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the biggest pavus in generations

Chapter Text

A qunari child is so outside of Dorian’s childhood expectations for himself, and the demands placed on him by his parents and society, that it’s startlingly easy for him to look at the child and not think immediately of a future where this child will be groomed and molded into the perfect heir, as they tried to do with him. It... helps, eliminating some of his own unreasonable compunctions, and he can focus on being simply, joyously delighted with the tiny creature who fits in his arms. A qunari that fits in his arms -- who’d have ever thought -- whose horns haven’t even started growing in.

And Dorian – who hasn’t maliciously thought of Bull as a beast in years, who hasn’t said the words even jokingly in months – still finds himself struck with what he was taught about the Qunari, what he still thinks when a new Vashoth joins the Inquisition. And now, every time the child opens his wide dark eyes and blinks lazily up at Dorian, every time he seems surprised by his own hands waving in front of his face, every time he laughs and squawks and hiccups after he’s done crying… Dorian thinks he can do better, for this child. He will. 

He rocks the child in his arms late at night and whispers against the tight curls springing out of the sweet crown of his head, coaxes him to sleep for papa, darling, that’s a good boy.

 

==

 

Vivienne is not particularly fond of the mess and chaos that accompanies a child, but she finds Dorian the information he needs, reaches out to her contacts in Rivain for anything on the rearing of qunari children. Sera and Varric are delighted by the child, Sera playing peekaboo with him for what seems to Dorian hours, Varric self-editing his own novels into naptime fare, until the babe yawns and slips under. It takes some time for Dorian to accept what he can’t help but think is charity – until Vivienne tells him one evening over a glass of excellent wine that friendship is not charity, Dorian. Do not think yourself above or undeserving one of the chief tenets of a relationship. And oh, it is a help, because Bull is…

Bull is supportive, and does as Dorian asks him to do. But Bull seems to be all thumbs when it comes to the child. He holds him in stiff arms, glancing down at him with brief looks, never lingering, like he’s checking that the child is still there but doesn’t want to dwell on it either.

 

==

 

Every time Bull looks at the kid, he thinks of the potential children he has who are still under the Qun, who maybe inherited his penchant for caring too much, for going too far, and what happened to them when he went Tal-Vashoth. There’ll be records, people tasked with watching them, if that first pregnancy took then that kid should be old enough to have been in their role for a while. What’d he bring down onto them? His tama didn’t deserve it, she did her best with him; but what about the kids who got whatever desirable traits the tamassrans wanted to breed for – and then the shitty stuff too? It’s not their fault, but it’s on their heads now, whatever insubordination they were born with.

It’s… unsettling then, to be handed this kid with the expectation that he’s not gonna fuck him up.

 

==

 

“What’s his name?” Bull asks quietly, arms still stiff but hand gentle under the child’s head.

Dorian breathes out loudly, half tired laugh, and crosses his arms – and then promptly uncrosses them, concerned the pose makes him look as frustrated as he feels. “Every name I know is Tevinter. I’m not sure that’s appropriate.” Which is true, but also a ploy to force Bull to make some sort of decision – Dorian’s been combating the fear that Bull’s not wanted this since they first agreed to take care of the child, that Bull said yes because it was the right thing to do, because Dorian wanted it, because Bull still stumbles over wanting things for himself…

“Kid needs a name,” Bull says, and he caresses the kid’s temple, the little bump that’ll one day sprout into a horn. “Okay if we call him Felix?”

Dorian can’t speak past the lump in his throat. He tries, an unflattering creak making its way out his mouth, and then he’s nodding, unable to look away from the tenderness in Bull’s touch.

Chapter Text

Every time a sound burbles out of Felix’s mouth Dorian finds himself pausing and focusing, listening for something resembling an actual word, intelligible rather than the gibberish he’s come to accept as a healthy and natural part of child development. (He chooses not to remember early days, when Felix would scream and Dorian would struggle to figure out why, and the both of them would end up the worse for wear.)

Felix has accomplished Pa and Ta, which Dorian had sworn were the same word until Bull had him listen for the difference, and then the two of them had sat on their arses on the floor of their room while Felix had staggered from end to end like an over-energetic drunkard, mumbling out a steady stream of nonsense interjected by one or the other…names, depending on who’s attention he wanted.

 

==

 

He learns “no” next of course, which Sera finds positively delightful, and encourages at every opportunity.

“What’re they feeding you then?” she asks, sliding next to Dorian while he struggles to get absolutely any of the food on his plate in the vicinity of Felix’s mouth. She picks up a pea and squishes it between her fingers, making a pssh sound as she does it. “Nah, d'you even like peas, pipsqueak?”

Felix smacks a hand against the table top and lets out a long warble followed by a firmno!, and Sera snorts and wipes the squished pea off on the edge of the bench. “Pip doesn’t even like peas, Dorian.”

Dorian reminds himself he rather likes Sera.

“Venhedis, would you at all consider not driving me to drink.”

Most of the time, he even manages to not threaten her with bodily harm.

 

==

 

Dorian retrieves Felix from the stables – one of his favorite places in Skyhold, fascinated as he is by the horses and Blackwall, in equal measure for some reason – and winces when he picks him up. “Fasta vass, child.” There is no reason for his back to strain, regardless of how steadily Felix has put on weight and height.

“Pip’s going to be too big for you to handle in under a year,” Blackwall observes, and Dorian grimaces and shifts Felix onto his hip, ignoring how he has to rebalance himself so he doesn’t tip. Felix smacks Dorian’s shoulder with his hands like Dorian’s some sort of drum, and Dorian manages not to cringe due to the many years he’s spent sparring with Skinner – and subsequently trying to prevent her from beating him to death with practice staves.

Felix is going to do no such thing, or I will lose my mind,” he replies with a tight smile, and Blackwall is still chuckling when Dorian takes Felix back towards the tavern.

 

==

 

“‘And the little boy knew which way he should go, because the witch of the wilds had told him. But he was afraid, and turned from the path.’ This is some dark stuff, kid. Rebellious already. Let’s see how that turns out for him.”

The whole of Dorian’s body shifts when Bull rumbles out a laugh before turning the page in the book Varric had gifted to Felix on his first birthday. Dorian resettles against Bull’s side and lets himself start to drift again, warm and content and eager to take advantage of the lull in Felix’s routine.

From where he’s curled, he watches Felix – sitting in Bull’s lap so he can see the pictures Vivienne and Sera drew – pat a hand against the book and nod solemnly before turning his head towards Bull. “No,” he says, because it is the way of children, apparently, and then he hits the book again. “Fas’ vas’.”

Dorian’s eyes widen.

Bull tilts his head to look down at Felix, who’s got a serious look on his face that Dorian refuses to admit in any way resembles his own vexed expression, regardless of how many people comment on the strange similarity.

Bull then tips his head towards Dorian. “Good thing I got harped on to keep my mouth clean around the kiddo. Wonder where he learned that one.”

Chapter Text

Neither of them talk about it, at the start:

The female qunari curled around the kid, her body angled to keep him from getting crushed even while it ensured she’d take every hit from her pursuers, carried a staff across her back. When Bull had helped Blackwall move the body to the wagon so they could cremate it in Skyhold, he’d got a good look at her face, the scars around her mouth, precise holes spaced evenly a quarter of an inch above and below her mouth. Dorian hadn’t seen them, but he had taken the staff, commented on the weakness of the focus lodged in the end, how she must not have been able to afford much.

But Adaar notices how they look at the kid, how Dorian does, and the grim reality of it’s shoved aside for the more immediate concerns of how to keep him alive and relatively happy.

 

==

 

Dorian sings softly, exhaustion making his voice creak. Bull shifts in bed and opens his eye, and watches the tense line of Dorian’s back while he shuffles across the floor, Felix held tightly in his arms. Lullabies used to work as soon as Dorian whipped ‘em out. All it took was somebody rocking the kid gently and a sweet voice, and he’d be out like a lamp. Maybe he’s starting to figure it out, that his mom’s not coming back.

Dorian turns while he walks and looks at Bull, and Bull’s emotions briefly war within him –what’s he gonna do with a kid that Dorian can’t, and Dorian looks on the verge of some kind of breakdown – before he heaves himself out of bed and holds out his arms. Dorian passes the kid over and drags his freed hands over his face, which would’ve messed up his mustache if he’d taken the time to style it in the last, fuck, week, probably.

“C’mon, imekari,” Bull whispers against the kid’s head. All he gets is a thick hiccup, followed by a low, scratchy wail. Shit, he’s losing his voice, he’s been hollering for so long.

Dorian crouches down in front of the fireplace and flicks a fire into existence behind the grate. There’s a sudden, strange silence in the room, and Bull carefully doesn’t move. Too much of a chance that he’ll set the kid off again. 

