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The Shade and Compassion

Chapter Text

If one were to ask anyone of the Inner Circle who was the most innocent of them, the answer would have been clear as day. Cole, the young spirit boy who just wanted to help. Cole, the constant prattler of personal information to everyone. Right now, though, Cole didn’t feel such lofty title fit him. Especially when the man on top of him looked like a bright pink lantern by the way he was blushing. Cecil coughed and swallowed, looking away. Cole sat up a bit, touching Cecil cheek gently to show the mage it was all right.

They had been sparring, or as much sparring that someone who fought on the front lines of a  war and someone who hid in the shadows could. Cecil had been dodging the spirit, trying to land a decent hit without being near enough to get hit himself. He had tripped on his legs, and the whole seven feet of him had crashed on top of  Cole. Varric’s books had a lot of scenes like this, but with less nosebleeds and bruises.

The mage shook like a leaf, despite knowing full well Cole was safe. Cole had taken Cecil’s behaviour as nervousness about being ‘together’, as humans put it. But outside adrealine filled hugs and kisses after combat, Cecil didn’t touch him. Or, remove his nearly full body black outfit much. His thoughts were like a nervous tangle of uncertainty and fear. Of what touching another meant. And a lot of images of the rest of the Nightmares not being as chaste, even in front of Cecil.

“You are not them, Cecil. We don’t have to be like them” Cole said as he tried to calm the mage down, making Cecil only whimper.
“It’s not 'em, just…why aren’t ya pushin’ me away?” the shade asked, icy blue eyes wide and rimmed with all the lost sleep and hunger the mage felt. Somewhere in Cole’s mind, a devious side of him told him to hug Cecil, just to see how much redder the mage would get. Cole shooed the thought away fast, not the right time.

“You fear a punch, a blade or a kick. 'Never let someone compromise ya, kid’ the man with bright eyes said, as you watched him with bleeding lips. But, I’m not him, we are not fighting” Cole tried again, and Cecil just sort of…flopped on top of him. Flopped was not the most eloquent word Cole knew for it, but Cecil becoming limp and letting go of any resistance had no real alternative. The mage placed his head on Cole’s chest, shaking still.

“Not fightin’, but not fuckin’ either. If someone sees us, will they beat us?” Cecil mumbled and sighed, clearly just speaking out of nervousness. Cole smiled at the nervous wreck of a mage, stroking his hair now. Cecil took deep breaths, closing his eyes and clinging to the spirit.   It was a strange moment, Cole holding onto the mage and rocking him slowly. Despite their awkward position, Cecil calmed down eventually and relaxed into the hug.

From that moment on, Cole knew he had his work cut  out for him.

Chapter Text

The battle against the Venatori had been rough as usual, but luckily without too many serious wounds on anyone. Cole was more annoyed that one of the tevinter cultists had gotten his hat. Now it sported a wide gap in it, one which Cole was all too eager to fix.

The scent of blood caught his attention, as he was putting finishing touches to the stiches. Cole looked up, at Cecil. The mage looked a bit roughed up, glutching his cane-staff in one hand. Nothing unusual for him, at least on the outside. Inside, Cole heard a lot of hurt that came from bleeding wounds. The spirit stood up, putting his hat on quickly. Cecil noticed the movement, looking at the rogue with his typical blank stare. Normally, Cole would have let Cecil keep the mask on at camp, but something hurt within the mage.
“Where are you hurt?” the spirit asked, looking Cecil over carefully. The black cloth hid any bloodstains, but Cole could see that Cecil’s arms were covered in cuts none the less. Cecil couldn’t follow Cole’s gaze, but he instinctively grabbed his own arm.
“Just flesh wounds, bud, nothin’ serious” the mage tried to downplay his hurt.

It was in these moments, that Cole felt how much becoming more human had changed him. Had he been a spirit of compassion, he would have helped Cecil gently with words. As he was more human, and tied to the man, Cole grabbed hold of Cecil’s coat and dragged him away from the camp. In that moment, it didn’t even occur to him to ask Cecil kindly. Hurt needed to be healed, and by Maker was he going to do it.

“Coat, the gloves, all of them off so I can tend to it” he ordered Cecil as they arrived to a calm spot in the woods. Cecil looked nervous, but like a trained dog he obeyed. Had Cole been less frustrated, he would have realised he was seeing Cecil without his armour for the first time. The mage wore a black undershirt, making Cole ponder if -all- Cecil ever wore was black. But the spirit was more focused on Cecil’s now bare arms, which were much more torn that he had expected. No wonder the mage’s coat sleeves were torn, his arms were a total mess.

Cole groaned, taking hold of cecil’s arms and lifting them up so the mage would see them better. Like holding a dog to the mess it made, and pretty much for the exact same purpose.
“Bare, unprotected, yet you block blades none the less. I can’t help the hurt if you don’t learn from mistakes” Cole grumbled at Cecil, looking at the mage in the eyes the best he could. Cecil sheepishly blushed and nodded at Cole.
“Haven’t fought 'em Vints so close before, though they were slower” he tried to explain, but it didn’t impress the spirit one bit. Cole let go of Cecil’s arms and told the mage to sit down. Which Cecil did, dutifully as usual. The spirit started applying ointment on Cecil’s wounds, hoping to undo some of the more nasty looking cuts at least. As he did so, Cecil seemed to be on the edge again. Thoughts of warmth and care and uncertainty came to Cole, and helped to allivate his mood.

“No one aided your ails, Stiffy only used magic” The spirit mused out loud, a devious idea forming in his mind.
“Yeah, had to look invincible, ya know?” Cecil mumbled, gasping as Cole started touching his fingers gently. And then licking them, making the act of healing something a bit more base. Cecil’s blush was pretty obvious now, and he grabbed hold of Cole’s shirt with his free hand to ground himself. Cole grinned as he watched Cecil struggle. Knowing if the mage truly didn’t want this, he would say so. Instead, Cecil took a better hold of Cole and grabbed the spirit’s jaw with his slick hand. The kiss that resulted was not restrained or controlled, it was needy and rough. Cole was taken aback by the kiss, only smiling against Cecil’s mouth. Cecil placed his head on Cole’s shoulder then, sighing with contentment.
“Is it easier,now? To feel the touch of skin?” Cole asked, having difficulty holding back his amusement. Cecil nuzzled against the spirit’s neck.
“Arsehole” he muttered.

