Chapter 1: Cotillion
The Iron Bull sits back against the headboard of his bed, legs crossed at the ankles and arms folded across his chest as he enjoys the scene in front of him.
Dorian looks perfect.
He is dressed in a fine black robe, decorated with a white sash and trimmings. His kohl is heavy, making his eyes look larger, and his hair is of course immaculate. Not that this stops Dorian from making some final touches to the style as he studies himself in the mirror.
“Your verdict, Amatus?”
“Too much clothing.” Bull says immediately.
Bull grins. “You look amazing, Kadan.”
Dorian returns the smile, before turning towards the small door to Cole’s bedroom. “Are you ready, Cole?”
A moment later, the boy steps out of the room, dressed in a simple white shirt with red trousers and black boots. In his hand he is holding a small Orlesian mask.
“I can’t choose a hat. They ALL want to be worn.”
“Well, which hat do you think will go with the outfit?”
Cole looks down. “The trousers are red. So my red hat?”
“If by ‘my red hat’ you mean the feathered monstrosity that Dalish and Skinner gave you, then no.”
“Hey.” The Iron Bull sits up. “That hat looks great on him.”
“It looks like a peacock flew into the side of his head and died there.” Dorian then turns back to Cole. “What about the hat that Josephine got you for your birthday.”
Cole smiles before disappearing back into his room.
“Fashion crisis averted.” Dorian turns back to Bull. “Where’s your shirt?”
“Amatus, we are attending, on the invitation of the First Enchanter of Montsimmard, a Cotillion that will include Dukes, Banns and Ambassadors of high standing The Iron Bull WHERE. IS. YOUR. SHIRT?”
Bull rolls his eye, chuckling as he slides off the bed and, with a playful stomp, makes his way over to one of the two large wardrobes in the room. He takes out the shirt that he wore at the Winter Palace, and a pair of yellow and black striped trousers.”
“They will never find your body.”
Bull throws Dorian a smile before putting the yellow trousers back in favour of plain brown pair. He changes quickly into the outfit, while on the other side of the room Cole has emerged again, now wearing a black hat, and still carrying the mask.
“Well look at you.” Dorian smiles as he adjusts the collar of Cole’s shirt and then takes the mask. “You look very nice, Cole.” He says as he carefully places the ornate silver mask over Cole’s eyes and secures it in place.
“Am I handsome like you?”
“Why don’t you see for yourself.” Dorian leads him over to the mirror, standing behind Cole as he studies his outfit.
“I like it.”
“Yes, Bonny Sims chose well with this one.” Dorian smiles. “Now, did you want to practice dancing one last time?”
“Alright, you lead.” Dorian lets Cole take his hand, holding it up while his arm tentatively wraps around Dorian’s back before starting a slow, slightly clumsy, but acceptable waltz. “Very good.” Dorian says as they dance. “But it won’t just be me who you dance with. Who else are you going to ask?”
“I ask Vivienne, because she is our host so it’s polite to ask her to dance.”
“Yes, although I strongly suspect that Vivienne will say no.”
The Iron Bull coughs to cover up his laugh.
“And then I ask Josephine, because she helped Vivienne to organise the party so it is polite to ask her.”
“Will SHE say no?”
“Why do you think that Josephine will say no?”
The Iron Bull smiles as he watches Dorian and Cole together.
Cole had been a ball of anxiety when he had first found out about the Cotillion.
“But Vivienne hates me?” “But I don’t know how to dance?” “What if I ruin Josephine’s dress like at the banquet?” “I do things that make people feel bad.”
Dorian had talked and guided him through each insecurity, sometimes the same insecurity over and over, with commendable patience. Now, Cole’s excitement is clear in his smile as he practices dancing and discusses what he is going to do that evening.
“I should ask The Inquisitor to dance.”
“If you’d like to.”
The Iron Bull isn’t religious by nature, but he isn’t above wishing. And as he mentally compares the happy Cole in front of him now to the Cole of not that long ago, when he had been mute from trauma and made wretched by despair, The Iron Bull wishes for Cole to have nothing but fun tonight.
He thinks the boy will. He thinks Dorian has already made it his personal mission.
The Iron Bull can’t help the warm feeling in his chest as he thinks that. Watching the two younger men together, the love between them is clear. It is clear in Dorian’s protectiveness and advice, and it is clear in Cole’s innocent acceptance of Dorian’s mentoring and encouragement. It is something that The Iron Bull doesn’t think that he will ever grow tired of witnessing.
A bond is what Solas had called it.
And Bull finds himself making another wish now. A wish that he is strong enough to protect that bond against ANYTHING that ever threatens it.
The main keep is unrecognisable, all the furniture having been removed to make way for a small but functional dance floor. Josephine’s room has also been commandeered. The door has been propped open, and it is here that food tables can be found.
“Dorian, Darling, you made it.” Vivienne says brightly.
“But of course.” Dorian says. Behind him, Bull keeps both hands on Cole’s shoulders as the boy takes in the scene, and wonderful array of hats, in quiet awe. Then he finds himself making eye contact with Dorian, who widens his eyes slightly.
Cole nods. “That is a lovely dress, Vivienne.” He says.
“Made especially for the occasion.” She looks Cole up and down. “Your outfit is an interesting combination of Orlesian and Ferelden fashion.”
“I am one, but like the other too.”
“It is acceptable.” Vivienne looks straight from Cole to Dorian and Bull. “The reputation of the Inquisition must be maintained, tonight. I trust you are both versed in the propriety of introducing a...young man...at his first high society function.”
Bull smiles. “Tevintor or Orlesian?”
“The one that won’t get us arrested.” Vivienne says, sternly.
“Madame de Fer.” Dorian says in an exaggerated manner as he loops his arm through Cole. “As if I would allow your fine Cotillion to play host to a substandard debut.” He then turns to Bull. “Let the schmoozing commence.”
Dorian rests a hand against Bull’s chest for a moment, sharing a smile with his Amatus, then leads Cole to follow Vivienne into the party.
Bull is content to be left behind. Both he and Dorian know that this is not really his scene, especially when they are not hunting for assassins at the same time. But watching he can enjoy, smiling as his Kadan settles straight back in to his natural habitat of high society while leading Cole around and introducing him to various Duke’s and Ambassadors as if the boy is his scion. Cole, for his part, seems to be happy as, under Dorian’s guidance, he greets each guest. He bows to the men, and kisses the hands of the ladies, before joining them and the mage in various short conversations. At one point he darts off to collect a champagne fluke from one of the passing servants, ferrying it over to give to the Duke he had been talking to.
All the time he has a small but carefree smile on his face.
“He seems to be enjoying himself.”
Bull nods as Cullen, dressed in formal attire, comes to stand beside him.
“That’s good.” Cullen crosses his arms. “He deserves nights like this, after everything he’s been through.”
“You deserve to have some fun too. Boss says you’ve been burning the candle at both ends.”
“Inquisition soldiers don’t command themselves.”
“You have Lieutenants for a reason, Cullen.” Bull says.
“I...suppose I just benefit from becoming lost in my work.”
“Yeah.” Bull nods. “You get my notes?”
“The Ben-Hassrath techniques? Yes, thank you. I’ve been practising some of them.” Cullen chuckles, quietly. “Leliana said that they are techniques for resisting torture.”
“From what I’ve heard, lyrium withdrawal IS torture.”
“On that we can agree.” Cullen looks down. “Sorry. Can I get you anything from the food tables?”
“Thanks, but I’ll go over myself later.”
“Very well. Have a good evening.”
“You too. I mean it.”
Cullen nods as he takes his leave.
“Right then.” Dorian approaches Bull and puts his arms around the Qunari. “Now that Cole has been properly assimilated into things, time for you to ask me for a dance.”
Bull chuckles, and takes Dorian’s hand.
Dorian lets Bull lead the dance, his head rested against the larger man’s chest. The music changes, and the dance slows. Dorian closes his eyes, living in the moment and listening to Bull’s heartbeat and he thinks that he could quite happily stay like this for the rest of the evening.
“Are you two seeing what I’m seeing?” Cullen swallows as he taps both men on the shoulder and indicates the other side of the dance floor with a nod.
Dorian follows Cullen’s line of sight. “Fasta vass.”
“Could we all be having the same hallucination?” Cullen asks.
Bull sees what they are seeing and his eye widens with surprise.
“And with Cole LEADING.” Cullen shakes his head. “Who taught him to dance?”
“Dorian.” The Qunari provides.
Cullen nods. “You should go into business.”
Dorian remains transfixed on the dance floor. “Thank you for the advice.”
The dance ends, and everyone applauds everyone else. Vivienne then quickly ushers Cole in the direction of Josephine.
“Well.” Dorian shrugs. “THAT was historic.” This said, he makes his way across the dance floor, greeting Vivienne.
”Thank you.” He says to his fellow mage.
“A mere politeness.” Vivienne dismisses Dorian’s comment with a wave. “The creature made his request with such manners that he actually set an example. A credit to your influence, I’m sure.”
“Well, one tries.” Dorian says.
She smiles. “Good practice for if you and Iron Bull ever decide to have children of your own.”
Dorian coughs. “I...um...I’ve never thought about it....”
“Thedas is full of orphans in need of love, my dear. One or two of whom you could make very lucky.”
“Maybe.” Dorian says with a quiet voice as he looks back over to where Bull is talking to Cullen. He smiles. “Maybe.”
“Did you feed your current child before coming here tonight?”
He turns back to her, confused. “We...didn’t eat first, no.”
“Only it looks like Josephine is about to introduce Cole to the Antivan Brandy.”
Dorian looks over his shoulder, laughing fondly as he watches Cole take, and react to, his first sip.
“It is an acquired taste.” Vivienne says, a laugh in her voice.
The rotunda is silent, the only sound the scratching of Solas’s pen against the parchment as he takes notes.
He looks up as a plate of small cakes appears on the desk in front of him.
“Cole said you liked those.” Bull says quietly, before returning the tired smile that Solas gives him. “Working late?”
“A scout report that came to my attention earlier.” Solas indicates the chair across from his, and Bull sits down. “I trust that the party my dessert contraband comes from is going well?”
“Far as I can tell.” Bull shrugs. “Dorian and Cole are enjoying themselves, that’s all that matters to me.” Bull shrugs. “You know, Solas, there’s still time for you to be fashionably late. Orlesians dig that, and Vivienne invited the entire Inner Circle.”
Solas shakes his head. “My party days are long behind me. Although I have been told that my formal letter of refusal was more polite than Sera’s”
“Sera wrote a formal letter?”
“If lude pictures count.”
“How has Cole been?” Solas sits back in his chair. “He still has nightmares?”
Bull nods. “And ‘bad days’ as we’re calling them. He’ll probably have them on and off for years. But we’ve been helping him through it.” He smiles. “Dorian’s been amazing with him.”
“Understandable.” Solas smiles. “They have a special bond. They are brothers in every way.”
“You sure it isn’t father and son.”
“I doubt that Dorian was fathering children when he was ten.” Solas shakes his head. “But I do agree. You have BOTH clearly taken the boy in as your ward, and in doing so you have given him the most basic of childhood needs, a safe and loving family life. One in which the boy has flourished. I...try not to think how differently things might have been had you not been there that horrible night, The Iron Bull.”
“You’d have looked after the kid.”
“I take comfort in believing so. Thank you.” Solas sits forward. “I shall let you return to the Cotillion, but a request first?”
“I wondered if I might hire the services of two of your chargers.” He indicates the scout report. “A cave has been discovered, hidden by ice and not far from Skyhold. The markings on the entrance indicate ties to an old elven myth. Vir da’len .” He looks at Bull. “I hope to investigate it. And while I have every faith in my abilities in a fight, only a fool explores a cave ruin alone.”
“Agreed. But I’ve got a better plan.” Bull leans forward across the table. “Cole hasn’t left Skyhold since that demon attack. A change of scenery would do him good. And I love the look on Dorian’s face when I drag him through caves. Shit, for that alone, I won’t even charge you.”
“If you are available, I plan to leave the day after tomorrow, in the morning.” Solas nods. “I would welcome your company, free or otherwise.”
“Works for me.” Bull says, nodding. “So, what does Vir da’len mean?”
“Roughly translated. Well of Childhood?”
“A fountain of youth.” Bull nods. “Sounds like some weird demon crap.”
“I’m hoping for weird elven crap.” Solas says, while studying the diagram in front of him.
“You sure it’s safe?”
“Oh perfectly safe. Hence why I’m requesting a protection detail?”
Bull laughs. “Sounds like it’s going to be fun.”
“I also appreciate the food, Iron Bull. Thank you.”
“Vivienne is right, Dorian?”
“Oh?” Dorian says as he opens the door to their rooms. “And on which of her MANY statements tonight was she correct?”
“You and Bull would make good parents.”
Dorian coughs, the sound descending into an awkward laughter as he looks at the currently dumbfounded Iron Bull.
The Qunari shakes his head. “Did you enjoy the Cotillion, Cole?”
Cole giggles at the look on Dorian’s face, before turning to Bull. “There were hats. And dancing.” He giggles again. “And brandy.”
“Yes you liked the brandy, didn’t you.” The Iron Bull smiles fondly as he takes off Cole’s hat, ruffling his hair. “Go sit down. I’m getting you some water.”
When it becomes clear that Cole isn’t going to remove the mask himself, Dorian steps in. “I’m glad you had a good time, Cole.”
“Did you have a good time?”
“Yes. It was a fun evening. We must remember to formally thank Vivienne.”
Cole nods, then looks down. “Dorian?”
Cole is noticeably avoiding eye contact as Dorian encourages him to sit on the edge of Dorian and Bull’s bed. “Do you think that I would make a good father?”
“Well, yes.” He crouches down in front of the sitting boy, smiling at The Iron Bull as the Qunari hands Cole a cup of water. “You’re kind. And you care deeply about others. I think you would be a devoted parent. And I think your child would be very blessed.” Dorian falls silent.
“Darkness. Cold. Hunger and pain.” Cole trembles. “He knows what makes a good father, because he remembers what makes a bad one.”
“Shhhh.” Dorian rests his hands on both of Cole’s knees. “Our little family had good fun tonight, didn’t it.”
Cole nods, smiling.
“But now I think that we are all quite tired, and you and I are DEFINITELY on the outside of too much Antivan Brandy.” He smiles. “So finish your water, and go and get some sleep.”
Cole nods, drinking the entire cup before standing and going to his room. “Good night.”
“Good night, kid.” Bull says.
As soon as Cole’s door is closed, Bull walks towards Dorian, not stopping his gentle pushing until Dorian’s back is against the wall.
“You look amazing in that outfit, my bas saarebas.”
“And you want to see me out of it.” Dorian smiles as Bull pulls the mage’s arms above his head, securing the wrists against the wall with a single grip.
“Maybe.” Bull growls in his ear. “Exactly how much brandy did you drink?”
“Enough to know that being alone with you, in or out of my amazing outfit, is definitely a bad idea.” He hums.
“Enough to forget your watchword?”
“Always so caring.” Dorian says, before kissing the other man.
Chapter 2: Lullaby
It has been one week since the demon attack, almost to the minute.
Dead, frightened eyes stare back at Cole as he walks along the bloodstained walkways and battlements. Varric. Solas. The Inquisitor. All covered in blood from where their throats have been slit. Blackwall’s heart has been pierced. Dorian’s chest is cut open, and Cole can see his heart, still and dead.
Sera lays dead on her stomach, a knife in her back.
Vivienne is covered in cuts, he barely recognises her.
The Iron Bull has a knife in his eye.
And Cole is holding the knife.
The screams wake The Iron Bull and Dorian, and they immediately move as one out of the bed, pushing open the door to Cole’s new room. The Iron Bull enters first, wrapping his arms around the boy writhing in the bed. Cole cries out as he is lifted onto the Qunari’s lap, Bull holding him against his chest and rocking him.
Dorian sits next to them, running his own hand up and down Cole’s back while his other rests on the boy’s arm.
“See kid.” The Iron Bull says, quietly. “We’re here to protect you. You’re safe. Do you want to talk about the nightmare?”
Cole sniffs, and tries to hide his face behind two closed fists. He opens his mouth, as if ready to speak, but then slams it shut as he curls in on himself, trembling with fear.
“Just tell me what is scaring you, Cole. Just whisper it, quiet as you need to be. I’ll hear it.” He leans forward, his ear against Cole’s face.
Dorian watches as Cole’s lips move, and The Iron Bull smiles sadly as he listens. Cole becomes more and more distressed, and then he is sobbing again.
The Iron Bull hugs the boy tightly, kissing the top of his head. Then he beckons for Dorian’s attention. “Lay down, Kadan.”
Dorian does so, laying on his back. He feels The Iron Bull take hold of the bottom of his shirt and slowly drag it up, exposing Dorian’s chest.
“See Kid, no wounds. No cuts. He’s breathing.”
Dorian takes a deliberately loud breath in and out through his nose.
“His heart's beating. Do you want to hear it?” Bull doesn’t wait for an answer before laying Cole on top of Dorian, his ear right over the Mage’s heart.
“There. Is it beating?”
Cole nods, and Bull pulls him back against his own chest.
Cole nods again.
“You’ve been learning how to make good memories with your imagination, but sometimes it can make bad memories as well. But that’s all that it was, Cole. Imagination. Nightmares. I promise.”
Cole nods, still sobbing softly. Pulling his shirt back down, Dorian sits back up and resumes rubbing the boy’s back.
“It’s alright, Cole.” Bull continues to sooth. “Lean against me. That’s it. There you are. Perfectly and completely safe. Nothing to worry about or think about, just here, with us. Listen to us talking to you. Alive and well.”
Cole continues to tremble, his clenched fists rubbing against his face as he sobs. The Iron Bull rocks him, both men soothing him with the kind words and kinder touches that Bull and Dorian have made Cole’s world in the week since the demon attack.
And then, Dorian starts to sing.
The mage doesn’t even realise that he is doing it at first. It just comes as instinct, a tender song that he remembers being sung to him, long ago. “Elgara vallas, da'len. Melava somniar.”
Cole’s breathing slows as he listens to the tune, his eyes slowly falling shut. He snuggles against The Iron Bull, hands falling away from his face to relax in his lap.
“Mala taren aravas. Ara ma'desen melar.”
Moving slowly so as not to jostle the boy, The Iron Bull reaches out to pick up the stuffed nug that is sitting on Cole’s pillow, resting it next to his hands. Cole clutches it to his chest and slowly, his face a picture of misery.
“Iras ma ghilas, da'len.”
The Iron Bull brings his hand up to cup the side of Cole’s head as the boy sinks even deeper into the embrace.
“Ara ma'nedan ashirz. Dirthara lothlenan'as. Bal emma mala dir.”
Gradually, Cole’s breathing slows, sobs replaced by snores as he falls into an exhausted asleep against The Iron Bull’s chest.
“Tel'enfenim, da'len. Irassal ma ghilas.”
They continue to sit there for a long time, as attentive of Cole in his sleep as they were when he was awake, with the gentle rocking motion and hands on his back and in his hair, Dorian still singing.
“Ma garas mir renan. Ara ma'athlan vhenas. Ara ma'athlan vhenas.”
Finally, when it is clear that the boy is deeply asleep and not suffering any further nightmare, The Iron Bull carefully puts him back in his bed, securing his arms around the stuffed nug and then pulling the blankets up over him. He smooths first the blanket and then Cole’s hair out with such a parental manner that Dorian wonders how anyone (including himself, once upon a time) could accuse the Qunari of not having a concept of family. Everything ABOUT this giant of a man in front of him is family.
“You’re amazing with him.” Dorian whispers, in awe.
“Wasn’t just me that calmed him down.” Bull smiles. “That was good thinking with the lullaby, Kadan.”
“Oh.” Dorian thinks about it for a moment, his face calm as he nods. “I suppose it was.”
The demon attack is slowly becoming a distant memory and Bull chuckles as he catches Cole checking and adjusting his travelling armour while looking in the mirror.
Not ALL of Dorian’s influence has been a positive one. “You’re getting vain, kid.”
“I want to look handsome. It makes me feel happy.”
