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Hothouse Orchid

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Dorian sat in a tangled knot of blankets, two extra cloaks, a scarf that had caught onto the buckles of his robes, and one cup of tea, and tried to justify the situation to himself. Why he hadn’t fucked off when he still had the chance, for example.

There were two truths to it, really, each equally bitter to swallow, and each begging for Dorian to ignore them. There was the fact that he wanted to preserve what small, shaky foundations he’d built here, and he doubted that a Tevinter dragon would be terribly welcomed, his usefulness aside. There was also the sad fact that a dragon is much more powerful in concept; against an entire army, one that also had a dragon, he would have been little more than a distraction, and it would only be so long – only so many helpless souls he could cart, so much snow he could melt, so many Templars he could swat away – until the cold would inevitably get to him, big and useless lizard that he was. Haven would likely have fallen either way, and him with it, had he not stayed cloistered in the tiny prison that was his current form.

Not that shifting out of it was even an option.

Humans were impressively resilient to the cold by comparison, though, having no elemental allegiance assigned from birth. But that didn’t change the fact that it was Fucking Cold.

He doubted the Inquisition would have kept him for much more than stoking the smithy fires had he come clean, as it were. He wasn’t even an interesting dragon. He breathed fire. It was dreadfully plebian.

Grimly, Dorian wondered what it might be like to breathe lightning. That would suit him, surely. A buzzing crackle on his tongue, different from the solid rush of fire. Ozone and copper dancing behind his teeth. Awful lot of static, though. His hair would be a lost cause.

Even ice would do, he thought, looking out over the endless snow. At the peaks above, snow. The valleys below? Snow. In his boots – shocking! Snow! He would do wonderfully as a Mistral. At least then he would feel in his element, and wouldn’t be so bloody freezing. There may as well be two Mistrals here already, come to think of it. Between himself and Vivienne, the two certainly spat enough ice.

Dorian bunched in on himself, tucking his hands inside his blanket pile. What he wouldn’t give to be large enough – long enough – to coil round and round his own body. He’d breathe a scorched space into the snow and curl up right in it. He could tuck his feet up under his body to keep them warm, too. It would be lovely, even if the action did leave him looking like a great scaly bun.  

That was his lot in life as a fire drake, though, he supposed. To be filled with fire and still freezing. The irony was not lost on him.

Dorian set his tea down in the snow and brought the campfire back to roaring with his palms, sitting back heavily against the rock face. He’d pressed a small fire rune to the stone’s surface. It was almost helping. He leaned back, closing his eyes, and was promptly hit squarely in the forehead by half of a bread roll. The mage did little more than blink, somewhat stunned – he really was a useless reptile in the cold – and he unearthed his hand to pick the bread up off the ground as Sera sauntered toward him with the other half.

Shite, it’s almost warm over here!” She pressed up against him, nearly shoving the mage over. “Wait. ‘S’not magic warm, is it?”

“Perish the thought,” Dorian chuckled, breaking his half in half again to share. Sera took it as if expecting the gesture. Then, pointing to the small hunk of crust he had left, “You eatin’ that?”

Dorian breathed a small but steady stream of fire onto his crust, toasting it to a warm golden brown. He caught the elf’s eye all too gleefully and bit into it. It made a fantastic crunch.

“Oh, great,” Sera groaned. “Always thought it was just the hands I had to worry about. Now everything’s dangerous.”

“Tevinter party trick. Every circle boy knows it.” The lie came easily, and with no less guilt than it had a decade ago. He picked his tea back up, heating the pottery from below with his hands.

“Figures. You ‘Vints do love your dragons, don’t you.”

Dorian stifled his smile into his cup.

“Not as much as you may have been led to believe.”

 

 

-----

 

 

The Inquisitor had liked Dorian from the start. Whether she realized it or not, she was drawn to those who searched, who were powerful in their own right, and who were capable of shaping the world. Dorian fit the bill expertly, and their banter slid along like a well-oiled hinge. He suspected fighting through a false future and taking down a Templar army with the same person could make one fond, though. Bless Felix for helping him get there, really, bless him. Once they had established themselves in Skyhold, Adaar visited Dorian frequently and brought him with her nearly every time she left it. It didn’t surprise him.

The Iron Bull, on the other hand. The Bull surprised him.

He was strong and sturdy and powerful, and he was open-minded and kind as he was ruthless and unrelenting. Dorian’s thoroughly one-sided needling dissolved into pleasant banter, then took its turn in Bull’s court as the banter turned suggestive; dare Dorian say flirtatious?

Dorian rebuffed him, ashamed at himself. Of course he would want to bed the huge, growling man with horns. But Bull told Dorian he smelled good, his voice rumbled deep in his chest when his mind was off of it, and his horns were, proportionally, as big as Dorian’s had been.

Ironic, isn’t it, Dorian thought to himself, that in cat and mouse, I let him be the cat.

 

 

-----

 

The spirit – Cole, if you like – was as much an endearment as he was an oddity, and a liability. He had developed a nasty habit of stepping well around Dorian but still trying to carry a conversation while standing yards away. It had the effect of ensuring everyone nearby got to hear Dorian’s private thoughts.

When Dorian asked him why, Cole’s answer surprised him. It wasn’t just a matter of giving the Tevinter mage a wide berth, though Dorian thought that was somehow beneath Cole to begin with.

“I didn’t want to crowd you,” Cole admitted, almost apologetically. “You’re bigger than you are. It gets cramped.”

Dorian was equal parts alarmed and touched. Uncharacteristically tongue tied, he searched for a response, but the great hulking Bull chimed in for him.

“That a comment on his ego?” He nearly shouted, just as delighted to stumble into other’s conversations as he was their beds, if his colorful invitations were anything to go by.

Bless him, Dorian thought, and seized the opportunity. What a brilliant misdirection. They were practically dancing.

“It’s called charisma, Bull. Presence.” He’d grinned viciously, the line too easy, too good not to take. “And you’ll find my presence fills a room.”

 

-----

 

It was really only a matter of time.

 

-----

 

Bull chuckled, caught between the detached giddiness of afterglow and a sort of awed disbelief. The scent of smoke and singed fabric hung in the air. “Took your frustration out on the curtains, huh?”

“Passion,” Dorian corrected, mumbling through the lazy kisses he was pressing to The Bull’s jawline. “I am passionate about curtains. They were hideous, and you had me distracted, so I suppose they had to go.”

The Bull pretended to swoon, and Dorian sat up, reluctantly dragging himself away from his body and warmth. “Are you calling yourself curtains? Shall I set your great grey arse on fire next time?”

“I dunno,” Bull replied, content to keep on laying there. He ran a knuckle down Dorian’s toned bicep as the mage pulled away and rose, presumably to dress himself. “I think it would be kind of hot.”

Dorian’s smallclothes missed his head, but caught wonderfully on the prong of Bull’s horn.

 

 

-----

 

 

Solas would have absolutely nothing to do with Dorian, and hadn’t given him the time of day since they met. The mages had locked eyes, and they knew. A startled smile had split Dorian’s face just as the color drained from Solas’. Dorian strode right over, and the elf had looked anything but eager.

“Well, hello, there! I’m Dorian.” He’d crossed his arms over his chest. He could smell something, feel something from the bit of fade still burning away in his belly. He didn’t know who or what Solas was, but he knew he carried something. Fancy that.

“Solas, if it pleases you. The Inquisitor is certainly drawing her allies from all corners.” He spoke slowly at first, then rushed through the sentence, as if eager to get it over with. Solas had a way of gesticulating with only his eyes, and he looked Dorian over pointedly, indicating all of him. “I…admit that I was not aware this was still in practice.”

“Surprise,” Dorian grinned cheekily. “Is it really that obvious, though? I suppose I should be concerned if it is.”

“It isn’t,” Solas admitted, “and from there stems my concern. This is hardly the place. If you’ll excuse me.”

He walked briskly away, and had evaded Dorian thereafter.

 

Dorian tried to talk to him, he really did. The thought that Solas might be able to help him was not beyond his grasp.

Adaar never took more than one mage with her when she left Skyhold and that mage was usually himself, so Dorian was left to seeking the elf out within the fortress. It was easier said than done. Dorian ran into him on his way to the library from the main hall one afternoon, sitting at his desk and going through a dusty tome.

“The Inquisitor’s having you dig through rare magic, then, is she?” He asked in lieu of a greeting.

“Perhaps she should consult you,” Solas diverted, “seeing as you practice shapeshifting.”

“Oh, hardly,” Dorian chuckled, picking a book up off of Solas’ desk.

“I understand your desire for discretion, but a talented mage knows a shifted form from a true one when he sees it. And you’ve had plenty of chances to prove your usefulness; if you had shown your hand like Cole, I doubt the Inquisitor would have turned you away. She is ever the opportunist.”

“You’re the first to mention it; I take it you’re dissatisfied with the talent of the Inquisition’s recruited mages, then?” He thumbed a page. “Or was that a stab at the Lady Enchanter?”

“She has been taught to disregard shapeshifting as a rural myth. I expect our recruited mages are much the same.”

"You haven't brought it to the attention of our lady Inquisitor, I've noticed."

“I have every intention to, seeing as you seem intent on keeping it from her. But I hesitate to accuse before I understand what’s actually going on. There are simpler ways of disguising one’s appearance, after all.”

Dorian barked out a laugh at the thought of a massive Highland Ravager skulking about Skyhold with a false beard and a hood, and Solas thinking it a job well done.

“I’m not in hiding, Solas.” He set the book back down on Solas’ desk. “I’ll ask a little more credit than that. It’s… easier to talk to people this way. That’s all.”

The elf leveled him with a cynical stare, all hard edges and disbelief and I do not have time for this. “You find it easier to talk to people as a Tevinter mage.”

“Believe it or not.” Dorian nodded to him curtly and headed up the stairs. “And sometimes a white lie does less damage than trying to explain an impossible truth.”

Chapter Text

“Your frost mastery is alarmingly rudimentary for a circle mage, Dorian.” Madame De Fer gazed disdainfully over the practice ring as Dorian lowered his weapon.

He leaned heavily on his staff, sneering at her. “It never came naturally to me. We can’t all be frigid, my Lady Enchantress. You, on the other hand, would do well to improve your fire-casting skills. I am always available to aid the less fortunate.” His bow was nauseatingly elegant.

“I suppose it makes sense,” she drawled with a sarcastic air of thoughtfulness, “for fire to interest you. It’s overly dramatic and nothing but heat.”

“Let’s not forget how it burns the careless and frightens small children,” Adaar said as she sauntered toward the ring. “Leave him be, Vivienne. He’s only trying to practice.”

The Enchantress’ eyes slid shut as her eyebrows shot toward the heavens, as if looking for the otherworldly patience to deal with her surroundings. Composure regained, she resolved herself to watch Dorian’s palpable discomfort as he called blizzard after blizzard upon the poor training dummy, when something occurred to her. Something was wrong. She paused in a half-turn, brow furrowed, and openly stared.

Adaar chuckled at her, the expression foreign on Vivienne’s face. “He show you what-for? I can never tell what’s going on with you guys. Too much to look at.”

“I believe,” the Lady Enchanter began at length, “that our charming Lord Pavus does not have a mana pool to speak of.”

“Come again? Is that a jab at his stamina?”

“Quite the opposite, my dear. Much as I loathe to pay him a compliment unduly, it would appear that his mana is something akin to limitless. He tires from physical exertion, but not from an overuse of magic. His aura never falters. He’s been casting the same blizzard back-to-back since I got here, and not once have I seen him reach for a flask.”

Adaar didn’t get it. “That’s…good, right?”

“It is convenient, surely, but difficult to say. Either the Tevinter circles deserve slightly more credit than I think they are worth, or Dorian owes us some explanations.”

 

Madame De Fer took her leave proper, and the Inquisitor was left shrugging over a problem that didn’t seem like a problem at all, in her very well-received opinion.

“Hey, Dorian!” she called, taking a seat on the edge of the fence. “You should have Solas teach you to do that one ice thing.”

“Very specific, Inquisitor!” he shouted over the sound of his tiny blizzard.

“The one where you go really fast! Solas uses it to get out of the thick of things. He gets all… chilly, you know, freezes the enemies as he rushes through them.”

Oh, you’re asking me to fade step?” He consumed his own blizzard in a frankly horrifying pillar of flames. “I would rather die,” he announced happily.

 

-----

 

“Anything to report, Leliana?” Adaar asked conversationally as she poked her head into the roost. She was already turning on her heel when Leliana replied that, yes, actually, she had, and no, it had not been covered in a war table meeting.

Oh.

“It is about Dorian, actually.” The spymaster gathered up several papers – mostly letters, it looked like – and made her way back over to the Inquisitor, who promptly groaned.

“Just when I’d thought everyone had started to come ‘round… why, what’s he done?”

“The action itself is not particularly incriminating, and Dorian has done a decent job thus far of proving where his loyalties lie. I admit I have seen greater acts of loyalty lead to betrayal, though, and one deception does tend to lead to more. I only thought you might like to be aware of the situation.”

“That’s… not particularly comforting.”

“My agents have looked into the Pavus line and have yet to find an Altus named Dorian. What we did find, however, were several brief mentions of a family pet called Dorian. A dragon.”

“A pet dragon? You’re joking.” Adaar took the proffered papers, sifting through them for a moment, and then her hands stilled. Eyes darkening, she glanced up at Leliana. “Family pet? He’s not an escaped slave, is he? Perhaps a pleasure slave?”

“It is unlikely, Inquisitor. This ‘Dorian’ came from an egg gifted to the Pavus family that no one had expected to hatch. It is not uncommon for unsavory slave owners to refer to their pleasure slaves as pets in polite company, but the descriptions seem to be about an actual dragon, right down to the horns and scales. The last mention I could find described wing buds starting to grow, and then the records go silent. I believe it’s safe to assume the dragon outgrew its household.”

“I don’t understand. It’s a cheeky alias, then?”

“That, or a poorly researched one,” Leliana agreed. “It is also entirely possible that his family attempted to strike him from the record to avoid some sort of scandal, but it would make more sense to erase him completely than paint him as a family pet.”

“Let alone a dragon,” Adaar mused quietly, sifting through the documents. “Then again, there’s not much I’d put past a Tevinter. Get to the bottom of this, please. I’d rather not interrogate a friend until he gives me good cause.”

“At which point it may be too late. But I will see it done, Inquisitor.” 

 

-----

 

The Inquisition stumbled into its first dragon fight much by accident, the lyrium-addled dragon that attacked Haven notwithstanding. Dorian was thoroughly involved, too, and in none of the ways he had expected to be.

