A folded blanket from cold nights…
An axe still stained in tainted Templar blood…
A promise never broken…
Half of a dragon’s fang…
“Are you sure about this, Dorian?” Skyhold was cold, as it often was, but the air was eerily still in the silent morning before the sun’s rise, the Frostbacks holding their breath in preparation of a new dawn. A few members of the servant staff bustled about the grounds, the baker was rolling his dough in the tavern, and the night-watch patrolled the ramparts one last time before the change of guard. It was strange to see the place he had come to know as so full of life be so silent and calm. But the Inquisitor’s voice was enough to carry through such lonely thoughts – there was a reason he was Andraste’s Chosen, whether he started that way or not. But just seeing Thidran Adaar’s face was painful.
“Yes. I need some time…” Dorian turned his honey eyes up to see Thidran’s frame, a powerful silhouette in the pre-morning light. He was strong, physically and mentally, that much had been proven, but no matter what he was Qunari (or rather, Tal’vashoth), and Dorian just couldn’t handle that. “Please, if Solas returns, alert me immediately.”
“Solas?” Thidran asked with understandable confusion. Dorian had never been very close to the elf, nobody had, but he doubted that the Inquisitor would understand. Regardless, the man’s wide shoulders slumped slightly, “Yes, very well. You’ll have word as soon as we find something. But are you sure you wouldn’t like an escort? At least to the-“
“I’ll be fine!” Dorian cut in perhaps too sharply. He saw his friend’s frame stiffen a little and he turned his eyes down, ashamed of his lack of self-control. He took a breath and chose new words to assuage his hostility, “I’m sorry. I’ll… I can handle the journey on my own.”
There was a long pause where a goodbye belonged, where they once would have shared a hug or friendly words of well-wishes. Instead, Dorian Pavus turned and grabbed the reins of his horse, adjusting the band of the wrapped axe over his shoulders before he hauled himself up. Normally he had help getting into a saddle. Once he was situated he tested his balance and nudged the beast towards Skyhold’s main gates.
“Be safe.” Thidran finally said, willing their parting words to be good ones.
Dorian held no such desire and simply nodded as he moved. He was terrible at goodbyes. At that moment, only Thidran knew of his leaving and such was only because the mage knew that if he didn’t give proper word then the Qunari would send half of Skyhold after him in worry. He meant well, truly.
The others would worry, but they likely understood.
The ride to Tevinter would normally take three days at a decent pace. Dorian took well over a week’s time to reach the border, and another two days to reach Minrathous. He never once got lost on the way there, but stopped several times when he felt another anxiety attack curling in his chest. He would sit and pull his knees up, clutching a ragged old blanket around himself as if he were truly freezing.
“Why is it always so cold? How do you Southerners stand it?” Dorian was knee deep in the snow drifts of Emprise Du Lion, shivering and sniffling. Admittedly he looked amazing as always, but he never actually thought he would die to keep his sense of fashion. Hypothermia was looking like a very painful way to go, especially when anyone else was likely to die from demons or red Templars.
From up ahead, The Iron Bull chuckled, “What’s the matter? Not enough slaves around to rub your footsies?” Of course the Qunari brute was wearing just his harness and those ridiculously large pants, the cold not even appearing to faze him. Bastard.
The Tevinter mage puffed up, “My footsies are freezing, thank you!” He shot in return, ignoring the sideways look he got from Varric for his comment.
Nothing more was said on the matter, and Dorian went on shivering so violently that his teeth chattered loudly in the cold, empty air. Next time they went to this frigid land of desolation, he would make sure Thidran took Solas. The Qunari spent enough time staring at the elf’s rear as it was, all Dorian would have to do was make up some old ruin to get the Apostate excited to go.
He was sitting beside the fire as night was closing in, near enough to the flame that he was tempted to simply crawl in. Something heavy dropped over his shoulders and startled him enough that he looked up to see that Bull was moving to sit down a few feet away. The blanket surrounding Dorian was assuredly the Qunari’s; It was huge, big enough to cover four humans easily, with a rough fabric that seemed to be made of burlap, but oh it was heavy and warm. The mage didn’t say a word as he gathered up the blanket around himself and found the biting cold almost completely blocked out.
