Dorian threw a hand out to catch himself against the stone wall before his drunken fumble sent him sprawling to the ground. He huffed out a laugh as he pushed himself up and away from the wall and continued his, only slightly wobbly, journey back to his chamber. It had been a good night. Drinking with people he worked with had never felt so… carefree back in Tevinter. Everything was so much simpler in Skyhold; soldiers swapping tales, bawdy songs, and friendly insults over cheap beers in a warm, cosy tavern. It wasn’t sophisticated, by any means, and Maker forbid he spent too much time with Bull and his rowdy gang of misfits! But it was straightforward in a way Tevinter gatherings, with their incessant and often deadly political manoeuvring, simply were not.
It was relaxing.
Dorian rolled his shoulder with a satisfied sigh, and glanced up at the night sky, drinking in the starlight. It couldn’t last, he knew, but here in Skyhold he felt safe. Safe in a way he never knew he needed until he experienced it. It was novel, and heady. The feeling that the people around him really didn’t want to kill him or see him disgraced. Nor did they much care what he did or did not achieve. He knew safety was an illusion of course; Haven had burned that into everyone’s minds more than effectively. But right this moment, he was enjoying the feeling of the people around him not wanting him dead. They quite liked him even.
The staircase up to the battlements was longer than he would have liked, but Dorian had postponed the climb long enough with drunken night time musings. There was almost no one in the courtyard, just the sounds of revelry from the tavern filling the air. There was another soldier just exiting the tavern, but other than that Dorian was alone. Dorian turned, heading to his room above the keep gardens. He smiled at the thought that the Iron Bull, who had discreetly excused himself earlier with a secretive wink, would be waiting for him. They weren’t hiding their relationship anymore, but the Iron Bull had some surprise plan for this evening that required a little preparation. Dorian shivered in anticipation.
Movement some way behind him caught his attention, and he realised the soldier who had exited the tavern was coming up the same way he had just done and seemed to be in something of a hurry. Dorian thought it odd, but maybe he was late for a rendezvous of his own? Or needed the privy badly? Dorian mentally shrugged off the behaviour but picked up his pace a little anyway as he entered the battlement tower between the main courtyard and the garden. It was an unused, dark, and deserted pocket of Skyhold, and despite knowing he was in no danger here Dorian couldn’t quite help but feel unnerved about being alone with a stranger there. That thought made him tense a little, and he picked up his pace again to be through the secluded spot and onto the landing of the battlements surrounding the garden quickly.
He was almost at his door when he chanced a glance back and saw the soldier just a few steps behind him, arm stretched out and mouth open as if about to speak. Dorian froze with sudden indecision; had the man simply wanted to speak to him? Following him up the stairs in the quiet dark of a fortress long asleep was a certain way to give Dorian a heart attack, but maybe the soldier had thought to catch him as he left the tavern and miscalculated?
The horrifying refutation of that theory came moment later, with a quietly spoken chant followed by a flash of bright light around him that made his limbs lock and the bottom of his stomach drop painfully as he felt the mana drain from him instantly. The soldier was a Templar.
“Wha…? Mmmph!” Dorian’s stunned question was cut off by the man grabbing him roughly around the waist and clamping his other hand over Dorian’s mouth. He swayed dangerously; the wave of dizziness and nausea that passed over him from the Templar’s smite might have sent him to his knees if it wasn’t for the rough hands holding him upright.
“Quiet, maleficar,” the man whispered harshly in Dorian’s ear. Dorian struggled to focus on the words, disoriented from drink and being so suddenly stripped of his magic. The man’s grip was strong and tight around him, and in his weakened state he couldn’t hope to break free of it.
In a far-off part of his mind still able to focus on what was happening, something about the situation seemed ridiculous. What was this man intending to do? They were in full view of the garden and right outside occupied rooms with only drapes over the windows keeping them from being seen. Even paltry resistance was sure to be overheard and Bull was barely five meters from where they stood.
As his mind adjusted to the pounding in his head and overwhelming urge to vomit, Dorian noticed that the man was trembling. And not with excitement. This had gone wrong, he realised with a jolt. The Templar had probably intended to catch up to him in the tower, where they would be unobserved. Not here on the balcony in full view of all the guest rooms!
“Your Qunari fuck toy visiting today?” the Templar continued.
Dorian made a muffled sound of angry protest at the descriptor but nodded anyway. Better the Templar know how close help was after all.
The Templar shifted, as though looking toward Dorian’s door. Before turning his attention back to Dorian. “Ok, ok, you just… stay quiet,” there was a slight quiver in his voice, making the order sound nervous and uncertain, rather than intimidating.
The arm around Dorian’s waist shifted, loosening its grip and snaking downward, running down and then up his thigh. Calloused fingers hooked into the edge of Dorians breeches and inched underneath, teasing and exploring until they tickled the sensitive flesh between Dorian’s leg and pelvis. Dorian jumped at the intimate touch, eyes wide with disbelief. Did the man really think he could still get away with this? He couldn’t seriously be relying on Dorian standing there obediently while he was violated and raped when help was so close by, could he? Added to which, Dorian was very aware of what both the man’s hands were doing; he wasn’t even armed!
Dorain was now restrained only by the hand over his mouth, and the probing touches of his assailant. Not a difficult grip to wrench himself out of, even smited. And, nervous as he was, the cowardly templar could well bolt the second his imbecilic plot went even further awry. Dorian felt good about those odds.
Dorian shoved back suddenly and violently so the man was thrown back against the balcony wall. “Get the fuck away from me!” he hissed, with all the haughty pride of a Tevinter Altus who expects to be obeyed that he could muster through a haze of alcohol and templar magic. He held the wide-eyed man’s gaze with a steely glare for a second, and the next moment his assailant dashed for the exit before Dorian could think to raise the alarm.
Dorian slumped, leaning heavily against the wall of Skyhold. His stomach rolled, the after effects of the Templar’s smite still hitting him in waves. He bent double, one hand clenched on the stone beside him, and vomited onto the floor. He didn’t bother to try and keep his retching and gagging silent. He didn’t care who he woke, or what they would think of him; drunk, sweating and shaking against the wall. A few metres away Dorian’s door creaked open, and he was aware of Bull’s hand resting comfortingly on the middle of his back as he continued to bring up the contents of his stomach. Dorian looked back at Bull wearily and was met with concern, but it was mixed with a glint of amusement.
“I must be slipping Kadan, had I known you’d drunk this much I would have hauled you back here with me to keep an eye on you,”
Dorian coughed, “It’s not… it’s not the alcohol…” then he thought for a moment before amending, “Not only the alcohol,”
Bull cast an appraising glance over him, shrewd eyes taking in the subtle shake to Dorian’s frame and sickly sheen of perspiration. “Are you sick?”
“There was a Templar. He… he cast smite and I…he…” Dorian stood abruptly, staggering a little, but catching himself and leaning back against the wall. “I’m ok. I’m alright.”
“A Templar cast smite on you? He attacked you?” Bull’s eyebrow had risen impossibly high, and Dorian could hardly blame him. There was no one here except Dorian, no signs of a struggle, no blood, no fuss. Only a sickening tingle on his body where the Templar had touched him, and that was probably imagined.
Dorian nodded, “It was over quickly. He lost his nerve when I decided to fight back. I suppose he’s used to a more docile breed of mage,” he spat viciously.
“He attacked you here?”
“Quite so,” Dorian chuckled, “And you’re not wrong to look so incredulous. I hardly believe it myself, only I still can’t feel the fade. But it did happen Bull.”