They popped out of a tunnel-cave in the northern Hinterlands, all four of them, and everything was on fire. Adaar, in her infinite grace and unfathomable wisdom, walked right past it to collect a royal elfroot plant along a cliff face.

“Looks like dragon territory,” Bull observed, the sound rolling out of him in a rumbling growl. The great yellow beast swooped down, then, right on cue, stoking the fires she’d already set roaring. Throwing a warning screech over her shoulder, she dove over the ridge to protect what must have been her nesting grounds.

“We’re gonna go after her, right, Boss?” The mercenary sounded entirely too thrilled at the prospect. Dorian was almost too quick to protest.

“Might I be so bold to suggest, Inquisitor, that we walk away from the dragon? She has babies. It would be unwise to agitate her,” He interjected. He wasn’t too keen on fighting a dragon that day. He happened to be very small at the moment.

“Her?” Adaar seemed thoroughly unphased by the imminent threat circling above their heads.

“If you like,” Dorian groaned, and honestly, details, at a time like this? The dragonlings had smelled them, now, and were bounding over the rise toward them, spitting tiny fireballs. It was almost cute.

“How can you tell?” Adaar asked. “I always wonder how people can tell. They all look the same to me.” The dragonlings could wait until she was damn well finished with her plant, apparently.

“They sound different,” Dorian replied. “Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t assume.”

“Wait, wait, okay,” the Inquisitor chuckled, straightening up and unsheathing her axe. Cole and The Bull had already drawn blades against the dragonlings. “Are you trying to tell me the dragon sounds like a girl? As in, she has a girl voice?”

Vishante kaffas, Adaar, are you going to do anything about these?” Dorian shot ice at the one that had just reared up at him. It still felt unnatural, to pull it from the fade and out through himself. Fortunately, though, the dragonling found it equally unnatural, and collapsed a mere three staff-shots after.

“Eh. I knew you guys could handle it.” She looked sidelong at Bull. “Let’s go kill a dragon.”

“You’re the best, Boss!”

“What a perfect way to ruin our day,” Dorian muttered as they chased the beast over the rise.

 

As it were, she rounded on Dorian almost instantly. She must have been able to smell something, he realized, and it did make sense; a young drake in his prime, encroaching on a mother’s nest? He was asking for trouble.

She drew herself up and snarled a challenge at him, stomping one great foreleg on the ground.

It was very rude, and he wished his lungs had the capacity to shoot back an answering roar.

 

-----

 

“Fuck, that was incredible,” Bull groaned, “you were incredible. She roared at you and you looked right at her and growled right back.”

“It was very rude,” Dorian managed to gasp out as Bull dragged the mage’s hands over his head. “I would hardly be myself without some kind of retort.” The Qunari grunted an agreement onto Dorian’s skin as he kissed down his torso. Dorian left his hands over his head, as if truly bound. Bound by intent.

Bull got to Dorian’s trousers and slid his fingertips over the lip of the waistband, pressing wet kisses along his hipbones. The mage pushed himself none-too-gently against Bull’s mouth, rolling his hips.

“Gonna suck your cock,” Bull rumbled, tugging the trousers off. “Then I’m gonna fuck you. Turn you around in my lap so I can watch my cock slide in.” He gripped Dorian’s ass in both hands.

Dorian’s head rolled back. This, he thought, is what made this form worth it. The Bull’s massive hands made Dorian feel small in his grasp, and it was surrender, it was bliss.

The Bull pulled Dorian’s legs over his shoulders and pressed gentle bites along his inner thigh. “Wanted to do this to you all day,” he panted. “Shit, when she spat fire at us, that last time? The flames were so hot I couldn’t breathe. She nearly killed us. It was beautiful. Shit had me so fuckin’ hard.”

Oh, Dorian thought, hips stilling. Time to put an end to that sort of talk.

“Don’t praise her,” Dorian commanded, head still thrown back, throat exposed. “Praise me.”

The Bull chuckled, breath teasing Dorian’s cock.

No.

“Bull.”

Bull looked up his lover’s body as Dorian raised his head to meet his gaze. “Bull,” he repeated, flames licking out as he said his name. The Qunari’s eye went wide.

“Do that again,” The Bull growled, grip tightening painfully on Dorian’s skin. Dorian breathed out through his nose and fire came with it, rolling up in a cloud of smoke that danced around his face. The Bull groaned, and it sounded halfway between pain and a prayer.

“You’re perfect, Dorian. Fuck, you’re perfect.”

Dorian’s head fell back again, smoke curling up as it went.

Chapter Text

“You’re playing a dangerous game.”

Dorian looked up from his book to see Solas glancing sidelong at him, one eyebrow raised in disappointment while his hand flitted over the contents of a bookshelf.

Solas? In my floor of the library? How dare he.

“I beg to differ,” Dorian smiled, clapping his book shut and trying not to cough at the plume of dust it sent up. “Varric plays a dangerous game when he invites me to Wicked Grace. In a few more weeks I’ll be rich all over again.”

“You keep the company of the scrutinizers, the record keepers, and the pillars of the Inquisition. The ones who make decisions. But you aren’t present when the decisions are made, so I don’t think you’re spying. You’re just…”

“Enjoying their company?”

“It won’t last,” Solas replied firmly, finally selecting a tome off the shelf. “When you drink with the smartest members of the Inquisition, you’re only begging for discovery.”

Dorian smiled sweetly and crossed his arms. “I don’t drink with you.”

Solas scowled.

Cullen was distracted, Sera was harmless, and Adaar, frankly, could not give one solitary shit. Begrudgingly considering Solas’ words, Dorian supposed he shouldn’t spend so much time with Varric, at least; he had friends in high places, powerful dragon slaying friends. Not to mention the fact that at this point Dorian was practically doomed to be written about, which does tend to lend itself to exposure. Be it fame or infamy, Dorian couldn’t afford it. But he liked Varric. The man was curious, easygoing, and ruthless all in one, and it hit all of Dorian’s weaknesses on the head.

So they drank like gamblers and gambled like drunks.

“I have friends, Solas. It’s a concept I might recommend to you.”

“Are they, truly? Kept under false pretenses?”

“They aren’t that false,” Dorian tried, and one disapproving elven eyebrow cocked back up.

Dorian stopped trying.

“No one’s asked, at least. Even you haven’t asked, not really.”

Solas smiled tightly. “I haven’t.”

 

-----

 

Solas found Dorian dreaming that night.

He had been putting it off, because curiosity lent no favors to a man his age, and meddling in the affairs of one great enigma only raised the possibility of his own being discovered.

But in the end, Dorian seemed almost too willing to tell him, and Solas’ pride would not abide it.

 

The elf reached out, and eventually, he found him. Not the fiery beacon of Adaar, nor the brilliant pulsing of an ancient being. Just a solid, heavy presence, hot and massive, that glowed faintly on the horizon. Solas felt it, and he followed.

What he found was one of the biggest dragons he had seen since waking up. It didn’t hold a candle to an Archdemon, but it was bigger than any the Inquisition had faced yet. Larger than the great beast circling the Emprise, at the very least, and that was more than big enough.  It was a huge mass, all mottled browns and sharp edges, and Solas could hardly make sense of it in the dim and eerie light of the fade.

‘You look the same,’ a voice echoed through his head. He felt it vibrate through his bones, through his body, could feel it in his fingertips. But it was Dorian’s voice. Solas did his best not to startle, but he grabbed for his staff reflexively when one of the beast’s impossibly huge wings lifted away from its body. With the wing raised, Solas saw an eye crack open and could suddenly make sense of the massive form; its—his—legs were tucked under his body, his tail wrapped around himself twice, and his head and neck lay across his back, not dissimilar from an impossibly large bird.

‘I had expected you to look different. Or at least feel different.’

Solas realized that the voice almost sounded sad.

“I have never been any more than what you see before you,” he said quietly.

He watched Dorian’s back rise and fall with his breathing, watched the massive eye watching him, and at length the dragon huffed out a smoky snort and dropped his wing back over his head, curling even tighter around himself. The end result was absurdly spherical.

The words that Solas found weren’t his best, but he supposed they would have to do.

“You’re…” Bigger than I expected? Very drab, all things considered? A literal fucking dragon?

“You’re very round,” he said at last.

‘Ha! You’re one to talk. Hair is a privilege, Solas. Do indulge sometime.’ The voice in his head, the voice that rolled all around him, barked out a laugh, and the dragon’s mouth opened with it, letting a small plume of flame roll out. The wings came up and the great neck unspooled so that their heads were now level.

Solas took in the horns taller than he was, the forelegs now crossed haughtily one over the other, and remembered himself. He had no more room for wonder, and certainly had none to spare for Dorian. 

 

This was not the first dragon Solas had looked in the eye.

 

“I will admit that this is not what I expected,” Solas said. “I thought you were hiding your appearance, not your physical form. Another race, perhaps. But this is… far beyond the realm of what I might have believed possible. That a wild animal could learn to shapeshift…”

Dorian examined his claws. ‘And yet, between the two of us, who dresses like a wild animal?’

“That’s truly it, then?” Solas was nearly smiling. “This would make sense if you were an old god or deranged magister, something that started in a human shape. But you’re really just a dragon.”

The row of spines down Dorian’s back raised. ‘I have never been just a dragon. I’m a very impressive dragon, thank you. My horns are magnificent.’

“I’ve seen better,” Solas observed. “You’ve all the charm and colors of a mudslide.”

‘I look golden in the right light.’

 

-----

 

The Inquisitor had called upon Dorian to join her as they mapped the bloody desert, and while the color orange was starting to give the mage a headache, he supposed it was better than snow. Something to complain about did help his nerves, after all, now that Solas knew.

Not as though he hadn’t known from the beginning, Dorian amended. But now he really knew.

The journey had started off strong, with The Bull loudly announcing how fantastically his morning had started; when no one replied, he added that it was because Dorian had woken him up with a wandering mouth and slicked fingers.

Naturally it couldn’t have been left at that, and their friendly Inquisitorial demon chimed in a mere moment later.

Cole’s eyes weren’t visible, shadowed as they were below the wide brim of his hat, but the howling winds of the Western Approach found it completely appropriate to fall dead silent while he spoke.

“What do your horns look like, Dorian?”

That got everyone’s attention. Perfect! Incredible! Just what I need, thought Dorian, screwing his eyes shut against the scrutiny of the only two Qunari in Skyhold.

“I can’t see them. I tried to look but it’s all locked up; the spell is too strong, sempiternal and suffocating—“

Cole,” Dorian began through gritted teeth, “you can’t see them because I haven’t got any.”

“Not anymore,” Cole murmured. The Bull shot a look at Adaar, who merely shrugged.

“Witherstalk,” she announced, and strolled off in the opposite direction.

“Somethin’ you want to tell us, big guy?” Bull asked. He had aimed for casual, jokingly so, and did not miss his mark.

“He’s probably confused,” said Dorian dismissively, flicking his wrist in the air. “He spends most of his time with two Qunari; I suppose it isn’t too much of a stretch to think he got it in is head that we all start with horns.”

“I don’t,” Cole replied. Dorian chose to ignore it.

Bull rolled his eye, thought, well, that was weird, and hefted his axe over both shoulders. “Where to next, boss?” He called to Adaar.

Witherstalk!” She shouted back, seated firmly in the sand as she crumbled the plant into her pouch.

 

 

Not fifteen minutes later, while Bull was working his axe out of the corpse of a quillback and the Inquisitor was struggling up a sand dune to court some more plants, Dorian leaned as close to Cole as his silly helmet would allow.

“You recall Vivienne’s hat, I trust?” Dorian whispered.

“Oh, yes,” Cole answered. “It’s a magnificent hat.”

“I’m glad you think so, because that’s nearly what my horns look like.”

Bull yanked his axe free in time to see Dorian pulling back from Cole’s ear, and the captain spared long glances between Cole and Dorian both. Dorian looked stubbornly ahead with a smirk in his eyes, and Cole smiled serenely at nothing at all.

 

-----

 

 “I bet you’d look good with horns,” Bull said, carding his fingers through the mage’s hair and imagining curling bone sprouting in its stead.

They were walking back from the tavern. It was dark, granted, and perhaps that was why Dorian allowed it, maybe that was why he stepped into The Bull’s space so easily without concern for discretion.

“I would, wouldn’t I?” Dorian smiled fondly up at Bull as the Qunari cupped his skull. “In fact, I do, depending on the breadth of one’s appreciation of the concept ‘good.’”

“Alright,” Bull chuckled, “I’m gonna need you to start explaining this horn thing we keep dancing around.”

Dorian crowded further into Bull’s space, chest to chest, and tilted his head up as The Bull looked down to meet him. He pulled Bull into a kiss, all slow and sloppy and open-mouthed.

“That’s for me to know,” Dorian murmured as he pulled away to breathe, pressing a final kiss to the corner of Bull’s mouth, “and for you to imagine.”

Dorian turned on his heel and strutted back toward the battlements, toward Dorian’s room, this time, not Bull’s, and shot a look over his shoulder as he began prematurely undoing the clasps down the front of his robes.

 

Dorian may have spoken in subtleties – when it damn well suited him, at least – but The Bull knew an invitation when he saw one. He whistled lowly and followed him up the battlements.

 

-----

 

The dragon felt Solas’ presence long before the being deigned to speak, long before he entered the library, even, but Dorian did have his pride, curled in his nook as he was. He pretended he was reading the most interesting thing he had ever seen, occasionally throwing up his eyebrows to sell it, and didn’t acknowledge the other mage until his name was spoken. It had been nearly two weeks since Solas had sought him out in the fade, after all, and Dorian frankly didn’t know what to expect.

“Dorian.”

“Ah, Solas! You’ve been avoiding me rather expertly. Did you miss me?”

“Relieved for your lack of dogging me, actually. It nearly led to concern.”

“We have a good bit of common ground,” Dorian murmured, not looking up from his tome. “Here I thought I could bridge it.” A shambling, shitty bridge, perhaps, the type you don’t trust to take a horse over, but a bridge all the same.

“Books, then,” Solas said at length. He stalwartly refused to fall into step with Dorian’s banter, even to riposte. Dorian almost found it admirable. Almost.

“Books,” Dorian repeated. “That is what they call them here, yes.”

“When we first met,” Solas began, and we’ve hardly done more than meet reared its head on Dorian’s tongue but he squashed it behind his teeth, “I couldn’t tell if you hoarded books or alcohol. Seems the books won out.”

“Don’t give me too much credit,” Dorian grinned, and he produced a bottle of brandy out from under his chair.

A glass denied, Solas had gone quiet again, clearly searching for words beyond his refusal to share the drink.

And then, at last, ever loquacious, Dorian spoke: “I’m sorry, did you say hoard?”

