torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
July 16 - August 17, 2016

Disclaimer: not the story I've been stuck on for a year. Shiny beta work by Mary Crawford. Do not archive without permission.

Translated

"Oh, you did not." Dorian rolled over on his back and stared up at the ceiling. "You told me once that you'd never been as far to the southeast as Ferelden before you joined the Inquisition. Or was that a lie?"

"You remember!" Bull sounded more smug than sleepy now. "Do you remember everything I tell you? Because that's really flattering, kadan."

Dorian elbowed him in the ribs. "No, it isn't." Also, he wished Bull wouldn't call him nicknames in Qunlat that he didn't understand. He wasn't going to ask about it. For all he knew, it meant convenience.

The tone of Bull's voice when he used the word was probably a clue that it didn't. The look in Bull's eye, too. But Dorian didn't know. And he didn't want to ask, because then it would sound as if he wanted to know.

He did want to know. He just didn't want Bull to know that he wanted to know. There was a balance between them right now, bickering and sex and things spoken and unspoken, and Dorian didn't want to be the one to upset matters. He thought about how Varric would sometimes build a tall city out of playing cards on his table to distract himself from paperwork, and how just footsteps on the floor could make the cards tremble and fall.

Not that what he had with Bull was anything like that, or like the petals clinging to a late-summer trembleflower, or any other ridiculous metaphor his mind could come up with. But whatever they had worked, and Dorian would rather keep it that way. Trying to force anything out into the open would -- could -- might--

"It kind of is," Bull said. "Anyway, wasn't in Ferelden, he was up in Seheron."

Dorian didn't bother turning his head. He was comfortable where he was, head pillowed on Bull's shoulder, and it had taken him a while to achieve that. In many ways, really, and that was another reason not to push anything. Trying to stare the truth out of Bull never worked, anyway. "The Hero of Ferelden was up in Seheron."

"Mm-hm." Bull shifted a bit, adjusting the blanket and the pillow and Dorian to his liking. People thought Bull wanted things all his own way in bed, and, well, they were more right than they knew. "Visiting his friend, the one who's Arishok now."

Contradicting Bull just for the fun of it, on the other hand, was practically second nature by now. "This story is becoming less and less credible the more you elaborate on it. You could say that they took up griffon breeding, perhaps, or sewed pink silk robes for darkspawn orphans."

"Nah." Bull chuckled. "They argued a lot, though. Seems the Arishok-to-be had talked a bit about the Qun when they traveled together, and every time Tank saw something that didn't fit, he had to ask about it, and the Arishok-to-be said it was just as he'd said, and Tank said obviously it wasn't, and then they argued until they went off somewhere and had sex and were friends again."

Dorian choked. "You're making that up."

"The arguing? Everyone saw them argue. That's what comes of soldiers trying to explain the Qun. Or humans trying to understand it, maybe."

"That's not what I was referring to."

"Oh, the sex? Yeah, I never followed them to see for myself, that's just what it looked like to me. They argued and got all worked up, they went off together, they came back and were like that." Bull made some gesture or other out of Dorian's range of vision. Presumably an obscene one.

"They could just have taken the argument somewhere private. Or worked out their frustration in sparring." Not that Dorian cared, and bedtime stories were supposed to be fantastical and unlikely, but then there really should have been griffon-breeding.

"Yeah, I suppose." Bull didn't sound very concerned. "I just thought the Arishok-to-be had good taste, pretty redhead like that." He ruffled Dorian's hair with two fingers. "Seems I like dark hair better these days, though."

"You like destroying the results of my careful grooming, you mean." Dorian's complaint was only reflex; he kept thinking about what Bull had said. If this was gossip, rather than a story... "I thought Qunari didn't have sex with their friends. And if anyone's a good and proper Qunari, it has to be the Arishok. You're just doing that thing where you see sex everywhere."

"True, we don't," Bull said. He didn't deny seeing sex everywhere. He didn't point out that he was a trained Ben-Hassrath observer, either. "They don't. Whatever. That's a good point. Humans do, though." He tugged a little on Dorian's hair. "With friends, with people they want to be more than just friends. Seems humans can make their own rules, talk you into just about anything."

Dorian made a protesting noise, because if anything was entirely clear here, it was that he'd never talked Bull into anything. The big lug didn't need persuading into bed, just the right look would do it, and he clearly had no problem having sex with anyone who wasn't a Qunari comrade. As for whether they were friends, or more than just friends, that was just the discussion Dorian wanted to avoid having. He knew that what he himself wanted was embarrassingly obvious -- he was here, wasn't he, in the same bed with the same man, and he'd stopped counting the times long ago -- but did they have to talk about it?