He does glance down – and finds the kid’s eyes are focused on Dorian. The both of them keep looking at each other, and Dorian breathes in slowly, then angles his hand towards the ceiling and sends up sparks of electricity from his fingertips.

Felix fucking coos, and reaches out with one of his fat little hands towards Dorian, his fingers curling like he’s trying to grab the magic.

Dorian walks slowly across the room, hand held up at his side and sparking, and when he’s standing next to them he lets a bit of fire mass in his palm. Lets it go out in a puff of smoke and Felix giggles like it’s the best damn thing he’s ever seen.

They stand like that for long enough that Bull’s feet start to tingle, and the kid’s gone from straight-up delight to a blessedly sleepy contentment. He smacks his hands gently against Bull’s chest, and then his head drops forward like it’s gotten too heavy for him. It takes him a while to right himself, and by then he’s yawning wide and gummy.

Bull and Dorian meet each other’s eyes and move as one towards Felix’s cot, Dorian keeping him distracted with little wisps of magic while Bull gets him laid down and comfy.

Felix reaches up towards the bright colors once, and then his arm drops to the cot and he’s out. He’s out.

They don’t talk about it that night either, and Bull doesn’t let himself think about how easy it must be for kids to listen to sweet whispers promising them whatever they could want, if they’d just let them in.

Chapter Text

“Careful, imekari.”

Felix pushes his tongue up against the back of his teeth, the tip poking through the gap from the tooth he lost last week. Dorian’s lamented to Bull – in private, Andraste’s sake, he’s not going to give his son some sort of complex about it – that Felix is going to ruin his teeth with this habit of his. Bull had stared at Dorian for a long, unblinking moment, in what Dorian knows after so many years is Bull’s way of asking if the rest of creation has somehow caught up with Qunari hygiene and medicine, and if not, to hush.

“I’m being careful, Tama,” Felix replies long-sufferingly, rolling his dark eyes – taking advantage of Bull’s lounging across the room in his reading chair to march another step towards what Dorian’s certain will be his utterly impossible teenage years.

Dorian reaches up with his unpainted arm, tugging on the end of one of Felix’s long black dreadlocks, come loose from his thick braid. Felix glances quickly towards Bull, and when he figures Bull noticed no insurrection he shoots Dorian a quick grin.

He is much too smart, too strong-willed for his age, Dorian thinks; and then he has to force himself not to smile and ruin the vitaar still drying on his cheekbones.

Felix moves around to Dorian’s back and Dorian holds still as death. Felix pauses, and then there’s a brush of cold paint across Dorian’s right shoulder to match what Felix painted earlier across his left.

“Tell me how careful you’re being,” Bull prompts, and when Dorian looks his way, Bull’s head is still down in his book. Dorian has little doubt Bull’s paying attention to them regardless.

Felix lets out a burdened sigh unbefitting his ten years. “Papa’s not gonna get sick.”

Bull hums and turns a page. He adjusts the ridiculous monocle pince nez he commissioned from Dagna when he realized the smaller the text in the book, the closer he had to hold it to his face, and purses his lips. “And why’s that?”

“Because Papa’s special,” Felix replies, and Dorian can’t hold in a laugh, tries not to shake his shoulders too terribly.

“True, but nonspecific. I’m special for so many reasons,” Dorian interjects, and Bull and Felix let out long sighs simultaneously, which sets Dorian off chuckling again.

“Papa, you’re going to ruin it,” Felix bemoans, and Dorian forces himself to still. “And then it’s not gonna matter that you can wear vitaar, because it’ll look like you fell into a barrel of tar.”

“Yes, yes, I apologize. But please, elaborate.”

“You’ve practiced wearing vitaar like I practice with Tama and Auntie every afternoon,” Felix parrots, his voice nearly matching the inflections Bull’s used when explaining why vitaar’s dangerous to nigh everyone.

“And that’s why…” Bull prompts, and Felix begrudgingly continues:

“And that’s why we don’t let anyone handle the vitaar, or the stamps, or the brushes; and why it’s not a good idea to let anyone touch it even once it’s dried.”

It’s absurd that Dorian should swell with pride at Felix repeating something by rote, clearly annoyed by the proceedings. Regardless, he does, and it takes a significant amount of willpower to not turn and pull Felix into his arms. “Except for me, because I’m special,” he says instead, and Felix pauses in his painting and laughs.

Dorian feels a bit of paint land near his spine, likely flicked accidentally from the end of the brush, and Felix’s laughter dissolves into a long groan.

“Hold still, Papa,” he instructs Dorian seriously. Dorian is halfway to telling him that it’s all right, that there’s no need for perfection, oh, his most common fear – but he glances at Bull.

Bull’s watching him with a smile, and Dorian lets the fear fade from his stomach into his chest and then away.

Chapter Text

“Taaam,” Felix wails, his eyes red and jaw quivering. He refuses to get close to Bull, apparently terrified of the white bandaging swathed liberally around Bull’s chest. Felix has never seen Bull in a shirt, let alone enough linen to strangle a lesser man.

Dorian’s feeling rather fond of the strangulation idea. He shoves another pillow behind Bull’s back and ignores the grunt the man gives him. Dorian will be capable of gentleness later. Much later. “Yes, your tam is quite stupid, isn’t he.”

“Yeah,” Felix agrees, rubbing his hand against his nose.

Dorian glares at Bull, and Bull has the decency to look contrite. “Yeah.”

 

==

 

“Mushooms,” Felix says seriously, his eyes wide and jaw set. He smacks his palms against the table and Bull reaches over to snag the bowl of mushrooms Sera’s been hoarding.

“Oi,” she snaps, making a grab for the bowl, but Bull’s faster. His reflexes have always been good, but there’s something about following around an overactive kidlet that really hones your skills. “Pip’s gonna eat all of ‘em!”

“Growing boys need their mushooms,” Bull replies, tearing one of them in half before passing both halves to Felix. Felix snatches them eagerly and shoves one into his mouth and frigging inhales it. Bull wonders sometimes if he ever learned how to chew, as fast as he eats.

“Grown ladies need their mushooms too,” Sera groans, and when Bull chucks her one she frigging inhales it too.

 

==

 

Dorian admits he doesn’t always pay attention to what Varric’s brought with him to entertain Felix – he mostly focuses on how much time he likely has before Felix tires of his uncle and demands his papa, and how much he can accomplish in that time.

It’s because of this that Dorian doesn’t realize what Varric’s reading, or how quiet Felix has grown, curled up against his uncle’s side so he can see the pictures. But he hears the low whine Felix lets out, drops the fountain pen he’s been using to write to Mae, and is halfway back across the room when he realizes that Felix is gently touching the pages of Varric’s latest book, his eyes reddened but dry, while Varric reassures him.

“Mam-uv-er-felis,” Felix says softly, and he looks up at Dorian as though for confirmation.

Dorian slides onto his arse next to the both of them and looks over at Varric’s book, a simple tale about Adaar from the looks of it. Felix has his hands all over one of Vivienne’s sketches of Adaar with her staff, summoning a great ball of fire.

Dorian wraps his arms around Felix’s waist and draws him into his lap, and kisses the crown of his head. “Yes, sweetheart. Mama loved her Felix, so much.”

Chapter Text

Bull’s not sure yet whether he’s taking offense at this display.

Dorian’s doing another sweep of the room. He’s on his hands and knees looking under their bed now — Bull could tell him he’s not gonna find any food stashed away, Bull keeps everything on top of the highest bookshelf now, but the view’s pretty good.

“He’s crawling,” Dorian explains, and when he sits back on his feet he’s holding half a candle in his hand. The both of them stare at it for a while, until Dorian lets out an aggrieved sigh. “How long has this been there?”

We’ve had the kid for three months, and hot wax was an every once in a while kind of thing besides, Bull thinks, but he takes the candle and puts it in the heavy chest they’ve set up in the corner of the room. The lid’s too heavy for Felix to lift, but it’s only a matter of time before they’ll have to lock it shut to prevent wandering hands from getting into the good rope.

Dorian’s upright when Bull turns back around, but he’s still looking around like there’s something he could’ve missed, somewhere.

“You’re gonna give a guy a complex,” Bull says, and he’s managed to keep the annoyance out of his voice if Dorian’s relatively neutral expression is anything to go by.

Dorian purses his lips and breathes out loudly, crossing his arms. He opens his mouth and then shuts it, and Bull… gets it. He does.

Dorian’s headed to Val Royeux with Adaar, Josephine, and Cassandra He’ll be gone for a couple weeks at least, and the most intensely one-on-one time Bull’s had with Felix was that three days when Dorian insisted he wasn’t sick but wouldn’t get out of bed for fear of planting face-first into the floorboards.