It was a few minutes later that his nose stopped running, and he was able to take in the scent of something heady and powerful. He pulled some of the blanket up over his head like a hood to keep his ears warm and was almost completely enveloped by the raw scent of Bull, thick and powerful (though not entirely pleasant, he had to admit). It was a man’s scent, and despite the obvious touch of unwashed body odor, there was something altogether comforting about the sense of safety it carried. Bull had to survive without his precious blanket that night.
And the night after…
Dorian inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. The scent was still strong enough that the memory felt fresh.
A knock at the door made Dorian look up and frown. He was just getting ready for bed, the moon was high, and there was little that would make the mage lose out on his beauty sleep. He fixed his long emerald robes and ran his fingers through his hair to fix any cowlicks before going to answer his door, mildly surprised to see The Iron Bull filling his doorway.
“You should stick to magic, Dorian, stealing isn’t your thing.” The massive Qunari folded his arms over his chest and Dorian felt a thread of unease in his gut.
“What are you talking about?” he feigned his innocence behind a mask of incredulity.
Bull rolled his one good eye but seemed more amused than upset, “The guard said he saw you sneaking out of my room earlier and I know how cold your footsies get.”
“I…that’s preposterous! Like I would take anything from you, especially that pathetic excuse for a—hey!” Dorian was pushed out of the way as Bull muscled his way in and walked over to the bed where the stolen property was still very obvious. Dorian’s cheeks burned but he held his ground, “For such a shoddy material, it’s remarkably warm.” He huffed.
“Looks can be deceiving huh?” The Bull grinned and waggled his single brow.
The mage rolled his eyes, “Take your blanket and go, I would like to get some sleep.”
Suddenly the warmth of the blanket was surrounding him as he was pulled closer to a large body that radiated heat, “You know I’m up to…sharing the blanket if you ever want.” The Qunari suggested, “All you gotta do is ask.”
The heat was comforting, the body inviting, and there was that scent again invading and strong, but the mage had a reputation to uphold and so he scoffed, pushing himself away, “Out!” He barked, shoving Bull towards his door.
Dorian smiled at the stupid memories as errant tears ran unbidden down the contours of his face. He buried himself in the blanket more often than not, and found a corner of the material was perpetually damp. He didn’t care anymore.
He travelled light, and hardly noticed he was barely eating one meal a day. The loneliness was crushing, aching… He had grown used to having someone to talk to, someone to count on. However as his horse made its way into the sprawling beauty of Minrathous, Dorian felt a wash of relief crest over him as a sense of home eased the raw ache in his chest. He still had a ways to go to get to Qarinus, but he still felt more at ease than he had in weeks.
“Dorian, you’ve been to Minrathous, right?” The group had been travelling in the Hinterlands for just over a day and had gone quiet after a particularly rough scrape with the demons of one of the rifts. The question from The Iron Bull caught the mage off guard…
“Of course. I’m not a plebian.” Came his response without needing thought, but when the memories came to mind they brought a longing smile to his lips that he hoped nobody else saw. Bull did, of course.
Bull grinned, pressing the matter, “You ever been to that place in the Vivazi Plaza, with the big cracked bell hanging off the roof?”
That longing turned into a pang, something painful. Dorian was still struggling with having made the decision to leave home. “With the dancers, yes. You’re making me homesick.” He said curtly in an effort to cut the conversation before it got more distressing. When did Bull spend time in Minrathous? The thought of the Qunari in his homeland’s capital sent unease through him.
It was several hours later in the glow of the campfire, after Solas and the Inquisitor had gone to bed, that Bull spoke up again. “What’s that place called again, Dorian?”
“What place?” the mage asked with a yawn. He was once again wrapped comfortably in Bull’s blanket, it had become something the mage practically demanded now when they travelled.
“With the dancers, and the bell…”
There was silence for a long moment before the mage sighed, too tired to be petulant. “Terrazi. Terrazi of Vivazi. The dancers started as a way to ease the minds and bodies of injured Tevinter soldiers after their skirmishes with the Qunari.” He said softly, “And the bell is Renfole’s Grace. Originally it was crafted by the dwarves long ago, but during the invasion from the Qunari, Renfole struck the bell with such might as to warn the people of Tevinter of the coming attack that the bell cracked from the force.”
“Huh… They teach you all that in those fancy schools?” Bull asked and it was surprisingly callous, enough to make the mage bristle.