Besides, there was another point that needed to be argued. "You're making it out that not only did the Hero come to Seheron, of all places, you were friends with him, calling him some ridiculous nickname."

"Seheron wouldn't be my first choice for a vacation," Bull said. "It was a mess. But the Arishok-to-be had business there, and Tank wasn't bothered. Oh, and everyone called him Tank. Tancred sounds a bit too close to something really unsuitable in Qunlat."

Bull went on stroking Dorian's hair, and Dorian tried to pretend that it didn't make him want to purr like a well-petted cat. His body ached and hummed from earlier, and he didn't have to get dressed again and trudge back to his room, where the fire hadn't even been lit today. The argument was really just the icing on a very satisfying cake. "You're still making it up," he said, but he didn't have the energy any longer to make the words sound combative.

"Which part?" Bull rubbed Dorian's scalp softly. "Seheron, or the sex, or the nickname?" His thumb outlined the edge of Dorian's ear. Apparently human ears were fascinating, all round and exotic. "I don't lie to you, kadan."

"I'm not asleep," Dorian said, and fell asleep saying it, mumbling something to Bull that he couldn't even make out himself.

* * *

The next day he went up to the rookery. It was a place he normally avoided, full of scouts who whispered secrets and birds that cawed as loud as they could, neither of which was conducive to regular conversation. Leliana was sitting at a table, sorting through reports, so Dorian sat down across from her.

"You know the Hero of Ferelden, don't you?" he said.

"Oh, yes." She looked up with a smile of uncomplicated pleasure, which made her look years younger. "He will always be one of my dearest friends."

Dorian considered being roundabout and devious, but it never worked against Leliana, anyway, and it was nice seeing her like this. "Bull says he met him. In Seheron."

"Really?" She didn't sound disbelieving at all, she just looked thoughtful. "I suppose he must have gone there with Sten. The Arishok, I should say, these days."

"So it's true." Dorian picked up the topmost report to see what it said, and she slapped his fingers. All he could make out was something about nugs. "They're... friends."

"Yes. It seemed unlikely to me at first, they were such different people, but Sten had a soft heart no matter how much he tried to hide it, and I believe he came to admire the strength and purity of Tancred's sense of purpose."

"Bull thinks they were fucking." It was nice to be blunt. Possibly he could take it up as a hobby.

Dorian was fairly certain that there wasn't anything he could say that would shock Leliana, and he didn't expect to get much of a reaction out of her, but apparently talking about such an old friend as the Hero was enough to keep her emotions, if not actually on the surface, at least somewhere within shouting distance of it. Her eyes widened a very little, and then she smiled. "That... would explain a lot."

"Would it," Dorian said, just for something to say. He had nothing to be blunt about now. The hobby had clearly been short-lived.

"Oh, yes. People would flirt with him -- he's very handsome, as well as being a Cousland, which holds its own attraction for many. But he never seemed to notice, or at least respond. Perhaps his interests lay elsewhere all the time." She gave a small crow of laughter. "I must tell Morrigan about this."

Dorian admired Morrigan a great deal, at a sensible distance; of all the mages he had met here in the south, she, even more than Vivienne, was one who would have done quite excellently well in Tevinter. She was most emphatically not a person whom one teased in the way Leliana's tone of voice seemed to imply. "She flirted with him?"

"I'm sure she did. But I meant that she flirted with Sten," Leliana said. "If you can call it flirting when it's so unsubtle. She invited him to her bed a number of times, and he turned her down. At the time, given Morrigan's considerable personal charms, I thought Qunari might not be interested in humans." She gave him a sidelong glance. "That was obviously wrong."

"Yes, that doesn't seem to be an issue," Dorian said casually, as though her words held no relevance to his own situation. Bluntness as a hobby or not, he wasn't going to discuss his sex life with Leliana. "But sex seems to be quite compartmentalized under the Qun. Qunari don't have that kind of casual sex with their friends and companions. Or so I've been told."

"Yes?" Now Leliana was back to her usual smooth, unreadable face. "Bull certainly gave the impression when he first joined us that he would have casual sex with anyone who was interested."

"I'm sure Tal-Vashoth do things differently. And Ben-Hassrath do whatever their mission requires." Another reason for him not to inquire too closely into Bull's motives. Not that he believed Bull, who had left the Qun, was having sex with him as part of some convoluted Ben-Hassrath plot. It wouldn't be much of a plot, for one thing. Seduce the renegade Tevinter, and... then what?

Everything Bull had been and done before would color the way he approached such matters now, though. Dorian was probably better off not looking too closely into that. All the things he would prefer to skirt delicately around, so as not to have to commit to an actual definition, Bull probably had words for already.

