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Title: Backing The Right Horse
Fandom: Dragon Age
Length: ~ 3.7K
Rating: General Audiences
Pairings/Characters: Dorian Pavus, Aquinea Thalrassian
Content: referenced m!Lavellan/Dorian, referenced Halward Pavus/Aquinea Thalrassian, referenced adultery, terrible parenting, slavery, gambling, unhappy marriage, Tevinter is Byzantium, I did historical research
Summary: Shamelessly self-indulgent headcanon fic about Dorian and his mother. Takes place after Young and Vibrant though the events of that fic are only important for character development reasons.

Dorian wants to change Tevinter. There's a logical place to start with that but that doesn't mean he has to like it.

Notes: My take on Tevinter is heavily, heavily, heavily inspired by Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantine Mosaic novels.

I love any excuse to ramble about my headcanons, research, ideas, and interpretations of the game. If you have any interest, give me an excuse.

---

Dorian’s purse wasn’t emptied by paying the stablemaster but it was closer than he liked. Still, even a mage as powerful as he was wouldn’t have been safe walking the roads alone. For one thing, appearances alone didn’t prove his spellcasting ability. While he could burn any bandits to greasy smears on the road, doing so was time consuming and, much as he was loath to admit it, a single man needed to sleep some time.

He could have found traveling companions as he had on his way south. But then the gossip would have spread like dye in water. Magister Pavus’s son who had left under a cloud of scandal returning from his jaunt to the south where he’d been fraternizing with barbarians and doing Maker only knew what. His political enemies, his House’s political enemies, would have time to spread their own gossip. Time to set up their little traps to see who would ride to his rescue and to eat him alive if no one did. The Inquisitor would but Dorian didn’t want anyone to know that. Not now, at least. Possibly not ever.

Lying about his identity would have been possible but would have made socializing difficult. He was too obviously altus with all of the entanglements that implied. And there was the danger of running into someone who knew him.

So he’d paid Imperial rates for protection on the road. The slave had been sullen company but imposing enough in their single encounter with bandits. Dorian had been sure to give the man extra bread and beer, a note of commendation, and a silver for that. The echo of Mahanon’s voice prodded at him but he couldn’t afford Sixtus’s contract even if he’d wanted that. Not that Dorian knew for certain that the slave didn’t want freedom but the extraordinarily polite stonewalling that had comprised Sixtus’s contributions to conversation made leaving the man to his work the best Dorian could think to do.

Walking into the city proper, Dorian simply breathed in the sunshine of his homeland. The flowers were blooming in the gardens on the upper balconies. More than half of the ones in the street level were past, gone to seed. The summer was drawing to a close and as he walked through lanes filled with his people, he felt the rhythms of Imperial life flowing back to him.

Racing season was coming to a close. Theater season would begin soon. The partisans crowded one another at the intersections. Stalls selling street food, clothes, and weapons appeared wherever there was space. People haggled with strident sprinklings of Tevene. There were civilized paving stones under Dorian’s booted feet.

He was home.

Even the color of the stone the buildings were made from sent spikes of nostalgia into Dorian’s gut. His pace slowed and the crowd thinned as his path took him uphill and toward the more affluent part of the city. Toward the only person waiting for him.

***

Aquinea Thalrassian sat at a private table on the second floor of the Somnolent Hart, idly tracing patterns in the condensation on her glass of lemon sherbet. Dorian knew she knew he was there but her head remained turned, staring out the window at the upper level garden. It was only on physically seeing her that Dorian realized it had been over three years since he had seen her.

Her hair was still dyed black skillfully enough that it would have fooled Dorian if he hadn’t known better. Her makeup hid many signs of aging but the skin on her hands was more fragile than he remembered. She’d taken the care he remembered with all the small symbols of wealth and status. The dress was made of a light silk in a deliberately outdated style. Her hair was up in a way designed to make her look taller, jeweled pins holding it in place. She wore her birthright prominently and her fingers glittered with rings. Which two were enchanted, Dorian couldn’t say.

“Mother,” Dorian said neutrally.

“Dorian,” she said, turning dark kohl rimmed eyes on him. Her smile was small and cool. “So good of you to join me.” She patted the chair nearest her, the one least easily seen from the curtain that gave the table its privacy.

Gingerly, Dorian slid in beside his mother. He clenched his jaw as his mother ordered a sherbet for him.

“You must be parched,” she said, her gaze taking him right back to being five years old and having spilled fruit juice on his robes in front of Elaida Austelius and her mother. Horrid girl, horrid mother. One of his mother’s friends.

“Yes. Thank you, mother.” Dorian grimaced.

“Have you made a decision?” his mother asked, setting aside her empty glass.

