Sometimes in the nightmares he smells burning wood so strongly the campfires the next day make him dry heave. He makes sure he wakes earlier than the others so no one sees. They rustle up well, soldiers must he supposes, but he thinks he beats them all still. The captain is usually last to nod off, the large silver-maned Nord reluctant to sleep with work still to do and without a bottle of mead at ready hand.
Idhronn has smelled the stuff. They claim it's made of fermented honey and water, but he has his doubts. Mostly he doubts there is anything a human would make that *could* be Pact worthy. The captain is a good man though, hard and fair by the elf's reckoning and after those first few frustrating weeks they've reached an accord. The captain requires only his skills, his loyalty, and his actions to the letter of the law. Accommodating Idhronn's religious stipulations is easy enough, and means that the elf is the one bringing in the game he's so picky about consuming.
It takes much more game to feed an Imperial unit than a lone wood elf, but Idhronn is one of the best archers in the Empire. He's a Bosmer in his thirties, barely out of the Vale. He still files his teeth to sharp points, and has a rack of fine antlers kept polished and sharp though he knows he'll likely never bother making a true headdress.
"I have a question about your Qun." The Iron Bull doesn't quite have to strain to hear the words, but he almost asks the Inquisitor to repeat himself anyway. Idhronn of Bosmer doesn't go around *asking* questions when he can let the answers come to him in their own damned time Bull has observed.
"What do you want to know Boss?"
"Have any of you ever *spoken* to a dragon? Even in legend?"
The Iron Bull blinks and wonders if any qunari was ever so brain dead as to try. They'd likely be culled from the creches and smothered before their insanity had a chance to grow to puberty. "Not to my knowledge Boss, we're not suicidal. Have the Chargers given you that impression? Really, it's just enthusiasm for the battle."
"Hm." The elf breathed what could have been a sigh of frustration or sorrow and shook his head, coarse curls shifting behind the pointy ears. "Your language, qunari, it's almost Dhov, so I wondered."
"Dhov... Your word for dragon right? Huh." Bull scratched at one horn, pondering that. "The oldest legends say we're descended from dragons, a kind of kin I suppose, hense the horns. Don't really see how that would work though and we've massacred pretty much all the dragons we've come across since." he grinned fiercely. "Those are the Best fights Boss."
"A whole race of dhovakin..." Bull's blood tried to head straight for his pants but he forced himself to breathe and walk normally as the tiny Inquisitor murmured to himself, head bent just enough to bare up the lovely bronze nape of his neck. "...but with no history of the Thu'um and your mages can not speak..."
"They do plenty of damage anyway Boss, the saarebas aren't to be underestimated." The Iron Bull warned, trying to figure out what was going on in the elf's head.
"With magic, yes. Not with Thu'um."
The Iron Bull parsed what he knew about mages, the saarebas, and the Inquisitor and felt a dangerous notion forming. "Never heard of thume. That your word for Lyrium?"
"Thu'um is why I am dhovakin." Idhronn replied, in a tone that told Bull the brief conversation was over. Which was alright by the mercenary captain, really, he had a lot to think about. Like how many pieces they'd find the first guy in who tried to gag the inquisitor.
The Iron Bull doesn't often need to find his pleasure alone, there are always those willing and adventurous enough to try and ride him if he provides half an offer. Despite that, often times he sleeps alone, more frequently now that he has joined the Inquisition.
Dorian is proving himself a pleasant challenge to break down, but The Iron Bull finds that at least part of him isn't really invested in the affair. A part that has never given him any issue before. He writes his reports to the Qun while absently rubbing at his chest and when he realizes he's tracing the scars there, gives up entirely with a frustrated snort.
The Inquisitor is barely taller than the dwarves working in the forge and half as heavy. Even if Bull could entice him to an illicit encounter, he's not sure he could *fit* and while there's plenty of other ways to go about things... It's not what he wants. It's certainly not what the elf wants.
Idhronn of Bosmer is a terrible liar. Bull knows Asala-taar, he was in Seheron. The Inquisitor is healing, slowly, but he carries the scars and Bull knows that at least one of them has a name. A few quick fucks, rough and dirty sex the likes of which The Iron Bull is famous for, won't ease the ache of loss. The elf is looking for someone who *isn't* going to leave him alone again, and Bull can't make that sort of commitment.