Words Dorian didn't understand. Pointless to regret his misspent youth, of course, but in retrospect, it would have been useful to fit some language studies in between the drinking and the magic.

Leliana went on as if he hadn't spoken. "Of course, there's nothing casual about what you two have now." She talked as if there was no doubt about that, and Dorian's stomach swooped, wondering how, exactly, she interpreted what she had seen. "Do you know, Sten called Tancred kadan, just as Bull calls you kadan. That might make Bull's theory even more likely. I've been meaning to ask you what that means."

"I'm sorry, I have to go now," Dorian said abruptly, standing up and nearly pushing the stack of reports onto the floor. "I'm sure we can talk more at another time. There's something I really need to do."

"Of course." Leliana nodded at him, as if it was perfectly natural that he needed to rush off in the middle of their conversation and leave her still wondering what kadan meant.

She wasn't the only one.

What Dorian really needed to do was, apparently, to go to his nook in the library and flip through an endless series of books of, of all things, mabari breeding records, because the keepers of the records had sometimes noted down events in world history as they coincided with the birth of one litter or another. These events were from a very rural and Fereldan perspective, but still offered a useful commentary on certain aspects of the history of the Chantry. Or they might have, if he'd actually read them instead of just running his eyes over the words. Dorian was very conscious that Leliana was just one floor above him, and probably completely aware of what he was doing.

There'd be no need to scrounge for information from such unlikely sources if the library was better supplied with materials more relevant to his studies. For instance, it didn't even have a Qunlat to common dictionary. Not that he'd ever looked for such a thing. On every shelf. Twice.

All the same, he spent the day there, going through several volumes and taking notes that might turn out to be useful. For something. He kept all his attention on what he was doing, and in no way noticed when people disappeared for lunch and came back, or who might be passing his alcove, and whether they took a moment to glance in on him or not. Nor did he pay any attention to the fact that none of them were Leliana's people.

Of course, Leliana's people wouldn't actually be noticeable. Even if he actually had been paying attention, he wouldn't have seen them. Not that he had been. Because he was very busy.

He was also giving himself a headache.

The one time he managed to step away, carrying an open book in his hands and reading as he went, he made it all the way to the bottom of the stairs, where the door was standing ajar and he could see Varric building with his cards again. A high, narrow city, in several tiers, and Dorian had just realized what it reminded him of when Cadash came up to the table. "Is that Kirkwall?"

"Yeah." Varric balanced another card. "It just needs--" Outside Dorian's field of vision, someone dropped something heavy on the floor, and the cards shivered apart; most of the city of Kirkwall crashed down. Varric sighed. "Never mind. Apparently we're going for the historical reenactment today."

The thin layer of sarcasm over sorrow in Varric's voice made Dorian want to hug him, and he turned back before he could do anything as ridiculous as go out into the hall and try to drown his own troubles in someone else's. Mixed drinks were always a bad idea, as Sera would say, though probably more crudely. He'd leave the dwarf-comforting to Cadash, who presumably knew more about it.

Besides, he really should finish this timeline, so he could compare it to what the southern Chantry said, as well as what he remembered from the teachings in Tevinter. Both Cassandra and Cullen had an interest in the history of the Chantry, particularly as it related to templar activities. Dorian kept scribbling, though he had to throw away one set of notes and start over when he realized more than one puppy got named for whoever was currently Divine, and the Hortensia who lost an eye to fighting bandits was probably not the one sitting on the Sunburst Throne at the time.

It was dark outside when Bull came by. He looked ridiculously oversized in the narrow passages of the library, particularly when he passed close to the railing that others were leaning against and he could just have stepped over without even going up on his toes.

He didn't get his horns caught on anything, though, or step on any of the books Dorian had piled on the floor. "Thought you might like some dinner," he said. "You've been working all day."

"There is a great deal of work to be done," Dorian said. "Tevinter won't save itself. The last few centuries have made that abundantly clear."

"Yeah, and people need food," Bull said. "Think you'll find centuries of evidence for that, too. C'mon, kadan, there's goat-and-onion pie."

Dorian flinched a little, and shuddered theatrically to hide it. "One of the delicacies of the south, I take it?" He did need to eat, though, so he put the book in his hands down in one of the careful piles and followed Bull down a few winding stairs and out on the bridge towards-- "Wait, I thought we were going to the hall. Or the kitchen."

"I've got food up in my room," Bull said. "You kind of missed dinner."

There was a cold breeze blowing outside, and Dorian was grateful for the momentary shelter of tower walls before they set out along the battlements. "No, that was lunch," he said -- a futile protest, because he could see for himself that the stars were coming out and both the lower and upper courtyard were nearly empty.

