A pairing with great potential and plenty of subtextual (and textual) canon support, Vivienne/Iron Bull is a sadly overlooked ship.
Bull, who claims to love mindless violence but whose greatest fear is madness. Vivienne, a sharp enforcer who believes that order is the path to peace.
Both believe that rule of law is preferable to absolute freedom (remember that Bull, like Vivienne, was chosen to maintain the status quo in opposition to the rebels of his society), yet they’ve each experienced rejection and psychological damage from their respective cultures. Both of them have fraught and interesting relationships with power and control, whether it be control of self or control from others. Both wield weapons but fear what they are capable of.
Imagine the comfort Bull would take in being controlled by Vivienne, held firmly in her capable hands. The rules of the Qun once soothed him until he realized he couldn’t function under them. She makes rules he can follow. He would revel in the adrenaline rush, riding the edge, lashing out with all his strength because he knows he can do no harm to his fierce Lady. She is not afraid of him. He finds his personhood in his own dehumanization, free to let go of that terror, that monster, inside her pristine walls. When she calls him a beast, leashes him, it’s only a game they play. The relief he feels when he comes back to himself each and every time? It’s worth everything to him. She shows him that the beast is an illusion, that he is a man and can become an even greater one, and their time together becomes more tender and gentle over time. At first, calling her ma'am was just a play to her vanity, a way to get close without revealing himself. But now he sees her horns and feels a child again, understood and accepted in Tama’s eyes.
On the flip side, you’ve got Vivienne, whose greatest fear is irrelevance, worshiped by this massive, intelligent warrior. He requires nothing of her but permission to lay himself at her feet. How gratifying to look into the eyes of a calculating man and see earnest submission to her will. She is his Mistress, with a capital M this time, second to no one in his eyes. She does not share him in any way but the superficial (the bar girls know nothing of the true Hissrad). Though she fears her own power as much as she seeks it out, he bravely asks for her magic. He does not flinch from her or try to control her. Every time he emerges from her grip, whole and grateful and painfully sweet, she fears herself a little less, warms to him. She’s more human with him too.
If they can accept each other, perhaps they can accept themselves. Perhaps they were not born wrong in the eyes of their creator despite what others say of Tal-Vashoth and Mages. Maybe they are safe together. What a dangerous proposition.
It terrifies them both, the closeness, how much they see one another. They are unused to interpreting that as anything but a threat. They pretend it means nothing, but they both know it’s a lie. The only thing they fear more than demons is vulnerability.
The Lady of Iron and The Iron Bull built their identities from the ground up under watchful eyes. A warrior who pretends to be a politician, a politician who pretends to be a warrior. They cannot fit in, so they choose to stand out in grand, fantastic ways. Ways that cover and divert the truth.
There are days when she pushes him so hard his very bones ache, and there are days when she simply requires a kind hand and someone to pour her tea. He serves, whatever that entails. Her knight, her whipping boy, her companion. She is a woman of many faces herself. Queen, commander, guardian, teacher. Masks, but not. Each face a part of them.
She dresses him, leaves marks more permanent and fierce than his poison war paint. Remakes him and remakes herself in the process, without quite meaning to. She shifts her routine to make room for him, and it fills him with pride and satisfaction.
Despite themselves, they find companionship outside the bedroom. She brings him to the balls, watches him pretend to be a witless brute, his knowing eyes sparkling just for her. She finds it delightful, sinfully fun. All the whispers surrounding them. They smirk at one another when no one is looking. It reminds her of her youth, when she was just a dazzled girl being charmed by a man of status.
She is proud of him, and his presence behind her as she walks among nobles lifts her up.
He brings her into battle, follows her to battle. He admires the way the blood spatters on her white, white robes, the determination in the thrusting of her staff. She enjoys his sweat, his flexing muscles, his savage grin. He appeals to her baser urges and she finds she doesn’t mind it at all.
She gives him orders, guidelines. Her tone can be so threatening and maternal at once, a fond, familiar thing. Clean your boots, watch your language, go forth and kill for me. He does so, happily, unless they vehemently disagree on something. She never asks him for destruction without just cause because she knows what it does to him. In return, he learns to trust her judgement and to never tease her where others can see. She does not make him civilized, she shows him that he is civilized. Not a human, but not the monster humans believe him to be.
She lets him take off her headdress. He lets her gently unclasp his leg brace.
If they decide to make it official, commit to one another and act on Vivienne’s ambitions, I’m not sure what happens to Thedas. A force of nature is underselling it. A force for good? *waves hands* Depends, probably. All that intelligence, cunning, and strength combined is both magnificent and scary. The bards will sing of the cold Madame de Fer and her vicious Qunari, a shallow, unimaginative interpretation of what they truly are.
But that’s exactly the way they’ll prefer it, in truth. Some secrets are only for them.
Pretty much all their quotes to one another support the ship, so I tried pick out other dialogue snippets that show how well their philosophies and desires align.
Vivienne to Iron Bull: “I never worry, darling. A leash can be pulled from either end.”
Bull: "Life isn’t about personal freedom."
Vivienne: “I assure you there are few pleasures comparable to restoring order with one’s own hand.”
Bull: “It’s like being a block of stone with a sculptor working on you. One day, the last of the crap gets knocked off, and you can see your real shape, what you’re supposed to be.”
Vivienne to Bull: “In Halamshiral, you were a blade of cheap iron. When I am done, you will shine like a gleaming Dawnstone saber.”
Iron Bull: You may not have noticed, but I'm not a finesse fighter. I guess I'd go with Dawnstone.
Blackwall: Dawnstone? That's even more brittle than Bloodstone.
Iron Bull: Yes. Really damn pretty, though.
Bull: “Dragons are the embodiment of raw power. But it’s all uncontrolled, savage, so they need to be destroyed. Taming the wild. Order out of chaos.”
Vivienne: “Magic is dangerous, just as fire is dangerous. Anyone who forgets this truth gets burned.”
Vivienne to Cassandra: “That which makes you different can be a burden or a source of strength, my dear. Which is up to you.”
Bull to Blackwall: “Now that you know who you are, you can stop doubting yourself and start hitting crap again.”
Vivienne: "—one does not throw away a tool because it was misused."
Cole on Bull: “‘Tama, how will I follow the Qun?” Her hands, strong but gentle, rub the stubs where the horns will be. […] I remember the little boy, too wise, eager to help. Words break in small, secret spaces. He got away. He got away.’”
Cole on Vivienne: “Everything bright, roar of anger as the demon rears. No, I will not fall. No one will ever control me again.”
Bull: “Whenever you need an ass kicked, The Iron Bull is with you.”
Vivienne to Bull: “Don’t worry, my dear. Should we encounter demons, I will protect you.”