“Dorian, you don’t need to convince me. I believe you I just… I didn’t hear anything until I heard you being sick. There was a flash a minute ago, but it was gone so quickly, and storms are common here I…” Bull stopped abruptly and shook his head. “This isn’t helping. You need to sit down, let’s get you inside.”
Dorian nodded faintly and allowed himself to be led into his chamber where he sat down heavily on the bed. He heard the clink of ceramic as Bull poured water from the jug on the dresser, and soon enough Bull was crouching in front of him and pressing a full cup into his hands. Bull rested a large hand on each of Dorian’s thighs and massaged the muscle slightly, grounding him.
Bull caught Dorian’s gaze, “I’m going to find one of the night shift guard and get them to fetch Cullen. I won’t be gone long, and I’ll be back as quickly as I can,” he said gently.
“I’m fine, Bull. Once the damn smite wears off I’ll be right as rain. Go get Cullen, I’ll be ok on my own, I promise,” There was a brief pause, and Dorian knew Bull was deciding whether to believe him, so he smiled widely and hoped it was reassuring. “Really Bull, I’m alright,”
Bull let out a deep sigh and stood up, wincing slightly as he put his weight on his bad leg. He bent down and kissed the top of Dorian’s brow briefly before striding out quickly, clearly anxious to be done with his task and back with Dorian.
Dorian sighed, tried to take a sip of water, and cursed himself inwardly when his trembling hands sloshed water onto the bed covers. A headache was rapidly forming behind his eyes, and he wasn’t sure what was nerves, what was the smite and what was alcohol withdrawal. If he thought for a second he could hold it down he’d have cracked open a bottle of something to stave off the hangover for a little while longer. He stretched a hand out in front of him and clenched it into a fist, hating the dull empty feeling that followed when the fade didn’t respond to his call. He was hit with a sudden sense of his own powerlessness, acutely aware that he was alone without either Bull or his magic to shield him. If someone were to attack him now they would probably overpower him easily. What if the Templar hadn’t run off? What if he’d stayed nearby and watched until Bull left to find a guard, and was even now sneaking back along the walkway outside his room? His mind conjured the image of a dark figure slipping in through his door and closing the latch. He shuddered and cradled the cup of water close to his chest, staring resolutely at the door to reassure himself that no one was entering. He wanted to go over and lock it, but he didn’t want Bull to think he didn’t feel safe here.
Dorian jumped unpleasantly when the door finally opened. “Fasta vas…” he muttered and tried to wipe away the water he’d sent directly into his face away with his sleeve. He released the cup to the Iron Bull willingly, but didn’t acknowledge his lover, feeling the blush burn his cheeks.
Cullen, standing in the doorway behind Bull, coughed awkwardly, “Please accept our apologies for startling you, Dorian,”
“You came quickly,” Dorian commented, surprised but a little grateful.
Cullen walked over to the desk and pulled out the chair, swinging it round so it was squarely in front of Dorian and sat down. Dorian felt the bed beside him sink as Bull placed himself down and slid an arm around him.
“I think given the late hour most of the details can wait until morning, but I would know the basics if you feel up to it. Are you hurt?”
Dorian shook his head, “Not at all, thank you Commander. The effects of the smite are unpleasant, but not lasting, as you know,”
Cullen nodded, “How do you feel?”
“Headache, nausea, shaking, and this Maker be damned feeling in the back of my head like I’ve forgotten something every time I try to cast a spell. The first three of those I’d read about, but apparently medical treatises have omitted the more subjective elements of the experience. It’s quite fascinating really. Like the worst hangover I’ve ever had,”
The tentative smile in response to his humour didn’t quite reach Cullen’s eyes. “All to be expected following a smite I’m afraid. The only real danger is you going into mana shock. Suddenly being stripped of your magic can be much like acute lyrium withdrawal; shaking, heart racing, nausea are all normal.”
“Lovely, just lovely,” Dorian muttered, swallowing down the urge to vomit.
Cullen glanced at the Bull, “You may want to keep an eye on him just in case, but I’m not overly concerned,”
Bull nodded, pulling Dorian slightly closer. “Will do, Commander,”
Dorian scowled, “That’s not necessary. I’ve been on the receiving end of Red Templar abilities before today, and will be many times again, I’m quite sure. I don’t need a babysitter because a drunk lout got handsy,”
The Iron Bull frowned, but only glanced toward Cullen.
Cullen shrugged, “Fatal mana shock is rare, and his symptoms are mild. I prefer to err on the side of caution, but there’s no immediate danger,” he paused, turning back to Dorian, “Can you describe the man?”
“I… I got a good look at him. I must have, because I remember the way he looked at me just before he used smite, and afterwards when I shoved him. But…” Dorian let out a long, frustrated breath, “brown hair, fair skin. Ferelden probably”
Cullen drew in a long breath and puffed it out, clearly thinking through the implications, “Dorian… there are over six hundred Templars working with our army. Most of them are Ferelden, and most of those have dark hair. I could rule out those on assignment of course, but even so that’s easily over a hundred suspects, likely more”
Dorian felt himself shrink in on himself with every word. He had known it of course, that there would be almost no hope of finding the assailant, but to hear it said so plainly…
“I’m not giving up, Dorian,” Cullen said quietly, correctly reading the mage’s body language, “I ordered a sweep of the keep, and anyone found outside brought to my office for questioning. I’ll question all the night shift guard about what they saw tonight, and I’ll instruct the captains to ask for alibis from all Templars under their command, and report anyone to me who can’t account for their whereabouts with witnesses. But even so…”
“And what about your captains’ alibis?” Bull demanded levelly. He seemed to be taking this harder than Dorian was.
“Those I will look into personally,” Cullen paused then, as though unsure of what he was about to say, “what am I dealing with here Dorian?”
“You’re asking if he intended to murder me, rape me, or simply ‘teach me a lesson’ yes?” Dorian replied tiredly. He felt Bull stiffen beside him and placed a placating hand over his lover’s. “It was abundantly clear that it was the more carnal of the available options, though I can’t rule out the others I suppose. He did not get far; I am quite unharmed,”
“I’m glad,” another pause, “is there anything else you can give me to go on?”
Dorian shrugged hopelessly, “he was off duty. He was wearing brown common clothes, not a uniform. I didn’t recognise him, so you can rule out most of the senior officers probably. Other than that… Oh, he came out of the tavern shortly after I did. Following me probably,”
Cullen nodded, “That’s something. I’ll send guards to question the patrons now and maybe we’ll be fortunate,” Cullen stood, and clasped Dorian on the shoulder briefly, “Get some rest. I can come by tomorrow late morning to get the full details from you, or you can come to my offices. Whichever you prefer,”
The softness in Cullen’s voice grated on Dorian’s nerves, but he fought down the urge to snap at the well-meaning commander “I’ll come to you, thank you for the prompt attention to this matter,” a strange look passed over Cullen’s face, but he didn’t comment, only bowing neatly in farewell and leaving to carry out further investigations. Dorian felt a twinge of guilt; Cullen was unlikely to get much more sleep tonight.
Bull was stroking gently up and down his arm in small comforting movements, his one eye regarding him intently, “You should rest, Kadan. Need a hand getting out of all that fancy Vint get up?”
“No I… no,” he pulled away slightly, “You can go Bull. Really I’m fine. Just exhausted,” saying the words seemed to make the tiredness hit him full force. He felt completely drained; of energy, of mana, right down to his bones. He badly wanted the oblivion of sleep, and he didn’t have the energy for Bull right now.
Bull shifted so he was facing Dorian and slid his hand up so it rested on Dorian’s neck and cupping cheek softly, “I’m not leaving you alone, Kadan, you don’t need to do that,”
The gentle, careful tone elicited another flash of irritation and Dorian bristled, “I said I’m fine,” he all but hissed, “I just want to sleep Bull, and right now I just need you to let me do that,” couldn’t Bull see that he was too tired for this?
