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A Soft Surprise

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The slim faces of the moons peeked through the leaves where Heidi sat, legs draped alongside a thick branch of the oak tree that dominated this far corner of Skyhold’s garden. Clouds raced as fast as her heart, stealing across the darkened sky.

A rustle of leaves was the only announcement of Cole’s arrival, followed by a slight rush of breath where he wobbled on the branch in front of her. Heidi fought the flash of worry that swept through her, instead closing her eyes and leaning against the furrowed bark at her back.

“Your nightmares woke you up again.”

“Hi to you, too, Cole,” she said by way of answer, though there was no hardness to her words. He was still a strange young man, no matter how much she found herself gravitating towards him, no matter how often he might appear at her elbow. It was almost a game—how long might it take for Cole to find her, how long until he would show up at her side?

Alien as it was, she found herself clinging to it more and more.

“How do you know?” she asked. “When I’m upset? How does your—your ability work?”

“I listen,” Cole said. “Hurts… sing, to me. Loud, chaotic, dissonant, more garbled the worse it gets.”

“What does my song sound like?” She opened her eyes when Cole hesitated, finding his gaze on her face.

“I can’t hear you, not like that. The mark is too much, like looking into the sun, bright, blinding, burning. It’s too loud, covers your song.”

Oh. Heidi shrugged, turning her gaze away, then frowned. “Then how do you know?”

Cole pursed his lips. “I watch you,” he answered slowly. “You try so hard— what if it doesn’t help, what if it isn’t enough, what if I’m doing the wrong thing —and put yourself in front of everything. You watch everyone else, and I watch for your hurts.”

“You… watch me?” The words escaped her on a slight squeak, and she could feel herself blushing. Heidi twisted her fingers together in attempt to calm her nerves at the thought. Everyone around her cautioned her to be careful around the spirit—around Cole—going so far as to warn her away from being alone with him, even though he’d never done anything to suggest he would hurt them, no malice in his actions or words.

Cole only ever tried to help; how could he be someone dangerous?

He nodded, his almost signature hat brushing against the leaves with his movement. “I want to help,” Cole said, reaching out his hand. “I can help.”

Heidi quickly glanced from his offered hand to his face, but there was no worry that formed in her, no feeling of nervous intuition to warn her away. “Okay,” she said breathlessly, and reached for him. She let their fingers entwine.

A moment later they were in a small storage closet, somewhere deep within the castle. The Fade clung to them like spider webbing. Creators, she might never be used to the Fade step, favored by the other mages of the Inquisition and apparently her spirit friend.

“Here,” he said, dropping her hand. Cole moved into a crouch in front of a box tipped onto its side, reaching into the darkness. Heidi had pulled up a ball of magelight to her fingers when he turned toward her again.

She gasped and took the wriggling, mewling body from his cupped hands. Her fingertips glowed where they cradled the kitten, casting the wee thing in soft white-blue light. The ginger tabby blinked and meowed its protests at the interruption of its sleep.

“They’re a few weeks old now, born while you were away. Their mother has kept them hidden, safe, teaching them how to be cats. She said she would now allow you to visit, if you wanted.”

The kitten rubbed its—his, she could see now—head against her fingers, his fine whiskers tickling her fingertips. “He’s beautiful,” Heidi murmured, awed. “How many are there?”

“Eight.” Cole crouched back down to reach into the box that served as the cat family’s home. She watched with rapt attention as he stroked over the mother cat’s fur, a small smile pulling at his lips at her loud purring.

Eight.  Eight new little lives in the castle. New love blooming, a family born, willing to call Skyhold their home. They didn’t worry about Corypheus, or templars, or demons or anything beyond their castle walls.

“The mother says you can see the others, if you want,” Cole said, breaking into her thoughts. “She says you’re good. Nice.”

Heidi looked up to find Cole standing once more. His normally gaunt features were softened in the magelight, and she could see the smile Varric had been coaxing him into wearing crease his eyes.

“Thank you,” Heidi breathed. She juggled the kitten to the crook of her elbow and wrapped her freed arm around Cole in a half-hug, holding him tight. He hesitated, stiffening in her embrace before cautiously hugging back, arms around her middle.

“Is this okay?” he asked quietly. “Does this help?”

Tears pricked at Heidi’s eyes and she nodded, cheek pressed against his shoulder. “Yeah, Cole,” she murmured. “You’re great.”

He hummed quietly with appreciation. “I’m glad,” he said, leaning his chin against the crown of her head. “I only want to help you.”

She was grateful he couldn’t see the flush that scalded her cheeks, burning from her neck to her ears. “I—you—you do, Cole. You really do. Thank you.” His arms flexed around her in response and she leaned into him, guarding the little one between them.

Nightmares forgotten, they spent long hours in the storage closet, later emerging hand in hand into the morning light.