"That, too." Bull held the door to his room open and ushered Dorian inside. "Here. Sit."

Dorian had seen elegant furniture in his day, and dining tables set with crystal goblets and delicate silverite forks and flower arrangements specifically designed to complement the dishes, the season, the hostess's dress. Bull gestured him to an only slightly rickety chair by an only slightly rickety table, handed him a wedge of pie wrapped in a napkin, and indicated that one of the two mugs of beer on the table was his.

"I hear that Pavus boy has come down in the world a bit," Dorian muttered, and bit into the pie. Goat meat would never be his favorite, but this was well-cooked and as tender as goat meat ever got, and besides the onions, there was also mushroom gravy. "I take it the cook is having a particularly Fereldan day."

Bull shrugged. He watched Dorian eat for a while, which was less disconcerting than it probably should have been, and then he said, "All right, kadan, what's wrong? Leliana said you were upset about something."

"And of course, if our esteemed spymaster says something, it must be true." Mushroom gravy did nothing to muffle the words.

"She's pretty good," Bull said. "Plus you skipped meals."

"I was absorbed by some rather crucial research," Dorian said.

"Yeah?" Bull stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankles. "Tell me about it."

Dorian nearly snorted gravy. "I doubt it would be of any interest to you," he said. "It's all dusty history. There's nothing to hold your attention."

"There's you," Bull said. The damnable big brute made it sound like a perfectly natural thing to say, too. In one of Cassandra's overwrought romances, it would have been... oh, terribly overwrought and romantic. Spoken by Bull, the words were matter-of-fact.

No one had ever accused the Qunari of being either overwrought or romantic, of course. And Dorian didn't have anything to say about what he'd read during the day; he wasn't sure he remembered any of it, except that a mabari bitch called Clover had been unusually long-lived. "Leliana talked a little about the Hero of Ferelden," he said instead. "According to her, the Qunari she knew as Sten, who is Arishok now--" He broke off and glared at Bull. "This is why names are useful, you understand. Don't tell me the Qunari go through this ridiculous song-and-dance every time they try to talk about somebody."

"No, this is why we use nicknames," Bull said. "Specially in the army, where lots of people are the same kind of soldier. Anyway, I know who you mean. What did she say about him?"

"That he called the Hero kadan. She wants to know what it means."

Bull looked amused. "She could just ask me. I'm not keeping it a secret."

"Then you could tell me," Dorian said, a little more sharply than he'd intended. "It's rather rude to use words for people that they wouldn't understand."

Bull looked even more amused. "Like you do all the time?" He turned more fully towards Dorian. "Kadan means heart, or where the heart is." He touched his chest. "Center. You use it for someone who's important to you, someone you care about. A close friend, a leader you trust and respect. Metaphorically, it could be driving force, what your life revolves around, what keeps you going."

"I don't even know what to say to that." Dorian put the remains of the piece of pie down, because he wasn't going to try to talk through a mouthful of pie crust and spray crumbs everywhere. Even when he didn't know what to say. "Sounds like what you ought to be calling Cadash."

"Like what the whole Inquisition ought to be calling Cadash." Bull nodded. "Like they do already, except it's more specific here. Just listen to the tone of people's voice when they say Inquisitor."

Well, that made sense. And if that was how Bull interpreted the title, and the way it was spoken, it said a lot about how the word kadan was used. "So there was no romantic significance in using that nickname for the Hero."

"Probably not," Bull said. He didn't look amused any more, rather as serious as he ever got. "Not what you mean when you say romance like that. Romance isn't really a concept that-- There's no vocabulary for it in Qunlat. But people still use the same word to mean different things, depending on how they feel, or don't feel."

"Am I supposed to understand that?" Dorian picked up the nearest mug, then put it down so he could gesture freely without sloshing beer on himself.

"It's the same here, so yeah, I do expect you to understand that." Bull propped one arm on the table. "Vivienne calls everyone darling. The runner with the blue ribbon in her hair calls her daughter darling. That courting couple at the back of the tavern say it to each other. You think it always means the same thing?"

That's different, Dorian wanted to say, but of course the difference was that he knew the language and understood the nuances. He knew what romance was, too, and understood the nuances of that. And if there was never any romantic-emotional connotations to words in Qunlat--

"Does that mean that Tal-Vashoth use common to express feelings that fall outside the Qunari experience?"

"Depends on the Tal-Vashoth, I guess." A little of Bull's amused look came back. "You look like you want to be taking notes. This your next research project? Anyway, people use the words that mean something to them. Maybe the way they use the word changes, or the meaning changes for them. People don't leave the Qun and suddenly have feelings like characters in an Orlesian verse romance, or suddenly want to talk like an Orlesian verse romance about how they feel."