The Iron Bull cocked his head and gave Dorian an appraising look, “I know, that’s why I offered,”
That was a fair point. Dorian fought the impulse to lash out in response to the reasonable response, instead gathering his self-control and looking Bull determinedly in the eye, “I know, I’m sorry. But I’m ok on my own, and I… need some space right now,”
“How long will it take for your magic to come back?”
Dorian did snap this time, “I’m not some defenceless waif of a mage who’s never left the Circle in their life Bull, I happen to be quite adept at combat without my magic!”
Bull raised his hands up in a surrendering gesture, “Woah there spitfire, I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t,” he placed his hands on Dorian’s shoulders and bent over so he was looking directly into Dorian’s eyes, “I want you to feel safe. And Cullen told me to keep an eye on you remember?”
Dorian ignored the image his mind presented of a Templar stalking into the room while he lay prone and focused on his annoyance instead. “There’s no need. As I have said many times already tonight: I’m completely fine. I’m not injured. The mean old Templar didn’t steal my virtue away. I. Am. Fine. Honestly Bull, I’ve suffered worse injuries in the library; paper cuts at least bleed,”
Bull made a weak sound, half frustrated, half pained, “That’s not…”
“Please Bull,” Dorian said softly, “My head’s full of cotton, I ache all over, and my arms feel like lead. I can’t handle you… fretting over me right now,” The heartbroken look in Bull’s eye made Dorian wince inwardly, but he set his jaw and held his lover’s gaze.
“Dorian, I really think…”
“This isn’t a negotiation!” Dorian snapped.
“Ok,” Bull finally relented, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender, “it’s your call. Can I come back in the morning?”
Dorian nodded slowly, “I’ll probably sleep late and head to straight to see Cullen when I wake. Not sure when exactly I’ll do that, so maybe better if I meet you for lunch in the main hall?”
Bull smiled, but it still looked a little broken. Dorian wanted to scream.
Dorian only vaguely registered the Bull kissing his forehead and slowly retreating. He hovered in the entrance to the door, torn, before sighing. “Sleep well, Kadan,” he said, and closed the door behind him. Dorian sagged with relief when he was finally alone, and pulled his legs up, resting his forehead on his knees. He breathed deeply in and out a few times, willing away the nausea. He huffed out a plaintive chuckle under his breath.
So much for people here not wanting to hurt him.
Dorian groaned, the aftermath of his overindulgence in Ferelden beer hitting him in full force. Maker he didn’t know why he did this to himself. Priorities though: he tugged at the fade and had to smile when it responded easily. He raised one arm over his head, flinging a few small tongues of fire into the air and watched them dissipate in the air. Everything was as it should be.
His head protested loudly when he sat up abruptly and swung himself off the bed. “Ugh, Maker,” he muttered. It was summer, and the sun was already high, so his room was brightly lit. All the usual sounds of Skyhold garden were filtering through; laughter, sisters singing the morning chant, the crank of the well. It was so wonderfully idyllic. There were even bloody birds twittering away.
Resolutely ignoring the throbbing in his head, Dorian forced himself into action. He winced inwardly when he swallowed a vial of Stitches home remedy hangover cure. He relished feeling clean and fresh again once he’d washed away the sweat and residual smell of alcohol in the basin on the dresser. He smirked with satisfaction when he observed the trim line he cut in a deep blue velvet doublet with silver finishings. And he raised his head a little higher once his hair was elegantly coiffed and kohl lined his eyes.
Ready to face the world again, Dorian walked out of his chamber with a practiced confident swagger.
“Good morning, Commander,” Dorian’s tone was as light and breezy as the daylight shining in behind him through the doorway, “you got some sleep last night I hope?” he inquired, sitting in a chair opposite Cullen and adopting a reclining position with one booted leg resting on his other knee.
Cullen nodded his head courteously, and Dorian almost missed the hesitant pause that was Cullen deciding whether to play along with Dorian’s easy demeanour. It boded well for their continued friendship that he chose to do so, giving Dorian a broad smile in return. “Thank you for coming Dorian, I slept tolerably well. Water?”
“Usually I would have a junior office take notes during a meeting like this, but I thought you’d appreciate discretion in this case. However if you prefer a more… official approach I can call in my assistant. I can send for the Iron Bull as well if you’d feel more comfortable,”
Cullen’s tone became progressively gentler as he spoke, and immediately the overwhelming sense of irritation Dorian had felt last night with Bull was back. “Cullen my friend, I appreciate all this concern for my wellbeing, truly I do. But really I’d rather not make any more needless fuss. I’ll tell you what I can to help root out the rot in your basket of apples, and then return my attention to the slightly more important matter of Ancient Darkspawn Magisters and Venatori cultists trying to destroy Thedas as we know it. Let’s just get started shall we?”
Cullen let out a long breath, and Dorian knew his friend was fighting back annoyance at the condescending tone. A certain guilty part of him was smugly satisfied. If Dorian had to be irritated then so should the party doing the irritating! “Alright. I see your point. But Dorian… I’ve seen that rot before. I’ve seen what abusive Templars can inflict on mages. Please don’t ask me to minimise this,”
That made him pause. Cullen never talked about Kinloch Hold or the Gallows, but it was no secret both experiences had left their mark on the Commander. Somehow it hadn’t really occurred to him that last night’s events might have unpleasant associations for Cullen. He felt guilty. But he was simultaneously angry at being considered part of the same category as poor abused circle mages. That wasn’t him.
“Alright,” Dorian relented, waving a hand about dismissively, “I won’t. But try not to confuse me with a naïve post pubescent virgin who’s just discovered not all Templar’s are valiant protectors of the innocent, yes?”
Cullen’s laugh was half-hearted at best, “There’s no danger of that, Pavus, have no fear,” Cullen cleared his throat, “Alright, can you tell me what happened? I’ll record what you say, and might ask some questions as we go,”
“Very well,” Dorian nodded, and began his account, keeping it as factual and free of flourish as he could. He stumbled a little over the words when he recalled thinking the Templar might want to speak to him. How could he have been so stupid? And when he recounted realising the Templar’s plan had gone wrong, and how he’d taken advantage of the man being off balance to frighten him off, the words lingered in his mind. What if the Templar had caught up to him in the vacant tower?
Cullen mostly listened and scribbled down notes, occasionally pressing for more descriptive details of the perpetrator that, frustratingly, Dorian could not give him. The whole thing felt like an exercise in futility, searching Skyhold for a brown-haired Templar, and he said as much while Cullen finished off the report.
Cullen smiled sympathetically, “Don’t give up too easily, Dorian. It’s not every Templar; it’s Templars matching your description, who we can place at the Herald’s rest last night. I’ve already got my lieutenants questioning their units, and I’ll have a list of anyone who was there by this afternoon,”
Dorian frowned, considering this, “And what then, Commander? I have no evidence to give you, and you cannot simply banish a man on my say so,”
Cullen huffed a sigh, “We also have a testimony from the Iron Bull that he saw a flash of light coinciding with the attack, and my own testimony that your symptoms were consistent with Templar abilities being used on you,”
“I’m Tevinter,” Dorian snapped, “And we are at war with a Tevinter faction. The Inquisition simply cannot afford to prosecute a Ferelden Templar on the say so of a Tevinter Altus based on ‘it’s possible’ without serious ramifications. It doesn’t look good to our allies, especially Chantry loyalists or patriots.” He wasn’t sure why he was arguing the point so strenuously, but Cullen’s insistence that there was anything to really be done about this was grating on his nerves. Cullen had to investigate. He knew that. But why did he have to feed Dorian this trite story about getting justice when there was none to be had?
