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The blood spurts and streaks sharply across Cole’s face, landing on his tongue, salty and sweet and coppery, before it pools and spreads, steaming, shimmering, a stark slash of red staining the once bright whiteness of the snow. With each stuttering throb of an increasingly desperate heart, Cole’s own heart beats faster, white-hot heat pooling low in his stomach, the ache stealing his breath.
The body, the now empty shell, so suddenly still and silent beneath him, the sharp scent of blood, the heavy tang of it on his tongue, the evilness washed away, cleansed in a sea of red, leaves Cole lightheaded and longing, reaching and rearing. Senses spiraling, the warmth sinks lower, leaving him throbbing, the wanting twisting, knotting, pulling tighter, tighter, tighter till it snaps and Cole breaks with it, falling, falling until he shatters, slipping into nothingness.
When Cole opens his eyes (when had they fallen shut?), he’s aching and tender, sticky inside his pants in a way he hasn’t experienced since becoming more human. This is different, not an echo, but more.
Cole feels the smooth slide of the Iron Bull’s cool calm and curiosity across his mind before he hears the telltale echo of his leg brace against the flagstones.
A flash of fear, worry, inquiry, no judgement before it is washed away by logic, sizing up the situation, the body, the blood, Cole’s position, the stains on his clothing.
“You okay, kid?”
Cole looks up, upward across the towering length of Bull’s body, so very far above Cole’s own, before he glances down again at the corpse he’s still crouching over, the blood already starting to freeze.
The Iron Bull’s brace creaks as he kneels down beside them, Cole and the body, Bull’s pain at the motion slashes sharply through his mind, but Bull doesn’t react outwardly to the pain the motion caused him.
“The filth latched on when I walked by. I wasn’t listening, but it shouted at me. The things he did, the things he wanted to do, would do, to Dorian.” Cole raises wide eyes to Bull’s. “I couldn’t let him hurt Dorian.” The Iron Bull will understand, Cole knows, because Bull likes Dorian too, always protects him in the fights, taking the hits, so Dorian doesn’t have to.
Cole shivers not from the cold of the snow melting where he kneels, but from the cold fury that suddenly fills the Iron Bull, crashing through him, over him, threatening to consume him.
But just as suddenly it’s gone, and Bull says, “You did good, kid. I’ll take care of this.” Bull gestures towards the body. “Now, go get cleaned up and wait in my room. Don’t be seen.”
“I can’t wash it away like I used to.”
“You’re a rogue. Use your shadow shit.”
Oh, yes, Cole could do that and does.
When the Iron Bull slips into his room, hours later, the sounds from the tavern beneath having long since tapered off, Cole is sitting on the floor at the foot of Bull’s bed, legs crossed at ankles and knees bent.
The Iron Bull’s thoughts are quiet, beyond Cole’s reach, but his eye is sharp, piercing.
“You didn’t change your clothes.”
Cole looks down at himself, at the stains and the tears, not realizing he was supposed to. “I don’t have any others.”
“Strip.” The word is a command, leaving no place for question.
Cole does as he’s told, hesitating for just a moment with his hat before setting it aside and peeling off clothing long since stuck to his skin. In the past, he has felt the shame many people experience when they are naked in front of another, but Cole feels none himself here as he cares not about what he wears or does not wear. He has never understood why skin must be hidden.
The Iron Bull’s eye lingers for long moments, and Cole wonders what he sees.
Varric had cut his hair, so it no longer falls in his eyes, but he still isn’t sure if he likes it or not. He used to be thin and pale, but recently he’s noticed changes in his body, his arms and torso thickening with muscles, his skin first turning red (“A sunburn” Dorian had called it with a laugh and passed him a salve when Cole had asked him why his skin hurt) then darkening slightly as freckles had sprung up everywhere that wasn’t covered by armor. (Cole rather liked his spots.)