In hindsight, those days had been great. Him and Felix had gotten used to each other — Bull more than the kid, to be fair. Felix had been raised with qunari, and the only thing he found interesting about Bull was the breadth of his horns. Bull had let him ride on his shoulders for most of one afternoon, until Felix knew when a door was too low and Bull had to duck, and moved with him.

That’d been the highlight of the time though. Bull didn’t know what to do when he cried, at least not beyond the obvious. He’d carry him around and pat his back and whisper all the soothing bullshit he could come up with. But it was only a matter of time before he’d think about his tama and how he’d helped her with the little ones. Crying is a symptom. You can comfort, but you’re simply treating that symptom. If you wanted to help, you’d need to fix the issue at hand; spending all your energy on patting the kid’s back when they still had a thorn in their heel was futile.

His tama always seemed to know why one of the kids was crying though. Years of experience, of course, but there were also the strengths that made tamassrans who they are — you become a tamassran because you’ve got the chops for it.

You’re overthinking this, Dorian had said, voice thick, after Bull’d put Felix to bed after a day of caterwauling, and then laid himself down, fucking exhausted.

Think I’m thinking just the right amount, Bull had replied, and Dorian had let out a scratchy laugh.

“I got this,” Bull says, which is not a lie, in its entirety.

Dorian nods hesitantly, and then crosses the floor between them and wraps his hand around Bull’s wrist. “I’m not worried about Felix. You’ll take care of him. He’ll be in one piece when I return.”

And yeah, maybe Bull will take offense at that. But he keeps it to himself, giving Dorian a small smile. “Go be diplomatic, kadan. Charm everybody’s knickers off.”

Dorian allows the diversion. “If it’s a true Orlesian affair, I’m certain half the guests will already be sans smalls.” He tugs at Bull’s wrist and Bull leans down and lets Dorian pepper his face with kisses.

 

==

 

Day one’s fine. It’s always shitty to wake up to an empty bed, but it’s not the first time him and Dorian have been apart and it won’t be the last.

Felix is already up. Bull can hear him babbling at the mobile Josephine had gifted him, this delicate little thing, carved animals and flowers. Kid’s fascinated with it, and it keeps him busy when he wakes earlier than either of them want to be out of bed.

Bull hoists himself up and pads over to the crib. Felix lets out this little coo when Bull comes into his line of sight, and his grabbing hands go from reaching towards the mobile to stretching towards Bull. Good for a guy’s ego, that.

Bull picks him up, narrowly avoiding getting one of his horns caught on the mobile, for fuck’s sake, and gets him cleaned and changed.

He curves his hand around the kid’s head — beyond tiny, he’s not sure what he’d do with a dwarf kid — and chuckles when Felix blows spit bubbles up at him.

“Yeah, we’ll manage this. What kind of mischief can two strapping qunari get up to in Skyhold anyway, huh, kid?”

 

==

 

Day two’s less straightforward. Felix wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t even consider it without Dorian there to sing to him — and Bull tried, fuck if Bull didn’t try. But Tevene lullabies aren’t his specialty, and Felix’s wailing would only get worse if he tried Qunlat.

So neither of them are in particularly high spirits at breakfast. Felix isn’t interested in eating anything, but he’s sure interested in wearing as much of his plate as possible. Even Sera doesn’t think it’s funny after a while.

“We need a new angle, pipsqueak,” she tells Felix after he covers his face in mashed potatoes.

So Felix goes for the peas next.

Bull finds a frigging carrot slice in his boot when he’s going to bed that night.

 

==

 

On day three Bull takes Felix to watch the Chargers train, and tries not to let it bother him when nobody asks him if he wants to join in. He cheers ‘em on anyway, telling Krem and Buckler to angle their shields down when Dalish tries her hand at rune traps; and laughs his ass off when Steady works her way through Skinner’s careful dagger work to trip her up with the handle of her maul.

Felix gets a kick out of it, all the flashing metal and heavy clangs, but when Grim gets a solid hit on Stitches and Stitches goes down, Felix loses it. Big tears streak down his face and snot runs out of his nose, and he beats at Bull’s chest with tight little fists when Bull tries to console him. Even when Stitches gets back on his feet and shows Felix he’s fine, Felix is beyond it, full-on shrieking like somebody’s chopped off one of his limbs.

Bull begs off the offers of help and takes him back to their room, and tries not to find it darkly funny when Felix passes out mid-wail on the rug, bum in the air where he’d been crawling. The laugh that bubbles up outta Bull’s throat anyway might be the wrong side of hysterical, especially when Felix wakes himself up in five minutes and resumes wailing like there’d been no break at all.

 

==

 

Everything blurs together after that, a long procession of Bull feeling completely useless in the face of the unhappiest baby in all of fucking Thedas.

“Darling, are you sleeping at all?”

Vivienne pats Bull’s cheek and Bull does his damnedest not to sway into the comfort of her touch. Lace, bless her gentle heart, is watching Felix for a couple hours — time during which Bull was gonna get some training in, or take a long bath, or eat an entire meal from start to finish.

He’s ended up in the library, sitting in Dorian’s wingback and just zoning out, which could potentially be considered napping were it not for how it’s doing absolutely nothing for the circles under his eyes.

“I… think so, ma’am,” Bull replies unsteadily, and Vivienne clicks her tongue disapprovingly and places a cool hand on his shoulder.

The pressure is just enough that he moves forward when she draws her hand away, and she smiles down at him kindly and not a little indulgent. “Up with you. Let’s find you something to eat.”

Later, Krem knocks his elbow into Bull while they sit in the tavern and watch Dalish entertain Felix with wisps while she seriously tells him she hasn’t got a clue how she’s doing it. “You think the vint manages Pip without help?”

Bull watches Felix giggle, the sound cutting through much of the muddled ruckus of the rest of the patrons, and feels his chest tighten when Felix smacks his hands against Dalish’s, then waves his fingers through the wisps and squeals in delight when the magic breaks up around him.

He thinks about how he’s tried in the last couple days, done his fucking best and. And the first time Felix has seemed happy in what feels like an eternity is now, with Dalish to distract him, remind him of his papa.

“I think Dorian knows what he’s doing,” Bull says — and chuckles as Felix’s eyes go big at the bit of ice Dalish has summoned in the palm of her hand.

They’re quiet for a while, the both of ‘em drinking some, Bull enough that he’s looser with his tongue than he should be, elbows on the table, holding up some of his weight. “I wanna do right by him,” Bull says, and swallows down another swig of beer when his voice comes out hoarse.

Krem passes his flagon between his hands and leans slowly towards Bull, elbowing him again, gently this time. “That counts for something, chief.”

 

==

 

“Oi, tamama,” Sera hollers across the courtyard, and Bull’s attention is wrested away from Felix — who’s not giggling but also isn’t crying, so Bull’s not gonna interrupt him pulling grass out by the handful and trying to shove as much of it into his mouth as possible.

Sera strolls up to where they’re both sitting on the ground and leans forward at the waist, hands on either hip, and blows a raspberry at Felix.

Felix stops mid-motion, one hand in the grass and the other raised to his mouth, and blinks slowly up at her before letting out a squeal and flailing both hands in the air at his sides.

“And you too, pipsqueak, didn’t forget you, y'little poop mechanism.” Bull snorts and Sera grins at him, and then looks back at Felix — who’s staring up at her like she hung the moon. “Your ol’ mamatama’s gonna let Auntie Sera run away with you because he looks fit to pass out and then he’d squish you flat.” She lets loose another raspberry and Felix reaches up to her.

And then he hesitates, and looks over at Bull and babbles for a good ten seconds. Bull thinks he probably looks like an idiot in that moment, mouth open, blank-eyed. Felix reaches for him, his little hands opening and closing while he lets out a steady stream ofta ta ta ta ta.

Bull clears his throat. Blinks his eye a couple times. Stupid, to get all emotional when somebody who regularly shits himself and eats smooshed vegetables chooses you over literally any alternative.

“Think we’ve got this one, Sera.”

Sera snorts. “Still look like you’re gonna squish ‘im.” But she claps Bull on the back and hustles off to make kissy faces at the kitchenmaids, probably.

Bull holds his breath. Waits for Felix to get distracted by the grass again, or follow Sera with his eyes and start sobbing.

“Ta ta ta ta ta ta ta,” Felix rambles indignantly, and Bull leans over and picks him up and Felix — shrieks out a laugh and slaps his dirt-covered hands against Bull’s face, and Bull.

“Yeah, we’ve got this, huh.”

Bull grins so hard his cheeks hurt.

 

==

 

It’s still the hardest three fucking weeks in Bull’s recent memory — and that’s countingthe Fade — but there’s something to be said when somebody who regularly shits himself and eats smooshed vegetables chooses you over literally any alternative.

