“Watch your flank!”
Maxwell tore the blade around and felt in the same moment that he had overshot the movement, still not used to the weight of the bulky bastard sword in his remaining hand and the missing burden of most of his arm and a sturdy shield on the other side. Bull caught him in the thigh with his blunt wooden cudgel.
Cursing, Maxwell staggered to a halt. His body ached all over from days of practice. When he took his clothes off in the evening, he looked like mould-mottled cheese, green and blue all over. However, the physical pain wasn’t what left him weary of the fighting. Maxwell had always been good at taking a hit. It was the encroaching dread that what he was doing here was entirely pointless that made it difficult to stand up to Bull, even as he took a deep breath and squared his feet again.
“Take five, boss?”
Maxwell almost flinched. As so often, his lover was more perceptive than he wished, though at the same time he felt affection bubbling up in his chest, knowing how often Bull used this skill for good, especially when it concerned Maxwell.
“Good idea. I’ll be right back.”
He dragged himself away from Bull and the training dummies towards a broad set of stone stairs, hoping just to escape the bustle of people that filled the courtyard. For now, Skyhold would remain the centre of the Inquisition as it served Leliana as the Divine until all had been arranged to move it to Orlais to be closer to the Grand Cathedral, but Maxwell would leave his command to Cassandra, Cullen, and Josphine and the Inquisition’s structure would be changed to better reflect their new duties. Maxwell would not be part of it anymore. Though he had made a lot decisions – who knew how many of them actually good? –, his role had been an active one, in the end, and as of now, he showed no signs of great prowess anymore. Also, though his family had always been close to the Chantry, Maxwell had never seen himself working in the Maker’s service, which the Inquisition would be once more.
But then, what would be his task? What use did he have now?
At the top, he leaned heavily on the embrasure between two jutting merlons, looking out over the snow-covered mountains as cold wind blew in his face and ruffled his sweat-soaked clothes, sending a shiver down his damp skin. It seemed a lifetime ago that he had stumbled among those desolate cliffs, half-frozen, leading a hopeless little band of people as he followed Solas’ lead. He’d never been more fearful than in those days, but in some way he missed the single-minded purpose that he’d had, knowing lives depended on him, that giving up was not an option. It was the same he’d always felt holding the front line in a battle, letting enemies wail on him to keep his companions safe, just on a grander scale. Now he had no mark and no shield arm.
A hand touched between his shoulder blades. Maxwell straightened. He’d heard steps, but figured that the person approaching was just one of the guards on patrol. Instead, he found Bull looking down at him.
“So what’s the issue?”
“Nothing. I’m just a bit tired, that’s all.”
Bull simply nodded his head, though Maxwell could feel his smart gaze scanning him.
“Maybe you need a different sort of work-out?” he suggested easily.
Maxwell smiled. He had come to Bull’s special sort of affection with many clumsy questions, but found that Bull’s initial assessment – you need this – had not been wrong, in the end. There had been some days when he would only find rest after growing still under his hands. Though he doubted it would bring him the answers to his questions, he was tempted to give himself to that satisfied emptiness now.
“Maybe,” he said, turning to him. “I’m sorry I have let you down in our training sessions. I know I don’t cut a great figure.”
“You lost an arm and you’ve been fighting with two for how long – thirty years, including practice as a kid? It’ll take some time to get used to this.” Bull shrugged. “In the meanwhile, I get to rough you up a bit. You know I like that.”
“I wish an arm was all I lost,” Maxwell said before he could stop himself.
Bull cocked his head.
“Are you mourning your title? I’m sure they would love to keep you on as the Inquisitor if you want it back.”
“Because I’d be a great symbol, but that’s all I’d be.” Maxwell glanced at the folded sleeve of his roughspun shirt. “I only became the Inquisitor through pure chance, but suddenly I had the power to change things. With what I’ve seen now, everything I know, how can I return to the life I lived before? And Solas... he is my responsibility.” He breathed out. “There’s so much left to do and I can’t do any of it.”
“Maybe not, but you don’t have to do all of it this very moment,” Bull reminded him. “Take it easy.”
Maxwell pushed off the wall. He felt sheepish that Bull obviously thought he needed cheering up; and he disliked that he wasn’t wrong.
“You know what, you’re right. We should retire to our quarters.”
It would be a distraction, at least.
There was a word here to end all that they did and so Maxwell did not have to pay much attention to the sounds that dripped from his lips or the signs his body gave. The implicit freedom always left him rather yielding, in truth, eager to offer himself.
Today, however, he was quarrelling wordlessly with his lover. Bull’s hands weighed heavy on his chest as Maxwell tried to struggled out of his grip. He didn’t actually want to leave, of course. As a rule, he loved most everything Bull did to him. However, as Bull had wrestled him down today, he’d noticed that he couldn’t actually put up resistance if he wanted to, effortlessly blocked in all his attempts just as he had been in training.
It had occurred to Maxwell at that moment that he probably couldn’t break free at all. The thought scared him, but not because he believed Bull wouldn’t let him go. It was simply that Bull loved to take it up with people and things that were his strength or greater. There was a reason he enjoyed fighting dragons so much and he had often with much pleasure whispered in Maxwell’s ear how nice it was to have the mighty Inquisitor on his back for him.
