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Haven Valley

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Tired, sore, and covered in dirt, Dorian could have cried when the first signs of civilization came into view. Escaping Tevinter on foot, while necessary, had not been Dorian’s finest idea. The journey south had been a long one full of despair and regret but finally, here he was.

Haven Valley.

Each step forward took all his willpower as he fought the urge to sit and weep. The stress of the last few weeks had worn at him but he was still a Pavus, for all that his father claimed otherwise, and a Pavus did not weep. Especially not in sheer, overwhelming relief.

As the houses on the horizon drew closer Dorian could see that Haven Valley was a town, of sorts. Perhaps village would be a more accurate description. The houses were small but well cared for and quaint enough to be in a painting at his parent’s manor. Hard packed dirt made up the streets except for a small square he could see in the center of the village.

A few people lingered about, their open stares not bothering him as perhaps they once would. He had enough energy left to find the blue two-story house across from the square but nothing more to spare a few gawkers. Felix’s directions had been vague; follow the road past Redcliffe and keep going until he found Haven Valley. The mayor lived in the big blue house at the center of town, on the edge of the square. She’d take care of the rest.

And there it was; a house decorated with numerous flower planters and its walls a soft shade of perfectly upkept blue.

The door opened before Dorian could knock to reveal a beautifully presented woman in a dress ornate enough for an Orlesian court. Gold ruffles accented a darker blue than her house and her hair was seemingly effortlessly swept back into a tidy bun. Dorian had felt underdressed before, on purpose if he was being unusually honest, what better way to stir up his fellow countrymen than to show up to their soirees fashionably undressed? But standing before this pristine looking woman in filthy, torn travelling gear was something entirely new.

“Dorian, I presume?”

He blinked, surprised, before managing to pull himself together. “Ah, yes. Dorian Pavus, most recently of Minrathous.”

“Josephine Montilyet, the mayor of Haven Valley,” she replied by way of introduction, a sweet smile overtaking her face. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve been in contact with your friend Felix, he was quite correct that you would be unmistakable.”

“But of course, my dashing good looks and superior fashion sense have preceded me!” Dorian reached a hand up to twirl the end of his mustache through his fingers in a tired mimicry of his usual charm. “It’s the moustache, isn’t it? Few Fereldens seem to understand the nuances of properly manicured facial hair.”

Josephine laughed, her smile widening. “Felix was nothing but flattering, I assure you. Now, give me but a moment and we can be on our way.”

She disappeared further into the house leaving Dorian standing awkwardly on her doorstep. Inside he could make out a well-appointed hallway with a long rug, several paintings lining the walls, and a delicate table displaying an ornate vase. That was a promising start at least, he didn’t expect anyone in Ferelden to have good taste.

“Felix sent a package for when you arrive,” Josephine said as she handed over a decently sized package. Dorian staggered briefly under the unexpected weight and took a moment to appreciate the ease Josephine had handled it with. “He was really quite worried about you. I’ll organize to send a raven while you settle in, I’m sure he’d feel more at ease knowing you’ve arrived safely.”

She carefully shut the door to the house behind her, not locking it Dorian noted, before setting off in a seemingly random direction. People waved as they passed, often calling out greetings to Josephine, and Dorian nodded in return to anyone that made eye contact. The number of houses that made up the village could be counted on both hands and a sinking feeling was settling low in Dorian’s gut.

“Don’t mind the staring, it’s not often we get new residents. Bull was the last, and that was a few years ago now. They’ll stop once they get to meet you.” Josephine turned to flash Dorian a smile where he lagged behind, trying not to show how out of breath he was carrying his package. Vishante kaffas, what had Felix put in here? It felt suspiciously like books.

“I’ll make a note to stop by and introduce myself sometime, after all, I couldn’t deprive them of my wonderous presence.” If it came out with a little more sarcasm than he intended, Josephine didn’t seem to mind. She merely laughed, a quiet thing but unrestrained, and full of understanding humour. 

“Don’t pressure yourself, you need to rest after your journey. There’s plenty of time for all that later and I’ll make sure everyone gives you a chance to settle in. Travel is hard at the best of times and Felix said that your move was unexpected.”

They fell into silence as they walked, Dorian now too out of breath to even attempt to talk. Josephine was right, the travel had taken its toll on him. All the staff training and hours spent keeping in shape had nothing on travelling for days, weeks, on foot. A few hitched rides in farmers carts did little to ease his tired body and nothing but the most pressing of exhaustion could ease his wounded spirit.

The village disappeared from view behind lush forest and still they followed the beaten dirt road. Just as he was about to question where, exactly, they were headed, Josephine spoke up.

“It’s not far now, the house is only a brisk walk from the village. Quite a lovely location, private but close, with plenty of space for you to renovate as you choose. I’m afraid it’s rather run down, it’s been vacant for a few years now, but when I heard that someone was finally interested in purchasing the old Dennet farm, I was delighted! It has such potential, it’s wasted sitting unused.”

Oh. Oh no. Please. Maker, please let Dorian have misheard.

“Felix said this is a new endeavor for you, so please do not hesitate to reach out if you need anything.”

The trees ahead opened up into a clearing. Waist high grass swayed gently in the breeze, interspersed with trees, fallen branches, and what looked suspiciously like boulders. The gentle sound of running water floated on the wind, suggesting a river hidden somewhere in the grass. In the center of it all a tiny wooden shack sat, bearing the faintest resemblance to something that might have been a farmhouse.

“Felix,” Dorian whispered as he stopped dead in his tracks. “What have you done?”

Chapter Text

“I know it doesn’t look like much but it’s sturdy and you’ll be able to renovate it exactly how you like,” Josephine hurried to assure him, mistaking the reason for the horror adorning Dorian’s face. “Bull is an excellent carpenter too. He built Sera’s house and put the second story on Liliana’s. I’ve already had him check over the house for any leaks and he assures me it’s perfectly sound.”

“I— thank you,” Dorian replied weakly, unable to say anything else.

He dutifully followed as Josephine continued towards the small shack that was now Dorian’s, barely paying attention as she pointed out this and that. All he could think about was what in Andraste’s name was Felix thinking? Dorian was a scholar, a mage, and a pampered Altus of Tevinter. He didn’t know the first thing about looking after himself let alone farming.

Was this what his life amounted to?

Hiding out in the ass end of Ferelden to become some plebian farmer?

All his years of study and research, gone in the blink of an eye. He left with nothing in the dead of night, risking his life to see his best friend one last time before he left. When Felix had told him he had a plan, that he had purchased property and placed the deed in his name, Dorian had been relieved. He’d had no more plan than he had personal possessions so to be given one by his most trusted friend was a blessing.

Dorian was now of the mind that this plan was nothing short of mad, perhaps in penance for some long forgotten slight. Yet Felix wasn’t that kind of person.

Josephine slipped a key into the locked door and swung it wide open, pulling Dorian from his thoughts. The house interior was neat, if spartan, and not a speck of dust to be seen. A low bed sat in one corner, a small kitchen the other, while the only other furniture comprised of a chest, a table, and two chairs.

“I know it’s not much but I made sure it was cleaned in anticipation of your arrival.” Josephine walked over to place the key on the table before turning to grace him with another smile. “I’ll let you settle in, you must be tired. Blackwall has another gift for you from your friend Felix, I’ll send him over before dinner with some food. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to seek me out.”

With Dorian’s stunned thanks she left, closing the door gently behind her. He was left standing in the middle of a one room house with nothing but the clothes on his back and a too-heavy package from Felix.

Stealing himself, he set the package on the table and set to opening it. Inside he found five books on farming, plants, and gardening, as though they were somehow going to miraculously turn the scholar into a farmer. No wonder it was so heavy. Alongside those was a small novel that had been Dorian’s favourite for many years; an adventure story with dashing rogues and interesting villains. Inside the cover familiar handwriting greeted him and Dorian realized that Felix had sent him the copy he’d gifted his friend many years ago. It was touching that he’d thought to send it. A bag of coins clicked when Dorian shifted it while a smaller cloth bag seemed to contain an array of seeds.

The last item caught his attention and this time he nearly did weep for joy. The jagged white crystal set in silver could be nothing other than a sending crystal.

“Felix!” he cried out as he clutched the crystal to his chest. “Felix!”

He waited for an agonizingly long moment before it flared to life in his hands and a familiar voice reached his ears.

“Dorian!”

“Felix!” They laughed together, relief and joy mixed before finally Dorian calmed, wiping away the moisture from his eyes. “Felix, my dearest, most treasured friend. Are you mad?”

“This is about the farm, isn’t it?” Felix asked before dissolving into laughter as Dorian launched into a diatribe.

“Of course it’s about the farm! What were you thinking? Vishante kaffas, Felix, I’m a scholar not a farmer. What in the Maker’s name am I supposed to do with a farm?”

“Live,” came the simple reply, stunning Dorian into silence. “Dorian, listen. I know it’s not what you expected but you’ll be safe there. No one will look for you so far from civilization, and certainly not your father. Even if he heard rumours about you living on a farm, he’d never believe it. It’s not much, and I wish I could help you more than I have, but even pariah’s need to eat.”

“What’s there to eat? There’s nothing but grass nearly as tall as I am and trees even taller.” An exaggeration but even a glance out the window made Dorian shudder in fear at all manual labour needed to fix it.

“I sent you some seeds so you can grow food and some coin for the meantime. It’s not much but I only had a short time to prepare.”

“Me? Grow my own food? Felix, I’m going to starve.” His friend laughed but Dorian was being entirely serious.

“Have you got my present yet? Not the books, that’s not really a present, but the other one?”

“No, the mayor did say something about a ‘Blackwall’ coming around later with a present though.” He paused, suspicions mounting as he could almost hear the guilt in his friend’s silence. “Felix, what have you done?”

“Well, I knew you’d just mope around and not actually do anything about the farm if I just left you to it…”

“Felix,” Dorian pressed, warningly.

“I brought you some chickens,” Felix blurted out in a rush.

“You WHAT?!”

“I thought it would be good for you to have something depending on you. You can’t mope around if there are innocent lives you need to take care of. So, I did some research on low maintenance farm animals and I found the cutest chickens! They are perfect for you! I got two hens sent from Redcliffe and Josephine said she’d make sure they were taken care of until you arrive.”

“Vishante kaffas.”

“You’ll love them Dorian,” Felix said reassuringly. Except he was talking about chickens and there was nothing at all reassuring about that. “They are gorgeous! They are incredibly fluffy and there is a white one and a ginger one. They are like the Altus of chickens!”

“Felix.” Dorian sighed loudly as he rubbed a free hand across his face. “Are you telling me that you brought me pedigree chickens?”

He couldn’t help it, he laughed. Dorian laughed and laughed, the sound quickly crossing over into hysterical tinged with the hint of a sob.

“Dorian,” Felix said hesitantly once the laughter had subsided. “Why don’t you go take a nap? You can call me through the crystal once you wake up.”

Dorian nodded, bone deep exhaustion washing over him now that he’d finally stopped. He was safe at last and the events of the last few weeks were catching up with him.

“Dorian?”

“Yes,” Dorian replied, once his brain caught up to the fact that his friend couldn’t actually see him. “I think I’ll do that.”

 

***

 

Loud pounding on the door drew Dorian into wakefulness. Groggy and disorientated, he stumbled out of bed to make his way to the door. Swinging it wide open, he found the most Ferelden man he’d ever seen.

Shaggy black hair, disheveled beard, broad shoulders, and sturdy yet boring leather breeches complete with mismatched shirt. The man paused, seemingly taking Dorian in at the same time as he stared.

The stranger cleared his throat before awkwardly gesturing behind him to a small pony drawn cart. “Dorian, right? Blackwall. Jose had me look after the chickens your friend sent for you. There was enough coin left for some grain and hay to get you started too.”

Even his gruff, gravelly voice screamed Ferelden farmer. It would be almost impressive if Dorian wasn’t sleep addled and stuck on the word chicken. Kaffas, had Felix been serious? He had been drawing up that conversation to the sleep depravity now that he had woken. But sure enough, a few plaintive clucks could be heard from the cart.

Blackwall gave him a long hard look when he didn’t reply before moving back to the cart with a grumpy huff. Dorian stood in the doorway for a long moment, his thoughts struggling to come into focus after his abrupt awakening.

“Chickens, you said?” Dorian asked weakly, ignoring the sharp look his words received. His Tevene accent always pulled stares in the south.

“Aye. Well… They aren’t just any old chickens. They’re a bit—” he cut off with a shrug. “They aren’t to my taste.”

Stepping forward hesitantly Dorian steeled himself for what he was about to find. Sitting in a wooden box stuffed with hay were two small balls of fluff. White and ginger, just like Felix had said, except other than the small black beaks and soft clucks, Dorian would never have known they were chickens. The way their feathers puffed out, if they could be called that, made them look like nothing short of walking cotton balls. They were the most ridiculous animals he’d ever seen.

Dorian loved them immediately.

He gasped in delight and tentatively reached out a hand to brush his fingers through the soft white plumage. The chicken tilted her head and let out a soft noise, the same cluck she’d made earlier. She didn’t seem bothered by his presence.

“They’ve been hand raised and well handled,” Blackwall interjected, reminding Dorian that he was still there. “You can pick them up, they don’t mind. I think they were bred more as pets than farm animals.”

Carefully, oh so carefully, Dorian picked up the white ball of soft fluff and held her to his chest. She seemed perfectly content in his hold.

“You shall be Beatrice Pavus,” he told her reverently before turning to the ginger ball watching him curiously. “And you shall be Victoria Pavus.”

Beside him Blackwall snorted and Dorian shot him a haughty look, eyebrow raised in question.

“Do you even know how to raise chickens?”

“There is nothing a Pavus cannot do once they set their minds to it!” Dorian replied archly. The slow limbed exhaustion washed away to be replaced by a sense of purpose. Curse Felix and knowing him too well. “Isn’t that right, Ladies?”

His newly appointed Pavus ladies clucked in unison and he took that as all the encouragement he needed.

Chapter Text

Dorian would be lying if he said that he remembered all the instructions Blackwall gave him. Not that he hadn’t tried, of course, but it was all together too much information that meant nothing to him. He knew what to feed the chickens and when, he knew he’d have to cut some of his long grass to dry for when the hay Blackwall had left ran out, and he knew that he needed to get someone called ‘Bull’ to build him a henhouse. Everything else he’d have to learn as he went.

In the meantime, the little ladies were safely tucked away in the house with two piles of hay messily arranged into nests at the end of the bed. Blackwall had even brought him dinner on Josephine’s instruction which Dorian had gratefully tucked into once the man had left. Perusing the books Felix had sent him while he ate whittled away at some of his earlier flash of confidence, farming seemed far too complicated for such a plebian task. But, as his friend had said, he needed to eat and he also needed to provide for two lives foisted upon him.

Everything else could come later, right now Farmer Dorian Pavus was his new modus operandi.

So, with dinner sitting comfortably in his stomach and his ladies happily exploring the small house, Dorian set out to go shopping.

He’d left Tevinter with nothing but the clothes on his back, sacrificing even his beloved staff in the name of freedom. Which meant he had a list a league long of things he needed and nowhere near enough coin in the pouch Felix had sent to satisfy all that. On top of all that, Dorian had no true sense of monetary value. All his life he’d had things handed to him and money never stopped flowing if he but held his hand out to father to ask for more. Knowing that he didn’t have any idea of cost didn’t help him any, either. All he could do was head to the general store, the only one in the entire village according to Blackwall, and try his best at being sensible.

Dorian could admit, if only to himself, sensible was not a word typically associated with him.

The store was easy enough to find, a big two-story building on the opposite side of the village square from Josephine. A wooden sign reading ‘GENERAL STORE’ hung above an open door. Rows upon rows of shelves greeted Dorian as he walked in, the room somehow not feeling cluttered despite seemingly every surface being covered. At the other end of the room a dwarf sat at a long desk facing the door. He glanced up from a book he was writing in to smile widely.

“You must be the new guy!”

It was becoming quite evident that everyone was going to know who he was before he even opened his mouth. “My reputation proceeds me once again!” Dorian exclaimed extravagantly as he swept a smooth bow before approaching the dwarf. “Dorian Pavus, most recently of Minrathous.”

“Impressive manors, Ruffles must love you. Varric Tethras, you might have heard of me. My agent swears Hard in Hightown has made its way all across the continent.”

“YOU are the one that writes that drivel?” Dorian said, aghast. “My friend Felix loves that series, he’s always raving about when the next serial will make its way over the border.”

“Your friend has good taste.”

“That is questionable, although he is friends with me so I suppose that makes up for poor taste in other areas. So, what is a supposedly famous author doing in the middle of nowhere running a general store?”

Varric laughed, though there was a hint of self-depreciation to it and Dorian realized he’d gone too far. “Ouch, the new guy has a sharp tongue. It pays the bills between each serial; it’s nice to have always food on the table, you know?”

“I apologise, that was unworthy of me.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Varric waved him off and leaned back in his chair, his face the picture of good humour. “You look beat. Lack of sleep is enough to make anyone snappy. Haven Valley might seem like nothing more than some backwater village but there’s good people here. I’m from Kirkwall originally, spent years trying to make the place better, but I got sick of the political bullshit getting in the way of anyone actually making a difference. The people here? Most of them are like me: burnt out and needing somewhere to go to recover. Everyone burns out eventually.”

“I went to Kirkwall once,” Dorian replied, trying to steer the conversation back to somewhere more comfortable. It was all a little too heavy for his tired brain to deal with right now. “Bit of a shithole.”

The dwarf threw back his head and laughed, the change of position gifting Dorian with a view of rather more chest hair than he was comfortable with.

“Yeah, that’s Kirkwall all right.” Varric wiped the moisture away from his eyes, and while the laughter had eased, the grin remained in full force. “Just one big shithole. Now, Ruffles asked me to give you this if you stopped by.”

It was the second time Varric had referred to a person by ‘Ruffles’ and thinking of Josephine’s golden ruffled sleeves, Dorian was certain the dwarf was talking about the mayor. Curious, he leaned forward to look at the parchment Varric spread out over the counter. A map, he realized after a moment. It was crudely drawn compared to other’s he’d seen and instead of words labeling each area there were picture representations.

“We are here?” Dorian pointed to a spot in the middle of the map where the most houses were. The picture of an open book seemed fitting for the author.

“Yeap and your little farm is here.”

“And where is Bull’s? Blackwall said he’s the man to see about getting a henhouse for my chickens.”

The dwarf pointed to a house a short walk from the village on the opposite side to Dorian’s new farm. The picture was odd; a face with lines drawn out the side and… Was that an eyepatch?

“Right. Well, I need to grab a few things before I head over there.”

Turning, Dorian surveyed the store before walking amongst the shelves. Varric seemed content to let him wander, his attention quickly turning back to scrawling words across the pages in front of him. Everything set neatly upon the shelves had little tags with prices printed below them and it all appeared very cheap to Dorian’s untrained eye. Except he was painfully aware that he had no source of income for the foreseeable future.

Mindful of his situation, Dorian chose out mostly personal hygiene items; a comb, a razor, soap, shaving lather, and so on along with a loaf of bread and a small pack to carry everything. There were other vegetable and cooking items available but Dorian had never cooked a single meal in his life and it was too daunting to even think about starting right now. If his eyes lingered on the hair wax, pottles of kohl, and a surprisingly decent vintage of red wine, he managed to curb his impulses and avoid them. He totaled up the prices in his head before returning to the counter.

“Do you know where I might purchase some bedding? And another set of clothing?”

“Mostly we get things like that from Redcliffe but the mayor is busy organizing you a care package so wait and see what you get first.”

Dorian stiffened at Varric’s words. “I don’t need your charity,” he replied angrily, bristling like an angry cat.

“Woah there, friend, it’s not charity.” At Dorian’s arched eyebrow, Varric continued, “If anything you’re doing US a favour. See, when someone gifts you something, you can’t just get rid of it even if it’s uglier than a nugs feet. It’s also pretty suspicious if an entire set of dawnstone plates breaks at once. Do you know how difficult it is to break just one of those things?! So when you’re Great Aunt twice removed asks if you like the plates, you have to say ‘Oh yes, I use them all the time! What a wonderful gift, thank you’ and pull them out anytime she comes to visit. This way I can say ‘Oh, they were a wonderful, thoughtful gift, but this poor boy from up north came here with nothing and he needed them more than I’. And suddenly it’s okay that I don’t have Ferelden’s ugliest plates anymore. In fact, everyone’s happy and I didn’t even have to break them to dispose of discreetly!”

Dorian blinked, unsure what to make of the dwarf’s words. His earlier prickliness had vanished though. Varric leaned forward to stage whisper at him with the desperation of a man at his wit’s end.

“We’ll call it even if I never have to see those plates again, got it?” At Dorian’s nod, Varric straightened and gave him a knowing look. “Everyone needs a hand at some point in their life.”

It was at that moment that Dorian realized Varric was far more perceptive than he’d given him credit for. He didn’t get a chance to reply though as the dwarf moved onto other things as he counted out his purchases and Dorian handed over the coin. After saying his farewells, Dorian set out with his new goods and the map to hunt this ‘Bull’ fellow.

No one approached Dorian as he left the village but he did get a few waves in greeting or nods of acknowledgement. It was a relief really, he didn’t feel like making small talk and navigating the conversation with the dwarf had been unexpectedly tiring.

Thankfully Bull’s house-slash-workshop was only a brief walk. The garden’s surrounding the house were neat and the variety of colourful flowers walked the line between pretty and garish. The wooden planks of the houses were unpainted, presumably to show off the man’s workmanship. Indeed, the smooth panels of timber fit together seamlessly and Dorian felt a lot more confident about seeking him out for a hen house.

Nothing less than the best for the Pavus Ladies.

Although… Dorian glanced down at the coin purse at his waist and sighed. Quality, not extravagance, was all that mattered. Quality that he could afford, at least.

A large sign sat above the door and Dorian’s eye twitched as he read the words ‘BULL’S WOOD’ in bold across the top with ‘working’ underneath in smaller letters. Apparently, the resident carpenter had a sense of humour.

Pushing the door open a small bell tinkled out an announcement of his presence, not that it mattered because there was someone sitting behind the counter directly opposite the door.

The picture on the map suddenly made sense as Dorian was confronted with a one-eyed, shirtless qunari with horns as broad as his shoulders. A tiny knife sat dwarfed in his hand by thick fingers, and a half finished wooden winged—nug? Was that a nug?—sat on the desk in front of him.

“Hey!” he called out, his booming voice somehow friendly rather than threatening. “You must be the new guy! Welcome to Bull’s Wood,” he paused to give a very exaggerated blink with his single eye, “working. The names The Iron Bull. Heard you might be looking for a chicken coup.”

“Did you just WINK at me?” Dorian replied, incredulous. “Are you aware that someone with one eye cannot wink?”

“Aw, don’t be like that! You figured it out just fine.” He grinned and even with his massive bulk and too many scars to count littering his body, The Iron Bull managed not to be intimidating. Surprising, yes, but not intimidating.

Dorian’s eyes swept over the horns again. Maker, were all qunari’s horns that big? How did they fit through doors? Did he have to go sideways?

“Like what you see?” Dorian’s attention snapped back down to Bulls face, his grin somehow impossibly wider. “I have quite the impressive rack, I know.”

At Dorian’s half groan, half embarrassed noise, the qunari let out a booming laugh.

“I apologise, it was rude to stare.” It was the second time he’d had to apologise today, it must be the lack of sleep doing him in.

“Nah, don’t worry about it. Not many people seen a real qunari around here. Even ‘vints with all their propaganda about the war have rarely seen a real qunari. So tell me, what’s a fancy upper-class ‘vint doing here covered in dirt and trying to raise chickens?”

“What’s a one-eyed, scarred qunari doing being a carpenter in the ass end of Ferelden?” Dorian shot back, barely able to keep the panic off his face.

How did Bull know already that he was upper-class? It was hard to find any of his countrymen in these parts and it was even less likely to come across someone from outside who understood how Tevinter worked, qunari or not. Dorian was not going to let his past get in the way of trying to start a new life, even if it was one he didn’t intend.

“Fair,” Bull replied easily, setting the small knife down to reach under the desk. He pulled out a few sheets of paper and spread them out over the counter. “So, I had some ideas for your fancy chickens. How big are we talking?”

“Small,” Dorian replied immediately then cringed. “There’s only two of them, after all. I want something good quality but… affordable.”

There was no way Dorian was ever going to use the word ‘cheap’. It wouldn’t matter how far he fell from grace, there were some things a Pavus did not say.

“All right, I have just the thing.” Bull moved the papers around until a rough sketch of a box on legs with a ramp sat at the top. “So, it’s on stilts to keep it out of the water if it rains with a little ramp for them to get themselves inside. It’s big enough for three maybe four chickens so your two will have plenty of room. There’s a little door you can latch shut at night to keep them safe and the roof is on a hinge so you can open it to get any eggs out or clean it. What do you think?”

It was perfect and so after haggling for a few minutes over the price, mostly for show because Dorian had no idea if this was a good deal or not, Bull agreed to get started on it right away. It was simple enough the qunari reckoned he’d have it done by dinner tomorrow and so Dorian said his farewells.

According to the map, there was a back path from Bull’s to Dorian’s farm that bypassed the village and he appreciated the ability to go home without having to speak to anyone else for the day.

Except for Felix. Oh yes, Dorian had a lot to say to his friend.

Starting with chickens and ending with a one-eyed qunari that, apparently, liked innuendos and flying nugs.

Chapter Text

A loud thumping on his door woke Dorian. Again. This needed to stop. For once, could he be left to sleep? He’d been here less than a full day and already he’d been rudely woken twice. Cracking open a bleary eye, Dorian struggled to make out his surroundings in the dim light. What time was it?

He made to sit up and paused when his hand jostled something soft and warm at his side. Squinting in the faint light he made out two balls of feathers tucked between his arm and his chest. So, it seemed that he wasn’t the only cold one in the night. Twin grumbling clucks greeted him as he pulled himself from the bed.

“I know, Ladies, I’m sorry.” Another loud knock rattled the door in its frame. “Venhedis, do they know what time it is?”

Swinging the door wide open revealed the faint grey skies of dawn and a grinning, shirtless Iron Bull.

“Morning Big Guy!”

It was altogether too much cheer for the crack of dawn as was the way he had to crane his neck to meet the huge qunari’s eyes.

“Vishante kaffas, do you realise what time it is?”

“The sun’s up so it’s morning! You know what they say, right? ‘You gotta grab the day by the horns’.”

Dorian shut the door in Bull’s face, earning himself booming laughter. He opened the door again after a moment, suspecting that his visitor wasn’t about to be dissuaded by a mere closed door.

“I’m sorry Ladies,” Dorian called, leaning around the door to catch sight of his disgruntled chickens slowly getting up for the day. “There’s a raving lunatic at the door, you can go back to sleep while I deal with him.”

With that, he stepped out to see what in the Maker’s name the qunari was doing at his door at dawn.

“Are you talking to your chickens?” Bull questioned as he moved away to let Dorian out of his house.

Pausing, there was a giant spotted black and white nuggalope standing placidly in front of a wagon, Dorian wondered if he shouldn’t have just stayed in bed.

“Of course,” he replied archly after he gathered himself. “They are the only ladies I will be allowing anywhere near my bed.”

“Oh?” Bull’s face broke into the biggest shit-eating grin and Dorian groaned pre-emptively. It was far too early for this. “More of a cock man, are you?”

“Venhedis, is that a rooster joke?” Dorian was now seriously contemplating returning to bed, fuck it all. “And yes, I do prefer the company of men. Is that a problem?”

 “Nah, people can fuck who they want.” Bull paused, seeming to hesitate for a moment before adding, “And people can love who they want.” He caught Dorian’s curious look and gave a little self-conscious shrug. “I’m Tal-Vashoth. There’s no romance under the Qun and it’s hard to change your perspective when you’ve never experienced something yourself. Don’t tell Jose I’m still not sure about the whole love thing, I don’t need another tearful drunk lecture about how ‘everyone deserves a chance at love’. Now, I’ve brought the little care package for you that Jose organized, do you want me to take it inside? It’s pretty heavy.”

Bull lead the way around to the back of the wagon where Dorian discovered a wooden crate bursting with the strangest assortment of odds and ends. Behind that sat what appeared to be the henhouse he’d ordered, half-finished already with the rest of the parts tucked in neatly beside it.

“I finished most of the coop last night and Jose asked that I bring the box around in the morning so I figured I’d finish it off here, if that’s fine with you?”

Perhaps it was the early morning or his still sleep-addled brain but whatever he decided to blame it on, Dorian was embarrassed to admit he teared up a little looking at the box of goodies. There were food items, blankets, plates, cups, a hideous vase, what looked like some rather worn shirts. Each item was either well-loved or downright unsightly but thoughtful it its own way. Unasked for with nothing behind it but goodwill. Dorian tried to think of a time he’d ever been given something where its owner hadn’t intended on getting something from him in return and could only think of Felix.

A gentle hand touched his shoulder as Bull leaned down to look at him in concern. “Hey, you okay?”

“Fine, sorry, it’s just terribly early and I wasn’t quite mentally prepared for all this.” He waved his hand over the crate and gave a rather wet laugh. “I’ve been here less than a day and instead of ‘ooh the evil magister’ that I was expecting, you’ve all been incredibly kind. It’s the nicest thing anyone has done for me except for Felix and we’ve been friends for years.”

“Aww.” Bull moved to pull Dorian into a one-arm hug, probably intending to be supportive but it was tight enough that his ribs creaked in protest and he gave a strangled squeak in surprise. “Don’t cry Big Guy, even a fancy ‘vint like yourself can be one of the family. I know Tevinter is all sorts of fucked up but that’s not how it works here.”

“Ah yes, my home land.” Dorian straightened out his clothes self-consciously when Bull let him go, his voice taking on a bitter tone. “Where blood magic is fine behind locked doors, and murder is entirely expected, but only as long as you keep up the charade. I didn’t marry the girl and keep my proclivities tucked away in private, so here I am, centuries of Tevinter breeding standing before you intent on becoming a farmer. Selfish, I suppose. Not to want to spend my entire life screaming on the inside.”

“Nah, I’ve seen selfish and that isn’t it.”

Movement from the corner of his eye caught Dorian’s attention and he leapt on the chance to move the conversation away from himself and his rather depressing situation.

“Beatrice!” he called to the ball of white fluff standing in the still open doorway. “Good morning!”

Bull turned to see who he was talking to. “That—” Bull paused as he walked up to crouch before Beatrice. The chicken made eye contact as she walked forward examining the qunari curiously. After a moment she turned and walked off further into the yard, completely ignoring the giant figure looming over her. Dorian felt a moment of pride; that was the most Pavus thing he’d ever seen. “That is not a chicken, that is a ball of fluff.”

“Excuse me,” Dorian replied archly. “She is perfect and I expect you to treat her like the lady she is.”

Bull turned his head to look over Dorian. The gaze was assessing but oddly warm and Dorian couldn’t place the expression on the qunari’s face. Instead, he tore his eyes away to greet the ginger chicken standing grumpily in the doorway watching the exchange.

“Victoria! Good morning lovely.”

Muttering something about ‘fancy ‘vint’s and their fancy chickens’, Bull pulled himself to his feet with a groan. Dorian chose to ignore the comment; he might be clean after ducking himself into the stream last night and shaving, but he was a far cry from looking as ‘fancy’ as was his usual. But this was Ferelden and his dashing good looks would not be held back by the lack of wax and oils he was used to.

“All right, Big Guy, shall we get started?”

“I apologise, I never introduced myself, did I? How terribly uncivilized of me. Dorian Pavus, pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Dorian, huh?” Bull said his name slowly, like he was trying out the shape of it. There was something warm about the way Bull said it, like they were already friends and this was merely a formality. “Well, Dorian, it’s nice to meet you. Welcome to Haven Valley.”

 

***

 

After carefully putting away each item in his care package, Varric’s dawnstone plates were easy to spot, Dorian set about exploring his new property. He took great amusement in using one of the shallow pink plates as a grain feeder for his chickens with a matching pink bowl as the water trough. The plates were surprisingly thin and well crafted, they would be quite the works of art if they weren’t bright pink with a florid pattern etched into them. As it was, they were really quite fitting for his ladies.

Bull laughed when he saw what he was doing and Dorian hadn’t been able to wipe the grin off his face since.

It was hard to get a measure of how big the land he now owned was. He’d since learned that there was a fence boundary somewhere but the overgrown grass and bushes kept it from view. He’d discovered a ramshackle shed behind the house with various rusted tools inside. The rust that marred the metal made it impossible to tell the quality of the tools but it was possible that with a bit of care, they’d be useable. Anything that could save him money in the meantime would help.

Dorian wasn’t sure about this whole farming thing, but he was intelligent enough to grow a few plants surely. He didn’t have to be some farming genius with aims to supply the Ferelden’s finest ingredients. No, all he needed was to be able to live comfortably, safely away from those who would do him harm in the name of helping him. Perhaps he would be able to make enough of a living that he could spend most of his time researching the arcane mysteries of the world like he enjoyed. After all, plants took weeks to grow, right? And his chickens didn’t require much attention.