Chapter Text

“Sweet Maker!” Dorian’s out of his chair and down the steps in less time than it takes Bull to blink, hurtling through the garden towards Felix, who’s sitting on his bum next to the gazebo. Last Bull knew he was toddling around and trying to put everything he could grab into his mouth — something Dorian’s finally relatively okay letting him get away with, reassured the kid’s not gonna croak because he swallows grass… or a grasshopper that one time.

“Imekari,” Dorian croons, and Bull pushes himself up out of his own chair and lumbers through the garden towards them, tipping his head at Mother Giselle, who’s far less snippity at the lot of them since they’ve “settled down”, as she’s phrased it.

Dorian’s pulled Felix into his lap, a feat he’s not gonna be able to manage without harm to his nethers in a year or so, and he’s running a gentle hand across the back of Felix’s neck as Felix sniffles.

Dorian’s putting on a good show for the kid, but Bull can see the anxiety behind his eyes, see it in the way he’s holding his shoulders. Bull sees why when he gets to them and squats down, whistling low at the scrapes across both of Felix’s knees and down his shins. Kid must’ve tripped and skid against the wooden floor of the gazebo. Aw shit, he’s probably got splinters too.

Felix himself looks more confused than anything else, but Bull gives it another minute at best before he realizes that his legs hurt.

“C'mon kiddo, you’re gonna be just fine.” Bull holds out his arms and Dorian transfers Felix to him; and Bull holds him in his lap while Dorian quickly looks him over.

It ends up not being that big of a deal, at least in the moment. Dorian does his thing, works the healing magic he’s been focusing on restlessly since Felix became mobile, and Felix barely has time to start to blubber before he’s right as rain. Bull’d say that was that, except Dorian doesn’t let him set Felix down to get back to playing.

“Let’s go up to the library, imekari,” Dorian says — as though he’s excited by the prospect, and as though his hand’s not shaking when he reaches out to take Felix’s. Eventually the kid’s gonna cotton on to that kind of shit. Eventually Dorian’s going to need to accept that kids get hurt. “Far fewer splinters.”

“Loads more papercuts,” Bull says with a snort, but Dorian ignores him and starts off towards the main hall of the keep, Felix carefully stepping over the path stones next to him.

 

==

 

“Shit.”

Dorian glances up from his correspondence with Maevaris — apparently the latest chapter of Varric’s star-crossed Qunari and magister ribaldry is all the rage in Minrathous, and Mae’s already regretful that Dorian will have to draw and quarter the dwarf for it — and lifts a brow at his husband as the man leans back against their bedroom door and knocks his head against the wood.

“Eloquent as always,” Dorian murmurs, and sets down his pen. He rises from the writing desk and crosses the room, reaching out to rest his palm against Bull’s stomach. Bull’s eye is closed, and an aggrieved expression like Dorian has not seen in ages twists up his face. “Is it really that bad?”

“Y'know that girl Felix has been hanging out with? Morris’s kid.”

“Obviously.” Dorian laughs softly and taps his fingers against Bull’s stomach. “She’s all he talks about. I’ve not said anything, but he has quite the crush, hasn’t he.”

Bull groans and thwaps his head against the door once more, and Dorian tsks and reaches up, sliding his hand between Bull’s skull and the wood. “I’ve no patience for both our child’s relationship exploits and your enduring a concussion, amatus.”

“He’s got a crush,” Bull whines, and it would be amusing were his expression not so conflicted. “And she’s walking around holding hands with Josie’s niece.”

“Ah.” Dorian hums and lowers both of his hands to his sides. “Is that what you’re worried about?”

Bull glares at him like he’s an idiot, and Dorian carefully doesn’t laugh at him.

“He will be fine,” Dorian says gently, and Bull snorts but doesn’t verbally disagree with him. Eventually Bull will need to accept that children fall in some version of love frequently, and that they recover just as quickly. “He’ll be over her in a short matter of time.”

“Sure,” Bull replies, disbelief heavy on his tone, then says, “I’m gonna go find him. I bet he’s found out by now, if I already know. He shouldn’t uh, be alone I guess?”

Dorian bites his tongue and nods, and feels a surge of fondness when Bull hustles from the room and leaves him to his correspondence.

Chapter Text

Dorian slumps onto the bed next to Bull, burying his face in one of his many pillows. When he talks, Bull has to strain to hear him through the goose down. “Do you remember when he thought everything we did was Maker-blessed?”

Bull huffs a laugh and marks his page with his thumb, closing the book on his lap. He sets his reading glasses (when he’d called it a “reading glass” Dorian’d groaned at him for a solid five minutes) on the side table so he can look at Dorian properly, and nudges at him with an elbow. “Was that before or after he learned ‘no’?”

Dorian’s shoulders shake with smothered laughter. “He learned ‘no’ remarkably early. He’s always been clever.”

Bull nudges him again, and Dorian eventually rolls onto his side with the motion, and props himself up on his arm. “He was a sweet child.”

There’s a far-off look in Dorian’s eyes that Bull’s not sure how to place. “He’s a good kid.” He flips the book open to note the page number, then sets it on the table next to his glasses. “What’d he do this time?”

Dorian closes his eyes and breathes out a laugh, and then flops onto his back. “I was reminiscing, that’s all.”

Bull takes a good long look at him.

With Adaar and Josie’s youngest just starting to find her legs, there’ve been a load of opportunities to be waylaid by a happily babbling sprog while you’re doing your thing around Skyhold. Bull’s been sidetracked at least every other day in the last week, watching little Anaïs careen through the hallways at startling speed. And she’s already so big — she’s gonna be a real bruiser when she’s older, in between driving ‘em wild with that smile of hers.

Bull hadn’t been so sure what to do with Felix at that age, but he eventually got it down. He hasn’t fucked his kid up too bad yet, at least. So with Anaïs, and with the other Adaarlings (that one’d got another groan, but for less time at least because Dorian’d finally admitted it was a pretty good one) when they were bitty, he’d felt like he had a chance to refine his approach.

(Shit, not that there’s any kind of straightforward approach you can apply to every kid — he still doesn’t know how tamassrans do it. But maybe he just needs… more practice.)

“Reminiscing?” he asks, and Dorian hums next to him. “Nice to have kids around,” he continues, and Dorian opens his eyes and stares up at him, and hums again.

Chapter Text

“Shhhh.”

Bull glances around — makes it as covert as possible, with as much as he’s gotta turn his head to see. There’s a rustle of leaves to his right, followed by another shh and muffled laughter.

He puts his hands on his hips and leans his head back, staring up through the trees to get a glimpse of sky. “Where’d they get to?” he asks loudly, and raises a hand to his forehead to block some of the sun. “I’m gonna have to tell Dorian we’ve lost a kid.”

The laughter’s less muffled this time, and Bull thinks he hears Felix whisper something like they think I’m lost, which — got it in one, kid, nothing gets past his horns. (Bull’s gotta swallow back his own laugh.)

“There’s just nothing to be done,” Bull says with a heavy sigh, and he rounds his shoulders and turns back towards camp in time to be smacked in the back of the thighs by sixty pounds of giggling qunari, arms wrapping around Bull’s knees tight enough to force him to concentrate so he doesn’t fall flat on his face.

“Holy shit, he’s alive!” Bull throws his hands over his head and Felix giggles again, hiding his face against Bull’s leg.

“Uncle Krem and me were hiding,” Felix shouts, and Bull looks over towards the bushes where Krem’s stumbling out, brushing leaves from his hair.

“And we got ‘im good, Pip. Did you see his face?” Krem says, and Felix shouts yeah! and lets go of Bull to hustle back to Krem’s side, to lift his arms above his head and demand to be picked up like he’s a baby again.

Fortunately for both of them, Krem’s got no problem grabbing him at the waist and slinging him over his shoulder like a bag of grain.

“This isn’t what you wanted?” Krem asks, all bewildered-like while Felix squeals and kicks at his chest — which, Bull knows from experience, hurts like fuck — and then he lifts his arm and does something complicated with his hands that gets Felix laying across his shoulders like a trussed-up lamb.

“C’mon chief,” Krem says, and strikes off back down the path towards the rest of the crew, ignoring Felix’s giggling demands to be put back down. “I’ve caught us a big ‘un for dinner. Think Stitches can figure out how to turn him into stew?”

“I hate stew!” Felix howls, and Bull laughs after them the whole way back to camp.

Chapter Text

When it happens, it’s as though time slows, and then speeds up immediately after — an arm thrown out for emphasis, hand flying through the air, fingers spread wide.

He should have announced himself, Dorian thinks fleetingly in the too-long seconds before impact, and then time resumes its normal pace and all he can think of in the immediate moment is the bright spike of pain ricocheting through his face.