Solas did try not to smirk. There was an effort. “You’re very good at this.”

“Oh, thank you. Not sure what you mean, but I’ll take it.”

“At pretending to be human. You’ve even managed to fool the Inquisitor.”

Dorian’s gaze narrowed. He huffed out his nose, and one could nearly smell smoke. “I take it you know better?”

“I find it hard to believe that you’ve forgotten the conversation we had in the fade, Dorian. You’ve been entirely too respectful of my personal space as of late.”

“Oh, come now, you’re no fun at all. Lay your clever little musings out in a row for me, won’t you? Show me—what does the Inquisitor say? Show me what-for?”

Solas sighed. “I do know better, yes. I know you aren’t under any sort of enchantment because I can’t sense any opposing magic around you. That also rules out a curse. You cannot be bound, as you are not a spirit. And were you possessed, any of the mages here would have been able to see that, let alone myself. So I can only assume you willed yourself into change with no formal training and are too prideful to ask how to undo your own spell.”

Dorian set his book down.

“You know, I’m still trying to figure you out. You’ve a very interesting way of speaking. I can hardly tell if you’re trying to help me or threaten me.” Dorian steepled his fingers in front of his impeccable mustache.

“And I believe we both know why you haven’t illustrated to me that the latter is a bad idea,” Solas finished for him.

They didn’t glare, they stared, as adults do, and in the end Solas called it off.

“Interesting. Goodnight, Dorian.”

Solas.” He did his best not to hiss it, and watched the elf tread silently away.

Go on, then, thought Dorian bitterly. Go be bald somewhere else.

 

-----

 

The truth, being stubbornly less glamorous than it ought to be, was that Dorian had no idea what had happened.

Well. Maybe he had some idea. A vague idea, and he’d come to it entirely on his own, thank you. But he didn’t know how to reverse it.

 

-----

 

The dragon had hatched in the third floor east wing of the Pavus estate. A terrific burst of fire accompanied his entrance into the world proper, and he tumbled out regally, thank you, to the horror of a poor young slave who had only been trying to dust the shelves. He cocked his head to look at him – parent? Food? There was not a bit of eggshell stuck to his nose, he absolutely did not peep, and he wasn’t cute.

The slave stumbled out of the room and sprinted down the hallway to alert his master.

Not one to be left behind, the hatchling toddled along behind him, claws clicking off the marble tile as he skidded along.

He did not trip over his tail.

By the time he’d made it halfway down the hall, the servant had returned with a very confused, very exasperated, Magister Halward Pavus.

 

Four days later, when the good Magister had been assured of the hatchling’s relative harmlessness and the little beast had begun to pull at his heartstrings, Halward hoisted him up into his lap and told him his name was Dorian.

Chapter Text

The Inquisitor made her way through the main hall of Skyhold. She had just escaped a lecture – courtesy of Lady Vivienne – and now had an hour and a half with a clear schedule and every intention of filling it with an unnecessarily luxurious bath. She’d half a mind to recruit Josephine for the endeavor. The door and her relative freedom in sight, Adaar advanced two more steps before Mother Giselle tiptoed into her path like a dithering hen.

“If I may have a moment of your time, your lordship?”

Adaar raised her eyes to the ceiling and prayed to the Maker she didn’t believe in for the patience she wasn’t born with.

“I’ve received a rather bizarre letter from a Tevinter noble, Inquisitor,” Mother Giselle continued. “I believe he contacted me as a neutral party, but the letter was clearly meant for your eyes. He has heard you’ve been hunting dragons, and… well.” She handed the letter over.

“Let me guess,” Adaar sighed. “He would like to request a slaying.” She squinted at the penmanship, barely legible in its unnecessary flourishes.

“…not quite, Inquisitor. He seems to be asking you to spare one dragon in particular.”

Mother Giselle,

We have heard a great deal about the Inquisition’s dragon slaying prowess, and had hoped to seek your aid in beseeching the organization for the life of one of them. Some years ago we lost a family pet, a Highland Ravager who will likely be fully grown by now. He’s a mottled brown throughout his body, though we believe he had some gold scales coming in. We don’t know his whereabouts but have yet to hear of him causing any trouble, or of him being slain, and only ask that you consider sparing him if you ever encounter him. He should be large but is mostly harmless; he’s all smoke and no fire. The family would love to hear of his location if he is found. Should the Inquisition find him to be in an inconvenient place, he may be encouraged to relocate if offered a cask of brandy; he’s always been fond of it.

Sincerely,

Magister Pavus

 

P.S. – He answers to Dorian.

 

Adaar threw her hands up, shouted at nothing, and loudly informed the grand hallway exactly what would happen if her bathwater was not run within the next ten minutes.

She hadn’t asked this of anyone in particular, but someone scurried off to do it, because someone always did.

 

 

-----

 

 

Solas had been looking for the Inquisitor. It didn’t generally work out that way and, naturally, she was nowhere to be found. He had just finished making his third sweep of the grounds, hands clasped firmly behind his back in a weak attempt to abate the frustration in his stance, when he had to pull up short to keep from completely running into her in the narrow hallway that led to his study.

“Ah—Inquisitor,” he greeted her, the surprise barely audible in his voice. “I had been meaning to speak with you. It is about Dorian.”

The effect was immediate. Adaar’s eyes shot open and her head tipped back, palms up in a pleading gesture, and very nearly shouted, “You have got to be shitting me.”

Solas stared, brows knit in affront. “Pardon?”

She took a breath and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I apologize, Solas, you are undeserving of my anger. It’s just that I’ve had a very trying fortnight, and it’s included several people on multiple occasions trying to passively imply that Dorian is actually a dragon.”

“Ah,” Solas’ smile was sympathetic. “Who got to you last, then?”

“Vivienne. It took her nearly ten minutes to dance around her point, that point being that dragons don’t appear to have a mana pool and neither does Dorian. It is a point she has made to me twice, and I still fail to see the problem or the correlation.”

“That… would explain a bit.”

Adaar groaned.

 

 

 

Not five minutes later, after the Inquisitor had explained she was actually on her way to talk to Dorian about ‘these silly dragon papers’ and Solas had explained that, well, they might not be so silly after all, Adaar was of a right mind to call a war meeting and sort the damned thing out.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said, “absolutely ridiculous, that you all go running around theorizing about one another and then bring it all to me to solve. Wonderful subordination, honestly, and I do appreciate being kept in the loop.”

“I—hrm. Thank you? Does this really require a war meeting, though?”

“Absolutely.” Adaar’s resolve had gone stony. “I want you all in a room together so you can listen to yourselves, and possibly leave it seeing half of what I see in Dorian. On the other hand, let’s say he is a dragon, which he isn’t, but if he were, I should think my advisors would like to strategize around it.”

Solas barely fought his smile down. It made him look rather smug, in all honesty. “So I am to be there, and your advisors for their own hypotheses and strategizing. But you’ve no plans to bring Vivienne?”

“Absolutely not,” Adaar replied. “I frankly haven’t got the damn patience.”

“No Cole, either? I’m positive he knows. He’s been trying to tell you all week.”

“No Cole either. I wouldn’t shake a stick at what that boy knows.”

 

Messengers sent for and persons of interest gathering, Solas fell into step with Adaar as they walked briskly through the hall and toward the war room. It reminded the Inquisitor vaguely of when Solas had guided her to Skyhold to begin with, and when she glanced his way she saw him smiling, softly, almost fondly.

“You know, Inquisitor, I must admit that I am still pleasantly surprised by your decision to not support the Templars.”

She looked straight ahead and chuckled grimly, patience thin. “Even after all this time?”

“Well. Given your general dislike for…”

“…magical horseshit?”

“If you like.”

Adaar considered her possible responses. It only makes sense to recruit mages for an issue borne of the Fade. And, recruiting an unorganized group into a proper faction seemed the best ploy for peace.

Or even more truthfully, I know how it feels to be presumed dangerous.

“Lord Seeker Lucius pissed me off,” she said.

 

 

-----

 

 

The meeting was not going well and, in retrospect, Adaar was not entirely certain how she had expected it to go.

As it were, once the collective accusations and observations were put on the table, Cullen practically leapt at Dorian’s throat; not very surprising, considering he tended to err on the side of caution when faced with the unexplainable, but Dorian had taken it personally. At present the Inquisitor was wondering when she’d have to drag the two apart. She supposed it was Dorian’s fault for thinking he’d made a friend after two games of chess, the surprisingly sentimental fool.

“Inquisitor, we can’t be certain that he isn’t dangerous—“

“I’m right here,” Dorian scoffed, “and for your information, I am dangerous. I’ve helped kill everyone who’s crossed your path so far, haven’t I, Inquisitor?

Cullen pointed at Dorian as if his comment still hung physically in the air to illustrate what the commander was trying to get across. “Now, given that statement, how can you convince me that he won’t change back and eat half of Skyhold once something goes south?”

Adaar looked genuinely curious. “Have you ever eaten anyone, Dorian?”

Dorian sighed in exasperation. “Well—“

Cullen dragged his hands down his face. “That is not a sentence he should need to start with ‘well!’”

“Are we going to ignore the fact that Dorian has just been accused of being a dragon? An actual, literal dragon?” Adaar crossed her arms, having to push up her breasts in the process. She winked at Josephine, and the Lady Ambassador mouthed the words, time and place.

Solas took the opportunity to redirect the din to the task at hand. “He is, Inquisitor, I found him in the fade. He only looks human. He’s a shapeshifter.”

“What—how? Do we need to worry about magical dragons, now?”

The question was addressed to Solas, and Dorian threw his hands up in exasperation.

“I have no idea,” Solas responded. “I’ve asked him—“

“—you haven’t—“

—but he doesn’t have the slightest idea himself.”

Adaar had a headache. “So—alright. Solas, you’re telling me that Dorian is a dragon. Not an old god, not a demon, but just a dragon—“

“—just?” Dorian looked scandalized.

“Quiet!” She fisted her hand through her hair and took a moment to soak in the alarmed silence that reigned in the echo of her shout. She was very good at shouting. “So, what, he just wished himself human one day?”

“I didn’t wish it.” Dorian’s voice was low and dangerous. “I willed it.”

Adaar risked a glance at her advisors. Leliana had a pleased smile on her face, Josephine looked thoroughly alarmed, and Cullen was staring blankly at the opposite wall with the acceptance that the rest of the Inquisition was officially insane.

“In my defense,” Dorian went on, tone clipped but composure regained, “no one asked.”

That set Leliana and Josephine laughing. Cullen gestured at Dorian in a way that clearly said, is anyone else hearing this? Adaar just looked proud.

“Since my word and my actions account for so little here, I suggest you follow up with Felix Alexius if you need someone to vouch for me. He may even be able to tell you something I cannot. Be gentle with the poor man, though. No interrogations. He’s very ill. As for myself, you may find me in the library, steadily approaching a drunken stupor.”

Dorian swept out with a bang and clatter of old oaken doors, and no one saw fit to stop him.

Chapter Text

 

 

“A word, Inquisitor?”

The Inquisition’s spymaster broke Adaar out of her trance – she’d joined Cullen in his wall staring and was at a bit of a loss.

“Did you intend to follow up with Felix Alexius?”

“Oh. Er. I suppose I ought to, shouldn’t I? After I talk to Dorian—shit, I let him walk out. Why did I let him walk out? Why did we all let him walk out?”

“It was probably the wisest course of action,” Leliana chuckled. “He seemed rather angry. Any questions might be perceived as an interrogation. If we are to assume he is a dragon, we should at least attempt to stay within his good graces to help ensure his cooperation.”

“He’s very talented,” Adaar admitted. “I don’t think the Inquisition could stand to lose his research or fighting skills, let alone the potential aid of an… actual dragon. We’d more than match Corypheus if we had an actual dragon.”

Cullen spun to face them, exasperated, one hand at his hilt and the other on his hip. “You’re telling me the Inquisition’s success may or may not hinge on the whims of Dorian Pavus?”

“It is likely that has always been the case,” Solas smiled, “though for its advantage moreso than its success.” Adaar startled. She’d nearly forgotten he was there.

“This is all very well,” Josephine spoke up, “but we’re speaking of things we may or may not have access to; and if we are able to access them, we must consider the price.” Josephine turned to Solas. “Do you know how change him back? Can he change back? And if he does, is there any guarantee we will get Dorian back?”

Solas nodded briskly, hands clasped behind his back. “I am almost certain that he will be able to shift back and forth with some training. The only thing keeping him from changing back as we speak is his own spell.  He only needs to be taught how to let go of his ambient magic.”

“Ah, good.” Adaar waved her hand dismissively. “Do that. Please.”

Solas’ already thin smile stretched thinner to match his patience. “We have not yet addressed the issue of my not being a shapeshifter. Nor have we ascertained that Dorian is willing to be taught.”

Leliana cut in with a wry smile. “I believe the task falls to you by default, being the most knowledgeable on the subject. Unless we can procure a shapeshifter, I believe Dorian has an instructor.”

Solas acknowledged the order with a short bow, though he looked none too happy about it. He rolled his eyes once his back was turned and quietly exited the war room.

 

 

Adaar sighed and leaned back against the war table. “I suppose this is the part where you try to talk me into locking Dorian up, then, is it? Until we have some answers, at least.”

“I would not,” Leliana said. “I would leave him be. He’s certainly done much more good than harm thus far. Much like our allied mages, I believe Dorian will do more good for the Inquisition if his help is given willingly. If we can add a dragon to our army it will be a small victory against Corypheus’ own.”

The Inquisitor nodded. “Only thing better than a dragon is a talking dragon, I suppose.”

“That’s arguable,” Cullen scowled.

“I’m sure the Commander will agree when he comes around,” Josephine laughed.

Cullen jerked. “When I come around?”

“Come, Commander.” Leliana linked her arm with Cullen’s and led him to the other end of the room. “Let us discuss military strategy with a dragon on our side.”

 

Josephine touched Adaar’s arm before the Inquisitor made to leave. “A word of caution before you pursue Felix, dear. I would… be gentle with him. I will send word to him that you wish to speak.”

“He’s only helped the Inquisition, Josephine, and is therefore still in my good books. I don’t understand the cause for concern. I know he’s ailing; I won’t push him.”

“Just remember that you executed his father.”

“Ah. That.”

“And do give Dorian some space, would you? At least a few hours.”

“Why, Josie,” Adaar smirked. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“We’ll get more coherent information once he’s calm and reasonable. It was wise of you not to show him Magister Pavus’ letter just yet. We might all be on fire if—Inquisitor?”

Adaar’s face had fallen, and Josephine’s split in a fond smile.

“You forgot to show him the letter, didn’t you?”

“Completely.”

