“I’ve never been swimming.”
Cole said that in the Exalted Plains, as the group walked past a small lake, voice faraway as usual, soft and drifting. It took Ellana a moment to fully comprehend it.
“You’ve never what? Not even paddled?” she asked in surprise. The elf wasn’t exactly a big swimmer herself, but she always loved wading into the shallow lakes the clan stopped by, whether it was to bathe or for fun. It was such a fun part of her life back in her clan, she had so many fond memories of swimming. She really couldn’t believe that Cole had never been swimming.
“No,” he said, eyes still on the water, “There are no lakes in the Fade. Not ones you can swim in.”
Ellana shook her head in disbelief, “We have to take you swimming sometime,” she said. Not now, though. But she wasn’t going to let this go.
It was almost a year after that Cole went swimming for the first time. He was alone at the time. He had become more and more human and he had all of these new feelings and desires and for the most part, he didn’t know how to deal with them. What he did know, was that he wanted to go swimming. It was one of the few things that was easily discernable. He’d seen other people swimming and he knew he wanted to do that too.
So he did.
The spirit wandered to the lake close to Skyhold, and walked straight in. His leather armour soaked the farther he waded in, the icy water seeping in to soak his skin. It was entirely unpleasant but Cole figured it was because he wasn’t fully swimming. The rogue got to the point where his feet didn’t touch the ground, and he sunk. The only sign he was even in the water was his hat, which was still peaking out over the top of the water.
This was the point where he realised he couldn’t breathe water.
That was what was unfortunate about him becoming human, and then being left alone. Cole became more human but he never learned how to be human.
So he waded back out not long after that. Swimming wasn’t exactly what he expected, but there were always other things to try. He trudged back to Skyhold, feet squelching in his water-filled boots and his hat dripping into his eyes. Cole was heading for the Inquisitor, not that he knew where she was. It was a lot harder to hear people now. He was more real, and it made the less real things more difficult for him to grasp. He was going to have to search the castle by himself.
Everyone he passed gave him an odd look, but they always had, and this didn’t seem out of the ordinary to him. It didn’t occur to him that it was unusual to be walking around in public with his clothes absolutely sodden and dripping as behind him.
He visited Solas’ rotunda first. The two spent a lot of time together, and although Cole couldn’t hear their exact thoughts there was always a warm fuzzy noise in their heads when they were around each other. He figured they might be together, but the large room was empty. The spirit headed upstairs, leaving a watery trail in his wake.
It was the stream of puddles behind him that people started murmuring about, and soon, word got to Ellana. The elf followed the trail with Solas following on her heels, and found the spirit walking the battlements. The first thing she saw was his hat, sides ladened with water and hanging heavy either side of his head, drooping with the weight of it.
“Cole!” She shouted, and the hat turned her way. The Inquisitor ran after him and the spirit slowly walked towards them.
“E-Ellana,” he said, teeth chattering. He didn’t know what that meant, but he found it difficult to talk around, “I w-was looking for you,” he gave a small smile.
“Yes, I’m here- what are you doing?” she cried, holding him by the shoulders and jumping at the freezing material, “Creators, you’re soaked! What happened?”
The spirit gave a wide grin, or what was intended to be one, it distorted his face in an unnatural way, but she understood the intent, “I w-went swimming! It… wasn’t very fun.”
“We’ve got to get him out of these clothes,” Solas warmed, taking the spirit by the arm, “He’s going to freeze.”
Ellana followed them with quick steps, “What were you thinking, Cole? Are you not cold?”
“I- cold?” The boy furrowed his brow, “Oh, yes! I am. I’ve never been cold before!”
“That’s not a good thing, Cole. You might-”
The spirit stumbled, losing coordination in his numbed legs for a moment. Solas kept him up with the grip on his arm, but his blue eyes were worried. Cole looked down in surprise. “I… M-my legs are not working again. Am I gripping on t-too tight with my f-feet?”
“Creators, Solas, I think he’s really in trouble,” Ellana said, holding Cole’s other arm.