"I'd say no one ever does," Dorian said, "except that I've met Orlesians. They do like to make their melodrama sound as flowery as possible." He cleared his throat and went on quickly, "So using the word kadan for the Hero was probably just a term of respect, then."

"Or affection," Bull said. "Or both. It's not like an empty title you just call your boss at work. You don't say kadan to someone unless you mean it."

Well, that was... Dorian didn't know what that was. He could feel the pulse beating in his throat. Dorian also realized he would never get an answer unless he actually asked the question. So he did. "And what does it mean when you say it to me?"

"Took you long enough to get round to that." Bull looked both fond and amused now, and Dorian felt a little unsteady at the realization that he knew what fondness looked like on Bull's face, knew it and didn't even question it. He'd never truly believed in the convenience idea. "I just told you. Heart. The one who's important to me."

Knew it and didn't question it. Knew it and trusted it. Dorian pushed aside the pie and beer and stood up. He knew that he could walk around the table and sit down on Bull's lap, in that vulgar way tavern wenches did and Tevinter aristocrats certainly did not, and Bull would just put an arm around him and smile.

So he did.

"You," Dorian said, "are a dangerous man."

"Sure," Bull agreed. "Since we're talking about words in different languages, what was that thing you called me the other night when you were just about talking in your sleep, think it started with an A?"

"Oh, please," Dorian said with a sniff, to cover the dizzy swoop in his stomach. Arguing with Bull was familiar, comfortable, and he needed that to counterbalance the way he was sitting here, the way he was being looked at, the way, he rather suspected, he was looking at Bull right back. "As if you don't know any Tevene. That would be a terribly inefficient use of the Ben-Hassrath's resources, and you're always pointing out how efficient and practical the Qun is, compared to our feeble and disorganized human societies..."

"I am, am I?" Bull leaned in and nipped at Dorian's ear. "Didn't think I talked much about it at all."

"All the time," Dorian said airily. He felt as though he could say anything. He just had to work up to it.

"How about I get efficient on your ass," Bull said, standing up and lifting Dorian in the same motion, as if the sheer strength needed to handle an adult human male like that wasn't something that even needed a moment of pause and adjustment.

He could just have dropped Dorian on the bed, both Dorian and the bedframe were resilient enough for that, but instead Bull set Dorian down in the middle of the mattress and began to pull his boots off. "That's not my arse," Dorian said.

Bull tucked Dorian's socks into the boots and set them at the side of the bed. Then he began to nibble on Dorian's toes. "Anyone ever tell you what a mouthy brat you are?"

"You mention it," Dorian said, "quite often." His breathing hitched as Bull's stubble rasped against his soles. He wouldn't have thought a mouth on his feet did anything for him, and Bull's first experiments with toe-sucking had been quite the revelation.

Dorian knew better than to be passive in bed, to let the initiative slip away from him. Let someone else take the lead, and the encounter began to revolve around their desires, you found yourself the one being done to rather than the one doing, you lost control, and your own pleasures would be secondary and hard-won. Far better to be the one who called the shots, and that was one reason why he had fought his attraction to Bull. Regardless of who did what to whom, because bodies could be put into so many different configurations, Dorian was extremely loath to give over the actual decision-making to the other party. Attraction to a big savage brute was one thing, leaving the decisions in his unrefined hands was quite another.

In that way, too, Bull had been a revelation. He might be crude in speech and gesture, but his approach to sex was certainly not what anyone could call unrefined. He did want things all his own way, yes, but he was surprisingly subtle about it. And what he wanted in bed, as far as Dorian had been able to tell, was to make Dorian come his brains out as often as possible. He wanted Dorian to give up control, not for Bull's pleasure, but for his own.

Dorian still pushed back at times, of course. Not to ensure his own satisfaction; he'd come to trust Bull with his own desires, and he'd learned a great deal about the different ways those desires could be fulfilled. No, these days Dorian just wanted to spend more time learning Bull's body the way Bull already knew his.

"Not tonight, kadan," Bull said, stripping Dorian's clothes off and slapping Dorian's hands away when he reached for Bull in turn. "Just lie there and look pretty."

"I could hardly not look pretty," Dorian said. "Unless you'd like to put a bag over my head."

Bull chuckled, fingers caressing Dorian's now-bare shoulders. "Be a waste. In more than one way. I've got plans for your mouth, too."

That was intriguing. The old Dorian would have pointed out that flat on his back was a bad cock-sucking position, possibly with some flattering reference to Bull's size involved. But Bull already knew that, and Dorian knew that Bull knew that. So he lay obediently still, letting Bull arrange him, pet him, look at him.