“When one has a love of his country, he makes a point to learn all he can.” Dorian said sharply, some of the exhaustion dispelling in the hostility.
More silence curled around them uneasily, “Sorry.” Bull finally said.
Dorian stood up and brushed himself off, “I’m going to bed.”
Minrathous was as beautiful as Dorian remembered, but every time he came to the city he saw more and more decay and wear. Every building was crafted from an age long past, but there was despair in the chipped paint and stone, exhaustion in the mold filled alley ways. His people needed help, and with the inspiration brought about by the Inquisitor, he hoped to be among the ones to bring such assistance.
He made a point to pass through the Vivazi Plaza, to look up at the cracked bell, and he smiled for the first time since…
He pressed on through the plaza and stopped at a Tavern. It would be the first bed he would sleep in since leaving Skyhold. He had his horse stabled and paid for his room and three bottles of good Minrathous wine. He missed it. He missed a lot of things.
His room was plain, but the bed was at least large. He took off the heavy shoulder strap and let down the axe on his back with a grunt. She was wrapped in cloth, but it was still obvious what the item was. An axe almost as tall as Dorian himself, and it weighed enough that he had struggled to lift it with his back. He found the pressure oddly comforting though, and when it was gone, he felt the swell of loneliness crowding him once more.
He set the three bottles down on the nightstand nearest the window and went to open it to the city. The scent of Minrathous filled his lungs as he sat down and took the first bottle, then grabbed the pack he’d brought up from his horse’s saddle bag. Dorian uncorked the bottle of wine and took a long pull straight from the top, the smooth liquid easing his parched throat. It was then that he realized he hadn’t actually eaten that day as the alcohol quickly made its way into his system.
From inside of the pack, the mage extracted a vial. The contents inside were bright blue and glowed from its own existence. He hadn’t taken Lyrium since he was in training, it was easy to get addicted and stint one’s own magic from dependence. He didn’t care anymore. He pulled the stopper from the vial and took a deep inhale of the contents, relaxing, then emptied the vial into the wine.
With a few distinct swirls, the alcohol began to glow and hum. On his next pull of the bottle he felt as if he were in heaven. The sweet smoothness of the alcohol and the soft, icy texture of the Lyrium seized him, body and mind, nothing else mattered. He lost his ability to stand after the first bottle, and after the second, he found himself curled up with Bull’s blanket around the wrapped axe.
Rifts were not Bull’s favorite thing. In fact, Dorian knew that the Qunari loathed demons – a fear he didn’t try to hide much. Yet still he charged into the thick of the rifts at the Inquisitor’s word to fight what he openly feared. At least, Dorian had thought as much at first.
Surely The Iron Bull and the Inquisitor shared a kinship; they certainly shared the battlefield like brothers of war. But Thidran couldn’t always protect the Bull’s back when both of the Qunari were focused on what was in front of them. Dorian wasn’t sure when that became his job… The first time was when a demon was lunging for Bull’s back, Dorian hadn’t even registered the threat before he was casting a spell, launching great spikes of ice through the creature until it crumbled to mist and was pulled back into the rift.
It happened so fast he didn’t think Bull saw it.
He didn’t realize at the time how much The Iron Bull actually saw, even missing one of his eyes.
They were getting their wind back after the fight when Bull clapped Dorian on the back so hard it threw the mage forward several steps. “Nice work with the magic back there, Dorian. You’re pretty good at blowing guys up!”
Dorian was straightening himself out (in only the most literal sense of the term) as he tried to assert his pride, “It’s significantly more impressive than hitting them with a sharp piece of metal.” He scoffed.
“Hey, whoa, let’s not get crazy.” The Bull laughed out loud, jovial and with all of his body. There was a pause, Dorian thought the conversation over, “But really, thanks. It’s good to know someone’s got my back like that.” It was the first time Dorian noticed how nice of a smile the Qunari had…
After that, Dorian continued to have Bull’s back in a fight. He didn’t consider needing someone to watch his back until the day it was almost too late.
Red Templars were always difficult to deal with, not just because of their knowledge of how to deal with magical foes but because the red Lyrium sang such a strange song. It was distracting, and Dorian learned that he couldn’t afford to ponder about her siren song in the thick of battle.
