bull too, was suspiciously absent from the camp. He fumbled around for a while, seeking the comfort of his sword before slowly getting to his feet - his ears straining for sounds.

There were none. Not even the sound of crickets or the soft, melancholy hooting of a distant owl. And then there it was - that almost inaudible bark of surprise from Bull, and Krem made a dash towards his Chief, ready to defend him.

He was not really prepared for the sight before him, even if it was somewhat familiar. Dorian had his arms flung around Bull’s neck, looking impossibly tiny next to the Qunari. They were kissing - their mouths opening and closing ravenously upon each others, Bull’s massive fingers digging almost painfully into Dorians back and hair as the mage clawed at Bull almost as if he was starved for touch.

“Er, Chief? You two doing alright?”

Bull tore himself away from Dorian, before peering into the mage’s face, his own expression turning pale as he did.

“Wait. What the fuck. Dorian?” Krem heard Bull say.

Then, Dorian turned his face towards Krem as if he wanted to speak - except it was not Dorian anymore. Not really. The person before him looked as if he had been left in the cold for too long. Under the light of the moon, Krem could see Dorian clearly - ashen-faced, lips turning blue, breath misting in the air and eyes rolled all the way back into his head.

Then “Dorian” started to speak, his voice raspy as if it had not been in use for ages.

“Cremisius,” the mage murmured, nodding in Krem’s direction, before turning his sightless eyes towards Bull. “And you… Amatus . We need to talk.”

Chapter Text

Skyhold, 9:42

The low hum at the Herald’s Rest washed over Krem like a lover’s caress. Oil lamps flickered lazily upon the walls of the tavern, bathing its interior in a warm, comforting glow. The days were peaceful and the nights quiet. Too quiet.

Corypheus had been defeated for months, and there was nothing much left to do within the Inquisition except to run on a few missions here and there. Just last week, Krem led an Inquisition-sponsored expedition into the Hinterlands, clearing out the remaining few Fade Rifts  and flushing out minor demons from abandoned villages. Same old, same old. They were paid well enough, but Krem could tell that even the Chargers were getting restless. The war was over and it was time to go home. So one by one, the men left Skyhold to be with what’s left of their families. Only a few of the Bull’s Chargers remained.

In the near-empty tavern, Krem watched as his men nursed their ale, nibbling on the last slices of smoked ram and dried fruits. They were out of bawdy songs to sing tonight. The mood had soured of late, and it was not difficult to understand why.

Krem cast a long look towards the darkened corner of the tavern as Bull sat, slightly apart from the rest of the Chargers, watching over them from the shadows. He was silent and still, as if carved in stone. He watched as the serving girl, Candy, approached him, politely asking if he wanted more ale before leaning in to whisper into his ear, her breasts pressing intimately against a massive arm.

Krem could only guess at what was said, but her proposition apparently appealed to the Bull. He drained his tankard, set it down firmly on a nearby table and left the tavern without so much as a goodbye to his men. Candy made a show of cleaning up after the Qunari, but before long she too left the room, quiet and discreet as a chantry mouse.

The looks the Charges darted at Krem spoke volumes, but he was not one to engage in pointless gossip - least of all about his Chief’s sexual escapades.

Krem waited for as long as he thought was appropriate before addressing his men. “I’m turning in for the night,” Krem declared. He gave a stiff nod and hurried after Bull, trying to hide a worried expression on his face.

It had been months since Dorian left Skyhold, and the prolonged silence from the Vint had slowly sent his Chief towards the brink of some kind of madness. The Bull has never said much to anyone, of course. It wasn’t his style. Still, Krem could tell from the subtle cues in the Qunari’s mannerisms that he was getting anxious and frustrated. There was the increasingly clipped tone he used whenever his men made mistakes during training, the ferocious manner in which he threw himself into his missions and the constant  need to isolate himself whenever the Chargers gathered at the table for their meals.

So it did not surprise Krem that Bull allowed Candy to follow him. Not really. As Krem made his way towards Bull’s quarters, he saw the door cracked open and Candy emerging from within. If she was surprised to see Krem, she gave no indication. Instead, she offered a shy nod of her head before hurrying away towards the kitchens without another word. Krem took a deep breath and knocked, allowing a few moments to pass by before stepping into the room.

It took Krem a while for his eyes to get adjusted to the semi-darkness of the room. The fires were barely lit in the hearth, and its glowing embers did little to spread warmth to its occupant. A brisk wind had picked up outside the window that was left ajar, making the papers on Bull’s rickety desk flutter for a moment before scattering onto the floor.