It took a couple of trips to haul all the rusted tools from the dilapidated shed to spread out in front of the house for a better look. Not that that helped him any, he’d be better off taking them to the blacksmith. Yet another expense, how did the peasants manage? He winced as he realized they often didn’t and that’s why people lived in slums or sold themselves into slavery.

Pulling himself from his dark thoughts, Dorian retrieved the sending crystal and sat himself down on his front step to survey his property. It was all weeds and overgrown now but what could it be like with a little care? Clipped lawns, the odd fruit tree, a few crops, and a sunny spot to read by the stream. It was an idyllic picture and one he suddenly longed for.

There was just one little problem.

“Felix?” Dorian called, holding up the crystal.

“Dorian! Good morning!” Ah, he’d forgotten his friend was a morning person as well.

“Felix, I have a problem.”

“What is it?” Felix replied, sounding worried. Perhaps Dorian should have phrased that better.

“You can’t see this but this entire farm is overgrown. The grass is up to my waist, there is dead branches everywhere, and the weeds taller than I am.”

“That’s easily fixed though, right? And you were telling me last night you can cut the grass for hay.”

“Felix,” Dorian said in despair. “How do I cut the grass? What do I cut the grass with? How do I dry it? WHERE do I dry it? Felix, I have never done a day’s manual labour in my LIFE. What do I do?!”

“It’ll be good exercise?” Felix replied weakly, apparently unable to come up with an answer to any of his questions.

“Why a farm? Why not a small house near civilization? Somewhere in Val Royeaux near the library or in Rivain or somewhere other than Ferelden?”

“Because this was the only safe place I could find on short notice. Dorian, tell me what you need. I’ll organize another package.”

“No,” Dorian replied firmly. “I cannot ask anything more from you, you’ve done so much already.”

“Dorian…”

“Just…talk to me, Felix. Tell me the latest gossip from Qarinus.”

After a moment’s hesitation Felix began to talk about all the latest rivalries, aborted assassination plots, and dull soirees. Dorian replied appropriately; a gasp there, a snarky comment here. Homesickness hit him like a punch in the gut as Felix continued to talk of his once home, and Dorian could imagine it like he was right there if he closed his eyes.

Part way through Beatrice came and settled on his lap. Dorian took comfort in the warm presence and carefully ran his fingers through the fluffy feathers, gently teasing out any snags that had formed during her brief stint running around outside. It was a quiet moment of friendship, both Beatrice’s companionship and Felix’s familiar voice, that he needed to ground himself.

The sound of a door opening and a distant voice eventually interrupted their conversation.

“Ah, I have to go,” Felix said apprehensively. “Dorian—”

“Go,” he interrupted. “I’ll be fine. I’ll talk to you later.”

“I—” Felix took a deep breath before letting it out slowly. “All right. But Dorian? Stay safe, okay?”

“Of course.”

Their farewells were brief, neither of them enjoying drawn of goodbyes. With a small sigh, Dorian placed the now-dull crystal down and looked over the tools laid out before him. Victoria, apparently the more adventurous of the two hens, was wandering around them curiously, pecking experimentally at the odd one.

“Well, I suppose I should get these to the blacksmith and see what can be done,” he said aloud to his chickens then jumped as a deep voice answered him. He’d completely forgotten Bull was there, the rhythmic hammering had faded into background noise as he spoke with his friend.

“I’m nearly done here. If you wait a bit, we can load the tools up into the wagon and Spots can carry them for you. The Blacksmith is on the way home for me if we go through the village.”

Dorian doubted that as he hadn’t seen the blacksmith yesterday when he ventured out into the village but he wasn’t about to turn down the help either. None of the tools were light on their own and there were a few of them. Most of which Dorian had no idea what they were used for.

“Spots,” he said instead. “You named that great beast Spots?”

“It fits him,” Bull replied simply before walking over to pat the nuggalopes nose affectionately. The beast lowed and nuzzled him back. “Besides, I’m not the one who called a chicken ‘Beatrice’.”

“Don’t you listen to him,” Dorian said to the fluff still sitting contentedly in his arms. “Everything about you is perfect.”

Bull chuckled before turning back to what he was doing. Now that he was looking, Dorian could see that it was indeed nearly done. The only thing missing was the little wooden door that Bull picked up.

“I’ll take you up on that.” He paused, gaze sliding away as he distracted himself patting Beatrice. “Thank you.”

If Bull heard the quiet thanks, he didn’t reply and for that Dorian was grateful. There had been enough knocks to his pride lately but he had to give thanks where it was due. Perhaps one day he’d be able to return the favour.

Chapter Text

“All done.”

Dorian looked up from his blank examination of the rusty tools to find Bull heading towards Spots, and wasn’t that just the most ridiculous name for that great beast, to put away his own tools. He’d spend the last several minutes staring at the tools laid out on the ground before him as though their purpose would somehow come to him. Alas, no sudden farming genius had struck him during his contemplation so Dorian remained as clueless as before.

Still, there was nothing for it but to take them to the blacksmith. At least they should know what the tools were; that was part of being a blacksmith, right?

Making to stand, Dorian hooked his hands under Beatrice to lift her off his lap and place her on the ground next to him. She grumbled, at least, that was what the affronted, low clucking sounded like, but otherwise let herself be shifted. By the time he had hauled himself to his feet, Bull had placed all his own tools in the wagon and had found the small pile of hay stacked up next to Dorian’s front door.

“The shed round the back needs some work but it’ll keep your supplies out of the weather, if you don’t want them inside,” Bull said as he pulled two fistfuls of hay off the pile and headed back towards where he’d left the completed coup. “The hay will rot if it gets wet but if you keep it dry that amount should last a while for your two ladies.”

“Ah, thank you, I hadn’t considered that.”

Dorian approached to look over the new structure. It was easy to see how Bull had managed to complete it so quickly, the design looked even simpler made up than it did on paper. The wood had been treated to ward off rot but otherwise it sat plain, the wooden grain seeming almost naked. If he’d been gifted the chickens when he was still in Tevinter it would have been a chicken coup the size of his current one room house with painted walls and gold inlay. But still, there was something oddly charming about the simple appearance and it fit the rustic aesthetic of the farm; if he dared to go so far as labeling the rundown property an aesthetic.

He watched as Bull swung open the roof to place the hay inside, laying it out into two haphazard nests.

“All right, where do you want it?”

“Uh,” Dorian floundered, berating himself for not thinking about this sooner. “By the door is fine.”

The qunari hefted the structure with ease and placed it carefully next to the front door. Stepping back to eye it critically, Bull made a few adjustments to its positioning, and checked to make sure the roof could open unobstructed.

“There we go!” Bull seemed pleased, a smile set wide on his face.

Ever curious, Victoria abandoned the tools to approach the coup. The ginger chicken paced cautiously around, not quite brave enough to venture up the small ramp.

“Now, I don’t know what plans you have for the farm,” Bull continued, though he kept his eyes on Victoria. “But I’d recommend fencing the area in to keep your ladies safe and any wildlife out.”

Dorian cast a look around at the overgrown area, only two pieces of fence were visible from where he stood. He could see the logic in Bull’s suggestion but the amount of work it would take to clear the area to even put a fence in, let alone check the condition of the current fence, was overwhelming.

Bull glanced at him, catching his look. “Hey, don’t stress too much about it. It might take some time but it’s a good place you’ve got here and its part of a good community. You just let me know if you need anything, I know what it’s like to leave your people and entire life behind.”

“I…” Dorian trailed off then took a deep breath, banishing memories of his homeland that he may never see again. “Thank you.”

“Now if you ever want to do anything about that shed, I’d recommend tearing it down and building a new one. I had a look at it when Jose got me to check over the house. Some of the materials can probably be salvaged but it would be more effort than it’s worth to restore it.”

And there we go, yet another expense to consider in the future. Fasta vass, where on Thedas was he going to come up with so much coin now?

“I don’t suppose you know anyone looking to hire a mage? Though I would need a staff first, kaffas, it’s endless.”

The qunari paused to rake his single eye over Dorian. “A mage, huh? Makes sense, you being a fancy ‘vint and all that.”

“I believe the term you are looking for is altus, though I am unsure how being disowned effects such things. Tevinter’s upper class rarely gets the opportunity to become exiled; murder is the preferred disposal method.”

Or blood magic, his mind helpfully added and Dorian had to suppress a shudder as the ghost image of his father’s hands covered in blood overlaid his vision. He banished the memory but from the way Bull was looking at him, something must have shown in his expression before he schooled it back to neutral.

“Though I must confess, I am surprised you recognized my lineage so quickly,” Dorian continued, trying to draw Bull’s unnervingly sharp attention away from his reaction. “I hardly looked like myself, covered in dirt as I was.”

“You might look like the average peasant off the street on first glance but when you walked into my shop your presence filled the room. Confidence and attitude like that don’t generally come from commoners. The way you speak also sounds educated; no slang, barring swears, and you use words most commoners wouldn’t. Even your kit, under that layer of dirt and wear, you can tell the material is high quality, not made for travelling, but not something that many could afford.”

Dorian stared for a long moment, speechless. “You could tell all of that from those few minutes?”

“Ever heard of the Ben-Hassrath?” Bull replied oh-so-casually.

“YOU are a qunari spy?!”

“Was. I’m Tal-Vashoth now but some habits are harder to shake than others.”

What crazy place had Dorian come to that had famous trashy novelists as shop keepers and an ex-qunari spy as the resident carpenter? What about the mayor, what was she hiding? Royalty hidden away in secret to live a normal life perhaps? Or the farmer, Blackwall? Did he have some equally outrageous past life?

Nothing would surprise Dorian about Haven Valley now.

“Looks like I have the seal of approval.” Bull waved towards the coup where Dorian could see the entire small doorway to the henhouse was filled with ginger fluff. Victoria’s behind vanished from view as she disappeared further in and Beatrice wandered over, less confident than her sister but still curious. “All that’s left is loading up Spots and getting you to Harritt. He’ll get your tools sorted out, he’s good at what he does.”

Dorian filed the name away for later, there were quickly becoming too many to remember but he’d try, and together they loaded up the wagon. After a quick glance at the chickens investigating their new house, Dorian decided to leave them as they were; what else could he do but lock them inside the house? He was certain they’d far rather stay outside. Then he left with Bull, Spots the nuggalope happily plodding along beside the qunari while Dorian took the other side, avoiding walking beside the great beast.

“So my boys, the Chargers, are out of town on a job at the moment but once they get back I’ll let you know.” Bull said after they walked in silence for a few minutes. “Not sure if there will be much work around these parts right away, it comes and goes, but I’ll put in a good word for you with my buddy Krem. He sets up a shop with goods when they aren’t out working, he might even be able to order you a staff in return for helping out with a few jobs for free. There’s definitely been times where an extra mage would have been handy and any jobs you help out with will get you a cut of the payment. It won’t be much but it’ll help you get started.”

“’Your boys’?” Dorian questioned in lieu of responding.

“Ah, more old habits.” Bull laughed, a deep, rumbling thing that Dorian had to admit sounded nice. “I formed and lead the Chargers Mercenary Company until my knee did me in. I could deal with the one eye thing, you can learn to compensate for that, but eventually it got too hard being on the road all the time. Krem forced me to settle down and take up a trade while he leads the boys instead. I still help out from time to time when they have a simple job nearby, it’s good to polish off the axe every now and then.”

“So they’re the Chargers and you’re the Bull. That’s clever.”

 “Worked that out on your own, did ya?” Bull grinned at him and Dorian had to admit, this was a much better conversation than the one they’d been veering towards earlier. “You gotta keep the name simple, so the nobles get it. They pay mercenaries to fight, not to entertain at tea.”

That I’d like to see,” Dorian replied, his own smile widening. The image of the huge, hulking qunari serving delicate cups of tea and snacks was an amusing one, regardless of whatever the rest of the band looked like.

“Well, if you’re lucky, maybe you can come around to tea one day.” Bull gave him one of those awful slow blinks that was clearly attempting to be a wink, and Dorian rolled his eyes in response. He couldn’t help the smile on his face tugging even wider though.

What a ridiculous man.

As they walked through the tiny village, people called out greetings or approached to say hello to Bull and introduce themselves to Dorian. It was like seeing Dorian with the qunari had given everyone the courage needed to approach the strange newbie. Bull was personable, seemingly friends with everyone, and somehow that approachableness was subsequently being cast onto him. It was rather refreshing after weeks one the road with little human contact, and what there was, was suspicious as soon as they heard him speak.

“You’re the creepy magister, huh?” Dorian turned to see a female blonde elf in the most hideous yellow plaid clothing staring suspiciously at him from a distance. “So you’re fat with it, right?”

“Magister Pavus is my father, thank you. Not everyone in Tevinter is a magister. But I don’t quite understand what you’re referring to…?”

“Do you sleep on silk while gold shits down all over you? Are you rich?

“I left all that behind,” Dorian replied simply before adding, because he couldn’t resist, “Although I do miss the gold-shitting from time to time.”

Bull laughed and the elf relaxed some.

“He’s all right, Sera,” Bull called and the last of the tension left her frame. “Though you’ll have to find someone else to stick your arrows in.”

She opened her mouth to reply when someone called from the building behind her. Sera grimaced and turned to dash inside, yelling insults back. No one commented and Bull made to move on so Dorian could only assume the insult trading and yelling was normal. Still, with that little exchange the people coming over to say hello were even more relaxed and welcoming, and wasn’t that a surprise.

 It turned out that the blacksmith was located on the other side of the small village, a little back from the main housing, most likely due to the noise. The shop was small but well-kept and a bald, ginger moustachioed human was busy working at the forge. It didn’t take long for him to notice them but he carried on with what he was doing while Bull and Dorian unloaded the rusted tools onto an empty bench nearby.

Bull stood with him while he waited and eventually the smith finished his task and strode over, wiping the sweat from his brow with an arm.

“You’re the new guy everyone’s fussing over, huh?”

Dorian sighed internally but nodded politely enough. Well, at least ‘new guy’ was preferable to magister, or blood mage, he supposed.

“These are the old Dennett tools, right?” he said after casting his eyes over the tools, a frown creasing his face. Dorian nodded. “Hm. There’s good steel under all that rust, so with a bit of work I should be able to salvage them. No promises though, I won’t know until I strip away that rust. Should only be a few sovereigns each to restore them, depending on what I need to use.”

That sounded reasonable enough, so Dorian agreed to check back later in the day to get the preliminary results, though it most likely would take a few days all told to get everything done. He walked back through the village with Bull and the nuggalope.

The qunari was a surprisingly good conversationalist, though he kept doing that ridiculous winking thing from time to time. He pointed out any places of interest, like the doctor’s clinic that Sera had disappeared into, and introduced any more villagers that approached.

It was enough to make Dorian feel like a normal person again, not an exile on the run desperate to escape his family and not a poor beggar with nothing to his name. It made him miss Felix however, and Mae, who he didn’t have a way to contact safely. But at least it gave him hope that maybe he could be happy here; Haven Valley wasn’t the dull farming village filled with inarticulate boors that it could have been.

Instead it was an eclectic mix of people that might be nearly as delightful as himself, and wasn’t that a surprise?

Chapter Text

Returning to his farm, Dorian stood in front of his door and surveyed the area. It was just as daunting as before but he squared his jaw and set his shoulders. So far, he’d done nothing but react to the events around him and that was going to stop now. He was not one to let other people dictate his life nor was he one to sit down and cry about it being too hard or unfair. It didn’t matter that Dorian had no idea what he was doing, he was going to tackle this problem like he did everything else; throw himself in head first and give it his all.

He’d spent years studying the most intricate and theoretical of magics, he was therefore smart enough to run a farm. That was all there was too it. What did he have to lose by trying? Literally nothing. Even his clothes weren’t worth anything now, covered in dirt and worn as they were.

Dorian didn’t know any magic that might help this endeavour but perhaps with some trial and error he may be able to expand his arcane knowledge into the more mundane fields. Who knows? Maybe he could yet be a critically acclaimed mage and scholar, albeit in an entirely different field than he would have expected. Now wouldn’t that just dig at his father.

Determined and almost gleeful at the idea, Dorian turned his attention to the closest patch of overgrown grass. This area reached knee height and was interspersed with weeds but it was the closest section to his house and there didn’t appear to be any wayward trees, rocks, or other debris. Best to start from scratch in situations like these, right? He didn’t have anything to cut the grass but if he pulled it out from the bottom then he could still probably dry the stalks for the ladies. Hopefully.

“Now, now,” he muttered to himself, “no need to overthink it.”

With that, he began pulling out everything, making way for clear, unobstructed dirt. It was harder than he expected. The weeds were resistant to giving up their grip on the earth and it seemed like every one he pulled out made no dint in the number remaining at all. Victoria came over to help, such as it was, walking amongst the weeds while Beatrice seemed intent on claiming the pile of discarded plants as a comfortable seat. Every now and then he’d shake the grass unexpectedly causing the chickens to startle and back up in alarm. It made him wonder how much they could see with the feathers covering their faces but beauty involved sacrifice, as he knew well.

The exertion from the physical activity quickly caught up to him and Dorian had to stop. The sun had moved from high in the sky when he’d started to sit lower on the horizon, though the light hadn’t started to fade yet. He’d been ignoring the creeping exhaustion for some time but now it hit him full force and he stopped what he was doing. Looking back at the twin piles of long grass and weeds, they seemed quite considerable, especially as the area he’d cleared was pathetically small.

Attempting to stand, Dorian’s legs seized in protest after hours on his knees and he found himself careening to the ground instead. With a groan of defeat, Dorian caught himself on his hands enough to control the fall and land on his back. It was a small consolation that he didn’t fall face first and eat dirt but now that he was lying down, getting up seemed impossible. His body was starting to ache in a similar way to how it felt after a particularly brutal training session with his staff.

“This is it, this is how I die,” Dorian said to the world at large.

If that was how much energy it took to clear that tiny patch where there was only weeds and grass, then there was no way he’d ever make it to clearing the rest of it. He’d never make a living this way. He was a mage and a scholar, dammit all Felix, why did he go and buy Dorian a farm? And why had Dorian ever assumed that he could do this?

He had spent his life reading books and researching theoretical magics. While he had made an effort to keep fit, it was a different kind of fitness, one that didn’t help much in this circumstance. His upbringing was that of utilizing his money, power, intelligence, and good looks to get what he wanted and none of those things could help him in this, although now he only wielded the latter half. What he wouldn’t give for a long, hot bath, a good book, a glass of nice wine, and some peeled grapes.

A warm presence at his side had Dorian shifting his head just enough to look down. Beatrice stood beside him just watching, before turning to settle against his side, her fluffy belly resting on his bare arm. Vaguely he could hear Victoria scratching at the earth somewhere above his head. At least he would have company befitting his magnificent being to witness his passing, he supposed.

“So you really left it, huh?”

Dorian’s body twitched reflexively in surprise and he craned his head around to stare at the blonde elf squatting a little above his head. At his side Beatrice grumbled at his movement and shuffled around until she was comfortable again. Looking at Sera this closely he could see that her hair was appallingly unevenly cut and there was dirt under the fingernails on the hand resting against her face where her chin was propped up on her open palm.

Before he could even fathom a reply in such a tired state, she unceremoniously dumped a heavy pottery jar on his chest. Dorian wheezed at the bruising impact, his body jerking unconsciously; this time earning a soft, warning peck at once more disturbing the chicken.

“What?” Dorian questioned with all the eloquence he could muster, which was dreadfully little.

“For the welcome gift thingy that Her Mayororialness did. I wanted to make sure, you know, that you weren’t pretending. Rich tits always try for more than they deserve. Bull says you’re alright though.” Sera gave him a long stare then moved to point at the white chicken at his side. “But what is that? Broody beard said you had some fancy chickens but that’s not a chicken, it’s just a ball of floofy...” She paused to make a complicated hand gesture. “Shite.”

That reaction was quickly becoming as tedious as the ‘new guy’ one that people greeted Dorian with. But it did mean that he could summon something almost resembling his usual snappy tone.

“Excuse me, that is Lady Beatrice Pavus and I expect you treat her with the respect she deserves, along with Lady Victoria.”

Sera stared at him for a long moment before throwing her head back and laughing in unrestrained delight. She laughed until tears ran down her face and Dorian was starting to feel the edges of offense take hold.

“Right, Ladies,” Sera replied, still cackling. “Just like all the snooty nobles in their fancy feathers.”

In an effort to distract from a joke he didn’t entirely understand, his tired mind floundering at even the most basic understanding, Dorian instead raised his free hand to the pot still sitting atop his chest. “But thank you, for the gift.”

“Oh, you’re a polite one, huh? Rare for a fancy pants.”

“I find myself in a situation where a little humility might be my only saving grace. Besides, I’ve always believed in giving credit where it is due, though people rarely return the favour and praise me as I deserve.”

It was a rather weak attempt at his usual humour but it was all he could manage while lying flat on his back in the dirt from sheer exhaustion. Still, it pulled a snort of laughter from the elf and she seemed to relax entirely, settling down from her squat to sit beside him.

“It’s honey,” she said and Dorian stared for long enough that she repeated, more slowly, “honey.”

“Oh! My apologies, I find myself dreadfully tired and comprehension is proving tricky. But honey is a wonderful gift.”

Sera nodded absently, her attention turning to watch Victoria wander about. “I like bees.”

“Right.”

Dorian wasn’t sure what that had to do with anything exactly, perhaps she was a beekeeper? But he had figured out that she was rather odd. However, more importantly, it reminded him that he hadn’t eaten at all today. He’d gotten up when Bull had woken him and hadn’t thought to get breakfast or even lunch when he’d returned from the blacksmith.

“I don’t suppose you might tell me where I can acquire some food? I haven’t eaten yet and I certainly don’t feel like testing my non-existent cooking skills right now.”

“You did all this,” Sera flapped her hand in the vague direction of the piles of weeds, “without eating? You daft?”

“Apparently so.”

Dorian was notorious for getting so lost in his research that forgetting to eat was the norm, though perhaps it had been a misguided decision to take on so much physical activity on an empty stomach. He didn’t have anyone here to bring him food and remind him to eat.

Sera was giving him that long, strangely intense look again, head cocked to the side. “You’re little now but you’re not used to being little, you’re used to being big.” She frowned before brightening. “Let’s see what you got!”

With that, Sera sprang to her feet and just watching the energetic action had Dorian groaning.

“I can’t move,” he confessed dramatically. “I’m going to die here. Please make sure someone takes care of the Ladies after my passing.”

Snorting, Sera toed at his ribs hard enough that it was probably going to bruise later. “Come on, whiny. Let’s eat!”

It was with great effort, and some grumbling on Beatrice’s part, that Dorian was able to pull himself to his feet with a loud groan and the honey pot in hand. His vision swum and he stumbled, Sera barely catching him and staggering under his weight.

“Shite, you’re heavier than you look. Fall on Bull next time, yeah? He can lift your arse instead.”

“Perhaps he might be so lucky,” Dorian muttered in response as he straightened.

Maker, everything hurt. His vision had cleared at least but it felt like there were weights attached to each of his limbs. Walking the short distance to his one room house took longer than seemed possible and he collapsed into one of the chairs as soon as he could. The honey he placed on the table while Sera poked over the food items from the ‘care package’ he’d left out on the small kitchen counter.

She managed to assemble a meagre spread of finger foods; crackers, cheese, slices of bread, jam, honey. She ate right alongside him, telling ridiculous tales, and he wondered if he shouldn’t have asked her to leave. It would have been downright rude but he had little in the way of food and only a limited amount of coin.

In the end, he chose not to say anything. He was enjoying the company, surprisingly, and that alone was worth it. Food and money could be a problem for tomorrow’s Dorian, one who had the energy to think about such things.

Once the food was gone, Dorian found he had a little more energy. Just enough that once Sera had gone on her way, he dragged himself down to the stream running through his property. With teeth gritted against the cold and what magical warmth he could manage, he set to cleaning himself and his clothing. Once dry, he slipped into one of the shirts and loose pants donated to him, worn and far too large but blessedly clean and comfortable.

Feeling more like himself than he’d managed yesterday with only a cursory wash, Dorian saw his chickens into their new house. Now that it was dark, they seemed pleased to have somewhere to nestle in and he felt a surge of warmth as he opened the roof to peek through. Somehow, he’d managed to keep these little animals alive for an entire day, on his own with next to no instruction.

It lifted his spirits in a way that the weed clearing, with the weeds still in a pile where he left them, hadn’t done. With that he saw himself off to an early bed and the sweet comfort of sleep.

 

***

 

In the morning he found an eclectic assortment of food items on his doorstep and knew immediately who’d left them. It seemed like Sera hadn’t been oblivious to his food situation and it reminded him of the cryptic statement she’d made about him being ‘little’ now. Casting his eyes over the three eggs, hunk of cheese, multiple ends of bread, a fistful of what might be some herbs, and a singular potato, he couldn’t resist a smile.

Chapter Text

Sitting on the step to his small abode, Dorian surveyed the work he did yesterday while he ate some of the bread Sera had left. It was nice, the texture soft and fluffy while the flavour was herby. For the first time in his life Dorian wondered how it was made and if he could replicate it somehow. Wasn’t that a novel thought? Though one for later because right now, he didn’t have the faintest idea where to even start learning how to cook.

The more immediate action he could take, however, was planting the assortment of seed Felix had given him. The patch of land Dorian had cleared yesterday was small but it was a start and the sooner he planted something the sooner it could start growing. It was similar to how he’d tackle his research projects; start small and work his way through, expanding as he went. Sure, that usually referred to the books he gathered and the people he spoke with, but the same theory still applied.

The biggest issue Dorian had right now was that he didn’t know what any of the seeds were, how to plant them, or how to care for them as they grew. How much space did each plant need to grow to its maximum potential? How long would they take to grow? Weeks? Months? Which could he plant now and which needed to be later in the year? How deep did he place the seeds in the soil? Did he need to ‘turn’ the soil? What even was ‘turning’ the soil? It was a phrase Dorian was sure he’d heard before, though where and what it meant he had no idea.

The piles of discarded weeds were still where he’d left them yesterday, Beatrice once again making herself comfortable on the largest pile while her sister explored the newly cleared land in front of her. Well, he could move them later, once he’d figured out where he was going to put weeds and how he was going to dry out the grass.

Bread finished, Dorian focused on his most immediate task. Standing, he paused to brush the bread crumbs from his lap before making his way inside. One of the items he’d been given yesterday, presumably from Varric, although he’d met only a handful of Haven’s villagers so he couldn’t be certain, was a blank journal along with a quill and a small pot of black ink. If he was going to seriously do this ‘farming’ thing then he was going to tackle it the only way he knew how.

Systematically, thoroughly, and with a great deal of note taking.

After gathering up the journal and writing utensils, Dorian poured out the seeds onto his table. It was easy enough to sort them into piles based off shape, colour, and size. Nothing at all about the seeds gave clue to what they were except for the small, dried corn kernels. There were a few tiny black seeds, an array of yellow seeds with different sizes and shapes, some round brown seeds. It was reassuring to know that he had corn, at least. That gave him something to focus on and the rest would just have to be played by ear.

Done with his sorting, Dorian set to devoting a page in his journal for each seed group that he identified as a separate plant. A space for the name of the plant at the top, a small drawing of the seed along with a description, and space for more notes as he discovers more information. Once each of the seeds where catalogued, he drew up a small diagram of how he planned to plant them so that he could accurately keep track of which seeds were which.

Flipping to the back of the book, he noted down all the care instructions Blackwall had given him for his chickens, making a mental note to ask Felix for the breed the next time they spoke. No reason for his notes not to be accurate, after all, or there was no point in doing this.

His hand had the familiar twinges of cramp in it once he was finished and the muscles he’d abused yesterday complained at now being bent over a table for an extended period of time. It would have been far easier if one of the farming books Felix had sent had included a section on seeds, he’d looked to no avail, but he was happy enough with his own cataloguing. The books touched more on the growing process, general plant information, the care of fruit trees, and large-scale farming. Little that was useful to him now.

Done, he stood, stretching out his limbs, before heading back outside into the weak sunlight of spring. It was warm enough at least, which Dorian was thankful for. He knew he was going to be miserable come winter but he didn’t have to worry about that for months yet. It was easy enough to move the piles of weeds further away and loosen the dirt with his hands so the darker, softer earth underneath came to the top. That seemed like a good thing so he kept going until the entire patch was the darker earth. The area was irritatingly uneven and the dirt got under his nails but Dorian ignored it all in favour of dividing the area into little rows and painstakingly planting each seed one by one in accordance with the plan he’d formulated.

Surprisingly, the time it took to achieve all that was most of the day. Yet again Dorian had skipped a meal and he could feel the tell-tale signs of exhaustion creeping through his limbs. Skipping meals after being drawn into a project had been a bad habit for as long as he could remember but it was one he needed to quickly lose. It was one thing to be stationary and not eating and entirely another to be doing physical work and not eating.

Dorian’s stomach gave a plaintive rumble as he made his way over to the stream to wash off the dirt as best he could. The dirt stained his nails and refused to be fully dislodged from underneath so Dorian mentally added a nail brush to his list of things to get. The knees of his pants would need a proper wash before they came up clean as well and so he gave it all up as a bad job. This wasn’t Tevinter, he came here with nothing but his dirty, ragged travel clothing and no one seemed to care. Who would care if he walked into town with dirt under his nails? All it showed that he had worked today, same as everyone else.

Still, the state of his appearance bothered Dorian even as he tried to ignore it. He would have changed his clothing at least but it seemed pointless as he had little clothing and no knowledge on the proper laundry techniques he’d need to get the dirt out. So, it was with great mental effort that he wished his ladies farewell and headed into the village as he was.

The inn that Sera had mentioned yesterday was easy to find. Haven’s Rest sat across the square from Varric’s general store and already the murmur of voices spilled out into the dusk. Stealing himself, Dorian pushed open the door and stepped inside. Curious faces peered at him as he entered, most of the faces were unfamiliar but three stood out from a table on the opposite side of the room. The Iron Bull called loudly, gesturing Dorian over, and he waved back before heading to the bar to order a drink and some food.

The barkeep was a dwarf of few words and the selection of beverage poor but cheap. Armed with a mug of something decidedly Ferelden sounding, and probably awful but it was cheap and alcoholic so Dorian refused to complain, and the promise of hot food, he made his way over to the ever-shirtless Bull. Sera sprawled on a chair next to him cackling loudly at something Varric said. The dwarf grinned at Dorian as he slid into the chair next to him.

“New Guy!” Varric exclaimed and Dorian couldn’t help the scowl that twisted his features at his name, though he’d blame it on the dubious ale he took his first sip of if anyone asked. “Good to see you out and about! How’s those fancy chickens everyone keeps telling me about?”

“The Pavus Ladies,” Dorian resolutely ignored Bull’s chuckles and Sera’s cackles at the name, “are doing excellent. They seem to really like their new house, Bull.”

Bull grinned, the expression so genuinely happy that it took Dorian aback. “That’s great! It’s been a while since I got a little project like that, it was fun being able to do something a different. Just let me know if you want anything else made for your little ladies.”

“’Ladies’?” Varric queried, looking amused. “They are chickens, right?”

Dorian gave him the most Altus look of disdain that he could conjure while looking as peasant as he did. It seemed to be enough as Varric threw up his hands in mock defeat.

The arrival of his food interrupted the conversation and Dorian breathed in the mouth-watering scent of beef, gravy, and roast vegetables. It was relatively plain fare, all things considered, but it seemed like a feast fit for a king after all the manual labour he’d done today. Sera was making some horrible comparison between his chickens and noble ladies and Dorian was too busy inhaling his food to do more than scowl occasionally in between blissfully enjoying his food.

“Woah, slow down there, Big Guy, it’s not going anywhere.”

Dorian shrugged, his mouth too full to tell Bull how hungry he was in any dignified way. As much as he’d enjoyed the small spread Sera had thrown him together last night, and the bread this morning, it’s had been weeks since the last time he had enjoyed such a delicious, freshly cooked meal.

“Oi, Fancy Chickens, I’m going hunting tomorrow for me and Widdle, you want me to catch you a rabbit?”

“I have a perfectly acceptable name and personality beyond my, admittedly delightful, chickens. It’s Dorian, if you would, and while that is a generous offer, I must admit I wouldn’t know the first thing to do with a rabbit. Also, who or what is a ‘Widdle’?”

“He is fancy, isn’t he?” Varric commented to Bull, earning a nod. “Speaks all sophisticated, but it’s a bit at odds with the appearance.”

Bull looked Dorian over slowly with more than a hint of appreciation. “You know, I’d like to see you all done up in your ‘vint gear. I bet you look fucking fantastic.”

“You seem to have a picture in your mind already, Bull,” Varric commented as Dorian tried not to choke on his potatoes, his face heating up under the intense gaze.

“You ever been to Minrathous?” At Varric’s head shake, Bull continued, “Was there for an extraction once, messy business. But upper class ‘vints wear their clothing like armour.”