“I know, vhenan. We need to get him to the healer’s. Else I’m not sure what will happen.”
The Inquisitor glanced around, suddenly shouting and then shooting off, “You keep going, I’ll get help!” The elf ran as fast as she could to Cullen’s study, banging open the door, and appearing, panting in the threshold.
“Sweet Maker!” Cullen yelped in response at the sound, “Inquisitor, are you alright?”
Ellana was still out of breath, “Co-Cole is sick. We need help!”
The Commander stood in his chair, “Right away, Inquisitor,” he called to the guards standing outside of his room and then the three of them followed Ellana, trying to find where Solas and Cole had got to.
It didn’t take long, they followed the steady stream of puddles down the stairs and found the two in the courtyard. They weren’t walking anymore.
“Inquisitor, I’m sorry, I can’t- he can’t walk-” Solas was explaining, the most worried she’d ever seen him.
She shushed him as the guards came to either side of the rogue and picked him up. He had crumpled to the floor, losing complete control of his legs, body wracked with tremors. He was looking around, confused, as if the spirit didn’t understand his surroundings, or what was happening. The words that formed in his throat were cut off by his shivering, coming out as half-formed mumbles and gasps.
“Get him to the infirmary!” She ordered, grasping one of Cole’s hands and rushing alongside the guards. His fingertips were almost blue, and ice cold, “You’re going to be okay, sweetie. You’re going to be fine.”
Cullen charged ahead of them, clearing a path. There was quite a commotion, and it had drawn the attention of most of the bystanders in the courtyard, who were all bustling about trying to get a closer look. The chattering was loud, murmuring rumours about what had happened, who was involved, and almost everyone talking about the Inquisitor and what she was doing. But everything went silent when Ellana cried out.
Cole’s eyes fluttered shut and his grip on her hand fell slack. He’s just unconscious, she told herself, he’s going to be fine, it’s Cole, of course he will be. “Faster!” She yelled at the guards.
The courtyard was now deadly quiet. Everyone was silenced at the look of unbridled panic on the Inquisitor’s face. They’d never seen her scared before. She was their fearless leader, their hopes, their future - and she was scared. And that terrified them.
They burst into the infirmary, shocking the two people in the room. One was a nurse and the other was Mother Giselle. Ellana prayed to the Creators they could help him.
“He went swimming,” Ellana explained in a rush, “He was cold and shivering and then he passed out and I- can you help?”
“Put him on the table,” The healers gathered around the boy and examined him with quick hands. Mother Giselle turned to the nurse and gave him a list of ingredients in hushed tones.
“Inquisitor,” she said, turning back for a moment, “I don’t know what we can do, but we can try. But we need our space to work, we need everybody out. Now.”
Ellana would have protested, but Solas’ steady hand was on hers, “It’s for the best, vhenan,” he said calmly, “Let them work.”
The Inquisitor was conflicted but the worry in Solas’ eyes mirrored her own, and she trusted him. Creators, she trusted him. And if this was what he thought was best, then- “Okay. Everyone out.” The guards and Cullen left, both elves turning to leave too, but Ellana turned back, “He’s going to be okay, right? Tell me he’s going to be okay.”
“I-” Giselle turned back to her patient, “I do not know, Inquisitor.”
Ellana’s voice caught in her throat, dumbstruck. She allowed Solas to pull her out of the room, and it was only when they were outside that he heard the words she was mumbling. “It’s my fault, my fault. He’s g-going to die and it’s all-” she was blubbering, voice rising in pitch and bordering on hysterical.
“No, of course not. Vhenan, look at me,” he put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed gently, trying to ground her, tone reasonable “None of this is your fault. How could it be your fault?”
“I-I was the one who made him like this, made him more human. If… If I had never done that he’d never have gone swimming in the first place! Creators, what have I done?”
“Vhenan, no. This is not your fault. It’s going to be okay, but you have to calm down.”
“Is it? Is he going to be okay, Solas?”
The elf didn’t reply.