“About?” Dorian failed to avoid sounding like a petulant five year old.

“Dorian.” Her rings clicked and clinked against each other as she folded her hands. “I could be in Minrathous right now. Martius has been having an excellent season. This year he may have his first hundred wins. The celebration would be most diverting. So, my dear son, if you wish to play games, go back to Orlais. I have matters of my own to attend to.”

Taking a deep breath, Dorian closed his eyes. “What is it you would like me to make a decision about, mother?” There, that had at least as much maturity as a twelve year old.

“Blue or Green?”

He opened his eyes and looked at her, his stomach fluttering. “Ah, I have been away too long. I’m forgetting the truly important things.”

“I need to know if you’re serious.” She paused as the server came back with fresh sherbet and a plate of bread and oil. “Your record in that regard is not what it could be,” she said, as soon as the woman was gone.

“And if I say Blue?” Dorian asked, testing the waters.

She sighed, looking tired and old in spite of her excellent cosmetics. “Then I introduce you to the Blue factionarius. I’m not trying to trap you, Dorian. Since your father had to step down as Consiliere, my influence has been limited somewhat. If you’re going to make a bid for power, do it. If you want my help, then take my advice. I will not tie myself to anything less than your best effort.”

“Blue,” Dorian said more firmly. “No one will believe it if I choose Green.”

Her expression smoothly flowed back into the mask he was used to. Dorian felt the world become steadier. “A son having a falling out with his father, waiting out the political wreckage, and returning to join forces with his mother. So unlikely,” she said dryly.

“In our case, yes.”

Something Dorian couldn’t read passed through her eyes. “I will introduce you to the Blue factionarius here and in Minrathous. I will write a letter to the one in Qarinus as well,” she said briskly. “Two weeks from now, you will need to attend the Blues’ opening performance. They’re doing one of Amatia’s comedies, I believe. Magister Searus has plans to be there. Then we travel to Minrathous.”

“Is there anything I should say to Magister Searus in particular?” Dorian winced at the petulance creeping back into his tone.

“What do you want from me, Dorian?” his mother asked sharply.

“I- nothing.” Dorian frowned and took a cool drink of sherbet. “You’re doing exactly what I hoped you would do.” He sighed. “How have you been, mother?”

She seemed taken aback by the question. “As I said, my influence was undermined when your father stepped down as Consiliere. I’m still not being invited to the best parties but I’m no longer being shunned.”

“And you blame me,” Dorian said, the amount of bitterness in his voice ambushing him.

“No. I blame your father,” she snapped. Evidently, she read the disbelief in Dorian’s face because she continued more quietly. “Do I wish you had gone through with the marriage? Of course. Whatever your goals are now, they’d be much easier to accomplish with the Herathinoi as allies.”

“Ah yes,” Dorian’s voice slid toward the poisonously sweet tone that came out when he was angry. “The way your goals were easier to accomplish with the Pavoi as allies.”

“I have accomplished everything I tried to gain from my marriage to your father,” his mother said in the same tone.

“What if I want something marriage would keep me from?”

“What, love? I’ve fallen in love a half dozen times since I married.”

“I don’t want to hear about Marcus or-”

“His name is Martius,”

“Fine, Martius. That’s not what I mean.” Dorian took another drink of sherbet.

Eyeing him critically, his mother frowned. “The rumors about you and the Inquisitor are true then. When you wrote to me, you said you wanted to make a difference in Tevinter. I thought you were going to attempt to follow in some of Alexius’s less addled footsteps.”

“The soporati deserve better than we’ve been giving them,” Dorian said. “I know you never approved of Alexius-”

“The man was best left as an academic. You would have fared far better with a patron who was more political.”

“I disagree,” Dorian said tightly. “Academic or not, Alexius had some good ideas for reform. I can’t exactly fly his banner proudly after,” he paused slightly, “everything.”

“I should think not.”

Glaring at his mother, Dorian forced his hands to relax. “But I can try to do what Felix would have wanted me to. What my father and Alexius wanted me to do when they were thinking clearly. I can’t be Archon but the Inquisitor showed me that I don’t need to be at the top to have an effect. It isn’t a choice between having all the power or being useless.”

The expression in his mother’s eyes was unfamiliar but intense. He wondered briefly if she were using something to dilate her pupils. “You play a dangerous game, my son. Power isn’t just what you climb, it’s what cushions your fall.”

“I know,” Dorian said. “But I need to try. Things here- We need to stop grasping after a past that never existed and focus on a future. For the good of the world, we need to make the Tevinter Imperium a place where darkspawn horrors aren’t seen as good leaders. A place where blood magic isn’t seen as a resort at all. A place where the abuses of those in favor don’t go unchecked.” He took a deep breath and lowered his voice. “I can’t do it alone.”