 

-----

 

Adaar had tried to speak to Dorian after a few hours had passed; the advisors were, temporarily, at least, assuaged, and it really wasn’t unfair of the Inquisitor to try and figure out what the hell was going on under her own half-restored roof. The letter from Dorian’s… father? Sat in her breast pocket. She expected she was the only one who could get close to him tonight, at any rate; he was likely still angry, or had worked his way to furious. The Inquisitor took the stairs from Solas’ study, the elf nowhere to be found, and knocked on one of the bookshelves that flanked Dorian’s claimed corner as if it were a door.

“No, thank you,” he called a little too loudly.

Dorian, surprisingly, did not look furious. He did not look brooding either, or even that close to upset. He looked… er. Adaar believed the word she was looking for was shitfaced drunk, as the mage had foregone any sort of glass that didn’t make up a bottle and was downing brandy like it was water.

“Oh, good!” Adaar didn’t bother trying to pick her way into his alcove. “I suppose the questions will have to wait until morning, then. You are drunk.” The questions and the letter, she thought, for all the trouble it may save me.

“I am not, thank you. My real body weighs more than a house. It takes an awful lot of, er. To get me drunk.” Dorian bounced a palm off his knee, trying to remember the word. “Awful lot of stuff.”

Adaar was wondering if that was really the way it worked but, eyeing the veritable sea of bottles piled around Dorian’s chair, figured it didn’t matter much either way. The Inquisitor knew a lost cause when she smelled one. Dorian was a very coherent drunk, though, all things considered.

“How much stuff have you had, Dorian?” And where did you find that much was her second thought, but it remained unsaid as she recalled her own talent for finding alcohol in the strangest of places.

Dorian shrugged in that peculiar way he had, where he crossed his arms and raised his shoulders at the same time. It was meant to be dismissive, she thought, but always made him look little beyond cold.

“Oh, a lot. The brandy’s brilliant. Brilliant brandy-stuff.”

Adaar nodded tersely. “Tomorrow morning, then?”

After my hangover, if you would be so kind. And don’t—before you go down, the, the downstairs, Inquisitor, don’t let Solas off so easily. He thinks he’s—I don’t know, clever, doesn’t he, tattling on me to save his own slinky arse, thinking no one would turn their eyes on him after me.”

“I do hope you’re just angry with him,” Adaar muttered, crossing her arms and leaning against the bookshelf. “I don’t think I have the patience for two accounts of nonsense in the same day, especially not surprises of this caliber.”

“Oh, no,” Dorian insisted, setting his now-empty bottle on a stack of books. “He’s got surprises, alright.”

“Like what,” the Inquisitor sighed.

Dorian squinted at the rafters as he searched for the words. He had no evidence, hadn’t seen anything incriminating, and even in the fade Solas was just…himself. There was a strange smell, a gut feeling, and a stubborn discomfort, with nothing to back them all up.

“He’s fucking weird,” Dorian said at last, nodding his head sharply at a point well-made.

“Tomorrow morning, then,” Adaar repeated, and she ducked back around the bookshelves.

“Animal instinct!” Dorian called behind her. He lifted his bottle back up and glared when he found it empty.

 

-----

 

The Iron Bull sat at his writing desk. His eyepatch was off, because the metal left dents on the skin after a day with it on, and in the solitude of his room there was no one to alarm with the scars. The Bull did not write at his writing desk; there were no more reports to send. He had no one to correspond with who wasn’t downstairs. But still he sat, because the routine was as comforting as it was bittersweet, and he supposed pointless sentiments weren’t something he had to beat out of himself anymore, were they?

He heard scuffling near his door, then, and emerged from his thoughts enough to stare at it. The scuffling relocated to against his door, slowly shaping into something that could pass as a knock, and with a quietly muttered, “shit,” Bull rose. “Be right there,” he called, looping one end of his eyepatch over his horn as he brought the other end around the back of his head.

Still buckling the eyepatch shut, he opened the door with what became, “Hey, what can—oh,” as he realized it was only Dorian—already? But just last night— and then, “woah,” when his nose was hit by a wall of fumes.

A thousand questions buzzed in Bull’s head, and he was too steady a man to say most of them.

“How’d you get up the stairs?” He asked instead, because he was genuinely impressed.

“You have to be stern with them.” Dorian ducked under his arm and into Bull’s room, and immediately began trying to pace. “Sorry I didn’t bring any—only, I drank it. All the brandy.” He pitched dangerously when he tried to turn on his heel, and Bull caught him by the elbows.

All the brandy,” Dorian repeated dismally as the Qunari dragged him to the edge of the bed.

“I’ll say,” The Bull muttered, and when the backs of the mage’s knees hit the edge of the mattress Dorian sat down decisively, nodding stiffly as if it had been his own idea.

“C’mon, big guy.” Bull sat down next to him and thumped him on the back, making sure to brace Dorian at the chest so he didn’t go tumbling off the bed. It was good foresight. “You can have some more brandy tomorr—in a couple days. It’ll still be there.”

“Only it won’t because I drank it. Weeks, at least, to get some more, and I’ll really need it after—after you—well.”

Not all the brandy in Skyhold, Bull thought, and he was trying to decide whether or not he could put it past Dorian when the last part stuck.

“After I what?”

Dorian smiled, and for the first time since Bull had met him, it made him hard to look at. It was a small, pitiful thing, a subtle play of muscles and no teeth.

“After you leave, I think? Only, you’d be mad enough to not be bothered, perhaps, not by that, just.” He breathed in deeply, steeling himself, collecting words. His voice was going rough around the edges as the accent kicked in, and Bull thought morbidly that this was no time to be appreciating it.

“I know you’ve never been especially fond of magical concealment, and the truth is, The Iron Bull, I need to be forthright with you, because I’ve been lying to you, and there is something you had every right to know about me but I never told you.” Accent and grammar be damned. The man didn’t slur once.

But of course, Bull thought, of course this happens now, because they didn’t do this. They talked, sure, and there were questions, but none of the digging, none of the why do you look so sad when you smell lilies or is there any reason this is the only scar you haven’t bragged about. No big reveals. No pasts.

“You sure you don’t want to try again when you’ve had less to drink?” And it was a cheap shot, he knew, but it met in the middle of evasion and concern on Dorian’s behalf. Who knew, after all, if this might be something to regret in the morning, and when one half of a pair spills his guts it’s generally suggested that said guts aren’t marinated.

“I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and I’d rather be given the pleasure of choosing my own words over you taking someone else’s.” And that was the Dorian he knew, the bitter laugh and the iron-clad bravery laying beneath his confused and tangled emotions.

But Bull was stalwart. He was the face of a mountain, he looked the part, too, and he was nothing if not in over his head. 

“Alright.” The hand at Dorian’s back slipped to his knee. “What’d you wanna talk about?” Bull murmured quietly.

“I’m a dragon.”

The Bull’s eyebrows knit, waiting for more, and then shot up when he realized that was all there was to it. A loud snort tore from him and he barely squashed the laugh that followed when faced with Dorian’s stare. It was deathly serious, and waiting for a response.

“You’re a dragon,” Bull repeated, and keeping the mirth from his voice was one of the hardest tasks he’d shouldered in his long and weary life.

“I am,” Dorian groaned, and he sounded the definition of misery. He tried to lean back on his arms, overshot by a foot and a half, and landed flat on his back in Bull’s bed. After about six seconds and a look of scholarly contemplation at his new position, Dorian passed out cold.

 

 

The Bull carried Dorian back to his own room, smiling at the guards he passed and trying not to chuckle for no reason. He figured it was the lesser of two evils, really; Dorian wouldn’t want the guards to gossip, and Bull was self-sacrificing to a fault, yes. But he was only so good a man, and resolved to be as far away from a hungover Dorian as possible, especially after what would now be permanently burnt into his mind as The Dragon Confession. The mage had scared him out of his damn mind and gotten Bull to square up to a Big Talk, the relationship-navigating kind with the capital letters, and The Bull couldn’t even find it within himself to be angry. Not even the relived, belated sort. The entire situation was ludicrous, and filled him with a fondness that had been creeping up for a long time. He tried not to let it alarm him.

When he tipped Dorian into his own bed, belatedly tugging the boots off and giving up the rest as a lost cause, Bull made several internal resolutions. For one, he would have the first maid on shift bring the poor man some water and an embrium draught; he doubted the glass he’d left at Dorian’s bedside would be enough to undo that kind of damage. Secondly, he decided that the next time A Talk reared its ugly head, he would charge at it headfirst and take it in stride. Horns up, as it were.

And finally, shutting the door to his—his what?

Shutting the door to his Dorian’s room, The Iron Bull resolved that he was never going to let Dorian live this down. And that for all the years he hoped they’d spend together, he would never fail to tell the story of how his lover got so drunk he thought he was a dragon to anyone who’d listen. This was going to be incredible in the morning.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“So.” Adaar announced her presence as she slipped into Dorian’s library corner. “You’re a dragon.”

Dorian leaned his forehead on the cool windowpane and pinched the bridge of his nose. His hangover was legendary.

 “I hope you understand, Inquisitor. I never meant to lie.” He sounded every bit the fractious man Adaar had been expecting to speak with, but without the heat or affront; he must have realized, then, that as the guilty party, he was really in no position to be offended.

“I just couldn’t see any way to tell you,” he admitted. He looked at her, eyes surprisingly large when they weren’t drawn tight in a scowl or squinted in a smirk. He looked positively bereaved, and even as Adaar realized the puppy eyes were thoroughly put-upon, she suddenly had a very hard time holding onto her suspicion or anger.

“No, you’re right,” the Inquisitor said, and she did not miss how quickly the mage’s pleading eyebrows tucked together: What, seriously? I suppose that went well, then. He put the guilt back on when he noticed her looking, though its intensity had been cowed.

“It would have been pointless. I would have thought you mad, or lying.” She scooped a stack of books off an empty chair and replaced them with herself. “Or both.”

“Yes. Well. Thank you for that.”

“Now, you do realize I’m going to have to ask you to be a bit more specific. For the Inquisition,” she amended.

Dorian echoed. “For the Inquisition.”

“So,” she repeated. “Dragon. Funny, because you don’t look at all like a dragon.”

“I learned how to shapeshift and now I’m stuck.”

Adaar urged him on with a gesture.

“I liked it,” Dorian admitted at length. “Being a false human, at least. I could fit just about anywhere. And the clothes.” He chuckled fondly over a warm memory. “You know, I had four sets of robes commissioned when I first changed. I knew exactly what I wanted to wear.”

“Only the four?”

“I said at first.”

“What, then, you got curious one day and had the brilliant idea to start shapeshifting? Didn’t know dragons could use magic, let alone speak.” The last part was muttered, and carried an undertone of oh, great.

Dorian sighed. “People aren’t the only ones who can use magic. All magic needs is a vessel capable of higher thought. Or an empty vessel that was once capable of it. It’s… different for us, being born into an element like we are. But even as a dragon, special case or no, I’m still a mage. What did you think the fire breath was about? Lightning breath, even? I saw my—I saw Magister Pavus using his magic, and the mages around him using theirs, and thought, ‘Oh, that’s what I can do with my mouth!’ And I turned out to be right. Surprise.”

He looked very prone, Adaar realized. She didn’t want to make him uncomfortable, and Dorian knew this. But it was a conversation they needed to have.

“So you are a Pavus, then.” She couldn’t keep the smile out of her voice and, when he answered, neither could Dorian.

“I certainly thought I was. It was the only name I had, at least.”

“What happened, Dorian?” Adaar leaned closer to him then and Dorian, remembering himself and his loathe of coddling, recoiled.

“I—“ he started, laying thumb and forefingers across his brow, “I overstayed my welcome, apparently, having had no choice in being there to begin with. I kept getting bigger, I overheard talk of a solution that involved slaughter for parts, and so I ran.” His arms folded sharply under his ribs and he glared off to one side. “Then this happened, I found Felix because he had always been kind to me, and he helped me to get here.”

Adaar did her best to school her expression into something that communicated, I am here for you, friend; I am sympathetic and listening. As it turned out, the closest she could get was, I have good intentions and am rather confused. Dorian sighed at himself, letting some smoke creep out – it always made him feel better when he could taste it – and did his best to bridle his bitter, snapping tongue.

“I don’t know,” he began again, “if it’s different for humans. I never had any training; everything I knew, or thought I knew, came from watching and listening to the mages in the estate, so maybe I went about it in a circuitous way, I’m not sure. And I had certainly never heard of shapeshifting. I just… had a will, and the magic channeled itself into that, I suppose. But when I shifted, it—it didn’t stop, I didn’t know what had happened. There I was, thinking, ‘If I could only be like them, just for a moment, just to give them a piece of my damned mind,’ and then I was. And now I’m stuck.”

“Does it hurt?”

That surprised him. Of all the questions, all the possible accusations, she asks if it hurts.

“It’s like a wet woolen cloak you can’t cast off,” he said instead.

Adaar didn’t miss the crack in his voice.

“You wear it well, at least.” She laid her hand on his knee.

A weak smile.

“I do.”

“So what is it you want, Dorian? I’m not sure how to help you.”

He laughed bitterly. “Miserable as a dragon. Miserable as a human. I’m not sure you can help me, Inquisitor.” Dorian smoothed his mustache, more out of habit than necessity, and struggled to maintain eye contact. “If I had to choose, really had to choose, I would stay like this. People are marginally less likely to try and kill me on sight, at least. But only marginally. Some of them actually listen to what I have to say.”

What went unsaid – the friendship, the ability to lend aid, the trying to save the damn world – rang much louder than the sardonic script he gave.

“You do so love your people.”

“You lend yourselves to endearment, for the most part.” He looked out his window again. “I would choose this, if I had to. But the issue is – has always been, really – that I don’t want to choose. I honestly don’t see why I have to. It was a means to communicate, to interact, to learn, but I never wanted to become human.”

“You don’t need to convince me of your intentions, Dorian. Or your plight.” The Inquisitor spoke softly, as if trying not to startle him. “But the issue at hand remains. It’s reasonable cause for concern if every mountain dragon in Thedas is innately capable of cognizant speech, and if you’re a special case it would behoove the Inquisition to find out why.”

“That’s—that’s the single most eloquent sentence I’ve heard you say, Inquisitor.”

Adaar nodded sagely.

“…you’re parroting Leliana, aren’t you?”

Adaar nodded again.

Dorian’s heart filled with fondness, and he slouched forward in his chair. An exhaustion sat in his bones that had been several days coming. “It’s nothing so mundane,” Dorian admitted, “nor fanciful.” He leaned in closer, the ghost of a smile in his eyes. “The truth is, I haven’t the slightest idea myself.”