Neither can anyone else in Skyhold, except maybe Cole.
When Bull thinks about the Qun, his mind rushes back to that first dragon together. The sound of its wings pounding the air and the rush of its breath as it prepared to flash fry them all, right as Idhronn snarled. The sharp world twisting crack of the elf's voice sang through The Iron Bull's nerves. The power of that sound yanked the lizard right from the sky, where they could lay into it with ax, sword and spell.
He'd been too focused on the fight to bother thinking much about *how* it all happened. Later he wasn't sure what he'd seen or felt. The Qun didn't worry so much about things that couldn't be proven, and until Bull had another Qunari around to tell him he wasn't a maddened pervert...
But he couldn't promise he'd be able to stay after this business with the Veil was done. He was a Ben-hasrath, he would go where he was sent.
Maybe though... he could convince the touch starved and lonely elf to throw in his lot with the Chargers when it was over. He'd even offer to still call him Boss in private.
"So what's with the wolf and bear talk?" The Iron Bull asks Cole, because it's been bugging him a bit and the spirit child is *there*, strange and incongruous and making Bulls horns itch.
Pale eyes peer at him from under the shade of Cole's hat. "They don't like you."
Bull arches a brow. He knows he doesn't get along with Everyone, but so far no one in the Inquisition has been bold enough to come right out and tell him where to shove his ax. "Because I'm a Qunari spy?"
Cole carefully relocated the spider he'd caught in Leilana's rooms to a bare tree branch. "They trust you to take care of him, so they rest, but the bear doesn't like sharing. He doesn't like the way you look at him."
"I haven't seen any bears around to be looking at kid, but I *would* be staring if one found it's way into the hold without ending up a rug,"
"The way you look at Idhronn." Cole says, tone never changing from his slow, soft acceptance. It's a tone Bull associates with the dead and dying. "He wants Idhronn to be happy, he doesn't like that you help. I've tried to talk to him, but he always fades when I get too close."
"Wait." The Iron Bull thinks he ought to be commended for not going straight for a drink at the idea trying to hammer it's way into his head, but he *is* standing in front of a Spirit possessing the corpse of a murdered mage. "You're saying that the inquisitor is being *haunted* and the ghosts have opinions on how the elf should conduct his life?"
"Yes." Cole seems surprised that Bull is surprised, in as much as Cole seems surprised by everything else a body and people present to him.
Mages are closer to the Veil of course, they have to deal with the Fade in their dreams and demons whispering in their ears but while Bull had nightmares enough of some strange malevolent power taking control and destroying him from the inside out, the *dead* had never given him much worry as long as their bodies weren't still shambling around. Now he was going to wonder how his employer kept anything like sanity at all.
The Inquisitor didn't often slow *down*, much less stop whatever he set about doing just because one of his advisers got in the way. They were there to *advise* and Idhronn listened. When he felt like it. The Iron Bull respected that. The Qun chose their leaders based on who could make the hard decisions and live with them for the better of the Qun. The Inquisitor's decisions were for the better of the *world*, and the elf wasn't afraid to make the hard calls.
All the same he wasn't a complete hard *ass*. It wasn't like Bull had set out to eavesdrop, but since he was in the best location anyway...
"You're doubting yourself. People are not arrows, you can't just make more of them when you need them. You did the right thing, ordering retreat."
"At what cost to the greater good?"
"There is no 'greater good' at the price of wasted blood. It's all well and good to *pray* for guidance but the choices are still your own to make. This was a good one."
"You're welcome, now stop looking at me like I have all the answers. I'm just an elf."
"You're not 'just' anything, High Inquisitor Idhronn of Bosmer."
Yeah, Bull respected the guy for making the hard decisions and standing by them, but he was also glad those hard decisions weren't played out like some nobles chess game. The elf didn't just see the larger picture, but all the little detailed pieces that made it up. If he decided that Bull and the Chargers were going on a suicide run, he'd do it because there just wasn't any other option to save the world, and that warmed a bit of The Iron Bull's heart. Among other body parts.
Taking care of the Inquisitor during his 'glut' was far more educational than Bull had first presumed. He'd figured the elf would be completely vulnerable, which was the leading cause for him to force himself to forego the entire thing as long as possible. The second main reason being he'd be completely *useless* for at least four days and who knew what would cause the entire place to fall apart around his pointy ears when that happened.