Fuck,” Felix shouts, and he’s on his feet and crowding into Dorian’s space, eyes wide and the whole of his large form shrinking in on itself. He lifts his hands to Dorian’s shoulders and Dorian gurgles out a laugh when he notices the splash of blood on the back of the offending hand.

Dorian tips his head back, having dealt with enough bloody noses in the past decade to have an automatic response to this sort of thing, Andraste’s arse; except when he lifts a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose he lets out a curdled sort of moan at the sharp stab of pain he gets in response. “Oh fantashtic,” he mutters thickly, and then realizes that was precisely what he shouldn’t have said.

“Oh shit, pa, shit, are you okay?”

Dorian waves a hand at him and mutters out a request for a towel, for something, though in the back of his mind he knows the robes he’s wearing today are a loss. “’M fine,” he says consolingly, and tries to think past the taste of rich copper in the back of his mouth. “Sh’fine,” he says, though his son is clever and kind, and he can already tell Felix is not swallowing a single ounce of that bullshit.

Felix turns back to the table and gives out orders, and one of the newer recruits to the Chargers, a dwarf — Crumpet, if Dorian is thinking past the pain successfully, who’s taken a bit of a shine to Felix — hops to her feet and shoots out of the tavern.

“Siddown, pa, Crum’s grabbing a healer, you’ll be right as rain in no time.” Felix guides Dorian to the bench like an invalid, and Dorian allows it, accepting the relatively clean bar rag to hold against his nose. He swallows the hiss of pain the pressure causes, but Felix’s expression clouds further and he knows there’s no hope of deceiving anyone raised with Bull’s keen eye for observation.

“It’sh quite all’ight.” Dorian pats Felix’s arm when the boy drops into a squat beside the bench, and feels indescribably fond of him, and how his expression of concern interlaced with guilt mirrors his father’s.

“Sure,” Felix replies firmly, and helps Dorian tilt his head back further.

 

==

 

“You done feeling sorry for yourself, kiddo?”

Bull watches Felix stiffen where he sits. Bull knew he’d find him here, squirreled away in the Chantry behind the garden, sitting on one of the long benches with his head between his shoulders and his tail between his legs.

“Not sure yet,” Felix replies, voice low in his chest, but he scoots over to give Bull room to sit next to him.

Bull bumps their arms together when he sits. “Your pops is fine.”

“I know. I was there.” Felix drags one of his hands across his face, and Bull’s not… surprised to know his kid’s been getting teary-eyed over this, but it makes his heart hurt. “Dalish hasn’t got a lick of healing magic in her, so I think I’m gonna work with Auntie so I can fix my own mistakes.”

It’s a good idea, and Bull’s not gonna dissuade him from it, but they both know what he’s gonna say when he next opens his mouth. “Reactive’s good. Proactive’s better.”

“I was just talking,” Felix starts, and then cuts himself and drops his arms to his thighs, hands hanging between his spread knees. “I didn’t know he was there.”

Bull hums. “Doesn’t matter much in the end.” Felix winces, and Bull leans forward enough so their faces are level. “But you don’t gotta keep feeling shitty about it, either. I ever tell you about the first time your pops tried to use fire runes on me?”

Felix’s expression scrunches up — whether because he thinks Bull’s trying to change the topic, or because he thinks this story’s gonna end with a reminder that his parents have sex, Bull doesn’t know — and Bull plows through before he can interrupt. “He didn’t say anything, didn’t ask, just sat on his ass next to me while I was moaning about my knee and whipped something up fast, laid his hand on my leg and I damn near shat myself.”

Felix chuckles for half a second before he remembers how crappy he feels.

“’Cuz the thing was, Dorian’s been doing magic his entire life, it’s something he’s comfortable with, it’s who he is. He didn’t think twice about somebody being freaked out about it. Never came up, until I just about took his head off.”

Felix’s shoulder somehow round even further, and he rests his chin on one of his palms. “I get it, tama.”

“Yeah?” Bull elbows him again, just to watch the exasperated laugh he lets loose when his hand bumps into his nose. “Tell me what you get.”

If Felix weren’t feeling so guilty, Bull knows he’d get a fuckuva eyeroll for that question, for Bull’s standard method of teaching: lay out a situation and make Felix put two and two on his own, and guide him in the right direction if he couldn’t. (It drives Dorian nuts, after all these years.) “It’s my responsibility to pay attention to this kind of stuff.”

“What else?”

Felix huffs and speaks into his palm. “And it’s not my fault when I fuck up, but it doesn’t matter in the end because somebody’s nose still got broken. Think I don’t know that?”

“Think you’re still feeling sorry for yourself,” Bull corrects, and Felix’s whole body shudders when he breathes out slow. “Think your pops feels worse for upsetting you than about getting his pretty face rearranged.”

“That’s a lie,” Felix replies immediately, and he laughs when Bull does.

“C’mon, Pip.” Bull reaches over and tugs on the end of Felix’s braid, and keeps tugging until Felix moves off of the bench with him. “Me and Auntie can work on your spatial awareness too.”

Felix reaches back to smack at his hand and hesitates. Bull watches him do it, watches the emotions play across his face as he reconsiders, like Bull can’t take the hit. It’s good, that he does that. It means he’s thinking about it, and that he’ll think about it with somebody who’s smaller than him, more delicate. Everybody’s more delicate than him nowadays, save Bull himself and the Inquisitor.

“Sure,” Felix says eventually, and having gauged the situation right, smacks Bull’s hand off of his braid so hard it smarts.

Chapter Text

Dorian vacillates between expecting the worst, and attempting to convince himself that he’s being irrationally paranoid.

“I’m looking forward to pissing off the representatives of yet another country,” Adaar tells him amiably when he expresses his skepticism.

“While I appreciate your good humor, Rae,” Dorian replies, folding his arms more tightly across his chest and putting on his most agreeable smile, “and I know you are surely treating this with the severity it requires, I can hardly help being suspicious of the delegation’s intentions.”

Adaar clasps him firmly by the shoulder and ducks just enough to look him directly in the eye. “I’ve no plans to be hoodwinked by a swarm of vints.”

He tries to let that reassure him.

 

==

 

“Wish I had a way to record their faces,” Bull mutters, then sticks his tongue out between his teeth in his concentration and rolls the stamp across Dorian’s shoulder blade. The vitaar is cool when first applied, and Dorian holds himself still as death even as a shiver threatens to roll down his spine.

“It will be amusing, won’t it?” Dorian smiles broadly, until the expression sets his cheeks aching and Bull lets out a huff of resignation.

"Is anybody you know coming?" Felix asks from where he sits on the edge of their bed, watching his own feet as he kicks them up and back down. His own vitaar is drying, less than either Dorian or Bull is wearing, but enough to make him feel like 'a proper qunari', as he adamantly requested.

"Unlikely," Dorian replies, and holds himself still when Bull drags a nail across the top of his arm to use as a guiding line. "Though with the Maker's blessing, my appearance will make it back to Qarinus."

Felix snorts, and Bull raps his knuckles against the base of Dorian's skull gently. "What he means is, your papa's a little shit," he says, and Felix dissolves into scandalized giggles.

 

==

 

"I like it," Adaar says with an arched eyebrow, and Dorian smirks and rolls his bare shoulders back. She should. She'd helped with the design of the outfit years ago, when Bull insisted on being a romantic fool and marrying him. It’s a mishmash of southern and Vashoth fashion, long lengths of looping red rope, scarves, and supple leather, and it has the benefit of making Dorian feel expressly exotic — as well as making it objectively apparent where his loyalties lie.

“You approve of my small rebellions,” he replies, and she snorts and shifts next to him, trying to find Josephine in the throng of men and women dismounting from their horses and exiting their surprisingly plain carriages.

“I approve of your large ones as well.” She stills once she’s found her wife, and Dorian feels the contentment behind her smile as though it were a physical force. “Though Josie’d prefer I keep you on a shorter leash.”

“Oooh.” Bull appears behind them, and Dorian snorts and leans back readily into his embrace, one of Bull’s arms going easily around Dorian’s waist. “Now this is the kind of conversation I like walking into.”

Dorian looks about for Felix and spots him dogging Josephine’s heels, his hands held behind his back politely like Vivienne’s taught him, though she’d surely caution that the smile stretched wide across his face was dangerously obvious. “You’ve abandoned our dear ambassador to the snakes?”

“Pip will scare off anyone who needs it.” And as soon as Adaar’s said as much, they watch an altus let out an abrupt cry and close the door to their carriage in Felix’s face. Felix blinks in confusion and looks around, trying to find the source of the woman’s dismay, and then gives them all a quick wave when he spots them.

“Tama! Can I help with the horses?”