Krem could barely make out the writings on the letters - quill and ink pressed hard against the pages in some places, and hard, angry scribbles that attempted to erase some unspoken words in others.  Letters and words lay on the stoney ground for the moment - forgotten and discarded.

The Bull was still naked, his breeches thrown carelessly over a solitary chair by the window and his boots flung near the fireplace. His back was turned, and he did not look Krem in the eye as he slowly moved about the room in an attempt to get dressed.

“We need to find him,” Krem began to say. He paused, expecting some kind of response from Bull. When there were none, Krem continued to speak. “You know it’s not like him to disappear without a trace. If something has gone wrong, we need to know. I’m sure the Inquisitor would agree.”

“I don’t know, Krem,” Bull answered, his voice ringing out hollow in the stillness of the room. “I’m not sure about using the Inquisition’s resources to sort out a personal issue.”

Krem felt himself getting angry. “This isn’t personal . After what you both have done for the Inquisition, Trevelyan owes you this much, at the very least. You’re owed , Bull.”

Bull remained stubbornly silent, sliding wordlessly into his breeches before fiddling around with his belt.

“You’re his friend. Both of you are. I don’t think it’s too much of a request to make.”

Bull shrugged. “I’ll think about it,” he said before turning his attention to his belt once again. It was a clear indication that Krem was dismissed. He paused, wanting to speak more, but from the hard lines of Bull shoulders, he knew that the Qunari was not up for a conversation for the night.

Temporarily defeated, Krem gave a small salute, quickly left the room and closed the door behind him. Then he heard it - that muffled crack as a clenched fist slammed against a wooden headboard, breaking it under its force. Krem’s hand hovered over the door handle as he pressed his ear against the solid slab of wood. When he was certain he could hear no more movements within, he strode off to pen a request for a temporary leave of absence from the Inquisition for the Bull and his Chargers

***

Qarinus, same day

Dusk had descended upon Qarinus, and the Pavus estate was preparing to turn in for the night. A lone figure moved within the silence of the house, the deft movements of his hands creating protective wards as he made his way around the perimeter of his home. Whether the wards were designed to protect his house from intruders or to prevent its occupants from escaping, no one knew besides Halward Pavus.

It had been some months since the Venatori returned Dorian to his birth home. Enchanted by Blood Magic and then heavily sedated, the young man had been in a catatonic state for many weeks, bursting into sudden fits of rage and violence from time to time, before slipping away into a fevered sleep. The servants were instructed to remove items that could be potentially used as weapons from Dorian’s chambers. Once they had been careless, and Dorian had succeeded in stabbing the family healer in the face with one of the servant’s hair pins. The healer never returned, so Livia was then tasked with the responsibility of looking after the well-being of her betrothed.

Halward did not know this - but at the exact moment when Bull heard Candy knocking on his door, the Magister felt the first sliver of unease running down his spine. And when Bull opened the door to let her into his quarters, Halward heard a crash at the far end of the corridor where his son was kept under constant supervision for the last couple of months.

Worried, he conjured a ball of light - white and pure - as it led him down the dark row of empty rooms towards Dorian’s chambers. The carpeted floors muted his footsteps, and his robes rustled and fluttered behind him like a swarm of ravens. He thought for a moment of calling out for his servant, Devera, but decided against it. The less people involved when Dorian had his “episodes” the better.

Halward did not know this - but Candy was gently disrobing the Bull at the exact moment the Magister threw open Dorian’s bedroom door. He could then only to watch in horror as he saw his only son standing precariously on the window ledge. Dorian’s back was turned as he seemed to gaze unseeingly at the darken sky, silently contemplating the stars as they winked and flickered - distant and out of reach.

With his heart clenching in his chest, Halward carefully advance into the room, terrified of making any sudden movements - terrified even to breathe. “Dorian,” he said, his voice low and soothing, “What are you doing up there?” His fingers twitched, ready to cast a barrier over Dorian if necessary.

At first, Dorian did not answer. He swayed a little upon the balls of his foot, as if he were still in a ship over open seas. Halward took another step towards his son.

“Dorian, have you seen Livia?” he asked again, inching towards the window. He was so close now - if he could just grab a hold of Dorians robe...

“No, I haven’t, Father,” Dorian finally answered, turning his face towards Halward. Under the moonlight, the Magister could see that Dorian’s face was wet from tears. They flowed freely from the younger man’s eyes before Dorian lifted a hand to wipe his face. When he saw the wetness on the palm of his hand, he looked increasingly surprised at himself.

“Don't do that, now. Come down here,” Halward said, lifting his arms towards Dorian.

( It’s forbidden )

The mage obediently complied, bracing a trembling hand against the window sill as he climbed down from the ledge and stepped into his father’s embrace.