The Iron Bull hadn't been sure even on the day of the feast come competition that he'd get the elf to agree. The Inquisitor liked him, respected him, took him out to hunt down dragons and drank with the Chargers frequently but he still didn't seem to *trust* anyone. Not that much.
Except, apparently, he did. Or the sight and smell of all that meat had finally tipped the scales of perpetual starvation and the elf couldn't restrain his own hunger anymore. Only Bull had seen Idhronn face down demons so his own stomach couldn't have overridden his brain that much. He was trusting The Iron Bull to be the body guard he'd claimed, to watch over him and keep him safe and above all *not* try to subvert him and manipulate him for the Qun while he was defenseless and pliable.
The Iron Bull was many things, but even he found the idea of breaking the powerless to be disgusting. He had a lot of things to think about, a lot of feelings to categorize and put in their place about the tiny archer and those four long days gave him the time and opportunity while he watched the soft distended belly slowly contract, the dark brown flesh bulk and fill out as muscle and fat layered themselves over the thin bones. The Inquisitor is a confusing guy.
He's scarred from a long life of dragon hunting and who knows what, the skin of his back is a slick waxy mantle shades lighter than the rest. It could have been dragon flame, but for a hint of curling green vine near the elf's sharp hip bone. The Bull knows a thing or two about removing identifying marks. There's a few easier ways to do it of course, than have yourself flambe'd. At the very least the elf could have used a decent healer on hand to make sure his range of motion didn't end up compromised by the scar tissue.
He burrows under the blankets even as he rages fever hot, like he's forgotten what it means to be warm. Besides the bone beads woven into his hair and the ring on his thumb of antler, the elf sleeps naked. Mostly naked. A leather cord holds a ring about his neck, usually hidden and safe. Its sized to fit the thin fingers, of a dark red banded metal Bull first thought was stone. There's no engravings, no sign it's ever been worn. Archers rarely wear jewels on their hands of course, the thumb ring is a means to protect from the biting tension on his bowstring.
It's a mystery, that band of metal. One that The Bull thinks might end up unraveling more than just a tragic story.
The Bull sighed as low growls and a frantic female voice rapidly uttering apologies came over the courtyard. He liked Sera, wouldn't mind having her in the Chargers if she could learn to take orders. Her pranks were hilarious, and Idhronn actually unbent from his savior of the world stoicism to laugh and play merry havoc with her on occasion which could only be good for the elf's blood pressure. However, sometimes she failed to plan for just how pissed her victims would be and when it was the Inquisitor....
"Where. Is. It."
"I'm sorry, geeze, it's hidden in your room I swear I didn't *take* it I just hid it!"
Boss sounded fit to kill, which meant that he was a few hairs short of blasting someone off the mountain. Bull couldn't remember ever hearing that tone out of the Inquisitor and hoped they wouldn't loose anyone they couldn't spare.
Holding the trembling form close, Bull stroked over dark hair the way he would a wounded animal. Whatever terrible magics he'd wrought on the apostate, they'd very nearly broken him. Idhronn of Bosmer was no frail mage to collapse after a battle. Then there was the screaming to consider.
Cole had made himself scarce after Bull's growl. The spirit child had been part of the mess, Bull didn't trust him not to see Mercy in ending Idhronn's pain forever.
The elf lay tucked under Bull's chin, wrapped tight in the warmest, furriest blanket the Qunari had. At full sprawl he'd still resemble a sea star latched onto a whale, but now Bull's mind ran more to the image of abandoned kittens.
The hitched, wrecked sobs had died down leaving the copper cheeks tear stained and blotchy.
Stroking slowly over Idhronn's tense back, The Iron Bull made a discovery that set his already foul mood nearly murderous. Beneath the waxy sheath of warm scars, his callused fingers felt two long, deep pockets. The kind of fluid filled hollow muscles made when they'd been torn apart and not stitched back together. Trying not to pay any more attention to them than the rest of the elf, he casually and carefully mapped them out. Beneath the shoulder blades, four inches or so long, bone deep if he had to guess. The Ben-Hassrath knew what made wounds like that, and why.
Someone, at some point, had put *his* boss on meat hooks and let him hang like a waiting roast.