Chapter Text

It was a calm midday at Skyhold, the warm kind that told that spring was coming soon. And everyone had better prepare for it. And most did, plants were being planted. The animals the staff had managed to gather in the months after Skyhold was discovered, were let to fresh pastures.

Cole hummed a tune as he traipsed down the stairs, a spring in his step that wasn’t there before. He had managed to get Cecil out of the tavern and into the library to study. A small thing, but it was a start and starts meant it could become something. Like a bread in the oven, or a seed planted. Cole corrected the black tunic he wore as he skipped the last few steps to Solas’ study room. Before, Cole would often admire Solas’ skills in painting. But after the amulet and the loss of Wisdom, he had not had much chance to speak to the elf. Everything was busy, and it was only now that everyone had a bit of a breather from the war.

“Ah,Cole!” the spirit heard Solas call him with cheer, and he smiled at the elf. The elf, for some reason, didn’t look as happy now. He was looking at Cole, brows furrowed. Cole looked behind him, seeing nothing that would shock Solas.

“That tunic, Cole” Solas murmured, loud enough for Cole to hear, though. It was a good day, so Cole chose not to be bothered by the mage’s reaction.

“It’s his but he borrowed it for me, said my clothes needed a wash” Cole said, hand absently running over one rolled up sleeve. Solas sighed, sitting down on his chair.

“Cole, we need to speak about this…friend, Of yours” the elf said, motioning Cole to sit on his desk. The spirit obeyed, if a bit sluggishly. Twisted thoughts, dark ruminants. Cole could hear Solas’ disapproval easily, and he knew that’s what Solas intended.

“He isn’t my just my friend, Solas” he replied, turning to look at Solas. The elf was one of the few who could look at him in the eye, despite the hat and hair over his eyes. Right now, it was a bit disconcerting for Cole.

“Whatever he is, you should be careful with him. It is easy to lose your purpose in this world for a spirit like you. You should remember it, and not let the mage change it” Solas said, voice level as always. He didn’t need to raise his voice or change his tone, the message was clear.

“He needs help, hungry and hurting. Mute so long he forgot what words were. I melt the ice in him, pour it into a bucket so it can be water again” Cole said, trying to dodge the argument.

“If he was just someone you help, tell me. Why do you sleep in his bed, wear his clothes and show affection towards him?” Solas asked, and Cole could feel his fingers holding onto the table edge tighter. The spirit had to remind himself that Solas was only trying to look after him.

“Because he isn’t. He is my boyfriend, he heals the hurts I have” Cole answered simply. Solas furrowed his brow again.
“You are Compassion, Cole. Even if Varric made you more human, you should not forget what you once were” he explained, calmly as ever.
“You fear if I change too much, I will stop being me. But I am not the me two winters ago, and I’m not the me from last month. But I am always me at the core, even if the outside changes” Cole retorted back, lifting his hat to look at Solas better. The elf had lifted one brow as if  asking him to elaborate. Cole took a breath, hoping the words  would arrange themselves correctly.

“I was not Compassion when I was at the Spire, I was Cole. Or Ghost of the Spire. No flowing words or hurts heard, only faintest of whispers in my ear. I spoke like a person, thought like a person and acted like a person. Then I became Compassion and I changed. I sung sentences, listened to pain and hurt from sufferers. I acted like a spirit, thought like a spirit and tried to be a spirit. Then I became Cole once more, but not Ghost of the Spire. Just Cole, hearing hurts but fainter, knowing more of man. I’ve been all these, Solas, but I was still always me” Cole spoke, closing his eyes as the words flowed through him as did images. Of Spire, Therinfal, Haven and Skyhold. Of friends and foes.

When he was done, the spirit opened his eyes and looked at Solas. Hoping the mage understood his point. Solas was smiling, nodding at Cole.
“I apologise, Cole. Sometimes I forget how perceptive you are of the world” the elf said. Cole beamed, smiling back. But he still heard hurts in Solas, the typical fear of change now accompanied by the fear of loss.
“You don’t have to fear it, or him, Solas” he tried to encourage the mage. Solas smiled, but the hurt was still there. It was always there, a pearl of pain he’d never reach.

A crash next to him awoke Cole from his musings, and he jumped off the desk, ready to fight. Looking up, he only saw two icy blue eyes looking at him. Paired with a sheepish grin.
“Shit, sorry sir! Did I hit anythin’?!” Came the accented voice of a certain other mage. Cole gave a long suffering sigh, shaking his head.
“You almost hit your boyfriend, Cecil!” Solas yelled back, chuckling. The spirit next to him smiled, knowing he had eased one hurt today.

Chapter Text

He had joined the Inquisition in silence, a shadow that crept across the battlements. Some believed he wasn't even real, because there was never any sign of the man. But, he was real and there. Cole knew, because he heard all the hurts that screamed in the man's head. Last thing he wanted was to let someone live like he did at the Spire, a ghost that no one saw.

The man wearing two names was in one of the ruined towers, resting against a wall. His eyes were closed, but he still stood somehow. Cole moved closer carefully, he knew the man was easily frightened and had experience with blades.
"Why do you hide, Cecil?" Cole voiced his concerns out loud, and the white haired man opened his eyes. Ice blue and piercing, like frost on a freezing day. He was afraid, at first, reaching for his dagger. But looking at Cole, he ceased, giving a chuckle. Not a danger, just some silly kid.
"Dunno where ya dug that name, kiddo, but ya best forget 'bout it. And about seein' me" Cecil said, pushing himself to his feet. Cole didn't budge an inch.
"They are dead, aren't they? After Stiffy blew up, it's been hell and this joint is the best bet outside Kirkwall" he spoke, voice mimicing Cecil's accent as best as he could. That caught the mage's attention, and Cecil pulled out a dagger. Cole still stood in his spot, unafraid.
"You wear an icy mask, so they don't see it, so they think you are a shadow. The Shade. But you don't have to be, shouldn't be" he spoke in his normal voice and and began to count.