“You’re a trusted member of the Inquisition inner circle Dorian,” Cullen replied quietly, “Do you honestly expect the Inquisitor to do nothing? Josephine can smooth over the gossip, that’s what she’s there for,”
A painful pang thrummed in his chest at the words, “That only makes it worse, not better. Surely you know the whispers about undue influence as it is. We can’t give the gossipmongers that kind of ammunition. The damage it would do politically…”
“What about the damage to you?” Cullen interrupted, a hint of frustration colouring his speech again.
“What damage?” Dorian hissed, “I’m completely unharmed, stop making this more than it is!” Dorian stood up, holding up his hand abruptly to forestall whatever Cullen was about to say in reply, “Do you have any further questions for me, Commander?”
There was a long stretch of silence. Dorian fought the urge to shift under Cullen’s hard gaze, instead meeting his eyes steadily. “No further questions,” he finally conceded. Dorian nodded stiffly and walked out, pointedly ignoring the concerned frown that creased the Commander’s brow.
“Dorian!” an exuberant shout sounded across the hall the instant Dorian entered, and Dorian easily located the great bulk of the Iron Bull sat with Varric by the fire on the right hand side waving to him excitedly. Dorian schooled his features into a grin and sauntered over, lowering himself with practiced grace onto a stool by where his friends sat.
The Bull pulled Dorian closer as he sat down, almost causing him to overbalance on the stool, prompting a huff of exasperation from Dorian and a good natured chuckle from Varric.
“Careful Tiny, it would be a shame to crumple that fancy get up so early in the day!” Varric chided as the Iron Bull pressed Dorian, who rather resembled an affronted cat, to his side and leant his cheek on the top of his lover’s head. “And there goes the hair,” Varric sighed theatrically.
“I’m happy to see him is all,” Maker, Bull was practically pouting. “How are you feeling, Kadan?”
“Perfectly well, other than being manhandled by an overexcited ox!” Dorian griped, awkwardly setting the stool upright underneath him as best he could while still tangled in the crushing embrace.
“Did you not get it all out of your system last night?” Varric commented, still chuckling.
The Iron Bull stiffened, but Dorian ignored him. “Well our activities were postponed. Being smited doesn’t really put one in an amorous mood,” Varric’s smile vanished, replaced with blank shock. Dorian pressed on before the concern followed, “A Templar apparently took exception to me and decided to… teach me a lesson? Who can guess at the motives of such base people? Accosted me last night after I left the Herald’s rest. I’m quite unharmed,”
“Teach you a lesson how?” Varric’s voice had a hard edge to it, and his jaw was suddenly tense.
Dorian relaxed into the Iron Bull’s arms and gave Varric a half-smile bordering on a sneer, “Amateurishly. You’d think one would come up with something a bit more likely to actually work when assaulting a highly educated, battle seasoned Altus. Then again I’ve wasted my morning giving Cullen a full account of what happened, and lost a very pleasant evening with my Amatus, so perhaps his true intention was to make me very, very annoyed,”
The Iron Bull squeezed Dorian a little tighter, growling low in his chest, “He tried to rape you,”
Dorian turned toward Bull a little, who was still unnervingly stiff, “He tried. He failed miserably. Fool attacked me in full view of the gardens!” he softened his tone slightly, “I’m honestly fine. No lasting injury,”
Varric shook his head, leaning back again in his chair. “Well Sparkler, we all know you can take care of yourself. But I am glad it didn’t… go any further. Templars aren’t known for being gentle. Cullen is seeing to it?”
Dorian’s lip quirked up in a smirk at this, grateful that Varric seemed content to accept his word that he was ok, unlike the Iron Bull who still held him a touch more protectively than he usually did. “Quite so,” he nodded, “now, what’s there for lunch today?”
Varric seemed to take the hint that Dorian would prefer to drop the topic, and they fell back into easy banter. Banter which got a little strange when Cole drifted in, and even stranger when Sera joined them. All about standard for the Inquisition. Dorian joked and teased his strange group of friends as he and the Iron Bull tucked into their meal, finally feeling able to relax now that his day seemed to be getting back on track. In fact the rest of the day was actually pretty mundane. He went to the library after he finished his meal, and plunged himself back into his research, congratulating himself that he only got a little annoyed when the Bull insisted on walking him to his usual spot. Late into the evening he finally dragged himself away from the dusty tomes and joined the Chargers in the Herald’s Rest, as he did most nights now. He drank Ferelden Beer, ate over boiled lamb stew, and laughed at Krem’s ribbing about being a spoiled fop.
All totally normal.
It was when the evening began to wind down that Dorian got an uneasy feeling which he couldn’t quite pin down, but it settled in the back of his mind and nagged at him. The Iron Bull seemed to notice his sudden restlessness and placed a steadying hand on the small of Dorian’s back.
“Come to my room tonight,” Bull murmured into Dorian’s ear, and ducked down to nuzzle the soft flesh between Dorian’s neck and collarbone. Dorian groaned and pressed back against Bull minutely before he nodded and rose.
Rocky whistled loudly when Bull followed with his hand still resting on Dorian’s hip. The other Chargers followed suit with whistles and cheers, and Dorian gave them an exaggerated eye roll while the Iron Bull laughed joyously. The Bull’s pretence of his usual boisterous mood dropped as soon as they were out of sight of the Chargers however, and Dorian’s shoulders slumped in sympathy with the Bull’s serious demeaner.
They didn’t speak until they were back in the Iron Bull’s bedchamber, and Bull ushered him onto the bed, kneeling down to work on the laces of Dorian’s boots in a way that was decidedly non-sexual. Dorian felt a pang of disappointment noticing this, but also didn’t particularly want to start anything tonight. He was quite sure what they were ignoring would be too loud in the back of his mind and it would just be a horribly awkward experience for both of them. Besides the Iron Bull seemed to need to take care of Dorian a little; reassurance for himself as much as for Dorian most likely.
“I am fine Bull. I promise I am,” Dorian said tiredly when Bull moved onto the second boot.
Bull paused momentarily, but didn’t look up from what he was doing, “I know you handled it. And I know you can look after yourself. But you haven’t really said anything other than ‘I’m fine’. Which just makes me worry that you might not tell me if you weren’t,”
“Oh,” Dorian replied dumbly. It made sense when Bull put it like that. “I guess I don’t really know what else to say about it. Honestly it’s… it’s like it didn’t really happen. I know it did. But everything is normal today, nothing different or physical to prove to myself that it happened so…” Dorian trailed off.
Bull’s eyes met his seriously, “It happened,”
“What I’m trying to say is that… it’s such a non-thing I don’t feel like anything noteworthy even occurred. There’s nothing to be ‘not fine’ about, and nothing really to say about it,” Dorian shrugged, feeling disoriented somehow. Everything he was saying was true, but saying it was strangely unsettling in a way he couldn’t pinpoint.
Dorian felt fingers interlacing with his, “It happened,” Bull said again. And Dorian couldn’t understand why the Bull would be saying that, or why it was such a relief to hear. “and if it wasn’t a ‘non-thing’ and you aren’t really fine, well, that would be ok,”
“I… suppose,” Dorian conceded, “But more than anything I just want people not to fuss over it. We battle dragons so often it’s routine, Bull, I don’t want a pathetic coward of a Templar to be given more weight than that,”
Bull leaned forward and reached up to Dorian’s neck, pulling him down to plant a chaste kiss on his lips, left cheek bone and forehead. “Alright Kadan, if that’s what you need. Let’s get some sleep,” he said softly, and stood so he could start to shrug off his own attire. Dorian stared numbly into space for another moment before he sighed and got to work on the buckles of his own clothing.