He looked back, and when he saw the curl of Bull's mouth, he knew that the night wasn't going to be as uncomplicated as all that. "Oh, you've had an idea, haven't you," he drawled.

"More of an observation," Bull said, stroking up Dorian's calf and scratching down. "You're thinking too much, kadan. You're not here to think. I want you to feel."

"In that case, perhaps you should give me some--" Two of Bull's fingers slipped into Dorian's mouth, pressing his tongue down into silence. Dorian could suck, so he did. He liked having something in his mouth, even if it kept him from talking. It felt good.

Bull's claws were carefully filed down, both fingers and toes. Sometimes Dorian thought about what it would be like if Bull let them grow out, if Dorian could feel the delicate, dangerous scrape of a claw-tip on his skin, but there were definitely places on his body that he wanted claws nowhere near -- most of them, honestly, and the thrill of experiencing that danger just wasn't worth the risk. Maybe just one claw...

And when he'd gone through this line of reasoning out loud, Bull had just laughed at him. Fondly, but still. Bull had made the decision to clip and file long before Dorian had come into his life. Bull was, in fact, very particular about not hurting people by accident. On purpose was a different matter.

Bull scraped his blunted claws down Dorian's chest and stomach, waking the skin. Just straight lines at first, then loops across his shoulders, down his sides, where the pressure was carefully judged to keep from tickling. Dorian had kneed Bull in a rather unfortunate place, the first time. Then down his legs, all the way to his ankles. Bull rolled him over, still with his fingers in Dorian's mouth, and did his back, and then, with a shift of his weight on the bed, the backs of Dorian's legs, starting down at the heel and moving slowly up, the back of the calf, the back of the knee, the back of the thigh.

Dorian's body felt pleasantly alive, warm and tingling. Bull's claws began to outline the curves of his ass, drawing a line between thigh and buttock on each side. The sensation became more than just pleasant. Every time Bull's fingers moved along that line, outside to inside, Dorian wondered how far they would go. He thought the stopping point was farther and farther in each time, but he wasn't certain. Then Bull's touch went higher, still outside to inside, hip to cleft, slow enough that Dorian could really feel the difference.

A soft kiss to his tailbone, and then Dorian was rolled over again, skin sensitive enough by now that he could feel every line Bull had traced where it pressed against the weave of the blanket, that the slightly cooler air against his bared front raised a not-unpleasant shiver. Bull scraped up the inside of his thighs, and Dorian grew fully hard; when Bull's blunt claws grazed against his balls, his hips jerked off the bed, and he made a noise against the fingers in his mouth.

"Oh, you like that," Bull said, and kept teasing Dorian's balls with his claws, a very light touch, barely there, but enough to make the skin contract and ripple. Dorian didn't actually know if he liked it, but his cock left a smear of wetness against his skin.

What Dorian really wanted was for Bull to stop the claw-scrape teasing, and touch his cock. What he got was another pass up his chest and down again, with just the first and middle finger, trailing carefully to either side of his left nipple, going up, and his right nipple, going down. Now it was the untouched skin that ached with awareness.

Bull pulled his fingers out of Dorian's mouth, and Dorian managed to say, "Really, Bull, you could at least--" before Bull pinched his nipples with wet fingers, going from one to the other, drawing them up, tugging. The other hand joined in with teasing little flicks, and Dorian made an undignified sound, arching into the touch. He reached for Bull to steady himself by touching right back, but Bull gripped his wrists and pressed down until they lay crossed over Dorian's head.

"Keep 'em there," Bull said.

"You could at least tie me up," Dorian said, more coherent now that Bull wasn't playing with his nipples. "Those red ribbons go very well with my skin tone."

"Yeah," Bull agreed with a pleased, reminiscent grin. He flicked Dorian's right nipple, and Dorian shuddered, but his hands stayed where they were. "Not this time, though. I know you can hold still for me just because I ask you."

And then he made it a challenge, going back to playing with Dorian's nipples. Dorian pressed his wrists into the bed, resolute in the face of torment, and the tension pushed his chest up, as if he was pushing his nipples into Bull's grip and asking for more. The look on Bull's face wasn't to be borne, and Dorian closed his eyes, only to open them again right away to make sure he hadn't imagined it. Every touch to his nipples sent a jolt through him, but looking at Bull's face made his whole body hot, made him feel beautiful and exposed and breathless.

His lips shaped a word, soundlessly.

Bull released Dorian's nipples and shifted back, standing up next to the bed just long enough to take his clothes off. The massive leather belt made a wonderful thump when it landed on the floor, and Dorian's whole body twitched in response. Bull grinned and swung back on the bed, settling astride Dorian, high up enough that his cock was suddenly just right there, practically in Dorian's face.