Cole’s annoyance is clear on his face as The Iron Bull jams his signature hat down onto his head, none too gently. It comes down over his eyes.
Cole adjusts the hat so that he can see, and looks up at The Iron Bull’s fond smile. “What?”
“Nothing.” The Qunari pats the boy’s shoulder.
The Iron Bull doesn’t know if he wants to explain it to Cole. To make him conscious of that fact that expressing that simple desire to be happy, a desire that has nothing to do with helping people but is instead just Cole entirely focusing on himself, is huge. His sense of self is slowly evolving away from the linear and restrictive ‘I help people, that’s all I am’ that has defined him for so long.
“Come on, Kid.”
Their journey to the yard is silent. They find Dorian and Solas checking over supplies, or rather Solas checking over supplies while Dorian questions why items are either there, or not there. Behind them, the Chargers are hanging around the tavern, waiting for breakfast to be served.
All but one.
Rocky shrugs. “Guy was still asleep, so we left him to it.”
“Krem doesn’t sleep in.” Bull’s eye narrows. “Ever.”
Stitches shrugs. “He...um...had a late night, so to speak, Sir. With that Sally-Anne girl from the kitchens.”
The Chargers cheer around him, and The Iron Bull joins them. It’s a mask. He feels a surge of emotion, a paternal fondness and a burning need to protect that only increases as Krem emerges from the direction of the barracks.
He’s dressed in the baggiest clothes he owns. That is NOT a good sign.
Unfortunately, Rocky can sometimes be an idiot. “Hey Krem. How was Sally-Anne?”
Krem coughs. “She...um...yeah…” He walks away.
“Ooooh, shit.” Rocky says, right before he received a slap on the back of the head from Dalish.
“Couldn’t you see the lad was upset?” She chastises. “Honestly, I sometimes wonder if dwarfs actually ARE made of stone. Certainly dense enough.”
Cole meanwhile has moved to stand behind Krem, who is suddenly finding the activities in front of the gatehouse fascinating.
Cole’s hands fiddle in front of him as he tilts his head so the hat hides his face. “Sally-Anne is a fucking bitch.”
The laughter that erupts from Krem is so sudden and loud that it silences everyone else in earshot. He doubles over and then coughs, taking a deep breath to calm himself as he wipes tears from the corners of his eyes. “Thanks, Cole.”
“The Iron Bull wants to hug you. You should let him.”
Krem swallows, his voice choked. “I will.”
Cole smiles and steps back as The Iron Bull approaches the Lieutenant and, without a word, wraps his arms around the smaller man.
“Right.” Solas is saying as he looks through the backpack. “Torch fuel. Blankets. Medical supplies. And food and water for lunch. Should be enough here for five people.”
Dorian looks confused. “There’s four of us?”
Solas counts down the seconds with his fingers. “Three. Two. One.”
“Solas?” Iron Bull calls across the yard. “You mind if Krem joins us for this?”
“I welcome his company.” Solas calls back, smiling as he looks at Dorian.
Dorian shakes his head, and helps to seal up the backpack ready for The Iron Bull to carry.
“How many layers are you wearing, Kadan?” The Iron Bull chuckles as he picks up the bag.
“There’s not enough for a walk through the appropriately named Frostback mountains.”
“Awe.” The Iron Bull teases. “Do you need your Amatus to share body heat with you?”
Dorian groans, shaking his head before throwing Bull a fond smile.
Krem returns a moment later, now dressed in his usual armour and seeming to stand a bit taller as he greets Solas with a nod. “Chief tells me we’re looking for a fountain of youth.”
“It’s not a…” Solas closes his eyes and shakes his head. Life is too short. “Shall we begin.”
Cole takes the lead, as good as skipping as he passes through the gatehouse and throws his arms out wide while turning, almost as if saying hello to the world outside of Skyhold.
“Are we there yet?” Dorian quips as they get to the end of the bridge.
The rest of the walk proves to be uneventful. Krem is silent as he walks with Cole, which suits the teenager as he is content with just quietly looking up at the birds. Dorian and Solas walk behind them.
“The nullification disrupts any ambient magic lying around.” Dorian is saying. “Things then burn hotter.”
“Don’t you then waste an inordinate amount of magic overcoming your own nullification?”
“Ah, no. I warp the Veil slightly to effect distance between the spells.”
“Of course.” Solas is clearly impressed, which is a rare expression for him. He then lowers his voice, as if sharing a secret. “Have you considered snapping the Veil-warp to enhance the relative energy?”
“Like cracking a whip?” Dorian nods. “Yes, tried it once. Made my teeth taste funny.” He grits his teeth, grinding them slightly.
“It sounds like you forgot to build a channel for the snap echo.”
“Like earthing lightning spells?”
The Iron Bull has no idea what they are talking about, so he remains behind them, quietly escorting. “That it Solas?”
“Strange.” Dorian says as he follows Solas into the cave, looking up at the ceiling. “In a cave ages old, I would expect the stalactites to be longer. But they seem almost new.”
“The stone has seen ages.” Cole says. “But its own age watches time blur around it.”
“Stone doesn’t grow old.” Dorian narrates. “Another useful piece of information from our good friend, Cole.”
Cole smiles, knowing Dorian well enough by now to know that it is meant fondly.
“How do you want to scout, Krem?” The Iron Bull asks. “Small group go ahead, or see what comes for us?”
Krem thinks for a moment, then nods. “We’re already a small group. Just be on defence.”
“Can do.” Bull agrees. “Want me to take point.”
“I’ll take point. You stand at the back, keep the group between us.”
The Iron Bull nods, happy to take orders from Krem on this occasion. The man isn’t his Lieutenant for nothing. And Bull knows that his confidence took a bad hit last night. He NEEDS to be the one trusted to take charge right now.
“Okay Solas.” Dorian asks. “What are we looking for?”
“That.” Solas points past the mage, towards a small underground lake on the edge of a cliff. The pool falls over the edge in a long waterfall, yet somehow the lake is still full despite having no visible inlet.
“Fascinating.” Solas shouts over the torrent of water.
“That’s the water shortage in Western Approach sorted.” Krem quips, surprisingly calm considering what they are looking at.
The Iron Bull smiles at the joke, while also quietly hooking his thumb around Cole’s belt while the boy literally leans over the edge of the cliff, watching the waterfall.
“I recognise some of these markings.” Dorian shouts over the torrent, pointing at the carvings in the ceiling above the pool. “We saw the same in Solasan.”
“Possibly this cave is from the same era.” Solas nods. “I’m sensing…Cole. What is the pool thinking?”
“The fall is fun.” Cole shouts, as much into the cliff edge as to Solas.
“As I thought.” Solas looks back at Dorian, still shouting over the torrent. “If I didn’t know any better, I would say this water is alive.”
“There’s another ledge down there.” Cole shouts, pointing at the bottom of the chasm in front of them. “More water. And trees.” He looks at The Iron Bull. “There are trees underground. With leaves. They’re alive. But Mother Giselle said that trees need sunlight to grow?”
“We going down there, Solas?” Bull asks.
“Can we see a clear path?”
Cole points at a staircase, carved into the wall in a style that appears to be dwarven.
“Could this be part of the deep roads?” Krem asks as they approach it.
“It would not surprise me.” Solas lowers his voice as they move away from the waterfall. “The Deep Roads traverse much of Thedas. To an extent that no living dwarf remembers their network completely.”
“Deep roads means Darkspawn.” Krem says. “Be on alert, Chief.”
True to Cole’s word, their journey to the bottom of the staircase finds them walking out into a group of trees, as nourished and lively as any tree on the surface. Even grass is growing at the roots, insects crawling along some of the blades.
They stop at the edge of the larger pool, which is fed from a river that is itself fed from the waterfall. But the pool is not overflowing despite no visible exit route from it. The water glows here, providing enough light to be as good as day around the pool.
Solas kneels next to the pool, collecting samples of the water. Behind him, Dorian is studying a large pillar of markings. “Bull?”
The Qunari approaches him, and then obediently turns and crouches so that Dorian catch fetch items from the bag.
“Thank you.” Dorian says, before he starts using charcoal to make a copy of the markings on a sheet. Cole watches him, fascinated by the process as the pattern transfers from the stone to the paper.
“Cole, help me climb this thing would you?” He carefully places his foot on a raised edge and, with a strong push from Cole, propels himself up. Cole stays where he is standing, letting Dorian place a foot on each of his shoulders as so he can take a rubbing of the higher symbols.
“Could you not climb the ancient monument, please.” Solas asks, without even looking round.
“I’m assuming you want these markings translated later.” Dorian says as he awkwardly takes another rubbing, dislodging some dust from the stone which floats down into Cole’s face.
The boy looks down, and sneezes.
“And let that be your lesson” Solas’s amused tone is hidden under the splash as the mage lands in the pool.
“Dorian?” Cole says, horrified as he looks at the water.
The laughter of the group around him quickly fades when it becomes apparent that Dorian is not coming out from under the water.
“Dorian?” Bull shouts, rushing towards the pool.
And the glow of the water becomes brighter.
“Kid, get back.” Bull pulls Cole into a hug against his chest as the brightness explodes around them, filling the cave with blinding light. The group can’t help but shield their eyes with their hands, or in Cole’s case Bull’s chest, as it intensifies. They step back, away from the pool.
“Dorian?” Bull shouts, no longer able to bear even having his closed eye looking at the pool. The glow seems to encompass the cave.
And then, with a flash, it’s gone. Just the gentle glow of before. The water is still.
“Dorian?” The Iron Bull shouts, starting towards the water…
...and falling sideways as something crashes out from the pool, a blur in Dorian’s clothes.
Cole and Krem immediately pursue the creature, following it to the edge of the ledge. There it collapses, tripping over the oversized clothing and curling into a ball. It trembles as it looks round.
As HE looks round.
The human toddler is dry, despite having emerged from the pool. The only moisture is the tears building in the large brows eyes as he looks at the approaching group.
He scurries backwards, but screams as he realises the edge. The chasm below seems bottomless. He cowers down, arms wrapped around his head as if he is hiding from them, eyes tightly shut.
“What...” The Iron Bull starts towards the toddler, only for Krem to grab his arm, pulling him back.
“No chief. Those clothes are too big on him, he’s clumsy.” Krem states. “If you freak him out, he could tip over that edge. We need him to stay still.”
Bull nods. “He’s looking at the group. We keep him distracted, someone might be able to get around and approach him from behind. Cole.” He looks at the boy. “You can be pretty stealthy, kid.”
“We need to get him away from that edge.”
Cole nods. Then he takes a breath, and starts to sing.
“Elgara vallas, da'len. Melava somniar.”
Cole‘s voice will never make him a bard, but it holds the tune as he sings in accented elvish. He slowly takes off his hat and letting it drop to the ground.
“Mala taren aravas. Ara ma'desen melar.”
The toddler stills slightly, looking towards Cole without making eye contact. His trembling continues, but he shifts, moving to better face Cole as the singing continues.
“Iras ma ghilas, da'len.”
Cole slowly gets down on his knees, his arms widening as he looks at the toddler.
“Ara ma'nedan ashir. Dirthara lothlenan'as.”
The toddler starts to cry harder, looking left and right, his movements slow as he crawls towards the familiar safety of the lullaby. Cole smiles and continues to sing.
“Bal emma mala dir.”
Krem quietly beckons, and the three men step backwards, effectively leaving Cole alone.
“How does Cole know that song?” Solas wonders.
“Dorian sings it sometimes.” Bull whispers. “When Cole has bad days.”
“Chief...the baby. Is it…”
Solas shakes his head, and looks over his shoulder at the glowing pool. “A fountain of youth.”
The toddler takes another step forward and reaches out with his arms, asking to be held.
“Tel'enfenim, da'len. Irassal ma ghilas.” Cole climbs up from his knees, taking a step towards the child and kneeling back down as the tiny boy stumbles and collapses into Cole’s arms, continuing to sob as Cole wraps him in a tight embrace, rocking from side to side. All the time, he continues to sing.
“Ma garas mir renan. Ara ma'athlan vhenas.”
Cole stands with the toddler in his arms, lifting him above the ground and encouraging the boy’s head to rest against his shoulder. It’s the way The Iron Bull holds him when he is upset. The way he wishes he had known to hold the real Cole.
“Ara ma'athlan vhenas. There. Shhhh.”
It’s the way he can hold the tiny, terrified life in his arms now.
“Want Altrix.” The toddler whimpers. “Altrix?”
“Cremisius?” Solas looks at the Charger.
“Altus often get slaves to look after their infants.”
“Elvish slaves?” Solas says.
“Kids call them Altrix.”
Bull nods. “So he’s basically asking for mom?”
“Which means whatever magic this is, it has affected his mind as well as his body.”
“And he’s suddenly in a cold dark cave surrounded by strangers.” Bull shakes his head. “Poor Imekari. You must be terrified.”
“Want Altrix.” The toddler wails, while Cole hushes him.
“It’s alright.” Cole says, smiling. “I’m going to look after you.” He gently tilts the toddler back in his arms, so he can look him in the eye. “I’m Cole. I’m your Cole. You’re safe with me. Your Cole.”
“Yes.” Cole smiles. “What’s your name?”
“Dorian.” The tiny child sniffs as he grips the cloth of Cole’s shoulders, pulling himself in with the material, begging to be held close. The older boy obliges, holding Dorian against him in a tight hug.
“Hello, Dorian.” Cole says into the child’s ear. Dorian finally settles against him, and Cole smiles brightly. “Hello, little brother.”
Krem, The Iron Bull and Solas all exchange worried glances, before looking back at Cole and the toddler.
“I’m going to look after you.”
Chapter 3: Accidents
Cole can’t fight back or escape. He is helpless as the belt strap comes down, striking, bruising and cutting again and again.
“You filthy brat.”
All he can do is cry, hands covering his face in shame.
Finally, finally, he’s let go. Thrown onto the bed to lay in his own drying mess. He sobs, he can’t do anything else. His skin burns, it hurts to move his legs or to sit or lay on his backside. And he thinks Momma tries to come into the room, because he hears her cry out. And then there is no more sound.
Cole shivers on his wet sheets, and cries himself to sleep.
He feels wretched.
Cole is older, but also younger. Different. His body is the same, but also new. Yesterday, he started to feel dryness in his throat, and it hurt. Then The Inquisitor gave him water, and he felt better.
He drinks more water. He likes how it feels in his mouth and throat. It’s interesting, and comforting. It stops the pain of thirst.
He starts feeling a tingly ache below his stomach, and he plans to tell The Inquisitor when they get back to Skyhold. The Inquisitor told him to say if he had any questions, or felt any pain or strangeness in his ‘new’ body.
Eventually the ache lessens, but at the same time he starts to feel warmth on his legs. He looks down, and clasps his hands over his mouth, falling to the back of the group.
It is The Iron Bull who notices. “Cole? You alright, little guy?” And then The Iron Bull NOTICES, and grits his teeth. “Boss, we need to stop.”
“Is everything…” The Inquisitor notices, everyone does, and Cole wants the ground to swallow him up. He feels...he doesn’t know. Shame? Maybe. Fear? Definitely. Disgust.
He covers his face with his hands, closing his eyes to make the world go away. He can’t close his ears though. He waits for harsh voices. Sounds of disgust.
He hears The Iron Bull hush him, and there’s a large hand against his shoulder.
“Dorian?” The Qunari’s voice is gentle. “You got spares he can borrow?”
Cole watches through his fingers as the mage nods, dropping his backpack and looking through it while, at the same time, Blackwall takes a blanket from his own pack and holds it up as a curtain, hiding Cole from the group.
“Get the wet clothes off, kid. I’ll get you a washcloth ready.” He watches The Iron Bull walk away, and Cole is alone for a moment. Still. Breathing. He closes his eyes.
Someone comes back. Kneels down in front of him. “Cole, you’re behind the blanket.” The Iron Bull says. “You don’t need to hide your face. No one can see you. It’s alright, kid.”
Cole doesn’t move, but his breathing hitches slightly. He doesn’t want to let the world back in yet.
“Okay, Cole.” Another pat on his shoulder, and then Cole feels his hat being gently pulled forward, the brim touching his fingertips as it shields his face. “We need to clean you up though. That can’t be comfortable standing in wet clothes like that.” Bull’s voice drops to just above a whisper. “It’s only me here. Everyone else is the other side of the curtain and they’ll be staying there. It will just be me.”
Cole slowly nods, his eyes still closed behind his hands as The Iron Bull removes first Cole’s boots, and then his sodden trousers and smallclothes.
Cole remembers the strikes of the strap against his skin. “Filthy brat.” His backside and legs sting with phantom pain and he flinches.
“You’re not a brat, filthy or otherwise.” The Iron Bull whispers, and Cole realises that he spoke out loud. “You just had an accident, kid. You’re still figuring out all this human shit.” The Bull chuckles. “Shit. Now THAT would have been a mess.”
Cole looks through his fingers to see that The Iron Bull is holding a damp cloth. He hushes Cole again, and then starts to gently clean his skin.
“Be thinking about how you felt before it happened. Then you’ll notice it next time.”
Cole let’s The Iron Bull clean him, and it is because he knows that the Qunari likes to take charge, to be in control of the caring. To serve. And despite his strength, The Iron Bull’s touch is tender, with careful and methodical movements.
“Good boy.” Bull’s voice is a soft whisper, and Cole feels the knot loosen in his chest. He is good. So he is not bad, despite everything.
Once Cole is clean and dry, The Qunari helps him to put on the clothes that Dorian gives them.
“There you go kid.” He carefully places the tips of his fingers against the back of Cole’s hands and the boy slowly moves them away from his face, blue eyes fixed on The Qunari’s chest. The Iron Bull smiles, and cups the side of Cole’s face, thumb brushing back and forth across his tear stained cheek.
“Does he want to stay behind the curtain for a bit?” Blackwall asks.
“That alright, Blackwall?”
“Just say when you’re ready” Blackwall says, still holding up the blanket. “Inquisitor’s getting some food together for us.”
“Food sounds good.” The Iron Bull turns back to Cole. “Blackwall will keep you hidden from the others. You come out when you’re ready. Take your time.”
And Cole is alone now, but he is also not alone. He closes his eyes, and listens to the group on the other side of the curtain.
“I was forever having accidents.” Dorian says, brightly. “The servants couldn’t keep up with me. ‘Oops, there he goes again. Another mattress ruined’.”
The group laughs, and the smiles they direct at Cole are warm as he steps out from behind the blanket.
He feels safe.
The next time that Cole aches, he tells Varric.
“It’s been an age.” Blackwall leans back against the wall, his arms crossed in a relaxed manner. “Are you sure one of us doesn’t need to go in there with him?”
“Don’t rush the kid.” Varric warns, before turning back to the door.
“It’s quiet.” Dorian looks at the door. “He hasn’t fallen in has he?”
The Iron Bull knocks. “Cole, you fallen in?”
“Am I supposed to?”
“NO!” All four men say at the same time.
“There you are.” The Inquisitor says. “Cabot said you were hiding down here.” They regard the four men with an amused expression before looking at the privy door. “Whose in there?”
“Cole.” Varric says.
“Cole?” The Inquisitor chuckles. “Are you...toilet training him?”
“With limited success.” Dorian says.
“I’m making more.” Cole says from inside the privy.
“Is it going INTO the toilet this time?” Varric asks.
The dwarf makes a prayer sign at the ceiling, and leans back against the wall.
“We NOW have success.” Dorian says to The Inquisitor.
The door opens, and Cole peers out.
Blackwall smiles as he points to the water bowl in the corner of the room “Go wash your hands, Lad.”
Cole nods, and then looks back into the privy. “Thank you.”
Dorian closes his eyes. “Please tell me he didn’t just thank the toilet.”
The group laugh, each taking their turn to pat Cole on the back.
He feels loved.
Krem makes short work of stitching together a warm onesie outfit from Dorian’s travelling cloak, and The Iron Bull once again finds himself wondering why the man doesn’t just accept his true self and start a fucking tailoring business.
Once the outfit is finished and the toddler dressed, the group makes their way back to Skyhold, summoning a meeting of the Inner Circle as soon as they arrive.