“It’s true,” Dorian cut in, mouthful of food finally swallowed. “All they tell you about is the blood magic and evil magisters but half of the posturing is done with sleek makeup and scandalous fashion choices. Because if you have to attend some dreadfully dull soiree with stuffy old magisters, then you may as well do so while looking fantastic.”

“So what, you all pissy cause you look like one of us now?” Sera asked, a frown forming as she leaned forward in her chair.

“Must miss all that pampering,” Varric jested and Dorian sighed wistfully.

“Nobody’s peeled a grape for me in weeks, it’s dreadfully dull having to do it myself,” Dorian replied cheekily, earning himself a round of general laughter. It was easier to make fun, join in on the jokes, than to think about the reasons he left. “Though I must confess, I never thought I’d miss my moustache wax as much as I do. It’s been two days and I still cannot bring myself to shave it off but it is a travesty to leave it as it is.”

Dorian brought his hand up to curl an end of his moustache around his fingers and felt it flop down sadly once he removed his hand. Sera licked her finger then reached out to touch him and reeled back in his chair with a grimace.

“What are you doing?!”

“I was gonna fix it,” Sera replied as she leant forward enough that her body rested across the length of the table.

“Don’t you dare!”

Her seriousness vanished as Dorian pushed his chair back, the legs scraping on the floor with a horrid sound. There was a decidedly maniacal glint in her eye that Dorian did not like and he cleared his throat while he attempted to evade her flailing hands.

“Now is anyone going to explain what a ‘Widdle’ is?”

“Dagna,” Bull said by way of explanation as he bodily hauled Sera off the table, much to her annoyance.

“She’s a dwarf arcanist,” Varric added, a lot more helpfully. “It’s not easy for a dwarf in that field so she came here to tinker in peace. Her workshop has something of museum slash library in the front that’s always open to the public. You should take a look sometime, you might find it interesting.”

“She has some damn good inventions too,” Bull chipped in, with a grin. “I have quite a few in my personal collection.” There it was, that slow blink again. Varric groaned while Sera grinned wide.

“My Widdle is the best!” Sera grinned from ear to ear as she leaned over the table conspiratorially. “She even helped me put bees in a grenade!”

“Um…”

Bull’s shoulders shook as though he was holding back a laugh, though Varric made no such attempt, his laughter bringing tears to his eyes. Dorian strongly suspected the cause of the laughter was whatever expression he wore, one that no amount of effort could school as he thought about bee grenades.

“They are pretty effective, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of one,” Bull said with mock seriousness, his lips twitching with the effort to hide his smile.

Sera nodded enthusiastically before reaching into her pocket and dumping a round metal object on the table. Dorian noted with growing horror that it buzzed faintly.

“Is that…?”

“Yeap! Cool, right?”

Dorian mentally cursed Felix for bringing him here once again and wondered if he would ever go a day without doing so.

“You’re crazy,” was all he could find the words for.

Sera only shrugged. “So about that rabbit...”

Chapter Text

The new day dawned with clear skies and more aches than Dorian cared to admit. He had inadvertently taken to rising early due to his exhaustion forcing him to bed far sooner than he’d like. Stepping outside after helping himself to the last of his bread, Dorian couldn’t hold back a shiver. The skies might be clear but it was colder today than any of the others he’d experienced so far. As summer approached it should be getting warmer, not colder.

As Dorian paused on the threshold of his house considering whether he’d need extra clothing, he was greeted by a pleased sounding series of clucks. A grin stretched across Dorian’s face as he looked down at Beatrice as she strode up to greet him.

“Good morning lovely,” he said as he moved to check the inside of their little house.

Dorian wasn’t sure how often a chicken coup needed cleaning or the hay changed so he had determined that checking it every morning was the best plan of action. But upon lifting the sturdy wooden roof, Dorian was greeted with an unexpected sight. Bending down he carefully scooped up a small, pale egg from one of the two nests of hay. He held it up to inspect it closely, in no small amount of awe.

It was smaller than the eggs he’d seen back in Tevinter and an off-white in colour rather than brown but in that moment, it was the most perfect thing he’d ever seen.

“You—”

Dorian cut himself off to scurry inside and place the egg gently down on the kitchen bench where it would be safe. Task complete, he strode back outside and picked a startled Beatrice up in his arms.

“How marvellous! What a delightful gift!”

With a laugh of pure joy Dorian buried his face in the chicken’s soft feathers. Beatrice didn’t seem to mind his strange actions and settled into the embrace quickly. What Dorian was supposed to do with an egg, a single one at that, he didn’t know. But it felt like a small confirmation that maybe he could do this, maybe he could run a small farm. His Pavus Ladies, especially the docile and cuddly Beatrice, felt more like pets than farm animals but he was still thankful to Felix. They were the perfect companions in this strange new life Dorian found himself undertaking and he suspected he might struggle with any animal less docile than his ladies.

With one final pat, Dorian placed Beatrice down as he called a greeting to her sister. Time enough to marvel over the egg later, for now he needed to feed his chickens and decide what task to tackle today.

Sera had promised him a rabbit and Bull had offered a cooking lesson with said game. There was also Harritt to check in with and more weeding than he’d like. On top of all that, there was also the museum-slash-library-slash-Dagna’s-workshop to investigate. So much to do and only so many hours in the day. The feeling was reminiscent of taking on a new research project.

But the first port of call quite obviously had to be Harritt. If any of the odd metal tools had been successfully restored then they may make the rest of Dorian’s clearing task easier. Well, here’s hoping, at least. Dagna’s workshop was supposed to be next door to the blacksmith, though Dorian hadn’t noticed it when he was there, so he could stop by and take a look there as well.

Decided, Dorian fetched his precious coin pouch, called farewell to his chickens, and set out towards the village. Considering the early hour of the morning there was a surprising number of people out and about. Most just waved or nodded polite greetings but Josephine was outside watering her garden and called out a good morning. It was all very plebeian but in a way that was warming rather than irritating. Dorian was used to spending most of his free time on his own, outside of soirees or forced family gatherings, and he doubted he’d normally get this many polite greetings in a week let alone in the space of an hour.

Upon finding his way to the blacksmith, Dorian finally noticed that the line of trees and bushes to the left of the path hid another building. A low, sprawling stone building appeared as Dorian walked closer and a haphazardly written sign on the door suggested this was the museum-library-thing he’d been told about.

Or at least, Dorian hoped that was the point of the ‘come in!’ sign.

The state of the interior nearly had Dorian turning on his heel and leaving immediately. The researcher in him screamed in dismay at the disorganized array of unsorted books, strange knick-knacks, and cluttered furniture. Shelves lined the walls but there were many unused while books sat scattered about the floor or resting on the chairs. Stepping in further revealed the problem to be even more widespread than he’d first realised and with that, he turned and left.

There were things he could deal with, then there was that abomination. And at this time of the morning? He shuddered in horror only jump a second later as a deafening bang came from the back of the building followed by loud, yet gleeful, cursing in what sounded like dwarvish.

Nope, that was too much for right now.

Thankfully the blacksmith was as perfectly organised as he remembered and soothed Dorian’s ruffled feathers. Harritt was already up and stoking the fires to start work for the day, the warmth emanating from the forge a welcome change to the chill in the air. Dorian wondered if he could get away with just basking in the blessed warmth for an hour or if that would be considered rude. He wouldn’t mind being considered strange but being rude when he was still so new to the area was something he wanted to avoid. For now, at least, until he understood all the unspoken social rules of this quaint little village.

“Ah, Dorian, wasn’t it?” Harritt called from the other side of the room.

He waved at a table near the door, not far from where Dorian stood. On it were three tools that looked as good as new. Where before each of them had only been the rusted head of the tool, now polished wooden handles accentuated the gleaming metal head. One was a small long handled axe that would be perfect for chopping firewood, one a small, hand sized shovel, and the other also roughly the size of his hand but with three metal prongs at the end.

“Yes, that’s me. Are these mine?” Dorian asked, more for something to say than any real confusion over the ownership of the tools. “They’ve come up beautifully.”

“The steel’s good quality so they came up well.” Harritt, finished his task, strode over to Dorian and picked up a much larger shovel head. “I’ve cleaned up most of the larger pieces too, so we’re just waiting on Bull to deliver the rest of the handles.”

“Bull did this?” Dorian asked, touching the polished wooden handle of the axe.

“Aye. I’m not good at working with wood myself, may as well leave it to the expert. I’ve already paid him for the work and added in the cost for it.”

The cost Harritt named was less than Dorian had feared, especially on seeing the results, and he happily paid the man. The rest of his tools would be another few days away and Harritt even had some suggestions on a few that might be worth purchasing as well, like a scythe to easily cut the grass that he planned to dry. With the promise that Harritt would ask around about old, unused tools that he could clean up and sell to Dorian, everyone making a little profit without costing Dorian as much as a brand-new tool, he gathered up his new acquisitions and headed for home.

Home. How quickly Dorian had adopted the term for his tiny farm. But then, how long had it been since he truly felt at home in Tevinter? He loved his homeland, but that love was tainted by the memories of his last days there.

His walk back was slow, not only due to the heavy tools clutched to his chest, but the weight of his memories. No matter how Dorian tried to turn his thoughts away from his father, the blood, pain, and anguish he’d felt, he kept circling back to it. All the weeks of his journey south and the busy first few days here had kept him from dwelling on those events. Yet now, this small trip by himself left his mind free to wander.

When he finally made it home Beatrice greeted him with a warm series of clucks and a fast walk up to him. A small smile tugged at Dorian’s lips as he returned the greeting. He found a likely spot near the door for his new acquisitions, fetched the sending crystal, and found a likely spot to sit on his front step.

“Felix?” Dorian called as he pulled Beatrice up to sit in his lap. “Felix? Are you there?”

“Dorian?” Came the familiar voice after a long moment. The smile that had started before widened at his friend’s answer. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, yes. Everything’s fine. I just…Do you have a moment to talk?”

“Always! Honestly, I’d appreciate the break from trying to work out this problem. It’s been days and I still cannot get the answers to make sense.”

“Theoretical mathematics?” Dorian questioned, Felix’s exasperated noise in response making him laugh. “Walk me through it, perhaps you’ll see what you are missing by trying to explain it.”

“Okay, so…”

 

***

 

By the time evening rolled around and Dorian was due to head to Bull’s, he was exhausted. After a delightfully confusing chat with Felix about his current project, which Dorian couldn’t even begin to understand but it was wonderful to hear his friend so passionate, he’d spent the rest of the day continuing his clearing. The strange three-pronged handheld tool thing, which Dorian had named Prong in lieu of knowing its actual name, had been immensely helpful and he’d managed to clear an even larger portion of land than yesterday.

Cleaning the dirt from his person seemed like a monumental effort and each dragging step to the qunari’s house felt like the last he could take. Somehow, he made it, even managing to beat Sera, although he was unsure just how good her timekeeping usually was.

“Dorian!” Bull called warmly as Dorian stepped through the already open doorway. “How you doing, Big Guy?”

“Truthfully?” Dorian replied, trying not to sway on his feet as he stopped to lean against the doorframe. He hoped it looked like a suave, confident move rather than one born of necessity because he needed to rest before taking another step. It was one thing to admit to being tired, entirely another to seem weak because of it. “I could sleep for a week.”

Bull chuckled and stood up from behind the counter that was strewn with paper, designs by the looks of the markings. After stretching out his back, and multiple alarming cracks, he gestured for Dorian to follow him further into his house. The place was neat yet homely. The furniture was mostly polished dark wood, presumably Bull’s own handiwork, with little knick-knacks and large potted plants adorning the rooms. The kitchen was far larger than he expected for one man, even qunari sized, living alone. The middle of the room was taken up by a long bench with stools with a massive table surrounded by chairs on one side and cabinets, an oven, and a cooking pit similar to Dorian’s on the other side.

“This is rather a lot for just one person,” Dorian finally commented, watching as Bull began to pull ingredients from a cabinet. Were those cold runes he spied on the lid?

“I like to cook for the Charger’s when my boys stop by. They’re away on jobs most of the time but even this room is crowded when they are back.” Bull glanced back at Dorian, a wide grin stretching across his face. “You’ll have to come around sometime when they are back! They always love a fresh face to tell stories to, I got a few of my own from my time as a merc too. Did I tell you that Krem’s a ‘vint too? He grumbles that he misses speaking Tevene sometimes and my pronunciations shit enough that he banned me from trying. I know a few words though.”

“I can imagine missing that,” Dorian mused as he settled himself on a stool at the counter. He brought his hand up to cover a yawn before attempting to speak again. “It’s strange to speak nothing but common, except for when I talk to Felix. I never even notice that we swap over to Tevene, it’s just so natural to do so.”

“Yeah, I noticed the other day when you were talking to him while I was there. I miss qunlat sometimes, more the phrases though. There are words for things in qunlat that don’t have an equivalent in common and they don’t translate well.”

Bull finished piling the last of the vegetables on the counter followed by a sharp knife. A few fistfuls of different herbs from a selection of pots lining one of the windowsills joined the selection. They started simply; Bull explained what each thing was, most Dorian actually knew which was a relief, and showed him the best way to peel or cut.

Sera joined them with two awfully limp looking rabbits not long after the vegetables were piled into a huge pot along with a generous helping of water. Dorian didn’t consider himself squeamish by any means, he had dealt with death more than most with his focus on necromancy after all, but it was something entirely different to skin an animal. Even with Bull showing him deftly how to remove the soft pelt and bones from the first rabbit, Dorian struggled to show the finesse required to do a good job with the second.

Even worse, his already ruined nails were further sullied by the innards and Dorian despaired over ever having truly clean hands again.

“You pansy, stop worrying about it,” Sera called as Dorian sat with a small bowl of water and nail brush thoughtfully provided by Bull after he had lamented his fate. “Ya just going to dirty them up tomorrow, anyways. Or you worried you aren’t fancy enough for your chickens anymore?”

“With only access to what Ferelden deems as fashion, I will never be as well dressed as the Pavus Ladies,” Dorian shot back. The nails of one hand were finally free of detritus and the first faint smell of the stew was just starting to fill the air. His day was only getting better and better.

“Pffft,” Sera leaned back on her stool enough as she laughed that Dorian had to steady her for fear of her flying off backwards. “You as a chicken, fancy feathers and all!”

Dorian raised an eyebrow at the elf but didn’t get any further explanation and Bull just shrugged when he met his gaze.

“We’ve got a good hour or so to kill, you up for some cards?” Bull produced a rather worn deck from a cupboard near the table and held it up in question. “I’ve even got some decent ale lying about we can have.”

“There is no such thing as decent Ferelden swill,” Dorian replied rolling his eyes as Sera looked at him again and sent herself back into giggles. “However, that is an excellent idea. Shall I deal?”

Bull handed the deck over before fossicking around in search of mugs and this mysterious ‘decent’ ale. As Dorian dealt, after they all agreed Wicked Grace was best choice of game, he felt that sense of warmth that he’d begun to feel the night before. It was truly a good night, for all that the day hadn’t been easy.

Chapter Text

Dorian groaned as he lowered himself into one of Bull’s puffy armchairs. Sera lay sprawled out on the floor in front of an empty fireplace, half on a soft looking rams’ skin, half off, and snoring. The game of wicked grace had run over their delicious rabbit stew dinner and the alcohol buzzed pleasantly in Dorian’s veins. The ale had been as decent as Bull had said, though perhaps that opinion was clouded by months of not drinking, but all told it had certainly been a pleasant evening.

Bull entered the room to hand Dorian a mug of warm milk sweetened with honey and spiced with cinnamon and something he couldn’t identify. A recipe from Bulls childhood, from what he’d said earlier, and something to wash away the bitter taste of alcohol. The warmth and taste were soothing in a way that Dorian hadn’t experienced in a long time. Though perhaps that also had something to do with the company.

The huge qunari lowered himself into the chair next to Dorian with a soft sigh of pleasure. Silence wrapped itself around them, interrupted only by Sera’s snores, but it felt comfortable in a way that Dorian had only ever previously experienced with Felix.

“I must say,” Dorian said finally, loath to break the silence but curious nonetheless. “I did not expect everyone here to be so kind.”

“You said the other day that you expected the Evil ‘Vint drama,” Bull replied after a moment, turning his head to watch Dorian.

“Oh yes. The same treat I received on my journey south as soon as I opened my mouth to speak. My father’s a magister in the Imperium, you know, and I’m a mage. I expected to be the evil blood mage at least, if not the evil blood mage magister. Yet within less than a day I have been shown more kindness from strangers than I have seen in my entire life.”

“Haven Valley is… Odd.” Bull shifted in his seat and turned his gaze back to the mug cradled in his large hands. “I don’t buy into superstition but there is a local legend that people come here to rest. Some fade magic bullshit I don’t believe for a second but the fact of the matter is, no one here has lived here all their lives, and no one started out as a farmer or whatever their trade is now. Every single person in Haven Valley has made a new life here after being through more shit that a person should go through in their lifetime. We didn’t see an evil ‘vint the day you turned up in the village.” Bull turned back to face Dorian, his expression sombre. “We saw just another lost soul whose here to rest, just like the rest of us.”

“Everyone? Even Sera? Even your Chargers?”

“I don’t pry into people’s pasts but everyone who is living here right now, even Sera. All of my Chargers were picked up out of shit situations too, and some of the jobs they deal with leave them needing a break back here. People come and go but that still seems to hold true.”

Dorian thought about all the people he’d met so far and tried to process this piece of information. Mostly he was struck by how sad that made him, that so many people had been through so much.

“’Fade shit’ you said?” It was a far-fetched theory but one that intrigued Dorian’s academic side.

“Spritis, demons, or some such crap. Solas, the crazy apostate elf who lives on the edge of town, is here to study the phenomena. He seems to think it’s real, dunno myself if it’s not just coincidence, but he could tell you more.”

Dorian frowned, trying to recall the map he’d been given. “The edge of town? There was a picture of an egg? Is that his house?”

Bull snorted in amusement, then covered it by taking a sip of his drink. “That’s the one. Look, I don’t know about any of that crap but if you ever need anything, just let me know, okay?”

“Thank you,” Dorian replied quietly. “And thank you for dinner.”

“Anytime, Dorian.”

They lapsed back into companionable silence and the exhaustion of the day snuck over him. Dorian wasn’t even aware he’d closed his eyes before he was sound asleep, Bull carefully taking the empty mug from his hand and covering him with a blanket.

 

***

 

Dorian awoke to the sound of laughter and the wonderful aroma of fresh bread and bacon. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he became aware of the position he was in; curled up awkwardly on Bulls’ armchair. He groaned as he moved, every muscle protesting not sleeping in a bed. Looking through the window, Dorian judged it not long after dawn. It took a considerable effort of will to pull himself from his chair, groaning again as he stretched out each muscle. He was too old to fall asleep in chairs, clearly.

A blonde head poked through the open doorway and Sera grinned at him. “Fancy Chicken’s awake!”

“Ugh, must you be so loud?” Dorian groused as he moved to follow her back into Bulls’ kitchen.

“Ooh, he’s a cranky one in the morning.” Sera reached across the bench to grab up a piece of toast slathered in butter and jam that Bull had just put down. “Thanks for the grub! I gotta run, I need to see Widdle before work.”

She waved as she stuffed that piece of bread in her mouth with one hand, taking another piece of toast from Bull with the other once it was ready. With that she was out the door and it left Dorian feeling like it was too early to have been hit by that whirlwind of noise and energy.

“You want some eggs?” Bull asked, interrupting Dorian’s thoughts. “I’m cooking up some bacon as well but it won’t be ready for a bit.”

“Eggs!” Dorian exclaimed, his brain choosing that moment to remember the gift he’d been left yesterday. Bull raised an eyebrow at his excitement, a grin pulling at his lips, and Dorian hastened to explain. “How do you cook eggs? One of the Ladies left me one yesterday but I wasn’t sure what to do with it.”

“Hey, congrats! Look at you, a real farmer, huh?”

Dorian flushed at the easy praise and cleared his throat. “Yes, well, that remains to be seen. But if you haven’t started cooking yet, I’d quite like to know what you are planning with those eggs.”

“Can do. Come on, get over here, we’ll make breakfast together.” Bull gestured Dorian around the counter and he dutifully moved to stand beside the hulking man. “Eggs are quick to whip up for a mean breakfast, that’s why I was waiting until you’d woken up before putting them on. I’ll show you a few ways you can cook them so you can keep things interesting.”

For a start Dorian was incredibly conscious of the muscled body beside him and the sheer heat that seemed to radiate from Bull. But the qunari’s calm yet upbeat atmosphere quickly had him relaxing as well. Bull was a good teacher, patient and knowledgeable, and willing to stand back while Dorian tried, mostly failing, the recipes. Breakfast took much longer to make with the two of them in the kitchen, Dorian was sure, but it had been fun.

What’s more, with a little practise and a few more ingredients, Dorian was confident he would improve enough to cook his own breakfast. What a novel thought that was!

“Thank you, Bull,” Dorian said after he’d finished packing away a generous helping of toast, eggs, bacon, and mushrooms. “For the food and the lesson.”

“Hey, anytime. You’re fun to teach, you’re quick to pick things up and you’re actually interested in learning. I tried to teach Sera to cook once, I was worried she’d burn the kitchen down and I nearly lost my eyebrow! I’ve only got one left, I can’t afford to lose it in case it doesn’t grow back!” He laughed, waggling the brow at Dorian who snorted amusement.

“Still, thank you.”

“Hey,” Bull said gently, his face softening. “Remember what I said before? Don’t worry about it. Anyway, just think of it as keeping an old man company while his kids are away! Don’t tell Krem I pretty much just called him my son though, he already says I mother hen too much, I’d never hear the end of this! But if you’re interested, I need to stock up on some things. Varric’s shop is good for general things and dried goods but if you want fresh produce there’s better people to see. Why don’t we stop by, feed your Ladies, then I can show you who to talk to? Or if you want, you can chip in some to my shop and come around for the next week to practise cooking.”

Dorian took a moment to consider the offer, though it was more for appearance sake. The offer was better than he’d hoped for and presumably cheaper than ordering a meal at the Haven’s Rest every night. He could almost hear Felix urging him to stop being silly and accept the offer for what it was; friendship and all the warm, fuzzy things that went with it.

“That sounds like an excellent idea. I will endeavour to spare your poor face any more atrocities as well, if only because I would lose my own facial hair first. That is an atrocity I could not stand!”

Bull laughed as he began to clear away the remains of the meal and between the two of them, the dishes were washed up soon enough. Dorian helped heat the washing water, apologising when Bull started at the display of magic, but the relaxed air between them quickly returned. It turned out there was even tricks to washing dishes that Dorian had been unaware of and he marvelled at the intricacies of seemingly mundane tasks.

He waited while Bull readied his great nuggalope Spots, the beast placidly eating a carrot out of Dorian’s hand while he was hitched to a wagon. Dorian would have preferred to steer clear of the great beast but Bull insisted that bribing Spots with a carrot was the fastest way to get on their way. So here he was, standing next to a black and white spotted nuggalope, desperately trying to avoid being drooled on. The searching nudge from Spots’ muzzle knocked Dorian back a step as he looked for more carrots and that wasn’t at all cutely affectionate, nope.

“Okay, let’s go,” Bull said as he finished tightening the last buckle.

The walk back to Dorian’s was ambling but comfortable. Conversation with Bull was surprisingly easy, the qunari far more intelligent than Dorian had initially given him credit for. Though this morning they kept the topics light, mostly on food and the people they’d be visiting today.

Upon reaching the border of Dorian’s farm, a loud shriek startled him. Looking around, Dorian was taken aback when a streak of white hurtled towards him. Beatrice ran full tilt towards them, her head bobbing rapidly as she sprinted. Her sister followed behind at a more restrained pace but even then, she was almost jogging. A series of concerned clucks greeted Dorian as he bent down to scoop the chicken into his arms.

“Oh, Beatrice! Did I worry you when I didn’t come home, lovely?”

He ran his fingers soothingly through her soft feathers, noting some snags. He needed to get a little comb or something to keep their feathers looking nice. She settled in his arms as he crooned at her, only putting her down once she’d quieted. As Dorian picked up Victoria, for once demanding to be held as well, Beatrice walked over to glare at the Bull.

“Hey, woah there!” Bull put his hands up as though to defend himself from a chicken about the size of his foot. “I looked after him, I swear. He just fell asleep, that’s all.”

Only once he’d calmed Victoria down as well did Beatrice leave off giving Bull the gimlet eye. They followed Dorian closely as he walked to where he’d stored their feed. After filling their dawnstone plate with food, Dorian checked the coop, only to be disappointed at the lack of eggs. Obviously, egg laying wasn’t an everyday thing.

“Why don’t we bring your Ladies with us?” Bull said as Dorian walked back to join him, both the chickens still sticking close to his ankles. “You can put some hay in the wagon and they can come along for a ride. They don’t seem too keen to leave you alone.”

“I’m not sure why they are so upset,” Dorian admitted. “I’ve left them alone before.”

“But you always come back at night though, right? You interrupted the routine by not coming back last night. But here, there’s plenty of room in the back.”

Together they made two small nests in the back of the wagon. Victoria eagerly exploring once Dorian set her inside but he kept Beatrice in his arms as they began to walk again. It must look ridiculous, him walking round cradling a white chicken like she was a child, but she was happy like this. He also felt awful for worrying them, albeit unintentionally. The chickens might be animals but they were smart and had emotions like people did, clearly.

Perhaps Blackwall eyed Dorian a little oddly when they stopped by for milk, eggs, and cream. But when they stopped by the first farmer for some fresh vegetables, Dorian’s Ladies proved quite the hit. They were fed little stalks of fresh vegetable greens as one lady coaxed a few pats and even a few small fruits by another farmers kid, also in hopes for getting pats. The chickens were lapping up the attention, although they still kept close to Dorian.

All told it made an already pleasant outing even more interesting, and Bull seemed to enjoy the extra company as well, if his constant jokes were anything to go by.

Dorian could quite possibly get used to this.

Chapter Text

The days took on a routine that was just as exhausting as the first day of manual labour, for all the repetition. Dorian learned that he could expect one to two eggs more days than not and he began to cook himself breakfast and lunch before spending the morning clearing more sections of overgrown farmland. The seeds he had planted had yet to show any signs of growth but after speaking with one of the local farmers, he learned that was normal. His evenings were spent with Bull at his house or in the tavern with a shifting array of locals. Varric and Sera were near constants but Dorian had been introduced to all manner of people as they joined in for the occasional game of cards or merely a social drink.

For all that his days looked vastly different to those from before leaving Tevinter, Dorian found that his life felt fuller now. He had no time or energy for boredom and no one tried to make him do anything he didn’t want to. Still, he missed his books more than he cared to admit, even to Felix, as well as the easy use of magic that came with having access to a staff.

Small complaints really, when the alternative was blood magic and a father who didn’t want him.

Today was the first break in Dorian’s new routine. The clouds that had been gathering all the day before had opened up to let torrents of water cancel his plans for the day. Instead, Dorian had gathered in plenty of firewood, stocked up on food, found a few good books, plus two dubious ones from Varric, and brought his chickens inside on Bull’s suggestion. The qunari had invited Dorian, and the Ladies, to stay out the storm with him but he’d declined the generous offer. The prospect of a few days of sleep and reading had easily won out and thankfully Bull hadn’t seemed offended in the slightest.

So here Dorian was, brewing himself apple skin tea while listening to Felix rant about yet another facet of theoretical mathematics. His chickens were happily nestled on his bed, in the middle of course, and the warmth from the fire provided a counterpoint to the drumming rain on the roof. It was all so domestic and plebeian yet it felt wonderful. Dorian felt peaceful, languid, and happy in a way that kept deepening each day he stayed here. Just when he thought he’d reached the ultimate level of contentment, he’d be surprised to learn there was more.

What marvellous change a few weeks could bring.

Dorian sighed in delight as he tasted the steeped brew. The honey from Sera was the perfect touch and he was looking forward to getting more tea recipes from Bull. He had not realized how relaxing it was to slowly brew your own tea, savouring the building aroma, and using the time to quiet the mind.

“You’ll have to try this tea when you come to visit, Felix,” Dorian said into the lull in his friend’s rant.

“Apple skins you said? And you’re using the rest of the apples for a pie?”

Dorian hummed his affirmative as he distracted himself with another sip of his tea from the spoon before pouring it into one of his many mismatched mugs.

“If only Mae could hear you now. She’d never believe me, you know, if I told her you’d become so domestic. Especially if I mentioned that a qunari was the one teaching you to cook.” Felix laughed, a quiet, tired thing but still full of warm affection. His friend had been up all night trying to get his numbers to add up, convinced he was on the verge of a break through. “I like it though, hearing you so happy.”

“She won’t believe it until she sees it with her own eyes,” Dorian agreed. “You’ll both have to visit, just not until I’m ready. As much as I love you, my friend, I don’t fancy sharing such a small bed with you.”

“You have until the end of the Magisterium’s session then I don’t think anyone will be able to stop her coming to check up on you in person. I offered to lend her my sending crystal, you know,” Felix continued. Dorian could hear the sounds of him putting away pieces of paper and what was presumably writing equipment. “But she declined. She said she’d want to see you straight away if she could hear your voice. Something about needing to focus on all the ‘fossils’ least they cause more drama in the Imperium.”

He cut off with a large yawn and Dorian smiled, remembering how often they used to sit side by side through all hours of the night only to be hit by overwhelming exhaustion sometime the next day. Many times they fell asleep at their desks, too tired to make their way back to their rooms.

“Get some sleep, Felix. Your math will keep.”

“Mmm. Tell me what you think of Varric’s new serial, I haven’t read that one yet. They take a while to make their way into the Imperium.” He yawned again and Dorian swore he could hear Felix’s jaw pop with the stretch. “I’ll have to get something signed when we visit.”

Dorian glanced over at the books lying on the table and grimaced. Hard in Hightown he’d heard of at least but Blossoming Tides sounded appalling based off the title alone. Worst of all, Felix loved the series of romantic novellas that Varric wrote on the side for extra cash, though the dwarf claimed they weren’t as good as his action series.

“I’ll try it,” Dorian replied reluctantly. “If only so you’ll not ask me again.”

With that they bid each other farewell and Dorian grabbed a novel recommended by Bull, a recommendation seconded by Blackwall of all people. On Black Sails was full of pirates and adventures on the high seas with a side of hard and fast romance that promised to be interesting. He shuffled his chickens over, earning a series of disgruntled noises, so that he could actually sit on the bed and settled in to enjoy his well-earned day of rest.

Dorian drifted between sleep and wakefulness, the comfort of the bed calling to him even over the exciting action-packed pages of the book. So when a figure appeared at the end of his bed, he wondered if he was dreaming. As the cautious eyes peered out from under the brim of a large, floppy hat, Dorian sprang upright in alarm. The feeling of fade surrounded the figure and his first panicked thought was demon.

“No!” the figure, a young man, almost boyish in appearance, called. “I am not a demon. I help the hurts, it calls to me and I tug at it until it loosens.” He tilted his head to the side and his voice became softer, more monotone. “Trapped, wet, alone, pain. Energy ebbs away and I can no longer make sound, water against my feet, blackness threatens.”

He shifted again to look Dorian in the eyes and the depth to them seemed otherworldly. A spirit then, as he didn’t seem to be in possession of a body if the lack of gross, monstrous mutations was any indication. Dorian’s mind was brought back to Bull’s comment about the spirits of this land, the ‘fade bullshit’, and wondered if it really was all true. He’d been too busy to seek out the apostate mage living on the edge of the village, though he’d confirmed that the man spent a great deal of time away from his house anyway.

“Solas said that I should not talk to the villagers and make them forget if they see me but you can help him.” His pale eyes were pleading and Dorian crumbled on realizing the spirit was talking about was a real creature, in pain and suffering. “Helping others helps heal your hurts and each time your family grows you hurt less too. Please.”

Dorian put his book carefully to the side and swung himself out of bed, mindful not to disturb the Ladies who were completely at ease in the spirits presence. Wherever he was about to go, it was clearly outside, so he hurriedly pulled on his worn boots and oiled cloak before turning back to the spirit boy.

“Show me.”

His face brightened and he immediately leapt up, passing right through Dorian’s closed door. Definitely a spirit, and definitely not in possession of a human body. The last traces of doubt vanished and he mentally braced himself before throwing open the door to step out into the still raging storm. The wind flung the rain into his face and for all the protection the cloak offered, Dorian was soaked to the skin within seconds. At least his chickens were warm and dry, he thought idly as he closed the door behind him.

The spirit kept dashing ahead before returning to urge him on and they headed towards the once gentle stream bordering his property, now swollen with the unrelenting rain. The mud under his feet made the footing treacherous and the pressing wind didn’t help any. More than once Dorian felt a faint pressure at his elbow or back to help keep him standing. The creature leading him might be a spirit but he could touch this world physically if he chose to, it seemed.

Dorian crashed through the wild undergrowth, getting further and further into the tangled mess at the edges of his land’s boundaries. He cursed as he slipped but was righted again swiftly and pressed on with gritted teeth. Finally the spirit stopped, crouching down beside a fallen branch on the edge of the rushing stream. Stepping closer, Dorian could just make out a small black cat trapped under the branch; its coat covered in mud, eyes closed, and body too still.