Finally Bull turns and grabs a cloth, dropping it into a basin of water sitting on top of his bureau before wringing it out and motioning him over. “You missed some spots. C'mere.”
Cole closes the distance between them, suspecting what the Iron Bull is going to do next, but not understanding why.
When the Iron Bull slides the wet cloth behind the shell of his ear, Cole’s focus narrows only to the touch of it on his skin, so soft, and the contrast of Bull’s own calloused and scarred skin where it touches him. Two more trips the cloth makes back into the now pink water before Cole is almost clean, and then Bull hesitates for a moment before sliding the cloth across his cock and balls, wiping him clean and causing him to shiver.
Finally seeming to deem Cole clean enough, Bull drops the cloth in the basin, and opens a chest by the door, drawing out a blanket that he wraps around Cole’s shoulders.
Cole buries his face in the softness of it with a smile.
“Have a seat,” Bull says with a gesture towards the bed as he sits down on it himself, back resting against the headboard and legs stretching out long before him.
Cole sits on the edge of the bed and pulls the blanket tightly around him, fighting the urge to pull it over his head. There is a heaviness in the air, a tension that made his heart race. It is moments likes these that Cole sometimes wonders how things would be if he’d chosen differently, if he’d embraced his connection with the Fade rather than his connection with his skin.
“We’re going to have a talk about what you did, kid,” Bull says then corrects himself, “Cole.”
“You think I’m a demon.” The Iron Bull had called Cole one before, many times, so it is no stretch of the imagination that he will call him one again now.
“No.” Bull shakes his head. “I don’t know what you are anymore, but I’ve been in the Inquisition long enough to see some crazy shit, including more demons than I ever imagined possible. I don’t know what you are, but you’re not a demon.”
Cole is honestly surprised by that, but could sense no lie in the words. Cole’s lips curl at the corners, his stomach warming. “Thanks. I think.”
“Now, I understand why you did what you did. I would have done the same myself if I’d known what the bas had been up to. But if you ever feel the need to do something like that again, you need to be careful. If anyone else who had stumbled across you tonight, well, most people leap to conclusions first and ask questions later. It wouldn’t have been pretty. You covered in blood on your knees over the body of an unarmed man, it didn’t look good.”
“You thought I was pretty.”
“I’m not most people.”
“No, you’re the Iron Bull.”
“Yeah, kid. Ain’t no one like me.”
“It did something to me,” Cole says, his hand dropping to press against the soft flesh between his legs. “My body liked it.” It isn’t even remotely close to the first time he’d felt arousal, but it was the first time he’d experienced it from within, rather than from without. Cole feels his flesh begin to fill with blood under his hand, and experimentally curls his fingers around his length. Oh, why hadn’t he thought to try this before?
The corners of Bull’s mouth curl up as he notices the motion. “Not the first person to get off on killing, but the question is was it the blood that did it for you or the death?”
Cole has often felt the bloodlust which falls over the Iron Bull during battles, the thrill and weight of it, but this hadn’t been like that. Tonight the blood had been sharp, biting, but good, an addition, but not a cause. The death, he’s killed many people before, some in the name of compassion, and some in the name of protection, but none had ever affected him like this.
This had been different, not a mercy, but a good deed, bleeding the filth out lest it claim another victim. “He was a bad man, twisted, evil—his thoughts, his thoughts were poison, his very presence a festering disease that I could feel spreading. He deserved it.”
“No disagreement from me there. The question is why did you like it?”
“He’d done bad things to so many, would have done the bad things to Dorian. He was imagining them, his thoughts clawed at me and wouldn’t let go. I didn’t want to see! When I slit his throat, the thoughts went away, turned to panic, heart beating in his chest like a bird in a cage trying to escape, but that just made the blood flow so much faster, his life draining away with each clench of it. I wanted to feel it slowing, stopping in my hands, but I knew I shouldn’t, that I couldn’t explain it.”
“Smart, kid, not getting too lost in it. Now tell me why.”