The next morning began somewhat abruptly with a messenger waking Dorian and Bull with news that Josephine had successfully obtained an invitation to the impending peace talks at Halamshiral from the Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons. From that point on preparations for joining the talks at the Winter Palace seemed to be all that was on anyone’s mind among the inner circle, and it stayed that way for several days.
The Inquisitor and her advisors spent much of their time tucked away in the war room discussing strategy and familiarising themselves with the movements of Orlesian troops. Bull was busy collecting information from whatever contacts he had left in Orlais that might be of use and was spending a large amount of time in his room writing letters. Dorian himself had been informed that he would be accompanying the Inquisitor, being more used to such events than others he could name, and had a multitude of duties leading up to the event itself. Robe measurements and fittings, practicing casting that wouldn’t draw attention, and reading a multitude of reports from Josephine and Leliana on the people attending the peace talks and how they were connected to Empress Celene, Gaspard, or (possibly) the Venatori.
Dorian was glad of it.
No one asked much about the Templar situation over the next few days, and while he got the occasional sympathetic glance and too concerned questions after his welfare, everyone was far too busy to pry into his protestations that everything was just fine. Which it absolutely was, so it was a relief not to have to continually reassure everyone, especially Bull.
There had, however, been a couple of follow up meetings with Cullen, but the investigation was not going terribly well. There was a long list of Templars who had been at the Herald's Rest, but no one who’s absence had been particularly noted at the time of the assault. Short of lining up everyone who’d been there and asking Dorian to pick out the offender there was little to be done. Cullen had, in fact, offered to do just that but Dorian wasn’t sure he could do so with any certainty. Some days he was half convinced his memory was playing ticks on him and nothing had really happened at all. It seemed an odd thing for him to just make up, so he kept on assuming it had, but with only his memory to go on he didn’t think he could pick someone out and swear to it that they had done something. What if he got it wrong?
He tried not to think about this much.
Dorain threw the latest report Josephine had sent over down onto the desk in front of him with a tired sigh. The information was somewhat interesting this time; a dossier on Lady Mantillon ‘The Dowager’, a powerful member of the Council of Heralds. However as interesting as learning about the untimely ends of her many husbands was (at least her seventh had died at Chateau Haine), it was the end of a long day and he found he had little patience left for Orlesian scandal. He massaged his eyes and groaned lowly. His bed was very appealing but getting up from his seat in the library was very much not.
“There you are Dorian,”
Dorian wiped a hand over his face and blearily looked up at Cullen, who had materialised on the opposite side of his table. “Here I am,” he agreed with a disgusted hand wave at the stack of reports in front of him. “I thought after leaving Tevinter I’d be done with memorising details about multitudes of minor nobility, but apparently not. I just have to do it in two weeks rather than fifteen years,”
Cullen chuckled, a fond smile on his face, but he quickly sobered, “I’m here about the investigation,”
The Commander waited for a response, but Dorian only leant back in his chair and regarded Cullen with one eyebrow arched.
“Yes well… Andraste how do I say this?” Cullen muttered, “Dorian, we’ve nothing to go on. No promising leads. I’ve had my sergeants question their units individually 4 times, and no one can point to anyone acting suspiciously. I’ve made enquiries of the other patrons we know were there that night and found nothing useful. I hate that I have to say this. But there’s nothing more I can do. Unless a new lead appears I have to call off further investigation,”
Dorian took a deep breath. The words didn't sink in immediately; he felt like he was very far away watching himself react, and there was a throbbing sound pounding in his ears. He nodded, stiffly “Of course. I understand Cullen, thank you for taking the time to see me yourself to deliver the news,”
Cullen nodded solemnly. He turned toward the door to the library, then glanced back at Dorian uncertainly, as though trying to decide what he should do. Dorian set his jaw and folded his arms across his chest defensively to dissuade any clumsy offer of comfort from the ex-Templar. Cullen seemed to take the hint because he sighed sadly, looking devastated in a way that set Dorian's teeth on edge. “I’m sorry, Dorian” Cullen said eventually, and left quietly.
Dorian felt… well he wasn’t sure how he felt. Calm and agitated at the same time, as though his mind couldn’t decide whether to allow his emotions free reign or force them back inside the box he usually kept them in. The result was a strange half-emotion that just hovered on the edge of his thoughts. Tidying seemed like a good distraction. Tidy the papers away, go back to his bedroom, order a bath. Normal things.
He found a servant on his way out of the library easily enough and ordered a bath and hot water be brought to his room. His next stop was Josephine, partly because he had promised to pick up an itinerary for the coming trip to Halamshiral, but mostly to cajole her into giving him some of her Antivan bath oils. Bad days deserved Antivan bath oils.
Once back in his chamber, Dorian bore the bustling of servants in his room preparing his bath with his usual forbearance. The Bull hated it, being waited on, but occasionally Dorian liked to indulge. He didn’t have personal servants anymore, but he was high ranking enough in the Inquisition to enjoy some perks occasionally as long as he didn’t go overboard (Josephine’s exact words on the matter). Being waited on had a familiar feeling of home to it for Dorian, and he liked feeling like he hadn’t fallen so very far, no matter his father’s or his country’s opinions. It was a relief when they finally left though, and he was left to strip off his undergarments, fill up his third glass of Antivan red, and step into the sweet-smelling water.
Bull didn’t find him till he was well on his way through a second bottle, elbows resting on the side of the bathtub and frowning eyes fixed on the middle distance. Bull hesitated in the door, taking in the scene before him. Dorian didn’t acknowledge him openly, but the hand without a wine glass tightened on the side of the bath minutely. Tension the ex-Ben Hassrath didn’t miss.
“You ok, Kadan?” Bull asked tentatively, moving fully into the room and shutting the door.
Dorian took another swig of wine and continued frowning. “Oh fi-hic-fine, everything is just fine,” there was sarcasm in his tone this time, not really trying to convince the Iron Bull. Bull hoped that was progress.
“Bad day?” he said as he pulled over a chair and sat beside the bath. Bull took hold of Dorian’s hand, brushing his thumb soothingly over the back, careful to keep the touch light.
“Ugh, the worst,” Dorian slurred theatrically, “who knew Orlais had so many blasted nobles? And they’re all cousins of some sort or another, the Orlesian court might even be more incestuous than the Tevinter one!” The words were flippant, but Bull could feel the tremor in Dorian’s fingers. Dorian was far too controlled to let it show very obviously, but he was trembling badly.
“Hmm, what else?” Bull hummed, keeping his tone carefully casual.
Dorian shrugged one shoulder and sipped the wine again, “Nothing important,”
“Kadan,” Bull spoke gently, but Dorian heard the chastisement underneath.
Dorian relented with a sigh “Nothing in particular,” he paused and swallowed down a sob before continuing. “Cullen came by. He’s stopping the investigation. But I knew that was coming, it doesn’t really change anything,” Dorian studiously ignored the shaking in his voice as he spoke, and blinked back tears, wiping away a few stray tears that had fallen anyway. He couldn’t make himself look at the Iron Bull, instead taking a large gulp of the Aggregio in his glass.
The Bull caught the hand holding the glass as Dorian lowered it, almost cradling it as he removed the wine glass and placing it on the desk behind the bath with one hand and sliding the other around to hold his lovers fingers tenderly in a way Dorian hadn’t experienced from the Bull before. He stared at the large grey hand holding his. Anger and irritation at having his alcohol stolen warred with other feelings that he didn’t want to identify right now.
