Eyes stay closed, see blurs anyways, wavering masses of heat and grey, swim, swim like fish and sink down, deeper, black. Cole shuttered. The spirit, becoming slowly more human, pressed his forehead to an icy wooden beam of the tavern’s attic and groaned. Lips parted, eye roll, see the back of the skull, see thoughts, finger-paintings of sea dragons with mile-long gills, smiling and singing in low voices, “the dawn will come’ as they speak in secrets. He coughed when he tried to clear his throat, then pressed his cheek and temple to the chilled wall.
“Cole?” Maxwell, doing his daily rounds in checking on the Inquisition’s more unique members, made his way up to visit Cole. He had expected the usual, with Cole patiently standing in the corner, listening to the tunes of heartache and drunken revelation below. It must have been comfortable for him, even now that he was becoming mortal, to be surrounded by those who could be helped easily. Minds simply swayed by friendly words under the graces of ale. Indeed, Maxwell found Cole huddled in the corner, but sitting instead, hat fallen off his head and his arms wrapped tight around his skinny body. Trevelyan tripped rushing to his side. “What’s wrong?! Are you hurt?!”
“It rises, twisted, twisting betwixt. Liquid magma, falls, going nowhere, settling in the arms… shoulders, stomach, saplings…” Maxwell understood even less of the rambling than usual. Cole did not look at him, didn’t even glance over. The noble reached to hold Cole’s face, finding it clammy where the ice had soothed him and burning hot everywhere else. Maxwell felt his stomach turn. There was sweat all the way down the spirit’s neck, soaking his shirt. Maker, he was a mess, hair drenched and matted, slicked down against the back of his neck. “Soup in a bowl, too long out, chunks of half-melted bread…”
“Hang on,” Maxwell murmured to him. He rolled his sleeves back and drew Cole into his arms. He whimpered, flopping against Maxwell’s chest. Finally he opened his eyes, the blue glazed over and all vision out of focus, staring somewhere off to the left of the Inquisitor’s ear. “We’ll get you help, just hold on Cole.” Maxwell tried not to panic, but his heart was trying to escape his ribs with a sledgehammer.
“… My hat…” One hand dropped low and reached for it. But then it went limp and even Cole seemed confused as to why it would not obey. His hand always listened before.
Trevelyan did his best to juggle about and grab the thing of comfort for Cole, setting it on the blond head and keeping it there with the angle of his chin.
“Ow,” Cole moaned, his throat raw and everything aching. “Please stop… I want it to stop.”
“Sorry,” Maxwell said, seeing if changing his hold on Cole would help. But he wouldn’t let him go completely. Yes, the spirit was supposed to be laying down so the healer could examine him, but he was so out of sorts that he kept trying to hit her, and the tiny elf woman doing the work was already ill-at-ease around the otherworldly being. Maxwell cradled him and kept his wrists pinned so he wouldn’t try to punch her again. Not that he could do much damage as he was.
He whimpered and shook his head, the perspiration rubbed all over Trevelyan’s shirt front. “Stop spinning!”
“Nobody is moving, Cole.”
“Silver-maple seeds, twirling to the lava ground, winter sweater with mistletoe.” Cole struggled a little, shoving his forehead as hard into the crook of Maxwell’s neck as he could. He was breathing hard. “He said ‘make it safe’ and left in a white carriage.” Cole sobbed.
“What? Who did?” Maxwell rocked him back and forth. The Elven healer sorted through her herbal remedies as quickly as she could, shooting the Inquisitor a dangerous look every few minutes. He had best be ready when she administered the medicine. She did not want to be bitten. “Who got in the carriage, Cole?”
He shuttered. “I don’t know. Rode on a broken chair in the water, bobbing, fins around I just want everything to stop spinning!” He clutched Maxwell’s shirt. “Please!”
The Inquisitor nodded and reached for a blanket to swaddle the half-dressed boy. Getting rid of the shirt and shoes had been easy enough, but there was no need to get rid of pants while a lady was present. Well, not in this situation. But never mind that, Maxwell thought as he pulled Cole in tight.
He thought back to the last time he had been sick. Trevelyan decided he must have been a child, and all the memories of those days were so foggy and distant. But there were moments he recalled, somewhere before the breaking of the fever, where his wetnurse would press her lips to his forehead and tell him about heroes and ancient dragons and all the fighting a man had to do in order to win. There were other things, yes, but it was the presence of her calm that stayed beyond the measure of wicked temperatures.
Maxwell kissed Cole’s forehead, ran his fingers through wet hair as the spirit shivered and tried to get closer. “You’re going to be all right,” he assured, rubbing Cole’s knobby shoulders, kissing his flushed cheeks. “I’m not going to let the spinning keep up, I promise.” He put a hand over Cole’s eyes to keep all the light away.
The healer cleared her voice. “If he gets his teeth stuck on my hand, I will be very upset with him,” she threatened mildly and prepared the bitter herbs for use.
Cole turned in bed to look at the door. He could stay the dizziness when he was like this, but standing ruined everything. He blinked at the sound of Varric’s voice, Cassandra’s demands and Maxwell’s gentle coos.
“I just want to check on the kid, Seeker. A minute or two isn’t going to hurt anything.”
“Absolutely not!” There was a loud click, like heels on stone. “The Inquisitor is already sick. Whatever Cole has is contagious and I refuse to let you spread it all over Skyhold.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I’m sure he’s dying in there. Can I just talk to Cole?”
“He is sleeping, Varric.”
The bickering continued, the warrior stalwart as stone and the dwarf getting nowhere in the end. Cole turned around again and buried his face in Maxwell’s back, nuzzling his nose between shoulder blades. “I got you sick…” he mumbled, guilt swelling.
Maxwell laughed and purred. He took one of Cole’s hands in his and kissed the pale fingers. “I’m not very sick,” he argued, his nose so clogged he was barely understandable. “I wasn’t about to leave you to face your first illness all alone. What kind of man would that make me?”
“A healthy one?”
“Oh, well… yes, but I would rather be a brave man, I suppose.”
Cole hugged him tight. “Thank you, Max.” He pressed his cheek and the edge of his lip to the back of the Inquisitor’s ear. “You really did stop the spinning.”
“I think it was the medicine that did that, Cole. But… I’m willing to take the credit if you’re giving it to me.” Maxwell picked his head up slightly, glanced back, smiled, and settled back on the pillow. “You’re starting to look better already. I’m jealous.”
“The knight takes up his sword, never puts it down, fight the dragon, cleave, fire, bite, chop, hew. Pain, poison and burning, never turn back. ‘A warrior stays to his word’ she says ‘and must defeat the dragon’. Sip of hot tea, I lose my sock again. Blankets on feet. ‘Thank you, Nana’.”
“Nosey, aren’t you?” Trevelyan teased. He chuckled. “Get some more sleep, Cole. We’ll both feel better for it.”
“Yes.” Cole smiled and clutched something under the blankets. Maxwell yipped. “Your butt is naked.”
“Cole!” He blushed and coughed as the spirit laughed. “So is yours! N-now go to sleep.”