One, Cecil gripped his dagger and lunged.

Two, one step and another after it towards him.

Three, knife aimed at him.

Four,  Cole dodged out of the way.

Five, he pushed Cecil down.

Despite his speed, Cecil was surprisingly easy to trip and keep down. Cole almost felt sorry for the man, if there wasn't blood in his hands. The spirit pinned Cecil down harder, when the mage tried to struggle away. He leaned to whisper in Cecil's ear.
"I know what you did, Cecil. A coin for a cut throat, two for a poisoned drink, three for the wire. Cheap deaths, done with no remorse" Cole hissed, taking out his own knife and holding it close to the mage's throat. Cecil shook, eyes wide.
"You hurt, but you still killed. If you do it again, I'm here to kill you so you don't hurt more people" the spirit continued, lyrium blue eyes shining faintly in the dark of the tower. His voice was calm and his blade did not touch Cecil, it wasn't meant to. This was his warning for the mage. But he hadn't expected Cecil's reaction, the mage had gone limp and unresponsive. Cole at first just waited for Cecil to reply, but the mage was silent.
Fear rang in his ears, fear and resignation to death. Cole relaxed, sheathing his knife. He lied next to Cecil, one hand on the mage's shoulder and utterly unafraid.
"I will not kill you now, you can still change and learn. To be a better person, like you wanted to be" Cole spoke, smiling at Cecil. The mage whimpered and suddenly clung to him, shaking like a leaf.
"Thankyouthankyou" Cecil whimpered against Cole's shoulder.


Few days later, the Shade approached Cole. Feet not making a sound, but still visible.
"So, ya wanna help me?" the man asked, and Cole looked up from peeling  plums. They had to smell just right for the flies.
"Yes, I can hear in you a lot of fear and pain" he said, Cecil grunted and sat next to him. Even when slouched over and sitting, he towered over Cole.
"Dunno why'd ya want to, but okay. I owe ya my life anyway. So lemme help ya, bud? Must be awfully hard to peel all those plums alone" the mage said, taking out a fruit knife from one of his pockets. Cole nodded, a bit surprised by the request.

After they had peeled the plums, they placed them on the windowsills. Cole watched Cecil manage to do the same as he did, without being a spirit. The mage sat in a corner, until people stopped paying attention to him, and then he placed the plums and disappeared. The spirit didn't know whether to congratulate Cecil or remind him to not pretend to be invisible. So he simply smiled at him.
After the plums, there was the bread. Then the cheese wheel and the turnips. Cecil aided him where he could, never asking why. He simply obeyed, like a trained dog. Cole started to understand why Cecil could be so strange, the mage had been taught to obey and not question the orders. If he was told to kill, he would kill. Yet, Cecil's own thoughts remained caring for those that needed help. Cole had a sinking feeling that Cecil might have taken him as his new 'leader', even over the Inquisitor.

Naturally, he went and asked Cecil about this, the mage looking surprised at the question.
"Ya beat me, Cole. Ya proved ya were tougher than me, so of course I follow yer orders" Cecil explained, offering Cole part of his lunch.
"You shouldn't do that, I'm not one that should be followed. I couldn't help my friend, when he needed it the most. I did wrong things in the past, horrible things" Cole spoke, taking the piece of bread and cheese. Sharing food meant a lot to Cecil, given the mage rarely ate. Cecil chuckled.
"So? I'm an assassin, an' not one of them Crows, either. You've been helpin' people all this time with no payment or gain fer yerself. wanted to help me, didn't ya?" he said, cocking his head a bit at Cole. The Spirit nodded, unsure really what to think of that.
"It's helping you? Just to be with me, to help me?" he asked, taking small bites out of the bread. Cecil nodded, smiling an awkward smile.
"Yeah, I feel safe with ya. Ye never insult or ignore me, I'm not just a tool fer ya" he answered.

And so the dance continued, with Cole leading and Cecil following. Now that Cole knew what helped Cecil, he began to invite the mage to eat and sleep together. At first, it was simply Cole watching and being there for Cecil. But one night, after Adamant, he found himself clinging to the mage in a desperate hope it could make his fears go away. Cecil couldn't push it away, but having the mage be there lessened the fear a lot. Cole wanted to do something to Cecil that he felt strange about. He knew what a kiss was, but he had not expected to want to do it himself.

After the amulet and the templar, everything changed. Cole was more human now, he could feel and understand better. He felt real, and that meant the next night with Cecil turned strange. The mage kept one hand on Cole's shoulder, to be certain he was there. Cecil mumbled something in his sleep, shivering a bit. Cole, all ready trying to figure out how to not scare Cecil off, took that as an invitation. He crawled closer, placing his head against Cecil's shoulder. That woke Cecil up, and the groggy mage looked at Cole with surprised eyes.
"Uhh,bud. Yer a bit blushing there" he mumbled, hugging Cole closer like a safety blanket. Cole nodded, awkwardly pushing himself  up, so he was at Cecil's eye level. The two looked at each other, unsure what to do now. So the spirit kissed Cecil, a shy kiss that made him blush harder. Cecil clutched the spirit harder, and answered the kiss.
Cole made a groaning sound as Cecil withrew, eyes lidded. His heart raced in his chest like after a tense fight, most likely after a dragon. The spirit was content to just bask in the feeling, when he felt Cecil's fingers and mouth touch him way too south. Cole looked at Cecil, the mage having slipped himself to Cole's crotch level and was currently trying to ellict a response clumsily. Cole jumped up and far from Cecil as fast as he could.
"No! Not like that, too soon,too fast" Cole yelped at Cecil, who looked utterly dumpfounded.
"But that's how it goes, if it goes anywhere at all. You don't like it?" he asked, blinking.
"It's too sharp right now" Cole muttered, scooting back to Cecil. The spirit wrapped his arm around the mage's waist and tried to relax. Cecil held onto Cole then, arm around the spirit.
"This ain't too much?" he asked, pressing his head against Cole's.
"No, not this"

Chapter Text

They needed the amulet to save Cole, at least so the spirit insisted. Cecil wasn't too sure about it. Binding would be worse, but the former assassin didn't like how his spirit ...friend basically had given up all autonomy in fear. He knew Cole could be better, could be brave and headstrong. So why did his past burn the spirit so? It was not like Cecil's own was a cakewalk, and he pushed on regardless.