“I feel…” Dorian began to say as he buried his face into Halward’s shoulder, “I don’t know why I feel so sad .” He burst into tears again, a hand clutching at his chest. “It’s as if something in here is broken “ he said, thumping his chest with emphasis, “And I don’t know how to fix it.”

“You’re alright now, son,” Halward said instead, stroking Dorian’s hair as if he was still a child from years ago. “I’ll take care of you.”

A small movement near the door caught his attention - it was Devera, her face pale as she carried with her a pot of hot water, a bag of tea leaves, and a small basin of fresh water with a sponge.

“Set it down by the side table there,” Halward instructed, as he led Dorian to bed. Carefully, Dorian slipped beneath the covers, his face glistening with fever sweats and tears. He had finally stopped weeping, and his eyes were fluttering close with exhaustion.

“Tea’s here, Messere,” Devera said, her voice quiet and her face unhappy. “I’ll wipe young Master Pavus down.” Taking the basin in her had, she made her way towards Dorian, making soft, soothing sounds as she began wiping his face, neck and chest.

With Dorian temporarily distracted, Magister Pavus got to work. Taking out a small dagger from a sheathe hidden under his robes, he ran the blade cross the palm of his hand and began reciting ancient incantations. It was a Pavus family secret, potent and then perfected during his last meeting with some prominent Maleficars within the Imperium - the same Maleficars that brought Dorian home to Qarinus after his unfortunate sea voyage from the South.

It was rarely used - except in dire and desperate situations - allowing the spellcaster power over their blood relations, to “bend” them to the caster’s will for as long as needed.

Halward watch as blood trickled down his palm, glistening like small rubies before it dispersed and dissipated into the bag of tea leaves, innocuous and harmless until consumed by its intended victim. He then prepared the tea and poured the steaming brew into a teacup before making his way towards his son.

Devera watched as Halward approached them, cup in hand. She furrowed her brows in displeasure but said nothing before stepping away into the shadows as Dorian smiled at his father. Halward smiled back. If there was any hint of regret at what he had done - what he still intended to do - he made sure not to show it.

“Two teaspoons of tea leaves and a teaspoon of honey?” Dorian asked, reaching out a trembling hand to accept his drink.

“Just the way you like it,” Halward answered as Dorian drank deeply before promptly falling into a deep sleep.

Dorian did not know this - but as his cup slipped from his fingers, shattering onto the stony floor, Bull was looking at his bloodied knuckles and the broken headboard, wondering what the fuck to do next.

***

Present, On the Road to the Harbours

To say the air was charged with tension was a bit of an understatement, all things considered. Krem did not quite know what to make of the whole affair. There he was, the man Bull had been looking for, looking like one of the damned spirits Dorian liked to resurrect during their battles. Ice had begun to gather where the mage stood, turning the grass at their feet white and brittle as they wilted in the cold.  The hairs on Krem’s neck stood on end, and his hand squeezed hard around the handle of his sword.

“Dorian?” Krem said, “Is that really you? We thought we’ve lost you.”

Bull, to his credit, had managed to keep his panic tightly under wraps, but even Krem could see the Qunari’s fingers twitching a little as it hovered above his blade’s hilt. Dorian must have sensed the slight tremors running through the Bull. He cocked his head, his unseeing eyes wide and white, before lacing his fingers through Bull’s.

“Now, now. There’s no need to be dramatic. I’m not here to set anyone’s face on fire, if that’s what you’re afraid of,” ‘Dorian’ said with a chuckle as he laid a comforting hand on Bull’s chest. It felt like getting poked in the heart with a shard of ice.

“I thought you’ve lost your memories,” Bull managed to say.

Dorian gave a small grimace. “Well, yes, technically I did. The work of Blood Magic, obviously. A particularly aggressive type too. It cannibalizes on pre-existing memories and recreate them to suit the purpose of the spell-caster. It then has the capacity to create phantom ‘feelings’ for things and people that are not there prior, dictate your responses to situations based on external suggestions et cetera. Very fascinating, really, if it hadn’t actually almost driven me to the brink of  madness. Lucky for all of us, I’ve managed to do a counter-spell of sorts and hid those memories somewhere where no one can have access to - right here in my brain.”

Krem felt his head spinning. “That’s… something.”

“Yes, I’m rather proud of it, myself,” Dorian said, sounding incredibly pleased with his accomplishments. “The human mind is a complex machine. Magic and physiology have to go hand in hand in order for the spell to be effective. Father must have known that when he had his lackeys ambush me on that ship home. So he had me heavily sedated so the old memories could not come back to the fore while he poked around my head and had me do things I normally would be adverse to. Like marrying my betrothed, for one.”