The meeting is interesting to say the least, with all eyes fixed on the toddler now sat on the war table.
Dorian giggles as Cole tickles his stomach. He grabs Cole’s hand with both of his own, and Cole tickles his back with his other hand. The toddler laughs, squirming, before reaching out with his arms in a silent request to be held. Cole picks him up, holding him against his shoulder while gently rocking him.
Every other person looks from the toddler to the door, and The Iron Bull is pretty sure that they are waiting for the ‘actual’ Dorian to walk in and reveal it all to be a rather elaborate joke.
When he doesn’t, Cullen turns back to the table, addressing Solas and The Iron Bull. “Is there a danger to Skyhold. Could the spell change him further?”
“Possibly.” Solas nods. “The child will need to be guarded for the time being, certainly.”
“I hope you are not suggesting that we lock him away.” Josephine states, sternly.
“Calm down, Josie.” Leliana rests a hand on the other woman’s shoulder. “We all want only what is best for the child.”
“Agreed.” The Inquisitor looks from Josephine to Cole. “Cole, he seems comfortable with you. Will you take charge of his care?”
“Of course.” Colas smiles brightly, hugging Dorian close.
“Really?” Sera giggles. “Creepy with a brat?”
“Dorian is not a brat.” Cole says, defensively.
Sera raises her hands in a “surrender” gesture, while Cassandra chuckles quietly.
“Inquisitor, a word.” Solas is already heading for the door.
Outside in the corridor, Solas grips his staff. “Cole is too young for such a responsibility.”
“Cut him some slack.” Varric says, having followed the pair out. “Cole’s a smart kid.”
“I agree. But you and I both know Master Tethras that, emotionally, Cole is far younger than he looks.”
“And this will help him GROW.” Varric says. “That was the whole point of him turning human.”
“So you intend for this to help him learn responsibility?” Solas says, incredulous. “We are talking about a human infant, Varric, not a hamster.”
Varric sighs. “Hey, you trust Tiny right? He’ll keep an eye on them. It’ll be fine.”
“And what happens to Cole when he becomes attached to the child? Assuming he isn’t already.” Solas says, turning back to The Inquisitor. “What happens when we find a cure and return Dorian to his adult self? We will be taking that child away.” He turns back to Varric. “Your setting the young man up for heartbreak.”
“What do you suggest we do instead, Solas?” The Inquisitor says. “Josephine is right. The alternative is to lock Dorian away, or put him in a loveless environment.”
Varric nods. “He’s a baby. Babies need love. Otherwise they grow up wrong. And what if you don’t find a way to reverse this? Might be we end up raising him. We got to plan for that.”
Solas nods. “But Cole...”
“Give the kid a chance, Chuckles.”
The trio make their way back into the war room.
“Well.” The Inquisitor smiles. “We have more to discuss, but Cole, I would say it is far past that young man’s bedtime.”
Cole nods, and looks down at Dorian. “Time for sleep, now.”
The toddler immediately grabs at Cole’s shirt, pulling himself closer.
“Where’s Altrix? Why is she gone?” Dorian sniffs. “Was I bad?”
“No.” Solas smiles, running a hand through Dorian’s hair. “Your Altrix loves you very much, Da’len.”
Dorian nods, but still looks miserable as he snuggles against the boy holding him. Cole tightens his arms around Dorian, and The Iron Bull rests his hand against Cole’s back, escorting him and his precious bundle out of the room.
“We should go to the kitchens.” Cole says. “Dorian didn’t eat breakfast this morning.”
The door to the war room closes.
“Telling.” Leliana says quietly.
The Inquisitor turns to her.
“My knowledge of Tevene language is not what it should be, Inquisitor, but I do not believe that Altrix is a parental title.”
“Nursemaid.” Solas nods. “Cremisius translated.”
“So the boy asks after his nursemaid, but not his own parents.” Leliana sighs. “As I said...telling.”
Bull sits silently on the sofa of his room, staring into the fire.
Earlier, Cole had been sat cross legged on the floor there, Dorian sat in his lap and smiling as he worked his way through a plate of sandwiches and a cup of water. Eventually, the child became drowsy, and Cole picked him up, carrying him into his room.
They’ve been there ever since.
Bull looks into the fire, and tries not to think, which naturally makes him think.
Kadan. He had called many that name in his life, but it had only ever meant friend. Companion.
With Dorian he had used it without a second thought, when their relationship had been about pleasure and sex. But over time it has grown, evolved like a caterpillar into a butterfly, becoming so much more than it had ever been before.
And at first, that had frightened The Iron Bull, not that he would ever admit to that.
He could do relationships, the Chargers was proof of that. But THIS! With Dorian, he had become a single entity with another person. One half of a whole. And when they had invited Cole to join them, that whole had become a family. A family with Bull and Dorian in a parental role, and Cole in their care.
And now, everything had quite literally shifted to the left, and Dorian was helpless. Vulnerable. Tiny.
His Dorian. His Dorian who made it impossible to use the washroom in the morning unless Bull woke before sunrise. Dorian who pretended to love ghislain white in the proper company, but much preferred Fereldan beer. Dorian who he had seen at his best and at his worst. Dorian who had laid beneath him, gasping in pleasure. And Dorian who had sat in The Iron Bull’s arms, drunk to the point of paralysis and desolate after finding his Father in Redcliffe.
There had been no sex that night, and maybe that was when things had truly begun, the night after Redcliffe, when Dorian had come to The Iron Bull not for sex, but for security. For the comfort of just being held and loved.
And now that Dorian is gone.
Is he grieving? The Iron Bull isn’t sure. He feels fear mostly, fear of a cure not being found. Of his Dorian being lost forever, and this new child taking his place.
And was that child’s life less important than HIS Dorian? There was the ultimate question. Whether a cure was found or not, the end result would be the same. A Dorian, be it his or Cole’s new charge, would die.
And when The Iron Bull thought about it that way, it made his entire being feel frozen. Because what choice was that? To decide who had more right to living a life.
Even if the Dorian they had found in the cave had been a younger version of his Dorian, he had become his own person the moment that he had accepted Cole’s care. The moment that his life changed forever, and he walked a different path. With new memories. New experiences.
Bull lets out a deep breath, shaking his head.
“The Iron Bull?”
He forces a smile onto his face before turning back to Cole, who is stood in the doorway to his bedroom, holding the crossbow that Varric gave him for his birthday.
“Hey.” The Iron Bull smiles. “He asleep?”
Cole smiles. “I sang to him. He liked that.” He looks down at the crossbow. “I need to hide Evangeline. I don’t want Dorian to hurt himself with her.”
“That’s very responsible, Cole.” Bull nods “Here, I’ll put her on top of the wardrobe. He won’t reach up there.”
“Thank you.” Cole says, handing the crossbow over.
“What about your knives?”
“I put them in the drawers where I keep the socks and smallclothes.”
Bull nods. “Good boy.” He smiles, and then nods towards the master bed. “Go get yourself settled, then.”
Cole nods, climbing into the bed and curling up on his side. It’s far from awkward, it’s not the first time that The Iron Bull has shared a bed with Cole, but usually it is with Dorian as well. Laying on either side of the bed, with Cole held between them following a nightmare or a bad day.
Bull climbs into his side, settling on his back. He looks up at the ceiling, trying to calm his thoughts. And then he feels a head against his chest.
Cole curls up against him, hugging The Iron Bull. “Solas will find a cure.” He says, quietly. “Dorian will be the real Dorian again.”
“I know, kid.” The Iron Bull smiles, stroking the boy’s hair. “You’re doing an amazing job so far.”
“I know how to be a good father.” Cole says confidently. “You showed me.”
The Iron Bull can’t help the smile that brings to his face as he lays back, closing his eye and just existing for a while. He doesn’t know how long he lays there, time becomes meaningless, and then they hear a scream.
Already awake, The Iron Bull reaches the door first, opening it to find the toddler sat up in bed, shivering.
“No. No. No..”
“Hey?” The Iron bull says, and Dorian cries out, sobbing desperately.
Cole enters the room, grabbing the child and pulling him into a hug against his shoulder. He then flinches. “He’s damp.” Cole looks at the bedsheets. “Oh.”
The Iron Bull nods, putting a smile on his face as he looks at the crying toddler. “A little too much water before sleeping, Imekari.”
The child shivers, pressing against Cole as if trying to burrow into him.
And then Cole’s eyes go distant for a moment, his facial expression becoming one of anguish. “Cold. Too cold. Please. Light the fire.” He looks at the fire in the corner of his room.
“Please.” Cole’s shout has so much emotion behind it that The Iron Bull almost feels it hit him. He nods, and lights the fire.
Almost before he is done, Cole is sat in front of the fireplace, much like he had been before in the main room, Dorian in his lap and looking at the growing flames.
“Only warmth.” Cole says. “Only warmth.” He smiles and looks down at Dorian. “It was only an accident.”
“Cole?” The Iron Bull says.
Cole simply shakes his head, holding the boy close to him. “He needs warmth.”
The Iron Bull nods, stepping back. While Cole sits by the fire with Dorian, Bull changes the sheet on the bed. Then he fetches one of Dorian’s shirts from the drawers, large but good enough to serve as a sleeping shirt. He returns to the bedroom and hands it to Cole, along with a washcloth. “Get him clean.”
Cole nods his thanks, and gets Dorian ready while The Iron Bull returns to the main room, not wanting to crowd the clearly terrified child. Instead, Bull sits back on the bed, staring into space.
Eventually he hears the door to Cole’s room open, but Cole isn’t alone as he walks through it. He is carrying Dorian, dressed in the new shirt. He is also carrying a blanket and pillow.
He wordlessly crosses the room, and goes into the washroom.
“What are you doing, kid?” Bull asks from the door as Cole settles Dorian in the bathtub and tucks the blanket around him.
“It’s safe here.” Cole says, as if it’s obvious. “A bath is supposed to have water in it. So he doesn’t have to worry about having an accident while he is asleep.”
Bull thinks about this, shrugs, and goes back to bed.
When, half an hour later, Cole still hasn’t emerged from the bathroom, The Iron Bull goes to look for him, a blanket in his hand.
Sure enough, he finds Cole laid on his side in the tub, curled up around the sleeping toddler, while humming quietly.
Bull shakes his head and drapes the blanket over the boys. Cole looks up at him, and The Iron Bull ruffles his hair, before going back to bed.
Chapter 4: Winter
As he walks into the Rotunda, Varric isn’t sure if the conversation between Solas and Dalish is an enthusiastic discussion or an argument. Either way, it is in a dialect of elvish that he thinks even most elves would struggle with.
Dalish points at symbols and explains whatever it is she is explaining while Solas nods, and adds comment.
“What have we got so far?” Varric asks, his voice loud.
Dalish shrugs. “Don’t let mages swim in the Vir da’len .”
“Bit late for that, Archer. Wait...you said mages?”
Solas nods. “Best as we can tell from the markings Dalish has helped translate, the spell of the pool only works on Mages. We’re...not sure what it would do to those who do not possess magic.”
“The phrase used could mean they fall asleep, or it could mean they disintegrate.” Dalish shrugs.
Varric grimaces “Can the spell be reversed?”
“We don’t yet know.” Solas admits.
“Markings all refer to it as a festival.” Dalish says. “So that’s something.”
“Well, Sir. Nice as it would be, your average festival tends to not last forever.”
“But...neither does childhood. It could easily refer to that.” Solas points out.
“Yeah.” Varric says, quietly.
When The Iron Bull wakes, it is to find the rooms empty. He panics for a moment, before remembering that it is Tuesday, and dammit if Cole isn’t a creature of habit. A creature of habit who is apparently quite capable of getting both himself and a three year old ready for the day without waking a highly trained Ben-Hassrath agent.
Bull makes his way across Skyhold to the training ground, arms casually crossed as he walks towards his usual ‘Tuesday Morning’ spot, next to his usual ‘Tuesday Morning’ companion.
“Well, well. What have we here?” Morrigan smiles as she greets him. “I was worried that you would not be gracing me with your presence today. I do so look forward to our talks.”
The Iron Bull smiles, before focusing on the toddler currently sitting in Morrigan’s arms.
Bull’s smile falls as he looks at Dorian, who seems to tense slightly as he looks back. Noticing the change in the toddler’s body language, Bull forces himself to relax, smiling again. This wasn’t Dorian’s fault.
Dorian rests his head against Morrigan’s shoulder while mercilessly chewing the wooden toy ring he is holding.
Bull points at him. “This one been giving you trouble?”
“No.” Morrigan smiles at Dorian. “He is a treasure.”
“Where’d the clothes come from?”
“Cole says the pile of clothes was just inside his room this morning. With a red ribbon.”
Bull nods, making a mental note to make it up to Sera and any visiting Jennies in the tavern later. He also makes a note to lecture the elf for ‘letting herself’ into rooms while the occupants are asleep...again.
He turns with Morrigan to face the training ground.
“Okay, Cole. You attack first.” Cullen looks from Cole to Kieran. “Kieran, light on your feet. Shield up.”
Cole, holding wooden training knives, strikes at Kieran, only for each blow to be blocked with the shield.
“Move your feet, Kieran.” Cullen orders. “Cole, use BOTH hands, not just your right. Balance your attack.”
Cole nods, and spins in the air, coming down on the shield with both hands before jumping back and attacking again.
Bull chuckles, having seen Cole fight enough times to know that the boy is deliberately slowing himself down, making things much easier for Kieran.
Kieran stands taller, clearly pleased with himself, as Cullen calls it to a close.
“Good job. Now, Cole on defence. Kieran, ready your sword.”
Kieran strikes back, each blow dodged by Cole except the last when Cole ‘stumbles’ and Kieran lands a touch against his waist. Bull knows that Cole has thrown it, and he knows that Cullen knows it too, but neither man says anything. No one wants to take the smile from either Kieran or Cole’s face.
“Good.” Cullen looks towards the keep. “Right, command strategy. Up to the war room with both of you.”
The boys head off, stopping only to put their wooden weapons back in the storage box and, in Cole’s case, glance over to check on Dorian. Morrigan doesn’t react, but Bull suspects some unseen communication, because Cole gives a small laugh before following Kieran and Cullen in the direction of the keep.
Bull smiles. “I didn’t think Cole would bother with training today.” He looks at Dorian.
“The young man values his education.” Morrigan sighs. “With any luck, the attitude will rub off onto my son.”
“Do you want me to take Dorian for a bit?”
Morrigan’s expression is pleading as she holds the child closer.
“THE Morrigan of the Wilds wanting to cossett an infant?”
“Tell anyone and I promise you a painful death.” She smiles sweetly. “I love the young man that my son has become, Iron Bull, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss him at this age.” She runs the back of her curled finger up and down Dorian’s cheek, and the toddler smiles at the affection before looking ahead to realise that Cole is out of sight.
Morrigan strokes his hair. “Don’t worry, little one. we’re following your Cole.”
Dorian nods, before putting the ring back in his mouth.
“Bit old for teething rings, isn’t he?”
“Oh nonsense, Bull.” Morrigan shakes her head. “Kieran still chews on pen tips NOW, and he’s ten. But you may find that Dorian DOES act like a child much younger for a while.” She sighs. “At this age my son would often regress when upset. He would act like a baby, so I treated him like one. Cosseting, as you put it, can be quite comforting, especially after a shock.” She turns to the toddler.” And you’ve definitely had a shock, haven’t you little one. So extra cosseting for you, I think.” She taps Dorian on the nose.
“Yeah.” The Iron Bull agrees, remembering how emotionally vulnerable Cole had been after the demon attack.
Morrigan tilts her head sideways. “Far be it for me to tell you how to parent, Iron Bull, but I would suggest that unless Dorian is about to do something harmful, then don’t try to correct any behaviour. He’s probably feeling far more frightened than he is letting on, and if he acts out in pursuit of comfort, only to be punished for it, well that will leave him feeling even more insecure.”
“No danger there. Pretty sure Cole would kill me if I tried to punish the kid.”
Morrigan chuckles, but the mirth quickly dissipates when Dorian starts to whimper.
“No punishment.” He says quietly. “I’ll be good.”
“Now Dorian.” Morrigan cooes. “Do you really think we would punish such a well behaved boy?”
“No winter?” Dorian looks at Morrigan, and then The Iron Bull.
“Winter?” The Bull says.
Dorian curls in on himself, shivering.
“Are you cold, little one?” Morrigan hands Dorian to The Iron Bull and then holds up both hands. A moment later, Bull feels a gentle blast of warm air against his chest as it envelops Dorian.
“Let’s get you inside.” Morrigan takes the toddler back and begins her climb of the keep steps.
Bull waits at the bottom. “Morrigan, are you alright watching them a moment?”
“Well, I’ve managed for the last hour?” She smiles, and The Iron Bull knows that she means the statement in jest. “Go do what you need to do.”
The Iron Bull nods, throwing Dorian a smile before retreating in the direction of the charger barracks.
Krem looks up from where he has, admittedly, been sulking to see The Iron Bull marching over to the barracks. With a sigh, the young man grabs one of the fighting poles, and follows the Qunari.
“Thought this would be happening today.”
The Bull growls. “What could Dorian mean when he says ‘The Winter’?”
“Besides the season? Your guess is as good as mine, Chief. Although where he grew up isn’t known for its cold.”
“He’s terrified of it.”
“Well…” Krem’s face falls, and he shakes his head. “On a kid that young?”
“There’s one thing.” Krem shakes his head. “It’s a form of punishment. Had it myself, once. Bad mouthed the wrong Laetan in earshot.” He shrugs. “One of the few times I was glad to have the body I have. They let girls wear a shirt.”
The Iron Bull tenses, clearly angry.
Krem swallows. “They strip you to your smallclothes if you’re a boy, put you in a sackcloth shirt if you’re a girl, and then use magic to make the air around you cold. And I mean Emprise Du Lion at night cold.” He grits his teeth, shivering. “Say it’s more humane than flogging. Doesn’t leave a mark.”
“Not on the skin.” The Iron Bull growls again.
“But Dorian?” Krem’s face clearly displays his shock as the penny drops. “He was a baby, Chief! Is a...I was good as sixteen when I had it done to me. Surely no one would do it on an infant that…small.”
The Iron Bull nods, sitting down.
“Dorian HATES being cold.” The Iron Bull repeats. “And I always gave him grief for it.” Bull nods towards Krem. “You too.” He stands. “Hit me.”
“Weren’t your bad, Chief. Not like me or the Altus idiot told you.”
Krem does so, landing the blows right across the Qunari’s chest, and Bull suspects that it is as therapeutic for the Vint as it is for him.
“Hey. You can apologise soon as he’s his old self again.” Krem hits him again.
Bull grits his teeth through another blow. “IF he is his old self again.”
Krem steps back, panting slightly as he lowers the pole. “Inquisition will fix this, Chief. They fixed the hole in the sky, they can fix this.” He shrugs. “Or maybe it’ll fix itself. Dalish said those markings in the cave make it sound like this is temporary.”
Bull looks up. “She did.”
“Yeah.” Krem smiles. “Never know, you might wake up tomorrow and he’s back.”
Bull feels a...he wants to say spark which if nothing else is proof that he’s been hanging around Varric for too long. He smiles. “Hit me again.”
Finishing her report, Josephine folds the paper gently and stands, making her way to the war room.
At least that is where she thinks she is heading. She opens the door, and wonders if she took a wrong turn.
The first thing she notices is Morrigan stood to one side, clearly stifling a laugh. Then she opens the door further, and notices the activity at the table itself.
“Right, Cole. Pay attention. Kieran’s troops are moving in on you.”
“My mages can make a shield.” Cole says, pointing at the units on the table.
“Roll the dice then.” He hands the dice to Cole, and he rolls. “Sixes all rounds. Shields are up AND strong.” He takes back the dice.
Dorian giggles, crawling across the table and hitting a group of soldiers with his fist.
“Oh no!” Cullen mock cries. “It’s an archdemon.”
Dorian picks up one of the soldiers, laughing at Cullen’s reaction before being grabbed by Cole.
“No cheating.” Cole says.
“Mother says it isn’t nice to cheat at games.” Kieran looks at Morrigan, who nods approvingly.