But, he had promised the amulet, and the amulet he gave to Cole. Only, it didn't work for some reason. And then Varric chose to butt in for some random reason Cecil wasn't sure about. Solas at least Cecil understood having an involvement.

Now they were in Redcliffe, heading to seek out what the heck was preventing the amulet from working. Cecil kept close to Cole's pace, eying the spirit with worry and fear. Whether or not Cole even returned his feelings beyond a close friendship, the spirit was Cecil's friend and the mage did not want to lose his best friend to fear. Suddenly, Cole tensed and looked at something before the group. Cecil followed his gaze, and saw a man exchanging wares with someone.

Cecil was raised to notice and react quickly to movement, often to the exclusion of his other senses. He didn't hear, he simply watched as Cole made himself visible and lunged for the man. The mage moved as quickly as he could after the spirit, not caring if Solas and Varric were left behind. He managed to grab Cole by the arm as he spirit outright -hissed- at the man.
"You killed me!" Cole hissed, and Cecil tensed, gripping harder on Cole's arm. Killed, how? Like Wisdom? Cecil held onto Cole as he pondered. Luckily, Solas and Varric caught up with them then.

"Cole, stop!" Solas yelled, and the man could escape from the spirit's glutches. Cole gave both Cecil and Solas a dirty look, starting to pace and rant.

And there it was, his reason. The man had killed the real Cole, a mage Cole had hoped to help. Cecil gritted his teeth, listening now to what each man around him said. Cole wanted to kill the man, Varric wanted Cole to 'work through his anger' and Solas wanted Cole to forgive. None of these options were good or fitting. So Cecil chose a fourth option.

"Guards! Detain the man and bring him to Skyhold for questioning!" the mage yelled in his 'work' voice, hiding his accent. Glad the Inquisition had men hanging around here and there now. But he was not done yet, he had to make his choice clear.

"I cannot let a man die or a crime committed go unpunished with only your words as witness" he said to the three companions with him, icy eyes cold as he watched Varric sigh, Solas frown. And Cole? Cole looked like he was set on fire.
"How -dare- you!? He -killed- me, Cecil!" Cole hissed, and Cecil nodded. But he was not going to give in now. The mage looked at Solas and Varric.
"Go, I and Cole need to discuss this in peace" he said, looking at Cole then. The spirit stood there, tense and clearly steaming. Cecil heard Solas and Varric grumble, but reculantly leave.

They held the eyecontact for a bit, neither man wanting to give up.
"He -killed- me, Cecil" Cole repeated, teeth gritting, barely holding it together.
"An' that's yer reason fer doin' the same? Didn't ya want no one to make yer do it?" Cecil asked, letting his speech fall back to its natural course. Cole growled, stanging up on his toes to meet Cecil's gaze better.
"He -needs- to die, for the amulet to -work-" the spirit hissed, causing Cecil to sigh.
"I can't let ya do it without proof, it ain't fair fer anyone if I let ya just do it" he said, Cole let out a low growl and lunged at Cecil.

The two circled each other, both tensed and ready to fight like two angry toms fighting over a she-cat. Cole was clearly pissed off, and Cecil wanted the spirit to have this. He needed to vent, and fights were often a way to do it in the Nightmares. What put each at disadvantage against the other, was their now instinctual farmiliarity with each other's style. Both men made false lunges at each other, judging where the other would be weakest. Cole caught Cecil's slight trip easily, and he made a full attack, instinctually drawing his knife.

There was a flash of blood, Cecil couldn't see and so he brought his own knife up to prevent the spirit from attacking him further. Falling to his back, Cecil felt a weight on top of him, and press into his knife. Everything was red, though, filled with pain. The mage hissed, grabbing hold of Cole's burlap shirt to have some handle on the situation. He heard heavy breathing, and could smell Cole's rank breath. And then he heard the spirit give a whimper.
"Oh no! No no no no!" Cole cried out, trying to get away from Cecil's grip. But the mage wasn't going to let Cole just run off, he let go of his knife and held onto Cole with both hands.
"Ya wanted this, Cole? -This- justice to ya?" he growled, pulling Cole's face (he hoped) close to his own. Cecil could feel Cole shake on top of him, giving whimpers.
"No, I...I'm sorry" Cole whimpered, and Cecil felt the spirit's hand brush his face. Cecil blinked, his vision clearing as he opened his eyes. Both were still there, thank the Maker.
"I hurt you, I shouldn't have done that" Cole kept rambling, eyes wide with fear. The mage below him simply wrapped his arms around the spirit's back, trying to be calming.
"Bud, yer angry. An' I'm not sayin' ya should forgive the guy. He'll pay, but with us knowin' the full story" Cecil explained, stroking Cole's back gingerly.

They lied there for a bit, the position was compromised as hell, but Cecil didn't want to move. Cole had lifted his hand up to make Cecil forget, but the mage had caught it and told Cole to not do it, he wanted to remember. Eventually, the spirit curled against Cecil, shaking. It was strange, for their roles to be reversed so. But Cecil didn't mind.
"I don't want to lose ya, bud. Yer...sumone like me, a blade fer killin'. Ya get me" Cecil said, stroking Cole's hair gently.