There were too many Templars to count in Daerwin’s Mouth, the cave felt claustrophobic, and the clusters of red Lyrium were so distracting. Varric was with them, helping them find the main supplies of the stuff to destroy, but it was very well protected.
The Qunari pair were in the front again, handling the bulk of the Templars, but the Lyrium’s song alerted Dorian to something from behind. He spun around and had a spell ready, not prepared for how the shield was angled, how his fire was thrown back at him down at his feet, burning his ankles. He tried to jump back as the Templar pressed forward in the same instant and was knocked to the ground, already preparing another spell when the sword was swung and knocked Dorian’s staff from his hand.
The follow through was swift. No sooner was his staff knocked away, the Templar twisted his sword to prepare the final blow aimed for the mage’s heart. He had no time to conjure a spell without his staff and was too stunned to move away.
He had believed, in that moment, that was how he was going to die.
There was a roaring snarl and a spray of blood just before the blade was due to come down. Dorian blinked, stunned, as the Templar had so quickly become two halves of a man on the ground. The Iron Bull was standing over Dorian, lifting his axe back up as he growled again. He stepped back and suddenly Dorian found himself being hauled up to his feet by the front of his shirt, Bull looking him over with a critical eye.
“You alright?” The Qunari asked.
“I…” Dorian was still stunned but he managed a nod, “I’ll be fine. Thank you, Bull.”
The man snorted and grinned, “These guys were trained their whole lives to fight mages. A lot of them have lost their senses in the madness of the Lyrium, but it’s the ones who haven’t that are most dangerous. Keep close ‘Vint.” He clapped the mage on the back and nearly sent him flying back to the ground.
Before he could respond, Bull was gone again.
Though Bull didn’t bring the incident up again, it stuck with Dorian. A Qunari warrior had saved his life, and a Tevinter mage had saved Bull’s. The South was truly a strange place.
That night, after Varric and Thidran went to their beds, Dorian once again found a heavy blanket being dropped over his shoulders. Bull smirked as he sat down, and Dorian had a quip ready on the tip of his tongue, but couldn’t bring himself to say it. Instead, he found himself moving closer, and invited himself to sit right in Bull’s lap.
He was warm, though many of his angles were hard. To his credit, Bull didn’t say a word, and instead reached up to fix the blanket and pulled Dorian closer. Dorian wasn’t quite sure when they started kissing, but it simply happened and felt right. Strong arms wrapped around his waist and held him firmly against Bull’s body and Dorian reached up, wrapping his own arms around Bull’s shoulders, hands coming to rest on those wide horns.
Curious, he thought as he let his fingers trace over the rough surface. Never had the mage thought he would get the chance to touch a Qunari’s horns unless he was being gored by them.
Never had he been kissed so wholly. The sensation was that of being devoured, but not out of a rushed lust as he was used to from his kinsmen, but like that of a starving man getting food for the first time in months. There was no tongue or force, but being surrounded by warmth and having such a strong body against him was enough to make him dizzy all on its own.
When they finally broke apart, neither of them said anything for a moment. Dorian moved and tucked his head into the curve of Bull’s throat, fixing the blanket around himself once again. Finally, Bull broke the silence, “It’s probably gonna get colder tonight.”
“Wonderful.” Dorian scoffed, turning to bury his face in warm, thick skin to avoid a small gust of wind.
“Care to share the blanket?” There was a smirk in that voice, but Bull’s arm was still wrapped around Dorian’s waist, keeping him close. The mage wasn’t used to that, wasn’t accustomed to being held or feeling…wanted. So often it was about sexual needs and lust.
What would the Inquisitor think if he woke and found Dorian not in his bed. If he went to Bull to alert him that the mage was missing only to find them tangled together like…like…
“As nice of a thought as that is, I’d rather not give Varric new material for one of his trashy novels.” He deflected, slowly sitting up.
A long silence fell between them and Dorian took the opportunity to study the Qunari’s face again. “Thank you, though. For earlier I mean, in the caverns.”
Understanding dawned on the other’s face and he gave a small nod, “It’s what me ‘n my axe are for ‘Vint. You got my back, I got yours.” And as he said that, a large hand pressed against Dorian’s back and they were kissing again.
They shared the blanket that night.