Dorian felt a hand on the back of his neck; a thumb rubbing small comforting circles at the base of his skull. “You don’t need to do that, Kadan,” Bull said quietly.
“Do what?” Dorian replied brokenly, still fighting back the urge to burst into tears.
“Make this less than it is. Drink away your feelings. Hold back…” Bull removed the hand on his neck and wiped away the moisture under Dorian’s eye.
Dorian looked away abruptly, shaking his head free of the Bull’s touch. He hated it when Bull saw through him so easily. He’d only allowed himself that weakness once before, after the disastrous meeting with his father in Redcliff. Maker, he’d been so drunk, and just wanted the Bull to fuck him until he couldn’t remember anything about Tevinter or his father. Somehow he’d instead spent the night sobbing into Bull’s chest until he fell asleep. The next morning he’d snuck out before Bull woke. He preferred to pretend that embarrassing episode had never occurred. Mercifully the Bull had never mentioned it either.
Instead of pressing the issue, the Bull wordlessly coaxed Dorian out of the water and proceeded to wrap him in a towel and dry him off. Dorian obediently drank the water which was offered him, and allowed himself to be dressed in a nightshirt and lead over to the bed, where Bull wasted no time in pulling him down into a tight embrace and whispering reassurances. How brave he was. How strong. How proud Bull was of him. Every word made Dorian break apart a little more until the tears spilt over his cheeks and silent sobs shook his body. The Bull took this in his stride, simply holding Dorian just like he’d done before.
“I… this is ridiculous,” Dorian whispered eventually when his breathing was back under his control.
“It isn’t,” Bull said simply, pulling Dorian a little closer.
“I knew the whole time this was how it would go. I kept telling Cullen it was pointless. And then when he finally gives up I get all pathetic and weepy,” he spoke the last words with a disgusted snort.
“It’s not pathetic. Just because you knew Cullen catching the piece of shit was a long shot doesn’t mean you weren’t hoping that maybe he would,”
Dorian was silent for a long while before replying, “I still knew better,”
“So?” Bull huffed.
“I don’t know why I’m so upset,”
Bull gave a long sigh, “The man responsible for making you feel unsafe in your own home just got away completely free. Good reason to be upset I’d say,”
“I don’t… feel unsafe,” Dorian said petulantly, “This wasn’t even a thing. So much worse has happened to me in my life, Bull. And I get actually hurt on every bloody mission the Inquisitor drags us to. I’ve never felt like this afterward,”
Bull stroked over Dorian’s shoulder, and Dorian relaxed slightly at the touch. “Being hurt on a mission isn’t the same. You’re powerful there. You’re bringing down all kinds of badass Tevinter Altus destruction on our enemies, and there’s always backup if things go south,”
Dorian frowned and glanced up at the Iron Bull in confusion. “I do not feel safe on the battlefield Bull!”
“Not safe, no, but you are powerful there Kadan. That shitbag made you feel powerless. He made you feel that powerlessness in your own home, somewhere you thought you were surrounded by allies. And now you can’t trust the people around you anymore, and that’s all kinds of fucked up in an entirely different way from the way a battlefield is fucked up,”
Dorian was silent for a long moment, turning this over in his mind. “What happened with my father was so much worse than this,” he whispered eventually, “this seems beyond trivial in comparison,”
The Bull let out a long breath, as though he was trying to keep himself calm. “Kadan, what your father did is still an open wound. One that was reopened very recently. I go down that much harder when opponents catch my bad knee because I had a worse wound there already. You can’t expect not to feel another blow when you haven’t even healed from the last one yet,”
Dorian felt tears prickle behind his eyes, and he wiped them furiously before they could spill out onto the Iron Bull’s chest. “I hate this. I hate feeling so weak. I hate wondering who else around me is plotting to do something… something terrible to me,”
Bull made a quiet, wounded sound in the back of his throat and pressed a kiss into Dorian’s temple. They sat in silence then, Dorian just listening to Bull’s breathing and heartbeat, and letting the rhythm of it pull his drunken mind closer to sleep.
“Dorian?” Bull said eventually.
“I know we don’t… talk about this sort of thing much. I know you don’t like to, and I’ve tried to respect that. I’ve been careful not to bring up your father, or the Templar, or Fergus,”
Dorian gave a sharp intake of breath at the name, a fresh wave of pain constricting his chest and dragging him out of the hazy relaxed state he’d been falling into. The Bull carried on as though Dorian hadn’t reacted.
“But I do notice when you’re hurting. Ben Hassrath remember? Not much gets past me,” he said with a slight note of levity that didn’t quite succeed at breaking the tension, “I want to help, but to do that I need you to tell me how you’re really feeling. Not how you want to feel, or how you think you should feel. I can’t do anything if you block me out, Kadan. So do you think you could try and tell me sometimes? Could you trust me with that?”
Dorian was so still he wasn’t sure he was even breathing. Tell the Bull how he was feeling? He wasn’t sure he could. He wasn’t sure he even knew, and what did filter into his conscious mind didn’t make much sense anyway.
“I don’t know…” he admitted quietly. He felt Bull tense and hurried on, “No that’s not… I don’t mean… blast!” he sat up, pulling away from the warmth of Bull’s embrace and turning to look at his lover properly. “I do trust you. I hope you know that. I just…”
“You don’t know how,” the Bull guessed. No judgement, just a simple statement of fact.
Dorian looked away.
“Hey,” the Bull said, nudging Dorian’s head back to look at him, “that’s not a failing. You don’t need to be good at it. But maybe you could try. For me?” the Bull’s one good eye searched both of his, as though scanning to see if he was getting through. “It’s practice right? You don’t have to be successful every time, you just have to try it out. Could you do that?”
Dorian’s voice croaked, “I… Ok. I’ll try,”
“Thank you, Kadan,” the Bull replied with a sad smile. Then he leant in a pressed a kiss onto Dorian’s lips, which Dorian gratefully sank into with a sound halfway between a moan and a whimper. When the Bull pulled back he guided Dorian back down under the bedsheets, wrapping strong arms around him once again and resting his chin atop Dorian’s head. It wasn’t the most comfortable position for either of them to sleep in really, but Dorian was grateful of the physical contact, and sank into the feeling as he finally let himself start to drift into sleep.
The Winter Palace was Dorian’s first journey away from Skyhold after the unpleasantness with the Templar without Iron Bull hovering nearby. Cullen, bless his heart, had awkwardly suggested Dorian stay behind, but Leliana and Josephine were adamant Dorian’s experience in the political machinations of Tevinter would be useful at the Orlesian Court. And since neither Dorian or Cullen would say why such an omission might be prudent, the Inquisitor had overruled the Knight Commander. Not that Dorian was hiding the incident exactly, he’d not told many people, but he wasn’t shying away from the topic if it came up (which it had no reason to). He didn’t want the Inquisitor thinking he couldn’t do his job properly though, and he didn’t want the war council discussing it.
Ok, so maybe he was hiding it.
The thing is, he really didn’t want any more fuss over it than there already had been, and the Inquisitor was not known for her subtlety. Besides, he could still do his job perfectly well thank you very much, and he didn’t need any more molly coddling by Cullen.
So here he was, at the Winter Palace; immaculate hair, a confident smirk, and an arrogant swagger were his armour for this particular battlefield. Vivienne had raised a sardonic brow at him and cast her appraising gaze up and then down, before she squared her shoulders and glided away from him to greet some acquaintance or other. He was fairly sure that translated to ‘You’ll do. Don’t expect any help from me.’ (This was actually quite encouraging; if Vivienne thought he might damage the reputation of the Inquisition tonight there was no way she’d have left him to his own devices.)