“He lives,” the spirit shouted to be heard over the rain. “But his will falters.”

His voice dropped and Dorian could no longer hear him over the storm but presumably he was doing that thing from before where he reached into the creature’s mind. Removing the branch was simple enough with the help of some magic, though the lack of a staff to focus it meant the effort made a headache throb in his temples. Carefully, mindful of any potential injuries, Dorian lifted the cat into his arms. It was small, barely more than a kitten, and one leg dangled uselessly, broken in multiple places.

Dorian didn’t have the skill or knowledge required to attend to the animal but there was someone in the village who might. Bull had warned him not to bother their resident doctor Cassandra unless it was a real injury or illness and not to take animals to her or she might just take his head off, but she was his only hope right now. There was no resident animal healer and Dorian couldn’t wait until the storm cleared to make his way to Redcliffe. But Bull had also said that she had a big heart under all the rough edges and that she really cared about the people here.

The spirit stayed with him, steadying him when he slipped, right up until he reached the village proper. Dorian spared no thought for him when he vanished, the small, cold body in his arms taking all of his attention. The clinic was dark as he approached and Dorian’s heart sank. Still, he raised a fist to pound on the door, again and again. He lost all sense of time as he stood out in the rain, cradling a wavering life in his arms but eventually the door flung open to reveal a scowling woman.

He’d met Cassandra once before, nothing but a simple greeting in passing, but he’d heard about her from Bull and Sera. He took the opportunity to barrel her out of the doorway so that he could finally be out of the rain.

“Please, I know you are a human doctor and don’t work with animals but I don’t know what to do and I think he’s dying.” He knew he was babbling, but the words tumbled from his lips in desperation.

Her lips pursed and her eyebrows furrowed as she leaned forward to look at the nearly drowned creature in his arms.

“I didn’t think you had a cat,” she said slowly.

Dorian gave a helpless shrug. “I heard him in the storm.” She raised her eyebrows at that, which was fair as the storm was howling against the windows, but how did he explain a spirit? He didn’t, that was how. “I’ll pay for his care, just please help him. I don’t know if he’ll last much longer.”

After one more unreadable look, Cassandra nodded once, closed the door, then moved to lead him through to the back of the building. Relief flooded through Dorian as he followed and was gestured to place the cat down on a long metal table. The room was quickly lit with large candles and a glance around showed shelves of neatly labelled jars, books, and gleaming surgical instruments.

Together they wordlessly cleaned off the worst of the mud from the unmoving animal, Dorian placing a fire rune on the bottom of a metal pot of water to heat it quickly. All the while Cassandra seemed to be carefully cataloguing the hurts; small cuts mostly, barring one front leg than seemed completely shattered.

“I know little about animals and what herbs or potions can be used to heal them,” Cassandra said after stepping back to wash the mud off her own hands. “This cat is also small and malnourished. I cannot use a healing potion or any herbs that I would normally use for a human least it is poisonous to the animal. That leg…” She trailed off with a frown before turning to face Dorian. “It is shattered beyond even what the strongest potion in my possession is capable of healing, even if I would risk using one. It has to be amputated and surgery on a such a small, weak animal may very well kill it, even if not immediately.”

Dorian hesitated for a moment but he knew the answer. If the limb was shattered that badly, it would never heal correctly on its own and may leave the cat in pain for the rest of its life. But he could still live a normal life with only three legs, surely. The animal would have died anyway if Dorian hadn’t agreed to intervene. Better to risk what was once inevitable in the chance of a full, pain free life.

He tensed as he felt something brush across his mind, the feeling of fade sharpening in his senses for a moment. There were no words but a feeling of acceptance, of peace at either outcome. The work of the spirit again and it firmed his resolve.

“Do it. Let me know how I can help.” Dorian trailed off when the woman didn’t respond and gave a weak laugh. “Though I do hope you take payments in installments.”

“He is not yours,” she replied slowly, that unreadable look on her face once again.

Dorian looked down at the pitiful animal and felt something tug at his heart. He knew what it was like to be knocked so low you couldn’t get yourself back on your feet. “He is now.”

She nodded and her expression softened. “I will not charge you for my time nor any resources used. This is a kind thing you are doing, I will help how I can.”

Cassandra was calm, deliberate, and methodical. Dorian followed each precisely issued instruction as quickly and efficiently as he could, though most of his tasks were simple. Further cleaning the cat so no dirt would get into the wound, petting his head while she applied some numbing agent to the limb, and then holding him still while it was removed. Thank the maker he wasn’t squeamish.

The surgery took longer than expected as Cassandra kept her movements slow and careful. It showed a consideration that Dorian was immensely grateful for. The cat remained unconscious throughout the procedure with the help of a herb that walked the edge of helping them and killing the animal if administered in too high a dose but the cat was still breathing at the end of it as she deftly sewed the wound shut.

“I cannot do any more for him,” Cassandra said as she snipped off the thread and placed down the small needle she’d used to close the wound. “He will either make it through the night or not, he is in the hands of the Maker now.”

“I—” Dorian hesitated for a moment before glancing out the window. The rain had let up in the time they’d been inside. “Can I take him home? Even if he doesn’t make it at least his last few hours can be in comfort.”

Her stern face softened again and she nodded. “Of course.”

Gently, oh so gently, they loaded him into a small basket that Cassandra gracefully offered to loan him and covered the entire thing in an oiled cloak. Dorian’s thanks were waved off and he was careful not to jostle the basket as he walked back. The black cat was still sleeping when he arrived home and carefully looked inside.

“We have a new family member,” Dorian whispered to the Ladies as they came to investigate, small clucks sounding out their curiosity.

He stoked the fire back to life, stripped out of his wet, muddy clothing, and set a folded up spare blanket in front of the fire. Very carefully he picked up the cat and arranged him in front of the warmth. Beatrice watched his movements and after a moment came over and sat on the cat. Dorian stifled a laugh as he picked her up to place her behind the cat.

“Careful, he’s hurt.”

The chicken settled against the cat, the white feathers a stark contrast to the black fur, apparently having adopted him already. Victoria took one look at them both then began what Dorian had dubbed the ‘patrol of the house’ as she seemingly made sure nothing scary lurked around.

After a moment of quiet Dorian stood to fetch the sending crystal from his bedside table before returning to sit in front of the fire.

“Felix,” he called, knowing that his friend always kept the crystal nearby. He waited until he received an answering hello before continuing, “How do you feel about a three-legged black cat being named after you?”

Chapter Text

As soon as Dorian awoke the next morning, he was out of bed and kneeling down beside the blanket in front of the fire. Felix was only partially visible under the fluffy ladies but he could see the distinct rise and fall of his chest. Relief flooded through him as he realized that Felix had made it through the night. While there was still danger to the malnourished animal, he had made it through the hardest part. Dorian reached out to carefully run his fingers across what fur was visible and the body twitched then moved. Yellow eyes opened to gaze blearily up at him.

“Hello Felix,” Dorian said quietly as he held his hand up to be sniffed. “Welcome to your new home.”

Feathers ruffled as the chickens stirred and Dorian smiled as sleepy clucks greeted him. He reached out and stroked his fingers through the soft feathers of first Beatrice then Victoria.

“Good morning Ladies, thank you for looking after Felix all night.”

Standing, he cast an eye over his tiny kitchen. He hadn’t thought about it yesterday, hadn’t really thought anything about his newest adoption, but what in the Maker’s name did cats eat? Felix was small but he seemed old enough to be on his own, possibly? What did Dorian know about animals really? Meat seemed the safest bet but what if he needed milk? Could he even chew meat?

After dithering for a moment, Dorian fetched a tiny saucer and poured a splash of goat’s milk from Blackwall across it then placed it down in front of Felix. The cat shifted closer, his little nose flaring as he sniffed at the offering. Satisfied that he was at least interested in eating, Dorian shifted his attention to chopping a sliver of steak off what he had planned for his dinner tonight. The knife Bull had sharpened for him, while lecturing him on the importance of keeping his knives sharp, easily slid through the meat and he marveled once again at how domestic he was becoming. After a moment of consideration, Dorian began to chop the meat finely, dicing it right down until it was almost a paste. He wrinkled his nose in distaste at the texture but only the best for his family.

Turning he found that Felix had shifted forward on the blanket and the small drops of white liquid on his chin said that he’d had a little of the milk. Another wave of relief washed through Dorian. He could recite laws of magic, debate the theoretical possibility of time travel, and politic with the best of Tevinter but looking after another life was still new to him. Only the fact that the ladies were doing well gave him any kind of confidence that Felix would be fine in his care.

Dorian placed another small saucer with the meaty paste in front of the cat and crouched down to watch with bated breath. Felix sniffed the plate for a long while, trying multiple angles, before nibbling on it. He only had a few tiny mouthfuls before he turned away to stretch out closer to the fire’s embers. This was good, he’d eaten a little and had something to drink. Now, he’d need much more rest to recover after his ordeal yesterday. Dorian took a deep breath in, then out, and all the tension in his body drained out of him with the release of his breath.

He busied himself with placing more wood on the fire and used a little magic to get it roaring back to life quickly. Next, he drew an ice rune on the bottom of the two saucers so he could leave the food out for Felix to snack on as he felt like it. That done, Dorian turned his attention to organizing breakfast for himself and the Ladies.

The rain still poured down outside for most of the day and Dorian contented himself with reading. He alternated between sitting on the floor with the animals and his bed once his body began to protest that he was too old for lounging on the hard wooden floor. On Black Sails proved to be a delightful read that he didn’t want to put down while Varric’s Blossoming Tides was so appalling that Dorian ended up reading sections out to human Felix to rant about via sending crystal. In the end, both were entertaining endeavours, if for wildly different reasons.

It was early evening, and Dorian was just beginning to become aware of his body demanding for him to get up off the floor to make dinner, when he was started by a loud knock. With a great heaving sigh Dorian pulled himself to his feet, a rather loud crack of protest from his knee reminding him once again that he shouldn’t be sitting on the floor, and opened the door. Bull’s massive frame took up the doorway, an already broad grin widening on seeing him. The strange man was as shirtless as always and Dorian peered behind him to see that not only had the rain stopped, Cullen was here as well.

“Dorian!” Bull exclaimed by way of greeting. “How ya going, Big Guy? You weather out the storm okay? No leaks?”

Dorian stepped back to allowed the hulking giant inside, though he needn’t have bothered if Bull was only here to check to make sure his house was okay. Thinking about it, Dorian did recall Bull saying that he checked by everyone when the rain died down to patch any damage caused as the last thing you wanted during an extended storm was a leaky roof.

“We’ve had no trouble at all, if anything I’ve quite enjoyed the days off to rest.” Bull stepped into the house, mindful of his wide horns, to peer critically at the ceiling. “Hello Cullen.”

The ex-templar fisherman smiled awkwardly at him offering a quiet greeting in return. Dorian had only met the man once before when he brought a fish over to Bull’s and stayed for dinner. Cullen tended to keep to himself but he was responsible for most of the fish available to the village and his house was situated on the edge of a large lake fed into by multiple small rivers. Other than that, all he knew was that the man enjoyed a good game of chess and Dorian had promised to stop by for a few games the next time he had an afternoon free.

“Hello Ladies!” Bull called out with just as much enthusiasm as he had when greeting Dorian. It warmed something in him for Bull to be so accepting; Dorian had asked the qunari to treat the chickens like the ladies they were and Bull had, unfailingly. “Ah! This must be the little guy Cass mentioned.”

Bull knelt next to Felix and offered him a huge meaty fist to sniff. At Dorian’s raised eyebrow Cullen finally stopped dithering in his doorway to step inside properly and peer over Bull’s shoulder curiously.

“This is Felix. Cassandra was kind enough to help him after I found him in the storm yesterday.”

“Named after your friend, right?” Bull turned to look at Dorian, his face soft with warmth. “Cass was getting all teary as she told us about how you ran him through the storm to her, ready to do anything to save this poor animal you found in the storm.”

Dorian blinked unsure what to say in response. Cassandra had been nothing but brisk with him, in line with how she’d acted during their previous brief meeting. “Cassandra was very generous with her offer to help us free of charge, and no doubt she’s the only reason he managed to pull through the night.”

“Sweet guy,” Bull replied gently, watching Dorian for a moment more before turning back to carefully stroke a thick finger between Felix’s ears. Beatrice hovered nearby, a watchful glint in her beady eye while she made sure her newly adopted son was treated with all the care he needed.

Dorian spluttered at the sentiment then drew himself up primly. “I’ll have you know, I am very far from sweet. Would either of you gentleman care for some tea?”

He realized that in his attempt to change the conversation, he’d done the most Ferelden thing he’d ever done: invited guests inside then offered them tea. In Tevinter you never had guests calling by unannounced, and even if you did, you’d offer them the finest wine and food your kitchens could prepare in a moment’s notice. Guest were usually planned for in advance then impressed by flaunting your wealth with extravagant dinner parties and exotic entertainment. You certainly did not invite them inside when they turned up unannounced to offer them a mug of warm, liquid comfort.

“Nah, I’m good,” Bull replied as he stood, his knees creaking in protest. The qunari groaned much like how Dorian had before and he felt a pang of empathy. “We’re just stopping by to make sure everything’s all good. Poor Cullen here had a tree knocked over this morning, it’s taken out part of his roof so he’s going to stay with me till I get it all patched up.”

Cullen’s face fell at the mention of his house and he sighed. “Most things are okay but it hit my bedroom so my mattress and linens will no doubt be worse for wear. Thank the Maker my books and chess board are in the other room though.”

“We’ll get you all sorted within the week, don’t you worry,” Bull said as he clapped Cullen reassuringly on the shoulder causing the man to wince as he struggled to stand his ground under the force. “You all good for our weekly shop tomorrow, Dorian? We can even bring your newest addition.”

“Only if Felix is feeling up to it, but yes, I’ll be coming regardless.”

Bull’s grin widened again, his face transforming into a leer, and it was only then that Dorian realized what he said. He rolled his eyes at the immaturity of the qunari who, by all accounts, was older than Dorian.

“Sounds like a good time.”

Bull’s slow blink attempting to be a wink was not at all charming yet Dorian found himself smiling even as he shot the qunari a long-suffering look. Cullen chuckled from near the door and Dorian looked over to find him carefully petting Victoria who’d apparently wandered over to investigate the strange new man she hadn’t seen before. The ginger chicken stood like she was the pinnacle of life and only deigned to let the mere human touch her because she felt like it. It was a difficult expression to portray using only body language but once again, he was reminded that they really were Pavus’.

“Honestly,” Dorian said as he turned back to raise an eyebrow at the still grinning Bull. “Don’t you ever get sick of immature jokes?”

“Hey, I’m always down for a good time.”

“Are you propositioning me?”

“Do you want me to be?” Bull shot back and he straightened, his change in posture causing him to loom in a way that had Dorian’s heart beating a little faster. “’Cause I can work with that.”

Instead of replying, Dorian turned to Cullen and raised his eyebrows expressively. “Does he flirt like this with you too?”

“He did until I asked him to stop,” Cullen replied with a hint of a laugh in his voice. “Though Bull flirts with anyone who lets him.”

“You tell me to stop and I will, I always respect people’s boundaries. But if you’re up for it, I enjoy a little back and forth, if you know what I mean.” Bull waggled his lone eyebrow then laughed at Dorian’s overly dramatic grown of disapproval. “Hey, I’m just saying my door’s always open, if you’re interested. Even if you just want to drop by for tea and some gossip like Sera, or chess like Cullen here. Your fuzzy family are always welcome too.”

Dorian’s put-on skeptical expression faded as Bull included his animal’s in the invitation. It was an offer that rang with sincerity by including them as his family. The warmth of friendship infused the offer, along with something more that Dorian hadn’t actually considered. Cullen was correct, Bull flirted with everyone. Dorian saw it when they were at the tavern and he was the recipient of it every time he saw the man. He’d never thought it was truly serious, but maybe the qunari actually was. Before the thought could take hold, Dorian pushed it away. He had far too much to worry about before he started even considering a relationship and he wasn’t interested in one night stands any more. He was too old for one night of awkward fumbling and little in the way of real connection.

It was something he could think of later, though his friendship with Bull was proving far too valuable to jeopardize. 

The two men bid their farewells, though only after Beatrice got a pat from both of them too, and Dorian promised to be ready for their grocery trip after breakfast in the morning. Only once they well and truly left did Dorian realise he should have asked if either of them knew more about cat diets and asked Cullen about getting regular fish supplied. Even Dorian knew that animals as well as people needed a well-balanced diet and fish would be perfect.

Oh well, he could always ask tomorrow. During the day Felix had eaten most of what Dorian had prepared for him so he would be fine until then. Dorian smiled as he settled himself back beside Felix and Beatrice by the fire with his book. After two quiet days he was feeling refreshed and ready to tackle more of the monumental task that was his future.

Chapter Text

Days passed and the ritual of cooking, clearing, and cleaning kept Dorian grounded. The monotony was soothing, to a point, but he was beginning to feel the edges of frustration creeping in. The more physical labour Dorian did, the more his body adapted to it, his once lanky frame filling out with lean muscle. His energy levels began to increase and more and more he stayed awake in the evenings instead of falling face first into bed as soon as dinner was finished. Now that he had the breathing room to become bored, or worse, anxious, Dorian found that he missed his home more than ever.

A new day dawned bright and clear, the cloudless sky hinting at a temperature that Dorian welcomed with open arms. It would never match the heat he was used to, but anything that didn’t leave him shivering while pottering around his tiny house was preferable to the alternative. After greeting and feeding the Ladies, Dorian headed over to his patch of planted seeds, as he’d done every clear day since he’d planted them. This time though, instead of moving on, he paused to eye the thin green stalks peaking up from the dirt.

Dorian had expected to feel elated at the sight that he’d successfully germinated even just one of the seeds and here he could count no less than six tiny sproutlings. Yet, all he felt was a pang of disappointment. How many days had it been? Truthfully, he’d lost count but weeks had passed since he’d meticulously planted the seeds full of hope. This was proof that he could grow something, or at least start to, but there were too few.

After staring for a long moment, Dorian fell to his knees in the dirt. Perhaps if he could plant more, then eventually he might be able to feed himself but to survive, he needed more. A great deal of the economy here relied on trade and right now Dorian had no way to make money nor any useful produce to trade in place of it.

Kaffas, what a fool he’d been to think it would be that easy.

Movement to his left startled him and Dorian glanced over to find the spirit boy from the storm crouched next to him and peering up from under the brim of his massive hat.

“I felt your hurt,” he said as though that explained his presence. “Sudden and sharp, a tearing feeling.” He titled his head, his pale eyes seeming to stare right through Dorian in a way that made the hairs on his arms stand on end. “I want to help you but the hurt is all tangled up. There’s new hurt there but old hurt as well, and it’s all tied together with love and affection and soft warmth. If I pull it, it will only turn the precious warmth to hurt too.”

Dorian took a long, deep, fortifying breath and held it, counting out the seconds, before letting it out slowly. It was a calming technique taught to him by Felix and he’d been needing to use a lot since he’d left Tevinter.

“Do you have a name?” Dorian asked the spirit instead of the million other questions in his head that vied to be answered.

The spirit tilted his head the other way then sat down cross-legged. “Solas helped me find the name Cole.”

After a moment of consideration, Dorian mimicked Cole and sat back. Beatrice hovered nearby, no doubt sensing his distress, and he flung his arms wide towards her. The white chicken ran towards him as he did so and Dorian scooped Beatrice up into his arms. He held her close to his chest, fingers carefully combing through her feathers for comfort.

“You hurt less now,” Cole observed curiously, his large eyes watching Dorian intently.

“I had to learn at quite the young age how to soothe any of my feelings on my own, it would be unseemly to show such emotion, after all.” Dorian gave the spirit a crooked smile as he mentally pushed down the shadowed memories of his youth. He had enough to deal with without bringing up long buried wounds.

Cole frowned though his eyes stared through Dorian once again. This time Dorian had a rough idea what the spirit might say. “Hide the hurt, mustn’t let father see how his words affect me. Hide everything away under my armour, use words to redirect his attention. Mock him, provoke him into not seeing how my hands tremble as I scream inside.”

Ah, that memory hurt more than Dorian thought it would. It was an old one to begin with but it had been repeated time and time again as the years passed. He’d worn his appearance like armour; the finest fashions were steel plate, the perfectly styled hair like a shield, the glittering makeup warpaint. He’d wielded everything in tandem to move seemingly freely about Tevinter, throwing back a perfect façade to anyone who dared turn their attention to him.

He’d been stripped of all that pretense since he’d fled for his life and for a start the lack had been freeing, if absolutely terrifying. Now, Dorian felt more vulnerable than he’d ever had before.

“No, no, no!” Cole cried out, his hands reaching up to grasp at the sides of his hat, as he stared at Dorian in anguish. “I made the hurt worse! I wanted to help! I’ll try again, make you forget and try again.”

“Wait!” Dorian exclaimed, flinging a hand out in gesture for Cole to stop whatever fade-spirit magic he was about to do. “Don’t. Whatever you are going to do, don’t.”

Cole seemed to teeter back and forth before finally settling back, though he still looked worried.

“Cole, last time we spoke you said you made the villagers forget you. Why didn’t you make me forget our meeting as well?”

It was a distraction, a horrifically blatant one at that, but frankly Dorian needed it. Thankfully Cole seemed to understand that as he answered without hesitation.

“It doesn’t hurt you to remember.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“The villagers are scared of me. Scared of the fade, scared of things they don’t understand. It hurts them to know that I am here, even though I only want to help. It keeps them from sleeping, makes them nervous when they’re alone. So I make them forget me.”

“It must be lonely then,” Dorian ventured, settling Beatrice down in his lap. She was very patient but even still, Dorian was aware that being clutched to his chest like that probably wasn’t comfortable.

“I don’t know, I don’t feel like you do.” Cole shrugged then pointed to Beatrice. “When you look at her, you feel what you call ‘love’. All warm, soft, and gentle. It brightens everything and soothes your hurt. When she looks at you, she feels the same way, though she doesn’t have words like humans do. The other one feels the same way, too.”

Dorian felt his breath catch in his throat and the prick of tears at the back of his eyes. Blinking rapidly, he leaned down to bury his face in Beatrice’s soft feathers. What a sudden shift in emotion; from the creeping edges of despair, to pain, to overwhelming love and happiness.

“I helped!” Cole exclaimed, his excitement palpable.

Looking up, Dorian could see how much the spirit had brightened; he positively beamed at Dorian as he bounced excitedly in place.

“Yes,” Dorian replied, his voice hoarse with the unvoiced emotion. “You helped.”

Cole’s grin widened, for all that it seemed impossible for that smile to stretch even more. “You should go see Varric. He has something for you that he thinks will make you smile.”

With that, the spirit was gone as abruptly as he had appeared.

Dorian let out one choked laugh as he hugged Beatrice tightly, earning a soft reprimanding cluck in admonishment.

“Sorry, sorry,” he whispered as he put her back down.

They sat for a long time as Dorian got himself back under control. Felix was a little uncoordinated missing his left foreleg, but he was finally up and about. Dorian watched as Victoria oversaw the stumbling cat’s slow exploration, the mothering bringing a smile to his face. The whole time he sat there in the dirt in front of what should have been a great accomplishment Beatrice remained patiently settled in his lap, her warm weight comforting.

Once he felt fortified enough to move, Dorian gave Beatrice one last pat before moving her so he could haul himself to his feet. He knew that he had started trying to do this farmer thing with only the short term in mind and he needed to think about what his end goal was. Because for all his day dreams of crops and fruit trees, they were just that, daydreams. He needed a plan, a real vision for his future.

Previously, in what felt like another lifetime, Dorian had thought that he’d take his father’s seat in the magisterium and he’d work towards making Tevinter a better place. He loved his homeland, for all its glaring flaws, but that was no longer realistic.

He’d made a start at a new life plan, felt out some of the possibilities, got his head around his new simple, lifestyle. But a fully detailed life plan was not something he was in the right frame of mind to even consider now because apparently just deciding to be a farmer really didn’t cut it as a plan like he’d first thought.

Pushing the thoughts away once and for all, Dorian asked the Ladies to keep an eye on Felix, and then he set off towards the village. The short walk helped clear his mind as he wondered what Varric might have for him. Just as he was about to arrive at the dwarf’s establishment, Dorian realized that he needed an excuse for his visit, beyond that a spirit told him to go see Varric. There was no way for him to know that Varric had something for him, after all. He was still rattling around for an excuse as he entered the shop.

“Dorian! Good to see you,” Varric called, his voice as upbeat as it always was. It was oddly comforting how normal the dwarf sounded after dealing with a spirit.

“Hello Varric, I thought I’d stop by on my way to what you commoners pass as a library.” Good, that was good. A perfectly reasonable excuse coupled with a typical good-natured insult, as their growing friendship demanded.

Varric laughed as he put down his quill, apparently oblivious to Dorian’s moment of internal panic. As the Dwarf stood to shuffle around behind the counter Dorian approached, affecting as much polite interest as he thought he would usually wear.

“Here, I got something for you.”

Dorian let his veneer drop almost as quickly as he adopted it, letting his curiosity take free reign of his expression. A large parcel was thumped down on the counter and Dorian blinked at it in surprise.

“A delivery from one Maevaris Tilani for a Dorian Pavus of Haven Valley,” Varric said as he pushed the parcel closer to Dorian. “I’m thinking books, seems heavy enough and I nearly threw my back out trying to lift it.”

“Mae?” Dorian whispered in surprise as he reached out to touch the familiar flowing script detailing delivery instructions on the top of the parcel. Joy and dread in equal parts filled him as he wondered what in the Maker’s name his friend could have sent him. Hard, rectangular outlines could be felt even through the heavy packaging although one side seemed oddly soft. “Definitely books, plus something else.”

“If you get any good novels written in common, we often pass books around. It can be hell getting any good new titles out here, and I can’t read my own books for fun, I start seeing all the shit I should have changed. I have something else for you too.”

Varric leant down behind the counter again, this time pulling out a small earthenware jar. He sat it on top of Dorian’s parcel with a flourish and grinned up at him.

“Beeswax,” Varric said, as though that explained anything. “I know it’s not as fancy as what you used for that sad looking moustache back in Tevinter but the Chargers have just returned home with their usual offering for Tiny. You get me some of Tiny’s banana bread, and I’ll give you the wax free of charge.”

“That is a very tempting offer,” Dorian replied cautiously, alarm bells ringing at the suspiciously simple proposal. “But what, may I ask, is banana bread? And why can’t you get some from Bull yourself?”

“Banana bread,” Varric replied reverently, “is nothing short of a gift from Andraste herself. Tiny’s teaching you how to cook, I figure you can help him and get some for your efforts. You bring that to me and I’ll give you the wax so you can stop fussing over your damn mustache every time you drink a bit too much at cards.”

“I do not fuss!” Varric gave Dorian a pointed look, ignoring his mock offense. “You, sir, have a deal.”

Dorian reached out a hand and Varric clasped it to seal the agreement. That done, the dwarf plucked the jar of wax off his package to return it behind the counter. Dorian gave a wistful look in the direction it had disappeared then hauled his package up into his arms, staggering under the weight.

“Careful, it feels like you got a whole library in there.”

Groaning under the strain Dorian managed to steady himself, and called out his farewells as he left. Dorian had never been more thankful that his walk home was so short. His arms protested the entire trip and he was out of breath by the time he dumped the parcel on his table and flopped into a chair in sheer exhaustion.

He didn’t even wait until his breathing had returned to normal before he was tearing into the package. Or trying to; it turned out to be a large, heavy duty sack that kept the mysterious gifts safe. Once he worked that out it was easy enough to spill the contents across the table. Books mostly, like he’d known, but there was two bundles of clothing and a few small glass pots as well. Dorian immediately recognized the cosmetics for what they were and could have wept with joy at the sight.

The clothing he unbundled to reveal a robe cut what must be the latest Tevinter style and a matching set of fashionably cut shirt and breeches, complete with gleaming silver buckles and one bare shoulder. The books were an eyebrow raising array of erotic cookbooks: Handling A Nutcracker: The Shelling and Preparation of Delicate Nuts, Gilmore’s Glorious Gravy: A Guide to Good Meat, and Bertha’s Bountiful Boning to name a few. A brief note sat inside the only blank book with a cheeky recommendation that he should write his own cookbook with the large gentleman that was teaching him how to cook. The most curious item of all, however, was a booking on raising quail and Dorian had the distinct impression that he should plan housing for more feathered companions before Mae arrived to visit in person.

Surveying the items, Dorian felt a familiar pang of homesickness but it was tempered by the feeling of his friend still thinking of him. He might not be in Tevinter anymore, but Mae wouldn’t let such a paltry thing get in the way of their friendship. Even if that friendship entailed nothing but sending books purely to make Dorian cringe.

Perhaps he would write one and send it to her, just to get her back. There was no doubt Bull would help him if he asked and he could probably even wrangle Varric in to help. The dwarf was supposed to be an author, after all. With a grin, Dorian set about flicking through the books to get an idea where he should start, his earlier despair forgotten.

Chapter Text

By the time Dorian’s stomach informed him that he’d missed lunch perusing the numerous erotic cookbooks from Mae, it was late afternoon. He contemplated whipping up something quick to eat as dinner was still a few hours off then decided against it. As far as Dorian knew, he was still on for dinner with Bull and whatever this ‘banana bread’ was intrigued him. He knew what bananas and bread were individually, of course, he wasn’t so uneducated, but together? What did they make that Varric was willing to give away perfectly good merchandise to get? Dorian would have happily shelled out of his limited funds for the beeswax had Varric named a price he could afford yet the dwarf didn’t appear as though he was trying to sneakily dole out charity.

No, Varric had seemed alarmingly genuine in his request to exchange banana bread for wax, if anything he looked as though it was the most ingenious idea he’d had to date. That in itself was suspicious, now that Dorian thought back on their exchange.

The only way to find out was to seek out Bull and ask, but his Chargers had only just returned so Dorian hesitated over interrupting. Though Bull had said he’d need to meet them all, so perhaps it was better to get all the introductions over with now. Dorian only dithered for a moment before admitting to himself that the Bull would never greet a friend with less than open arms regardless of what was happening. The thought that he was counted among Bull’s friends brought a warm half-smile to Dorian’s lips.

After growing up in Tevinter with all its back stabbing and posturing for power, the simplicity of life here would never not be a novel thing.

Getting up, Dorian paused over the array of cosmetics that Mae had sent. He had no need to impress the qunari, indeed Bull had seen him swearing as he burnt food attempting to follow the simplest of instructions, any opinion on Dorian was long formed. Yet the idea of feeling like himself for the first time in weeks, no months now, for he didn’t feel like himself even in the months before he escaped his father, was an appealing one.

Dorian left off the Tevinter style clothing, better to wear those when he wasn’t likely to get them dirty as he had to do his own washing now, but he did select a few pots from amongst his new stash. The mirror he had here was old and warped with a great crack through the middle but Dorian was nothing if not practiced at painting his face. Thin lines of kohl around the eyes, the barest dusting of gold powder around his eyes, and a delicately citrus scented wax to curl his mustache at the ends.

He would never have bothered with so little make up in Tevinter where he wore his appearance like armour, but here in Haven Valley, that wasn’t needed. Instead of armour to protect him, what little he applied only felt like he was putting on his clothing. This was Dorian as he saw himself, without all the show and flair Tevinter demanded. It felt freeing yet vulnerable in the same way that he’d experienced when he’d just arrived with nothing but the dirty clothing on his back.

Satisfied, Dorian smoothed out his plain clothing with his hands, a force of habit that he’d yet to drop even though the coarse fabric never wrinkled. From there he locked up the house, deciding to leave the blank cookbook behind for now. Mae would just have to wait for any erotic recipes from him, he was more interested in perhaps bouncing ideas off Bull about what to do with Dorian’s farm. As much as he’d considered interrupting Felix’s theoretical mathematic project to voice his worries to his friend, Bull offered a uniquely valuable source of help. The qunari had left his homeland, and his previous profession, behind to build a new life here in Haven Valley. It was the closest Dorian was ever going to get to someone going through the same experiences as him.

“Alright my lovelies,” Dorian called as he turned to bestow his chickens a warm smile. “I’ll leave everything in your care, just try to make sure Felix doesn’t get himself into too much trouble.” Both the chickens just carried on about their day without paying him any mind and Dorian gave the small black cat watching him curiously a stern look. “And you, Felix, don’t get into any mischief, I don’t want to come back after dinner to find you stuck in the weeds again. You’ve caused your sister’s quite enough stress for the week.”

Satisfied that he’d said what he could, Dorian began to head up the back way towards Bull’s house, but he was stopped by a plaintive meow.  Turning, he found Felix stumbling after him. The cat was adjusting quickly to his new number of limbs but he still struggled if he tried to move fast. Cassandra had assured him that while the amputated area was healing, it would take time for it to be completely settled.

“Do you want to come with me, is that what that was?”