Most nights, since leaving Orlais, Dorian got almost no sleep. He had grown so used to hearing other voices, servants moving about. Without them, he lay awake for hours no matter how exhausted he was. With them, he at least had something else to listen to. Alcohol helped, and he found that Lyrium could make his dreams feel real. He could live in his memories and forget…
Some nights though, sleep found him quickly. Those were the nights he was visited by the Wolf in the forest. Dorian wasn’t sure if he liked these dreams or not, because the Wolf would look upon him with such sorrow in his eyes as they walked aimlessly through the dreamed forests.
Tonight was one of those nights. The alcohol and Lyrium pulled him into a deep slumber and he found himself not in the embrace of one of his memories, but standing in a dimly lit forest with everything cast in green. His companion stood before him as silent as ever, large even (or especially) for a wolf. He stood taller than Dorian and had wide, intelligent eyes. Sometimes Dorian expected the beast to speak, it was a dream after all, but he never did.
They walked, winding through the trees. Dorian reached out a hand and buried it in thick black fur, finding an immeasurable amount of comfort from the beast. He, much like Bull, made the mage feel safe.
Sometimes Dorian spoke, just to ease the silence. Not tonight, however. Even in a dream, he felt too drunk and relaxed to talk to something that wouldn’t talk back. At least with the Wolf, he wasn’t so lonely.
Dorian’s foot caught on an errant root, he stumbled and fell to the ground on his hands and knees and suddenly felt too heavy to get up. He looked and saw the Wolf watching him with those wide, sad eyes and it motioned for him to get up and follow. “I can’t…” the mage breathed weakly, an unknown weight holding him down, “I can’t…”
The Wolf was before him suddenly, and Dorian’s arms were full with a furry body as he collapsed into tears.
It happened every time. Every dream with the Wolf ended with him crying like a child, clinging so tight that a normal animal would choke. But the Wolf just lay down to give the fallen mage better access, turned its great head as if to hold the man and waited patiently. “Why…” he asked the Wolf, burying his face in the creature’s fur near its ear, “Why can’t I get back up?”
The Wolf didn’t answer, of course it didn’t. Instead the beast raised its great head and let out a loud, mournful howl.
Dorian felt the howl carry his consciousness out of the world of dreams. He woke with a stiff neck, his head resting on the flat of the covered axe which made it throb painfully, his body ached as he moved. So he chose to remain, pressing his face against the hard metal, letting the pain of his hangover dull out the ache in his heart.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but a knock at his door had the mage looking up. The distance between the bed and the door seemed like miles, but the knocker was persistent, “Mr. Pavus?” came a woman’s voice.
The mage groaned and pulled himself to his feet, staggering to the door. He knew in an instant that he looked awful by the way the woman’s eyes travelled over him with a grimace. He couldn’t tell her features, all he really saw was olive skin and brown hair. She didn’t have a weapon, so it didn’t matter. “Can I help you?” Dorian asked, and she flinched away from what must have been horrible breath.
“Um…you only paid for one night. We’re going to have to ask you to vacate the room or pay for another night.” She said, trying to remain polite and professional.
He swallowed as he pondered this. How long had he been asleep? “I’ll be gone in a few minutes.” He promised, because even if the prospect of staying another night wallowing in wine and self-pity was nice, he knew he needed to finish his pilgrimage home. He offered the woman a wan smile and she returned it with pity.
He was sick of pity.
He waited until the woman left before closing the door, then went to the bed and sat down heavily. He realized, belatedly, that he had fallen asleep in his clothes and even his shoes. His bottles were laid on the floor and there was a stain on his collar. He reeked of alcohol and pondered just staying one more night so he didn’t risk returning to House Pavus looking in such a terrible state.
Regardless, he cleaned up his mess and fixed his clothing to the best of his ability. The axe felt even heavier as he shouldered it, attaching the pouch of Lyrium to his belt before he grabbed the last bottle of wine and took his leave of the room. As he left the inn he spotted the woman from his doorway and offered her a smile and gave her a tip for having to deal with him in such an awful state.
His horse was ready from the stables and it took several awkward attempts to pull himself onto the beast’s back. He swayed, felt as if he would fall, but pushed the horse to move on the pathway leading out of Minrathous.
He was sure someone had recognized him, that there would be awful rumors about the son of Lord Pavus looking like some unwashed vagabond. He couldn’t bring himself to care.