Cole can feel his anger rise because he doesn’t have the words the Iron Bull wants, doesn’t understand why he’d felt the way he did. “He was an evil man, and I couldn’t let him dirty the world anymore!”
“So you killed him.”
“And you liked it.”
“It made you feel powerful.”
“Yes,” Cole whispers.
“And you want to feel that again.”
Cole opens his mouth to say no, but hesitates because that’s wrong, he does want it again. “Yes.”
“You could get that feeling from killing anyone.”
“No! Not like that!” Cole shouts as his eyes snap to the Iron Bull’s face, frowning at the unmistakable amusement he sees there.
“Just checking, kid.” Bull pulls a simple knife from beneath the pillow at his side and offers it to Cole hilt first.
Cole stares at it quizzically. It’s clearly been well used, but also well taken care of. “What’s this for?” he asks in confusion as he reaches out for it.
“I want you to cut me.”
Oh. Cole understood now. “You want to make sure I can control it. That I won’t hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.” Cole's eyes drop to the knife in his hand, knowing without testing that it’s wickedly sharp. He’d seen this before in the Iron Bull’s mind, except it had been him with the knife and he’d been naked. “Should we be naked? Is this a sex thing?”
“Do you want it to be?” Bull asks after a moment.
Cole carefully studies the Iron Bull’s face, the faint smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Unless the thoughts are shouting, it’s harder for Cole to look within people now, and people can often feel when he tries.
It’s facial expressions that Cole has trouble with, having spent too much time looking at the inside because he knows the outside often lies. The Iron Bull is a master of that. Cole had never met a qunari before the Iron Bull, and Bull’s thoughts are so unlike those of anyone else he’d ever encountered, layers upon layers. Cole had been drawn to it, is still drawn to it.
Cole knows that many people find the Iron Bull attractive because he is big and brash, different, exotic; they want to ‘ride the Bull’, slake their curiosity. Cole thinks many people would dislike the blatant disinterest in self, but the Iron Bull does not care. Bull’s hurt comes from within, not from without.
The Iron Bull is quiet both inside and out as Cole studies him. Cole isn’t sure when the Iron Bull stopped seeing him as a thing, but Cole knows that afterward was when he had began to make appearances in the Iron Bull’s frequent fantasies. It didn’t make Cole unique though because most of the occupants of Skyhold are fair game for the Iron Bull.
In the past sex had been an abstract to Cole, a set of emotions that usually felt good, but a physical act that meant nothing to him. The Iron Bull’s thought’s had made him curious, but not enough to seek him or anyone else out. It hadn’t been important. Not until now. Now he wants to learn, to understand. “I think I would like that,” Cole finally says, letting the blanket drop to pool at his waist.
“C'mere,” Bull beckons as he pulls the blanket away completely.
Cole twists, and the Iron Bull pulls him, rearranging him until Cole is straddling the large expanse of his lap, his thighs stretching so wide it’s burns, but it’s a good feeling, grounding. “You’re not naked,” Cole says in confusion as he settles, his hands flattened against the stiff fabric of the Iron Bull’s pants beneath him.
Bull gives a laugh and his grin widens. “Maybe later. Not sure if you’re ready for that yet. Now, cut me.”
Cole wonders at the trust the Iron Bull shows him. This doesn’t feel like something he would offer many people. But the Iron Bull is like Cole in that he likes to make people feel good. He wants to make Cole feel good. It’s a strange idea because Cole still isn’t used to people remembering him.
Cole has killed many people with his daggers and knows just how much force he needs to use to plunge them between bones and into vital organs. He knows just how easy it would be, yet the Iron Bull doesn’t seem nervous. Cole doesn’t know how hard to press to split the skin, to cause blood to well, but not cause major damage.
Hesitantly Cole slides the knife across the Iron Bull’s chest, beneath his collar bone, above his heart, and Cole knows instantly that he’s cut too deep as blood wells rapidly, bright against the grey of Bull’s skin, and slides down Bull’s abdomen, staining the top of his pants and curling down to drip on the sheets.