“Convenient,” Adaar grunted. She patted Dorian on the shoulder and rose to leave. “You’re a good friend, Dorian, and an absolute shit source of information.”

Dorian chuckled weakly. “I’m frankly stunned that you don’t have me in a prison cell as we speak. A little disappointed, honestly. I could have made quite a dashing escape.”

“Well, that all depends on what Felix has to say.” Adaar stopped when she saw the horror on Dorian’s face. “What? Come on, Dorian, this is somewhat serious. Very serious, actually, what with a dragon involved. I need to write to him. We’ll follow up with anything we can get.”

“It’s not about me—“ he snapped, the steam of the outburst leaving him the moment it built up. Adaar raised an eyebrow, indicating that it was, in fact, entirely about him this time, and Dorian sighed. “I understand—all of that. I do. It’s Felix. He’s blighted, Inquisitor, you know that, and I can’t set you on him in good conscience. Maker even knows if he still has the energy to recount a story he only knows half of.”

“It’s only a letter, Dorian. I can hardly kick down his door and interrogate him from all the way in Minrathous.  And if what you gave me is half then we may not need Felix after all,” she muttered. Dorian looked hopeful but pained, and she relented.

“I’ve got to, Dorian. It’s the only way I can justify… any of this.” She gestured at him and Dorian winced. “I know he’s your friend, and that you don’t want him involved any more than he already is. But in my defense, you volunteered his information.”

Dorian scowled into his hands, fingers threaded in his lap. She’d never heard him this quiet for so long. “I say things,” he began slowly, “because I remember what it was like when I couldn’t, and so I recognize how powerful words are. I say them to defend and to hurt and I especially say them when I don’t mean them, because I have the temper of—well. You know.”

“You spit fire,” she grinned. “I get it. Carry on.”

 

-----

 

Carry on, she’d said. As if nothing had changed. As if half the Inquisition weren’t staring holes into Dorian’s back as he swept through the fortress.

In their defense, they were staring because he was prowling about like a hunted man, glaring daggers at anyone who greeted him, and huffing out an unprecedented amount of smoke.

In Adaar’s defense, nothing had changed at all, and it was fucking eerie.

Dorian applied himself wholeheartedly to his research, thinking it best he continue to be as useful as possible. He let himself curl up properly in his chair instead of crossing his legs imperiously in it, and he didn’t chastise himself when smoke rolled out of his nostrils with his deeper breaths.

 

Cole came to him the first day. Dorian turned a page and then the spirit was crouching in front of him. Dorian turned another page. He hadn’t the energy to be startled.

“Hello, Cole.”

“Hello, Dorian. You’re doing better.”

“Funny, no one’s been kind enough to tell me that.”

“But I just have.”

Dorian ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Nevermind. Can I help you?”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Cole looked at his hands, small and dirty with blood under the fingernails. “It’s better when I do it. That way people don’t remember. That way they think they’ve helped themselves.” He looked up at Dorian, then, eyes shining from beneath his hat, and gave him a small smile. “You helped yourself, though.”

“Helped myself to all the brandy in Skyhold, yes. Now I’m rather put out.”

“Admitting you were stuck was the hard part. But you did, and it loosened you. You’re stretching now. It’s not so cramped.” He gestured to how Dorian was curled, and how, even now, smoke trickled from his nose. “It’s good.”

Dorian stared at a smudge of ink in his book and allowed himself a small smile of his own.

“It is, isn’t it?” He asked, but as he looked up, he saw the spirit had vanished.

 

He had not seen The Bull. Then, it had only been a day or so – when had they become something where a day without the other’s company felt wrong?

Well. A day without Bull’s company left Dorian feeling… off. He could not speak for Bull.

He did not remember what had been said, or even the actual saying of it, but Dorian remembered the intent, he remembered stumbling his way over to the room above the tavern, and he remembered what was arguably too much brandy. Arguably. And he had not seen Bull.

 

So Dorian stayed cloistered in his library nook and pined in his own way.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Adaar watched Dorian in the aftermath of the confrontation. She watched him nearly startle when she passed, and had taken to affectionately slapping him on the shoulder while muttering, “Still not in trouble. Yet.” She watched him skirting around every living being he encountered, glaring to belie his skittishness. She watched him cower in the only way he knew how – by lashing out – and decided something had to be done.

The Inquisitor made her way to the tavern, imperious boots clicking as soldiers darted out of her way. Adaar was tall and didn’t need the heels, but they made her look damn good. She wrenched the door open and jerked a thumb at the corner behind the stairs.

“Bull,” she called. Shouted, some would say, but only those who had never heard Adaar properly shout.

“Boss!” He called back happily, a grin splitting his war-torn face.

“Go see your boyfriend.” She turned on her heel and left.

“Er,” Bull said to the empty doorway. “Um,” he said to the curious eyes and suddenly heavy silence in the tavern, punctuated by one loud snort. “Shut up,” he said to Krem.

Then, “sure,” he said to himself, and he rose.

But he’s been avoiding me, Bull thought.

 

-----

 

Dorian smelled him coming down the stars – down the stairs, from up on the ramparts and down through the rookery – and his grip went white-knuckled on his book. He glared at the page and tried not to think of how much he was going to miss that scent. Dorian tried not to gauge how close The Bull was by listening for the clink-thud, clink-thud of his footfalls. His glare intensified as he tried to block everything out, and quite suddenly the page was on fire.

The Iron Bull swung around Dorian’s library corner to see him standing in the middle of it, swatting a book against his thigh in a somewhat panicked manner. The smell of smoke hung on the air, but it usually did around Dorian.

Funny, that.

Bull watched the display for a moment longer, a soft chuckle losing itself deep in his chest. “Yeah?”

Dorian stilled and straightened up, thoroughly unable to make a recovery. “…evidently.”

He slung the book with a flick of his wrist and sent it careening into a growing pile. It might have toppled its fellows over had they not been sufficiently toppled already.

“I was trying to give you some time to sleep all that brandy off, but the Boss seemed to think somebody needed to check on you.”

Dorian summoned the strength within him, his steel backbone and barbed tongue, and turned to face Bull with crossed arms and a haughty smirk. He didn’t know what he was preparing himself for, but whatever remarks he had died on his tongue as he dragged his eyes up to meet Bull’s.

The Qunari’s smile was, much like its owner, huge and broad. Languid and impossibly fond. Dorian found his heart stuck in his throat along with his words. When he finally got it unstuck, the words came out all wrong and far too genuine.

“You’re…not angry. Here I thought I would have to convince you to forgive me.”

Forgive you? Dorian, that was hilarious. I’ll have Varric beat on bar stories for a year with that in my arsenal.”

“Well, yes, but. Even so.“

Bull’s brow furrowed, the movement pulling at his scars and darkening his face even as his bemused smirk brightened it. “No wonder you’re so fond of gold jewelry.”

“Well. There you have it.” Dorian huffed out a long breath of smoke to punctuate the statement and finished it off with the best growl his small, under-equipped form could muster. “Grr, and such.”

Bull lost it. The laughter had him wheezing, then the smoke had him coughing. He wiped tears from his eyes and batted the smoke cloud away.

 “It’s a wonder you don’t choke when you’re surrounded by smoke.”

Bull smacked Dorian affectionately on the shoulder and nearly knocked the man over.

Oof. Er. I suppose. I hadn’t really given it thought.”

Bull beamed fondly at him, and Dorian fought the urge to squirm out of the light of his smile.

“Well?” Bull prompted.

“Well?” Dorian echoed cautiously.

“Well, kiss me. It’s been a few days. Feels weird.”

That relieved Dorian beyond words, and he grabbed The Bull by the horns. Literally.

 

 

Bull wondered, in the later hours after the two had fallen into his bed, after Dorian slipped out of him and collapsed beside him in a relieved heap, what had gotten the mage so worked up over a bit of drunken idiocy. He chuckled to himself at both the memory and their collective folly, until Dorian became jostled enough to crack an eye open at him. 

“Don’t giggle,” he muttered. “I need at least an hour after having you to handle you giggling.”

“Your willpower is impressive,” Bull rumbled, laughter abating. “If I got drunk enough to think I was a dragon, I doubt I’d ever sober up again.”

Dorian smiled because he couldn’t help it, because he’d missed Bull and because he was relieved, and because the whole thing was entirely too good to be true.

Much more than Dorian realized, in fact.

But still, he smiled; his mouth quirked up in a lopsided sneer befitting of a noble, though he did manage to school it into something fond, at least. He smiled, and looked over to Bull.

“I do hope you realize I meant it,” he said, and he ran his fingers against one of Bull’s horns because he couldn’t seem to keep his hands off of him.

“Oh, I know you meant it,” Bull smiled back. “You were very serious.”

“And you’ve no issue with it, somehow.”

Somehow? Why would I have an issue with fucking a dragon?”

It was Dorian’s turn to laugh, then, and his spirits stayed high enough not to question if Bull really believed him. Later he would blame his upbringing and spend entirely too long casting about for what had gotten lost in translation, and where, and when.

And later than that, much later, after a reveal that Dorian already thought over with, the dragon would wonder why Felix never saw fit to inform him that he really ought to add another smile to his arsenal beyond his debonair smirk; it led people to take most of his statements for sarcasm. 

 

-----

 

“Solas.”

The elf looked up as Adaar called him. He had been watching the supply caravans prepare for their departure to Crestwood; more precisely, he had been ensuring the right spies were slipping the right notes into the caravans departing for Crestwood. He crossed the courtyard to where the Inquisitor was outfitting herself in armor for the dangerous roads and equally dangerous wilderness she would need to cross to reach said roads. All this fuss to return to a place the Inquisition had already swept through like a wildfire. Sweeping up the ashes, Adaar had said. Unfinished business, evidently.

“Dorian tells me he hasn’t heard a word from you regarding the dragon issue.”

“I have yet to hear from him either, Inquisitor. If I am to teach, the pupil needs to be willing to receive it.”

That got him a look. A Look, in fact.

“I told you you’re teaching him, not him you’re teaching him. Go and teach him.”

Solas scowled.

“The issue of my not being a shapeshifter still remains, Inquisitor. I’ve been attempting to research the practice to lower the chance of any…surprises, but have yet to find little beyond folktales.”

“I didn’t say he needs shapeshifting lessons, I said he needs to be taught how to turn into a dragon and back again. Or… back into a dragon. And back again.”

“It might shock you to find the two go hand in hand. In this case, at the very least.”

“The Inquisition needs dragons, Solas. At least one dragon.”

“Inquisition needs bees!” Sera shouted from the tavern roof, and Solas steeled himself against Adaar’s stubborn disregard for surreptitiousness.

“These things take time, Inquisitor. Time and research. Knowing the problem does not mean I know the solution.”

“You seemed awfully sure of yourself in the war room,” she muttered.

“I… have some ideas. None of them certain.”

“Alright,” Adaar pulled on her heavy gauntlets as waiting soldiers saddled her warhorse. “This is what’s going to happen. I’m taking Dorian to Crestwood for some unfinished business, because frankly I don’t want any part in dragon slaying without him there. When I get back I’ll consult my advisors, and I will kiss Andraste’s holy chin hairs if they don’t send me on a subsequent fool’s errand halfway ‘round Thedas.”

“That… usually seems par for the course,” Solas admitted, fondness returning to his smile as his irritation abated.

“So. While I’m off… Inquisiting, you’ll make those ideas certain, and Dorian’s going to get dragon lessons. Or, hell, test the ideas. He can handle it.”

Solas was no stranger to lost causes and saw no room for logic in Adaar’s limited understanding of magical theory. He considered her silently as she slid two golden bangles each onto her horns, twisting the jewelry until it stayed put.

“Effective horn armor,” he murmured, raising an eyebrow.

“I see no reason why I can’t be pretty while I kill things.”

 

-----

 

“Is this a test?” Dorian muttered. The mage gazed out over the ruins containing their next conquest, already flaring its great webbed wings in irritation. Dorian looked at the dragon’s massive wings, still wet with rainwater, and let his eyes cast back up the rocky hills ensconcing the dragon’s valley. “Oh,” he whispered, as he was suddenly struck with a terrible longing to leap off the cliff’s edge and go soaring past it, over the valley floor and above the mountains beyond it, up, higher, as far as he pleased, and it was all he could do not to let his face crumple with the thought.

Dorian slipped in the mud and barely righted himself in time with his staff. It slid a good six inches into the wet ground and he glared at it. “It’s got to be a test. Two dragons in as many months. You promised to never drag me back here. Why did I let myself be dragged back here? Are you questioning my loyalty?”

“Don’t get all sentimental on us now,” Adaar laughed. “You don’t seem to have a problem killing a dozen ‘Vints a week; I hardly see how this is any different.”

“It’s true that I don’t feel any kinship for fools,” Dorian amended. “I generally don’t mind killing things that try to kill me first. Of course, that doesn’t make the fight any less harrowing or terrible. I came here so we all wouldn’t die.”

The Iron Bull chose that moment to appear from a copse of trees with a bundle of kindling under each arm, Cole trailing close behind him with some berries to add to their rations.

“That’s what makes it good,” The Bull rumbled, having only caught the tail end of Dorian’s remark. “It’s how I want to die. And almost dying just makes me want to fight another.”

“That—none of that is comforting, Bull. Absolutely none of it.”

“Hey. Don’t worry about it.” Bull began stacking the kindling into the fire pit, unable to dump it in after years of careful precision being drilled into him. “I won’t die with you here, right, big guy? You wouldn’t let me get away with it.”

“Be still my heart,” Dorian muttered sardonically.

“Besides,” Bull winked at him, “I only kill the dragons I’m not sleeping with.”

Oblivious to the fact that Bull merely thought he was repeating an inside joke, Dorian looked into the cloudy sky and tried to decide how he should even begin to counter that.

The Northern Hunter, scourge of Crestwood, saved Dorian the trouble and bellowed a challenge in the general direction of their party. Dorian bit a growl into his lower lip. Language.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

They made to leave nearly as soon as they’d returned. Adaar’s intuition proved alarmingly accurate, and the Inquisitor was preparing for an expedition to the Emerald Graves; a long, hard journey, and in the complete opposite direction of the long, hard journey they’d just returned from. Of course. It shocked no one except Dorian, because the Inquisitor was leaving, and he wasn’t going with her.

Adaar was taking The Bull – cruel of her, Dorian thought; she had to know how bored he’d be. Bored, not lonely. She was taking Vivienne, though, and he considered that ample revenge for leaving him without Bull’s company for however many weeks they were away. Without Adaar’s company too, for that matter. They were practically attached at the hip. In what Dorian perceived as a final act of cruelty, the Inquisitor planned to take Sera with her as well, leaving Dorian with no pleasant company save Varric. He’d half a mind to wheedle his way back onto speaking terms with Cullen if he ran out of things to do.