The two got up, eventually, supporting each other. Strangely, when Cecil touched Cole's hand, it felt warmer than before. The cut on his face would stay, the mage putting dirt to it to make sure of it. It would remind him of this, of helping his friend to understand. And grow.

Chapter Text

Cecil quite honestly hated where the cells in Skyhold were located. Out in the open, behind a door. If someone managed to escape (and Cecil didn't believe in absolutes when it came to prisons), they'd have easy time to get a hostage or two. Or cause damage. And the templar who had 'killed' Cole could be like that. The man had become almost unresponsive according to the guards once he was captured. Cecil had seen it before, people losing their minds in desperation and attacking.

Heading down the stairs, Cecil found the templar in one of the simpler cells. Curled into a fetal position and trembling, broken by something. Cecil grumbled and sat down on a stool beside the cell, eying the man. He didn't say anything, he just watched and waited. The templar would notice him, eventually.

It took a while, but the poor templar finally did look up from his own misery and right at Cecil. The mage gave a grim nod back and the templar whimpered. Cecil sighed, correcting his position on the too short stool.
"What did ya do, mate?" Cecil asked simply, watching the templar all the while.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to" the man repeated, causing Cecil to groan.
"Look,mate, I got people eager to dig into ya an' make ya pay fer what happened with Cole. I'm givin' ya a -chance- to make yer case" he said calmly, and the templar nodded.

"The boy, he came in to the Spire. They said he had killed his family, so we put him in a cell. But I messed up and put him in the wrong cell, where nobody would come to him. I didn't mean to, but when we found out, it was too late" the man spoke, Cecil wincing. The mage had never been to a circle, and more and more he was glad about it.
"Ya messed up good, yeah. So ya say ya didn't do it intentionally? Was there any punishment on yer head fer that?" Cecil continued asking.

It wasn't a very useful intergorration. The templar was clearly out of it, scared and burdened with grief. This was not what Cecil had expected, and it made the whole situation worse. It was by a mere chance that he visited Josephine at that moment, Cecil usually wanted his reprts in his room for privacy's sake.

Cassandra was there, looking more agitated than usual.
"Inquisitor, thank the Maker" she said, handing Cecil a stack of papers. The mage blinked, but went over them quickly, freezing as he read a farmiliar name. These were of Cole, an investigation on him.
"Where did ya get these?" he asked, and the seeker sighed deeply.
"Lord Seeker Lambert, before he died, ordered an investigation on Cole" Cassandra said, looking at Josephine. The antivan ambassador flipped few papers on her ledger.
"We have investigated the sources, it is genuine. This does give us enough evidence to justify judging the man" Josephine said. Cecil nodded, biting his lip a bit.
"I ain't got Cole's word, yet. Need to get his version to know the whole picture, ya know?" he said. Bowing, the mage left, heading for Herald's Rest.

Cole wasn't in his usual spot, hiding in one of the ruined rooms near the tavern. The spirit looked more miserable than usual, rockig himself back and fort in a sitting position. Cecil sat next to him, offering an awkward smile.
"It's still on your face. Why is it there, Cecil?" the spirit muttered.
"If I lose ya, I want to remember yer sorry arse" Cecil answered, and Cole gave a raspy laugh at that.
"Sorry is right, I became it again. Why didn't you kill me?" he asked, Cecil grabbing the spirit's shoulder.
"'Cause I've been there, bud. Anger blinds everyone" he said, taking out the stack of papers from his coat. Cole looked at them, as much as he could under his hair.
"Seems the Lord Seeker did a good thing fer ya after all,bud. Here's an investigation what happened, I guess" Cecil explained calmly. Cole read through it, or skimmed. Or just looked at the words, not understanding them. It was hard to tell.
"He forgot him there, Cecil. To starve, to die slowly. I couldn't help him, I could only watch him die and hold his hand" the spirit spoke, voice brittle and weak.
"But, the paper says it was an accident, he was young and foolish. He hurts so much, feels the guilt to this day. Solas says I should forgive" Cole continued, looking at Cecil. The mage shrugged.
"Bud, like I said, couldn't let ya kill 'im without knowin' the story. Now I do, but...bud, it ain't my call 'nymore" Cecil said, his hand returning to Cole's shoulder.

The spirit gasped, his hand going to Cecil's scar. Rough fingers touched traced the line he had made to mark Cecil forever, to mar the herald of andraste. Yet, Cecil had not been angry about it at all.
"I don't know,Cecil" he said, leaning closer to the mage. Eventually, he sat down on Cecil's lap, facing the mage.
"Don't have to choose today, take yer time" Cecil said, supporting Cole with one hand.
"It isn't right for him to be in the cell too long, like the real Cole" Cole said and blinked at Cecil winced.
"Yer real too, Cole. Yer my best bud, not th' other Cole" the mage grumbled, fingers going to Cole's hair. The spirit groaned from the touch, liking it when his hair was stroked.
"To you, yes. But you look at spirits and see no difference from people, like Solas. Others, they don't" Cole reminded Cecil, pressing their foreheads together. They touched, attention starved both, to show they were still there. For one another, for themselves. But there was something else going on, this time. At least to Cole, his body felt warmer than usual. His battle strained muscles hurt longer, as did his fingers from practising with his blades.
"Bud..ya okay there? Lookin' kinda red" Cecil noted, making Cole whimper.
"It's hot, you are there, next to me. Where I -want- you to be" the spirit said, smiling.
"Whenever ya ask, bud" Cecil said, smiling back. They held together like that for a while, no matter what would happen, the other would be there.