"Very subtle," Dorian managed.

Bull curved a hand around his shaft and rubbed his cockhead against Dorian's lips. "Just lick it," he said. "Use that clever tongue of yours."

So of course Dorian did, grateful when Bull reached out with his free hand and tucked a small, wadded-up pillow under Dorian's head. The skin of Bull's cock was soft against his tongue, and he could feel the tender heaviness of blood just under the surface. When he stretched a little, and Bull shifted, he could lick down the shaft, teasing in between Bull's fingers. The contrast between hard, callused fingers and hard, smooth-skinned cock was fascinating to Dorian, and he tasted and explored as much as he could before Bull pulled back a little again, controlling what Dorian could reach.

Bull pushed the head of his cock against Dorian's lips, pushed it into Dorian's mouth, just the head, and Dorian struggled to keep his mouth wide open and his teeth out of the way, and to lick and suck at the same time. All he could taste was Bull, all he could smell, and this had been alien to him once -- he remembered commenting on it early on, trying to distance himself from it, this scent that wasn't at all what he was used to, drier and a little more metallic than a human.

Like salt. Like sand, like crumbling rock. Like peppers spread out on a rack and baking in the sun.

Like living flesh, like sweat and effort, like touch and smell and taste and everything familiar and right. None of this was strange to Dorian now, and certainly none of it was unwelcome; he sucked harder. The noise Bull made in response warmed him. Bull's hand was moving steadily along the shaft of his cock while Dorian sucked, and Dorian was already thinking about what it would be like when Bull came, how it would hit the back of his throat, how he'd swallow.

Then Bull pulled out and jerked his hand faster. Dorian only had a moment to realize what was happening, and he meant to say something sharp, oh no, not on my face, you brute, if you please, but most of the words vanished in the smell and taste and want, and what he gasped was, "On my face. Please."

Dorian closed his eyes, and Bull's release spattered over his skin. It wasn't revolting, and Bull's grunt of satisfaction wasn't crude or off-putting. Dorian snaked his tongue-tip out to lick a small smear from his upper lip, and Bull grunted again, shifting, bending forward. When Bull started to lick Dorian's face clean, Dorian had to concentrate on keeping his hands where they were, so he wouldn't grab Bull's horns and drag him into a semen-flavored kiss.

He was dizzy with want. Bull had just come on his face, and it should be wrong for so many reasons -- for anyone to demean him like that, for a Qunari to use him like that, for the scion of the Pavus line to give up control and surrender himself to another's pleasure with no iron-clad promise of rendering a fully-specified compensation in return.

There was already a promise, though, unspoken and true. This, itself, was the promise. Bull's tongue on his face, the heat in his body. The trust he couldn't deny, didn't want to deny. He might have said something when Bull licked across his mouth, and then he did get the kiss he wanted, deep and forceful and tasting of bitter salt. Dorian pushed up against Bull's body, against the invisible ropes tying his wrists down.

Bull chuckled warmly into his mouth, and still mid-chuckle he broke away from the kiss to lean momentarily over the side of the bed. "Maybe this'll help you keep still, kadan," he said and draped his leather belt across Dorian's wrists.

Across most of his hands and forearms, really, because that wasn't a belt so much as a stomach protector, and it was broad and heavy and he could smell the leather. The weight held him down. No -- the presence of that weight, and Bull's words, held him down. He twisted luxuriously against nipping kisses down his throat and chest, but he didn't push up any more. There was nothing to struggle against. He was held.

Bull's mouth on his nipples was so gentle, Dorian whined in the back of his throat, and then Bull pinched, much harder than before. Dorian rolled his head back and forth as the sensation went through him, somehow most keenly along the lines Bull had scratched into his skin before, as if his body kept echoing the touch. All of him was alive. All of him was an answer.

The kisses that counted his ribs were gentle, too, and Dorian huffed, because he wasn't skinny; he took pride in being well-muscled for a mage, and there was no need to make such a point about the difference between his build and that of a Qunari. Down over his stomach, the light scrape of Bull's stubble came close to tickling, and Dorian jerked with another huff. Bull replaced the sensation with firm pressure from his hands instead, an unspoken apology. Nips to each of his hipbones in turn, and then Bull licked his cock from root to tip before sucking it in.

Many men had sucked Dorian's cock before, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. For some, it was very clearly a chore, a mechanical performance, the quid before they could get their own quo. Others were more eager, sometimes to the point of giving the impression that all they needed for happiness was a cock in their mouth. In which case Dorian hadn't seen a reason why it shouldn't be his, but being reduced to a walking set of genitals was a little lowering.