“And here I thought we were friends,” he grimaced. The horses were already being saddled, wagons being repaired for another rough journey so soon after the first one.

“I’m taking Bull so you’re not distracted. Taking Vivienne because I need a mage. Taking me, because, well, and taking Sera because that’s the only way I’ll be able to handle taking Vivienne.”

Dorian saw her point, but would not concede to it.

“So I’m not distracted?” He sneered. “Apparently I have not fulfilled my duties as Inquisition scholar. Apologies, your Ladyship.”

“Oh, come off it,” she muttered, trying to cinch her breastplate buckle tighter. “The dragon issue, remember? I did say I’d help you. But mostly our army needs a dragon. You’ll be working with Solas.”

Solas? He doesn’t know anything about shapeshifting.”

“Neither do you, all things considered, and he’s a smart-arse, so he’s got to,” she snapped. Dorian didn’t question her. He was that smart, at least.

“Vivenne is a treasure, I’ll have you know. You only need to become accustomed to being condescended to.”

Adaar shot him the sort of look that he generally had to earn, and swung herself up onto her warhorse.

The Bull swept by, then, Sera in tow, and touched Dorian’s shoulder as he passed him and went to mount his frighteningly colossal… nug… thing.

The party left, caravans following, and Dorian chastised himself for watching the procession leave. The Bull blew him a kiss, to which Dorian rolled his eyes, and Sera blew him a raspberry, to which he did blow a kiss. He watched the party until they rounded a snow drift and disappeared, and went inside when he could no longer hear hoofbeats trudging down the path.

 

Dorian jogged up the stone steps to the grand hallway, turning sharply once inside to head to the library. “Solas,” he said automatically, already taking the next set of stairs before pausing halfway up them. He ducked back around the doorway awkwardly to find Solas looking just as uncomfortable.

“The Inquisitor has sentenced me to your temporary care, or so I’m told,” Dorian said as he strolled into the study proper and tried to regain his swagger.

“Evidently,” Solas muttered, looking as unenthused as Dorian felt.

Dorian grinned, and it was something serpentine. “This should be fun.”

 

-----

 

After a few days of awkward interactions and scheduling conflicts that should not have been present, Solas led them past the walls of Skyhold and beyond the rise – out of sight and in solitude, but close enough to the fortress that they could send for help if they needed it, he’d said. That wasn’t what Dorian took issue with. His primary concern was over the fact that he was in rather threadbare clothing – something you’re willing to lose, Solas had said – and was now expected to sit on a blanket in the snow.

“And what if I do change?” Dorian asked, glaring at the blanket. “I’m already freezing with what little clothing I have on. I can hardly imagine how cold I’ll be without it.” He found himself wishing dragons were capable of growing a fluffy winter coat.

“Highland ravagers are mountain dragons, Dorian. Hence the ‘Highland.’ They stay warm with their fire. You will be fine.”

“Coming from a man who isn’t a dragon,” he grit out past his chattering teeth, and he sat too hard on the blanket with a huff.

“Down to business, then.” Solas shifted slightly on the blanket but showed no signs of discomfort due to the cold. “I believe your problem lies with not understanding the need to dispel your own magic. Am I to understand you don’t run out of mana?”

“Of course I do,” Dorian replied with a sarcastic laugh. “I’m not that inhuman. I can hardly sustain a blizzard on a good day, but if the Inquisitor’s had me hike halfway across Thedas the only thing that shoots out of my hand is a couple of sad little snowflakes—“

“No,” Solas interrupted, and Dorian scowled at him. “That is physical exhaustion. What I’m speaking of is something else entirely.”

Solas leveled him with a gaze that met in the middle of frustrated, disappointed, and stalwartly patient, and Dorian cocked an eyebrow at him under the scrutiny.

“Well?” Dorian snapped. “Do get on with it. I’m freezing. At this rate the Inquisition won’t have its favorite field mage, let alone a dragon. You’ve made it quite clear that I evidently have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I find it hard to believe, considering your magical talents, that you are so unfamiliar with the concept of mana exhaustion you can’t even recall its symptoms. Whether you experience them or not nonwithstanding.”

Dorian smiled sweetly and wished, not for the first time, that his teeth were still large and frightening. As it were they were just very, very nice, and he supposed that would have to do.

“When you’re quite through condescending down your nose at me, might I remind you that you’re chastising an inhuman individual for being unfamiliar with a human predicament? And don’t—human, elven, whatever. You all need one big… name. For all of you.”

“People,” Solas supplied quietly.

“Good. People. Might I also take this opportunity to remind you that everything I know about magic was either learned through observation before I could properly cast it, or hap-hazardly slapped together based around what I felt I understood. And were I to attempt to clarify any of this – go up to a fellow mage and see if his experiences mirrored mine – it would only increase my chance of discovery. A certain amount of recklessness is required to maintain a cover of this magnitude. I’ll thank you kindly not to mistake it for ignorance.”

Solas’ brow furrowed even as his eyes widened in confusion. “No formal training? At all?”

“I’ve just said it, haven’t I? Felix and his father helped to tutor me a great deal but I hardly think one can consider that a formal education. I was already past twenty; that’s far later a mage’s training normally begins.”

Solas smiled widely despite himself, and Dorian thought he could catch the ghost of a laugh on the elf’s lips. “So you’re just…”

“…that good?” Dorian smirked.

“I was going to say ‘making it up as you go along,’ actually.”

“Oh, of course, always that.”

Solas couldn’t help but continue smiling. “Alright. I’ll no longer assume you’re necessarily familiar with any of the fundamental pillars of magic.”

That’s a little extreme.”

“So. I understand that your spells dissipate under physical exhaustion. Do they ever burn out on their own accord?”

“Yes, most always,” Dorian replied as he considered the question. “If I summon a wall of flames it only lasts so long, no matter the conditions or how much power I call into it. I can create another right on top of it when the first burns out, but I can’t make it last longer. I never really understood why.”

“That’s normal,” Solas said, nodding. “Most spells dissipate naturally after some time has passed, or after they’ve been torn down by an outside force. For example, a barrier being broken through. There are, however, some spells that will not cease until their caster wills them away, or his mana depletes; whichever happens first.”

“Now,” Solas continued, leaning forward for emphasis, “I will be the first to admit that I am no shapeshifter. But it appears that shapeshifting may be the type of spell that needs willed away, which means the only thing you need to do in order to change back is learn to let go of your ambient magic.”

“Oh. That’s…almost frighteningly simple. It’s a wonder I haven’t changed back by accident.”

“It’s only simple in theory,” Solas admitted. “It may be harder to implement if you’re unfamiliar with the sensation, though. Now, can you tell when your own magic is present? Some describe it as an aura or a prickle they feel around themselves, but that they know with certainty they put there.”

“I… I don’t ever not feel that, to be honest. I always have some amount of ambient magic around me, and sometimes it doesn’t even feel like mine. It doesn’t put a strain on me, it just… exists. Is it so strange to think that I’m always connected to the fade, without having to will that connection into being?”

Solas found himself stricken with a short-lived wave of envy that carried the pang of loss hot on its heels.

“Not entirely.”

“Is it… possible to dispel my ambient magic, then?” Dorian asked. He said it sharply, in an almost demanding tone, and Solas knew that he did so in an attempt to mask his own uncertainty. His own steadily rising fear.

“…have you ever intentionally dismissed a spell?” Solas asked instead. “Aside from letting one run its course, or be destroyed.”

“Oh, certainly. I suppose I could leave a firestorm brewing after a battle was won… stand in front of it, victoriously, while my clothes whipped around in the heat… but it would be quite irresponsible of me. Too much risk of hurting someone I wasn’t trying to kill.”

“Well, there you have it. Apply that line of thought to yourself. Identify the energy that’s being channeled into the spell – in this case, it should be directed at yourself – and dispel it.”

“You’re joking.” Dorian was smiling in the barest sense of the word, and it was all teeth.

“You experienced the sensation of your own ambient magic when you were still a dragon, correct? My best guess is that dragons normally experience it; it would explain their ability to use elemental magic to such an unlimited extent. When you added your own spell on top of it, you were so used to constantly feeling ambient magic that you must not have noticed any difference.”

Dorian was still smiling at his hands. Perhaps baring his teeth at his hands was a closer word to the action.

Solas blinked.

“Dorian?”

Dorian’s eyes met Solas’ again, his snarl forcing itself into a grin. It was wild and frightening and nothing short of fiery.

Thankfully, Solas had sense enough to shuffle frantically backward.

 

-----

 

An Inquisition lookout popped up onto her toes to squint over the stone edge of the tower she was stationed on top of. She was short, being of dwarven creed, and now found herself in a world built for people who were, on average, three heads taller than she, and here she was just trying to do her job, thank you very much. At present, that job was being taken very seriously. She had resorted to making out shapes in the mountains’ snow patches – the clouds had long since lost the creativity necessary to entertain her – and was trying to decide whether the large blob on the east face of the mountain slightly to her right looked more like a nug or a gryphon.

The matter was never settled, because a great orange flash reflected off the snow, and an enormous burst of heat followed. Fire. She vaulted over the storage boxes, still covered in moving cloths, and balanced herself at the edge of the parapet, nearly falling off of it when she saw the source of the fire – not even half a mile away, how did anything that massive get so close to the fortress without anyone noticing? And why—

Her heart skipped a beat, stomach dropping.

Why wasn’t the alarm sounding?

She leapt off the side of the tower, tucking and rolling onto the path beneath as she made a beeline for the rookery. She took the outer steps two at a time – no small feat, given the length of her legs – and wrenched the door open.

“Spymaster! There’s a full-grown dragon outside the fortress. Don’t know how it got so close. Didn’t see it ‘til it spat fire. Alarm’s—alarm’s not, uh. Alarm’s not.” She panted, hands on her knees, still trying to catch her breath.

In the sudden silence of the spy tower, the birds regarded the scout intelligently, humor glinting in their little black eyes.

Leliana smiled at her agent. “Thank you for the report,” she answered, and she turned back to the papers scattered over her desk. “There’s no need to worry, though. He’s our dragon.”

“Our—our dragon, ser?” The lookout squinted at her spymaster and darted across the room to look out the window. The dragon was rolling about in the snow drifts while a small figure darted around it, presumably trying to get it to behave.

“You had better not tell anyone you saw that part,” Leliana laughed. “He’ll never admit to enjoying the snow.”

The dragon finally got back on its feet and the dwarf had to shield her eyes when the sun hit its scales. They glittered golden in the sunlight.

 

 

The scout found herself stationed back on her tower with very little comment, having been too baffled to do little beyond follow orders. The dragon disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared to begin with and the lookout started to wonder if she needed to see a healer. The only thing that came down the path for the rest of the day was a pair of Inquisition mages – the elf and the ‘Vint – both looking a little giddy and entirely too pleased with themselves for having been out in the snow.

It occurred to her that she had never seen the ‘Vint in nothing but a blanket before, and had never seen the elf laugh before, for that matter, but the observations were rather overshadowed by the memory of a glittering dragon rolling itself down a hill.

 

The scout also saw a bedraggled messenger bird dart into the rookery. This was not strange, and happened constantly throughout the day and night. What she did not see was both Commander Cullen and the Spymaster herself accost the mages the second they got inside the gate; the inside of the fortress was not within her assigned watch parameters.

 

On the other hand, everyone saw the forces scramble and prepare for another excursion as a result of the message the bird carried. One of the few remaining caravans was outfitted to be sent to the Graves, and a flurry of birds left the rookery with messages for Inquisition camps along the way.

 

 

The Inquisitor had never called for reinforcements before.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Solas got a blanket around Dorian and helped walk him back to the fortress, one of Dorian’s arms slung over Solas’ shoulders for support as he tried to remember how to keep his balance on only two legs.

“I apologize,” Dorian laughed breathlessly, “only it’s suddenly very hard to move this thing around.”

“It’s quite alright,” Solas reassured him. “It makes sense for you to be disoriented.”

Their high spirits were cut short soon after the gate was opened for them. Or Solas’ were, at any rate; Dorian remained rather giddy, even in the face of both Leliana and Cullen bearing down on them.

Cullen got to them first, and seemed at something of a loss by the time he finally made it over to the pair of mages.

“So. Dorian. Dragon.”

“Cullen, human,” Dorian replied cheekily. “Solas, elf.” Dorian patted Solas on the chest with his free hand, and the elf blinked under the impact.

Cullen’s brow furrowed and Dorian watched him slide through postures; professionally stern, fondly concerned, wow, reluctantly optimistic, and, finally, really? The commander puffed out a sigh, and Dorian thought he could see him mouthing, well, shit. Leliana crossed the courtyard and joined them, gently bumping Cullen’s arm as if to prompt him.

“Right.” Cullen cleared his throat. “I would love to ask you why on earth you thought that was a good idea, but there are more pressing matters at hand. Believe it or not.”

“Adaar demanded we do this, actually,” Dorian replied, his sneer lacking its usual venom. “What are you two on about?”

“The Inquisitor has called in reinforcements,” Leliana explained.

Solas and Dorian exchanged wide-eyed glances. If Dorian’s eyes were a little… off, no one chose to comment.

“She’s never called for reinforcements before, if that helps you to understand the gravity of the situation she’s likely gotten herself into.” Cullen ran a hand through his hair. “I’ve no idea what she actually needs, but she’s insisted that she only wants some healers, more scouts, a few soldiers to defend the camps, and you, Dorian. You and Cole. She’s demanded all of our other agents stay put. ‘To prevent another Haven,’ she said.”

“All of our agents were present at Haven,” Dorian reminded him.

“What’s happened?” Solas asked, taking his arm back from Dorian, who only wobbled a bit.

“The Inquisitor seems to have uncovered a red lyrium shipping operation in the Graves. She doesn’t want to leave the area for fear they might have the chance to relocate and cover their tracks. Only problem is the Templars are surrounded by giants on one side and a dragon on the other.”

“Leave it to her to find such a place in all of Thedas,” Dorian laughed. “I have to admit I’m shocked she didn’t charge in headfirst.”

“She tried to,” Cullen grimaced. “The letter said she had to retreat due to the giants. They barely made it back to camp. Everyone’s alright after seeing the healers, but now the Templars know the Inquisition is in the Graves. She’s apparently circling the area under the guise of scouting, but now that the Templars know…”

“The Inquisitor fears for the safety of her camp soldiers,” Leliana elaborated. “The Templars will either relocate or plan an ambush, and the sooner reinforcements arrive, the less likely the Templars’ success.”

“Well, I suppose I should be going, then, shouldn’t I!” Dorian announced. He was grinning ear to ear, and did not appear to have any plans to change into something that was not his blanket.