Judgement day came, though due to the crime's nature, the audience was kept to just the inner circle. The templar, for the man had not given his name even after further questioning, stood before Cecil. The mage felt extremely awkward on his throne even now, but duty was duty. Josephine presented the case, in her usual flair.
"Templar of White Spire, judged for causing the death of an apostate known as Cole. He has made no objections or refusals to his guilt" the ambassador said, looking at Cecil. The mage tensed, but tried to relax and look powerful.
"Ya know ya did wrong, but that ain't erasin' yer crime. The late Lord Seeker Lambert luckily got me a report on ya, an' it says ya were given a slap on the wrist" Cecil spoke, eyes on the man. But he felt three pairs of eyes looking at him. Varric, Solas and Cole. The rest were quite happy to either ignore the matter, or glare daggers at the man in front of the throne.
"It would be easy to just stick ya in prison an' let ya rot. But that's no better than what ya did" he continued, the templar flinching.
"So, let the victim give the punishment" Cecil finished, looking at Cole. The spirit visibly tensed at that. But with all the courage he could muster, Cole walked to the throne, looking over the templar. He had mulled over what to do for a while, but one thing had made his course clear.
"Go, you aren't welcome here anymore. Keep your life, though. Your guilt is your now cage, the one you have built yourself. You made a mistake, and it ended a life that deserved to live. Remember that" Cole said, feeling like a weight was lifted from his chest. But at the same time, a great weight fell upon his bones. Wincing, Cole stepped back to his spot.

Later that day, Cecil found Cole back at Herald's Rest. The spirit was watching the Chargers make merry once more, looking almost wistful.
"Ya okay,bud?" Cecil asked, joining Cole. The spirit blinked, smiling softly then.
"Yes, I am. Thank you, for giving me that chance" Cole said, taking Cecil's hand in his own.
"You will not lose me, Cecil. I want to be here, with you, as me" he added, leaning over to hold onto the whole mage tightly.

Chapter Text

"Hold still bud" Cecil muttered as he dug his fingers into the foul smelling mixture that made the avvar war-paint. There were many ways that magic manifested in this world, but Cecil had never considered it could be found in a simple paint.

Cole sat before him, clad only in hide trousers, a scarf and the sheaths for his daggers. It was strange to Cecil to dirty cloth, but that is how the armour apparently worked. Cecil painted shapes onto the bare skin and cloth, a notebook open next to him to know the right symbols for the right effects. The mage could feel blush coming on his face few times, a fact that Cole noticed.

"You have seen it before, you don't need to fear, Cecil" the spirit said, fastening his armguards absentmindedly. Cecil grumbled.

"It's kinda different, paintin'" the mage muttered and covered a scar on Cole's left shoulder with the thick blue paint. Cole winced, the spot was still sore despite it being years since he had received it. Magic in the paint didn't help, either. Still, it was worth enduring the discomfort for the protection the paint gave.

"Ya were close with yer mum..err, his mum?" Cecil asked, painting down Cole's chest to his stomach. Cole gave a slight shrug, eyes growing distant.

"He was, I think. At least she was closer than his father" Cole said, dipping his own fingers into the paint and painting a thick line across his eyes. He looked a little silly, but it gave him the needed protection from sun's glares.

"Well, kinda 'ard to be close when shithead's an abuser" Cecil noted, painting  more patterns across Cole's abs. The spirit still looked a bit starved, but he had done a lot of filling out lately. Cecil didn't care about such things, but it still sometimes felt weird to realise the weedy young man that had joined the Inquisition to help people was the same rogue who now faced Red Templars and Venatori alike with ease. Clad in some ancestral body paint.

"Yes" Cole agreed simply, starting to paint his hair. Few strands of blue, just to fit the whole image of an avvar warrior.

"Still, didn't think ya as a traditionalist" Cecil noted, washing his paint covered hands. Cole chuckled and tied the back of his hair in a loose ponytail.

"It is a connection, a small one. But it ties me here, to this body and to this blood" he explained. The spirit stood up and walked to Cecil's armour chest. The mage nodded, standing up straight. Cecil's armour was black, black cloth and black leather. Only things not black were dark metal pieces like the chest guard and gauntlets with sharp claws. Cole pondered often what in Maker's name made Cecil love looking like some evil mage lord in Varric's books.

"Yer lookin' at 'em again, bud" Cecil noted, waking Cole from his thoughts.

"They look so...cruel" Cole muttered, offering Cecil the gauntlets. The mage chuckled and put them on.

"That's the point, bud. Gotta look scary to make sure they don't mess with me" Cecil said, putting on his coat. Cole gave a chuckle, shaking his head.

"But you aren't that, it is a mask. I wish you wouldn't do that" the spirit noted as he stood before the mage, touching Cecil's face with his hand. Cecil bent down a little to kiss the spirit, tasting the paint and the otherwordly feeling on Cole's lips.

"Ya don't look friendly, either" Cecil noted, looking into Cole's eyes. Surrounded by the black paint, they shone just a bit. Cole smiled back.

"Looking doesn't matter" Cole said, grinning a bit. The two looked at each other, waiting for the universe to give them more time.

"Inquisitor! We are ready to move!" Came a call outside the tent. Cecil sighed, smiling at Cole then.
"Matters to me" he said, taking the spirit's hand and heading out.

Chapter Text

Cecil knew very little about proper demonology. Spirits and demons were creatures that possessed you, tempted you or were your allies. The latter part no one really considered much, not with the Chantry around. After all, most spiritdemon..thingies, were aloof or aggressive.

Not squirming in the lap like an excited puppy. Yet, Cecil found himself with one doing exactly that. Cole could be so calm and eerie when on the road, but after a rough day of fighting and sealing rifts, the spirit clearly needed to relax. Especially in Cecil’s lap, looking very content. The hat had luckily been discarded at the edge of the tent, but the spirit still was far too big to be doing this with anything but clumsiness.

Cecil was tall, granted, as tall as a Qunari. But Cole turned out to be only eight inches shorter, most of it limbs. Cecil chuckled and stroked the spirit’s hair, ellicting a content sigh.

“Didn’t think ya were a cuddler, bud” Cecil admitted, kissing Cole’s forehead a bit. The spirit was quick to grab hold of Cecil’s neck with one hand.

“You are warm and real, here. I want to be here” Cole mused, nuzzling against Cecil’s neck.