Felix didn’t reply until Dorian began to walk again. Rolling his eyes at the loud meow, he stooped to pick the small cat up but Felix’s spine seemed to turn liquid and he ducked out of reach. An impatient noise greeted his efforts and Dorian huffed out a laugh.

“My mistake, I forgot that you are both a Felix and a Pavus. Let me guess, you are going to come with me and you are going to do it all on your own?” The cat didn’t reply but as Dorian resumed walking, albeit slower, he did keep pace. “Your namesake is going to laugh and laugh when I tell him this. Then he is going to tell me that this is what I deserve for being so stubborn myself, just you wait.”

The usually short walk to Bull’s was considerably slower than normal but Dorian found he didn’t mind as much as he’d have thought. He admired Felix’s determination to carry out his own choices though he’d never admit it. However, by the time they were almost to their destination, Felix’s odd gait was becoming more pronounced and he began to lag behind.

“You know, you wouldn’t have over done it if you’d have just let me carry you from the start,” Dorian commented dryly before crouching next to the feline. “Come on, I’ll help you with the last bit. No one has to know.”

Begrudgingly Felix allowed Dorian to pick him up, and he held the small cat comfortably in his arms as they walked the last distance together. They came upon Bull outside his large shed, hauling random bits of wood inside with Sera sitting in the middle of a cart bearing more odds and ends of lumber.

“Fancy chickens!” the elf yelled as she saw him, waving a half-eaten apple in her hand enthusiastically.

Bull’s head popped out of the shed, a grin sitting wide on his face. “Hey Big Guy!”

“Hey, that’s not a chicken!” Sera exclaimed, cutting across Dorian’s attempt to return the excited greeting. “Is that the kitty Doc mentioned? She’s been cooing over the story ever since the storm.”

“Doc?” Dorian questioned as he approached, sitting Felix down next to Sera after the cat started wiggling to get free. “Do you mean Cassandra? Somehow I don’t see her appreciating the nickname.”

Sera scoffed as she held out the remains of her apple for Felix to sniff. The act of sharing seemed to be enough to win the cat’s affections as next moment Sera was scratching behind his ears. Baffling. “She pretends to hate it but she loves it underneath. ‘Cause it’s special, just for her. Anyway, what’s with all the posh shite on ya face? Ooooh, you getting all prettied up for Bull? You want to bang naughties together?”

Dorian spluttered at both the suggestion and the immature sounds Sera made to illustrate her point. Bull finished putting the latest piece of wood in the shed and paused before grabbing the next one from the cart, his eye roaming over Dorian’s face.

“I received a lovely gift from a friend today and so I’m taking the opportunity to return to my preferred appearance, thank you very much. I’m wearing this for me, not to impress anyone.”

“Yeah, sure.” Sera didn’t sound the least bit convinced but he was relieved when she dropped the subject. “Your face hair looks happier now.”

“Thank you?”

“So, this is the Dorian as how you see yourself, huh?” Bull mused, bringing Dorian’s attention back to the qunari. There was something soft, almost gentle, about his thoughtful expression. “It’s like we’ve gotten to know you backwards: saw the inside first and now we get to see the outside too.”

Dorian couldn’t find the words to respond. It was true, he’d even thought the same thing earlier, but somehow having it said aloud made him feel vulnerable. Something must have shown in his expression because Bull cleared his throat and reached into the cart to pull out a long, thin piece of wood.

“You look good Dorian,” Bull called over his shoulder as he disappeared back into the shed and strangely having the compliment made so offhandedly made it much easier to take than the earlier observation.

“I look good all the time,” Dorian retorted, though he was joking. He had spent the last few weeks ignoring how atrocious he looked but that was not in the spirit of their usual banter. “Even covered in mud and dressed in rags.”

Sera snorted, showing what she thought of that statement, but Bull laughed and agreed. The qunari’s easy agreement took Dorian aback and he quickly changed the topic, not comfortable keeping the attention on himself any longer.

“And what’s all this?” he asked, gesturing at the array of misshapen odd and ends of wood, from long pole-like branches to what looked like a stump that had been ripped out of the ground.

“Fancy wood to match his fancy wood,” Sera replied, snickering at her own joke and earning a loud laugh from Bull.

“My boys bring me back nice pieces of wood to work with, along with some fruit from home. Some of this stuff you can’t find around these parts or if you can, it’s expensive to buy.” Bull hefted up a small chunk of dark, almost black wood. “These kinds of pieces are good for whittling. When I was Ben-Hassrath I had a lot of reports to write in the evening and the routine kept me grounded, you know? Once I became Tal-Vashoth I needed something to replace those reports. It started out as a joke but it’s pretty soothing. Learnt a bit from Blackwall when we moved here and it’s what made me think I should move into carpentry once Krem refused to let me back onto the field.”

“And the others? What in Thedas can you do with a stump?”

Bull hummed in thought as he gathered up an armful of smaller wood pieces. The colours on display were surprising; dark reds, pale almost-white, green, grey. Where were the Chargers going that they could find such a startling array of wood?

“Could make it into a stool or a table. You could almost make it into a chair, if you assembled the pieces right.” He vanished back into the shed and Dorian took a moment to peer inside.

Tall, sturdy shelves lined the walls and filled the floor of the shed. Some shelves held little odds and ends of coloured wood along the top shelves while larger pieces sat along the bottom rows. One side seemed to be dedicated purely to lumber, long cut panels of wood piled neatly. Bull stopped in the doorway upon seeing Dorian looking and beckoned him inside.

The smell of wood and polish hit him as he entered, following Bull to the far corner of his shed. This shelf had long uncut branches and treated poles of cut wood, the kind one might use for a staff or a bow. Bull selected one from the shelf and pulled it down to show Dorian. The rough bark along the outside was a dark grey-brown but at the very end he could see that the wood inside was a deep red.

“Bois de Rose,” Bull said as though that explained anything at all. “The boys brought it back with this lot. It’s Orlesian, though it only grows along the northern edge of Orlais. Thought I might polish you up a staff.”

The typical grin and overly exaggerated wink combination had Dorian making an exasperated noise in response though he was touched by the idea. Reaching out, he ran a hand along the rough surface of the thick branch, trying to imagine what it might look like once the outer layer was stripped away. Seeming to read his mind, Bull pulled a small dagger from his belt and carefully peeled back a small strip of the bark. Underneath was a beautiful layer of deep red and darker almost-black lines.

“It’s beautiful,” Dorian whispered, his throat tight with emotion. Oh, to have a staff again, and one even more stunning than anything he’d bothered with in Tevinter. Back in his homeland they were all made from expensive lightweight metals and garish gems, but this was something else entirely. “How much will it cost to make?”

“You’ll have to see Harritt and Dagna about the price for metal settings, blades, enchanted gems, and anything else you want for it, but for this? Just a few dinners.”

Dorian couldn’t help it, he turned his attention from the branch to stare incredulously at Bull. There was nothing about Bull’s demeanor that screamed he was offering charity out of pity, but Dorian couldn’t think of a single other reason why the qunari shouldn’t demand quite the hefty fee for such a beautiful piece of exotic wood.

“You’ll have to do all the cooking though; my hands will be full of your staff.” How Bull managed to waggle his eyebrows and leer in such a comical way still eluded Dorian, as did words. When Dorian still didn’t reply, Bull’s expression gentled. “It’s just a piece of debris that my boys brought back from their travels to humour me, don’t worry about it Big Guy. I reckon a week of dinners and it’d be about done.”

“Oi!” Sera yelled as she poked her head around the door, Felix stretched contentedly across her shoulders. “If ya done flirting, hurry up. I want some ‘nana bread for Widdle.”

Bull laughed as he placed the branch back on the shelf with the other pieces then clapped Dorian on the back as he walked out, staggering him. The forced movement seemed to be what Dorian needed to start moving on his own again rather than stand stupidly on the spot. The kindness here was something he still couldn’t get his head around but it wasn’t generosity for the sake of it or out of pity. It was friendship, pure unadulterated friendship.

No underlying greed forcing the gifts, no demands of favours in return, not really, because Dorian was cooking dinner usually to practice anyway, no political gain.

How delightful.

Warm and strangely light, Dorian followed Sera inside Bull’s house as the qunari stored the last few pieces of strange woods. The elf was babbling away excitedly about this upcoming banana bread event, her words so fast that Dorian didn’t even try to keep up, instead letting her sheer enthusiasm wash over him.

He had a lot to learn about friendship, he realized, but he was willing to learn.

Chapter Text

Striding into Bull’s kitchen, Dorian was surprised by the sight that greeted him. A long branch was surrounded on all sides by bananas in a ring, many piled on top of the other. They were looking worse for wear, more black spots than yellow, and the air was filled with the smell of overripe banana.

“Are these actually going to be useful for anything?” Dorian remarked, wrinkling his nose as he prodded one of the offending fruits.

“Yeap,” Bull replied as he entered the room in time to hear his comment. “They’re perfect like this.” The qunari chuckled at the disgusted look Dorian threw at him then shrugged. “Not good for eating on their own like this but in banana bread? Fucking amazing. Just you wait, I’ve got a recipe that rivals my old Tama’s.”

“And this is how they grow? What a peculiar design.”

“You never seen a banana tree before?” Bull asked as he began to pull things from his cupboards. Flour, Dorian recognized, along with eggs and butter and a variety of long tins that were vaguely bread loaf shaped. More ingredients were piled onto the bench that he didn’t know but he could see neatly written labels across the front of each container.

“No.” It was oddly embarrassing to admit and left him feeling suddenly like the pampered rich kid he’d once been, too sheltered to even know how fruit grew yet fluent in a dead language. As though ancient Tevene would be more useful to him than basic knowledge of how the world worked, though he supposed, with some amusement, until he’d left his homeland it had been. “We had the climate for growing a vast number of different fruits, and we had bananas that clearly did not have to travel far as they looked pristine compared to these. But thinking about it now, I only know what the fruit trees in our garden looked like: apples, plums, cherries, pears. Those all grew much the same though.”

“There were groves of banana trees in Seheron,” Bull commented, his idle tone at odds with the information being revealed. Bull had readily admitted to be Ben-Hassrath but had said nothing about spending time in the hell-scape that Seheron was said to be. “Used to grab a few when I could just to remember home, ground myself and go somewhere else for a few minutes. Growing up there were four big banana trees right at the edge of the yard we played in. Even with all the children eating the bananas there would be too many to eat so my Tama would mash the overripe ones and bake them into banana bread. Nothing goes to waste in the Qun.”

Bull’s smile was twisted, a moment of bitter wistfulness that was quickly shrugged off. As seemingly open about his past as Bull could be, it was becoming obvious that in truth the qunari was merely adept at revealing only what he chose to. It made sense, given his previous position in life, but Dorian found himself curious not only about Bull, but about the race he’d only known through his homeland’s propaganda.

“Do qunari children have horns?”

Bull glanced up at him in surprise and took a long moment to answer as he divided up the bananas to put everyone to work peeling. “They start growing in later, usually a few years before they are assigned a role in the Qun, but the horns won’t be fully grown until the qunari is. Though a few special qunari don’t grow horns at all.”

“I was just trying to picture what a gaggle of baby Iron Bull’s would look like.” Dorian grinned at Bull, a hint of mischief in his expression. “No horns, presumably both eyes, maybe a bit of baby fat. I can see chubby cheeks and a shit-eating grin.”

Bull barked a laugh and even Sera, who’d been oddly quiet for her, giggled.

“I bet you were right cute,” Sera said as she leaned to the side to bump her shoulder into Bull’s arm before turning to wrinkle her nose at Dorian. “You though, bet you were a right stuck up brat.”

“Of course! I knew better than everyone even at the tender age of five and was not going to be shy about it!” Dorian flung his arms open wide in a mock gesture of grandeur. “The finest of Tevinter breeding right here before your very eyes. Well, right up until I wasn’t.”

Dorian’s mood sobered quickly, his fond memories of being showered in parental love and praise overtaken by yelling and cold denial. It hadn’t been a quick change, yet the graduality of it had allowed Dorian to pretend for a long time before it all came to a head. Then instead of the shining prodigy, he was the wasted legacy, a deviant in the eyes of Tevinter all because he refused to live a lie. All because he wouldn’t marry the girl, produce an heir, and live out his days in matrimonial misery.

He was jolted from his reverie by a handful of white powder hitting his face and Dorian spluttered as he tried to wipe it away. A hand ruffled through his hair and he could feel whatever it was—flour perhaps?—drift down the back of his neck. He sprang away with a yelp, unable to see and collided with a wall. Large hands caught him, Bull then, not a wall, and steadied Dorian as he tried to rid himself of the foul powder.

“Vishante Kaffas!” he swore in the general direction of Sera’s howls of laughter.

The damnable substance was everywhere, he could feel it. From the corner of his eyes Dorian could even see that his mustache had been stained white, the flour sticking to the wax that held his facial hair up in his preferred curl. The indignity of that atrocity was further compounded by the white no doubt marring his hair, small flecks of flour drifting down before his eyes every time he moved his head.

In a fit of vengeful rage, Dorian leapt forward, grabbing a handful from the top of the now open sack of flour perched on the edge of the bench and launched himself at the elf. Sera shrieked as Dorian collided with her, his hand unloading its contents across her rough cut blonde hair. The ensuing explosion of white set them both coughing and laughing as they hit the floor, unable to keep their balance after the uncontrolled impact.

Booming laughter from Bull behind them set Dorian off into his own uncontrolled laughter, Sera still cackling from her place sprawled across the floor beside him. All the feelings from before had lightened, lifted away from him by the sudden attack from Sera and the absurd hilarity of the situation. It had to be the first time Dorian had ever put so much effort into his appearance only to not care one whit when it was brutally destroyed. Not when he knew the reason behind it, Sera was surprisingly perceptive and Dorian knew without asking that she’d taken the opportunity to distract him. Though undoubtedly he’d never have left a baking session with the mischievous elf without her taking the chance to pull a prank of some kind.

Bull reached down to offer them both a hand, easily hauling them both to their feet at the same time. Thick fingers carded through Dorian’s hair and he froze, surprised by the gentle action as Bull brushed out most of the flour. It felt nice in a way that he hadn’t expected: the action didn’t feel condescending or pitying, just warm with affection as blunt nails scratched lightly at his scalp. Beside them Sera made rude gagging noises and once Bull pulled his hand away, Dorian was released from the strange spell of inaction to return a rude gesture of his own.

“Alright children,” Bull’s deep voice rumbled with his amusement, “let’s get baking.”

 

***

 

The smell permeating the room as Bull pulled the first four tins of banana bread from his oven was Dorian’s first clue to exactly why everyone was so interested in this odd baked good. It smelt heavenly and they were only just starting their marathon baking session. They’d spent the time these first loaves were cooking cleaning up, Dorian taking the chance to complain mournfully about his still white moustache. Once again the kitchen was tidy but for multiple massive bowls filled with batter and four more tins ready to take their place in the oven.

Two loaves were carefully placed on a cooling rack while the other two were wrapped up, still steaming hot, in a large square of cloth. As Bull handed over the loaves to Sera she pulled out something from her pocket to hand over. Shocked, Dorian did a double take but he definitely recognized what the object was.

“So this rune makes it all cold, yeah?” Sera explained as she turned the modestly sized butt plug over to show Bull the flat base with two runes sitting dormant where they were carved into the pink-hued metal. “And this one makes it go hot. Widdle’s got it all tuned so it doesn’t go too cold and freeze ya bits off or too hot and make it shite to shit.”

Bull turned the toy over in his hands, testing out the runes with an appreciative look then nodded in approval. “She does good work as always.”

“’Course! My Widdle’s the best!”

“Are you exchanging exotic baked goods for sex toys?!” Dorian cut in, finally over his shock enough to find his voice. Both Sera and Bull turned to look at him with equal expressions of amusement.

“Hell yeah.” Bull was the first to respond, his enthusiasm as clear in his tone as his expression as he held up the toy for Dorian to inspect. Dorian only continued to stare incredulously at the qunari. “Dagna’s attention to detail and eye for creativity make for some of the best work I’ve ever seen. I’ve got quite the impressive collection of her creations now. I’m more than happy to trade a few loaves for such exquisite work.”

“Just wait till you try it out!” Sera cackled as Dorian spluttered, his face heating at the insinuation.

“I’m not—”

Sera spoke over his flustered attempts at denial. “Yeah, yeah, once you both stop with all the gross flirting and bump ya bits together, you can try it out. Don’t tell me about it though, I ain’t interested in your bits.” She wrinkled her nose at him as she grabbed the wrapped package from the bench and headed out the door, calling her farewells over her shoulder.

“You know, the offer is on the table, if you’re curious,” Bull said after Sera had gone, his typical grin back in place to accompany the slow blink attempting to be a wink. “But that’s only if you’re interested, no pressure.” His gaze turned searching as Dorian continued to stand there, frozen in shock at the sheer difference between attitudes here and what he’d grown up with. “You okay, Dorian?”

“I—” Dorian cut off to take a deep breath and calm himself. “Yes. I’m perfectly comfortable with sex and all the implements and toys one might take to their bedrooms, I’m far from a blushing virgin after all. But…To be so open about such things? To talk so freely about it, to make casual jokes? To trade custom made sex toys for exotic baked goods with no secrecy involved? To be so accepting of the possibility of two men seeking pleasure with one another? It’s…”

He fell silent, unable to articulate his thoughts. The upper echelons of Tevinter were full of depravity, the kind that would put a mere runed butt plug to shame but it was all done behind closed doors and told only in whispers. Sex was the thing of secrets and rumours. In all Dorian’s many encounters, had he ever spoken as freely about sex as this small conversation between Bull and Sera? It was one thing to proposition someone, and certainly Bull’s blatant proposals were a novelty in itself, but to talk openly about the actual act?

“Tevinter does shame pretty well, I know, but it doesn’t have to be like that here,” Bull replied, his voice soft and gentle. “You can be as open as you want here, no need to hide. What you do doesn’t have to be anyone’s business either. It’s all up to you, Dorian. You know, if you want me to stop with the flirting or if you’re not comfortable with anything I do, you tell me. I’ll stop, no questions asked.”

“Thank you.” Dorian smiled, a small thing but genuine. “Somehow I don’t find myself minding your rather crass attempts at seduction, but I’ll have you know it’ll take a great deal more than your appalling puns and ridiculous attempts at a wink to impress me.”

Bull laughed, his expression clearing back to a jovial grin. “I’ll keep that in mind. All right, let me put this away and then I’ll put some tea on.”

It was with some relief that Dorian found himself alone, however briefly. It gave him enough time to compose himself and feel rather silly about getting worked up over such a small thing. Yet…His father had tried to change him, even resorting to his most detested of magical disciplines, blood magic, to do so. All because he preferred men and refused to live a lie. Now, wonder of wonders, he found himself in a place surrounded by people who not only didn’t care, they understood.

“So what brings you over so early?” Bull asked as he returned to the kitchen and filled a pot of water to boil for tea.

“Ah!” In the kerfuffle, Dorian had completely forgotten the reason he’d even come around. “My apologies, I wasn’t sure if I would be interrupting, though I haven’t seen any of your Chargers about.”

“Nah, when they get close enough they travel through the night to get back home. Everyone’s sick of sleeping rough by that point. So they are all catching up on some shut eye right now but they’ll be around tonight it you want to join us at the Rest.”

“I just might, though I wasn’t sure if we were still on for our cooking lesson?”

Bull leaned against the bench as they waited for the water to come to the boil and once again his expression softened. It was different this time, an edge of wonder perhaps to the affection and Dorian had to look away, strangely uncomfortable with the weight of that gaze.

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

Dorian cleared his throat but kept his eyes averted from Bulls as he replied. “Excellent! I had hoped you might help me with the dilemma I find myself in.”

With that, Dorian explained about his depressingly small expected crop and his uncertainty of what to do with the land he’d been given. All the while Bull was quiet as he listened, nodding here and there as Dorian gestured as he spoke.

“As you can see, I find myself rather at a loss.”

“It’s a hard one for sure,” Bull replied thoughtfully. “You need to clear off that land before you can really decide as well, you don’t know how much space you’ve got to work with until then. And we already have farmers with vegetables, fruit, and livestock.”

“Ah, and I suspect that my dear friend Mae might be planning on gifting me some quail, if the guide to raising quail she sent me was any indication.”

“More fancy birds for the fancy ‘vint! You know,” Bull continued once he’d finished laughing, “maybe that’s what you could do.”

“Do what?” Dorian asked, baffled.

“As Sera would say ‘fancy things’. We don’t have any access to exotic goods around here, unless they are shipped in from Orlais and that’s expensive. That’s where my boys pick up my bananas from. I’m not sure how the market would be for unusual goods but it sure would be fitting for you.”

Thinking about it, Dorian hadn’t seen much in the way of upper scale goods here. Fresh produce, meats, rustic woolens, even a vast array of different cheeses yet little more. It was certainly something to think on, though who, other than Dorian, would be interested in quail eggs, he had no idea. And what else he could produce in the cold Ferelden climate that might be of interest to the people here? Still, it was more of an idea that he had before and he tucked the thought away to think on later as the topic of conversation moved onto other things.

Bull deemed the banana bread cool enough to cut, though still warm enough to melt the butter slathered across the top immediately. The fuss over the loaves finally became apparent as Dorian took his first bite. It was even better than it smelt and he couldn’t help but let out a small groan of appreciation at the taste, earning a chuckle from Bull.

He had half a mind to ignore Varric’s request and just attempt to get some from Bull to eat all himself. That turned out to be unnecessary as when he confessed his deal with Varric, Bull just gave him an entire loaf for himself and a small section to trade with the cunning dwarf.

What an excellent day it turned out to be all round.

Chapter Text

With his carefully wrapped pieces of banana bread tucked under one arm for later, Dorian anxiously waited to Bull to put away the last of the clean dishes. Dinner had been the easy affair he was coming to expect and now it was time to meet the infamous Chargers. Two of them had dropped by earlier, Skinner and Stitches, to accompany Bull to the tavern only to go on ahead while Bull and Dorian cleaned up after dinner. That introduction had gone pleasantly enough with both men seeming to take the presence of a rather worse for wear ‘vint in their stride. That had probably been helped along by Bull’s cheery grin and comment that Dorian was a ‘good guy’.

Bizarrely, Dorian found he cared that he made a good impression on Bull’s ‘boys’. He felt like a child again, or perhaps like the child he’d never been, nervously hoping to make new friends. In Tevinter, opinions on someone’s personality didn’t matter; not among the alti, at least. All that mattered was prestige, wealth, influence, and whatever ambition you held. What did it matter if you despised someone with all your being if they were the person you needed to get a leg up? What did it matter if you genuinely enjoyed another’s company if they needed to be removed to strengthen your position?

Dorian had gone into every social situation throughout his life not giving a damn about what anyone else thought until he came to Haven Valley. Why care when it didn’t matter if people liked you or not? All that had mattered to him before was being true to himself, even when it pitted him against his father. Yet here, he’d met everyone before he even had the energy to even wonder what they thought of him though it turned out to not matter as he’d made plenty of friends without even trying. Now here he was, nervous beyond belief because he didn’t want Bull’s friends to hate him.

“Stop worrying, Big Guy,” Bull repeated for the fourth time, this time accompanied by a hearty slap on the back that staggered Dorian. “I can see you overthinking.”

Dorian huffed out a sound that was half nervous laugh, half sigh. How to explain his dilemma without sounding like a child? He was a grown man, Maker preserve him, and he really shouldn’t care what anyone thought of him, let alone this supposedly rag-tag group that only stopped by on occasion.

“I find myself concerned, for the very first time mind you, that these odd people you call friends actually like me. Or, at the very least, don’t hate me,” Dorian admitted as they exited the house, Bull not bothering to lock the door behind him. “It’s a rather bothersome feeling, I’ll have you know.”

“You ever use that fancy magic of yours to burn down any dormitories full of kids?”

The unexpected change in topic threw Dorian and all he could do was stare at Bull incredulously for a moment. Eventually he managed a weak ‘not lately’ that was a poor attempt at his usual flippant humour.

“There you go! You’ll be fine.” Bull grinned at him, his huge mitt of a hand coming up to squeeze Dorian’s shoulder surprisingly gently. “You can’t be that bad of a ‘vint then, hey?”

Bull took off at an easy pace, his long legs getting him a good few paces away before Dorian’s brain finally kicked into gear and he scrambled to catch up.

“What kind of comparison is that?” Dorian asked incredulously, his arms gesticulating wildly to get his point across. “Kaffas, what kind of monster would burn down an orphanage? Or a school? Is that what you think ‘vints do in their spare time? Granted, I knew a few people back home that I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to find out they burnt orphanages as a hobby in their spare time but—”

“Relax, Dorian, you’re still thinking too much.” Bull laughed as Dorian spluttered out a wordless protest. “It was a joke to get you to stop thinking. You’ll be fine.”

“Rather poor taste, even for you.”

“Nah. A bit dark, sure, but you see a lot of shit as a merc. Trust me, there’s a lot of people who need a knife in the back more than a pretty ‘vint who treats his chickens like princesses.”

“I treat my ladies exactly as they deserve to be treated,” Dorian shot back, pleased to be back on more familiar footing. As curious as he was about Bull and his past, his anxiety over the upcoming meeting had overtaken that for the time being.

Thankfully the trip into the village proper was short, leaving Dorian little time to fret. It seemed like no time at all before Bull was throwing open the door to Haven’s Rest, calling out a loud greeting as he entered. The chorus of colourful greetings in return was a tad overwhelming, as was the sheer amount of people crammed into the usually fairly sedate inn. It seemed the entire village was joining the Chargers in a drink tonight.

Dorian tried to slip around behind Bull to join Varric, Sera, Blackwall, and Dagna at their table near the edge of the press of bodies but a booming voice and thick arm trapped him in place before he could make it more than a few paces in that direction.

“This is Dorian, the new guy!” Bull said enthusiastically as he pulled Dorian around to the table in the middle of the group. “He owns the old Dennet farm. Dorian, these are the Chargers.”

One by one, Bull introduced the mass of people that Dorian had no hope of remembering. The eclectic mix of human, dwarf, and elf would be overwhelming on their own without the raucous jokes interrupting Bull’s introductions or the constant swirl of movement as people changed places with one another. By the time it was all done, Dorian felt even more lost and out of his depth than he had upon entering.

Bull shoved a large mug of Ferelden ale, an offense to his sensibilities for all that it was oddly addicting, into Dorian’s hands then promptly settled right into the thick of the conversation. For the most part, everyone seemed to pay Dorian little mind, but for one. When Krem had been introduced, Dorian had made a very specific mental note to remember him. This was seemingly Bull’s best friend, the current leader of the Chargers, and intriguingly, a ‘vint like Dorian himself, though presumably a soporti from his manner of speech. This was someone important to Bull, someone who might truly understand some of Dorian had been through, and the person most likely to hate him on sight.

Krem gestured to an empty seat next to himself and Dorian sat cautiously, placing his almost forgotten banana bread meant for Varric on the table before wrapping the other hand around the mug tightly to prevent any nervous movements. All at once, Dorian became acutely aware of his appearance; the extra ‘vinty makeup coupled with the rather floury peasant clothing. His moustache was still paler than normal due to the flour sticking to the wax keeping its shape and his hair must be in complete disarray. Yet, even as conscious of his appearance as he was, Dorian found himself not wanting to change it or hide. This was who he was, dammit, and he was sick of running.

“So what’s a pampered altus doing in the ass end of Ferelden owning a farm?” Krem finally asked, seemingly done with his inspection of Dorian’s appearance.

“My friend Felix decided that the most obvious profession for a mage and avid scholar looking to leave the country in a hurry was a farmer. Because of course growing up in luxury and spending years researching theoretical time magic gave me an excellent array of skills suitable for such a career.”

Krem’s lips twitched up into a smirk as Dorian paused to take a large sip of ale. That was a good sign, surely. The man certainly seemed at ease enough though he made no move to reply. Not that it mattered as apparently Bull had been listening in.

“He’s got the fanciest fucking chicken’s I’ve ever seen,” Bull called across the table, drawing everyone’s attention back to Dorian.

“The ladies are perfect,” Dorian replied snippily though any further reply was hindered by Sera calling ‘fancy chickens’ across the bar then cackling with laughter.

That was apparently all the Chargers needed to hear as the rest of the evening passed smoothly. Stories about their latest jobs were told to varying degrees of truthfulness and exaggeration but it made for an entertaining evening. Dorian was even able to pass Varric his promised baked goods, though Sera nearly stole it out from under the dwarf’s nose, and secured himself the small jar of beeswax, which he happily picked up on the way home.

When Dorian arrived home it was late. The chickens had put themselves to bed although Beatrice’s little head poked out the door to their coup upon hearing him. She mumbled a few admonishing clucks, no doubt for being so late and waking her, and he stepped inside his house feeling far better than when he’d left. All the disappointment over his tiny plants had left, leaving a sense of waiting behind. He felt suspended between living in the moment like he had been the last few weeks and planning for the future.

“Felix, I’m home,” Dorian called out as he carefully directed his magic without a focus to start a fire in the cold hearth. Glancing around once the flames caught hold of the small logs he’d left there earlier, Dorian couldn’t spot the black cat anywhere. “Felix?”

“Dorian? What is it?” The sleepy voice of his friend called through the sending crystal placed beside the bed.

“I’m sorry for waking you, I was just looking for the other Felix.”

“I should never have agreed to the name,” his friend huffed out before yawning loudly. “I never thought it would cause so much trouble to have a cat named after me!”

“I wonder where—” Horror took over Dorian as he realized the last time he’d seen Felix was around Sera’s shoulders when they were walking inside to make banana bread that afternoon. He hadn’t seen the three-legged cat since. “Oh no! Felix! I left him behind! I forgot about my cat! I’m the worst kind of person!”

“Dorian!” Felix called after him but Dorian didn’t hear as he flung himself out the door.

Loud, grumpy clucks chased him as the door slammed into the outside wall with the force of his departure but Dorian paid no mind as he bolted up the back path towards Bull’s house. He was out of breath from his sprint by the time he all but hit Bull’s front door from the speed of his arrival. He knocked frantically, fist pounding on the door. As he stood trying to catch his breath, he remembered that Bull hadn’t locked it when they’d left and reached forward to open it. Instead it swung open before he could grab it to reveal a concerned looking qunari with a sleepy black cat stretched out in his arms.

“Felix!” Dorian cried out as he launched himself forward to scoop the cat into his own arms. “I’m so sorry I forgot you! Felix, I’m so sorry. I’m the worst cat parent, it won’t happen again, I promise. I’m so sorry Felix!”

His wailing was muffled as he buried his face in the soft black fur, taking reassurance in the warm weight in his arms. Felix squirmed away, and for a horrible second Dorian thought he must have hurt him, but instead the cat pulled himself with one paw onto Dorian’s shoulder then used his back legs to get himself into a comfortable position. While the cat was shimmying himself across Dorian’s shoulders to drape around his neck like a scarf, he stood frozen in place feeling like the world’s worst person.

“Hey,” a deep voice called, pulling Dorian’s attention from its current self-depreciating spiral. “You okay, Dorian?”

A familiar warm hand reached out to gently squeeze his arm and Dorian took a long deep breath that he let out slowly, slumping a little as the air left him.

“I forgot that I brought Felix with me,” Dorian admitted, his voice croaky after the sudden run then wailed apologies. “I forgot I even had a cat!”

“I found him sleeping on my armchair but hey, he’s fine. No harm done.”

“I promised to look after him then left him behind while I went out to drink! I forgot about him! I...I shouldn’t be looking after him. He deserves so much better.” Dorian tried to take another deep breath but it caught in his throat. It was all he could do to calm himself and fight off an irrational bout of tears.

Since when did he cry over anything? Sure, he had felt like it before, especially recently with Cole, but he was never one to break down in tears instead of taking action. Yet now he felt oddly emotional and while he wanted to blame it on the alcohol, it felt like more than that. Like all the little bits of hurt, of frustration, were building up behind his eyes set to finally burst. So here he was on Bull’s door step trying not to burst into unnecessary tears over a cat.

“I apologise,” Dorian said wetly, removing himself from Bull’s careful grip. “This is unseemly. I fear I’ve had too much to drink. Thank you for looking after Felix, however unintentionally.”

Bull gave him a long, searching look before stepping back out of Dorian’s space. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Yes, yes, he’s just a cat, no need to worry. Good night Bull.”

With that Dorian left hurriedly, a bitter taste in his mouth at his own words. Felix was just a cat, but Dorian had promised to keep him safe. It was the same with his chickens. Perhaps some would call him a fool for caring for mere animals but they had their own lives. They weren’t people but they had personalities, emotions; they felt pain and fear and love.

Tevinter upper class treated anyone not perceived as an equal as though they were lesser, as though they weren’t people but rather animals. Animals were treated as though they didn’t have lives, souls, of their own. Dorian would never allow himself to think in such a way. No matter how ridiculous it seemed to others, Dorian knew the worth of a life, no matter how small.

He came to a stop at the edge of his farm and looked up into the dark sky littered with stars. Felix was a solid weight about his shoulders, his head tucked under Dorian’s chin.