Dorian can feel it in the way Bull’s grip loosens, how quickly he’s about to agree to the request, and Dorian grinds his heel into the instep of Bull’s boot and calls back, “Only with Master Dennett’s supervision!”

Felix’s expression clouds and he lets out an annoyed papa before heaving a great sigh and accepting his lot in life, rushing off to find Dennett at the front of the convoy.

“At that age I knew how to kill a man,” Bull laments with only a touch of humor in his voice, and Adaar huffs a laugh and excuses herself to go and make nice with whoever it is Josephine’s determined is their main contact.

“Exactly what I want for our son,” Dorian replies steadily, and squeezes Bull’s hand where it rests at his hip. “Maker forbid he have a childhood free from the drama we endured—”

Bull’s grip tightens almost painfully and he shifts his stance, as though protecting Dorian’s right. Dorian stills and turns in the very direction Bull would clearly rather he not, and then Dorian’s throat goes dry, his tongue suddenly too large for his mouth.

“Your names weren’t on the list of visitors,” Bull says, voice gone flat and deep, and Dorian has the overwhelming urge to tell Bull to grab Felix and hide the both of them away in their rooms while he sets the courtyard ablaze.

His mother loops her arm through his father’s and gives them a practiced smile, ever polite in the face of whatever bombast Dorian has brought before her.

“We knew the foreknowledge of our accompanying the delegation would prevent their admittance,” his mother says warmly, as the two of them stand there as though they aren’t poisoning the very air around them, the ground under their well-soled feet, the very fucking grass of Skyhold.

“And you didn’t take that as a sign?” Dorian snaps. He can see Felix from the corner of his eye, assisting Dennett with unbridling the first of the horses. If he makes his attention obvious, they’ll notice. If he instructs Bull to gather him up, they’ll notice.

“I’m gonna go help with the horses,” Bull says then, and Dorian feels a grateful relief wash over him.

“Please do, amatus,” he replies, and he does not imagine the fracturing of his parents’ careful smiles when Bull glances a kiss off his temple and removes himself from the disastrous tableau.

They stand, the three of them, silent amidst the hustle and bustle of Skyhold welcoming their visitors, and Dorian is on his way to considering leaving his parents to do literally anything else at all when his mother’s gaze softens and his father inclines his head.

“You look well,” his father tells him, and Dorian lets loose a broad smile.

“I do.” He ignores the urge to cross his arms — an obvious tell, his father had said, that conveys your frustration as though you had admitted to the emotion aloud — and casts about for an easy excuse to leave them where they stand. His smile turns sharp when he finds Sera and beckons to her, and she lets out a holler as she lumbers towards them.

“Oi, fancy britches, where’s Pip? I wanna show ‘im how to ruin some tight arse’s day…” She slows as she approaches, her eyes flicking between Dorian and his parents, and as she opens her mouth again Dorian cuts her off.

“Sera, how fortuitous. I’d love to introduce you to my parents.”

Sera’s mouth goes slack and her eyes widen, and then she rounds on them like an aggravated bear. “Oh fuck off, you shitefaces,” she shouts, and Dorian allows himself to enjoy his parents combined startled discomfort before pretending he’s been called away and fucking off, himself.

 

==

 

It’s wonderfully simple to avoid his parents for the next several days. Apparently they genuinely did come to contribute to the talks with Adaar and her advisors, and Dorian imagines himself as playing a bit of a game when he makes himself scarce whenever the meetings adjourn for the day.

There’s no fear of their descending upon the Herald’s Rest, and Dorian makes good use of his bedroom’s connection to the upper floor of the tavern whenever he’s craving company and a stiff drink.

Bull, for his part, seems content to let Dorian deal with their attendance as he sees fit, though he makes vague comments about how crowded the keep seems now, and how nostalgic it’d be to bash some vint heads in.

The first time he threatens it, Felix looks horrified and looks quickly between Dorian and Krem, and then accusingly at his tama. "Not the vints we like," Bull clarifies, reaching across the table to ruffle Felix's mess of curls; but Felix gives him baleful glares for the rest of that evening.

It should've been some sort of hint, Dorian considers now, that Felix found no issue with the convoy's presence in Skyhold — and on one hand, Dorian's pleased they managed to mostly contain their displeasure about it, and not unduly influence him. On the other hand, when Bull goes searching for their son when he's late for practice with Dalish and comes back empty-handed, Dorian's shocked at how much they've sheltered him from the ills of the world.

"What do you mean, you found him in their rooms?" he hisses, doing his damnedest to keep his voice low enough as to keep sensitive ears unawares of his sudden and frankly immense rage.

"Not their rooms," Bull replies, as though that's the objectionable bit. "Just hanging out with a couple of them, watching them work magic." Bull's clearly uncomfortable with that association, and if Dorian weren't wrapped up in carefully falling apart over the potential of their son's exposure to a group of unknown and unfortunately known Tevinters, he'd find it charmingly vexing.

"Did anyone see you attempt to collect him?"

Bull frowns, shrugging one shoulder and glancing Felix's way, as the boy quietly reads in the window seat overlooking the practice yard. "Sure, but—"

"Who saw?"

"Dorian, c'mon."

"Who?"

"Fuck if I know, one of the vintier looking ones." Bull steps into his space, curling his hands around Dorian's fists, working his fingers between Dorian's slowly, firmly, until Dorian's hands are in his. "I know what you're gonna say when I ask this question, so do me a favor and not say it. Just think beyond that reaction. Okay?" Dorian gives no agreement, but Bull continues on regardless. "What's it matter?"

Dorian's mouth drops open and Bull's right, he probably does know exactly what Dorian's about to say — but how in the world does he think that's an acceptable risk? "He's our son," Dorian snaps, and were it not for Bull's tight grip on him, he'd be stalking across the room, allowing himself some space to breathe around that — preposterous, dangerous idea.

"And nobody's gonna hurt him here. Even if they wanted to, your parents are here firstly to do business. They're meeting with the boss and the advisers just as much as everybody else. They're not gonna fuck that up for personal gain."

"I'll have you know that fucking things up for personal gain is a proud House Pavus tradition," Dorian says, and Bull rubs his thumbs in the dip of both of Dorian’s palms.

"I'm not gonna tell you what is or isn't something you all excel at," Bull replies snidely, and Dorian's in the midst of rolling his eyes when he continues, "But our kid's safe. I can promise you that. Even if they wanted a qunari heir, I'd take 'em out at the knees before they could get halfway through the courtyard."

“I appreciate your sincerity—” Dorian starts, and Bull cuts him off before Dorian has a chance to illustrate how none of that would matter were his father determined.

"If you stay hidden away the entire time they're here, you're just letting them control you again."

And Dorian hates that, Bull's reasonable opinion, the surety with which he says it. How straightforward he makes it seem, as though he wouldn't do everything in his power to protect Felix if the Qunari appeared at the gates, and to the Fade with anyone who attempted to dissuade him. His parents aren't controlling him in this moment — he is simply being smart.

"Yes, thank you, Bull, for that observation."

Bull frowns at him, but Dorian's uninterested in hashing this out, in any of the varied circular conversations they could have on this topic.

“I’ll have Sera grab him,” Dorian snaps, and wrests his hands out of Bull’s grip.

 

==

 

“It was unkind of you the other day, to abandon us to that elf.”

Dorian had ventured out to the library and the hall the day before — not because of Bull’s do-good mother-henning, but because he was going stir crazy in the four walls of their room. He had no access to new books. He could only reorganize their affects so many times before Bull asked too many aggrieved questions about where his horn balm had gotten to. And in the privacy of his own mind he could admit he was being overly-cautious, hiding himself away until the delegation had gone back to the pit it had crawled out of.

Of course then, of course, it takes only a day for his father to locate him picking through the newest arrivals to the library.

Dorian stills in the middle of reaching for the latest publication on the practical applications of rune technology, but doesn’t turn towards his father. He’s not certain he could maintain the strictly diplomatic relationship the Inquisition and Tevinter are enjoying, were he to face him.

“Her name is Sera, and she’s infinitely better company than you will find me.”

He hears his father shift between his feet — a mistake, a sign of indecision or weakness, exposing your throat to a predator — and scoffs, grabbing the book and flipping it open across his hand. He’s been interested in advancements made in the field, in rune technology as Dagna so excitedly calls it when he manages to understand her during one of her mile-a-minute babblings. If they could harness the same responsiveness and power of weaponized runes for the day-to-day, for cooking or washing…

His father’s shadow falls across the book and Dorian does turn then. “You’re blocking my light.”

“You look well,” Halward replies.

Dorian doesn’t think about how tired his father sounds. The talks must be taking their toll on him in his old age.  “Get on with it, with what you want to say. You’ve several minutes before I realize I have better things to do with my time.”