Tal-Vashoth. Cut loose and left to run wild, of no use or importance. The Iron Bull lived for the Qun and without it... he still had the Chargers. He still had a duty to the Inquisition, and one stubborn, confusing, frustratingly enticing elf in particular. The Inquisitor wasn't much for giving orders but when he did Bull felt something settle in ease.
He may not have the words and faith of his people to fall back on anymore, but he had Idhronn of Bosmer to guide his way and if the guy was reluctant and uncomfortable as the Herald of Andraste, he was still the best damned leader they had. Without the Qun to provide a sense of order, Idhronn is all that stands between Bull and madness.
Bull had followed him into the damned Fade after all. He'd do it again if called to. Who needed the Qun for purpose, when he had men to lead and a feral, beautiful, terrifying elf to follow?
The green and gray woolen coat hugged the Inquisitor's trim form, the leather pants cut tight enough Bull could tell which way the elf hung without said coat in the way. The painted vasselin was strange, kept catching Bull's eyes and making him frown. He was used to seeing the elf serene, or smiling that dangerous little smirk that bared so many sharply filed teeth. Dolled up and poised, he seemed more like a prop than a person.
"Boss. You look good."
"How are you a spy, you're a horrible liar." Idhronn muttered, clawed toes wriggling in his open toed heels. They added a whole inch to his height and put him still at Bull's sternum.
"Aww Boss, don't be like that. The makeup is a bit much but otherwise you're very pretty." Bull grinned at the flick of thin fingers telling him to do something physically improbable.
He's never felt possessive over a lover before. Of course, he's also never *thought* of them as a lover, as opposed to a friendly bit of fun or a target for seduction. What he feels for Idhronn is closer to the tangled emotions he has for his men than any mark for his bed. Protective, defensive, and proud, but with a charge of animalistic lust and the primitive draconic urge to *hoard* the elf. He found himself dreaming of tight leather straps and locked doors when he went to bed sober enough.
Those were the dreams that had him waking up hard and leaking, imagining hot hard hands like a vice on his dick and a voice whispering power straight into his blood.
Idhronn's slight weight only makes Bull more aware of the elf's position on his lap.
"Qunari do not marry." It's not a question, even in tone, but Bull knows what the Inquisitor is asking. Ever since the debacle with Sera hiding his ring, the elf has been pensive and snappish. The Iron Bull gets it, Idhronn was starting to trust, to let himself really get attached to the unlikely band of followers called the Inquisition, and now he's back to thinking maybe living alone in the cold desolate mountains was the better idea.
"Nah, that's not our style. Doesn't mean we don't have the same kind of feelings, but the Qun comes first. Besides, marriage is supposed to be about raising kids right? That's the Tamassran's job." Waving his mug for a refill, The Iron Bull watched the elf sip at the gruesome concoction he'd pulled down from a secret stash in the Skyhold rafters. Rotmeth, Idhronn called it. To Bull it looked like something scooped from a latrine and smelled like a mass grave packed into a pickle jar.
Bull shrugged. "Screw them through the floor a few times and say it?"
"Says the professional liar." The elf was quirking that smile that didn't meet his eyes and Bull laid odds he was thinking about who ever he'd buried wearing a matching band of red banded metal.
The Bull grinned as Krem's favorite barmaid (and thus the only one Bull was reluctant to lure in for a tumble) swished over and refilled his mug with a wink. Krem had excellent taste of course, pretty polite thing didn't even bat an eye or wrinkle her nose at the Inquisitor's fermented sepsis. "Want a bottle of mead Inquisitor?"
"No problem, you need anything just wave me over okay?" She managed not to ruffle the elf's hair, but it looked like a near thing before meandering over to the next rowdy table.
"To answer the question you're not really asking there Boss... we have something of a tradition ourselves. More private than what you guys get up to I guess." The Iron Bull drank down some of his ale and leaned back in his chair casually. "When we want to tell someone they're our Kadan, we go out, hunt down a dragon, take one of its teeth and split it in two. Then we give half to the person we want to know is at the center of our chest. It's not a promise or anything, just a reminder, something to hold onto when you have to go your separate ways."
The inquisitor seemed to ponder that over as he drank, quiet as ever in the chaotic company of the Chargers. After he'd eaten and chewed about half his pickling jar he gave Bull a look that called pure nugshit. "I think you just want me to take you after another dragon."
Bull let himself laugh uproariously, because it got the elf to finally smile and *mean* it. "Well I'll never turn *that* down Boss!"