But what good was there to a man like him in ruling over someone who was already weak? Did Bull take pleasure in this or was he doing it for Maxwell?
The word crashed through Maxwell’s thoughts and, though he knew that it was only meant to protect them both, it felt like failure all the same. Still, his concern for Bull overruled the thought for the moment.
“Are you alright?” he asked, sitting up and resting his hand on Bull’s thigh.
“I am. I used it because you wouldn’t,” Bull told him, disapproval stark in his voice.
Maxwell pressed his lips into a thin line.
“I was fine.”
“You know, it’s kind of obvious when you’re this uncomfortable,” Bull said, raising a brow at him. “You’ve always been a crap liar.”
Despite himself, Maxwell smiled slightly. It was probably an impossible task to talk yourself out of the observations made by a former Ben Hassrath.
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t what you did.” Halting, Maxwell traced a scar on Bull’s leg. There was no choice but to speak the truth, in the end. “Do you still like doing this? With me? And tell me honestly. You know I’d rather hear it than keep wondering.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I’m not the man you met,” Maxwell answered slowly. “Without the mark, there’s nothing extraordinary about me. I’m not even a decent soldier anymore.”
Bull shook his head at him.
“Kadan, if you weren’t a bit special, you’d be three years dead in some swamp in the Hinterlands, mark or no mark. It didn’t make you invincible.”
“That’s good of you to say.”
“No, I’m just right. And what does that have to do with you trying to kick me off like your life depends on it?”
“I figured you’d be bored without a fight. You usually are.”
“But you weren’t ever the sort I had to break physically,” Bull gave back, frowning.
That was true. Maxwell liked listening to Bull, he enjoyed giving himself.
“Before, I had less to prove,” he admitted, to Bull and to himself.
Bull cradled his face in his hand and pulled him close, pressing a firm kiss on his lips.
“You saved the world and you saved my boys. There’s nothing you have to prove to me anymore. Understand?”
Maxwell put his arm around Bull’s thick neck, suddenly finding his voice caught in his throat. When they sank back on the bed together, Bull draped himself over him again, but though his weight pressed Maxwell down, he felt it was no fight, no game between them this time, just Bull reassuring him with his presence. He clamped his muscular legs around Bull’s sides.
When Bull lined up to push into him, Maxwell, who was not a short man, was still only ever on height with his collarbones. Sometimes he joked about it, but today he simply enjoyed pressing his face against the warm expanse of his chest, breathing him in, feeling every inch of his bulging muscles moving against his own body. One of Bull’s massive hands was cradling the back of his neck, keeping him close, and for a moment, Maxwell was simply happy where he was.
“Your beard scratched me.”
Maxwell smiled at the patches of darker grey on Bull’s chest were the coarse hair had irritated the skin. “My apologies. Should I have it cut, you think?”
“Nah, it suits you.”
Bull let his fingers run through the short, dark curls. They laid sprawled on the bed in Bull’s chambers together, still naked, sweat cooling on their skin. Selfishly, Maxwell wished this moment could last and he would not be admitted to the world again.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said after a long silence. “After the Inquisition. With my life.”
Bull remained quiet for a moment before he propped himself up on his arm.
“Here’s how I see it,” he said. “When you had the mark, you were really the only one who had a chance to fix this shit. Solas, though? Lots of people who can help you with that. You don’t have to do it all on your own anymore.”
“I never did,” Maxwell noted.
“Yeah, but you were still our golden boy. Leliana’s people are going to need a while to track Solas down, anyway. Use that. Breathe. Varric tells a lot of stories, but he’s as good as his word where it counts. You should visit your new villa in Kirkwall.”
“Maybe,” Maxwell answered. Perhaps Bull was right. It had only been a fortnight since he’d lost the arm. He was being unreasonable because he was scared. “I should visit my family, too. I haven’t seen most of them in years. There was never any time.” He halted. “Would you consider coming? I mean, I know Qunari don’t have lovers in that sense, or families, but you’re Tal-Vashoth now...”
Bull stared at him, looking honestly surprised for a moment.
“You’d introduce me to your parents?”
“We’ve been together for three years. They know of you, as do my siblings. I told you I wrote to them about you... though I don’t think they quite picture you as you are.” He had to laugh. “I’m not a talented enough writer to do you justice in letters.”
“Well, I hope I’ll make a good impression,” Bull said with a snort.
Maxwell’s heart skipped a little. “I’m sure you will.”
Bull pulled the blanket closer and over Maxwell before he sat up.
“There’s something else you should keep in mind,” he added, glancing down at Maxwell. “People follow you. That’s also because of who you are. You don’t need a mark or even a sword for that. I think you still have a lot ahead of you.” He paused. “Me, I’ll go anywhere with you.”
Maxwell sat to embrace him, heart thumping hard against his ribcage. He wasn’t sure if Bull was right thinking him a natural leader of people, but he did believe that Bull would come wherever Maxwell went. If that wasn’t motivation to get back on his feet and pick a new path for himself – for them –, he didn’t know what could be.