“Oh, leave him be, he’s having fun.” Cullen says as Cole obediently puts Dorian back on the table. “Now, Kieran you need to look at your base. You’ve sent all your troops towards Cole, who's looking after your defences?
“Oops.” Kieran grabs some of the soldiers, bringing them back towards the base.
“Line up your troops. Good boy. No, Dorian we don’t eat the mabari war hounds.” He grabs the toy dog, which earns him a frustrated cry from the toddler.
“Here.” He hands Dorian a model of a Venitori Brute. “You’re less likely to swallow that one. And who doesn’t want to see one of those get their head chewed off?”
Josephine can’t hold back her laughter anymore, laughter that only gets worse when Cullen’s face turns bright red.
“Cullen.” She calms herself. “I came to check on the war efforts?”
Cullen nods. “They are...progressing. Although we may have to invest in stronger helmets.”
Dorian laughs around the toy he is chewing on.
“I see.” Josephine nods. “I shall advise the Undercroft.”
Now beside Josephine, Morrigan hums with amusement. Neither say anything, but they are both secretly enjoying this lighter, more relaxed side of Cullen after what they know has been a difficult time for him since turning his back on lyrium.
Dorian yawns, dropping the toy soldier in his hand and looking at Cole while pointing at Cullen. “Stranger?”
“No. Cullen isn’t a stranger.” Cole says. “Cullen is our friend.”
Dorian nods, before standing and walking across the table. He pulls himself against Cullen’s soft cloak and Cullen instinctively puts his arms around the boy, lifting him off the table while Dorian falls asleep right there and then against the shoulder.
“Awe.” Josephine says through her hands, which are pressed against her mouth to hide her ridiculous grin.
“He likes you. You have fur on your shoulders, like the fur that Altrix lays him on for his naps.” Cole smiles as he watches Dorian relax. “You make him laugh, Cullen. He likes to laugh.”
Cullen looks down at the toddler, his face displaying an array of emotions before settling on a strange serenity.
Cole nods. “Laughter makes it harder to hear the song. And children laugh very loud.”
“Yes.” He voice is noticeably quieter, with a slight vibration to it “Well, he seems quite happy there. Cole, your mages are all concentrating on the forward defence. Don’t forget the pass behind your castle.”
Cole moves some of the mages around.
“Right. Where are the dice?” Cullen’s eyes widen as he looks at Dorian. “Oh Maker, he didn’t swallow them did he?”
“Cullen.” Morrigan says, smiling. “You put them in your pocket.”
“Oh.” Cullen reaches into his pocket, holding up his fist wrapped around the dice a moment later. “Of course I did. Right, Kieran, roll for your attack.”
Josephine puts the report for Cullen on the edge of the war table, and quietly leaves the room, still smiling.
It is approaching late afternoon when The Iron Bull returns to the rooms, carrying a paper wrapped package. He opens the door to find Cole curled up asleep on master bed, his arm wrapped around Dorian.
The toddler is awake, occupying himself with giggling and singing until he sees Bull. He cuddles up closer to Cole as the Qunari sits on the far edge of the bed.
“Hey there, little one.” He says, adopting Morrigan’s nickname from earlier. “You been taking a nap with your Cole there?”
Dorian sits up, looking at the sleeping Cole.
“I got you a present.” Bull holds out the paper wrapped package he is holding and Dorian crawls towards him, taking the package and resting it in his lap before looking up at the Qunari, dumbfounded.
“Go on. You can open it.”
Dorian puts his hand on the paper and carefully tears it open, revealing a thick fur coat, held closed by a belt. With Bull’s help he puts the coat on, pulling it tightly around him while Bull ties the belt. Dorian then looks back into the packaging to see that the coat comes with a matching hat, which Bull quickly pulls down over his ears.
“There.” Bull smiles. “Nice and warm.”
Dorian stands on the bed, looking down at himself in the coat. Then, slowly, he reaches out with his hand, resting the tips of his fingers against the Qunari’s chest.
“The Eye Bull.”
Bull laughs, which causes Cole to startle awake. “Iron.”
“Iron.” Dorian says back, smiling. “The Eye Bull Iron.”
Bull stoops down so that he is eye level with the boy. “Now you’re teasing me.”
Dorian responds by tapping Bull’s eye patch. “Eye.”
“No eye behind there.” Bull says, stopping the boy when he tries to lift the eye patch. That is NOT a sight fit for a three year old. Even Dorian’s adult self has trouble stomaching it.
Bull feels a hollowness develop in his belly as he thinks of HIS Dorian.
Dalish said those markings in the cave make it sound like this is temporary.
Then he clears his mind, focusing on the tiny boy in front of him. He holds out his arms and, when the toddler doesn’t hesitate, pulls him into a hug.
Cole sits up. “He’s five and he starts school. He likes his teacher. He’s good at reading, we got Sera to teach him. And how he’s six and he starts to get his magic. Vivienne demands that he has a circle education, but we sneak him in to lessons with Solas as well. And now he’s ten and he passes his first exam. He smiles. I’m so proud. And it’s always warm.” Cole hugs himself. “He’s fourteen and he goes quiet. He stops smiling. He seems...scared. You ask him why and he breaks down and sobs in your arms. Eventually he tells you that he likes someone. But that someone is another boy, and none of the books he reads have boys with boys, it’s always boys with girls, it’s supposed to be girls.” Cole shakes his head. “You smile. You ask if you can meet the other boy. And he cries more, but it’s for different reasons now. He wonders why he was ever scared. Of course we would be happy.”
“Sorry.” Cole says. “Imagination makes the unreal real.” Cole looks up at Bull. “That Dorian won’t ever be real. I know he needs to be your Dorian again.” He looks away for a moment, distant. “But the imagination is nice.”
Bull is silent. What is he supposed to say. ‘Don’t fall in love.’ ‘Don’t get too attached, kid.’ ‘Stop giving the baby the affection he needs.’ The Iron Bull tightened his arms around the toddler without even realising it, and that somehow feels...natural.
Of all the fucked up times to ignite his paternal streak.
Cole looks up with a smile. “What do you want to do this evening, Dorian?”
The boy turns in Bull’s arms. “Can I see the castle more, please?”
Cole nods. “Yes. Walking. Let’s do that.” He turns to The Iron Bull. “Will you come with us?”
“Sure, kid.” The Iron Bull nods. “Sure. Let’s go exploring.”
Cole holds Dorian’s hand and they walk around Skyhold, The Iron Bull behind them.
“HORSES!” Dorian cries out with delight upon seeing the stables. “Can I ride one? Can I ride one? Please. Please.”
“We can’t now.” Cole says. “See, they’re all eating. They need to eat their dinner or they’ll be hungry.”
“Here, lad.” Master Dennet opens out the boy’s palm and places a small sugar cube inside it. “Brown one on the end loves those.”
Dorian runs down to the last stall and holds out his hand, giggling as the horse takes the cube. He then holds out his hand to Dennet who, with a fond smile, places another cube. “Last one, lad. You’ll make her fat, otherwise.”
Cole smiles. “Dorian, we could help Dennet in the stables tomorrow.”
“Would you like that, lad?”
“Yes, please.” Dorian looks up at the horse, rubbing his hand up and down her nose.
“There’s more of Skyhold to…”
“Cole.” The Iron Bull rests his hands on Cole’s shoulders. “He’s happy here. He can see more of Skyhold later.”
“Oh. Alright.” Cole nods, and both he and The Iron Bull watch as Dorian goes from horse to horse, saying hello and watching them eat, and happier than a child could possibly be as he asks Dennet questions and the patient horse master, himself a parent, answers.
Dalish said those markings in the cave make it sound like this is temporary.
Cole laughs, and Bull finds himself moving his hands, sliding his arms around Cole and pulling the boy so that his back is pressed against Bull’s chest.
Because Bull has held the hands of enough dying chargers to know the heartbreak that Cole will feel when the spell reverses. And, as much as Bull wants HIS Dorian back, as much as he aches for missing the man, not that he will let it show. Despite all this, there is a small part of the Qunari also praying to whoever listens that Dalish is wrong.
Chapter 5: Lessons
The Iron Bull is in the washroom, getting ready for bed, when he hears the laughter, accompanied by the sounds of a bed creaking.
He looks around the door to see a pyjama clad Dorian jumping on the master bed, turning in circles and at one point even managing a somersault as Cole watches, laughing.
The Iron Bull shakes his head and goes back into the washroom. The bed was built to handle an adult Qunari and the certain ‘activities’ that Qunari enjoyed with Vint adults, so he knows it’s not in danger from a three year old jumping on it.
He returns to his evening routine as in the next room the laughter dies down. He knows that Cole is now lighting candles, one of his chores. They all have them. Adult Dorian was in charge of the curtains in the morning and evening. Bull is in charge of keeping the fires lit when it is cold, which is often in the frostback mountains. And in the evening, Cole lights the candles.
Dorian SCREAMS, and the Qunari rushes into the room to find Dorian stood sobbing next to one of the candles, one hand clenched over the other as Cole picks him up.
“Dorian.” Bull says, keeping his voice gentle, hoping to calm the toddler. “Did we try to hold the fire, silly Vint?”
Cole rocks Dorian, clearly panicked. “I need to take him to Stitches.”
“Hold on a second, Cole.” Bull encourages Dorian to open his hand. “See, no burns. He felt the heat but didn’t actually touch the flame. Probably just crying from the shock of it.” Bull smiles, remembering what Morrigan said that morning. “Nothing a healing salve and a hug won’t put right.”
Cole nods, sitting on that sofa with the crying child. The teen looks crestfallen as Bull gets the healing salve from the bedside table.
“I’m a bad father.”
“Cole?” The Iron Bull says as he kneels in front of the sofa.
“He got hurt.” Cole looks up. “He was...I didn’t watch. Good father’s don’t let their children get hurt. I...”
“Hey.” The Iron Bull crouches down, smiling at the weeping toddler as he rubs the salve into his hand. He then looks back at Cole. “Did you hold his hand over the candle?”
“Hit him with a belt?”
“No.” Cole flinches. “Never.”
“Did you make sure he was warm when he got scared of the cold yesterday?”
“You lit the fire.”
“Because you told me to.”
“You were going to take him to Stitches just now.” Bull’s voice is low. “Your Dad ever take YOU to a healer?”
Cole shakes his head.
“There you go, then.” The Iron Bull pats him on the shoulder. “He’s going to get bumps and bruises, Cole. He’s three. Him getting those doesn’t make you a bad father. You’re a good one. You just need to remember to be attentive. Because he’s learning, and he doesn’t know about dangerous things yet.” Bull moves up to sit beside Cole on the sofa. “Remember all the things we had to teach you when you were...when you were younger? You picked up a few bumps and bruises yourself.”
“Falling down the tavern stairs.” Cole nods. “My shoelaces were untied.”
“You know, Varric was furious with himself after that. Said he should have been watching you.”
“It wasn’t Varric’s fault. And he looked after me after...” Cole looks at Bull, then looks down, thinking.
There, keep the ice on the bruise. You need to check your shoelaces before going down stairs, kid, Make sure they’re tied. I’m sorry I didn’t watch you.
He turns to Dorian. “You mustn't touch fire.” He says, gently stroking Dorian’s palm. “One day you will get your magic, then you will be able to hold fire, and make fire. But you’re too young now. I’m sorry I didn’t watch you.”
“Mm sorry.” Dorian whispers, and Cole holds him closer.
“You’ll get there, Cole.” Bull smiles. “Just need to learn it all.”
“You didn’t need to learn.” Cole rests his chin on Dorian’s head while looking at Bull. “When I got hurt, when you looked after me because I couldn’t look after myself, you knew what to say and what to do. You never make mistakes.”
“You think I never make mistakes.” The Iron Bull chuckles as he rubs a hand up and down Dorian’s back. “You need to have a conversation with the chargers.”
Cole looks at Bull, really looks at him, then swallows. “Your war hammer is on the ground. Krem tries to lift it, but he can’t. You laugh, ‘Thought I’d hired a warrior, not a weakling boy’ you look at Grim and he laughs too. Everyone does.” Cole tenses. “Krem doesn’t laugh. He grits his teeth and lifts again, knees trembling. Fails and tries again. Keeps trying. Fresh from Tevinter, he has to prove himself. He BELONGS here, he NEEDS to belong here. He NEEDS to be a Charger. He has nowhere else.” Cole looks down. “He finally lifts it above the ground, anger making him strong. He keeps lifting, holds the hammer above his head. Cries out.” Cole shakes. “Tears in his eyes ‘Call me weak again. Laugh again’ and his arms fail. The hammer falls. It strikes him.” Cole nods. “He’s in the medical tent for a week.”
The Iron Bull sighs, and nods.
Cole blinks. “When I tried to lift the hammer, you stopped me. ‘Start with something smaller kid. Make it a goal.’ I can lift it now, a little. It’s still a goal, I’ll get there, Varric says.” He looks at Bull. “Krem wasn’t weak, he just wasn’t strong enough yet. Why didn’t you encourage him like you did me?”
“I would, if I could do it again.” Bull then turns to the toddler. “How’s your hand feeling, Imekari?”
Dorian looks up. “What’s Imekari?”
“It’s a word that means child?”
“Like Da’len?” He chokes on a sob.
“Da’len. Is that what your Altrix calls you?” The Iron Bull smiles as Dorian nods. “Do you want to be called that instead, Da’len?”
Dorian looks down, and then nods as his face crumples into another crying fit.
“Yeah. You miss her, don’t you, kid.” The Iron Bull looks at Cole. “Hug him close, Cole. Let him be held.”
Cole does so, holding the toddler tightly against him as he sobs.
“There you go, Da’len.” The Iron Bull whispers. “No more touching fire, okay?”
Dorian nods, and cries some more before falling quiet. It takes both The Iron Bull and Cole a moment to realise that he’s fallen asleep.
“Time to put him in his bed.” The Iron Bull whispers, and Cole slowly carries Dorian into his room, tucking him into bed.
“Goodnight...Da’len.” Cole smiles, kissing Dorian on the forehead before kneeling down beside the bed, watching the toddler sleep while he strokes his hair. “Sleep now. I’ll watch you. I’ll keep you safe.”
And Cole feels...strange. A sense of recognition. Deja Vu, he thinks the Orlesian term is.
Like he’s said this to Dorian before. In another life.
But he can’t remember when.
“Right then, young man.” Master Dennet places a brush in Dorian’s hands and then lifts him up so that Dorian is sat in his arms as he crouches down slightly. “Along the neck.” Dorian reaches out with both hands, running the brush along the horses neck. “Good boy. And again, slightly lower down. We’re getting all the loose hair and dirt out of the coat, so she’s more comfortable. Good boy.” Dorian smiles as he works, brushing along the horse as Dennet slowly moves him along the body.
In the other stable, Cole has his own horse. He knows what to do, Dennet has shown him before, and he grooms the horse while glancing over to watch the smiling toddler helping Dennet.
The Iron Bull greets Dennet with a nod as he carries another sack of oats in from the storeroom. “So what got you into horses?”
“Family business. Can’t imagine NOT having them around. Reckon my Seanna will take over after me, if she wishes to. She’s not said otherwise. Although if she does, looks like THIS young man might have a future.”
Dorian laughs as he carries on grooming the horse.
“Master Dennet.” Krem smiles as he walks into the stables, a pair of trousers folded over his arm. “Oh, Chief. Good morning.”
“Krem.” The Iron Bull folds his arms as he leans against the stable wall.
“All done.” Krem lifts up the trousers. “One rip fixed.”
Dennet puts Dorian down, and takes the trousers. “Like it never happened. What do I owe you, young man?”
“Nah. Give me your best horse next time I go out.” Krem gives Dennet a lazy salute, and then picks Dorian up, sitting on a bench with the toddler in his lap.
“Altus. Time for you to learn the language of our homeland.” Krem turns Dorian to face him. “Word one. Say after me. Kaffas.”
“KREM!” Bull shouts.
“Kaffas.” The toddler giggles, and Krem turns to face The Iron Bull with a shit eating grin on his face.
“Now say Vishante.”
“You’re small enough to go over my knee, Vint.”
“Buy me a drink first, Chief.” Krem says back, before turning to the toddler. “Vishante.”
“Vishante.” Dorian says back.
“Good boy.” Krem grins. “Now, vishante kaffas.”
Krem cheers, a gesture that Dorian quickly joins in on.
“We should get Krem to give Dorian language sessions.” Cole says, leaning over the door of the stall he is standing in. “I want him to feel connected to Tevinter.”
“We’ll hire him a tutor.” Bull growls. “One that ISN’T Krem.”
“Now say fasta vaas.” Krem says to Dorian, who repeats the words, much to the man’s delight.
Dennet laughs as he finishes up grooming the horse. “Right, lad. Oats are here, so let’s give her her breakfast.”
Krem lifts Dorian down onto the ground, and he runs off in the direction that Dennet points.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be that isn’t here?” The Iron Bull says to Krem.
Cole carries on grooming his horse, smiling as Bull and Krem laugh behind him.
In the afternoon, a crow arrives with a message for Varric. He reads it, nods, throws the note into the fireplace next to him, while uttering the word “Shit.”
Two hours later, a hooded figure arrives on horseback. They dismount quickly, handing the horse to the stable boy before lowering their hood as Varric approaches.
She is a human woman, blonde hair carefully styled to cover the right side of her face. Her left eye seems to glow with a blue light of its own, widening as she takes in the site of Skyhold.
“Varric.” She smiles, stooping slightly to hug her cousin. “You’ve lost weight. Clearly the demon hunting lifestyle is agreeing with you. And ah.” Her hand sweeps over Varric’s shoulder as she walks past him to greet the other person witnessing her arrival. “Green glowing hand. You must be The Inquisitor.” The woman smiles and holds out her hand. “We’ve corresponded, but never met. Maevaris Tilani.”
“An honour, Magister Tilani.” The Inquisitor accepts her hand. “Welcome to Skyhold.”
“It truly is as grand as they say.” Maevaris says, looking around.
“Will you be staying long? I can have our servants prepare…”
“Oh don’t trouble busy lives. I’ll slum it in the tavern like a proper dwarf’s wife. Besides I would rather that my identity and presence here not be overly advertised. ”
“Mae.” Varric crosses his arms. “Might as well tell the Inquisitor why you’re here.”
“I’m afraid I am here as your enemy.” She smiles sadly. “News of Dorian Pavus’s condition has reached Tevinter.”
“That was fast?” The Inquisitor quips.
“Sending crystals do love to send.” Maevaris crosses her arms. “The response may have been later, but I was already in the area, so to speak, monitoring Venitori influence on the Fereldan border.”
“Rather hands on for a Magister?” Varric says.
“Well, I wanted the job done properly.” She smiles.
“You said you were here as our enemy?” The Inquisitor asks.
“Yes.” She nods, and stands taller. Formal. “I am here by the request of House Pavus. My orders are to take custody of Dorian and to escort him to Qarinus.”
Varric snorts. “Daddy wants his son back.”
“Mae.” She corrects.
“Mae.” The Inquisitor nods. “Dorian is a protected member of the Inquisition Inner Circle.”
“And even if he wasn’t.” Varric says. “No way we’re giving him back to his parents.”
The Inquisitor nods. “I’m afraid, giving what we know, that I can’t allow you to take him.”
“Well then WE better find a way to stop me.” Maevaris says, sternly. “Preferably a way that doesn’t lead to all out war with the Tevinter Imperium.”
“Shit.” Varric mutters, quietly.
Chapter 6: Plans
They sit at the table in the Atrium. The Inquisitor, Varric, Solas, The Iron Bull and Maevaris.
“Varric, don’t look at me like that.” Maevaris says. “By valiantly volunteering my services to the Pavus family in this matter, I ensured that someone is sent for Dorian who actually has HIS best interests at heart.”
“Thoughtful of you, Ma’am.” The Iron Bull snaps back.
“The first thing we need to do is agree on the subject.” Maevaris says, turning to The Inquisitor. “Legally, Dorian was born in 9:11 Dragon and is a man of thirty. However, from what I have been told we are currently dealing with a boy of barely three.”