Halward frowns, but the expression slides off his face as quickly as it’d appeared, replaced by the calm sort of desperation Dorian remembers from his younger years, when his parents were content with scolding and bribery for good behavior. “Your… husband seems a decent man.”

Dorian swallows. His palms feel sweaty around the edges of the book. “He is.” He’s not sure how to read the expression on his father’s face — thoughtful, perhaps. Too closely guarded to truly interpret.

“I’m glad the south has treated you so well.”

Which is a lie; and if not a lie, then a truth tempered by the understanding that Tevinter, their Tevinter, the Tevinter he sees in his dreams, would have been so very better for him. And he for it.

“My family is here,” Dorian replies, expecting the subtle flinch striking his father’s face.

What he doesn’t expect is for the considering expression to remain, to grow ever more so. “My grandson is already a talented mage.”

Dorian’s halfway to agreeing, used to praising Felix’s skills both academically and practically, when the meaning of his father’s words truly hits home. His throat goes dry, his tongue suddenly too large for his mouth, and he feels the Veil around him like a solid thing, ready to be burst through.

“Your grandson,” he says instead, his voice as even as he can make it, and cold. Cold as the chill he feels inching down his spine. Cold as the ice he will encase his father’s fucking head in, if he suggests anything

“He is your son, is he not?” Halward’s smile extends no further than his mouth, and the chill that’s bled through to Dorian’s chest turns hot, tumultuous like the roiling sea.

“You may see yourself out.”

Dorian imagines what his father’s face must look like, because he can’t see through the rage clouding his vision. He imagines the man must look ever so old in the moment, desperate as he did that day so long ago in Redcliffe, and that the creases on his brow and lining his mouth are deep in his useless grief and sorrow.

“Dorian.” His father’s voice is barely more than a whisper.

“Then I will see myself out,” Dorian hisses, and pushes past the man to escape through the door leading to the ramparts.

 

==

 

The delegation departs within the week.

Dorian watches them saddle up and fuck off from one of the walls, sitting next to Sera while she aims rocks at the roofs of the carriages.

“Load of horse shite if you ask me, which no one did, obviously,” Sera observes, and hits a carriage window hard enough that they can both hear the crack from where they sit. There are raised voices from the courtyard, and Sera cackles and ducks down behind the parapet. Dorian heaves a sigh and sinks down next to her.

“Hope it pisses rain and all their fancy linens get soaked down to their nasty-arse knickers.”

Dorian eyes her, and considers. “…Were you aiming at a specific carriage?”

“Shite yeah, maybe if it rains hard enough your parents’ll drown.”

He knocks his head against the brick when he leans back and laughs, and it sets her off again.

 

==

 

Felix is asleep, read to and kissed and tucked-in, and Dorian’s using the distraction of cleaning up his toys and books to not have to make peace with Bull.

Bull, who still thinks Dorian overreacted at each stage of the last few days. Bull, who said nothing when the delegation left, but whose very stare heavily implied that he was thinking I told you so regarding their son’s relative safely around Tevinters.

Dorian could wring his bloody neck.

“There’s this one too,” Bull says from behind him, and Dorian turns to take one of the toys that migrated out of Felix’s room and—

Dorian feels like he’s been smacked in the chest by the blunt end of a sword. He takes the carved wooden duck from Bull’s outstretched hand and pulls it close, wraps both hands around it. It’s old, not like the toy Cole found for him a decade ago. Its paint is chipped and faded, and you can’t tell that the eyes were once glossy black, that its feathers were vibrant and carefully shaded, green and white and brown. It feels remarkably heavy in his hands, given its size. It feels as heavy as it did when he was a child.

“Where did you get this?”

“I had Dagna and Madame de Fer look it over. It’s safe.”

“That’s not what I asked,” Dorian starts, and then he breathes in shudderingly, cutting himself off. It’s safe; of course it is. If his parents were to make an attempt on persuading him back to their side and it hurt their prized possession, that’d be an abysmally poor attempt. If his parents…

“They gave this to him?”

“Little old for it,” Bull says quietly, glancing at Felix’s sleeping form wrapped up in blankets in bed, “but he seemed happy to get it.”

“Did he know who they were?”

Bull shrugs a shoulder. “Not that I know of.”

“That’s…” Dorian lets out an equally shuddering breath, and Bull steps in close, wrapping him in his great arms, the sudden touch after days of enforced, bitter separation like another hit to Dorian’s chest.

The toy’s edges bite, pressed too tight, trapped between the both of them, but Dorian doesn’t move away and Bull doesn’t seem to mind.

Chapter Text

Felix always finds his tama when he has bad dreams, because his papa tells him everything’s all right and that he has bad dreams too sometimes, but they’re nothing to be afraid of – but his tama doesn’t try and make it better. his tama just lets him sit close, hugs him tight with one of his big arms – and his tama says one day he’ll be as big maybe, if he eats his peas even if they’re gross – and tells him a story. Or, or talks about what Skinner said yesterday that made the back of Auntie Josie’s neck turn red. (He’s not supposed to tell Papa what Tama tells him, so he never does, even if he’s not sure what Tama’s talking about. Skinner says weird things sometimes, and Auntie Rae says Auntie Josie always blushes pretty.)

When he wakes up, heart beating fast, flashes of a wide grin and an airy voice telling him it only wants to play stuck in his head, he clambers out of bed and finds his slippers. Papa and Tama’s room is across from his, and when Felix pushes his door open the sounds of people drinking and talking fill the empty hallway. He’s not alone at all. It makes him feel warm in his tummy, like when Papa gives him hot cocoa.

He crosses the hallway, already feeling better, and curves his hands around the doorknob so he can work it open. The fire’s lit in the room, casting creepy shadows against the wall above his parents’ bed, and before Felix has the door completely open he hears his papa groan like he’s hurt, and that has him pushing it open faster.

“Papa–!”

Then his Papa says one of the words Felix isn’t supposed to ever say, at least not until he’s older. (Even though Tama says it should be fine, but his Papa and Tama “had words” about that. Papa always tells Felix they don’t fight, but they “have words” a lot. When Felix told Auntie Rae one time that they had left to “have words”, she’d laughed till she was red in the face and told Auntie Josie, who’d asked politely if “that was what they called it”. And they did, that’s why Felix had said it, and they’d laughed again, and then when he’d gotten mad at them for laughing at him Auntie Josie’d given him a chocolate and apologized.)

“Bull, get off,” Papa says, and Tama chuckles even while Papa hits his back.

“Y'mean out?“ Tama says, and Felix frowns at them when Papa keeps hitting Tama’s back until Tama flops onto the bed next to Papa.

"Felix,” Papa says, voice weird like he’s been training a lot, and then he clears his throat and sits up as much as he can when one of his… hmm, his hands is tied to the headboard.

Felix frowns. “Are you in timeout?”

Papa was red before but he goes even redder, and Tama’s raised a hand to his face and is shaking. Felix thinks he’s laughing.

“We were having sex, kid,” Tama says, and Papa lets out a yell and smacks Tama with his free hand.

“Ohh,” Felix says. Auntie Sera’s told him about sex. But Felix doesn’t see any trees in his parents’ bedroom, so the part about hitting branches and leaves still doesn’t make much sense.

“You have a bad dream?” Tama asks, and Papa stops looking so mad and gives Felix the look he gets when he falls over during practice with Auntie, and starts untying his hand from the bed.

“Imekari, are you all right?” Papa starts, and Felix doesn’t sigh but almost does, because just like always Papa is gonna try and make him feel better.

“I’m good!” Felix says at the same time that Tama tells Papa it’s fine. “Can you tell me a story though?”

“Can do, kid,” Tama says, “just give us a couple minutes.”

“A couple minutes,” Papa hisses, and Felix closes the door on his Tama’s loud laughter.

 

 ==

 

 "Oh sweet fuck,“ Felix says one night when they’re sitting around their table in the tavern, halfway through their tankards and shooting the shit about the old days. "How many times did I walk in on you two having sex?”

“So many,” Pa replies with a haunted look, while Tama bursts into laughter. “So. Many.”

Chapter Text

When Cole appears in Felix’s room, Dorian’s unsure he has the wherewithal to accommodate him. Felix has been shrieking as though he were on the verge of death for the last fifty minutes, and Dorian has tried everything — everything, from food to drink to a nappy change to a disastrous attempt at a lie-down that resulted in Felix’s favorite stuffed dragon losing its tail to his death grip.

Dorian hid the thing away underneath the throw pillow on Bull’s reading chair, and tried assisting his child in recovering from the apparent trauma he’d undergone dismembering his beloved ‘taash, to no avail.

“It’s temporary,” Cole says, as though that is in any way helpful, and Dorian heaves a great sigh and looks away from his wailing son.

Felix lets out a particularly piercing cry and Dorian does not wince, because he is beyond showing human emotion anymore. “What, pray tell?”