The momentary boost to his confidence disappeared rapidly however, as he was soon at a loss for what to do with himself. He was more than familiar with environments such as this, naturally, but he had always enjoyed the rank and position that came with being the son and heir of a powerful Magister. Disdainful glances were always much easier to brush off when there was at least a pretence of friendship around and a crowd to play to. Dorian sighed and settled on finding himself a glass of something strong to take the edge off his nerves, and then went to awkwardly look at some oversized paintings of the imperial family as though he genuinely found them interesting.
It was character building, he supposed. Had he never left Tevinter he would never have known what it was like to be ignored rather than accosted at a gathering. That was what he told himself at least. He ignored the sense of unease pooling in the pit of his stomach as Orlesian gentry hurried past him whispering and casting disgusted glances in his direction.
He wondered if that was how the Templar had been looking at him.
Dorian took a deep breath, and blew out through his mouth heavily. Those kinds of thoughts were not useful right now. He swallowed a large mouthful of the spiced punch he’d acquired and the warmth of the drink coupled with strong flavours of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves (not to mention a healthy alcoholic kick) calmed him a little. Hopefully the Inquisitor wasn’t expecting sobriety from him.
“Ah, Dorian, there you are!” Dorian turned rather more sharply than he’d intended, startled to be addressed. Josephine stood before him with a bright smile on her face, “Allow me to introduce you to his Lordship Ademar Garde-Haut. Monsieur Ademar is the royal historian in Val Royeaux, and is currently working on a history of the early Exalted Marches against the Tevinter Imperium. Monsieur Ademar, this is Lord Dorian Pavus, member of the Circle of Vyrantium, son of Lord Magister Halward Pavus of Asariel,”
Dorian blinked, but managed to execute a respectable bow to the man Josephine was ushering forward. “Ah! Delighted to meet a fellow scholar!” Dorian smiled broadly, and cast a grateful look at Josephine, who inclined her head subtly in acknowledgement.
“Most pleasant, most pleasant indeed!” Lord Ademar agreed, returning the bow, “Lady Josephine has been kindly telling me of your own historical research. I would naturally be most fascinated in anything you might uncover. And I confess, I am also intrigued as to the channels you have used in your research into Corypheus given the great difficulty in acquiring sources from Tevinter in the furtherance of historical enquiry,”
Dorian relaxed minutely; Lord Ademar thought he might be useful, which explained his ingratiating manner. He knew how to play this game. “An intellectual exchange then! Indeed I think we will have much to discuss. I am sure we might come to some mutually beneficial arrangement regarding sources that would further both our research,” Dorian turned toward Josephine, “Thank you for introducing us, my Lady,”
“Not at all, my Lords,” Josephine smiled politely, “Now, you must excuse me, but I have not yet greeted my sister. Please enjoy your evening.” Josephine curtseyed, leaving Dorian and Lord Ademar to discuss the finer details of their ‘intellectual exchange’.
The discussion turned out to be a long and drawn out one. Lord Ademar was prone to lecturing on points of history that interested him. And in a place such as the Winter Palace there were a multitude of historical novelties that gave him the opportunity to do so. Dorian was not complaining of course. Far better to be trapped in conversation than kicking his heels until the Inquisitor had need of him. And Lord Ademar was turning out to be a useful contact for acquiring historical texts from Val Royeau, which would mean relying less on the favours Josephine and Vivienne could call in for access he might require going forward.
The conversation kept him suitably occupied until it was time for their formal entrance into the ballroom. The music and conversation in the entrance hall had blended into a background hum that Dorian was only half cognisant of, having moved onto a third glass of punch before the entry bell had rung. He bid a flattering farewell to the scholar when Leliana came to collect him and drew himself up in the perfect image of supercilious self-importance as he was formally announced. Dorian allowed his instincts to take over, aided by alcohol lowered inhibitions, as he made small talk with the Orlesian gentry Josephine was introducing to him. A smile here, a bow there, a joke, a compliment.
Josephine had apparently had time to identify a willing dancing partner for the first set; a young widow, known for being daring. Someone independent enough not to create too great a scandal by dancing with a Tevinter Magister, adventurous enough to want to do so, and with experience enough to turn the gossip to her advantage rather than her detriment. Dorian had to admit Josphine was very good at her job. So he danced. He flirted. He made a playful pass at the young widow’s unattached friends (who were equal parts scandalised and curious). This bought him a good few minutes with the widow and her set, entertaining them with salacious tales of the Tevinter court that stopped just short enough of being truly shocking. They peered out at him from filigree masks, fluttering ivory or tortoiseshell fans that caught the light, creating, for Dorian, a surreal sense of disconnection with his audience. But this made it easier to imagine them as the seemingly endless supply of debutantes his mother paraded before him routinely at balls and functions in Minrathous.
It was well into the evening before he found himself alone once again, topping up his spiced punch from the bowl in the garden. The cool air, and scent of night Jasmine, was welcome after the crowd induced heat of the ballroom. He had a headache, and was rather more drunk than he’d intended, having eaten little more than a couple of canapes. But he was also at the stage of drunkenness when drinking more seemed like an excellent idea, and sobering up distinctly unpleasant. Besides he was well practiced at pretending to be more sober than he was, and the Inquisitor was at far more risk than he of causing a stir. She was coming toward him now, having just climbed down a trellis full of ivy, which was definitely not considered appropriate behaviour during a ball.
“This is all so familiar. I half expect my mother to materialise from the crowd and criticise my manners,” He heard himself say in greeting.
The Inquisitor chuckled lightly, “Is this how the elite of Tevinter carry on?”
“You could almost mistake this for a soiree in the Imperium. The same double dealing, elegant poison, canapes… it’s lacking only a few sacrificial slaves and some blood magic. But the night is still young,” The words came before he had particularly thought about saying them. He felt scattered, unable to fully focus, and his thoughts were simultaneously racing and sluggish.
Thi Inquisitor cocked her head, considering, “I appreciate that you were willing to come here,”
“And expose myself to all this exquisite finery and exotic wines? Such hardship,” He said idly, only half paying attention. He realised that his whole body felt sluggish too. He was moving his hand to pick up the glass of punch, but it felt delayed. Like someone else was moving his hand, and he was just watching it.
“Not everyone’s likely to be friendly. That’s all I meant,”
For a moment a sharp feeling of panic cut through the floating feeling, surprising Doran with its intensity. He felt his heart rate increase and was surprised to realise it had already been beating quite fast. He had been trying very, very hard not to think about who might be plotting harm to his person. No small feat when it was almost certain that someone was plotting harm to him, even if only because he was here with the Inquisitor. But the panic subsided quickly as Dorian felt a sense of calm distance from this fact settle over him. “It’s true. You’d think I smelled of cabbages the way they wrinkle their noses. It’s of no concern, but thank you,”
The Inquisitor shook her head with a laugh, and then glanced pointedly at the glass of punch he held, “Try not to get too drunk while I’m gone,” She said it laughingly, but Dorian was under no illusions that this wasn’t an order.
“You ask so much of me,” he replied dully, considering the punch as the Inquisitor went on her way. He took a sip, but it didn’t taste right; it tasted like nothing at all, like how things taste shortly after burning one’s tongue. And his whole body felt numb. He gripped his glass tighter in response to the feeling, afraid his numbed fingers might fumble and drop the glass. Dorian didn’t much like the feeling, so he did the only thing he could think to do, and took a long swig of the punch.
The rest of the evening was a blur of following the Inquisitor around and confronting Venatori, demons, and a scheming Grand Duchess. It was truly amazing no one noticed the battles raging in the palace (until of course there was one actually in the ballroom), but then perhaps Orlesian courtiers just politely ignored such things? By the end of the evening the Inquisition had successfully secured the stability of the Orlesian throne, and the gratitude of an Empress. No small triumph by any means.