The Inquisitor nods. “As best as we can tell, he doesn’t remember his adult life.”
The Iron Bull hums his agreement.
“So he is a child?”
Solas nods. “Yes.”
Maevaris looks at the table. “A child that you, the Inquisition, plan to keep from his family?”
“Damn right we do.” Varric’s voice is tense.
“You try to take him, you’re coming through me.” The Iron Bull says, standing.
“Why?” Maevaris asks.
“Why?” Varric says, incredulously.
Solas clears his throat. “Did Dorian ever tell you what his father did to him?”
“Is this something specific?”
The Iron Bull crosses his arms. “Dad didn’t like who his son was sleeping with. So he tried to change him.” He grits his teeth. “With blood magic.”
“Halward...using blood magic?” She shakes her head. “I knew how desperate he was, but to resort to THAT.” She looks at the ground for a long moment, and then looks back up. “What evidence do we have that this abuse took place?”
“Because of course the ‘Qunari scum’ is lying, Magister?” Solas asks, calmly.
Maevaris tenses, then faces Solas while slowly lifting her hair to reveal her right eye.
Or rather, where it should be.
“I know what it is to be tortured by blood magic.” Maevaris tone is angry. “And if I thought you were lying of such things, I promise that we would not still be having this discussion.” She lowers her hair. “But I am not speaking as me.”
She stands, walking around the table and stopping to face the Inquisitor.
“I am speaking as Tevinter. It is the Magisterium that you need to convince. And they will need more than your word.”
“The asshole as good as admitted it.” The Iron Bull says. “In Redcliffe.”
“He’s not going to admit it in front of his people though, is he?” Varric argues.
“Unless...” The Inquisitor bites their lip.
“Inquisitor?” Solas asks.
“I remember reading of a technique. Using magic to capture memories in such a way that they can be stored and later viewed by others.”
“I know it.” Maevaris says.
“And if I remember correctly, memories from the technique can not be faked or changed by imagination. You only see the truth.”
Solas nods. “And although his young form can’t access them, there is a chance that Dorian somehow retains his memories of being mistreated. And if we can capture them…”
“...then it will be enough to convict.” Maevaris agrees as she sits back down.
The Iron Bull crosses his arms. “And then we show it to the Magisterium.”
“Kaffas, no.” She shakes her head. “We show it to Halward. A threat to his reputation and position should be enough to convince House Pavus that Dorian is off limits. And if it isn’t, THEN we get the Magisterium involved, and go to a trial for custody.” She turns to The Inquisitor. “If I may, I’d like to see Dorian.”
“I’ll have him brought here.” The Inquisitor says, not wanting to advertise to Maevaris where Dorian is being kept, just in case.
The Inquisitor rest a hand on Bull’s back as they pass him.
“They don’t want Dorian, Mae.” Varric snaps, once the Inquisitor has left. “They want their fucking scion back. He’s just a tool to them.”
“Varric, I volunteered for a reason.” Her voice is stern. “I’m here to buy time. I have no intention of taking Dorian to Qarinus. I know from bitter experience how important lineage is to Halward. He even tried to convince my OWN father to convert me back when I...well that’s in the past.” Varric quietly rests a hand on her arm.
“My father could be a fool at times, but where it mattered he knew right from wrong. If only Dorian had been so lucky.”
“Yeah.” Varric agrees.
“And now Halward has the chance to try again with his son.” Solas says. “Raise him properly this time, shape the man he becomes.” The sneer is not hidden from his voice.
“So you agree that Dorian should stay here, ma’am?”
“Yes, but the situation is complicated.”
Bull shrugs. “Doesn’t look too complicated from where I’m sitting. We say no.”
“And Halward declares his ‘helpless son’ a prisoner, and organises an army.”
“Let him try.” Varric says.
“There’s a lot of people between here and Tevinter.” Solas says. “Would Dorian want people to die for him. Innocent people, caught in the crossfire. If he could speak for himself right now, what would HE say?”
Varric closes his eyes, and for a while, the table is silent.
“Ma’am?” Bull says. “Do you...did you know Dorian’s Altrix?”
“Elgara.” Maevaris nods. “An elvish slave. Incredibly intelligent. And you quickly learned not to play cards with her.” She smiles. “She adored Dorian.”
“Could we contact her?”
“I haven’t heard from her in years.” Maevaris shakes her head. “She was released from service, or so Halward told me.” Her face lights up as she looks at the door, standing. “And look at this little pumpkin.”
Maevaris crouches down in front of the curious toddler, who is standing beside Cole near the entrance.
Dorian looks up at Cole, who nods. He then let’s go of Cole’s hand and approaches Maevaris.
“Hello there, handsome.” She says as she picks him up. “Oh you are bringing back memories.”
“You knew him at this age?” The Iron Bull asks.
“Our families have been acquainted for generations. Although I doubt he will recognise me. I was a child myself.” She smiles. “You and I are related, young man. Although I forget how.”
Varric thinks. “Wait, that means me and Sparkles are family?”
Dorian, meanwhile, is entertaining himself by fiddling with the ornate necklace that Maevaris is wearing. “Pretty.”
“It is pretty.” She chuckles. “You gave me this, when I became a Magister.”
“Cole.” Solas says. “Has The Inquisitor told you of our plan?”
Cole nods. “It will hurt Dorian.” He says, quietly.
“Yes I imagine it will.” Maevaris says before smiling sadly at the tiny boy sitting in her arms. She then hands him back to Cole.
“I don’t want Dorian to hurt.” Cole argues, hugging the toddler close.
“None of us do, kid.” Varric says. “But we need to be able to show people that Dorian is safer with you than with his parents.”
“He’s not safe if we’re hurting him.” Cole argues, stepping back and turning slightly so that he is between the group and Dorian.
Maevaris looks at Cole. “You’ve been taking care of him.”
“Is there’s no other way?” Cole looks at The Iron Bull. “A way that doesn’t hurt?”
“Perhaps we should take a break.” The Inquisitor says. “Another idea MIGHT come to us, and I can’t see Tevinter declaring war before lunchtime tomorrow.”
Everyone nods in agreement.
Cole looks at The Inquisitor. “Can I be with him? If you do make him remember?”
“I appreciate the escort.” Maevaris says to The Iron Bull as they step into The Herald’s Rest. “Even if it is only to make sure I don’t see where Dorian is being kept.”
“I’m that obvious, huh?” Bull says.
Varric shakes his head. “Mae, I’m sorry, it’s just...”
“Oh I am not offended. I would do the same.” She smiles, and turns to The Iron Bull. “I do so love reading about you in Dorian’s letters. He uses such filthy language.” She chuckles, and then rests a hand against The Iron Bull’s chest, right over his heart. “You make him feel safe. He hasn’t had that for a long time. And even NOW you’re keeping him safe.”
Bull looks down, and then into the tavern. He sees Krem sitting in the far corner, trying to find his answers at the bottom of a flagon.
The charger looks up, and his eyes widen as he sees Maevaris, looking her up and down.
“That’s Cabot behind the bar.” Varric is saying. “Ask him for a room. Tell him to charge the cost to me. No, I insist. And hey, Tiny? Wanna tell your Lieutenant to stop staring at my cousin?”
“Varric, he's just looking.” Maevaris waves at Krem, who immediately looks away, his face bright red.
“Shy thing, isn’t he?” She says, before going to the bar.
“I’ll go talk to him.” Bull sits down next to the standing Varric, allowing the Qunari to lower his voice. “I think she just blew his mind a little. He’s never seen another Aqun-Athlock before.”
“Oh, you noticed, huh.” Varric says sarcastically.
Back in the tavern, a fascinated Krem is again watching Maevaris as she finishes booking her room and returns to Varric and Bull. Or rather starts to, before following their line of sight back over to the charger.
She clearly thinks for a moment, then turns.
“Where are you going?” Varric asks.
She looks at him. “I’m going to invite the young man to have a drink with me.”
“Andraste’s mercy, Mae. You’ve been in Skyhold five minutes, and you’re asking a cute guy on a DATE?”
“You think Krem’s cute?” Bull raises his eyebrow, and Varric curses under his breath.
Maevaris smiles. “Darling, you love me.”
“I tolerate you.” Varric says as she kisses him on the cheek.
“Gentlemen.” She smiles, and continues her journey over towards Krem, who immediately stands to greet her.
“Do you think we should tell her he’s Soporati.”
“Oh trust me, Tiny, she’ll appreciate the scandal.”
Bull laughs. “Your family is awesome.”
“She’s the saner of the bunch.”
The sun has long since set as Cole lays on his bed, curled around Dorian.
“Tomorrow might be scary.” He says, quietly. “But I know that you’re going to be very brave. Because you are always really brave. Even when you don’t think you are.” He smiles. “And then you’ll be safe from your father.”
“Is father angry?”
“Why?” Dorian whimpers and looks up at him. “I tried to be good. What did I do? Is that why I’m here?”
“You ARE good.” Cole says, smiling as he kisses his forehead. “I know it hurts when parents don’t see that.”
Dorian snuggles against Cole, and the teen rolls onto his back so that Dorian is laid on his chest.
“Your father, he doesn’t like that you are different.” Cole catches himself. “No, not different. You’re not different, you’re just you. And everyone is a mixture of the things that make them them.” He strokes Dorian’s hair. “I have blonde hair and you have black. And I have blue eyes and you have brown and…” He quickly drops his voice to a whisper, as if telling a secret. “...I don’t want some of the things that other adults want, and that is a thing that makes me me. And that is alright. You taught me that.” He smiles. “One day, you’ll want a man, and that will be a thing that makes you you. And I will teach you that that is alright too.”
He sighs. “Your father doesn’t love some of the things that make you you, but that isn’t because you are wrong. It’s just that sometimes people get scared by a you that isn't also a them. So they hate it. Because hate is easier than learning to accept. Than accepting that you need to learn.”
Cole sits up, holding Dorian so that he is facing him. “But I will ALWAYS love all the parts of you that make you you, even the parts that aren’t the same as me.” He smiles. “I don’t want you to be me, Dorian. I want you to be you.”
Dorian babbles, pulling on the edge of Cole’s hair before looking at his Guardian’s face. “My Cole.”
“Yes. I’m your Cole.” Cole looks down to watch as Dorian rests a hand against his chest.
“Love.” The toddler says.
“I love you too.” Cole responds, feeling happier than he thinks he has ever felt in his life as he hugs the toddler close, waiting for Dorian to fall asleep.
Tucking the toddler into the bed, Cole is silent as he moves around the room, packing clothes and his knives into a large bag. He then moves into the master room, mindful of the snoring Qunari on the bed as he packs two healing potions and a couple of spare blankets. This done, he sneaks out.
“You?” Vivienne has an annoyed expression as she answers the door. “It is the middle of the night.”
“Hide it here.” Cole says, handing Vivienne the bag. “If I run, people will look for me in my room, but they won’t look in yours. Because we’re not friends. But you’re friends with Dorian, you’ll help HIM.”
“What is this?” Vivienne says as she puts the bag down behind her.
“Supplies. So I can run away with Dorian if they try to take him.” Cole shakes his head. “I can’t fight, Dorian might be hurt. I have to run.”
“Who are they?” Vivienne shakes her head. “And pray tell, how do you plan to keep a three year old alive on the road?”
“I can carve. Blackwall showed me.”
“Good heavens, little pet, the boy will need food, clothes and a safe place to sleep. I can hardly see you being able to provide such a living by carving wooden ducks.” She shakes her head. “And go stand by the fire, you’re shaking.”
“I can’t let them take him.” Cole argues as obeys, standing next to the fire in her room.
“Perhaps a deep breath.” Vivienne suggests. “If you anger yourself into a breakdown, that won’t help Dorian.”
“They will hurt him. Winters and fire. Blood. Changing him.”
“As usual, I fail to follow.”
“He’ll be chained to one side in here.” Cole points at his head. “They’ll try to turn him into his father. And he will be alone. And I won’t be there to…” Cole swallows. “I won’t be there for him.”
Vivienne sighs, moving across the room to sit on the sofa.
“Dorian is safe is Skyhold.” She says, sternly. “If you run off with him, The Inquisition won’t be able to protect you.”
“I can hide.”
“Do you really believe that The Inquisitor will let anything happen to that infant.”
“They’re going to hurt him. To prove that he is safe here.”
Vivienne looks left, and then right, her confusion clear. “Alas neither The Iron Bull nor Varric are here to translate you, so I ask that you remain silent and listen.” She stands. “I do not know what has convinced you otherwise, but I promise that Dorian is safe in Skyhold.”
“BUT if it will silence your anxious prattle, I will let you keep some supplies ready here, for if you should require them in a swift escape.” She raises her finger to silence Cole before he starts to speak again. “But I will also have the security wards active, and I will be telling The Inquisitor what you are up to, if they detect you in here.”
“Thank you, Vivienne.”
“Now may I suggest you return to your charge before he misses you.”
The fire is lit, but Cole still feels cold as he returns home, noticing that the master bed is now empty.
“So this giant starts swinging Grim around by his clothes, and he throws him at Skinner and Dalish. Dalish catches him using her...arrows.” The Iron Bull chuckles. “And while the giant’s distracted watching that, Rocky rushes in and sticks the bomb to his leg.” Bull pauses, before making an odd sound like an explosion. “All gone giant.”
“And all the people in the village were happy.” The Iron Bull says. “That’s what heroes do, Kid. They take away bad things, so that people are happy.”
“Is Cole a hero?”
“Everyone in the Inquisition is.”
Cole looks round the door frame into his room, which is now Dorian’s room.
Bull is pacing the length of the room back and forth, holding the tiny toddler against his shoulder. Dorian yawns, and The Iron Bull’s large hand encases his back.
“Am I a hero?” Dorian murmurs.
Bull’s smile fades slightly, and he slowly nods. “You will be, when you’re grown up.”
“Can I have a new story, please?”
“So one day, chargers got asked to take out a dragon.” Bull tucks Dorian back into the bed. “It was our first dragon fight, and she was a beauty. Big and yellow, teeth as sharp as knives, and she could breath FIRE.” He tickles Dorian’s stomach, earning a laugh from the toddler.
Cole slowly moves to lay down on the master bed, a smile on his face as he listens to the conversation in the other room.
“So Krem had the idea that we could lure the dragon into the open by using a sheep. Well, have you ever tried to get a sheep to go somewhere it doesn’t want to go?”
Cole knows the story, but he listens anyway, as his eyes slowly close.
Chapter 7: Forgotten
The Iron Bull doesn’t dream. Never has. Likely never will.
But, as he lays there, eye fixed on the ceiling while he listens to Cole giving Dorian his bath in the other room, he can remember.
Dorian lays in the copper tub, arms dangling lazily over the side as he relaxes into the much needed heat of the water.
Dorian follows The Iron Bull’s line of sight up to his naked wrist, now held completely in the Qunari’s large hand as he kneels beside the tub. The finger of the other hand is circling a small collection of Tevene letters painted onto the skin with a fine script.
“Oh, that.” Dorian says, quietly. “I trust that you don’t need me to explain the concept of body paint.” He runs his own finger across one of the Qunari’s own decorations.
“What does it say?”
“It’s...personal.” Dorian says.
“Old lover’s name?”
“Maker’s breath, no.” Dorian pulls his wrist out of The Iron Bull’s grip.
“Tell me it doesn’t say Mom?”
“No. And if I tell you what it DOES say you will laugh, you insensitive lummox. And some things don’t deserve that. So kindly drop the subject.”
“See. Now I’m even more curious.” He sits back, grinning.
“I don’t like not knowing things.” The Iron Bull says, as close as a Qunari can get to pouting.
Dorian swears under his breath, and sighs. “I painted it a couple of nights ago. After The Inquisitor’s party returned from the Western Approach.”
Bull hums, curiosity clear in his face.
“Well, Cole’s taken to visiting me in the library. Normally to ask some inane question, sometimes to just sit there while I study. And...well I must admit I’ve missed it while he’s been off playing in the sand.” Dorian sits up, knees to his chest. “Anyway, he came up to the library, still wearing his travelling clothes. I think he just came straight from the gatehouse.” Dorian sighs. “And he just said ‘hello?’, almost like it was a question. Like he didn’t know how I was going to react.” Dorian swallows. “I greeted him, ‘Cole, welcome back to Skyhold.’ Thought nothing of it. And then he...honestly Bull I swear his eyes genuinely lit with joy. ‘You remember me. You remembered.’ He was honestly just so...I couldn’t help it. I hugged him. Not the first time I’ve done that, but...this time it felt important.
“So I unpacked my paint.” Dorian looks down at his wrist, and the writing there, as he slowly lifts it back into view. “And that evening I found him in the tavern and showed him this.”
“His name in Tevene letters.” The Iron Bull says.
Dorian nods. “I told him that I’m not likely to forget someone whose name is written on my wrist, no matter how long they go away for.”
The Iron Bull rests his thumb next to the marking.
“It won’t last forever, a paint on like that, but I can keep it there until he’s feeling more secure.”
Silence fills the washroom.
“Well, you didn’t laugh. That’s something I suppose.”
Bull smiles. “You are amazing.”
Dorian turns to look at him, smile mischievous. “You’ve noticed, have you.”
“That kid’s lucky to have a friend like you.”
“Friends. Yes I suppose that is what we are.” Dorian lays back, eyes on the ceiling. “It’s strange. It’s been less than a year, but I feel like I’ve known him for so much longer.”
“We’re going to have breakfast in the tavern today.” Cole says to Dorian as he carries the toddler, following The Iron Bull across Skyhold. “It’s special. We can’t do it every day because otherwise it becomes normal and not special. Some things are better when they are special, and less fun when normal. And when they’re special you look forward to them. It makes the future brighter, having things to look forward to.”
The Iron Bull holds his breath, hand clenching slightly as he remembers the adult Dorian saying the exact same thing, more or less, to Cole while treating the boy to his first tavern breakfast.
He swallows back any emotion, all smiles as he turns to face the two boys. “Growing kid like you will need extra bacon, I think.”
Dorian nods, while chewing on his wooden ring toy as he rests against Cole. The toddler is quiet this morning, as if he can sense how tense the atmosphere is between the three.
The Iron Bull sighs. It’s going to be a long day.
“Iron Bull, Cole. Good morning.” Cullen greets them as he quickens his pace to match theirs. “Are you going to the main keep?”
“Tavern. Cole wants to treat Dorian to breakfast.” Bull looks Cullen up and down. “You sleep okay?”
“One episode during the night. But I was able to sleep around it.” Cullen waves at Dorian, who shyly waves back.
“Good.” Bull says. “That’s an improvement.”
“It’s a shite idea.” Sera is saying as they pass the Gatehouse.
Krem and Dalish are packing a bag, while Stitches and Sera watch, the later armed and dressed in her travelling armour.
“We kinda run on ‘shite’ ideas.” Krem says. “Actually this isn’t that terrible for us.”
“Dalish.” Stitches has his arms crossed, looking almost bored of the whole affair. “Remember what happened the LAST time you frolicked with spirits?”
“I won’t be frolicking this time.” Dalish argues as Krem helps the sack onto her back, and then hands her her ‘bow’.
“What’s going on here?” The Iron Bull says loudly.
“Chief.” Krem says. “Were heading back to the fountain of youth.”
“The Vir Da’len .” Dalish and Sera both say together.
“To do what?”
“Well me and Sera are going to sit on a rock and hope we don’t have to kill Dalish today.” Krem indicates Dalish with a nod. “And she is going to take a nap.”
“A nap?” Bull narrows his eye.
“I am going to SEE if the fade spirits around the Vir Da’len can tell me anything about how it works.”
“Told you it was a shite idea.” Sera mutters. “Fucking demons. I’m only going because Stitch can’t fire his OWN bow right now.”
“Knackered my hand in training.” The healer holds up the bandaged hand. “Blame Skinner.”
“We’re only there IN CASE the demons get involved, Sera.” Krem says. “Dalish is a powerful mage....”
“Archer” Dalish says.
“...archer. She should be fine.”
“And only HALF the camp exploded last time.” Dalish argues.
Cullen’s voice is raised. “Do you two even KNOW what a mage…”
“Archer...looks like when they are possessed?”