“This,” Cole says helpfully, and he glides into the room in that strange way of his — awkward and uncomfortable in his skin, and still somehow moving as though his feet don’t touch the ground. He sinks down next to Felix and Felix, oh mercifully, mercifully, hiccups on his most recent sob and quiets for a blessed moment. “His pain. It’s loud now, but it won’t last. There was a bird, sudden, swooping in suspended on a gust of spring air. It startled him.”

“A… bird,” Dorian repeats, and feels his shoulders slumping down, with relief or something like it. Disbelieving exhaustion, perhaps.

“There were birds before, billowing wings brought near by the weighty scent of a fresh kill. He remembers being afraid, but not why. He remembers birds.”

“That…” Makes no sense to Dorian now, but as is often the case with what Cole tells him, he knows he’ll sort it out eventually. He looks at Felix instead, who’s gazing up at Cole with wide reddened eyes, his little hands opening and closing slowly on his lap. “Seems like something that could be solved by a nap.”

Cole brightens, and nods. “Yes. In sleep there are songs sung by voices once-familiar.”

“All right.” Dorian packs that line away as well, and pushes himself to his feet. “Then, Cole, you’re going to learn how to put an infant to bed.”

Chapter Text

“It followed me home,” Felix says steadily, little face as serious as Dorian has ever seen it, and Dorian squats down to look his son in the eye.

Felix doesn’t blink, though he does firm his jaw. If he keeps this up, he’s going to be a vicious cardsharp. That expression could fool even Josephine.

Dorian glances from his son to Bull, who’s standing arms akimbo in front of their boys and boasting about the scaly beast curled around his neck. It’s gonna grow to be big as a hart, Dorian overhears, followed by, And it fucking spits fire — it singed my trousers.

When Dorian looks, he confirms that the thing did indeed singe the legs of Bull’s trousers. Unfortunately, they’ll likely be able to be repaired.

“It followed you home,” Dorian confirms, and Felix nods his head in a rush, his curls bouncing about his forehead. Dorian pushes himself upright and slides his hand through Felix’s hair, tugging gently. “Did you know, Bull, that Felix just told me he’s absolutely smitten with that rare edition of Aloysius’ Historia we saw the last time we trekked through Val Royeaux. How fortuitous, as it’s just what I too have been thinking of.”

Bull looks caught, for just a moment, before Dorian feels Felix nod his head again, under his hand—

“It’s true, Tama, it looked real interesting.”

—and with that, Bull has to grab the infernal lizard at his neck to keep it from unsettling while he laughs.

Chapter Text

Some afternoons him, Sera, and Blackwall sit on the ramparts and people watch. There’s a method to it, or at least a general consensus: nothing too serious; nothing too mean; whoever makes the others laugh the longest or, if Sera’s addendums are acknowledged, snort beer through their nose wins. Sometimes they bet on it, stupid shit, Sera and Bull taking over shoveling the muck out of Blackwall’s makeshift workshop in the stables. Blackwall and Bull working as Sera’s men on the ground for one of her prank sprees. Blackwall and Sera swearing they’d come with him and the boss on the next dragon hunt. (Sera’d hid burrs in his socks drawer for a good week after that one, muttering something about how loosening the stakes on all the training dummies hadn’t gotten anybody’s short and curlies scorched.)

One day they’re out there, sharing a bag of candied nuts amongst them, Sera complaining about the nuts that may or may not have fallen and been lost forever to Blackwall’s beard, when Bull feels himself tense. Second nature. Instincts, maybe. The shit he was raised with, something he can subdue a lot of the time but that he’ll never be rid of.

Good thing too, apparently.

“Couldn’t it’ve been a lady?” Sera huffs and leans back over the ramparts like she’s a bag of straw.

Blackwall chuckles, and Bull can’t take his eye off the qunari ducking his head like he knows he’s intimidating at his height, like he wants to look smaller. The qunari — who’s probably telling the guards at the gate he’s Tal-Vashoth, a likely story — is holding himself loose. Doesn’t expect anyone to threaten him, doesn’t expect to find anyone in Skyhold threatening.

The boss holds herself relatively loose because she’s never had to worry about a poisoned knife in the back. Tal-Vashoth tend to be more circumspect. Tend towards a wariness you can see, on their face or in their eyes. So maybe he’s Vashoth.

“Nothing to add?” Blackwall asks, his voice deep with humor, and Bull drags his attention away from the qunari and looks to his companions, who are staring at him with varying degrees of bemusement.

“Nah,” he says, and Sera blows a raspberry at him when he excuses himself and hustles down the ramparts towards the tavern.

 

==

 

“The new agent, Baasra, he’s rather gregarious for a Tal-Vashoth.”

Bull eyes Dorian over his ale and doesn’t give that line the merit of lifting a brow. “I’m rather gregarious for a Tal-Vashoth.”

“Yes, and we’re all very proud,” Dorian replies smoothly. “Perhaps you’ll tell me then, why he makes you so uncomfortable?”

Bull lifts a shoulder in a practiced shrug. “I’ve gotta get a handle on him. New guy, new motivations.”

“And you’d surely devote such effort to determining what makes an elf or a dwarf pilgrimage to Skyhold.”

“Humans too,” Bull says. “I investigate those fuckers like none other.”

Dorian laughs, though Bull knows he hasn’t driven him off the topic forever. “Obviously.”

 

==

 

Felix is still young enough that when he gets sad, or scared, or angry — or just as excited as kids tend to get — you’ve gotta watch for sparks zapping between his fingers, gotta pay attention if there’s a charged feeling in the air. It still freaks Bull the fuck out, but it delights Dorian, so Bull keeps his reservations to himself.

(Besides, it’s not like he shouldn’t be used to it by now. Bull’s life is lousy with mages. The boss in particular gets some kind of wicked Vashoth-y joy outta having Bull join her for Felix’s training sessions.)

So the thing is, Felix doesn’t have total control on the magic he’s already got flowing through him. Dorian helps him as much as he can, until he remembers how worried he is about pressuring Felix even a hair’s breadth as much as his parents did, and he passes Felix over to the boss.

The boss works with him just about every day, and sometimes when Bull heads over to the garden to wrangle his kid for the bath he’s got awaiting him, the two of them are just sitting and talking, Rae’s hands carefully collecting Felix’s flyaway hair into tight braids.

It’s the time that Bull’s on retrieval duty — and next to Rae’s the Tal-Vashoth — that Bull feels the stone under his feet seem to give way. The Tal-Vashoth (his name is Baasra, he hears Dorian correct in his head) is watching the boss walk Felix through focusing techniques, how to breathe right, how to concentrate and envision what he wants to have happen before he tries to do it.

The Tal-Vashoth is watching. He doesn’t use magic, so he’s got nothing to draw him here save curiosity. If his attention is that fucking innocent.

Bull’s alive because he pays attention to his gut instinct, and it’s telling him to get his kid as far away from this bastard as he can.

 

==

 

Bull finds the bastard skulking around the ramparts near their room, near Felix’s room, and he takes only a moment to note how Baasra’s holding himself, to bring to mind every pertinent detail he’s put together in the last month; and then he’s reaching for Baasra’s wrist and shoulder and shoving him down and against the tower wall, knee at the small of his back.

“Give me a reason,” he snarls, when the fucker won’t quit struggling, “it’s been a while since I’ve broken somebody’s back.”

“You’ve lost your mind,” Baasra wheezes, but he stops trying to get away. He goes limp all at once, but Bull’s not stupid enough to fall for it, keeps the tension with his grip on the bastard’s wrists and his knee against his spine.

“You stalking my kid?”

No—!”

“I could launch you over the side of the damned castle and no one would find your body until the spring thaw.”

“You’re out of your damn mind—”

“And you’re Ben-Hassrath, or I’m an actual cow.”

Baasra’s still sagging in Bull’s grip and Bull doesn’t let up. He’s not falling for any kind of bullshit. He’s got a name, and a family, and a home, and he’s going to do whatever’s required of him to protect the whole of it.

When Baasra speaks, Bull has to strain to hear him:

“You think you’re the only one who found something worth more than the Qun?”

 

==

 

The boss doesn’t say anything to Bull directly, but Bull knows she knows why Baasra’s headed back down the mountain. He knows she’s probably frustrated about it, but is diplomatic enough to let it go for now.

Dorian’s on the fence between flabbergasted and pissed, and he keeps himself straddling there by starting conversations with Bull and walking off halfway through, hissing under his breath about the counterproductive nature of paranoia.

Bull can’t bring himself to fucking care.

He sits down with Pip on the floor of their room and holds up two of the army of sewn qunari Krem had made for him, and tells him a story about two qunari travelers, and about how to pay attention, and about how to trust.