“He changed you,” his mother said softly. Dorian finally recognized the emotion lurking in the dark behind her eyes as fear.

“I learned many things during my travels. Both about our history and about the ways we are unlike the south. I believe there is much here worth saving and I would always regret not trying.” Dorian said quietly. “Please help me make that happen, mother.”

***

Aquinea looked into her son’s passionate face and felt the same sense of dislocation she always had. She and Halward had brown eyes. Her own were a dark brown, nearly black. Halward’s were a little lighter. But Dorian, Dorian had Fidelia’s eyes. And the combination of fire and plea she saw in them was the same.

“Of course,” she said coolly. “Will you be wanting to make contact with Magister Tilani and her associates?”

“Yes,” Dorian said. the hope in the corners of his mouth made Aquinea’s heart hurt.

“I think you can handle that part yourself,” she said tartly. “Magister Searus is an aficionado of the races. She likes the horses. If you can make yourself attend a race or two in the next week, you should have a conversation starter for her. Don’t bother talking about the drivers. She has a pet theory about the charioteers’ birth signs and the horses’ birth signs that she will tell you about if you give her half an excuse.”

“How awful,” Dorian said lightly.

“I’m staying at her villa.” Aquinea leaned back a little. “I’ve had occasion to hear it in full no less than four times.’

“Is going to the same Circle really such a strong bond?”

“If you let it be.” Aquinea said dryly. “Though it does require refraining from deliberately provoking one’s former classmates and paying attention to other people.”

“I always paid attention to other people.”

“That may have been part of the problem.” Aquinea sniffed.

“Mother, I was advanced three years past my agemates. No one wanted to be my friend.”

“So you decided to turn them into enemies.”

“Well… yes. I did. I was a child. Self-restraint has never been my foremost quality.”

“You don’t have your father’s connections. You can’t get away with that now. Even if you hear something abysmally stupid.”

“I know, mother.” Dorian looked like he’d swallowed a bug. “Thank you for your concern.”

“I only have one son,” Aquinea said airily.

“And if I had a brother or sister, none of this would be happening.”

“Dorian,” Aquinea began sharply and then changed her mind. “Dorian,” she said more moderately. “You’re my heir too.”

“Are you-” Dorian tore his gaze from her and scowled at the table. “Yes. Of course.” His shoulders slumped.

“Don’t be childish.”

“I should go.” Dorian stood abruptly. “I will see you at the races tomorrow. Glory to the victorious Blues.”

“Dorian!” she called after him but he was gone.

***

As Flavia took Aquinea’s hair down for the night, she kept thinking of Dorian’s face before he’d left. She had more than half expected him to storm out. She hadn’t been prepared to feel guilty about it. Not for the first time, she wondered what had passed between Halward and Dorian in Ferelden.

The last time she had seen them together had been the argument where Halward had disowned Dorian. She had made no such gesture. She had never considered it. Seeing Dorian married would have been preferable but turning him into a drooling shell was not an acceptable way of getting there. That Halward would attempt something like that… Aquinea couldn’t say she was surprised, really. But Dorian had been.

That thought made her stop a moment as she crawled into bed. How had Dorian expected them to react? Or was the question really only how had Dorian expected Halward to react? Halward had made his plans without informing her. Dorian had reacted without informing her. Her approval or disapproval hadn’t mattered one iota.

***

Dorian was mildly surprised when his mother approached him during the lunch break in the arena. The Greens weren’t sweepingly victorious but they had a slight edge over the Blues. One of the Blue’s better charioteers had lost control of his chariot during the last race, resulting in a satisfyingly large crash. Otherwise, Dorian had amused himself by discreetly appreciating the form of a few of the drivers and making small bets.

“Hello, Dorian,” his mother said calmly, adjusting her green scarf. “How is the day treating you?”

He gave her a sidelong look, trying to read her intentions. He might as well have checked the sky for birds for all it told him of her mood. “Pleasant enough. How are you keeping?”

“Oh, fine.” She fanned herself lazily. “I won a sovereign on that last race.”

“I lost three silver,” Dorian admitted. “I won five on the previous race.”

“Was your stay last night comfortable?”

“I’ve had worse,” Dorian shrugged. He’d been camping in the Hinterlands while the templars and mages were intent on murdering one another. However he might grumble about accommodations to the Inquisition at large, admitting to his mother that he’d slept on the cheap last night wasn’t going to happen.

“Good. You left before I had a chance to offer you help finding lodging.”

“Do you know why I left?” Dorian asked, anger seeping out around his control.

“Not really, no.” She looked up at him from under her hat and Dorian was struck by how small she was. “Do you plan to tell me or make me guess?”