Hands touch his shoulders, and Cole jumps before they slide down the length of his back, finally coming to rest on his hips. It’s only when he looks down at them that he realizes that his cock has risen fully, hard and flushed and leaking between his legs.
“That all you got, kid?” the Iron Bull asks with a smirk, a challenge in his voice.
The next cut mirrors the first, but this one Cole is more prepared for, and the blood is slower to rise. Reaching out, Cole runs his fingers through it, staring at the blood that stains them as his heart races, his chest expanding with deepening breaths. This is the same, but different, better without the filth.
Leaning forward, the Iron Bull takes Cole’s fingers into his mouth, tongue swirling around the digits, sucking them clean, and Cole gasps, startled by the rush of sensation, the ache and throb of blood pooling between his legs.
Making a third cut, Cole presses his fingernail into it, liking the way the Iron Bull hisses at the additional pain.
This time Cole brings his fingers to his mouth. The taste of it explodes on his tongue. It’s no different than the multitude of times he’s experienced it in the midst of battle, yet at the same time there is something more to it that makes it indiscernibly more. Cole feels the thickening length of Bull’s cock beneath his ass and can’t help but squirm against it, causing Bull to moan. The sound heats his blood, so he does it again.
At the next cut, Cole hesitates, knife poised scant millimeters away from the Iron Bull’s skin. “Since I saw it in your mind, I think about how to kill everyone I meet.”
“That’s a good habit to have, kid. Could save your life someday. And how would you kill me now?”
Coles looks down at the knife, the edge already stained with the Iron Bull’s blood and imagines how easy it would be for him to slide it between Bull’s ribs into his heart or drag it across his neck. But no, it would not be simple, the Iron Bull is a formidable warrior, and as big as he is, he is quick. Cole would have to—No! He didn’t want this! Not like this! He doesn’t like those thoughts, doesn’t like the image of the Iron Bull dead before him, much less by his own hand. “I wouldn’t.”
The Iron Bull’s grin is sharp and pleased, and Cole suddenly realizes that while he might have the knife, might feel like he’s the one in power here, that the Iron Bull could overpower him at any time. And with that insight comes unexpected relief, the relaxation of a part of him he hadn’t known he was holding back.
Cole stares at the knife for a moment. It was good, but it isn’t enough. Setting it down, Cole squirms again, letting out a breathless gasp as the Iron Bull’s hips roll beneath him. Suddenly needing to be closer, needing more, Cole presses himself against Bull’s chest, blood smearing between them. The Iron Bull’s hands drop to squeeze the cheeks of Cole’s ass, and Cole can’t decide if he wants to push back against the hold or rub up against Bull.
This is different, the ache coiling stronger until his skin feels too tight, and he whines between his teeth.
“I gotcha, kid. Just let go,” the Iron Bull murmurs into his ear, his calloused fingers wrapping around Cole’s leaking length.
Let go of what, Cole can’t find the breath to ask. Hips bucking, Cole instinctively fucks against the hole Bull’s hand creates, the scent of blood, of arousal, of the Iron Bull a heady combination that leaves him needy and trembling. With the heat of Bull beneath him, Cole shatters with a sob, his back arching like a bow as he adds to the mess between them.
Cole’s wrung out and drained, still shivering with the aftershock, and lying boneless against the Iron Bull’s chest. He understands now why people like this so much. “I didn’t know it could be better,” Cole murmurs into the Iron Bull’s neck.
Bull’s laugh causes Cole’s body to shake. “You haven’t seen anything yet, Cole.”
“There’s more?” Cole asks, raising his head in disbelief.
“Why don’t you help me remove my brace and get out of these pants, and I’ll show you just how much more there is.”
Cole can’t scramble down the bed fast enough, and the Iron Bull laughs again.
It makes something in his chest go warm, and Coles wants to hear more of that.