“They glow like.” Sera says. “All coloured veins and stuff.”
“They glow.” Cullen says under his breath, and looks up at the sky. “Let me get my things.”
“What? You’re coming with us?” Sera asks.
“Well SOMEONE on the ‘let’s ask the demons’ mission should probably have Templar training.” Cullen is already heading back towards his room.
“Bring a chess board, Commander.” Krem calls.
“Chief taught me.”
“Did he now?” Cullen looks at the Qunari, and then back at Krem. “You’re young. There’s still hope for you.”
“Hey.” The Iron Bull moans, albeit while chuckling.
Dalish drops the sack again, and sits on the ground beside it while looking up at Stitches and Sera. After a moment, Cole drifts over to them, and it isn’t long before Dorian is the centre of attention in the group as Stitches pulls funny faces at the toddler, making him giggle.
“So.” Bull nudges Krem with his elbow, which nearly sends the younger man flying. “How was your evening with the Magister?”
“We just talked, Chief.”
“Talking. Is that what it’s called now?”
“Yes. Two people sat at a table, eating food, drinking wine and talking.”
“Nah. Conversation makes the food go cold.” Bull crosses his arms. “You’re good though?”
“Yeah.” Krem nods. “I mean, never thought I’d be having dinner and drinks with a magister, but it was good.”
The Iron Bull nods, and then lowers his tone, eye stern. “You look after the girls in that cave, you hear?”
Krem taps his forehead with his fingers in a small salute, and nods as The Iron Bull pats his shoulder.
“Cole.” Bull says louder. “Let’s go find Dorian some food.” He turns back to the group. “Behave yourselves for Cullen, you three.”
“Behave?” Dalish shakes her head. “Now sir, that would just be boring.”
It is lunchtime when The Iron Bull and Cole enter the Rotunda, Dorian in Cole’s arms. Solas, Maevaris, Varric and The Inquisitor are already there, stood in a circle.
“Are we ready?” Solas asks.
“Any chance of the rest of us hearing the plan, here?” Varric asks.
Solas holds up a sending crystal. “The technique will create a dreamscape.” He explains. “Think of it as a mini-fade, perhaps. And that fade will be populated with memories. We will guide it towards Dorian’s. Whoever walks through it will witness those memories, and their experience will be stored within this crystal.”
“Well that’s me out then.” Varric says.
“On the contrary. While dwarves may not dream naturally, this spell should allow you to experience the memories as well as the rest of us.”
“And there I was hoping to sit out of the creepy shit.”
“It is best that multiple people enter the dreamscape.” Maevaris says. “So we can see different angles of a memory.”
“Perhaps one of us SHOULD stay awake, though.” The Inquisitor says. “To monitor.”
“I will.” Maevaris says, taking the sending crystal from Solas.
“I’ll stay awake too.” The Iron Bull says, looking at Maevaris. “I stand on your right, and we’re a full field of vision.
Maevaris chuckles at the joke.
Solas shakes his head. “Actually, it is best that you accompany us, The Iron Bull. You know Dorian better than anyone else. We will need your mind to build the Dreamscape we require.”
“What could possibly go wrong.” The Inquisitor grins as The Iron Bull turns to look at them, smiling.
Solas turns to Cole. “Cole, please hand me Dorian.”
“No.” Cole shakes his head, stepping back.
“Kid, we discussed this.”
Cole’s eyes are frantic as he looks at Bull. “Not here. The Library is comfort, a home from home.”
“Cole?” Varric steps forward, and Cole takes another step back.
“If he hurts here he’ll lose that. It will burn. I...it needs to be somewhere that can go away afterwards.”
Solas raises his hand, stalling Cole’s rant.
“My quarters then.” He says, gently. “I can’t see Dorian ever having any reason to go there.”
Solas’s quarters prove to be a large and comfortable set of rooms similar in layout to the ones lived in by The Iron Bull, Dorian and Cole. The walls are brightly painted with murals depicting elven stories and culture, and candles provide lighting as Solas gently tucks Dorian into the huge nest of pillows and blankets that serve as the bed.
“There we are Da’len.”
“Cole is right there.”
“Other Cole?” Solas looks at The Iron Bull.
“One of Krem’s stuffed nugs.” Bull explains. “We left it at home.”
“Well then.” Solas thinks for a moment, before going to the far corner of his room, looking through a cupboard. He returns with a strange stuffed toy, that seems to depict a dog to Bull’s eye.
“This was given to me by the family of a sickly child I once helped.” Solas explains as he hands the toy to Dorian. “The wolf is my favourite creature. Because he values family above all else. He will do ANYTHING for his people.”
“Like a hero?” Dorian says as he hugs the wolf to his chest
“Yes.” Solas nods, before moving to one side to make room for Cole as he sits next to the toddler.
“You have to sleep now.” Cole swallows. “This potion will help. Here you are.” He bites his bottom lip as he helps Dorian drink the potion, and then hums. Once the toddler is asleep, Cole lays down beside him, an arm draped over the toddler as he himself settles to sleep.
“We should act quickly.” Maevaris says, setting the sending crystal next to where Dorian and Cole are laying. “Find somewhere you can lay down.”
Everyone grabs a pillow, and chooses their spot on the floor.
Maevaris kneels down next to Varric. “Try not to shoot any magrallen this time, darling.”
“One mistake.” Varric shakes his head, before settling down. After a moment, he can hear the crystal starting to sing.
“Iron Bull, be thinking of what Dorian told you.” Solas is saying. “His retelling of the blood magic ritual.”
Varric opens his eyes. “Hey, when do we…”
And then darkness.
The Inquisitor, Solas, Varric and The Iron Bull find themselves standing in a small room, stocked with various potions and alchemy ingredients. The air is warm, and smells of spice.
“Fascinating.” The Inquisitor says. “It feels as real as the room we fell asleep in.”
Solas nods. “Dreamscapes do.”
“Hey, where’s Cole?” Varric looks around.
“Kid?” The Iron Bull calls, but there is no answer.
“Solas? Could Cole’s being a spirit mean he can’t access the dreamscape like this?”
Solas shakes his head. “We’ve accessed them with him before, Inquisitor. Perhaps our Magister friend is using a different approach to my own.”
“And perhaps we’ll learn more if we open the cupboard.” Varric suggests.
They now find themselves in a large, but dark basement. There is still no sign of Cole, but they are not alone in the room.
The woman has Dorian’s eyes, long black hair falling to her waist. She is dressed in a simple white dress, her hands folded at her waist as she watches her husband and son enter the room.
Dorian is as good as unconscious as Halward drags him to the painted circle in the middle of the room, tying his hands to the altar with metal cuffs, and then stepping back.
Dorian’s head falls back onto the altar, eyes rolling. He’s barely there.
“Maker’s breath.” Varric whispers.
“Well done, Bull.” Solas says. “Everyone spread out. We must see as much as possible.”
Aquienea, Dorian’s Mother, steps back away from the circle, watching as Halward begins the spell, a knife in his hand.
“Dorian.” She says, her voice stern. “I know you fear, but trust your father. This will help you to be happy.”
“Bastards.” The Iron Bull shouts, unheard by the vision they are all seeing.
Dorian sits up slightly, pulling at his restraints but unable to break free. He panics, pulling harder, trying to force his hands through the restraints against the pain this causes. But there is no give.
“Don’t struggle, Dorian.” Halward says, before continuing his chant.
“Shit, we’re making him relive this.” Varric says.
“Focus, Varric.” Solas says, quietly.
The main door into the room vibrates, violently knocked from the other side.
The circle starts to glow around Dorian.
The door SHATTERS open, and a second woman runs in, grabbing Halward by the arm.
“No, I will not let you do this. No!” The elvish woman cries out as Halward strikes her, falling to the ground. She pushes herself back up as Halward prepares the knife, ready to cut into his own hand.
The elf rushes him again, and out of instinct Halward holds his hands up defensively.
The elf’s eyes widen, she gasps, bottom lip trembling slightly as she slumps.
The blade has pierced her heart.
“No!” Dorian screams, looking away for a moment before turning back, eyes wide as the elf falls to the ground, dead before she hits the stone.
“Halward?” Aquienea cries out.
The elf’s blood pours onto the circle, and the glow intensifies. There is a crack like thunder in the room, and Halward steps back, resuming his chant.
Dorian is clearly in shock as he lays against the altar, no longer struggling, eyes fixed on the elf as the glowing continues around him.
The Iron Bull tries to get closer to Dorian, but The Inquisitor stops him.
“We’re not really here, Bull.” They shout over the noise in the room. “It’s happened. We can’t stop it happening.” They grit their teeth as they look at Dorian.
The circle is blue with veil fire now, and Dorian resumes his struggle against the bindings, shouting curses and spells of his own but unable to cast them. A nullification, Solas realises.
Dorian screams as he crushes his own hand to try and force it through the cuff.
And the air grows dark above them,
Halward continues to chant.
Aquienea watches, silent. Seeming unmoved safe for a single tear on her cheek.
And Dorian’s eyes open to a green light. Light pours from his mouth as he screams, his veins now green themselves as the light flows through them. With inhuman strength he shatters the chains holding the cuffs, stands, green eyes focused on Halward.
“Run.” Dorian says, with both his own voice and that of a child.
“Get out of him, Demon.” Aquienea screams, opening her hand and pushing it forward as if throwing something at Dorian, and the man is thrown backwards, landing on the ground. The light seems to leave him for a moment, forming as a cloud against his back. Then it forces its way back in, and Dorian’s eyes glow again.
And Dorian is running.
“Dorian!” Aquienea and Halward both shout, pursuing him only for Dorian to throw fire behind him despite the nullification, stalling them and giving him enough time to ascend the stairs with impossible speed and burst through the outer door.
The dream moves around the group and they are in the gardens of the mansion house, Dorian still running.
Now the woods outside, far from the settlement, surrounded by stars and silence and safety as Dorian collapses to the ground, shivering. Still in shock.
His eyes are still green.
“Solas!” The Inquisitor is whispering, as if afraid of attracting attention. “How can Dorian be an abomination?”
“He isn’t.” Solas shakes his head. “I would know. The spirit must of left him.”
And the scene changes again, a small bedroom, most likely a tavern. Laid on the bed, Dorian closes his eyes for a moment, and then opens both them and his mouth. The green light intensifies and he seems to breath out the spirit, the cloud forming to the shape of a human child.
Solas and The Iron Bull both gasp.
“That’s why they have such a bond.” Solas whispers.
“Elgara.” Dorian whispers. “He killed her. I should...” He starts to rise up, anger in his voice. “I won’t LET him…”
“Forget.” The spirit speaks in its childlike voice, and Dorian collapses back down, passing out.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t save her. The knife was too fast, he wasn’t planning it.” The spirit rests its hand on Dorian’s chest. “I helped you. And she’s in here. Sleep now. I’ll watch you. I’ll keep you safe. And tomorrow you will be stronger. You will find a new safe.”
The spirit sits back on the bed beside Dorian, knees against its chest as it looks around, keeping watch over the mage.
“Well that doesn’t make sense.” Varric says.
“What?” The Inquisitor turns to the dwarf.
“I don’t claim to be an expert on this dreamscape shit, but I’m pretty sure people don’t make memories while they’re passed out. So why are we still seeing stuff?”
“Because these are not Dorian’s memories.” Solas says, kneeling down so he is eye level with the spirit.
“They’re Compassion’s.” Bull shakes his head in disbelief, even as he speaks. “They’re Cole’s.”
Chapter 8: Grief
(Please note new tags)
Cole has discarded his hat and coat in favour of the hooded shirt that Vivienne refuses to admit to getting him for his birthday. The hood is pulled forward, hiding his face slightly, and his hands are buried in the pockets.
“Uh-oh.” He hears the adult Dorian say in his head. “We’re wearing our ‘bad day’ shirt, are we?" His eyes close, and he thinks he can feel Dorian’s arms wrap around him, the way they would have done.
He opens his eyes, letting the world back in. He is sat on the floor of Bull and Dorian’s bedroom, watching Dorian playing with his wooden duck, Felix, on the floor in front of him.
“A ducky.” The toddler had found it in the bedside table a while ago. “Can I play with this, please?”
“Of course you can.” Cole had said, smiling. “It’s yours.”
Dorian moves the duck up into Cole’s line of sight, and then sits back, waiting for the other boy to push the duck back towards him. Cole nods, and then does so.
Dorian’s lip trembles. “Why are you sad?”
“I’m not sad because of you, Dorian.” Cole says, quietly. “I like watching you play and being happy.”
“Is there a bad thing that you need to go away?” Dorian pushes the duck towards Cole. “Iron Bull says that that’s what heroes do. I want to be a hero.”
Cole nods, fighting back tears. “You will be.”
“Can you show me how to help people?”
“Will that make you happy? Helping people?”
Dorian nods. “Yeah.”
“Then we can do that.” Cole nods. “But first you need to learn how to listen.” He pats the floor in front of him.
“Listen?” The toddler obediently sits down.
“We have to sit quietly, and listen and watch, and wait for the world to tell us where people need us to help.” Cole takes a deep breath, and closes his eyes.
Dorian does the same, but it isn’t long before he starts to fidget. “How long for?”
“For as long as it takes.”
Dorian fidgets some more, then reaches for the duck, running it backwards and forwards across the floor.
“You can’t listen to the world if you’re listening to the duck.”
“The world doesn’t talk.” Dorian argues.
“Everything talks. You just need to know how to listen. They don’t always make sounds the way other things make sounds. Sometimes they speak in different ways.” Cole leans forward. “I didn’t tell you that I was sad, but you knew anyway. Because the tears spoke to you without words.”
Dorian pushes the duck towards Cole. “Will playing make you happy again?”
“Yes, it will.” Cole nods. “So you’re helping me. Being a hero is as easy as that.”
Dorian smiles, before looking over his shoulder at the sound of knocking.
The Iron Bull smiles.
“You don’t need to knock.” Cole says, quietly. “You live here.”
“It’s called being polite.” The Iron Bull looks at Dorian. “It’s important to be polite, isn’t it Da’len.”
“I’ve got a surprise for you.” The Iron Bull says, kneeling in front of Dorian. “Close your eyes.”
Dorian does so, holding out his hands.
The Iron Bull chuckles. “Not something small, kid.” He taps Dorian’s hands. “I’m going to pick you up, okay?”
Dorian nods, and The Iron Bull picks him up, holding him against his shoulder with one arm while his other hand rests against Cole’s back, leading him towards the door. “Keep your eyes closed, Dorian.”
“What’s his surprise?” Cole asks.
“You’ll see.” The Iron Bull smiles as they step outside, and then travel across Skyhold to the Stables.
“Here we are, Da’len.” He lowers Dorian to the ground, and he opens his eyes to find himself standing next to a small, fully tacked horse.
Dorian’s mouth opens wide in wonder, and he starts to bounce with excitement.
“Right then, lad.” Master Dennet kneels down next to Dorian, putting the small hat he is carrying on toddler’s head and securing it. “That’s to stop you hurting your head if you fall off.” He says, gently knocking his closed fist against the hard material, before lifting Dorian up and placing him in the saddle of the taslin strider.
The horse master walks around, putting Dorian’s feet in the stirrups. “You hold on tight now.” He taps the saddle. “Ready?”
“Yes.” Dorian says. Taking hold of the lead, Dennet gently clicks his tongue at the horse, and she starts to follow him out into the yard.
As the horse passes The Iron Bull, the Qunari smiles as he notices the way that the now transfixed Dorian is gently resting a hand on the fur in front of him.
As an adult, Dorian had shown an above average knowledge of horses, certainly, but The Iron Bull is only now seeing the love he clearly has for the animals. He finds himself wondering if maybe Dorian just grew out of that over time, or more likely if he had been discouraged from expressing it. Perhaps a love of horses was seen as too efeminate or some other stupid shit. Forced out of him with punishments and sharp words.
Bull is fixing THAT as soon as Dorian is an adult again.
With the toddler distracted, The Iron bulls turns his attention to the other boy in his care, who he is now free to talk to.
“You doing okay, Kid?”
“Yes.” Cole nods. “Dorian is happy. And safe. He didn’t see the dreamscape. I shut him out.” Cole looks at Bull, a look on his face that looks almost guilty. “He wants to learn how to be a hero. I’m going to teach him.”
“That’s good, Kid.” Bull indicates the steps leading up to Cullen’s chambers, and encourages Cole to sit on them. Bull sits on the ground, looking up at the boy. “You never told us that you knew Dorian before?”
“I’d forgotten that I’d forgotten.” Cole waves, and The Iron Bull looks across to see Dorian waving back, smiling so much that he is practically glowing as he turns back to look at the horse.
“You painted the memories long ago.” Cole says. “Too many drinks, but never too many embraces. Dorian feels torn, stretched too far, but you hold him together so he can fall apart safely. And he tells you his story. All the stories. You imagine.” Cole shakes his head. “I needed to remember that, so that Dorian didn’t need to remember.” Cole looks down. “It would have hurt him, to remember again. To remember what I made him forget. I’m glad I was able to protect him.”
“Why?” Bull says after a moment. “Why make Dorian forget what happened to Elgara? She didn’t deserve that.”
“Her death hurt him. Would have made him go back and hurt others. She would not have wanted him to hurt more.” Cole shakes his head. “Halward didn’t mean to kill her. There was no thought until the knife was in her heart.”
“You almost sound like you’re defending the bastard.”
“Truth doesn't take sides. It is what it is.”
“Hold on tight, young man.” Dennet shouts, and Dorian nods as the horse master encourages the taslin strider into a gentle trot around the yard.
“Dorian never mentioned his Altrix.” Bull says after a moment. “Did you make him forget her completely?”
“No.” Cole shakes his head. “He remembers her living. He remembers her every day. She is the first person he ever loved. When he said that the servants took him sailing, he meant her.” Cole moves down to a lower step, closer to Bull. “He wanted to share her with you, but he was afraid.”
“You don’t like slavery.” Cole says, matter of factually. “You don’t like people who keep slaves.”
Bull closes his eye, remembering the look of pure horror on Dorian’s face as he had watched Elgara die. “She wasn’t just his slave.”
Cole looks down, reaching up to pull at his hood. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t save Elgara. The knife was too fast.”
“You saved Dorian though. Gave him the power he needed to escape.”
“Spirits often help. You remember the help, but not that it is them helping.”
“That’s...good.” Bull says, suddenly uncomfortable.
“Sorry.” Cole looks down, and trembles slightly.
“Hey?” The Iron Bull says, gently. He moves closer and rests a hand against Cole’s shoulder. “What’s getting you down, Cole? Is it Elgara?”
“I could help, when I was a spirit. I saved Dorian. And others. And I would feel their pain, but then I would forget” Cole starts to rock back and forth, and The Iron Bull lets go of his shoulder, letting him have the freedom to move. He knows how comforting the boy finds rocking like this when he’s anxious.
“I couldn’t save Cole, he was already dying.”
“You did what you could for him.” Bull says, leaning forward slightly.
“When I helped Dorian, and I could feel how scared he was. Betrayed. Hurt. His heart breaks as he watches her die...can’t breath...why is she so still...and…mother and father were hurting him...why?” He hugs himself, still rocking. “I didn’t like remembering that. I don’t want to remember. But I can’t forget like I did before. It hurts and I can’t make it stop hurting.”
Cole is against his chest before The Iron Bull has finished widening his arms in invitation, relaxing against his bulk as the Qunari strokes his head through the hood.
“What you’re feeling is called grief, Cole.” The Iron Bull explains gently. “It’s what we feel when a loved one dies.”
“I didn’t love Elgara. I didn’t know her.”
“But Dorian did. You’re feeling his emotions. His pain.”
“If I feel it, it means that he isn’t.” Cole says after a moment.
“A good parent would feel pain so their child doesn’t have too.” Bull says, giving Cole a quick squeeze. “Difference is, you actually can. That doesn’t make you being in pain a good thing, Cole, BUT it shows what a good father you are.”
Cole nods against his chest, smiling as he watches Dorian on the horse and focuses on that instead of what he’s feeling inside.
“I love him. The way Morrigan loves Kieran.”