Turning his attention firmly back to where the workers were clearing debris from the track, he snorted at himself for thinking his mother would ever let him have the moral high ground. “You’re my heir too,” he mimicked.

“You’re being childish again.”

“Yes, mother. I am your child.”

“So you want me to guess.”

“I want you to care,” Dorian said, turning to glare at her.

“I do care, Dorian,” she said very quietly. “If you want me to fawn over you like your father did- Well, I hope you’ve realized that vehemence isn’t sincerity.”

“An excellent lesson, mother.” Dorian said sweetly. “I shall treasure it always.”

“Dorian,” she said testily. “I’m here. You wrote asking me to come and here I am. If you’d rather have your father here, you should have written to him.”

Something inside his chest ached. “As you said, he’s no longer Consiliere.”

“I thought the two of you made peace,” she said neutrally.

“We made a start.” Dorian watched the last of the debris leave. “He would not agree with all the changes I want to make. His allies would have a hard time trusting me returning to my father’s side right now. I’m sure most have heard the rumors from the south. Some likely see me as a traitor for standing up to the Venatori.”

“Dorian,” she said, her voice soft and quiet again. “For what you did against those who were trying to destroy the world, I’m proud of you.”

He froze in his seat for a long moment, his pulse roaring in his ears. “Thank you,” he said, his throat tight.

“It occurred to me this morning that I don’t know what your father told you about our differences in opinion.” His mother folded her hands in her lap and sit ramrod straight beside him. “Nor did I care. This was an oversight on my part. Perhaps if I had been more forthcoming we could have found a solution to your father’s plot that was less… public.”

Fury rose in him again, bright and hot. He turned to say something but his mother was still rigid, her eyes distant and- He felt the rage draining away. He recognized her expression. He’d seen it in the mirror more than once. He’d never thought he’d had the ability to hurt his mother.

“Do you remember the summer you were seventeen? Your father and I had that argument where we didn’t speak to one another for three days.”

“You threw your wineglass at him.”

“I told him everything was about him. His family name. His son. His career.” Her voice trailed off.

“His legacy.” Dorian finished, a lead weight in his gut.

“I thought…,” she sighed. “If you were going to be his, then fine, you were his. I would clean up his mess and he’d get-” she waved a hand at the air, “the reward, I suppose. Not the most shining example of my own maturity, I know. I’ve had three years to think about it.” She turned to look at him. “I fear for you, Dorian. You are intelligent and powerful enough to get yourself deep into trouble and stubborn enough that you might let yourself drown to prove a point. You do things that make life more dangerous for yourself and I’d rather not watch you get yourself killed.”

“I will do my best to do what is right,” Dorian said, his voice hoarse. “In my heart, I know that marrying Livia Herathinos would have been a mistake. Living a lie like that would have killed me just as surely as angering the wrong people. More so.”

***

Aquinea watched the lines of her son’s face. As always, his eyes held his heart. His need for her to understand his decision was thick in the air.

“Did I ever tell you about your Aunt Fidelia?”

“Not as such, no,” Dorian said, obviously trying to find the thread. “I heard she died in a duel before her Harrowing.”

“You look just like her when you talk about following your heart.” She said, letting him fill in the blanks.

“I… I think I see,” Dorian said quietly. “If you’re trying to scare me-”

“No,” she denied vehemently. “All I ask is that you be wiser than you have been. More discreet.”

“Is there a reason I only saw Aunt Alethia on very special occasions or-”

It was Aquinea’s turn to search for the thread. “Yes but I’d rather not discuss that here.”

Dorian’s eyebrows lifted. People were only slowly trickling back from lunch.

“Fidelia’s lover was Laetan. A decent enough man.” She twitched her shoulders dismissively. “My sister would have happily followed him wherever he was posted.” In spite of the sunshine, Aquinea’s hands were cold. “I was simply happy to move away from House Thalrassian.”

Dorian didn’t quite goggle at her but she could see his mind working. “Am I to be glad I don’t have siblings?”

“Babies are such a lot of work.” Aquinea painted a thick layer over the meaning gaping behind her warning. “Always crying and leaving messes. A silver lining to your decision.”

“You produced one heir, duty done.” Dorian said with wry bitterness.

“Indeed,” Aquinea said brightly. “I married the man I was supposed to, had the requisite heir, and look at the life it bought me. I have influence enough to be invited to good parties, money enough to travel where I please, and a handsome lover younger than you are.”

“I prefer my choices, thank you,” Dorian said briskly.

Aquinea made a noncommittal humming sound. “A sovereign says Malleus wins this race.”

Dorian gave her a sidelong look and relaxed in his seat. “I’ll take that bet.” He smiled at her.

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