“Still, yer so..distant, in th’ field. Yer mind tell ya to not feel?” the mage asked, Cole gave a long sigh at those words.

“The Iron Bull says better they aren’t people. If they are people, then it is harder to kill them” the spirit said, sagging a bit. Cecil wrapped his arms around Cole, mostly for support.

“Better, yeah” he mummurred to Cole’s ear, closing his eyes.


Outside, rain beat the tent fabric, a lullaby by nature.

Chapter Text

The embers of the campfire glowed faintly now, most of the world around them having gone to sleep. In was in this darkness, in this death of life, that Cecil found himself at his element. His left hand's glow broke it a bit,sure. But the rest of him could easily slip into shadows and disappear like he had never existed.

Cecil wished for it, especially now.

Soft steps came closer to him and Cecil looked up. Cole. The spirit had come to tend to fire as usual, as he didn't need to sleep like the rest. Cecil nodded at the spirit, holding his hand up to stop him though.
"No need fer that, Cole. I'm here" he said, wasting no emotion in his words. Cole stopped, looking Cecil over.
"But the fire is dying" he protested, even pointing at the embers. Cecil nodded at the spirit.
"Yeah, but I am here to make sure nothin' attacks us" he repeated. Cole looked at the fire again, then at Cecil.
"If it dies, it will be cold and dark" Cole noted plainly, sitting next to Cecil in the way only he could. No care for personal space and no consideration for the other person.
"Yeah, I know,buddy" Cecil said, controlling his tone carefully. There was silence then, as the two sat and watched the fire die.

"You want to disappear, to not be anymore. Nothing but a shadow. A Shade" Cole said out of the blue. Cecil flinched, eyeing the spirit.
"I though you could not read me.." he noted.
"I don't need to, I watch. I'm always watching. You need to stop, you don't know what you are wishing for" Cole said, looking at Cecil. Not just in his general direction, but actually looking in the eyes.
"How d'ya know what I want? Ya don't know me" Cecil hissed, surprising even himself at that. Cole didn't seem to mind the raised tone, however.
"I know what I see. You shun the light, you shun their smiles and food. You hide in the dark, in small spaces. No sleep, no food no ties" the spirit said. Cecil tensed, this was getting creepy.
"An' how is that bad? You don't do those things -either-. Fuck, I'd love if I could -be- you" Cecil said, unable to hide his frustration now. Cole sighed sadly, looking away.

"You do, but you don't know what you wish. To not be real hurt, it made me do horrible things to not fade away. It is not a wish you should have, Cecil" he said, first time using Cecil's name. But the mage was beyond noticing that now.
"It's better than havin' to deal with all this. It's freedom fer me, Cole" he grumbled.
A simple and disarming question. Cecil bit his lip, thinking how to phrase it. The flash of fear and guilt in his stomach made it hard.
"'Cause...'Cause....Maker" was the best he could say, closing his eyes. Feeling Cole's hand on his shoulder suddenly.
"You can't face it, what you once were. What it would mean. Instead you hide yourself from yourself. I want to help you, I don't want you to go into the Darkness. You would never return" the spirit said, keeping his hand on Cecil's shoulder.
"Nothin' to 'elp, nothin' left but that Shade" the mage muttered.
"You are wrong! You can be more, if you'd just let yourself be.. even if it hurts"

Cecil looked at Cole, the other man looked more like a malnourished scarecrow than an actual fighter that he was listed as in the official Inquisition books. Yet, this scraggy scarecrow was worried about -him-?
"Yer  got a lot of faith in me, bud" he muttered, leaning onto the spirit a bit.
"You saved them, and you stay. Even when it hurts you. I can see it without hearing you. The Darkness would kill that and leave a husk" Cole said, not minding Cecil's leaning.
"...If ya only knew" Cecil groaned and eyed the darkness surrounding them now.
"I do know, that's why I am afraid" Cole said, taking Cecil's left hand then.
"It glows, blazing like fire" he stated. Cecil looked at his hand, confused. Cole only smiled at him.
"It guides, the light in the darkness and hope in despair" he continuued. Cecil blinked, smiling awkwardly at the spirit.

"Yeah, they look at it an' see a hero. So I gotta be that" the mage said. Cole nodded.
"You want to be me, but I was alone in the darkness. It was your light that made me see and follow" Cole stated, looking at Cecil sternly then.
"In there, in the darkness, you fade and you die. Or you kill others to live. That was how I lived, Cecil. You do not want to be me, it is a horror without light" he said, holding onto Cecil's hand like a lifeline. Cecil placed his hand on top of Cole's, feeling awkward.
"So when I went to Therinfall, I brought ya light ya could see in, bud?" Cecil asked.
"Yes, so I could help. I don't have to kill to be real now" the spirit said.
They both sat there, in the darkness, then. But soon, sun would come up and bring the light.

Chapter Text

Cole hated going to the jails in the Pit. The air was thick with suffering, but worse were the Templars. Armoured and ready to kill if any mage escaped. Not that the various traps wouldn't stop any escapees.

Aside from him. But they couldn't see him, so he barely counted. He only came here for one purpose. A messy one, and one he hated, but he all ready felt like walking on something soft rather than the hard stone floor of the pit.

Taking the keys from the patrolling Templars was easy.  Cole would return them after he had done his deed, as he always would.

You are too used to this, the tiny voice in his head reminded him. Cole wondered if anyone else had to live with a constant complainer in their heads.

He approached a cell he had picked out beforehand, it had fresh blood trails leading underneath the door. A fresh and desperate mage who had put up a fight. It never worked for them. Cole carefully fiddled with the keys for the lock, before finding the right one.

Inside the cell was dark, and the smell of blood was everywhere. This mage had fought like possessed. Cole closed the door, wondering -if- the mage was actually possessed. Couldn't be, Templars would kill those quick. But something was off about this.

It was too quiet, for one. Usually Cole would hear sobbing and whimpering. But the cell was quiet. Cole took out his glowstone, putting it on the floor before looking up.