The Iron Bull nods. “I’m fond of the little guy, too.”
“I...I should miss the real Dorian, though.” Cole shakes his head. “It’s confusing. Why don’t I grieve him.”
“You grieve for dead people, Cole. And Dorian’s not dead. He just finds it a bit harder to reach the higher shelves right now.” Bull isn’t sure who he is trying to reassure.
Pulling out of the embrace, Cole stands. “The Iron Bull, can I fall asleep by the fire tonight?”
Bull smiles, his mind suddenly flooded with memories of long, quiet evenings sat on the sofa by the fireplace, Cole curled up in his lap and slowly falling asleep in his arms. “Sure kid. We'll settle Dorian into his bed, and then you can sleep by the fire.”
Cole nods, and smiles. “A family memory.”
Bull looks round as he notices the party now standing on the other side of the yard. “I’m going to go talk to the Boss. Stay near Dorian, okay kid.”
“Right. Shall we go exploring?” Dennet slows the horse down, and leads her out of the yard, Cole quickly running across the yard to follow them.
“How we looking, Boss?” The Iron Bull says as he greets The Inquisitor.
The Inquisitor stands between Varric and Maevaris, smiling. “The memories we captured were perfect.”
“Halward has agreed with my assessment that the mysterious cause of Dorian’s condition would make bringing him to Tevinter unwise.” Maevaris nods. “He’s asked me to remain here to monitor the boy’s progress while the Inquisition investigates a cure. Which means you’re stuck having a Magister around for the time being.” She turns to the Inquisitor. “With your leave, of course.”
“We are honoured to host you.” The Inquisitor says. “Skyhold’s proximity to Fereldan should enable you to continue your work in the area.”
Maevaris nods, before turning to Varric. “Don’t worry, Varric. I’ll pay for my own room.” She taps the dwarf’s nose, before reaching into her pocket and pulling out the sending crystal holding memories of the blood magic spell. “Perhaps best that this stay with you, Inquisitor. It grants power over a high ranking member of the Magisterium. Might be useful.”
“Blackmail?” The Inquisitor crosses their arms.
“I prefer to think of it as an ongoing contract.”
“Didn’t you learn not to piss off blood mages the last time, cousin of mine?”
“If I remember correctly, it was you and your idiot friend that pissed off the blood mage, Varric.”
Varric gasps. “Did you just call the King of Ferelden an idiot?”
Smiling, The Inquisitor turns to Bull. “How’s Dorian?”
“Happy as a nug in mud.” Iron Bull indicates the toddler, who is listening intently to Dennet explain something about the horse he is riding. “Cole shut him out of the dreamscape. He didn’t see a thing.”
“We only ever saw Cole’s memories.” Varric sighs, focusing on the teenager following the horse, his feet dragging slightly.
“YOU saw them.” Maevaris says. “Your young friend RELIVED them. Poor thing. He would have felt every emotion.”
“Is he alright?” The Inquisitor asks The Iron Bull.
“He’s hurting. But he’ll bounce back.” Bull says. “I’ll keep an eye on him.” He looks at Maevaris. “He’s survived worse, believe me.”
“Yeah.” Varric nods. “Cole’s a tough kid.”
“He will have to be, to look after Dorian.”
“Nah. The kid’s no trouble.” The Iron Bull says.
“He also remains the only student in Tevinter history to be expelled from SIX Circles.”
“Sparkles, you rebel.” Varric is clearly impressed.
In the distance, a gatehouse bell chimes.
“That’s the bell to signal a member of the Inner Circle?” The Inquisitor says, confused.
“Only ones out are Curly and Sera.” Varric says. “There not due back yet.”
The group make their way to the gatehouse.
As the gate rises, it isn’t Cullen’s group that comes through.
The horse stops in the middle of the entrance, obediently following the stable hand while its rider walks through the gate behind it, pulling gloves off of his hands.
The Inquisitor smiles. “Blackwall.”
“Welcome home, Hero.” Varric says.
“Yeah.” Blackwall nods. “Home.”
“How you doing, big guy?” The Iron Bull says, accepting Blackwall’s offered hand in a firm grasp.
“Little tired from the journey, but glad to be back.” Blackwall looks past The Iron Bull, and smiles as Dennet leads the horse, and by default Cole, over to the gatehouse.
“Master Dennet.” Blackwall greets the horse master with a polite nod. “And Cole. Didn’t recognise you without that bloody hat.”
Cole takes a hesitant step forward, then another, before rushing at Blackwall and hugging him. “Thom.”
“Alright, hey. I missed you, lad.” He keeps one arm around Cole, not wanting to be the one that ends the embrace. “I met some old friends of yours, up near Denerim. They wrote this for you.” He uses his other hand to reach into his pocket, pulling out a folded letter and handing it to the boy.
Cole steps back, Blackwall’s hands on each of his shoulders as he opens the letter. “It’s from Rhys and Evangeline.” He looks at The Iron Bull. “The Templar, not my crossbow.”
“I figured.” Bull nods, smiling.
Blackwall looks at Dorian. “And who's your little friend up there?”
Bull sucks the air through his teeth as, out of the corner of his eye, he looks at the toddler on the horse. “THAT is a story you need to be sat down for.”
“Blackwall...Thom…um...” Varric shrugs, and turns to the woman stood beside him. “My cousin’s widow, Mae Tilani.”
“An honour, ma’am. And either name is fine.”
“The honour and pleasure is all mine, Warden, I’m sure.” Maevaris widens her smile as Varric playfully swats at her side. “Dorian mentioned you in his letters. Not ALWAYS kindly.”
Blackwall laughs. “I’m sure everything he said was true, Ma’am.”
“Are you hungry, Blackwall?”
“Inquisitor, I could eat a druffalo whole.” Blackwall says, sighing.
“Are you a hero?” Dorian asks from where he is sat on the horse, looking Blackwall up and down.
Blackwall chuckles. “I’m a Grey Warden, Lad. Thom Rainier. People call me Blackwall.” He offers the toddler his hand and, after quickly looking at Cole to see his nod, Dorian accepts the handshake.
“And what’s your name?”
Blackwall looks from the toddler to The Iron Bull.
“Like Bull said.” The Inquisitor shrugs. “You should probably be sat down.”
The next time the gatehouse bell chimes, it is Varric who is standing in waiting.
“Well.” He widens his arms. “Archer is still alive, so I’m guessing it wasn't demons.”
“Darkspawn”. Cullen says, exhaustion clear in his voice as he leads the bedraggled group through the gate. “Only a small band, but enough to make the last hours interesting.”
“No.” Krem pats the Commander on the shoulder. “Nothing we couldn’t handle.”
Cullen indicates Krem with a nod. “I’m taking him to a healer.”
“That ogre THREW you into a rock, Cremisius. You’re seeing a healer.”
“You are worse than BULL.” Krem complains as Cullen literally grabs the Vint by his collar and starts dragging him towards the tents.
“Oh, and Dalish had a go with my bow.” Sera shakes her head. “She’s not an archer.”
“Am so.” Dalish shouts. “My technique is different. Honed over generations of dalish hunting and warfare to form a method that you wouldn’t understand...”
As Dalish is talking, Sera silently mouths along with the sentence, before rolling her eyes.
“Did you find a cure?” Varric asks.
“What?” Dalish raises her finger as realisation dawns. “Oh right, that.” She nods. “I was right. It’s temporary. Ten days or so, then nipper falls asleep and wakes up his adult self.”
“Just need to wait it out.” Sera says, smiling.
“Bull and the others will be happy to hear that.” Varric nods, and smiles. “You girls want to be the one that delivers the good news?”
“No". Dalish points at the Herald's Rest. "I want to be the one sat in THAT tavern with a pint of Cabot’s best.”
“And I promised to meet Dagna in the Undercroft for...um…” Sera giggles, and winks at Varric. “You deliver the news, Storyteller.”
The dwarf chuckles as Dalish plants a kiss on his head, and then turns to watch the two elves disappear in their various directions.
Varric makes his way across Skyhold, a smile on his face that only widens when he sees Cole and Dorian sat on the steps leading up to their building, Cole whispering something into Dorian’s ear.
The door opens across from them, and a frail lady steps out, laundry in her arms. She is haggard, eyes puffy from crying. Varric recognises her. Her boys had been soldiers in the army, HAD being the key word. Losing both sons to the same battle, her only comfort is that they died together. Not alone.
Varric watches as Dorian slowly approaches the woman, and holds up a piece of paper. “I drew this for you. It’s a picture of a cat. Because you like cats.”
“I do.” The woman puts down her laundry basket, and smiles as she accepts the drawing. “It’s lovely. Thank you, little one.”
Dorian smiles back, and then runs back to Cole, who nods as he picks the toddler up, holding him tight.
“Good boy.” He hears Cole whisper. “You helped her to smile.”
“I helped someone. Just like you?”
“No, not just like me.” Cole points at Dorian’s chest. “Just like you." He hugs Dorian closer. "I love you.”
Dorian giggles as he leans into Cole’s hug, letting the older boy rock him.
And Varric can’t do it. He thinks it must show on his face as The Iron Bull appears on the steps, giving the dwarf a concerned look.
Varric has to now be the one to tell Cole that in a few short days, the child in his arms will be gone.
Chapter 9: Vivienne
It has been two weeks since the demon attack, and Cole is curled up on the sofa, dressed in his sleeping clothes. He has the blanket from his bed covering him, and his head is rested on Dorian’s shoulder as the mage quietly reads out loud, following the words with his finger on the page so Cole can see which word is being read.
Cole isn’t really concentrating, and he thinks that Dorian knows that, but he reads out loud anyway, and just having the sound of his voice, and the gentle brushing of his fingers against the paper, is enough for Cole. It keeps him anchored, gives him something to listen to that isn’t his own thoughts.
There is a gentle knock at the door, and Dorian carefully stands, placing a pillow and encouraging the boy to curl up onto his side.
He smiles at the teenager, and then goes to answers the door.
“Dorian.” Vivienne says as the front door opens. “I came to return the book you lent me.”
“Already?” Dorian asks as he accepts the book. “Not to your liking?”
“Oh, on the contrary, my dear. I couldn’t put it down.” Vivienne indicates the book with a nod. “It was, as you promised, a most fascinating account of Ameridan and the first Inquisition. I was hoping to be able to enjoy your company this afternoon to compare our thoughts.”
“I’m sorry, Vivienne.” Dorian sighs. “Normally I would love to, but the chargers have been summoned to a mission with Leliana, and I don’t want to leave poor Cole by himself.”
Vivienne looks past Dorian into the room, and sees Cole as he lays on the sofa.
“Well, I am sure that your home is as good as any place for a discussion?”
Smiling, Dorian steps aside, inviting her in with a sweep of his arm.
Vivienne nods as she looks around. “Not as extravagant as I was expecting from you, Dorian. Don’t tell me that our Qunari friend is calming your tastes?”
“Calming them? Have you seen the man’s trousers?” Dorian grins. “We just haven’t worked on this room yet. We’ve been concentrating on Cole’s bedroom, haven’t we?” He looks at the teenager, who nods. “Solas has just finished a lovely mural on the far wall.”
“Well, may I?” Vivienne doesn’t wait for an answer before she opens the door to Cole’s room, stepping inside and looking in the direction of the mural.
“Impressive.” She looks back at Dorian. “Who would have thought that an ‘unwashed apostate hobo’ could be so schooled in the arts.”
Dorian chuckles. “Tea?”
“Thank you.” She says as she steps back into the main room.
Cole doesn’t move or speak, even when Dorian’s hand pats his arm as he walks past. Cole knows that Vivienne doesn’t like him. But Dorian likes her, and he wants Dorian to be happy and to spend time with his friend.
He deserves it. He has been forced to look after Cole all day.
Cole doesn’t have the energy to move, or he would hide in his room.
He closes his eyes.
“Did you have a favourite part of the book?”
“I found the chapter on Kordillus Drakon’s formation of the Chantry to be particularly interesting.”
“Ah yes.” Dorian nods, smiling as he talks with Vivienne.
Cole feels something touch his hair, and he flinches slightly, only to relax when no pain comes from it. It is warm, tingly in a way, as it begins to stroke back and forth and back and forth, parting his hair slightly as it moves through the messy locks. Then it moves down to his arm, tracing along the skin under the sleeve of his shirt, feeling like a feather moving up and down and up and down in such a tender manner that Cole can’t help but relax as he focuses on the sensation. He opens his eyes, expecting to find Dorian in front of him, but both mages are stood on the corner of the room, Dorian using his magic to heat some water for their tea.
Vivienne is turned towards Dorian, still talking with him about the book. Her arms are crossed, and the hand facing Cole is...waving? Sweeping from side to side in perfect time with the gentle touch of magic on his arm. Up and down.
Up and down.
“Cole, would you like a cup?” Dorian looks at him.
Cole nods and, with a small gesture from Vivienne, the warm sensation moves down his arm to his hand, wrapping around it.
Having enjoyed an evening of wine and conversation with Maevaris and Josephine, Vivienne steps out of the keep just as it is starting to snow. Grimacing at the inconvenience of the weather, she turns and decides to make the larger part of her journey home through The Keep itself, making her way down to walk through the kitchens.
She expects the area to be empty this time of night, but it is not.
“I should do this bit, Dorian.” Cole is saying. “You can do this when you are older, but you have to watch for now. Otherwise it will be dangerous and hurt, like the fire.”
Sat cross legged on the kitchen table, the toddler watches as the teenager cuts into the pumpkin he is holding, slowly removing the lid and then placing the pumpkin between them.
“Eugh.” Dorian scrunches up his face as he picks at the pulp with his fingers. “It’s icky.”
“Use the spoons.”
Vivienne clears her throat. “Aren’t you up past your bedtime?”
Cole isn’t sure if she is talking to Dorian, or to himself.
“We’re borrowing a pumpkin.”
Vivienne gives the toddler a half smile. “And why are you borrowing a pumpkin in the middle of the night?”
“We’re helping.” Dorian smiles.
Cole, who is wearing his hooded shirt, turns to look in Vivienne’s direction. “We’re going to throw it on the fire in Cullen’s room.”
Vivienne narrows her eyes. “I’m not sure I want to ask?”
“It will smell.” The toddler looks at the mage. “Like Honley during harvest festival.”
“Honnleath.” Cole corrects, while scooping the pulp into a bowl. “And that will make him think of home. Thinking of home will make him happy.”
“I see.” Vivienne shrugs, having long ago given up on trying to understand Cole’s unique approach to reality. “I suppose you have a plan to distract the Commander while you do this?”
Cole shakes his head. “He’s sleeping.” He looks at Dorian as he gathers the pulp and pumpkin shell. “We will need to be really quiet.”
“Shhh.” Dorian holds his finger to his lips, and Cole nods. The toddler climbs down from the table, following his Guardian out into the night.
They move quickly to the steps leading up to Cullen’s quarters, Cole letting Dorian take the lead as they climb. They stop at the door, Cole crouching down to pick the lock quickly and then, a finger to his lips, quietly opening the door to let Dorian inside, before following him.
As the only adult present, Vivienne SHOULD stop them. But she doesn’t. Instead she stands under the bridge archway, shaking her head as the boys emerge, sans pumpkin pieces.
“We did it.” Dorian says, smiling.
Vivienne looks up, grimacing as the snow begins to fall in ernest, ‘trapping’ them under the archway. She clicks her fingers, making a small barrier to keep the worst of the weather off the three of them, and Dorian gasps.
“Are you a mage?”
“I am the First Enchanter of Montsimmard.”
“So you can throw fire?”
“I prefer ice.”
Dorian shivers, pressing himself at Cole’s side as he looks up at her. “I don’t like ice.”
Vivienne widens her eyes. “Well then perhaps your guardian shouldn’t be standing out here in the snow with you.”
Cole picks Dorian up, holding the toddler close.
“I’m going to be a mage when I grow up.” Dorian says, before shivering. “I’m cold, Cole.”
Cole nods, and hugs him close.
Vivienne sighs, wondering how in the Maker’s name she has wound up in this situation. She then raises her hands, and produces a small ball of warm flame.
Dorian giggles, clapping as the ball raises, spinning slightly in the air above them. Then it grows, and small blue flames dance across the orange surface.
Vivienne takes the ball back between her hands, holding it between herself and the boys, so that it works as a source of warmth.
Dorian reaches for the ball, only for Cole to grab his hand. “You mustn’t touch fire.”
“Sorry.” Dorian says, quietly.
“Vivienne can because she is a mage. Like you will be when you grow up.”
“Will you teach me?”
Vivienne considers this for a moment. “If it comes to that?”
“I like you.” Dorian smiles. “You’re nice.”
“Clearly your judgement of character developed later in life.” Vivienne says, an amused tone in her voice.
Cole laughs quietly, before silencing and looking away when Vivienne makes eye contact.
The snow lightens slightly, and Vivienne drops her barrier spell, her mana draining.
“Cole?” The Iron Bull’s voice is followed by the man himself, entering the yard. He’s carrying what looks like one of the adult Dorian’s travelling cloaks, which he quickly wraps around both the teenager and the toddler is his arms. “Should have told me that you were going to run off like that, kid. I’ve been looking all over.”
“You were talking to Varric.” Cole argues. “We went to help people. We helped the washer woman to smile, put honey in Leliana’s wine, and left apples in the Chantry schoolroom where the orphans will find them.” Cole smiles. “And Cullen will dream of home tonight.”
He looks at Vivienne. “You think of home, sometimes Vivienne. Even though you were very young when you left. You remember running through the streets, the smell of the boats as they unloaded the days catch.”
“Out of my head, Demon.”
“And if you ever put fish in my fireplace, I will put serpents in your bed.”
“But I don’t want serpents in my bed.”
“Then we have an agreement.”
“Are the horses cold?” Dorian says, peering out from under the cloak to look on the direction of the stable.
“No.” The Iron Bull shakes his head. “They’re hardy breeds. And Dennet will have given them coats.”
“Come on, we can go see them.” Cole says. “Then you will be able to see that they are warm.” Cole moves quickly as he carries the toddler over to the stable.
The Iron Bull can’t help the fond smile as he watches them disappear into the building.
“So.” Vivienne smiles, and points at the keep. “I met Sera on her way to meet her precious Arcanist.”
The Iron Bull hums his acknowledgement.
“She told me that Varric had some news for you.”
Bull’s face falls. “Yes.”
“It IS good news?”
“Of course. We’re getting Dorian back.” Bull sighs. “I’m getting my Dorian back.”
Vivienne’s mouth forms a thin line. “You haven’t told Cole, have you?”
“He...I will, just not yet. He’s had a big day. And...I think he’s already set for a couple of nightmares tonight. Just, let him...”
“Let him believe that he is going to get to raise his beloved child?”
The Iron Bull steps back. “I’ll tell him later.”
“Will you?” Vivienne shakes her head. “It’s understandable. The creature exists to aid others, and Dorian’s condition has given him a helpless infant to mollycoddle. It’s like giving a mabari a ball. A sickeningly cute ball.”
Bull smiles. “He is a cute ankle biter, isn’t he.”
“Would Dorian’s childhood coming to an end not be easier on the creature if he is given time to emotionally prepare?”
The Iron Bull nods as the snow finally lessens, and looks down. “I just. I can’t risk him getting sick again. He’s doing so well, and…”
Vivienne looks away for a moment, then turns back and taps his shoulder gently. “Have you thought of a party?”
“A party?” He turns to look at her.
“Of course. I assume that you want to make Dorian’s last few days of childhood as happy as possible. And what little child doesn’t love being spoilt rotten by presents and cakes?”
“Yeah.” The Iron Bull chuckles. “Yeah. He’d love that.”
“As, I’m sure, would your favourite demon.” She reaches out from under the arch, confirming that the air is now dry. “Good evening.”
Bull watches her leave, and then turns back to the stable in time to see Dorian rush out, squealing with delight as Cole chases him across the yard, both laughing.
The Iron Bull will tell Cole later. He will. Just...not tonight. Not tonight.
The Iron Bull darts forward as Dorian slips on the damp stone, but Cole’s rogue abilities as good a teleport him to the spot first, grabbing the tiny boy. He lifts the toddler up, and Dorian laughs as Cole spins him round.