“I promise to keep you safe, Felix, and I will never treat you poorly or the Maker damn my twisted soul.”

He hoped that was enough to swear upon, for he’d never swear upon his ruthless ancestors nor his fallen father. What else did he have left but himself?

Beatrice’s concerned clucks pulled him from his dark thoughts and with a small, soft smile, he went to apologize to her before heading to bed. Perhaps tomorrow would be a brighter day.

Chapter Text

The new day dawned, its bright light filtering through Dorian’s regrettably thin curtains. He awoke to find a warm weight on his chest and along his left arm. Shifting, eyes squinting against the light, he found a black ball of fur perched in the center of his chest and two balls of feathers sitting tucked against his side, their fluff spilling over his arm resting behind them.

“I thought I shut the door,” Dorian muttered, confused. He clearly remembered wishing the ladies goodnight then closing the door to his one room house behind him.

“They were worried, so I let them in.”

Dorian jumped, his violent twitch causing a series of protests from the animals his movement disturbed. Moving his head to look towards the kitchen he found the familiar form of the spirit, Cole, perched on one of his kitchen chairs. Pale eyes peeked out from underneath the overlarge floppy hat and his thin arms wrapped around his knees where they were drawn up to his chest.

“Hello, Cole.” It was a rather dry greeting, but it was all Dorian could manage this soon after waking. Thankfully the spirit didn’t seem to mind.

“Hello.” Cole’s head tilted to the side as he watched Dorian, his intense expression far too unnerving for Dorian right now. “You were hurting yesterday. You hurt less today but it’s still there, buried, but making your limbs tired and slow.”

Dorian hadn’t noticed yet, his attention taken up by his surprise, but now the weariness crashed into his awareness. As well as he’d slept, his limbs still felt leaden and his eyes stung. The temptation to just lie in bed basking in the warm comfort of his little family was strong and Dorian closed his eyes, trying to find the will to push it down.

“Ah, I made it worse again!” Cole exclaimed as he shot to his feet, hands wringing. “I’m sorry, I just want to help. I wanted to help yesterday but I couldn’t make it hurt less without tugging something that would make it worse. It was all tangled together; hurt, tired, love, happiness, guilt.”

“It’s okay, Cole.”

Dorian carefully extracted his arm from underneath the ladies, earning more disgruntled clucks but they moved easily enough. As did Felix after Dorian scratched his ears and let him stretch upon waking. Sitting up in bed, Dorian cast his eyes about his small room and once again fought off the urge to flop back down onto the bed. For the first time since he’d come to Haven Valley, everything felt too hard.

“He didn’t mean it that way, you know.”

“Hmm?”

“The Iron Bull. He only wanted you to not worry because you’d been worrying all day. He wanted to make you feel better, not worse.” Cole wrung his hands as he stared through Dorian, his eyes glazing over. “He wanted to come after you last night but knew he’d only make it worse, he understands like me but not like me. He will check up on you today, bring you some tea leaves he got from his family-not-family and a treat for each of your animals.”

“Oh.” Dorian didn’t know how to respond. In the light of the morning, it was easy to see how he’d mistaken Bull’s words, twisting them in his guilt.

He would blame the alcohol but knew that it was more than that. Even though he left Tevinter, even though he opposed most of what his homeland stood for, it still had its grip on him. His past would not let him out of its claws so easily and he’d been particularly vulnerable to it after the jarring mix of emotions that had made up yesterday. Disappointment and hopelessness over his tiny expectant crop, happiness and friendship after baking with Bull and Sera, anxiety then relief after meeting the Chargers. The long day had worn him thin without him even realizing it and the effects lingered into today.

“You need a task.” Cole’s voice interrupted Dorian’s reverie and he turned to look sharply at the spirit. “Loving your family and friends, caring for them, and being loved in return helps. It heals some of the hurt but it can’t reach all of it, you need more.” His head tilted to the other side, his eyes seeming to stare right through Dorian. “Your friend, that one that you can only talk to not see, he’s working on a way to make change in your old home without being in danger. To give you purpose while you build a better life here. But for now, I can give you purpose. Talk to your animals, your plants, to help them grow. They want purpose too and you can give them that. Clear the land to the fence and you’ll find more plants longing for purpose hiding away, trapped by creeping weeds and dreaming of sunlight.”

Dorian didn’t even know where to begin. He stared at the spirit for a long, drawn out moment, his mind whirling as it made sense of each word. Felix was working on something to help him complete his childhood dream of bringing reform to Tevinter. That had to be what Cole meant with his cryptic remark. Dorian had mentally put aside any hope of continuing his original goals of research into magical theory before taking over his father’s seat in the magisterium and working to bring change. He’d squashed that dream so thoroughly during his hard travel here from his homeland he hadn’t even thought on it since he’d arrived.

So what was Felix working on that could help him bring reform while staying in the backwaters of Ferelden? Felix, the bright, mathematically inclined scholar with almost no magical ability. Yet surely only magic could complete such a feat.

“He is working with another,” Cole supplied, reminding Dorian that yes, he could and would read minds. “The theories are hard to make work in practice but he wants to see you as well as hear you, even while you stand weeks apart.”

“A sending crystal,” Dorian breathed out in awe at the enormity of his dearest friend’s secret endeavour. “But one that sends image as well as sound.”

A laugh bubbled from his throat in delight. Of course Felix hadn’t said anything to Dorian, he wouldn’t want to get his hopes up in case they couldn’t make it work. It would be a wonderful feat of magical engineering if they managed to figure it out and it would certainly show all the old stuffy magister’s that one didn’t need strong magic to make advancements in current technology.

Cole’s grin caught his eye as the spirit seemed to delight in Dorian’s sudden surging happiness. “I helped!”

“You did, although I won’t tell Felix that you spoiled his surprise.” He smiled at the spirit to soften his words, showing that he meant no ill. “But you also said I should talk to my animals and my plants?”

“Yes. They can hear you, even if they can’t understand the words, and they can feel the care and attention you give. It makes them want to grow big for you, it gives them purpose.”

“Even the plants?” he questioned, skeptically. As far as he knew plants, while living things, didn’t understand the way people or animals could.

Cole’s emphatic head nod sent Dorian’s previous notions out the window. So, plants could understand to some degree and also seemingly had feelings? It was like his worldview had shifted once again and he struggled to come to grips with all that meant.

“And I need to keep clearing the weeds because there are plants there that aren’t weeds?”

“Trees,” Cole supplied as cryptic and helpful as ever. “You’ll like the trees.”

“I…Okay. Okay. Vishanti kaffas, that’s a lot to take in.”

“But I helped.”

Dorian huffed out a half laugh at the intent way the spirit stared at him, certain that he helped but still seeking reassurance that he did.

“Yes, you helped. Thank you, Cole.”

The spirit brightened, bestowing him a wide smile before he vanished. Off to do spirit things, Dorian supposed. Well, he’d given him a place to start while he figured out the rest of it. Bull’s suggestion of dealing in more exotic goods and produce still lingered at the back of his mind but Dorian had no idea what he could grow or raise out here in the cold damp of Ferelden. More research would be required, although he was rather lacking in a decent library to conduct such an endeavour. He spared one morose thought for the appallingly disorganized ‘library’ connected to Dagna’s workshop before putting the thought aside.

That could come later, for now he still needed to keep placing one foot in front of the other, taking each day as it comes.

The task of clearing felt a little big for his still vulnerable state so instead Dorian set about taking care of his house and Cole’s other suggestion. The small space he lived was easy to keep clean so he quickly moved onto watering the small shoots of green that had poked up through the soil, taking care to talk to each one and tell them how well they were doing. Dorian had rarely felt so silly but he couldn’t mistrust the spirit’s words, not after he’d proven how easily he could see into Dorian’s own mind.

Done with that task he moved onto grooming each of his animals. Felix wriggled around on his lap, attacking the small comb that Dorian fruitlessly tried to brush through his short coat. Beatrice was much more obliging and seemed to bask in the attention, soft clucks replying contentedly to his words. Taken by a whim Dorian began to sing, his voice quiet but sure as he remembered an old favourite Tevene ballad of love and loss. He’d seen the play it originated from many a time and a tipsy Felix had once convinced Dorian to sing a duet with him from the same play after one of their visits. Their voices were far from stage worthy but they could both hold a tune well enough.

It was only when he finished the song that Dorian realized he was no longer alone with his chickens. A broad grin adorned The Iron Bull’s face and a knowing smirk graced Krem’s, the one person who would actually understand what Dorian was singing.

“Told you he was a big softy,” Bull commented affectionately before striding forward to crouch down beside Felix who lay spread out in the sun a few paces from where Dorian sat on his front step.

“Yeah, can’t be that bad if he serenades his chickens,” Krem agreed and Dorian noted that the man was carrying a staff; thin, pale wood topped by a small blue gem. “A piece from ‘A Wounded Heart’ too.”

“A personal favourite,” Dorian informed his uninvited guests primly, hoping that his dark skin would cover the heat he could feel rising in his cheeks.

“Seems like your ladies enjoy it too.” Bull nodded down at Beatrice sitting comfortably in Dorian’s lap. Looking closer, it seemed like Beatrice was on the cusp of falling asleep and if that didn’t just warm Dorian right the way through.

Victoria, bless her, strode up to Bull with a loud greeting before turning a hard eye on Krem. The man put his hands up in an amused version of surrender as the qunari gently stroked her feathers. Done with her inspection of the newcomer and potential threat to her home, Victoria instead turned to Bull with an interested air. She pecked at his pants, too small to reach his pocket even while he was crouched.

“Ah, nothing gets past you, does it little lady?”

From his ridiculously over-large pants, Bull produced a small pot. Unstopping the lid, he stood and spread out the contents in the chickens garish pink metal food plate. It looked disgusting; slimy pinky red meaty bits that Dorian couldn’t identify but Victoria didn’t seem to care. Beatrice and Felix quickly leapt up to swarm the plate as well, eagerly tucking into the disgusting looking gift.

A Dorian’s look, Bull explained with a look of satisfaction: “Chopped up rabbit guts.”

“That is disgusting!”

Bull merely shrugged and gestured to the rapidly disappearing innards. “It’s a delicacy to some. I brought something a bit nicer for you though.” From his other pocket, and really Dorian clearly needed better pockets because he couldn’t fit anything nearly so large in his, Bull pulled a circular tin that neatly fit in the palm of his massive hand. “A citrus blend tea.”

“Thank you,” Dorian started before hauling himself to his feet to address Bull more respectfully. “But I can’t accept your gift. Instead I must apologise to you for my behavior last night, it was uncalled for.”

“You did nothing wrong, Dorian. Think of this as an ‘I’m sorry you had a shitty day, I hope this helps you feel better’ present. How about I go put a pot of water on and we can share a cup, always better with friends, right? Besides, Krem here wants to talk to you so it’ll keep me out of your way.”

With that Bull gently pushed past Dorian, knocking his shoulder against his affectionately as he passed, leaving him no room to decline. Throwing up his hands in defeat, Dorian instead turned to the man watching with a strange expression on his face.

Clearing his throat, and his expression, Krem stepped forward. “So I heard you were a mage, just one lacking a staff. During the storm a few weeks back one of the mountain passes a few days from here was blocked. We get a bit of trade going through there, and the alternative route adds over a week onto travel, so we’ve been hired to clear it. Think you might be able to help us out with some of the bigger boulders?”

Krem held out the thin staff and Dorian cautiously stepped forward to grasp it. The heft of the weapon was too light for his tastes and the pole too thin, but the staff was otherwise well made, if simple in design. Having such a familiar tool in his grasp made Dorian giddy with excitement, sudden energy surging through him as he walked to stand in a clear patch of dirt a few feet away.

Twirling the staff Dorian took in the way it felt in his grip, adjusting himself to the feel of it. It took only moments for him to feel confident enough to open himself up to his magic in a way that he hadn’t for months. Even in his last few months in Tevinter he’d been staffless, his father knowing that he could have escaped with ease with full use of his magic.

The feeling of the fade hummed through him as he twirled the staff above his head, a move that was flashy but a favourite. Slamming it down in front of him, a huge bolt of electricity streaked from the sky to slam into the dirt scant paces from his feet. The crackle of electricity filled the air around him, no doubt doing dreadful things to his hair but Dorian was far too excited to care. Another swing and a wall of ice shot across the ground away from his house. A sweeping arc sent a fireball towards the sky. The elements had never been his strongest field but he revealed in his renewed ability to command them to his will. A final flourish and the faint blue light of a barrier encased his form with the familiar prickle of tightness across his skin that he associated with the magical protection.

Turning he found five pairs of eyes staring at him. His animals looked disturbed but unafraid while Krem and Bull stared at him in open awe.

“I would be delighted to help you clear the blocked pass,” Dorian said with a small flourishing bow, before moving forward to return the staff to Krem who merely waved it away.

“Yeah,” Krem paused to clear his throat. “You’ll do. Keep that as advanced payment for your help. It should tide you over until you can get a proper one and it was just sitting around unused in our storehouse anyway.”

“Thank you.”

Krem grunted, his arms folded across his chest as he looked Dorian up and down. Victoria clucked reprovingly at him and Krem relaxed his stance, muttering an amused apology to the chicken who’d returned to keeping her eye on the new comer. “You’re all right, Altus.”

“Just Dorian, please.”

Krem nodded and followed Dorian inside the tiny house at his gesture, to join Bull in a spot of tea.

Chapter Text

With only one afternoon to prepare for a few days travel, Dorian bustled about his farm in a frenzy. He planned on asking Cassandra to check in on his pets daily and feed them, or Varric if she couldn’t. He didn’t trust Sera with the task and Josie was always so busy that he barely ever saw her. It twisted something in him to be leaving the animals alone, even if it was for less than a week. On one hand, he knew the animals would be fine and it would actually do him good to step away and focus on something else for a bit. On the other, he couldn’t tell them he was going to be back soon and he was worried that they’d think he was gone forever.

When Cole appeared part way through his organization, Dorian knew he was getting far too worked up. The spirit didn’t say anything initially, just peered out from under the brim of his large hat with his all-seeing eyes. Dorian stopped his frantic run around the farm to sit next to Felix, gently patting his head as the cat stretched out in the sun. He didn’t have to wait long before the spirit decided to speak.

“They will miss you like you will miss them but you need to go.”

“I need to, huh?” Dorian replied, huffing a small laugh at how the spirits words mirrored his earlier thought.

Cole scooted closer so that he sat next to Dorian but facing away across the farm, a far more comfortable position than his soul being stared into. Perhaps the whole ‘looking into his mind’ thing had some benefits.

“Yes. I gave you a task to help but it is overwhelming; clouding your mind and making the worry dance non-stop. You already know that sometimes walking away helps, even if you don’t want to.” Cole paused for a long moment, lettering Dorian absorb his words before finally turning to look up at him again. A small smile curled the corner of the spirits lips and he looked oddly happy for the tone of the conversation. “Cassandra would like you to ask her. It would make her happy to know that you trust her with your family, she will look after them like they were her own.”

Lost for words, Dorian could only stare back at the spirit before looking away to watch the chickens shuffle around the dirt not far from where they sat. He’d had very little to do with Cassandra other than asking her to help with Felix during the storm then the occasional checkup. She rarely visited the tavern and most of his interaction with her was done in passing if they ran into each other in the village. Dorian probably knew more of Cassandra through conversations with other people than conversing with the woman herself.

“You’re surprised,” Cole stated matter-of-factly and Dorian huffed out a sound that was part laugh, part sigh.

“Having had little to do with our esteemed doctor, I’m rather taken aback that she would feel so strongly about babysitting my animals.”

Cole shifted next to him but Dorian resolutely didn’t look at the spirit, already sensing the return of the too-seeing stare. Instead he opened his arms wide when Beatrice looked his way and smiled when she dashed over full tilt to jump into his lap.

“Why are you surprised that people love you, Dorian?” Dorian froze at the words, whatever he’d expected, it wasn’t that. “Lots of people here love you as a friend; Varric, Sera, The Iron Bull. Even Cullen and Dagna are growing feelings for you and you only see them sometimes. But the feeling doesn’t just grow when you talk to them, it grows when they hear about how you were baking with Sera and The Iron Bull, or when they see you so carefully taking care of your family. It grows how your feelings for others grow; like how you still respect and trust Cassandra even though you feel like you don’t know her personally.”

Throat suddenly constricting, it took Dorian a long moment to summon up the voice to reply. “I don’t think I could ever give you the words to explain why, Cole. I’m sure it has a great deal to do with my past, and Tevinter, and how you call it love rather than friendship.”

“But it is love.” There it was again, that mater-of-fact tone that banished any possibility of disbelief. “Love is strange, I don’t understand. Your parents love you but the shape of it hurts, yet the shape of distant-Felix’s love heals you. The shape of The Iron Bull’s love makes you warm and the shape of Sera’s makes you laugh. Why does some love hurt? All tangled up in shame and guilt but others are light and free and wonderful?”

“I—” Dorian cut off with a choked sob and bent over to bury his face in Beatrice’s fluff. She clucked softly at him, her beak plucking gently at his hair as though she was trying to comfort him.

“Dorian? Dorian, why are you crying when it doesn’t hurt? Why does that lifting feeling make you cry?”

Cole’s anxious voice made Dorian lift his head and he gave the spirit a watery smile. “I’m not sure I can answer that well in words but you didn’t hurt me, it’s okay. Just—… Vishante kaffas, that was just a little more than I expected, is all.”

“I helped.”

 “You did.”

The sunny smile Dorian received in response was blurred by his watery eyes and he blinked when Cole vanished as quickly as he’d come. Honestly, Dorian was desperately looking forward to an interaction with the spirit that was less taxing on his emotions. He should teach Cole to ask about the weather or something first before delving into the heavy stuff.

After taking a few minutes to calm down, spending the time fussing over all three of his animals as they came to check up on him, Dorian stood. He should check in with Cassandra before it got too late and stop by Varric’s to see if there was anything he might need for their trip. Attempting to say farewell to the animals and leave the farm alone proved to be an impossible task, however. This time it wasn’t just Felix demanding to come along, both Beatrice and Victoria where following hot on his heels and clucking demandingly.

“I am perfectly capable of going to the village without an escort,” Dorian said archly as he continued walking. Glancing back, he could see both the ladies striding determinedly behind him, their heads ducking forward comically with each step as they walked quickly. “Really now, I’m not a child.”

He was still protesting when he entered the village, animals in tow. Of course, there were a few people wandering about their business in the late afternoon sun but no one commented on his entourage. If anything, Dorian swore he got more called greetings and waves than normal. A few children stopped by and Dorian waited while they very politely asked to pat the animals. He recognized them from his weekly shopping adventures with Bull and they were the kind of well-mannered that his parents had tried unsuccessfully to turn him into.

While he was waiting, Dorian spotted Cassandra leaving Varric’s shop, a small satchel cradled in her arms. Supplies presumably, but you never quite knew with Varric; the dwarf could cause all sorts of mischief with even the most upright of citizens.

“Doctor Cassandra!” Dorian called, waving a hand to usher her over. To his relief, the stern looking woman changed course immediately and came to stand with him.

“You come with an entourage, I see,” Cassandra said by way of greeting as she approached, casting the faintest smile at the children swarming the animals at his feet.

“Ah yes, they didn’t wish to be left behind, but it seems as though it wasn’t my glorious presence they were after,” he joked as Felix actually hopped up onto the tallest boys’ shoulders, precariously pulling himself one-leggedly around his shoulders. Dorian was about to scold the cat but the absolutely thrilled look on the boy’s face stopped him. Instead he turned back to Cassandra, sharing a small smile. “Felix is doing exceptionally well, as you can see.”

“I’m pleased, I was truly worried for a while. Was there something I can help you with?”

It was a small comment, made without thought most likely, but it exemplified the differences between here and Tevinter. Instead of asking why Dorian had called her over, Cassandra had asked if she could help him with something. Bull usually spoke the same way and it said a lot about the person that they offer help on the slightest chance that he might need assistance. It said a lot about Haven Valley that more people than not would do the same. Ah, and here he thought he had had his emotional bout for the day.

Dorian cleared his throat, banishing away the constricted feeling that was rising. “Yes, actually. I’m heading off with the Charger’s for a few days to help with the job to clear the pass. I was hoping you might do me the immense favour of looking after my little lovelies.”

If Dorian hadn’t known to look for it, he would have missed the surprise that flashed across Cassandra’s face before it melted into something far warmer than he expected. No doubt about it, Cole was right. Any trace of uncertainty left Dorian and, really, he needed to start trusting others more. He could just hear Felix scolding him for not embracing his new life and all that went with it.

“Of course!” And for all the train of thought he just had, Cassandra’s lack of hesitation still took Dorian by surprise. Old habits and all that, he supposed. “Just let me know what you need me to do. Clearing the pass is important, not just for us here, but for any heading to Redcliff from the east.”

It was easy enough to explain how he’d left the all the supplies in his shed out the back, good enough shelter for the two chests he left for all that it was looking rather dilapidated. One full of magical long-lasting ice to keep the meat fresh, thank you Krem for the staff to make such a thing possible, and one with dried chicken feed and assorted vegetables for the ladies.

“The ladies are quite partial to any fresh vegetable scraps that you might have left over,” Dorian finished off, trying to think of anything he might have missed. “And don’t worry if their feet feathers get dirty, I don’t expect you to spend hours brushing them and Victoria in particular is quite partial to running through the mud.”

Cassandra smiled reassuringly at him, all trace of her usual stern demeanour gone. Before him was Cassandra the woman, not the severe doctor that would scold you for not taking care of yourself. It was that soft warmth that he’d only glimpsed of when he spoke with her about Felix; the expression of a friend, rather than a professional.

“I will take good care of them, don’t worry.”

“Thank you,” Dorian replied gratefully before pausing to farewell the children as they were called back by their parents. Felix looked particularly put out by the sudden lack of attention after he was placed back on the ground and instead turned his attention to winding through Cassandra’s legs. “I must confess I’m rather nervous about leaving them for more than a day for the first time, Felix especially.”

“It will be the first time you’ve left since you arrived, correct?” Cassandra waited for Dorian’s confirming nod before shuffling the satchel in her arms to free one hand. She reached out to grasp his shoulder for a brief moment in support. “It is good to have a change of scenery occasionally and your little ones will be safe with me.”

“Thank you,” Dorian paused as Sera’s voice called out across the village square.

“Oi Cassie! You’ve got snots to deal with!”

Cassandra made a disgusted noise in the back of her throat then heaved a sigh when Sera called out a greeting to Dorian followed by a strange noise. The look she gave Dorian was long suffering. “You’re heading off tomorrow, you said?”

“Yes, and back in four days.”

She nodded then glanced back to the still hollering Sera and grimaced. “I must go, travel safe and do not worry about your animals.”

With that she was gone, heading back off to her clinic and Dorian realized he had forgotten to ask what she’d like in return for looking after the animals. He’d have to ask when he got back or perhaps see if Bull or Varric had any good ideas for a thank you present. Cassandra seemed like the type to just wave off a payment in return for a favour and somehow that made Dorian all the more determined to find a suitable gift.

Nothing extravagant, of course. Dorian was careful with his money, painfully so compared to what now felt like a past life. But even so, his funds were dwindling fast. Currently he had no way to generate income and was left eking out a living from Felix’s kindness but Dorian was determined to change that. Yet the task of finding something to trade or sell was no less daunting than it had been that morning. It felt like an impossible obstacle, even with Bull’s suggestion.

No, no. He’d already spent far too long running in mental circles over this same dilemma.

“All right Ladies, Felix, let’s pay a visit to our local hack author.”

Dorian wasn’t sure Varric allowed animals in his shop but he figured he’d find out either way. It should be fine though, he was a paying customer and who could resist the ladies adorable faces? With that he set off across the square in the direction Cassandra had come from.

Chapter Text

Dorian wondered if travelling had ever been this pleasant before. The sun was warm with a gentle breeze that kept the air from heating too much; the picture of Ferelden summer. His borrowed mare was placid and easy to ride, though unfortunately named Nugget for the splotch of white on her nose marring her otherwise sleek grey coat. Another of Bull’s names, of course. The qunari in question sat atop his great spotted nugalope next to Dorian, quiet now although he’d been talking most of the day so far. Around them were members of the Chargers who’d volunteered to help with their task though Dorian had a building suspicion they’d chosen to come as much to see Bull again as any prospect of pay.

Still, the company was surprisingly enjoyable, the day picturesque, and the gentle atmosphere that defined Haven Valley present even though they’d long left the village behind. For all that Dorian had travelled Tevinter in the height of luxury, no journey had ever been so relaxed. And certainly, his last journey had been nothing to speak of; a hasty flight from his home with nothing but the clothes on his back and a few items of jewellery to pawn on the way for coin. He scarcely even had more direction than ‘Ferelden’ and ‘Haven Valley’ from Felix back then.

To make this journey complete, his sending crystal sat tied haphazardly in leather cord around his neck. Dorian had contemplated leaving it behind for Cassandra in case something happened, it stored enough magic from either crystal that one didn’t need to be a mage to use it, but what could Felix do all the way in Tevinter if something did happen? Nothing but worry, was the answer, and Dorian couldn’t do that to his sweet friend.

Felix had happily greeted all of Dorian’s travelling companions when he had first called in to check on him but now, he was Talking Math. An incomprehensible string of words that clearly had some kind of meaning, but were gibberish to Dorian, and, it seemed, the Chargers. Every now and then Dorian would be shot yet another look of vague wonder and confusion while he indulgently provided a captive audience to his excited friend. Maker knows Felix had humoured Dorian enough throughout the years to return the favour.

“…to figure out the optimum shape for magic capacity versus size I’m been attempting to calculate the volume of stored magic using a displacement method…”

At least it wasn’t numbers now, Dorian could somewhat follow theories. Numbers though, numbers did his head in. As much as he was a scholar and a researcher, when it came to magic, Dorian always needed to test his theories personally, physically feel the results and the changes for each test, and make notes off that. Felix was more a test, record, math-it-out for optimum results kinda person.

Now that Dorian knew Felix was attempting to co-create a sending crystal that could send image as well as sound, it was obvious what he was trying to do. Little magic was required to power a voice-only sending crystal, Felix could easily channel enough mana into his end to support any amount of conversation, even though he barely had enough magical ability to be considered a mage in the imperium. But sending a constantly updating image? Well, that posed a vast array of questions needing solutions.

Felix trailed off into distracted muttering, numbers again, and Dorian caught Bull giving him a fond look. He returned the gaze with a small smile before looking away, strangely uncomfortable with the weight of Bull’s attention. For all that it was a gentle look, there was something about it that made Dorian’s breath catch in his chest and he refused to consider why right now.

It was a consideration for a future Dorian, one who had less worry about what the future held than current Dorian. This trip was to take his mind off the future, to enjoy the present in its entirety, so that when he returned, he could tackle the future with a fresh mind. A great theory that was difficult to put into practice when Bull looked at him so softly.

Looking away had Dorian meeting Krem’s eyes, a thoughtful expression on his fellow ‘vints face. That wasn’t a great look either, not when thinking why he might be watching Dorian with that expression led him back to Bull as his side, so he turned his attention to the sending crystal at his neck. Felix was muttering in Tevene now, he’d been speaking in common before as a curtesy to the others present, not that that helped them any he may as well been talking gibberish. It was a sign that he’d gotten so engrossed with which ever part he was working on now that he’d forgotten Dorian was even there so he disabled the crystal with a flick of the wrist, disrupting the flow of magic that allowed communication.

“Shouldn’t you have said goodbye to your friend?” Bull asked, unfortunately bringing Dorian’s focus back to the man he’d been trying not to think about.

“He’d forgotten we were even here,” he replied, a smile tugging at his lips as he imagined startling Felix just to say goodbye. “It would only have distracted him from his possible breakthrough. It happens quite frequently, he’ll reconnect the crystal if he wants to.”

 After a moment of silence Bull continued, “He seems like a nice guy.”

“He is,” Dorian replied, his smile widening as the warm affection he felt for his friend surged to the fore. “Felix is the most genuinely nice person I have ever met. He has a heart of gold.”

“How does that work in Tevinter?” Krem piped up, drawing Dorian’s attention to his curious gaze. He didn’t know much about his fellow ‘vint’s past nor his experiences with their shared homeland beyond that it was bad enough he wouldn’t talk about it with a stranger. “I thought alti were supposed to be just as bloodthirsty as any magister.”

“I wouldn’t say bloodthirsty, more…Apathetic? Combined with ambition. Certainly, neither describes dear Felix. He, thankfully, has quite the doting father, a rarity amongst the Tevinter elite. Magister Gereon Alexius married for love, would give the world for his only son, and is a rare voice of moderation within the magisterium. He lost his way a few years back when his wife was assassinated and Felix was left gravely injured.”

Dorian fell silent as he remembered the days spent at Felix’s bedside waiting to see whether his dearest friend would live or die. Magical wounds were precarious at best and the wait to see whether even the best healers in the Imperium could save him had been agonizing. It was only made harder by the rapid descent into darkness that surrounded Gereon’s thoughts and increasingly irrational actions. Dorian had initially humoured him, helping with his research into time magic, as much to keep himself occupied as it was for any thoughts of progress. He was so far gone into his madness that even when Felix had begun to heal Gereon barely acknowledged it, and it was only when Felix left without word to their summer estate that he’d been shocked into realising that he still had his son.

Shaking himself from his reverie, Dorian took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It still hurt to think about those dark times, especially as the Alexius’ were more of a family to him than his own blood. “Thankfully, Felix pulled through, albeit with a few scars, and Gereon returned to be the voice of moderation in an increasingly out-of-touch magisterium. Not that moderation will have any great long-term effect for our dear homeland, reform is what is needed, but that is neither here nor there.”

“A radical, huh?” Bull asked, real interest in his voice.

Dorian wondered if he’d ever talked this much about Tevinter since he’d left, he’d mostly been avoiding it due to the lingering pain he felt ever time he remembered his past, let alone spoke about it. Somehow it didn’t hurt quite so much now. In fact, there was something oddly freeing in it, even if it was only information about Felix and Dorian’s political views.

“Only if you can consider basic sentient rights to be radical.”

There was a long pause of silence before Krem dropped back to ride directly beside Dorian. He’d been slightly ahead so Dorian couldn’t see his expression but he looked pensive now. “So, why’d you leave? You never actually answered me that night. Rich alti to poor farm boy? Doesn’t make much sense when you talk about change and reform like you want to be the one to do it.”

“I used to think I would be,” Dorian admitted, stalling for time before realising that of all people, Krem might actually understand. He knew nothing of why he’d left, Bull refused to tell a story that wasn’t his to tell, but Dorian knew that Krem couldn’t, wouldn’t, ever go back to Tevinter. “It was all very impressive in my head, of course. My father would eventually hand over his seat in the magisterium and I would shake Tevinter to its core, with the help of a few supposed ‘radicals’ like myself. Free the slaves, give basic rights to all citizens, promote education within all class ranks. Stop the awful games of legacys and assassinations amongst the altus and turn all that energy towards philanthropy and self-betterment.” Dorian snorted in self-depreciation. “Nothing but a young fool with dreams of grandeur.”

He remembered so many iterations of those idle day-dreams. They started far more foolish, back when he didn’t understand that their ‘servants’ were truly slaves. It was mostly about him being free from the shackles of his father’s expectations, free to be himself and not live a lie. Slowly, as he grew older, his eyes had opened and he’d realized just how deep the rotten core of their society ran. So deep, so ingrained, that for all his years of the best education money could buy, even he hadn’t viewed those in his family’s employ as creatures with just as much intelligence as him. As many hopes and dreams but all dashed while they were forced to serve others better off than them through only the circumstance of birth.

“It all came crashing down, of course. Once my father realized that my ‘games’ were not, in fact, games, that I refused to live a lie by marrying the girl to continue his legacy. It’s quite simple really,” Dorian said lightly, his tone belying the pain he still felt even now; like a knife lodged in his heart and twisting, tearing through his flesh. “You see, I prefer the company of men. Quite scandalous, I know. It’s tolerated well enough in Tevinter, as long as it’s mere dalliance. But to dream of anything more? Oh no, that isn’t allowed. My father was once the one person I admired above all others; a voice of tolerance and moderation in the magisterium. His ideals were ones I strove towards right up until his personal motto of ‘blood magic is the last resort of a weak mind’ was thrown out the window and he used that same loathsome magic to attempt to change me. All because I wouldn’t continue his fucking legacy.”

Dorian blinked as his vision blurred and tilted his head back to look at the sky so that he wouldn’t have to see the expression on his companions faces. Oh, how it still hurt; like tearing open an old, festering wound.

You are no son of mine.

He could still hear the phrase spoken in his father’s voice, picture the cold look on his face the second last time Dorian had seen him. The next time he’d seemed desperate, almost frenzied, as he dragged a drugged and struggling Dorian into his study. Then it was the metallic taste of someone else’s blood in his mouth, harshly uttered incantations, and a struggle for his very life.