Looking for someone who wanted to suck his cock because it was his cock had gotten him into all kinds of trouble.

Bull was a very good cocksucker. Dorian had been surprised, once upon a time. Men who were large and strong enough to take what they wanted did not, in his experience, go to their knees for others. But Bull had made it clear that he enjoyed sucking cock -- that he enjoyed sucking Dorian's cock. That it wasn't the usual exchange, something he only did to get what he himself wanted. That it was about Dorian's surrender to the pleasure Bull brought him.

Maybe that was an exchange, too. Surrender, true surrender, was harder to give than anything else a lover had ever asked of him, and here Dorian was, laid out at someone else's command, held down by his own will, by his own trust, by his own surrender. Everything he felt was in Bull's hands.

Mouth. Slow, steady suction, the way Dorian liked best. This pleasure was a gift to him, and in that moment, all he wanted was to be strong enough to receive it. The scratched lines along his body were still lit up and tingling with no magic save that of sex and skill, and when Bull's claws teased gently across his balls again, Dorian made a very undignified noise and didn't care.

So good, this was so good, and it was for him, specifically, Bull was giving it to him with relentless accuracy. Dorian didn't know if he was making more noises, or just gasping for air. His body was heavy with sensation, heated and trusting and present, and he never wanted this to end, but when one of Bull's knuckles pressed into the smooth skin behind his balls, it was like the brief forever moment of a jump, seeing the glitter of the sea below.

"Amatus," Dorian gasped. "Amatus."

He landed with a warm and perfect splash, orgasm washing over him and scouring him clean, and then he was floating, drifting. Bull held him steady with one hand on his hip, pressing a soft kiss to Dorian's softening cock. Dorian stayed relaxed when Bull moved, when the leather was pushed off his wrists, when he was shifted into lying half on top of Bull, all of his body resting heavily against that heat, that strength.

Trust was not a concept Dorian would have said had any place in his sexual fantasies. The thrill of danger, certainly, the sharp spike of pleasure -- orgasm was a fancy pastry left unattended for a moment, something to be snatched and enjoyed in secret, provided one could be certain that not a crumb was left to show a trail.

Oh, that was a dreadful metaphor. The south was clearly rotting his brain. The old Dorian would never have let anyone come on his face; the old Dorian would at the very least have jumped up to wash afterwards. He considered, with the slow and drowsy thought processes of a man still dazed by a spectacular orgasm, doing it now, because there was saliva on his face, though he couldn't feel it, and possibly the remnants of semen as well.

Nothing itched or felt strange, though. And he was very comfortable, wrapped up in the arms of someone he trusted. The idea of having sex with someone he trusted hadn't even been an idea to consider for most of Dorian's life. Now he couldn't imagine having sex with someone he didn't trust so deeply and absolutely.

To be honest, he couldn't imagine being with someone else. That idea should have been terrifying. He was in the arms of the traditional enemy of his people, the big and brawny symbol of everything a good Tevinter should reject, or at least only want in secret, snatch and enjoy and deny. He was also in the arms of a man he trusted, wrapped up somewhere he felt absolutely safe, resting in a warmth that was more than just physical.

Not a situation he lacked words for, though. Whatever one might say about Dorian Pavus, he could talk rings around most people, carry on for hours on nearly any subject, unless forcibly prevented. And he could -- in a pinch, stripped bare, laid open -- he could tell the truth. He remembered the sound of his own voice, before. He remembered what he'd said, and it wasn't something he could deny now, or wanted to.

Some considerable time later, when the room was mostly dark and mostly quiet, Dorian turned his face against Bull's chest and spoke into the warm skin. "Beloved," he said. "It means beloved."

Bull, with surprising delicacy, didn't answer, and the slight tightening of his arm around Dorian could have been just a shift in his sleep. It wasn't, of course, as Dorian knew perfectly well. But that was all right.

Amatus certainly didn't mean heart, and the story behind it wasn't full of Qunari earnestness and warrior bonds. The word was pure Tevinter romanticism, heavier and headier than the spectacle of Orlais, with the weight of a thousand over-the-top dramas behind it, operatic splendor and exaggeration, lush love poetry that Dorian despised from the bottom of his heart and had spent far too much time reading. And it was short-hand between couples, a stand-in for actual affection, a word used in place of a genuine gesture. His parents were certainly a good illustration of that. Or it could be...

It could be any number of things. The meaning changed, subtly, depending on the intentions of the speaker. And that was as it should be.

Dorian thought about moving closer to Bull, but that didn't seem to be actually possible. He settled for brushing his lips against Bull's skin in a very airy kiss. The mustache probably tickled, but that was a secondary consideration.

This was his language, was the thing, and it was what he wanted to say.

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