By the time they get back to their rooms, Dorian is fast asleep against Cole’s shoulder, and the worry is clear on Cole’s face.
“What’s wrong, kid?”
“I don’t want to wake him. But he can’t sleep in his day clothes.”
“Nah, that’s easy. I mean, it’s probably easy.” The Iron Bull shrugs. “Me and Stitches did this with Krem once, when the idiot got drunk as a skunk outside Denerim.”
“What’s a skunk?”
“VERY drunk.” The Iron Bull beckons Cole into the bedroom now serving as Dorian’s, and pulls the blanket back on the bed. “Not much difference between a sleepy Vint and a drunk Vint.” He tenderly pats the sleeping Dorian’s head. “Just sit him down. Nice a gentle.”
Cole does so, sitting behind Dorian so that the child is leant against him.
“Lift his arms up, Cole.” The Iron Bull speaks with a quiet voice, waiting for Cole to comply and then slowly removing Dorian’s coat, then his shirt. That done, he reaches for the long sleeping shirt, slipping it over the toddler, before removing his trousers. “There, see. Kid didn’t even flinch. Tuck him in.”
Cole does so, stroking Dorian’s hair as he watches him sleep. “Can you teach me, The Iron Bull?”
“It’s not magic, Cole. You’ve just got to be gentle.”
“Oh.” Cole nods. “Gentle. Like a feather falling in the wind.”
“Um...yeah.” Bull nods. “Just like that.”
“Do you think his Altrix did this?”
The Qunari nods, taking a breath before looking back at Cole. “You still hurting from what you saw in the Dreamscape?”
“His Altrix should be here. She didn’t deserve to die the way she did.”
“She died protecting her son, kid. Alright not her real son...”
“Blood makes the body function. Emotions make it alive.”
“Varric tell you that?”
“Maryden.” Cole says as he follows The Iron Bull into the main room.
The Qunari nods. “His Altrix died protecting her son, Cole. Might not be what she deserved, but is what she would have wanted.”
Cole nods. “It hurt Dorian, watching her die.”
“And you’re feeling that hurt.”
“But he isn’t.” Cole smiles. “I can focus on that. A blanket to hide the hurt.”
The Qunari shakes his head. “Not a good idea Cole.” He kneels down in front of the boy. “You hide the hurt, you’re just leaving it to grow. Better to confront it, feel it. We can sleep by the fire, like you wanted.”
“But you’re hurting too.” Cole says. “Because your Dorian is gone. I...but you’re not hurting?”
‘Shit ’ Thinks Bull.
“Hey. We need to talk.” Bull says, his voice light. “Vivienne suggested we have a party for Dorian.” Bull smiles. “Like the birthday party we had for you. Just celebrating him and how special he is to us. We could have it in the tavern.”
“In the morning, so he can have breakfast again as well?”
“Yes.” Bull nods. “We can all meet for breakfast, and we can all make him feel loved.”
Cole nods, then hugs himself. “I want to give him happy memories. Teach him right and wrong. That he is right, not wrong. And no anger or pain. No punishments. Just play and comfort and pride and let him become an adult but without hurt.”
Bull puts a hand on Cole’s shoulder.
“And safe.” Cole says. “I want him to feel safe. No winters.”
“He’s tucked up warm under his blanket, Cole.” Bull smiles. “And he fell asleep in your arms. And Cullen’s as well.” He tightens his grip on Cole’s shoulder. “Skyhold makes him feel safe.”
“I want him to laugh.”
“Morrigan told me about your war games. Said Dorian was having a great time ‘helping’ defeat the soldiers on the war table. And you take him to the stables. He loves that. He has been laughing.”
Cole closes his eyes. “I want him to know how special he is.”
“He knows, kid.” Bull nods. “He knows.”
“I miss the real Dorian.” Cole looks away. “But...” He looks back at The Iron Bull. “You’ll hate me.”
“Part of you doesn’t want Dorian to grow up.”
“Shhh.” The Iron Bull pulls him into a hug. “You want to look after him. But Cole, when Dorian grows up, when he’s the ‘real’ Dorian again, he’ll remember all of this.”
He knows that Dorian will. Dalish had told him when Bull has cornered her in the tavern that evening, while looking for Cole.
“He’ll remember you making him laugh, making him feel safe, and making him feel special. And you can carry on doing those things. Just because he won’t be a baby anymore doesn’t mean you can’t keep on looking after him. Same way he looks after you.” Bull pushes Cole back out of the embrace, and rests a hand against the side of the boy’s face. “That was the point of us all living together like this, remember? We can look after each other.”
Cole’s jaw starts to tremble. “When?”
“That’s why you’re not hurting.” He bites his lip. “There’s a cure. It ends. This Dorian is going to end.”
The Iron Bull closes his eye, and nods. “A few days kid. He’s going to end in a few days. I’m sorry.”
Cole nods. “Yes.”
Cole nods again. “I want him to have a party.”
Chapter 10: Party
Two weeks ago, Cole rescued Sera and Dorian from the Venatori, the very agents responsible for the demon attack that had left the boy so ill.
Cole is standing in front of Varric, pale but alive, awake, conscious of the world around him. And he has asked Varric if he could have another crossbow lesson.
The dwarf has not told Cole yet, but he has hired Bianca Davri to make Cole a crossbow of his own. She says it is nearly ready, and that makes Varric wonder…
“When’s your birthday, kid?” He is reloading the crossbow Bianca as he speaks. “How old are you? I mean...were you born when the real Cole was born, or when you did that weird body making shit in the dungeon. You might only be five.”
“Leliana found the chantry records.” Cole says, digging into the ground with the toe of his boot. “Cole was born in Cloudreach 9:22 Dragon. And Elizabeth, Bunny.” He smiles. “Bunny was born in Kingsway 9:28 dragon.”
“Nice.” He smiles. “You got a surname?”
Cole shakes his head. “It was father’s name. He didn’t want to belong to his father. Witchford is not his name anymore, he didn’t want it. But Cole. Momma gave him that. He remembers. She said it was her father’s name. And Elizabeth was her mother’s. It means love. Family. She gave them all she could give.”
Varric puts Bianca on a bench, and crosses his arms. “Never heard you talk about your mother before?”
“She’s not a person to me.” He points at his head. “She’s images. Flashes. A voice. She died when Cole and Bunny were young, and...it hurt to remember her so they didn’t.”
Varric looks down.
“So, is your birthday when Cole’s was? In Cloudreach.”
“No.” Cole shakes his head. “That was HIS day, not mine. It should be HIM we celebrate on that day, not me.”
Varric nods. “Well, what day did you become him in the dungeon?”
“I don’t know.”
Varric sighs. “So you don’t know when YOUR birthday is?”
Cole shakes his head. “I don’t want to be five though. Five year olds shouldn’t play with crossbows.”
Varric nods, and looks Cole up and down. “Eighteen it is.”
And very soon, he thinks as the plan forms in the back of his mind, Cole will be turning nineteen.
The entire Inner Circle is in on the plan, and they pick a date. Soon, The Iron Bull is leading Cole into the tavern and into his first ever ‘birthday’ party. The festivities last the entire afternoon, with gifts, music and food and laughter and even dancing.
Towards the end of the evening, Cole feels the familiar exhaustion creeping into his limbs, and turning his thoughts to fog. He wants to be around people, but he also wants to be alone. He sits on the table with his gifts, wearing the hooded shirt that Vivienne will never admit to having had made for him. The hood is raised, and very soon this will become a sign for Bull and Dorian. A quiet message. ‘I am hurting’.
No one is surprised when it is The Iron Bull who steps forward and takes the kid upstairs to his corner.
From where they sit, they can hear Dorian dealing a round of Diamond Back, although the game is quickly sidelined in favour of exchanging jokes and stories and lighthearted insults.
In his quiet corner, Cole has been given Candy and Grim’s daughter, Sophie, to hold. The baby is soon asleep in his arms as Cole, in turn, rests in Bull’s arms and the Qunari shields them both from the world for a while.
“It is very good, here.” Cole whispers to the baby.
Candy thanks Cole for rocking Sophie to sleep, and then takes her leave with the infant, stopping to whisper something to Grim, who smiles and kisses the sleeping baby’s forehead, then Candy’s cheek. Sitting on the floor, Cole watches them through the bars of the bannister, and he thinks Bull notices because he crouches down and rests a hand against Cole’s back. “You ready to head home too, Kid?”
“Can we stay?”
“Of course.” Bull nods. “Rest here a bit longer, then we can go back downstairs.”
Later into the evening the Chargers (after a considerable amount of alcohol) decide to have a wheelbarrow race, with Stitches holding Skinner by the ankles as she walks on her hands. Grim holds Rocky, and Krem holds Sera, and everyone cheers as they race around the tavern, before collapsing in a laughing heap by the bar.
Cole, now sitting with Dorian and Bull at one of the tables, laughs and claps.
Everyone around him is smiling. Having fun and being happy and forgetting anything bad. And Cole feels better than he thinks he has ever felt before in his life. All the despair, and pain, is a distant memory tonight.
This is Cole’s nineteenth birthday. And it is also his sixth birthday. It is his first ever birthday party, and it is perfect.
Cole looks round at the party, and spots a tiny child standing in the corner. Brown eyes, black hair, carrying the stuffed nug from Cole’s room, and the wolf toy that Solas gave him.
“Dorian?” Cole gets up from the table, leaving The Iron Bull and the adult Dorian behind. He lowers the hood of his shirt and kneels down in front of the toddler, putting a hand on his shoulder.
The toddler reaches towards him...and disintegrates into dust.
Cole screams. And the tavern is empty.
The Iron Bull is woken by the sound of Cole getting out of bed and running into Dorian’s room.
“Cole?” The Iron Bull sits up. “You alright, kid?”
“He’s gone.” Cole shouts, running across the room and looking in the washroom. “He’s gone he’s not here.” And then, pyjama clad, Cole is out the front door. “DORIAN!”
Quickly climbing out of the bed, The Iron Bull looks into the empty bedroom, the bed unmade.
“Fuck.” For the first time in his life, The Iron Bull regrets never locking the front door. “Dorian!” He shouts, stepping back into the main room, and hearing a laugh.
Growling, The Iron Bull gets down on his hands and knees, and looks under the master bed.
“Oh you FOUND me.” The toddler moans.
“Get out NOW.” Bull shouts, and the toddler flinches, scurrying further under the bed until he is pressed against the far wall.
“I was just playing hiding. Altrix likes this game.”
Bull shakes his head, reaching under the bed to grab the child and drag him out. Dorian screams, and Bull takes a deep breath to calm himself.
“I’m not going to hurt you, kid.” Bull says after a moment. “But you’ve scared Cole. We need to go find him.”
“Is he angry?”
“He’s probably going to be pissed, yeah.” Bull stands, holding the toddler against his shoulder.
“No. Will he go away?” Dorian cries, pressing his face against Bull’s shoulder as the Qunari opens the front door. “I’m sorry.”
“Cole?” The toddler flinches as Bull calls out. “Cole?” He calls again as he descends the stairs to the ground floor, stepping out into the courtyard in front of their building.
Almost as soon as he is in the courtyard, a servant tending to the flowers in the corner smiles, and points at the other side of the courtyard, where Cole is looking in bushes, calling out for Dorian.
Bull returns her fond smile, and calls out.
“Cole.” Bull gets the boy’s attention, and points to Dorian in his arms. “He was hiding under the bed.”
“I’m sorry.” Dorian cries.
Cole’s reaction hits him like a punch. His face breaks as he rushes at Bull, as good as pulling the toddler from his arms and into a hug so tight that the child squeaks. Cole’s hand runs over Dorian’s hair and back, as if trying to convince himself through touch that the toddler really is there.
“Please don’t go.” Dorian begs.
“YOU were gone.” Cole says. “You were gone.”
“I was playing hiding.” Dorian says, looking up at Cole. “Playing hiding always made Altrix laugh. She always looked behind chairs and in the cupboard. ‘Where’s Dorian? Is he here?’ And then she found me under the bed.” His bottom lip trembles.
Cole nods. “You...I didn’t know the game.” Cole forces a smile onto his face. “I know the game now. I’ll know when you play it again.”
Dorian shakes his head. “I don’t want you to be angry again. You’ll go away.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Altrix went away.” Dorian cries.
Cole shakes his head.
“I don’t know why?” Dorian sniffs. “What did I do?”
The Iron Bull’s voice is quiet. “Let’s take him home. Come on.”
They walk back in silence, save for Dorian’s occasional sobs. Stepping through their front door, Cole is still looking at Dorian as if still not believing that the now crying toddler is real as Bull leads him over to the bed, and encourages him to sit on the bed with Dorian in his lap.
“You want to know where your Altrix went, Da’len?” Bull asks to the toddler.
Cole shakes his head, but Bull stills the gesture, resting his hand in Cole’s hair. “He’s blaming himself, kid. He’s hurting more by not knowing. She wouldn’t want that.”
Cole thinks, and then nods.
Dorian looks from Cole to The Iron Bull, eyes wide.
Bull smiles, kindly. “Remember me telling you about heroes.”
“Well, the woman you call Altrix, she was a hero. And she did something very brave, to try and stop bad things from happening to someone that she loved.”
“But sometimes, when heroes do things to help people, they have to go away afterwards. Not because they want to, but because they...” The Iron Bull takes a breath. “Do you know what dying is, Dorian?”
“It’s what happened to Nanna.” He says, quietly. “People go to a new place and you never see them again.”
“Hey, of course you do, kid.” Bull lifts him up, cradling him against his chest with one arm, while his other hand rests on Cole’s back.
Bull looks at Cole as he talks. “When someone has died, we can still see them whenever we want. Just got to close our eyes and remember them. Do you remember her?”
Dorian nods, sniffing.
“Then she’s always going to be there, whenever you close your eyes.” Bull is still looking at Cole, who nods and reaches out, running his hand up and down Dorian’s arm. The toddler reaches out for Cole, and the teenager doesn’t hesitate to take the boy back into his arms, pulling him into a gentle hug as he rocks him.
“She loved you so much.” Bull whispers. “Just like we do. And she was a hero, just like you’re going to be when you grow up.”
“The world needs people to be heroes, Dorian.” Cole says.
Dorian sighs, and for a long time the three are silent.
Cole looks at Dorian, and nods. “Nanna’s gone, and Mother lights a candle.”
“I’ll go get one.” Bull smiles, leaving Dorian with Cole as he climbs off the bed, fetching one of the more ornate candle holders in the room. Resting it on a tray, he returns to the bed, lighting a match and then carefully handing it to Dorian.
“Slowly now, just touch the flame on the wick. That’s it. Now give me back the match, good boy.”
Dorian sits rocking in Cole’s arms, and they watch the candle burn. His face is calm now, focusing on the dancing flame in front of him.
And as Dorian focuses, Bull watches as the flame grows, getting taller and taller, movements stronger.
Bull rests his hand on the toddler’s head. “Hey, Dorian. Shhh. It’s alright. Shhh. Do you remember your Altrix singing to you?”
Dorian nods, and the candle calms down as Cole, on instinct, starts to hum the elvish lullaby that the adult Dorian had taught him. That Dorian had been taught, years ago.
“It’s alright.” Bull continues to whisper. “I know it’s bad when people go away. But you’re not alone. You’ve got Cole to look after you now.” He looks at Cole. “I’ll always protect you. Both of you. You’re my family.”
Dorian rubs his eyes with his fists, sniffing. But he also nods.
And Cole smiles.
“A children’s party.” Josephine repeats.
“Yeah.” The Iron Bull shrugs. “You never see anything for the kids running around Skyhold. It’s like they don’t exist. I just think let them have a day that’s dedicated to THEM. And Dorian will love it.”
“And you want it in the tavern?”
“Well, the parents need to have fun too.” Bull chuckles. “There’s a catch.”
“Of course there is.”
“It needs to be in the next couple of days.”
“COUPLE OF…” Josephine takes a breath through her teeth, and then slowly exhales. “We will need catering, decorations, the children will need entertainment. Music and games. Security. In the next couple of days?”
“If it was easy, I wouldn’t be asking for you.” Bull nods.
“Flatter me all you want, but this is nigh on impossible.”
“Love you, Josephine.”
Friday morning is maths, and Cole and Kieran use a pile of books to raise Dorian’s seat so that he can sit at the desk with them.
Harritt clearly looks unsure, but decides to carry on with the lesson anyway. “So Cole, last lesson we was learning how sometimes you find the answer by reversing the sum. If taking away two leaves me with four, how many did I start with?”
Kieran looks at Cole. “Take four and add two.” He whispers.
Cole nods. “Six.”
“Good.” Harritt nods. “And you, little lad.” He looks at Dorian, who looks up. “Can you count to six?”
Dorian nods, and holds up his fingers and thumbs as he counts. “One, two, three, four, five, six.”
Cole smiles. “Dorian is really clever.”
“That he is.” Harritt nods. “Right, Cole. Kieran, quiet this time. Let him find the answer on his own.” Harritt looks at Cole. “In your head if you can. Adding three gives me ten. What number do I start with?”
Cole nods, and sits back, thinking. Kieran starts to speak but Harritt hushes him, which encourages Dorian to look at the boy, a finger to his lips. “Shh.”
Kieran returns the gesture, a finger to his own lips. “Shh.” And both boys giggle.
“Seven.” Cole says.
“Well done.” Harritt smiles. “Your getting really good at doing stuff like that in your head.” He turns to Kieran. “Kieran, we’ve been working with big numbers. Make notes if you need to. Seven hundred and fifty new horses for the army. Castle already has five hundred and ten. How many horses they got now?”
Kieran writes the numbers out, and adds them. “Twelve hundred and sixty.”
“And if we take away two hundred for battle.”
Kieran answers without even looking at his notes. “Ten hundred and sixty.”
“Good. So, castle hall has ninety seven candles for a night, they use twenty nine. How many are left in the morning.”
Kieran notes it down and works it out. “Sixty eight.”
“Our little maths genius. I’ll be letting your mother know.” Kieran beams at that.
Harritt turns to look at Cole, knowing that he is as attentive of Kieran’s lessons as he is his own. “Cole, try one of your own. Write it down if you need to. I finish with twenty one after taking away fifteen?”
“Big numbers.” Cole thinks for a moment. “Go backwards. Twenty one and add fifteen. Put one number on top of the other, and go column by column, one by one?”
“Fifteen on top of twenty one. Five and one. Six. One and two. Three. Three Six...thirty six.”
“Good.” Harritt nods, clearly pleased. “And all in your head too. You’ll be matching other lads your age in no time.”
Dorian claps, and Cole feels warmth in his chest.
“Will you tell The Iron Bull?”
“Sure will.” Harritt smiles.
There is a small but growing group in Skyhold who believe that Josephine is an apostate mage.
The Iron Bull is one of them.
The Tavern is decorated in colourful banners, happy flute music plays from a band in the corner, and sweet cakes and puddings fills the table. Parents greet each other warmly and watch as their children form off into groups, games starting and laughter quickly filling both the tavern and the area in front of it.
Surrounded by the crowd, Dorian is surprisingly shy as Cole puts him down, before spotting the familiar Kieran playing builders towers.
Kieran greets Dorian, and pats the ground beside him.
“Now remember, Kieran.” Morrigan says, kneeling down beside her son. “Dorian is much younger than you are. He will need the game explained. And he might not understand it straight away. What will he need you to be?”
“Patient.” Kieran says. “I will be, mother.” Kieran looks back at Dorian. “This is Builders towers. You have four disks on this side…”
Watching Dorian and Kieran play, Cole smiles, his smile widening as he makes eye contact with the also smiling Morrigan.
Behind Cole, The Iron Bull greets Josephine. “How do you do it?”
“A true illusionist never reveals their secrets.” Josephine says, before quickly sidestepping as two laughing children play chase through where she had just been standing.
“This is perfect.”
“You smile. You have not yet seen my bill.”
Bull laughs. “You’re worth every penny, Josephine.”
They both turn to watch Cole as he watches Dorian and Kieran play.
And everyone is smiling, and it is perfect.