A warm hand covering his shoulder brought Dorian from his spiraling thoughts and he glanced down to see a familiar scarred, grey hand. Following it across to Bull, Dorian was met with a concerned expression but the qunari said nothing, only squeezed his shoulder in quiet reassurance. He’d told the story to Bull before, albeit in markedly less detail, but that didn’t make it any easier.

Silence wrapped around the group as the continued on their journey, each one content with their own thoughts for the moment. It was a wonder that Cole hadn’t shown up, although Dorian was unsure of his range of movement, but the spirit had said he was cautious about appearing before others. Bull’s comment about ‘fade bullshit’ weeks ago when Dorian had first learnt about Haven Valley’s reputation suggested how unwelcome a spirit’s presence would be, for all that Cole only wanted to help.

“Dorian!”

He started at the sound of Felix’s excited voice before reaching forward to gently pat his mare’s neck as she reacted to his sudden movement.

“Dorian, I did it!” Felix crowed in pure delight and his enthusiasm unknowingly cut through the solemn air that had descended.

“You did what now?”

“I did it!” he repeated, and Dorian wondered idly if the man was actually jumping up and down in pure excitement. “I calculated the exact size, shape, and density required for a crystal to resonate with amount of magic needed for my associate’s spell.”

“Ah, my dear Felix, forever finding the math in magic.” Dorian couldn’t help the slight dig at his friend, they had spent hours arguing about the need for math in magic, after all. Not that Felix noticed this time, he was far too thrilled for that.

As Felix once again began to babble in barely comprehendible common, Dorian glanced around and noticed more than one small smile gracing the lips of his companions. Looks like his enthusiastic friend had won over most of those present, even Krem had relaxed again. As they continued on their leisurely way, he let the words wash over him and slowly his mood brightened. Eventually conversation moved onto other topics and he found himself in a delightful argument about which nationalities curry flavour was the best, of all things.

Yet again Dorian found himself shaking his head in pure wonderment over the company he found himself in. What a truly delightful place Haven Valley had turned out to be.

Chapter Text

The one and a half days travel were as delightfully relaxed as Dorian had come to expect from Haven Valley residents. However as wonderful as the company was, he was relieved to be out of the saddle. Dorian’s muscles protested their sudden change in use and he found himself frequently cursing his old age, regardless of the fact that, as Bull had assured him, he wasn’t actually that old. Tell that to his creaking body.

Thankfully his help wasn’t needed to set up their small camp because compared to the Chargers, who seemed as perfectly at ease in the saddle as out, Dorian was incredibly slow moving. But with the ease of long practice, Bull’s ‘boys’, a rather peculiar term to use gender neutrally, had the tents raised and a fire going before Dorian had even worked out the stiffness in his abused joints. A few gentle jokes at his expense, along with the ever-good-natured Bull who seemed to be the only person suffering more from the journey than Dorian, and then they were walking to the site of the landslide.

Dorian had thought it would be higher into the mountains but they were camped on a fairly flat area a short walk from the obvious blockage. The landslide had occurred low down the mountain pass and glancing over the rocky slopes of the mountain itself it was easy to see why. The path itself straddled a flat area, winding itself way around the natural curves in the land, but looking up over the steep cliff looming above this section of the road, it was easy to see where the pile of earth and boulders had come from. The other side of the road was densely wooded and no merchant wagon would be able to squeeze through the massive tree trunks even at the sparsest area.

“That looks like a landslide waiting to happen,” Dorian mused aloud as they approached the area for a better look. “I’m rather surprised this is the first time it’s happened.”

“There used to be a few trees at the top of the cliff,” Bull replied, pointing to the broken branches and tufts of green sticking up from between the earth and boulders. “Tree roots make good reinforcement for walls and cliffs but I guess it wasn’t enough this time.”

Grim grunted, drawing the groups attention before pointing further up the mountainside. Even Dorian’s untrained eye could see the marks in the landscape where the land had been recently disrupted. A chain reaction then, and possibly a task far larger than anticipated. Not that any of his companions looked put out in the least, if anything they seemed to relish in the idea of a bigger challenge.

Leaving the more knowledgeable of their group to head forward to the great hill of debris, Dorian hung back and used the time to re-acquaint himself with his new staff. Dalish stayed back with him, sharp eyes watching his careful movements with interest. The elf had been slow to warm up to Dorian but after he hadn’t pressed the she’s-not-a-‘mage’-she’s-an-‘archer’ deal, Dalish had relaxed some. The staff he had been given in upfront payment for this endeavor was an old spare of hers, and he could see how the slimmer, lighter staff than his own preference would suit her slighter frame.

The staff might not be perfect but it was a far cry from attempting to channel through his hands, focus-less. The only issue was that he hadn’t spent enough time using it to adjust to the difference compared to what he was used to. It was one thing to channel through the staff in wild abandon like he had the first time he’d been given it, entirely another to control his magic precisely with the tool.

Moving slowly through the steps that had been ingrained into his very psyche since he’d been a child, Dorian made small mental adjustments to his movements to compensate for the new staff. His casting style had often been labelled as unnecessarily flashy, and it certainly was physically demanding; each movement not unlike the step of an intricate dance. It might seem overly extravagant to some, most mages were content to just wave their arms about, but with each step so ingrained into his muscle memory, Dorian found that he could continue to cast almost without thinking, his body moving on its own through each familiar step even when he was exhausted beyond rational thought. A useful skill when pushed to the limits in a situation hanging between life and death.

A skill that he’d made use of more than he cared to count.

Dalish didn’t comment as she turned her attention to stretching out her muscles ahead of her own staff work, although she still adamantly referred to her staff as a bow. Each to their own, Dorian supposed. Call it what you will, labels didn’t matter anyway.

“All right!” Bull called out, drawing the mages attention. “We’re going to move the big stuff first to get a better idea what we’re working with. Depending on how much we can move before we lose light, we might need to send for some more serious equipment to get this cleared.” Bull paused to run his eyes over the group, obviously gauging agreement, before settling on Dorian and Dalish at the rear. “You two will be the stars of the show today, hope you’re ready for some hard work.”

Dalish bared her teeth in the semblance of a grin, not unlike the smile Skinner had been periodically gracing Dorian with. “Always, Chief.”

With a brisk nod, Dorian strode to the front of the group, ready to set about testing his control of elemental magic before he was stopped by a large, grey hand.

“Woah there! I love the enthusiasm, Big Guy, but we gotta do this carefully or we’ll bring down even more of the mountain.”

Grim walked forward with a nod to Dorian, Rocky following behind with a friendly slap to Dorian’s shoulder. And so, their clearing began, one carefully shoved rock at a time. Dorian and Dalish worked in tandem to dislodge the largest debris while maintaining the stability of the pile so Bull and the rest could muscle away smaller rocks from the edge. The work was exhausting, not only for those physically hauling, but for the two mages who couldn’t break concentration even for a moment least the entire thing began sliding again.

Dorian’s capabilities with the wind and earth elements were good, although he held more affinity for fire, but the sheer expanse of his mana pool was the biggest help. Dalish, on the other hand, was remarkably adept at weaving wind and earth but lacking in brute force. Together they made an excellent team, although Dorian wished it wasn’t quite such delicate work. There were multiple skeletons of large beasts in the area, he could sense their spirits when he reached out his necromantic awareness, and their capabilities would be a boon. Unfortunately, moral arguments of necromancy with stubborn Ferelden’s aside, giant druffalo skeletons weren’t known for their delicateness nor their solid footing. The lack of muscle and skin meant that uneven terrain was unsuitable for raging skeletons. A shame really.

They had made considerable headway with the giant boulders sitting along the top of the pile and Dorian prepared himself, eyes locked on the mound of rubble, as Dalish turned her attention to one of the exposed tree trunks. At first nothing happened, though Dorian could see the elf gesturing in frustration from the corner of his eye, then with a great roaring crack, the tree heaved upward. The violent movement sparked off what they’d been working so carefully to avoid: another landslide.

Voices yelled out in desperation as the men below scrambled to move clear of the area. Dorian stood far back enough that he was safe but he watched in horror as Bull turned to run but a few strides in his knee buckled and he fell to the earth with a loud curse. The qunari had been closest to the sheer cliff, away from the protection of the forest, and now he sat squarely in the path of the shifting rubble.

Without thought Dorian threw his hand out, pulling on his connection with the fade and pushing out the spirit magic required to form a barrier through his fingers. For what ever reason, spirit magic had always been easier for him to direct with his hands and the staff as merely a focus. Cursing in any tongue that he could that didn’t require active thought; Dorian felt the barrier wrap around Bull before he forced it out in front of the hulking form. The air between the qunari and the incoming debris seemed to mist then solidify into a spherical physical shield.

As draining, and difficult, as a barrier like this was compared to a personal barrier, Dorian knew it was the only chance of keeping his friend alive. A barrier that wrapped around an individual would keep out the physical, and some magical, blows but it would not prevent Bull from being buried alive.

One moment there was only the slightest shifting of earth, then as Dorian forced his barrier up, it began to move in earnest. The loud roar of dirt shifting against dirt, stone, and wood drowned out Dorian’s litany of curses along with the wails of despair he only vaguely noticed from somewhere to his left. Instead he kept all his focus on pushing as much strength as he possibly could into his hastily erected barrier.

The sheer force that hit his barrier sent Dorian to his knees with a pained grunt. Gritting his teeth, his focus narrowed until all he could see was Bull’s back and the wall of magic between him and certain death. The pressure baring down on the barrier mounted and Dorian’s magic reserves, already sitting on the low side of half full, rapidly dwindled. Each second was agonizingly long as he fought to hold the barrier, his eyes trained on the sight of Bull’s horns even as the earth closed in behind him.

The earth was still shifting as Dorian’s mana spiraled towards empty but he knew that if he let the barrier drop now, it was all for naught. The tang of blood and fade filled his nostrils as he took a sharp breath in. As his mana reserves hit empty, Dorian held onto the thread that connected him and fade, refusing to let it dissolve as he usually would. Instead he held it taught, forcing his connection to allow him to force out one last spell. With a ragged cry, Dorian pushed the barrier he still maintained into the very earth and bid it turn to stone.

With that, his connection to the fade snapped like a thread and his end recoiled back into him with the force of a physical blow. Dorian’s vision blurred and he cried out in pain as he felt himself falling. Overwhelming pain stole his senses and he blacked out before he hit the ground.

 

***

 

 The sheer pain throbbing in his head was what greeted Dorian as he surfaced back into wakefulness. He groaned as the full force of the side effects kicked in. A thumping headache that encompassed his entire head and face was to be expected after what was known as ‘fade recoil’. It was just that Dorian hadn’t been so foolish, nor so desperate, since he’d been young enough to forget how awful the after effects really were. The scent of iron lingered in his nose while the taste of fade sat in his mouth. How unpleasant.

Opening his eyes, Dorian found only blackness and it took him a moment with his sluggish thoughts to work out that he’d been blindfolded. Large, warm fingers ruffled carefully through his hair and Dorian sighed in pleasure at the feeling. Several slow breaths passed before he placed the familiar hand on him as Bulls and even longer before he realized he was using the qunari’s thigh as a pillow.

Reaching up Dorian began to remove the folded strip of cloth from his face clumsily, his fingers struggling to obey the simple command, before the barest hint of light made him change his mind. Another involuntary groan of pain as the dim light seemed to make the pain surrounding his head swell and Dorian let his hand flop back to his side. Deft fingers fixed his blindfold and he was absurdly grateful for the blessed dark.

“Thanks,” Dorian croaked out, his tongue thick in his mouth.

Bulls shifted and Dorian winced as the movement sent a sharp pulse through his head. Gentle fingers cupped his jaw as the smooth lip of a cup was pressed to his lips. Dorian drank greedily, even though each small sip sparked throbs of pain. It was worth it to alleviate his sudden thirst and remove the foul taste from his mouth.

“Thanks,” he repeated as the cup was removed and this time Dorian noticed that his voice was muffled as the blindfold even covered his ears, although less effective for sound than light.

“Don’t mention it, Dorian,” Bull rumbled, a mere whisper that didn’t grate so badly on Dorian’s sensitive nerves. “I owe you a lot more than that.”

Bull owed him nothing but Dorian found that he didn’t have the will to have a full conversation about why not right now. When Bull shifted again, Dorian suppressed a wince and had a better idea of what to say. Taking a breath, he tried for his archest, most insufferable tone: “I’ll have you know pillows don’t move.”

It fell a bit flat, even to him in this pained state, but Bull chuckled and stilled. Those thick fingers returned to card through his hair in a way that managed to be comforting and not set off more pain.

“Go back to sleep, Dorian.”

As hard as it was to think, Dorian knew good advice when he heard it. He forced himself to relax again, unaware that he’d even tensed up in the first place. When he next awoke, it would be a great deal pleasanter, and thankfully it didn’t take long for his exhausted body to return to the sweet oblivion of slumber.

Chapter Text

The next time Dorian awoke, it was a much pleasanter experience. The headache was now a dull ache and his thoughts returned to him quickly, a far cry from their sluggishness earlier. His hand obeyed him easily as he reached up to remove the blindfold keeping the light at bay. Dorian regretted removing the cloth instantly as he recoiled, blinking rapidly against the sudden brightness. The light was dim enough that his vision adjusted quickly however, and he soon found himself looking up into the concerned, scarred face of Bull.

They stared at each other for a long moment, each seemingly lost for words. Beginning to feel rather awkward, Dorian glanced around and realized they were in a tent. Large runes on the door flaps showed a barrier to keep out sound and it was only then that he realized how silent it was in here, the only sound the soft inhale and exhale of the qunari looming above him.

Clearing his throat, Dorian put on his best winning smile. “Fancy seeing you here.”

Bull snorted, his concern melting away into warm amusement and oh, he shouldn’t look at Dorian so softly. It made his mind flirt with possibilities that he wasn’t ready to face yet.

“You made sure I would be,” Bull replied, his expression hardening into something more somber and pained. There was guilt there too and Dorian remembered the way the qunari had fallen, his own body betraying him. His bad knee was rarely mentioned, for all that Bull wore an intricate steel brace over it, but Dorian had heard him grumbling to himself about getting old more than once.

Without thinking, Dorian raised his hand to brush his fingers gently across the scarred grey flesh of Bull’s cheek. He froze as he suddenly realized what he was doing and he watched as Bull’s eye widened in surprise. Snatching his hand back in mortification, Dorian cleared his throat again, glad that his darker skin tone coupled with the dim light of the tent would hide the heat suffusing his cheeks.

“Yes, well. Anything for a friend.” The last word caught in his throat and came out rather forced, even in his own ears. Suddenly, it was all too much to think about and Dorian desperately needed to claim back any semblance of the balance he’d come all the way out here to find.

He moved to sit up, large hands helping him until he was steady enough on his own. The movement made his head throb more but Dorian was far too embarrassed to lie there any longer. Turning around to face the qunari, he found that he’d been propped up by a rolled-up blanket under his shoulders to reach the height of Bull’s thick thighs. Another blanket sat in Bull’s lap for Dorian’s head while a small book perched on his other thigh, that leg stretched out in front of him with the other tucked underneath. The book was dwarfed by the large hand cradling it and something about the absurdity of the picture Bull made brought a slight smile to Dorian’s face.

“How you feeling?” Bull asked after another long moment of mutual observation, his voice still pitched much softer than usual. “Dalish said the fade-snap-thing effects would probably last until tomorrow.”

“Fade snap?” Dorian repeated, his inner scholar perking up in interest at the new terminology. “In Tevinter we refer to it as fade recoil but fade snap is certainly an accurate descriptor for it.” He paused to stretch and winced as his body protested the movements. Now that he’d moved, he realized his body was a mass of aches, nothing painful on its own but certainly a lot when it encompassed his entire body. “While I certainly feel worse for wear, it’s a far cry from when I woke up earlier. Even with the headache I feel almost spritely in comparison.”

Bull hummed, looking Dorian over as though he was trying to gauge the truth to his words. The displays of emotion that he’d seen from Bull in the last few minutes were deeper than he usually got a glimpse at and he wondered if he had merely gotten good at reading the man without realizing or if Bull’s walls were lower than before. Perhaps both.

Catching himself staring yet again -kaffas, did he knock his head after he fell? -Dorian set about straightening his appearance out of pure nervous habit. His hair was a deplorable mess but as he finger-combed the tangled strands, Dorian recalled the thick fingers gently brushing through his hair to comfort him. The heat that had just begun to fade from his cheeks flared up again, so hot he was sure that even his darker skin couldn’t save his dignity this time. Moving on to his moustache, he was perplexed to find it thick with a dried substance. Glancing down at a few flakes on his fingers only puzzled him further. Dried blood?

“Your nose was bleeding after the snap-thing,” Bull explained, his gaze still intently focused on Dorian. “We held you propped up until it stopped and Stitches didn’t want you lying flat afterwards just in case. I cleaned up most of the blood but I didn’t want to wake you after Dalish said that healing potions or spells don’t work on the side effects of the snap. Seemed better to let you rest.”

“Is that why you stayed here for so long? It must have been hours for my headache to be this diminished.” Dorian regretted the words even as he said them, it sounded so belittling somehow. That wasn’t how he meant them at all but he was suddenly worried that Bull would take it the wrong way. Or, perhaps even worse, take them the other way and open up the tentative thing that sat between them. A conversation Dorian was far from ready for and the very prospect had his mind recoiling with something akin to fear.

Bull was quiet for a long moment, studying his face before replying gravely, “I owe you my life, Dorian. I know exactly what happens when that many leagues of dirt and debris cover a body and the force at which it moves. I attended more than one collapsed building and landslide in my decade on Seheron.”

“You owe me nothing.” It came out too harsh and Dorian stopped to take a deep breath, running his hand over his face to collect his thoughts. “I would do it again without thought, even if it bore a harsher penalty. You would do the same in my situation, for anyone here, and that is enough for me. Besides, if we are keeping scores between us, I believe this would set us at even. You have helped me a great deal since I moved here unexpectedly.”

He caught Bull’s eye and held it determinedly, the tension in the air thick between them. After a long moment Bull looked away with a huff of quiet laughter.

“All right, if you say so.” That didn’t sound convincing in the least and when Bull looked back, his face was unreadable. “You feeling up to going outside or you want to stay in here? Food was served up not too long ago so I can bring you some if you’d like.”

Taking a moment to gauge how he was feeling, Dorian decided he’d been worse. This was about on par with the effects of a particularly late, drunken night or even a far too long research session. Though the cause of those headaches was far more enjoyable than Bull’s near brush with death. Still, he meant what he’d said: he’d do it again in a heartbeat, even with severer consequences.

“I think I can manage gracing everyone with my presence, I’ve navigated Tevinter politics feeling far worse. Though usually I at least have good memories as compensation, I’m rather lacking in delightful moments to share drunkenly at our next tavern night this time.”

Bull chuckled again and Dorian felt the tension drain from the air; almost like a physical weight had been lifted from between them. Satisfied that they were back to the usual feeling of mutual comradery between them, Dorian moved to crawl from the tent. He body protested the sudden movement, as did his head, and he careened sideways as his leg gave out and his vision blurred. He hit a now-familiar solid wall of warm flesh, Bull’s hands and chest the only thing keeping Dorian upright.

“Easy there, Big Guy. Maybe you should rest some more.” The genuine concern in Bull’s voice warmed him as did their sheer proximity. Really, Dorian was far too old to be acting like a giddy teen but the more the possibilities wormed their way to the surface of his mind before being shoved down, the more he couldn’t help but be aware of them. The feelings were equally exciting as they were terrifying but really, now was not the time.

Once he’d figured himself, and his plans for the future, out, then maybe, just maybe, he could let himself think of something beyond friendship. That was if Bull was even interested, still available, and Dorian was still interested. Dorian was familiar with fleeting feelings of fancy and frankly he was too old to bounce back from a fling gone wrong. More than that, he didn’t want to lose the friend he’d found in Bull, not for something that might not last.

And there he went, thinking about things that he’d told himself not to. Kaffas, the fade recoil must have knocked him something good.

Squaring his shoulders, Dorian righted himself and moved away, regretting the sudden loss of warmth immediately. Qunari ran hot, it seemed, and the air in the tent seemed far colder as he moved carefully back towards the tent flaps.

“I’ll be fine if I take things slowly,” he retorted, glancing back to catch Bull’s frown. “You don’t need to mother hen me, I really will be okay.”

The greeting Dorian received upon exiting the tent rivalled any the ever-enthusiastic Felix had bestowed upon him. He winced as the sound him hit all at once as he left the sound-proof barrier and his head throbbed its objection. The expression must have been obvious as the noise quieted all at once but as he crawled over to the campfire, walking suddenly beyond him, Dorian received many more heartfelt, and quieter, greetings.

“Hello,” he replied once settled near the fire.

Krem placed a warm bowl in his hands, followed by a spoon, then squeezed his shoulder for a long moment. Looking up at the man, Dorian found nothing but warmth and gratitude. While Krem had been fairly open with him during their brief time together, it was clear that any walls were gone now. Stitches took Krem’s place as soon as he moved away and Dorian fielded a series of pokes, prods, and questions in between bites of stew. There must be quite the selection of herbs growing in this area because the food was exceptional, especially for a camp stew.

Bull joined them soon after Dorian had emerged and he noted with disapproval that Krem also handed him a bowl of food. He should have eaten when it was ready rather than wait for Dorian to wake, he could have remained asleep the entire night! Krem caught Dorian’s eye and gave him an exasperated eye-roll. Clearly Krem had read his expression and was of Dorian’s opinion but Bull’s other affectionate nickname wasn’t mother hen for nothing.

Only when Stitches was satisfied that Dorian was indeed going to be okay did the man leave his side, making room for Dalish to take his place. She threw her arms around Dorian’s shoulders and he froze in surprise, unsure what to do. He clutched at the half-full bowl trapped between them before finally extracting one hand to pat her awkwardly on the back.

“Thank you,” she whispered before pulling away, guilt clear in her eyes.

That’s when it hit Dorian: Dalish blamed herself. She had made a careless mistake that nearly resulted in the death of someone considered family and she carried that burden like a physical weight. He could see it in her hunched shoulders and trembling hands.

Reaching out Dorian covered one of her slender hands with his own. Keeping eye contact he replied softly, “Don’t thank me for something that anyone here would have done if they were in my shoes. There is no score between friends and no apologies needed for accidents beyond anyone’s control.”

The score comment was more for Bull, who sat easily within earshot, but it applied to Dalish as well. Honestly, it was the kind of friendship that was between the group already but it seemed Dorian needed to spell it out that it worked that way with him as well.

A few tears slipped free but Dalish nodded before letting herself be pulled away by Skinner. She wrapped a comforting arm around the teary elf as she gave Dorian a once over. The look held approval rather than suspicion and Dorian knew then that he’d won himself a second family.

“You’re alright for a Shem.”

“Yes, well.” Dorian cleared his throat self-consciously before putting on his infamous winning smile. “I know that I am quite the exceptional individual but even one as celebrated as I tires of hearing the same accolades over and over.”

A few snorts and chuckles of laughter greeted his light-hearted words and the mood lightened; a perfect example of why Dorian preferred humour to diffuse situations. His dinner was getting cold, after all, and the attention felt rather overwhelming. Dorian had been the center of far more attention many times throughout his life in Tevinter but never without his so-called ‘armour’ on. Without it he felt vulnerable, especially as the effects of the fade recoil lingered.

“Now, you wanna explain that thing?” Krem asked, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb.

Looking back past the man, Dorian found a shadowy figure of a young man with a very large floppy hat that he’d somehow missed before. Wide eyes peered out from beneath the brim in concern, tracking each of Dorian’s movements.

“Ah,” Dorian replied inelegantly. Kaffas, things could never be simple, could they? “Hello Cole.”

Chapter Text

The spirit didn’t reply, his hands wringing anxiously as his eyes darted from face to face around the camp fire, his entire posture screaming of uncertainty.

“Cole,” Dorian called, his voice softer than before. When the spirit still didn’t respond, Dorian turned his attention to the now-tense group around him. “Everyone, this is Cole. He’s Haven Valley’s ‘fade bullshit’, so to speak. A spirit, not a demon, I assure you. No fear of possession or the like. He merely wants to help the village residents, and certainly he has done such for me more than once.”

Silence greeted his words but the tension that had taken over the camp eased. Dorian beckoned Cole closer and after a long moment, the spirit shuffled forward. Cole didn’t quite enter the circle around the campfire, stopping just shy of being part of the group. He looked to Dorian, everything about his posture screaming discomfort.

Dorian wondered what the spirit must be experiencing right now from his companions, and especially earlier when the landslide occurred. It must have been intense to bring the usually hidden spirit to reveal himself to so many new people.

“I can make them forget,” Cole whispered, his eyes darting nervously about the group.

“No.” Dorian started at the rough growl and turned to find Bull glowering at the spirit, his entire body stiff with tension. “Don’t you dare touch anything inside my head.”

“But it hurts to know: fear crawling like ice, flashes of once-people, now wrought and twisted. Unnatural, the scent of death and magic drowning out the salt and burning, mingling with the ash on the tongue.

The chill of dread crawled up Dorian’s spine as his imagination conjured up suggestions of the horrors Bull must have seen, for surely there was naught else that could be but a memory from the qunari’s time on Seheron. He had heard tales of that hellish place but Dorian would never have thought that abominations would have been part of it. That had been naïve thinking on Dorian’s part, clearly. Thinking upon it more, what better opportunity for demons to prowl for a weak target than during war?

Dorian was pulled from his thoughts as a louder growl rumbled threw Bull’s chest, more animalistic snarl than anything else. In any other situation he would have found the sounds fascinating but as it was, the loud crack of the wooden bowl in snapping Bull’s hands spurred him into action.

Shuffling forward, Dorian leaned until he could place his hand on Bull’s clothed knee, telegraphing each movement as he went. He waited until Bull finally tore his eye away from the spirit to stare at Dorian, though from his glazed look, he wasn’t certain how much of Bull was still in the current moment.

Ignoring a sad whimper from Cole behind him, Dorian instead addressed Bull softy. “Whatever Cole is, he is not that. He showed me the way to Felix when he otherwise would have died in the storm, and has helped pull me from dark thoughts more than once. He is the healing of Haven Valley, nothing more, nothing less.”

“I didn’t mean to make it hurt again,” Cole mumbled miserably, and Dorian could almost feel the spirit withdrawing into himself beside him. “An old wound, never healed and hurts to touch, buried deep to keep it sealed away. I want to help but I can’t, it’s too tangled.” There was a long moment of silence, as though no one dared to move least they trigger Bull further, before Cole spoke again. “I’m sorry.”

From the corner of his eye Dorian saw the spirit vanish and let out a small breath in relief. As much as he knew Cole only wanted to help, it was probably for the best that he leaves. The damage was done and there would be no easy fix, no suddenly forgotten memories. Perhaps in time Haven Valley could learn to feel relief at having a compassionate spirit watch over them, but it would be no simple thing.

Now that his mind was free from the spirits prodding and his thoughts safe from being shared without his consent, Bull slowly began to relax. The angle that Dorian was leaning at to keep his hand placed firmly on Bull’s knee was beginning to take its toll, his already achy body complaining at holding the position. Still, Dorian was all too familiar with getting lost in memories and he wanted to return the gesture for the friend who had done the same for him as recently as the day prior.

Only when the cloud of unease and pain lifted from Bull’s eye and his expression blanked over did Dorian squeeze his large knee then let go, straightening. He understood what the sudden masking of Bull’s expression was for, he’d used it himself many a time when traversing the upper echelons in Tevinter. A reprieve from having one’s emotions on display to give oneself time to sort out their own thoughts privately. No doubt a habit Bull carried from his own past as well.

No one came to Haven Valley without their past giving them a reason and somehow it was strangely comforting to have the evidence of that fact before him so starkly for a change. Not that he would wish any pain on his friend, no, if he could have avoided this situation for Bull he would have done so in a heartbeat. And yet… Dorian felt somehow less broken for finally, truly understanding he wasn’t the only one here fighting to break free from his past.

“Well, now you have all met Haven Valley’s resident spirit,” Dorian said, bringing everyone’s attention from Bull back to himself. Easy enough to give the qunari time to gather himself. “I imagine you’ve all probably encountered his handy work before, even if you didn’t know it was him. He’s mentioned helping people before, though never in great detail. In fact, I have many questions for him but he keeps coming at the least opportune time to ask and never stays for the small talk.”

Krem snorted at his light tone but the man looked pensive, rather than alarmed as might have been expected. “Things turn up sometimes, things that have been lost or bare resemblance to stuff from our pasts. We’ve always joked about there being a spirit or a ghost around, especially with the local legends. He’s not what I expected though.”

“No, he’s not,” Dorian agreed quietly, shooting a quick glance at Bull who had finally moved to clean up the remains of the broken bowl and spilled stew over his hands. Stitches was there a moment later with a wet rag, grumbling under his breath as he looked for any damage on the big, scarred hands. “Rather more childish than I would have imagined. I would have pictured something with a more powerful presence, more knowing, than Cole’s childlike want to help while lacking in understanding.”

“Don’t like that he pokes around without permission.” Skinner’s voice was harsh and looking over, she was brandishing a small knife pulled from somewhere on her person, presumably. “There’s no place truly private if your own head isn’t.”

Dorian spared a moment to wonder if her agitation was over her own opinions on the spirit, or a result of Bull’s reaction. It was hard to say, most people were wary at best of anything to do with the fade, especially here in the south, but the Chargers seemed equally attached to their old companion. Anyone who hurt one of their own was in for some serious retaliation.

“I do not believe it’s entirely intentional, though I have yet to ask.” Pausing, Dorian accepted a warm metal mug of tea from Krem in exchange for his empty bowl and now who was the mother hen really? “He has in the past mentioned that pain calls to him, I am unsure if this is physical or mental pain, or both. He felt Felix’s struggle for survival when trapped in the storm and guided me to him when I agreed to help. He’s also appeared when my mind was circling dark places to pull me out with words and questions. Talking with Cole is a very enlightening experience, though more from what you learn about yourself than him.”

“I lost something once…” Krem started, trailing off as he stared into the camp fire in thought. Only once he pulled himself from his contemplation did he continue. “A set of sewing needles, my mothers, that she’d given to me the last time I saw her. I looked everywhere once I realized they were missing but we were on the road and there was no telling when I’d lost them. When we got back for the winter, weeks later, there they were, left on my pillow. The leather case had been cleaned but it still bore signs of mud from wherever it had fallen and probably been trampled into the dirt. Guess I know how they got back now.”

“It hurt you to lose them.” Coles soft voice had the entire group around the campfire starting in surprise. The spirit had reappeared, this time sitting close to Dorian, almost behind him as though using him as a shield from the rest of the group. It only highlighted the childlike quality of his interactions. “They bring comfort and warmth to use, it was an easy hurt to help.”

“Does he always do that?” Bull asked, gesturing with his chin at the spirit, his one eye fixed with the hint of a glare to where Cole couched even more tucked behind Dorian now.

Shuffling over closer to Grim at his left, Dorian gestured for Cole to come into the circle properly and reluctantly he obliged. “Yes, he does. Every time. But I feel like this is an excellent time for questions. Your abilities are fascinating but always coming and going without giving anyone a word in edgewise can be rather inconvenient. Tell me Cole, what brought you here?”

“I felt it, the hurt calls to me. I want to help, to fix it. It called bright and sharp when the ground started to move. Pain from not one, but all here as their hearts cried out at thought of losing The Iron Bull. I came but I could not help, only watch as you twisted the fade to save him.” Cole’s sharp eyes peered up at Dorian out from underneath his huge hat. “Why did your pain stop here,” he pressed a thin hand over his chest before moving to tap his fingers at his head, “when it started here? I don’t understand. You didn’t know if you had helped yet and when the fade snapped closed it hurt you so badly that you could have died instead.”

Shocked, Dorian blinked at Cole in surprise. Holding onto the fade was inherently a stupid thing to do, with painful repercussions that he was still feeling hours later, but he’d never heard of it being deadly before. “As far as I am aware from my teachings in Tevinter, fade recoil, while dangerous, has no record of being fatal.” Cole looked far from convinced and Dorian made a mental note to bring up this little fact with human-Felix later, it was worth looking into. “As for why the feeling changed, well, at that point I had done everything in my power to prevent Bull’s untimely demise. There is a certain acceptance that comes at that point, when you have done everything you can and have no power left. Had I been unsuccessful, you would have found that feeling return upon my waking, I’m sure.”

Cole frowned but instead of replying, he turned his attention to Dalish, still tucked in against Skinner’s side, looking much like how Dorian felt. “You still hurt, the guilt and shame wound tight, my fault, my fault, my fault. But The Iron Bull does not blame you, no one does but yourself. You wish you could have done more, but so does everyone here, including Dorian who saved The Iron Bull. Everyone is holding onto this hurt, not letting it go, even though you don’t have to. There is no blame, so why hold onto it so? I don’t understand why you are all making it hurt worse, even you, The Iron Bull. Picking at the wound, playing the memory over and over. There is so much love here, stop ignoring it for the hurt.”