Dorian wished he could feel happy about it.
No, Dorian wished he could feel anything at all about it.
He’d somehow held himself together through the clashes of the evening, but it had been like watching a dream of himself. For a heart stopping moment he wondered if he were indeed in the fade. It would explain the far away quality everything around him had. And the sense of not being in his body; bodies were options in the fade. Was he in the fade? If so when had he entered it? And how would he get out?
He found himself staring blankly at the floor of a balcony willing himself not to panic. If he was in the fade he just needed to wake up and…
Vivienne was in front of him. When had she gotten here? And she was saying something, but all he could here was the blood rushing in his ears.
“What?” he croaked out, looking at there in bafflement.
“I said, are you quite alright, my dear?”
Dorian didn’t think he’d ever been so glad to hear someone’s voice.
“Of course!” Dorian exclaimed, flapping one hand in dismissal. But it came out weak, and slightly rasping. “an excellent result for the Inquisition, I’m sure you agree. I’m a little weary, admittedly, but absolutely ecstatic,”
Vivienne raised an eyebrow, “That’s quite clearly a lie. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing. It’s of no consequence,” were those tears running down his face? When had he started crying?
Vivienne tutted and leant against the balcony next to him, facing him and tilting her head so she could hold his gaze. “You’re not very convincing, darling, and quite drunk. Now tell me honestly. I can hardly leave you here in this state,”
“I…” something inside of him seemed to snap, and suddenly Dorian wished for nothing more than the numbness he’d been feeling all evening, because this? This mixture of fear, panic, shame, grief and utter loneliness he absolutely did not want to feel. The rush of emotions was so sudden, and so powerful that he found himself shaking, and had to lean forward against the balcony for fear he might collapse.
Dorian huffed out a breathless laugh and shook his head. All this achieved was a bought of nausea that had him leaning down even further till he was practically slumped over the stone wall. “Overindulgence I’m afraid. Nothing to concern yourself over,”
Vivienne only rolled her eyes, “There’s quite clearly more to this than underestimating the spiced punch. And aside from the fact that I consider it my duty to head off any scandal that might damage the Inquisition, I’d rather not expose you to the malicious gossip of the Orlesian court if it can be avoided,”
This was unexpectedly kind. Dorian closed his eyes fighting to get his trembling muscles back under control. “Not exactly 100% I’m afraid,” he said finally, “Just… all these people. The looks, the thinly veiled hostility… drinking took the edge off a bit, but I seem to have overdone it slightly, I admit.”
Vivienne frowned, “Dorian, darling, you’ve been living among southerners for quite some time now. You’re hardly a stranger to ‘thinly veiled hostility’, and I doubt this is the worst behaviour you’ve encountered since leaving your homeland,”
The irony of that statement made Dorian laugh, and it sounded slightly hysterical. “I rather think, Madame Vivienne, that that is precisely the problem,”
Vivienne had a calculating look on her face, “You will need to explain that to me a bit more clearly, my dear,” she said, and some of the bite had gone from her tone, “I’m not quite following,”
“I… It’s just… there was a Templar not so long ago. About three weeks perhaps?” the shaking had started to subside, so Dorian stood back upright, “He tried to… well he did assault me I suppose. He cast smite anyway, and there was the threat of more… but I got off lightly. There was nothing that would warrant me reacting like this. It just… has me on edge,”
“I see,” Vivienne’s lips were pursed, and she remained silent for a few moments. “It’s understandable, and I commend you for holding yourself so well throughout the evening,”
Dorian looked at her in surprise, his gaze questioning.
“Credit where credit is due my dear,” she said simply.
Dorian frowned, and looked out over the roof tops and over toward the hills of the Dales stretching out into the distance. He was still trembling, but he could feel the tear tracks on his face cooling in the night air, and the stone beneath his hand felt rough and solid. He felt sick, and the sense of dread he’d felt all evening was still present. But oddly he felt much calmer simply having someone acknowledge what he said.
Maker, he was ridiculous.
“We should return to our lodgings in Halamshiral. I will have a carriage brought round and inform Josephine that we are leaving.” Vivienne radiated calm practicality, as though she were discussing the quality of the flower arrangements, “I suggest you make yourself look presentable so that you can manage the walk back through the ballroom without drawing unwanted scrutiny. We have some leniency I think, given the events of the evening, but you need to get that tremor under control. Sit down, take deep breaths, and focus on the here and now until I get back. Do you think you can do that?”
“I… yes. Yes I can do that,” Dorian turned stiffly, and walked over to one of the benches against the ballroom windows so he was facing away from any potential onlookers.
“Cullen and the Inquisitor are just over on the other balcony,” Vivienne told him, “Well within earshot. I shall be back directly,” Dorian glanced at her, and then over to the balcony where he could indeed see Cullen and the Inquisitor in quiet conversation. He nodded tiredly and, satisfied, Vivienne left him to his thoughts.
He still felt shaken when Vivienne returned, but Dorian was surprised by how quickly he had calmed knowing the situation was in hand and he would soon be out from under the deadly scrutiny of the court. He was still quite shockingly inebriated but he did a passable job of walking to the awaiting carriage with only minimal stumbling. Dorian was practiced enough at projecting privileged arrogance to add a slight swagger to his gait that would convince any onlooker that he couldn’t care less what they thought of his drinking habits. Vivienne had turned up her nose a little at the display, but made no comment until they were protected from prying eyes by the carriage doors. Once inside she’d acerbically commented that he was lucky he was still good looking enough to pull off the ‘spoiled dandy’ routine. Dorian ignored this, slumping against the side of the carriage in a very real drunken stupor, and pretended to fall asleep.
He was shaken awake some time later when the carriage drew up at the inn Josephine had arranged for the Inquisition party to stay at. It was a reputable establishment but not too high class; appropriate for communicating the Inquisition had the means to spend on such a lodging for its members, without making too much of a statement about its power. Dorian allowed himself to be impressed by Josephine’s political skill once again, and thought he would have to amuse himself by trying to teach Sera the intricacies of diplomacy sometime.
Dorian stumbled, rather than stepped down from the carriage, and found his fall broken by quite a deft bit of force magic from Vivienne. For her part, Vivienne sighed dramatically, and ordered one of the footmen to assist him up to his bed chamber. He thought about protesting, but the mixture of sleep, alcohol, and anxiety induced fatigue won over his pride. He was half helped, half carried to his room, where Vivienne ordered him to take of his boots, and he spent a good few minutes fumbling with buckles while Vivienne ordered servants around. It wasn’t long before he found himself, at Vivienne’s instruction, divested of anything sharp or hard that would be particularly uncomfortable to sleep in. There was a pitcher of water by his bed and a fire crackling in the grate. He was struck by a profound sense of gratefulness to Vivienne for taking charge of the whole endeavour, and said as much.
“Think nothing of it, my dear,” she brushed him off, “I shall take my leave of you. I expect you to drink at least some of the water before you fall asleep.”
Dorian raised an eyebrow, and said only semi-jokingly, “yes, ma’am,”
Vivienne returned his sarcasm with a stern gaze that brooked no argument. Dorian sighed and poured a cup of water for himself, toasting Vivienne briefly before drinking a healthy portion of the drink. Vivienne’s lip quirked (in amusement or triumph Dorian wasn’t sure) and said “Good. Now get some rest, my dear. I’ve taken the liberty of ordering breakfast for you at ten.”
With that final pronouncement Vivienne ushered the remaining servant from the room and shut the door.