“Your father did this?” Krem asked. It was a rhetorical question, of course, because at their hearts of hearts, Bull and Krem both suspected as much. “And what sedatives exactly? There’s this tea that you’ve kept drinking. Is Livia involved in all of this?”

Dorian looked visibly upset, and a blast of cold wind was seemingly conjured, hitting both Krem and Bull in the chest like a block of ice. “Ah, so that’s how they’re keeping me locked away and incapacitated for so long, I expect. Tea. Laced with some kind of magic, probably. to keep me pliant and susceptible to his suggestions for as long as he could. How remarkably boring and unimaginative! No, she’s not involved in Father’s plans as far as I know. She does… care for me, I suppose. But yes, Magister Halward is responsible for this, and you need to keep him away from us, Amatus. He cannot find us.”

“That’s exactly why I’m trying to keep you away from the damn harbour,” Bull said with a grunt. Dorian nodded his head.

“Good! I’ve heard that you’ve got Mae involved too. That’s a great start. I cannot get on that ship, do you understand me, Amatus? If I do, you won’t see me again, and I don’t think I am strong enough to resist once Father gets his hands on me.”

“Can’t you…”

“Haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said?” Dorian scolded gently, “I’m barely able to have this conversation with you as it is, and I’m getting physically weaker by the minute just by being here. Every fiber of my being is rejecting me like I’m some kind of virus. I’m the only sane thing standing between “Dorian” as you know him and a fucking puppet for the Pavus family. You must have heard about the things Livia said I did. I hurt people and then have no recollection of what happened. I’m missing hours of my life because there’s that one part of me, completely primal and untamed, that manifests itself whenever old memories slips through the surface. It’s a constant battle in here, and I’m the only one standing in between them. I need time to recover, and you need to make sure I don’t drink that damn tea again.”

“What do we do about Livia?”

“I don’t know. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. She must understand, everything we had wasn’t real. It was just another lie constructed by a man who wanted nothing more than to marry his only son off and sire an heir. He obviously doesn’t care who he hurts in the process.”

Krem looked worried and looked as if he had loads to say. “Well, fuck,” he muttered instead, looking increasingly unhappy.

Dorian looked pointedly at Bull, who took a deep breath. “No matter what happens,” Bull said, “We’re putting you first.”

Dorian smiled. “Thank you, Amatus. Well, I’m afraid I have to deprive you of my esteemed presence for now. This body is getting weaker by the minute. If you ever need to speak with me, just say “Kadan” and I’ll come to you. Just… make sure we’re are a safe location when you do, will you? Preferably in Mae’s villa while we’re being served hot food and bottles of her finest wine.”

Before Bull could say another word, Dorian launched himself into Bull’s arms again, pulling him into a tight embrace. “I haven’t forgotten,” Dorian whispered into the Qunari's ear, his breath sending shivers down Bull’s spine. “Next time we meet, we’ll grow old together.” He then pressed his cold lips against Bull’s and then went limp, appearing to have lost consciousness.

Krem hastened to Bull’s side. “Is he alright?” Krem asked, brushing away a lock hair from Dorian’s forehead. The mage’s skin was cold and clammy to the touch.

Bull listened to Dorian breathing for a while. “Seems alright. Just knocked out.”

“What a fucking mess,” Krem began to say just as Dorian’s eyes slowly fluttered open. He had broken out into cold sweats and looked confused.

“Dorian?” Bull asked, peering down into the mage’s face.

“I… I need to get back to Livia,” Dorian said instead, his expression pained as he extricated himself from the Qunari’s grasp, desperate to put some distance between them. It was clear from the look on Dorian’s face that he had some memories of what had transpired a few minutes ago but wanted to pretend otherwise. Bull was not having any of it. Not now.

He grabbed Dorian's hand just as the mage was turning to leave, and looked him dead in the eye.

“No matter what happens next,” Bull said, his expression warm and his tone almost unbearably kind. “I’m putting you first.”

He then picked up the pouch that had fallen almost unnoticed upon the ground and pressed it into Dorian’s palm.

“It’s yours. Keep it.” Without another word, Dorian cast one last, haunted look at Bull and Krem’s directions and fled towards the camp.

“This is going to be messy, Chief,” Krem said, frowning as he watched Dorian’s retreating back. “Blood Magic is messy enough as it is. We don’t know what is going on or how to handle this shit. We need Mae immediately.”

“Yeah,” Bull grunted, scratching furiously at the base of his horn. “I hope Skinner finds us soon. We should be reaching the harbour in a couple of hours, and I’m running out of excuses.”

Both men exchanged troubled looks before they too made their way back to camp as the Sun began to rise in the east of Asariel.