There was a long silence following his speech, punctuated only by the gentle crackling of the fire. Suddenly Cole brightened, his face splitting into a wide smile as he sat up straighter.

“I helped.”

With that he was gone. It would have been funny, if they all weren’t so raw from the earlier near miss and the feelings the spirits words had evoked.

“Vishante kaffas, he needs to stop doing that,” Dorian grumbled, though there was no heat in it. He had a thousand more questions to ask but he’d lost the chance for now.

At least the air around the campfire was clearer somehow and warm smiles were traded as the last of the lingering tension slipped away into the night. Dalish was crying again as she was once more comforted by her companions, Bull going so far as to sit next to her, one massive arm slung around her shoulders.

Krem shuffled closer to Dorian, that same thoughtful look from earlier back in place. “He seems alright,” he ventured finally, his lips twitching up at the corners as he glanced at Dorian, “for ‘fade bullshit’.”

Grim grunted in apparent agreement from his other side and Dorian couldn’t help but chuckle at the strange circumstance he found himself in. Who would have thought he’d be here, risking his life and fighting off feelings for a scarred qunari, raising chickens, speaking with concerned spirits, and helping a motley crew of mercenaries out with a menial manual labour job? Most of all, he’d never have expected to have so many people he could call friends.

He could possibly even count the odd spirit boy as a friend, though perhaps that was a going too far.

“About our landslide clearing efforts,” Dorian said loudly, drawing attention back to himself. He couldn’t help the mischievous grin that crossed his face as an idea cemented in his mind. “I just happen to specialize in a field of magic that might make this entire trip rather less exhausting. And hopefully, less dangerous for all involved.”

The looks of skepticism and suspicion only sparked Dorian’s grin wider. It was a brilliant idea, if he did say so himself.

Chapter Text

“Necromancy,” Dorian declared with a gleeful flourish of his staff, “is an art that does not get the recognition it deserves in Southern Thedas.”

The Chargers all hung back behind him, nervously curious about Dorian’s grand plan. Bull, torn between his need to stay close to Dorian after yesterday and his fear of magic, looked particularly uncomfortable. None of his reassurances had been enough to soothe his friend but a little discomfort was a small price to pay for ensuring that no one would be put in danger again.

For Dorian, magic was intuitive, but for all that he’d never felt a particular affinity for any school of magic. Casting fire was as easy for him as lightening or ice and even his foray into studying the lost art of time magic had been the same. But spirit magic was different.

Dorian closed his eyes as he set his stance, legs apart to hold him steady as he spun the staff around him in a gesture as familiar as the dance it felt like. A rhythm of movement ingrained into his very soul from years of study and practice. The fade pulled taught around him as he drew on it, casting out for the bones of the long dead druffalo he’d felt yesterday. A green light, reminiscent of veilfire, misted the ground before him as the earth rumbled and parted under his guidance. Before them bones rose from the earth to reform into the shape they’d once held in life.

Four skeletal druffalo stood before him placidly, awaiting his directions. Moving his concentration, he cast barriers across them all to protect the bones from what was about to come. This respect for the bones probably seemed odd coming from a necromancer but Dorian had always held the dead who rose to help at his behest in high regard. Their spirits and minds were gone along with the flesh but that didn’t mean their last remnants deserved to be used without respect.

Gesturing to the pile of earth and stone, Dorian sent forth his will. Yesterday he’d noted the terrain unsuited to skeletal bodies but that was only true if they were going over the treacherous terrain. Going through the landslide nulled that particular concern. Heads lowered and horns forward, all four bovines charged as one. Skeletons did not feel pain and combined with the strength from the magic keeping them animated and the barrier strengthening them further, they were a force to be reckoned with.

It took multiple passes for the re-animated druffalo to shift enough of the earth and stone to be safe enough for the Chargers to take over. In that time multiple mini-landslides had occurred but the beasts had weathered it well and plowed on at Dorian’s behest until complete. The only casualty was a snapped horn of the smallest druffalo. Stepping forward, Dorian gently stroked each skeletal face along where the muzzle would have been in thanks. The dead had never bothered him and even in their skeletal form, some of the peaceful gentleness from life suffused the animated bones.

Reaching the last druffalo, Dorian ran his fingers deftly across the base of the shattered horn. “Thank you, friend,” he whispered softly as the skull gently pushed into his palm for more affection.

With one last pat, Dorian stepped back and commanded the bones return to the earth, using his last dregs of mana to sweep the disturbed earth back into place so the skeletons were once more resting in peace. Turning back to his companions he found a mixture of disturbed curiosity and awe. Bull looked the most conflicted of all, though he shook it off when Dorian made to step forward but stumbled, his over-use of mana catching up to him quickly.

“That was the creepiest fucking thing I’ve ever seen,” Bull stated as he caught Dorian by the arm. “But it was kinda hot.” He couldn’t help it, a surprised bark of delighted laughter escaped Dorian at the words. “You said you wouldn’t push yourself though, we agreed.”

“Yes dear,” Dorian replied lightheartedly, earning chuckles from the Chargers around him. “But really, Bull, I’m fine.” To prove his point, he extracted himself from Bull’s hold and walked a few paces away to stand beside Krem without issue. “I’ll rest while you get the dubious pleasure of making the pass, well, passable again. It’s a far cry from being a road as it is.”

Both Bull and Krem were looking Dorian over with identical looks of suspicion and it was only when Dalish chimed in that depleted mana wasn’t a big issue for mages, even an ‘archer’ like herself knew that, that they relented.

“Honestly, for all the shit you give Bull about being a mother hen, you are just as bad,” Dorian quipped to Krem, getting a careful elbow in the ribs for the comment.

“Hardly.”

Only once Dorian had been put down for a nap like an unruly toddler did the Chargers set about their task of clearing the last of the debris. By the time he awoke, refreshed and no worse for wear, the pass had been cleared enough for wagons and caravans to traverse once again. The sun sat low in the sky, barely peaking over the distant mountains, as the group settled in for their second night at the camp.

“It seems as though your efforts have been successful,” Dorian commented to no one in particular as one by one exhausted Chargers rejoined the camp. They’d all dunked themselves into a nearby stream from what Dorian could tell, their clothes still looking worse for wear and dripping wet but their faces all free of the streaks of dirt he expected.

It was Krem who replied as he sat heavily next to Dorian, accepting a bowl of unpeeled, uncut vegetables and a small, sharp knife from Stitches. Dorian’s offer of help was studiously ignored, which was probably for the best.

“It’s good enough for now, only time and use can make it better. The merchants won’t mind a rough patch in the road if it means they don’t have to spend two weeks going around.”

Dorian nodded absently; his eyes fixed on Bull as he limped up to virtually collapse into place beside him. He couldn’t be sure, but Dorian thought that the movement looked more like a controlled fall than anything else.

“Took a bit longer than we expected though,” Krem continued, drawing Dorian’s attention again. Turning to watch, Dorian was captivated by the ease with which Krem deftly wielded the small knife. Each movement was precise yet graceful, a combination only obtained through the efforts of long practice. It was perhaps an odd thing to be so taken by, but if nothing else since he’d fled his homeland, Dorian had learned to appreciate the skill that went into such everyday things. “We’ll be an extra half day longer but Cass is looking after your pets, right? They’re in good hands then and she’s sensible enough to probably expect a possible delay.”

Before Dorian could even formulate a response, Bull cut in roughly. “No need for that. We could get back in a day with only a little push to the horses.”

Krem leveled Bull a look that Dorian was glad he wasn’t on the receiving end of. The qunari just narrowed his eye and glared back.

“It’s not the horses I’m worried about, Chief.”

Immediately Dorian remembered the limp and almost tumble from before. Then there was the knee-buckle and fall that nearly resulted in Bull getting buried yesterday. Dorian wondered if the ride in had been the exacerbating event that was causing Bull’s knee troubles to flare up. If that was the case, then as much as he wanted to sleep in his own bed and see his lovelies, it wasn’t worth the cost to his friend.

“As much as I do want to see my ladies and Felix again soon—”

“What was that?”

Dorian stared down at the glowing crystal sitting against his chest as Felix’s voice interrupted him. He smiled as he shook his head, he’d forgotten he was still wearing it around his neck.

“I was actually talking about the feline-Felix,” he replied apologetically, earning a put-upon sigh from the human-Felix. A few of the Chargers called out greetings from their places around the camp which Felix enthusiastically returned. For all that they had nothing in common, it seemed that an easy friendship had been made during their travel between the rag-tag mercenaries and Felix.

“You know, I wouldn’t have agreed to the name if I knew this would keep happening. Last time I got to hear you scolding the cat for knocking things off the counter. As amusing as it was, it was rather odd to hear you call me an asshole without actually meaning me.”

Dorian could feel the embarrassed blush creeping up his cheeks as laughter greeted the announcement. “I didn’t realise you were listening.”

“It happens quite a lot at night, enough that it has become my evening break entertainment. My furred counterpart seems quite intent on getting underfoot. Its rather nostalgic, actually. If I shut my eyes, I can almost imagine you are in the other room not weeks of travel away.” The wistful note in Felix’s voice made Dorian’s heart ache.

“Felix…”

“Now, now, none of that.” Felix’s voice warmed; the chiding tone gentle. “There is nothing I wouldn’t give to see you happy, and a little distance is a very small price. How goes your clearing adventure? Did the druffalo idea work?”

“Brilliantly!” Dorian crowed, still pleased about his earlier handiwork. The tension between Krem and Bull had eased as the conversation moved elsewhere but no doubt that was an argument that would be picked back up in the morning.

“Fucking creepy is what it was,” Bull muttered, shifting a little in place. Dorian frowned, was it because his knee was still bothering him?

Felix laughed, as always, a sound that seemed to brighten the area. “I’m always torn when I hear Dorian talking about his necromancy, on one hand his abilities with spirit magic are truly impressive, even in Tevinter. But on the other hand, I’ll never forget when he reanimated my dead parrot and how disturbing a bird’s skeleton looks as it moves like it’s still alive.”

“I didn’t know it was your pet!” Dorian exclaimed as the Chargers collectively looked at him in horror. “I just thought it was a bird who’d died in your garden! I needed the practice! Anyway, it’s not all spirit magic. I cannot use any healing or regeneration magic for the life of me.” The change in subject did little to ease the side-eyed glances in his direction. “Only barriers and necromantic arts.”

“Still creepy as shit,” Bull declared while Dorian rolled his eyes dramatically.

“I distinctly remember you also saying it was hot.”

Bull shifted again, this time stretching his leg out in front of himself but he made it look too casual. A carefully calculated movement designed to seem like nothing more than a move to sit more comfortably. Dorian was beginning to suspect that he was severely underplaying how much his knee was bothering him, if only because it would prove Krem right in worrying about him. Why Bull felt the need to play at being invincible in front of the people who were his chosen family, Dorian didn’t understand.

“Yeah, the way you moved like you were dancing, all fluid grace, and then even I could feel the power in whatever fade shit you were doing.” Bull paused, an admiring look in his single eye, as he rumbled out a deep sound that was almost a growl. It was probably the most flattering noise of sheer appreciation that Dorian had ever heard. “You glowed and the wind stirred and it felt like you were pulling all the power from the very world around us into your dance. And then giant creepy fucking skeletons rose up from the ground. It was the most conflicted boner I’ve ever had… Get it? Bone-er?”

Dorian groaned as Bull grinned wide, exaggeratingly blinking his eye in his typical flirtatious manner. For all the atrocious word play, Dorian couldn’t help the smile tugging at his lips nor the heat suffusing his cheeks. Puns aside, how the qunari could so easily spout off such appreciative words without a drop of exaggeration or embarrassment, Dorian would never understand. Thankfully the conversation moved onto other things and he was left to calm the residual flutter in his stomach in peace. Although every time Dorian remembered Bull’s deep growl, it came back full force.

Shooting Bull a side glance, he noticed the qunari shifting minutely in his seat again. His face was too neutral, too shuttered, not the usual open, easy expression he had worn during this trip so far. Stubborn fool, Dorian thought with no small amount of exasperated fondness. Shuffling closer, Dorian settled himself so that he sat with his thigh pressed up against Bulls, no space left between them. Bull didn’t question his move though Dorian could feel the curious look he was being given, even as he kept his own gaze purposefully away.

If the big lummox wanted to play pretend then Dorian could do that too.

Reaching out, he placed his hand casually on Bulls knee, the leg still stretched out in front of him, and focused. A tug on the fade as he thought of gentle heat, soothing and peaceful. Channeling without a focus was always hard but the spell was a minor one and it took Dorian only moments to settle into it. A dull throb started up in his temples, his body protesting casting like this as it always did, but it was worth the annoyance for the noticeable release of tension from Bull.

Dorian made a valiant attempt at keeping conversation up with Krem and Rocky in an effort to continue his charade but he knew no one was buying it. Still, no one commented on his act although a few thankful looks were sent purposefully his way when Bull wasn’t looking. After a few minutes, Dalish slipped something into his other hand, keeping the item low to the ground, carefully hidden by his thigh. Without looking, Dorian knew what it was as the threatening headache vanished and the effort of maintaining the spell became child’s play. Glancing down, he found a small, plain wooden rod topped with a cloudy white crystal.

Wands were useless for large spells, especially combat spells, so they were rarely used in Tevinter. Why carry something so small and unassuming when you could show off to all who looked your way with an ornate staff? But wands were perfect for low level magics while remaining discreet. Useful for mages living outside the circles in countries that held such fear of magic.

And so the evening wore on; dinner was delicious, an impromptu game of cards hilarious, and the company disgustingly warming.

When they all finally began to head to bed, Dorian noted with pride that Bull no longer limped. He was able to climb to his feet without complaint and each step was as strong and steady as one would expect. It was only once they were alone that Bull paused, turning his head slightly to glance back at Dorian who followed behind as they made their way to one of the two tents the group were sharing.

“Thanks.”

“Whatever for?” Dorian replied lightly, giving Bull an over the top fake look of innocence that drew a snort of laughter from the qunari. He smiled indulgently as he brushed past Bull, bumping their shoulders together on the way. “Goodnight Bull.”

“Night Dorian.”

Chapter Text

They arrived back at Haven Valley half a day later than the village expected, early afternoon on the fifth day since they left. Krem had won the argument with Bull, not that Dorian have overheard any further conversation between them, but the pace set home had been a slow meander. As much as Dorian was keen to return to his little family, he hadn’t begrudged the extra day travel. The easy pace allowed for an enjoyable trip and while Bull refused to complain, he was struggling enough with his knee that no one wanted to make it worse by setting a faster pace. Though the careful treatment had left the qunari rather ill-tempered this morning.

Dorian gratefully left his horse in Grim’s capable care at the chargers stable a short walk out from the village center. He’d offered to stay to assist with the horses and general unpacking after their miniature adventure but Krem had all but shooed Dorian off home. Although not before Stitches had wrangled a promise to rest for the remainder of the day out of him. Honestly, they were all just a bunch of worry warts.

Staff over one shoulder and pack tucked under his arm, Dorian made his way straight towards Cassandra’s clinic. He’d decided the best course of action was to check in with Cassandra first, thanking her and apologizing for their delay, before heading home to rest. As much as the chargers worried too much about him, a quiet afternoon wouldn’t go amiss. Dorian wasn’t getting any younger and his body ached after days of unfamiliar movements. Honestly, he had no right to feel as old as he did at this moment but here they were anyway.

Pushing open the door to the tidy clinic, he was greeted by an enthusiastic voice and a surprising sight.

“Hey! It’s Fancy Chickens!” Sera called out from her usual spot behind the counter. What was less usual was the box sitting beside her occupied by none other than the fancy chickens themselves.

“Ladies!” Dorian called out as he rushed forward heedlessly to pull Beatrice into his arms. After a quick cuddle, he held her up before his eyes to take a good look at the silky green bow tied around her fluffy crest. It looked utterly ridiculous but it held all the puffy feathers away from her eyes so her vision must be much increased. “Look at you! The absolute height of fashion! You’ve become even more magnificent in my absence! And you, Victoria! Blue! A true Pavus colour and absolutely striking on you, darling.”

The ginger chicken hurried forward to take her place in the cradle of Dorian’s arms, her admonishing clucks at odds with the way she pressed herself against him. Beatrice took over scolding Dorian instead and he solemnly accepted it all, ignoring the blonde elf cackling beside him.

“They look like fancy pants nobles, all prettied up for their man,” Sera commented once her laughter had finally subsided. “Doc’s got a real soft spot for them and said they might not be able to see proper-like but the bows will fix that. Doc also said they were lonely and brought them in on the second day. I was just waiting to get shat on but they’ve been good, much more like littles than big snobby nobles who do what they want.”

At the word ‘lonely’ Dorian’s heart broke and he gathered both the chickens close again, just holding them. “I’m sorry, lovelies,” he whispered into their feathers. “I won’t be going anywhere else without you anytime soon, I promise.” Glancing over at Sera, Dorian voiced the other thought on his mind. “What about Felix?”

Sera motioned to the waiting area behind Dorian and he turned to find old lady Obelia sitting in the window watching them with a sweet smile and Felix stretched out comfortably on her lap, head tucked in against her stomach. He’d met her a few times now on his shopping trip with Bull, she always had a wide variety of herbs and some vegetables available for sale or trade. A sweet old thing who loved to be out in her garden and always had a pot of tea warmed with fresh biscuits, though she tended to ramble on a little. The quintessential Ferelden grandmother; indeed, most of the village had adopted her as such.

“My apologies for causing such a fuss! I only had eyes for the ladies when I came in, I’m afraid.”

“Nonsense, Dorian! There is no need to apologise for anything. It’s lovely to see people caring for their animals as they should now days, too many people think they are too stupid to have emotions. Why even plants have feelings! Emeraldine next door had a show quality orchid that she scolded every day for not growing fast enough. Each day it wilted a little more until I rescued it right as it was on deaths door. I praised it everyday and gave it the care the sweet thing deserved and now I have the most beautiful orchid for miles. Love and care are very important for all living things.”

Dorian hid a smile as he agreed sagely. “Wise words to live by. I should instead be casting my apology to Felix then, for being so delayed in my return.” The black cat’s ear twitched but that was the only acknowledgement that Dorian received. “Ah, studiously ignored, in true cat fashion. I suppose I will have to wait for him to forgive me enough to acknowledge my existence before I can make it up to him.”

Obelia smiled as she stroked a gentle hand along the cats back. “Give him time, he’s much like a human teenager at this age. It would be very uncool of him to show that he missed his dad.”

“Ah, a true Pavus teenager! Then I should be glad I am merely briefly ignored than put through the trials that I myself put my own parents through. I have ever been a rather willful person,” Dorian admitted ruefully, keeping the conversation light. His rebellious youth of drugs, alcohol, sex, and scandal was nothing for the ears of a country Ferelden grandmother, but he was a master at walking the half-truths required to navigate around his past successfully. It was a skill long practiced, after all.

He was saved further conversation by the sound of Cassandra’s office door opening behind them. Turning, Dorian found a rather startled Cullen being led from the room and towards the desk where he still stood. Cassandra’s usually stern face softened as she looked over to find Dorian there, both chickens now cradled protectively against his chest.

“Dorian, good to see you’ve returned. Your little ones missed you so they’ve spending time in the clinic with my patients. They’ve brought quite a sense peace to this place, especially Felix. I might have to look into adopting a clinic cat, he’s made quite a stir.”

“You’re welcome to borrow Felix at any time, especially at the moment as he seems quite intent on ignoring me.”

“Oi, you need another appointment Curly?” Sera asked, flipping through her heavily drawn on appointment book. There was quite the array of suspect pictures and diagrams that Dorian decided were better left uninspected so he moved away from the desk and turned his attention more fully to Cassandra.

“I actually came by to thank you again for looking after my animals and see how I might be able to repay you for your help.”

As expected, Cassandra waved him off. “It was no problem. As I said, they’ve all been quite the talking point and they seem to be able to recognize when someone does not feel well. The quiet comfort they have each been offering my patients over the last few days has been invaluable.”

“Perhaps we should stop by for a visit more frequently then,” Dorian replied feeling warmth flood him at the thought of others finding solace in his animals’ companionship like he did. Pets, he decided, were vastly underrated and underappreciated.

Cullen approached, his face gaunter than normal, Dorian noted, his features pale and strained. His eyes were bright with life though, and he smiled as he reached out to carefully stroke Beatrice’s white feathers. “You’re welcome to bring them along when we finally have that chess game we keep talking about. I do believe I owe Felix a bite of some fresh fish after he spent the morning sitting with me while I was feeling unwell.”

“Felix!” Dorian called, and this time Felix’s left ear flicked all the way back, but he still didn’t move. “Looks like you found yourself a job! It appears to involve sleeping on comfortable laps and being fed treats so I can’t imagine you’d turn it down.” After the general round of laughter, Dorian addressed Cullen again. “How about tomorrow mid-morning? We’ve been putting it off for weeks and it’ll keep Stitches off my back about resting.”

Before Cullen could respond Cassandra was leaning into Dorian’s space, her soft demeanour turned steely. “What did you do?”

Attempting to hide behind the chickens in his arms, Dorian laughed guiltily. It was never a good idea to cause the doctor to be suspicious of your wellbeing, especially one as no-nonsense as Cassandra. “I merely overtaxed myself with my magic a few days ago. Really, there is no need for everyone to fuss so. I feel far worse after the ride, if I’m being honest.”

“Tomorrow morning would be fine,” Cullen replied hastily, steering the conversation back to a safer place. Cassandra gave Dorian one last narrow-eyed look over before turning to usher Obelia into her office for her appointment. Cullen chuckled as the door swung shut and he leaned in conspiratorially. “Just take it easy and rest, if you end up back here in the next few days because you strained yourself, you’ll be in trouble.”

“Ah yes,” Dorian intoned solemnly, though his smile belied his tone, “The infamous Pentaghast scolding’s I’ve heard so much about.”

Cullen laughed at that but there was a rueful tone to it as though he was more familiar than most with Cassandra’s doctoring. “The scolding’s are bad enough; you feel like a silly child who can’t take care of themselves! But last time she put me on forced bedrest after I cut my hand gutting my catch!”

“That’s ‘cause she warned you to be careful, Curly,” Sera piped up from the desk where she now had Felix wrapped across her shoulders. The cat was still refusing to look at Dorian, of course. “Doc cares a lot, she’s good people. People that make Doc cry get bees.”

Dorian wasn’t entirely sure what the last phrase meant but he was certain from Sera’s ominous tone that he didn’t want to find out. It made him remember the conversation in the tavern involving a buzzing grenade and a delighted Sera chanting ‘bees!’ over and over again throughout the evening.

Continuing on as though she hadn’t said anything at all, Sera patted Felix’s little head. “I’ll bring him home later; some snots are coming around soon he can help with.”

With that, Dorian made his farewells and set off towards his farm, chickens still firmly cradled against his chest. It was good to be home, and it was home now, he realized. The vision of home in his head was no longer grand ballrooms and sweeping hallways, vast libraries stacked with generations of book collections, or a large plump bed swathed in the finest silks. Home was here; a rundown one-room house with a tiny cot, rickety furniture, an overgrown garden, and, most importantly, three pets that felt more like family than any one related to Dorian by blood.

The old saying ‘home is where the heart is’ might be woefully cliché but for the first time, Dorian truly understood.

Home was here, in Haven Valley. There was no going back now, not ever. He could never again live his life amongst the endless halls, alone and cold inside, no matter how many bodies filled the rooms. He wondered then, if this was what he’d been searching for. Dorian had thought he was looking for a purpose, a reason to be here, but perhaps instead he’d been seeking a reason not to leave. He needed a purpose here, yes, but more than that, he needed to be certain in his own mind that he was going to stay.

Isn’t that why his growing feelings for Bull scared him? Not just because he’d never had a true relationship, although that certainly didn’t help, but because if he didn’t stay here, he would only hurt himself?

Something loosened in Dorian as he acknowledged truly, for the first time, that this was home now. That no matter what happened, he would stay in Haven Valley. That even if he couldn’t figure out how to support himself on his own, he’d make it work somehow, even if he had to work at Varric’s shop or do odd jobs about the village. The last of the stress that had been lingering at the edges of his mind disappeared and a new sense of determination filled him. It might not have been the answer he thought he’d been looking for, but it was the one he truly needed.

Spurred on by this new feeling of resolve, Dorian walked straight past his house and made for the path that would take him to Bull’s. The qunari had been rather grumpy all morning but perhaps a cup of tea and a sit down before dinner would solve that. More than anything though, Dorian was bursting to tell Bull about his revelation and he could acknowledge now, at least in his own head, why it was so important for Bull to know.

Unfortunately acknowledging said feelings apparently gave butterflies leave to flutter away in his stomach like some lovesick teenager. Honestly, what a fool he was. Yet the thought of his own ridiculousness couldn’t erase the grin that split is face wide.

Chapter Text

Dorian was still carrying his chickens, one in each arm, when he arrived at Bull’s. They had refused to be put down when he stopped to do so and it was making it rather awkward to knock on the qunari’s door. He was still struggling to make a decently loud knock when the door swung open to reveal a broad chest, uncovered as usual. He idly noted that he was becoming quite used to always having to look up to look his friend squarely in the eyes and wasn’t that interesting. He’d thought he’d get a crick in the neck before he ever got used to such a thing.

“Bull!” He greeted enthusiastically, his smile fading into concern when he was met with a rather surly expression. “I, uhh, I was thinking that we could do dinner again tonight? It’s a while off so perhaps some tea first but I know you were having a little trouble this morning so perhaps I could do most of the cooking?”

That was, apparently, the wrong thing to say. Bull’s face went blank, a perfectly neutral mask that was horribly out of place on such usually expressive features. It was so unexpected that all Dorian could do was stare for a moment, words lost to him as his previously giddy mood vanished like smoke.

“I’m not a cripple,” Bull bit out, words harsh enough to make Dorian flinch. “I can look after myself. Goodbye, Dorian.”

With that the door slammed shut in his face and he could hear the heavy footsteps move further into the house, the uneven gait showing just how much of a limp Bull must have right now. Feeling rather deflated, he looked down at his chickens.

“Well. That didn’t go how I intended.” After one last look at Bull’s firmly shut door, Dorian turned away to head back home. All his earlier relief and elation had fled in the face of Bull’s forceful dismissal. “You know, I’d bet good coin that the next time I see him I’ll get an apology. Something truly heartfelt too.” He paused for a long moment before sighing. “Yet, even knowing that...”

The rejection stung, even though looking back, Dorian knew it wasn’t about him. Bull’s knee had been the reason he had fallen during the landslide, the reason Dorian had spent all his mana to save him, the reason they’d had to return so late. Bull was independent, to a fault Dorian was realizing, and the careful handling clearly grated. Although Bull had to know it wasn’t because they thought him incapable, it was because each of the Chargers, and Dorian himself, genuinely cared for the big lug. Add on a few days of sleeping rough and the constant pain he must be in and it was no wonder the qunari was in a right awful mood.

And here, Dorian had had little thought for anything beyond himself. It was an old habit, one that had been instilled in him from a young age. Tevinter upper-class cared nothing for anything but themselves and their own agenda. It was a failing that Dorian had liked to think himself a step removed from but he clearly still had much to learn.

Arriving home, Dorian sat heavily on his front step. The warm afternoon sun should have been comforting but he found even that was unable to cheer him. It was a wonder that Cole hadn’t mysteriously appeared but there was no sign of the spirit. Perhaps it was because Dorian understood the cause behind his bad feelings and knew that it would soon be made right. There wasn’t much the spirit really could do in this case, there were no magic words to lift his mood, only time.

Idly stroking Beatrice, he instead turned his attention to his horrendously overgrown garden. He had access to magic now so perhaps it was finally time to really get stuck in and try to clear the land. He was tired from the journey but a little magic would be fine, he had full mana and the entire afternoon. The issue now was that he had all this magic quite literally at his finger tips and no idea how to utilize it to help him. Necromancy and time magic were his forte and neither were particularly conductive to farming.

Looking over at his woefully tiny sproutlings, an idea began to form in his mind. They had barely breached the surface of the soil with their tiny green stalks and it would be weeks before they got anywhere close to full grown. Unless he changed their time. As part of his research with Gereon, they had discovered how to manipulate time in a localized area, both speeding up time and slowing it down. It hadn’t been the level of time manipulation that Gereon had been looking for so they’d moved their focus onto different aspects of time magic but Dorian still remembered the spells.

Perhaps…

Putting Beatrice down, Dorian grabbed his staff from where he’d placed it next to the door and moved to sit in front of his seedlings. The movements were easy enough to recall, his muscle memory taking over as he focused on pulling through his connection to the fade. The light around his plants brightened with the magic he poured in and as he focused, he watched as they began to grow before his eyes. Hope surged through him; this was it! He could be the first ever magical farmer! A delighted laugh bubbled forth as Dorian pushed more and more magic into his spell. The stalks shot up in front of him, their bases widening, strengthening, as they grew.

One plant grew even taller than him, bright green leaves unfurling rapidly and small buds forming at the tips of its branching stalk. Another spread wide rather than tall, each of its many branches quickly covering its self in small, dark leaves. Bigger and bigger they got, some spreading over the ground, some reaching to the sky, and Dorian was giddy with excitement. Perhaps this was another of the answers he’d been searching for.

He was so distracted by his exhilaration that he didn’t even notice the drain on his mana until too late. The familiar feeling of his fade connection pulling tight caught him unaware and he only had time to think ‘ah, fuck’ before the thread of his connection snapped. Pain flared through his head and the world dimmed.

Cassandra was going to be pissed.

 

***

 

Awareness was just as slow and painful to return to him as it had been a few days ago. Dorian wondered for a brief moment if he’d eventually get used to waking feeling like he’d been walked on by a druffalo but quickly decided that no, best to not be so careless in future. Even thinking hurt, though he must have been out for a while already because it could have been markedly worse. Taking stock of his body, Dorian found that there was weight on his chest, his left arm was decidedly warm, and the pounding in his head intensified when he tried to move it.

A pained groan slipped free unheeded and, with great reluctance, Dorian opened his eyes. He was met with darkness, the feeling of cloth against his face only registering a few seconds later. While his mind was still turning over the potential implications of this, shuffling to his right caught his attention. Something warm and gentle touched his hand and Dorian’s body jolted in surprise at the unexpected sensation.

“Dorian?” As soft as his name was said, the deep voice was unmistakable.

Things suddenly slotted into place. He was lying in his bed, the lumps regrettably familiar, with a cloth over his eyes to protect him from the light. Felix sat curled up on his chest, and the ladies were tucked in between his arm and side. Now that he was looking for it, Dorian could feel the faint vibrations of Felix’s almost silent purr and hear the steady, even breaths of the man sitting at his bedside.

“Bull? How—?” he croaked out; his throat unexpectedly dry.

“The demon kid came to get me.”

There was a pause and some shuffling before Dorian felt his head being propped up. He kept his eyes closed as the cloth protecting his face fell askew, ignoring the bright light trying to pierce his eyelids in favour of downing the cool water from the mug pressed to his lips. With Felix firmly refusing to move from his chest, the angle was awkward and water dripped everywhere but it was well worth it regardless. Thick fingers gently, oh so gently, used a cloth to soak up the excess water dripping across his chin. Dorian marveled for a moment at the care with which Bull was taking, wondering if he’d always been so careful with his strength but he’d just never bothered to notice before.

“Your little ladies were worried.”

“I’m sorry,” Dorian replied, reaching his free hand out blindly for Bull, showing that the apology was meant for him too. “I didn’t mean to worry you all.”

His hand was caught in one larger than his own, calloused but warm and still so careful. Bull’s thumb caressed across the top his of hand, the barest touch yet Dorian was hyper aware of it, as he returned it to its previous position on the bed.

“I should be the one apologizing,” Bull muttered then sighed heavily before standing, the scrape of the chair legs on the floorboards telling Dorian his movements. “But you should rest some more, we can talk later. I’ll put some tea on for when you wake up again.”

“See ladies,” Dorian proclaimed, jostling the arm the chickens were sitting on and earning a few reprimanding clucks in response. “I told you I’d get an apology! But really Bull, I was only thinking of myself earlier so we are both rather at fault for the misunderstanding. And it was a misunderstanding—”

“Dorian,” Bull interrupted, this voice pitched low but firm, brooking no argument. “Go back to sleep.”

“Well,” Dorian muttered after a beat, his thoughts heading in a wildly different direction at Bull’s voice. Perhaps it was because Dorian was unable to see and so he was listening more carefully but there was something about that deep, firm, yet soft tone of voice used that Dorian had never heard from Bull before. “I am unsure whether I feel sufficiently scolded or rather hot under the collar after that.”

A snort greeted his words then an exasperated “Dorian” followed.

“Yes, yes, sleep.” He paused for a moment, listening to the sounds of Bull puttering around his kitchen, mindful of the sore knee. It was warmly domestic and perhaps Dorian really was getting old if he was so enthralled by such a frivolous notion. “Thank you.”

Bull grunted in reply but no more words were spoken. Dorian drifted off to sleep to the sounds of a fire crackly away merrily in the hearth and the faint vibration of Felix purring on his chest.