“Are you—are you alright, Dorian?” Cullen asked, taking in Dorian’s disregard for his appearance with no small discomfort.

“Wonderful, thank you. Why do you ask?”

“Ordinarily you would have some sort of complaint. Over the dragon—er, other dragon, at the very least, never mind the giants. And...well. You've just gotten yourself unstuck and you're shifted back already.”

“Ah, yes, sacrifices—for the greater good, Inquisition and all, go us. Emerald Graves is—are? Er…that way?”

He made a bit of a spectacle out of squinting at the sun, and then looking down his arm in several different directions, before ultimately casting his blanket to the ground as if it were the most logical thing to do.

Leliana looked up politely, Cullen made a disgusted sound and shielded his eyes, and Solas was about to suggest that, in light of recent events, perhaps Dorian should not include himself in the reinforcements, seeing as he had evidently gone mad, when the Inquisition’s courtyard suddenly found itself very full of dragon.

“Dorian, what—“ Cullen ducked under Dorian’s massive tail and held his hands out to his troops. “It’s alright, don’t shoot, he’s our dragon, stand down!” Soldiers were looking from one to another with expressions ranging from terrified to hostile, with the occasional I’m never drinking again thrown into the mix.

Dorian began raising his wings and shifted his weight as if to take off. “Don’t!” Cullen shouted, thinking of the damage the gust of wind from his wings alone could do to the courtyard. Dorian paused as his wings knocked against the battlements. They weren’t even fully spread.

Dorian,” Cullen continued, “I appreciate your desire to quickly aid the Inquisitor, but you can’t just…launch out of here, unprepared!” Dorian folded his wings back against his body and swiveled his head around thoughtfully. “Yes, see? Now if you’ll just—change back, please, we can discuss sending you off properly, and—“ Cullen ducked again as Dorian raised one foreleg and made a distinct shooing motion, causing the commander to dart away from his legs and jog over to where Solas and Leliana were standing against a stone wall.

“I think he wanted you out from underfoot,” Solas said helpfully. Leliana just smiled.

Dorian took two great steps to the Skyhold gate, leaving large prints in the dirt, and delicately picked his discarded blanket up in his teeth. He sent it through the gate with a warm gust of breath and, in an uncomfortable stretch of space and light, was a man again.

“Thank the maker,” Cullen hissed. “I thought he was going to fly to the Graves.”

“It would be faster,” Leliana replied thoughtfully, “but very noticeable. He is a golden dragon, after all.”

“He’s brown,” Solas murmured. “Only golden in the right light.”

Dorian strutted naked through the gate and shifted back into his natural state the moment he was on the other side.

Leliana smiled a little too fondly. “I think he is flying to the Graves. Only he couldn’t fit through the gate.”

Dorian nosed at the ground until he was able to pick the blanket up by one corner, somehow not snagging it on any of his long and numerous teeth. He cast a look over his shoulder that may have been considered rakishly charming, were he not carrying a blanket in his mouth. Or unable to make much in the way of facial expressions. Or a dragon. And with that, punctuated by one of Cullen’s best groans, he leapt over the cliffside and soared. 

Cullen stared after him agape as he watched the dragon climb in the general direction of the Emerald Graves, and threw an arm out at him. “What does he think he—he forgot Cole!”

“He did,” Cole confirmed, because he was suddenly there. “I didn’t even have to help him.”

And then he, too, was gone.

 

-----

 

Adaar sat scowling at the camp’s makeshift rookery as if the birds themselves could have brought her soldiers in faster. Her request had been sent nearly three days ago, now, and while there was plenty of forest left to chart, she couldn’t get past the damn Templar camp.

They had made excellent work of the forest so far, no matter the Inquisitor’s misgivings; despite her abrasive personality, Sera displayed an uncanny ability to get along with just about everyone who could stand to be teased and, loathe as she was to admit it, Vivienne was a treasure. Could be a treasure. When she damn well wanted to be. The enchanter was more than capable in a fight and indispensable in formal speaking; she was like having Cassandra and Josephine in one unit. But with magic. And her constant bickering with Sera was almost endearing. Almost.

The Bull made his way over to Adaar and sat down next to her with every intention of cleaning his weapon as she cleaned her own. The companionable silence lasted all of two minutes before the Inquisitor spoke. She looked at no one save her maul, and angrily at that, but was clearly addressing Bull when she grit her question out.

“The retreat. With the giants. Was it wrong of me?”

“To be honest, boss, we might not still be here if you hadn’t called it. Knowing when to run isn’t exactly something to beat yourself up over.”

“Nah, she’s pissed. ’S’what you get for only being able to work with the same three people, innit, Inky?” Sera grinned, tapping one of Adaar’s horn caps as she walked past.

“It’s—“ Adaar sighed, defeated, knowing better than to protest when she was clearly at fault. Good on you, Bull thought.

“I admit that I’m familiar with my usual companions’ fighting patterns,” she continued. “What they do, how they act. It’s a comfort when you’re walking into a shitstorm you don’t know the half of ‘til you’re knee deep in it.”

“She’s got a point,” Sera admitted around a mouthful of apple.

Vivienne chose that moment to stride gracefully out of her tent, gear assembled and ready to go. “If the idea of a single defeat gets you that rattled, dear, I must say I fear for the future of your organization.”

“I must say you can—“ Adaar sighed. Temper. “It’s the Templars camped out down there. I’m worried they’ll move out on us, or target someone else right under our noses, just to get to me. Someone who can’t defend themselves.”

“Hey.” Bull laid a hand on the Inquisitor’s shoulder. “Want me to stake out the Red Templar camp today? You can take the ladies for some more scouting, and I’ll make certain the bad guys don’t go anywhere. I’m sure we can get a soldier posted nearby in case I need backup.”

Adaar snorted, indicating Bull’s considerable size even when compared to her own. “We’ve brought Sera, and you want to look me in the eye and tell me stakeouts are more your thing?”

“You’d be amazed by what all could be considered my thing, boss.”

“Absolutely not,” Adaar huffed, but Bull let himself take pride in raising what had nearly been a chuckle out of the woman. “I’m not letting you near that catastrophe without—“ The words died in her throat as a bird landed on the coop, a message tied securely to its leg. She made a grab for it so quickly that the poor raven startled and nearly flew away.

“Shh, shh,” she murmured, hastily untying the message and petting the raven absentmindedly. The bird would have none of it and walked quickly out of reach. Everyone watched the Inquisitor read, wide eyed and mouthing the words. Then she stuffed the note in her pocket and practically ran to her armor stand.

“On second thought,” she called, struggling into her greaves, “you will be staking out the bloody giant pit, Bull. We all will be.”

The companions silently exchanged glances until Adaar rejoined them, picking her maul back up with a wicked grin.

“Dorian’s on his way.”

 

-----

 

Somewhere over the Hinterlands, a large, dark shape was making excellent time over a low-hanging storm front. It occasionally lost a few yards of height to skim its claws along the tops of the clouds before surging forward and higher with a determined puff of smoke.

If one were able to keep time and altitude with a dragon, one might notice this one making a straight and determined path to the West. One might have also heard a rather undignified and undragonlike squawk as a boy materialized on its back. The dragon rolled in midair and flew on its back – a rather impressive display, should one be inclined to comment – but found that its new passenger was unshaken. It righted itself, opening its mouth ferociously wide, and as something flew out of its mouth, something too passed across its eyes. It might have been recognition, were dragons capable of higher thought.

The boy waved at the dragon, who was currently doing its best to scowl, but having more facial bones than muscles will only get you so far. The boy then pointed down, a question on his face, and the dragon’s head snapped around as it watched something flutter through the clouds and out of view.

A blanket dropped out of the cloud cover and the dragon dove to retrieve it. It grunted irritably and shot back up into the fog. The boy clung to its spines with a hand on his hat and a smile on his face.

 

 

Chapter Text

It went like this:

 

Sera was scouting irritably.

Vivienne was through arguing with fools.

The Iron Bull was in the midst of a mental exercise in which he discovered how many different ways he could ask the Inquisitor if she were mad without sounding insubordinate.

“It’s not that I don’t trust in Dorian’s—many areas of expertise,” Bull chuckled, trying to keep his voice low as they approached the clearing full of three giants, their pets, and a small retinue of Red Templars. “I just can’t agree that one more person would get us out of… that.”

Adaar’s patience was wearing thin, but Bull really didn’t want to die today. Not like this, at least. Throw in a dragon or two and it’d be a different story.

“I mean, a small company, sure! And Dorian would sure as shit help! But—“

“We’ll be fine,” the Inquisitor insisted. “The report said he’s huge.”

“Er—well. Not really gonna help us out here, boss.”

Really, Bull? Never thought I’d see the day when you tried to downplay a dragon.”

 “Boss, what the hell are you talking about?” he hissed, careful to keep his voice low.

“Look, The Iron Bull,” Adaar spat, thumping her maul against a tree even as Sera protested her noise. “Dorian is flying here as we speak, he’s going to help us kick these bastards’ asses, and we will emerge victorious because I am the Maker-damned Inquisitor and I have a Maker-damned dragon. Do I make myself clear?”

Dragon—you mean Dorian?”

“I don’t believe he knew, dear,” Vivienne interjected, pointing across the clearing. “But the point is rather moot and our cover clearly blown.” Two giants were lumbering curiously toward them now, their herd stomping restlessly nearby, and nearly every member of the Templar encampment was gazing in their general direction.

“What do you mean you didn’t know! Dorian said he told you!”

“Told me he’s a dragon? That was a joke! He was drunk!”

“Shut yer gobs!” Sera hissed, sliding down from her lookout point as the closest giant shifted into an attack stance. The Templars rallied themselves to charge. Bull cursed loudly, eye darting around for the best escape route—back through the clearing? They’d have to keep up a run for far too long. Over the rocks? Slow and risky, but less chance they’d be followed. Maybe if he knocked Adaar out—

His train of thought was thoroughly derailed when a huge silhouette blocked out the dappled sunlight filtering through the trees. The giants and Templars both turned to look at their new assailant, herd scattering nervously, before the Inquisitor and her retinue were knocked to the ground by the force of the impact when a dragon crashed through the greenery. Bull fought to keep the smile off his face by the time he struggled upright—at least he could die now, right? The dragon was huge. He grabbed his axe and broke into a run, when he noticed a few things:

There was something on the dragon’s back. Someone. There was also something in the dragon’s mouth.

It happened, very quickly, like this:

The dragon bucked the person—boy? Off its back. He had a rather large hat. By the time Bull realized the boy was Cole, his run had slowed somewhat. The dragon then dropped the prize from its mouth directly on top of Cole—it appeared to be a blanket—and turned abruptly to face the Qunari. The dragon considered him and let out an unimpressed huff.

That stopped Bull’s charge outright.

The giants had apparently decided the dragon – a great beast of mottled browns with giant horns – to be a greater threat than the Inquisition. The dragon hissed at the closest giant, neck swiveling around to face it. Cole struggled his way out of the blanket. Vivienne and Sera were rushing toward him, weapons ready.

Adaar barreled past Bull with her own maul in hand, and shouted, very loudly and distinctly, “Fuck ‘em up, Dorian!”

The dragon reared and roared, sunlight making its scales glitter golden, and tackled a giant headfirst.

 

It was all a bit of a blur after that, really.

 

-----

 

Dorian felt, justifiably, like a force of nature.

To command that much force and weight again, to open his mouth and have fire stream out of it more naturally than breath—later, he would worry about his companions underfoot. Later he would ensure he hadn’t scared them.

Now, he was melting a Red Templar’s armor to their skin with the heat of his flames for daring to lay eyes on his friends.

Now, he was matching strength with a giant as it gripped his horns, great feet skidding ever backward in the undergrowth as Dorian forced it away.

Now, he was kicking his rear leg out in pain and skidding away from the Templar who had landed a great slashing blow across his flank, the pain fueling his fury as his jaws snapped shut around the walking crystallized corpse. The taste was atrocious. He cleansed it with fire.

Now, he panted triumphantly, gazing at the charred and fallen corpses that littered the battle-scarred clearing. He raised his head high, seeking each of his companions in turn; Vivienne, finishing off the last Red Templar in a pillar of ice. The Inquisitor herself obliterating the now-frozen statue with a great swing of her maul. Sera, dodging neatly away from a charging bronto, only for Cole to leap onto its back and sink daggers into its neck.

And The Iron Bull, pulling his axe gorily from the ruined corpse of a giant, grinning at Dorian like he’d hung the moon.

Dorian spread his wings and roared, shooting fire into the air as his companions joined in with shouts of their own. Most of them, at least. Vivienne and Cole just smiled, until an answering roar from across the glade caught their attention.

Of course the day wouldn’t be complete without another dragon. 

 

-----

 

Adaar was leaning over the tavern table, arms spread in an imitation of wings. Her tankard was sloshing over nearly everyone present, and her voice might have been heard from outside, were it not for the raucous laughter of half the occupants of Skyhold. The celebration of the Inquisitor’s triumphant return had long since gotten out of hand, and mostly at the expense of the very drunk, very excited Inquisitor herself.

At least she was still sitting at a table. Sera was on the table, and naturally she was shouting.

“And then—Dorian, he was like, wraaaaaaar!”

“Noooo nonono, that was the other dragon. Dorian’s was like wroooaaar.” Adaar drained her tankard. “WROOOAAAR,” she corrected. “The other dragon went wraaar and—“ She slammed one hand on the table. “Stomped its feet at ‘im. An’ then Dorian ran at it like, like, fwaaaaaah!”

The hell kinda’ dragon goes fwaaah!” Sera gasped through her laughter.

“That’s the fire! Y’know, fire noise!” The Inquisitor insisted. “Right, Dorian?”

Dorian, for his part, was facedown on the table with his arms around his head, dressed in his usual finery and pretending not to giggle.

“So which was it, Sparkler?” Varric asked, trying to wipe ale off his parchment to no avail. “The details are very important. This is the stuff I gotta know.”

Dorian pulled his head off his arms and considered the question with much more severity than it deserved. “It—hrm. I would offer to show you, only I’d break the tavern.”

Sera recovered from her giggling fit and choked out a gasp. “You think that’s worth writing? Tell Varric where the sword hit you!”

All eyes turned to Dorian. “Quite unnecessary, really. Much less interesting than—than grr, and—“

“Wroooaaar,” Adaar corrected.

It was on his arse,” Sera whispered over-loudly.

“Ask him about the blanket, Varric,” Cole supplied helpfully from over the dwarf’s shoulder. “You would like the part about the blanket.”

Listen,” Dorian began, “until someone invents clothing with enough stretch to accommodate both a man and a dragon while still preserving his fashion sense—“

The conversation only devolved from there, with no small amount of enthusiastic retellings, arm-waving, or attempts at roaring. The Iron Bull was notably quiet as far as a story with dragons was concerned; he was smiling and chuckling, hand never leaving Dorian’s thigh under the table. Varric, naturally, noticed.

“You’re awfully quiet, Tiny! Aren’t dragons your thing?”   

“Oh, I’m saving it for when it’s my turn to tell the story,” he answered. It was not a lie, either. Bull had plans. He would boast of how Dorian broke through the clouds like a stone through water; how his roar shook The Bull’s very bones, how the bulk of him moved the earth with every step. He doubted he would ever tire of recounting the ferocity with which the dragon lunged at their assailants, scattering the Templars like insects. How the dragon, his dragon, his wild, incredible man, tackled a giant headfirst to stop it from charging his companions. When Dorian loved, he loved fiercely.

Bull would brag too of how he charged at Dorian the moment he landed, only giving pause when the beast that had just dove into the center of a giant-infested forest shook Cole from its back like a foul tempered young horse. Let it never be said that Bull met a dragon he did not run headfirst at. Who would The Iron Bull be, if not himself?

And the blanket. The blanket absolutely had to stay. The world needed to know about the blanket.

 Perhaps, though…perhaps he would leave out the part where Cole did not tell him who the dragon was, because he did not need to. There is an art to looking down one’s nose at one’s partner, after all, and no man or beast could tilt its chin just condescendingly so without being Dorian Pavus.

Madame de Fer was neither man nor beast, but she had been standing right beside Bull at the time, so that rather ruled her out.

But perhaps it was indeed unnecessary to add in the part where Dorian refused to change back until the remainder of the reinforcements arrived, no matter that the threat was now gone. How he curled himself around the Inquisition camp like a living wall. Maybe Bull needn’t attempt to attempt to explain how, suddenly, many separate instances of coincidences and miscommunications lined up into a beautiful, impossible, inexplicable understanding. How it made him realize with an alarming clarity that what he was experiencing was called love.

Maybe that part could be left out too.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

In the weeks after Dorian’s siege of the Emerald Graves, he found himself more welcomed at Skyhold than he had ever been. He supposed saving the Inquisitor from three giants, a herd of brontos, a Red Templar encampment, and a wild dragon would generally lend someone to being better liked, were that person not, technically speaking, a dragon in people’s clothing. Quite literally, in fact. Perhaps they were too scared of him to give him any more trouble. Perhaps people in the South were too mad to care if someone might or might not be a dragon.

 

“Did you know, or did you pretend you knew?” He’d asked Vivienne one morning. He had asked this from her balcony, after being invited to take tea with her.

“You are not that subtle, dear.”

“I will content myself to believe you were simply meddling in my affairs, then, my Lady Enchanter.”

“My time is too precious to be spent correcting fools,” she replied.

Dorian chuckled into his tea and looked over the fortress and snow-capped mountains surrounding it. He tried not to let his gaze linger too long, lest anyone think he regarded them fondly for even a moment.

“The Inquisitor told me the most curious thing, Madame.”

“I can’t imagine,” Vivienne smiled.

“She said that you never questioned her. When she brought you back to the giant’s clearing in the Graves.”

Madame de Fer did not shrug; she arched an eyebrow just so and pursed her lips. “If the Inquisitor had that much faith in you, I had no reason not to share the same sentiment.”

Dorian smiled out over the ramparts and reheated his tea.

 

-----

 

The letters, though; the letters had been a blow. The first one was from Halward Pavus, and addressed to Mother Giselle. The second was from Felix Alexius, and addressed to the Inquisitor. The third was about Felix Alexius. It had no sender, and was addressed, “To Whom It May Concern.”

He took it in stride, naturally; Dorian was nothing if not fabricated bravado. But for a few days he was subtly quieter, somewhat sharper. Drank more.

Sera found him during the worst of it, slumped in his library corner with bottles at his feet and an arm over his face.

“Cookie,” she announced, and flung one at him.

“You know, Dorian,” Solas began, selecting a book from a few shelves over and startling both of them, “you would serve his memory better by acting, not sulking.”

Dorian responded with a rude gesture and little else. Sera scowled at Solas’ back until it disappeared.

“Tch. He’s just tight ‘cause he ain’t seen any in Maker knows how long.”

Dorian’s arm was still flung over his face, but a smirk could be seen beneath it now.

“It’s too bad,” Sera went on. “He could get some. If only the arse on his backside were half as big as the one on his chin.”

That startled a laugh from Dorian, a real one, and he knew he would be alright. Felix and he had both found freedom, in their own ways.

 

Adaar came to him when he was better to the untrained eye, but still suffering in the eyes of a friend.

“It was quite sweet what Felix had to say about you,” she said by way of a greeting. Dorian was drinking out of glasses now, and only had two bottles on his table. It was an improvement.

“All of it lies,” Dorian answered. He didn’t look up from his book, but he did smirk when he noticed that Adaar had brought her own glass. “I never learned how to open doors with my front legs, or tried putting anyone’s jewelry on my horns. That would be ridiculous.”

“Never ate an assassin, either?”

“Ridiculous.”

“Felix said you hated how plain you looked and couldn’t wait to have clothes made. He said you must have spent years fantasizing about it.”

“Don’t be absurd. You’ve seen me. I’m incredible.”

“Incredibly brown.”

“A wonderfully underrated color, really. I’ll bet he conveniently left out the part where I’d all but taught myself three languages by the time I changed forms; I just lacked the means to produce the right sounds.”

“No, that was in there,” Adaar grinned. “He also mentioned smiling lessons.”

“Incredibly subtle facial movements. I had no concept. Now I’m masterful at it.” Dorian’s moustache twitched in a smile of his own, glowing over a fond memory.

“So,” Adaar settled herself against the most stable-looking stack of books she could see. “Tell me about how you came to Felix.”

“Why? You read his letter.”

“I want to hear it from you,” the Inquisitor insisted.

“Well, I’ve never been particularly good at terrorizing small stretches of wilderness. After I ran I didn’t do much more than contemplate. I willed myself human, made up a story to get some clothes from a couple of nearby farmers, and was let into the city by pretending to be a noble who had been robbed in the countryside. I knew enough about Altus society to state names and locations, convinced the guards I was a nobleman they were too embarrassed to admit they hadn’t heard of, and I made my way to Felix’s estate for. Smiling lessons.”

“And they just—“ He could hear Adaar fighting down a smile. “They just let you in?”

Dorian shrugged. “He remembered me, at least, and how much his son had enjoyed playing with me when we were younger. I was able to supply insurmountable evidence, and sentiment and curiosity together make a powerful team. Not to mention Felix could talk his father into anything, back before Alexius went mad. Additionally, I—I’ve been told I bear a striking resemblance. To Lord Pavus.”

He glanced up from his lap to see Adaar’s sympathetic gaze, and became uncomfortable in her pity. “No matter. I had little else to base a face on, after all.”

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes more, punctuated only by Dorian occasionally turning a page. Eventually, it was Dorian that broke the silence.

“My—Halward Pavus. When he wrote to you, did he say anything about… I don’t know. Meeting? Talking?”

Adaar shook her head, long hair falling into her face as a result. She brushed it out of the way and tucked it behind one pointed ear. “I don’t think he knew you were anything more than just a dragon. He wanted to know where you were, nothing more.”

“Ah,” Dorian responded. And then, after another silence: “Perhaps it’s better he never know.”

“Perhaps it is," Adaar agreed.

“I must tell you, though. Sera wrote me the most delightful poem the other day.”

The evening dissolved into drink and laughter and quiet companionship, and Adaar knew that Dorian would be fine.

 

What she did not know; or, perhaps, what she assumed but had not borne witness to; was that Dorian came to The Bull’s room every evening. That he had practically moved in, and his room was more or less a formality. That they said I love you, in their own ways, whenever they got the chance.

 

-----

 

The Inquisition’s next conquest was an Orlesian ball, and Dorian had insisted he assist with preparations with the same excuse he’d been giving for months: “I’m a dragon. I simply must.”

Everyone else thought it a fairly decent reason as reasoning goes, and Dorian was just finishing helping Cole into his uniform when Sera came to find him.

“How do I look?” Cole asked, because he knew Dorian wanted him to.

“Like a foot with ears,” Sera muttered.

“Like a dream,” Dorian corrected.

“Ugh. Inky wants you.” With that, Sera sauntered out of the mirrored room with as much disgust as she could muster – that is to say, plenty.

“Well, my lady calls.” Dorian bowed theatrically to Cole and left the room, where he found Adaar waiting in the hallway.

“One last mission before the ball. We’ll be scouting the Emprise; clearing out some of the threats, then making our way to the Winter Palace afterward. Anything to make the occasion safer for our agents. I was hoping you’d join me.”

“There’s no one I’d rather freeze with,” Dorian replied warmly, and the two set off for the stables side by side.

 

As fate would have it, Dorian found himself doing just that; overlooking an even steeper mountain than the sort they had at Skyhold, up to his arse in Red Templars and snow.

“At this rate I’ll have no toes left to dance on,” Dorian muttered. He might have continued had he not been rudely interrupted by a dragon’s shrill roar, carried across the ravine.

“Can you understand them when they do that? When they roar?”  Adaar was sharpening her greataxe with an expression that bordered on thoughtful. It wasn’t a good look for her. “Are they speaking to us?”

“What I wouldn’t give to know what they’re saying when they roar,” Bull rumbled.

They? Need I remind you, Bull, that I am a dragon?”

“Yeah. They. The ones that don’t talk.”

Dorian pinched the bridge of his nose. One must choose his battles.

“That’s like asking you if you can understand an enemy’s war cry,” he said instead, evading the answer he knew Bull would not like; that, generally, they were just trying to feed their children. “You see, there’s speaking, and then there’s screaming.”

“So you can understand the intent behind it,” Bull mused. “Add a little context and you’re all set.”

Maker, but he was smart. It was maddening.

“Believe me, Bull. It’s nothing you’d find interesting,” a lie, “and I’d hate to ruin dragon slaying for you.” That was true. Dorian huddled deeper into the scarf he’d wrapped around his face, tucking his hands into his robes.

“What did that last dragon say, then?” Bull asked, grinning. “The one at the Graves.”

“The one you tore the head off of,” Adaar added helpfully.

“I know which one he means, thank you, Inquisitor. And if I recall, she told me I had no business being in the area she planned to raise her hatchlings in.”

Adaar and Bull exchanged surprised glances. “What did you say?” Adaar asked at last.

“I asked her who, in their right mind, would raise children next to giants, and then burned half her scales off.”

Bull laughed, full-bellied and genuine. He clapped Dorian on the back and kissed him on the cheek. “That’s my ataashi.”

 

-----

 

Bull found Dorian in the garden of the Winter Palace. His excuse was making rounds; in reality, the qunari missed him. Bull was starting to notice little things like that.

“How’s it going, big guy?” Bull asked as he lowered himself next to Dorian. No one was within immediate earshot, but they could still be seen; Bull found that he didn’t much care, and rested his hand on Dorian’s thigh regardless. Dorian made no move to stop him.

“Oh, you know how it is. I’m too entertaining for my own good. They all fled when they realized I was much better company than they could ever be.”

“Ought to let a little dragon out, kadan,” Bull chuckled.  “Go back to the dance floor with a set of horns. Give ‘em something to talk about.”

“Believe it or not, the pesky in-between is the hardest to get,” Dorian answered. “Convincingly blending the two is difficult enough, but the real issue lies in trying to figure out how you’re meant to move as a result.” He sounded aggrieved, but the glimmer in his eyes gave him away.

“Nothing as inconvenient as altering your shape,” Bull protested with a grin. “Just a few scales. Maybe some claws?”

“No, see, you’d think that, but have you any idea how difficult it is to move with scales? There’s hardly any stretch to one’s skin. It’s got to be all wrinkly to compensate. I doubt you want a leathery man in your bed.”

Bull laughed. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“And I’ve learned my lesson with claws,” Dorian went on, deciding firmly that he didn’t want to know. “If your skin can’t withstand it, don’t leave it on while naked. It in this case being attached to your fingers, and unremovable thusly.”

“I’ve carried my axe naked plenty of times, and can’t recommend it enough.”

Dorian eyed his lover’s scar-riddled skin. “I doubt it would do much to your decorated hide.”

Bull laughed warmly, a vision in that silly red dress coat, and kissed the top of Dorian’s hand. “We’re almost finished for the night. See you in the room later?”

“Of course, amatus,” Dorian smiled. He kissed Bull’s cheek, and found that he couldn’t care less who may have seen it. “It takes a special kind of madness to take a dragon to bed. It looks like I’m stuck with you.”

“Their loss,” Bull replied, and wandered back to his post with a smile.

 

-----

 

Dorian lay stretched against The Bull’s side in the afterglow, head pillowed between shoulder and clavicle. He had been running his fingers absently over a long, twisting scar that wound its way down Bull’s abdomen. It did an excellent job of drawing the eye, as it were. Tomorrow they had an empress to save, but tonight he intended to do nothing other than enjoy the spectacular bedding of the Winter Palace.

Dorian sighed contentedly and stilled his hand on Bull’s skin. He felt the man’s chest swell, drawing in a breath to speak. Dorian expected an innuendo and rolled his eyes preemptively.

“What’s flying like, kadan?”

Oh. Well then.

 “That’s… a good question.” Dorian cupped his chin thoughtfully with his fingertips, staring into space as he cast about for a good analogy. He wasn’t frustrated; the curiosity was completely founded. It just seemed all too easy, how well he fit against Bull, and how well the man took every curve Dorian threw at him. This could have gone so much worse. Frankly he was amazed it hadn’t.

Flying, as it turned out, was also very difficult to describe.

“What’s running like?” He answered at last. It came out sharper than he intended, and The Bull, sweet, darling, wonderful Bull, took it in stride.

“So, quick transportation? Tiring after a while, better in short spurts. Mundane for the most part, unless you do it down a hill for no good reason.”

Kaffas, the man catches on quick.

“You’re very eloquent,” Dorian muttered instead. It was surprisingly sincere regardless.

“Bet it’s great if you haven’t been able to do it in a while, though.”

“It is,” Dorian amended.

He craned his neck up, nose bumping against Bull’s jawline, and he found that The Bull was staring at him. It honestly wasn’t strange; they were alone in the room. And Dorian was naked.

Dorian being naked did tend to have that effect on people.

No, the matter at hand, the issue, was that The Bull was staring at him, at Dorian, like the mage was his world. A treasure to behold. The most spectacular thing he had ever seen.

So really, honestly, nothing had changed at all.