Against the wall was a dark figure, looking down upon him. Cole whimpered, a demon!?

"Oh...fuckin' 'ell yer dumb" came an accented voice, and Cole looked back up at the figure. It was no longer against the wall, but sitting near him. It was human, but bigger than any Cole had seen. And wounded, one eye black and with a busted lip. Cole gathered what ripples of courage he had, and sat straight, looking at the person.

"Hello, I'm Cole" he said. The person stared at him.
"'Ello to ya, Cole. I'm Cecil" the person now known as Cecil said. Cole nodded, looking at the man carefully. Usually the mages were lying and crying, but this one didn't seem to mind it.
"You can see me" Cole said simply.
"Ain't exactly likin' what I'm seein', but yeah" Cecil replied and seemed to relax.
"Yer sum sort of errand boy fer a mage?" he asked then. Cole shook his head, shirking a bit.
"Yer too messy to be a Templar. So what's yer game, Cole?" Cecil asked, leaning to his knee. Cole took a deep breath, taking out his knife.
"I came here because I knew you could see me" he said firmly, or as firmly as he could. Cecil gave him blank stare.
"...Maker's balls, ya ain't gonna kill me, are ya?" he asked. Cole nodded, and got in response a laugh from the man. He waited for Cecil to calm down, sometimes the mages laughed like this. It was nothing unusual.

He could do this.

Cecil's laugh subsided into giggles, looking straight at Cole.
"Not to break yer dreams, kid. But don't make this yer day job. Yer pretty bad at it" the man said.

What do you know of me, Cole's inner voice muttered, but he ignored it.

"I need to, I'm fading away, the Darkness is taking me if I don't" Cole said, desperate. Cecil moved closer, eyeing him carefully.
"How 'bout ya give me those keys, kid. I'll go out an' get you a nice an' willing girl to kill..or boy, dunno where ya swing at" Cecil stated. This was not going according to the plan -at all-, Cole stood up and held his dagger tightly.

He is wounded, the Templars would not leave him able to fight. You can do this.

"No. I can make it go away, the pain and the hurt" Cole stated, tensing. Cecil stood up, easily towering over him. But he favoured his right leg and his other arm was bent nastily.

"Well,no. I don't wanna die yet, kid" Cecil stated and smiled at Cole.
"Whoever trained ya wasn't too good, yer holdin' that dagger wrong. An' yer posture is all wrong,too. 'Sides, ya just revealed yer plan. To yer target. Ya must 'ave been killin' pretty easy targets before" the man said and limped to Cole. Cole backed away, against the wall.

"The keys, please. I could take ya with me, ya 'ave that glint in yer eyes. Ya 'ave killed. With a lil' trainin-" Cecil began, but Cole lunged at him with all his desperation.

And hit the hard stone floor as Cecil dodged him. Cecil limped next to him, patting him on the head like a dog.
"As I was sayin', ya could be pretty good" he finished. Cole hid behind his hands.
"No no, I don't want to. Nobody leaves here. Nobody" he whimpered.

"I'm good at hidin', kid. Am an assassin, I kill fer a livin'" Cecil saud. Cole felt the pit in his stomach deepen. He was outclassed, this man could kill him. Knew how to kill better than he did.

He gave Cecil the keys.

Cecil took them, and offered him a hand. Cole blinked, but took it, standing up.
"I'm a man of my word, Cole. Come on, let's get outta here" Cecil said. Cole nodded, following the man outside the cell. The stones didn't feel too soft anymore, so that was good.

He would follow the man, until the templars would come. Then he'd be more hurt and couldn't fight back. Then he'd look into his eyes and see him as real.

Chapter Text

Cecil sat down to his desk. Before him were report after report after report. Now that he had conquered Corypheous and saved Thedas, his life would be this. And some posh meetings, give or take the month.

The mage rubbed his temples, quickly retreating from the desk. Not now, he needed clear mountain air to think.

The sunset at the balcony was calming, soon it would be dark. And then peaceful. Cecil smiled, though sadly. After everything, Cole had been scarce even to him. Cecil assumed that the spirit had left to seek out more people to help, leaving the Inquisition behind.  Some part of Cecil understood it, the Inquisition had done its job and helped. In the end, Cole had joined to help the hurting and that job had been done.

The other parts were not as understanding. Cecil slumped against the railing like a ragdoll, eyeing the world under him. His world, his Nation. He had freed the mages, had he not? And made the Grey Wardens repent. He could deal with being lonely again, he had so much else going on to fill his day. Cecil stood up straight, reminding himself of the days prior to this. Getting attached to someone who by his nature was transient was not wise.

After making an attempt at the reports, Cecil went to bed. Now, when the whole world was watching him, he had to actually try and learn to sleep in it properly. Not in some corner or on the roof. It was awkward, even if the bed had been custom fit for him.

Eventually, he managed some sort of sleep. Only for it to be broken by something warm worming itself next to him under the blankets. And lean over and kiss his cheek.
“Good night, Cecil” Cole mumurred, curling next to the mage. Cecil turned around, looking at the spirit.
“What th’ fuck, bud. Where were ya?” he asked, sitting up on the bed. Cole gave an annoyed mutter and opened his eyes.
“I was helping the hurt, so many wanted to leave, so many wanted to build anew. I gave them aid” he said.

“…So, yer stayin’?” Cecil asked, blinking. Cole frowned, sitting up as well. He had even changed into his pajamas, looking hilariously awkward.
“Yes? Here I am home, here is where you are” he stated, then wincing.
“You thought I had left you?” Cole asked.
“Yeah, bud. Ya disappeared after th’ battle, I thought ya ‘ad done yer job ‘ere” the mage admitted. And took the spirit in his arms.
“I should have told you, I’m sorry” Cole said, leaning into Cecil. The mage let  a relieved sigh out.
“Yeah. Well, yer ya,bud” Cecil said and curled into Cole.

After few hours, he woke up to the spirit snoring and drooling on him. Sleeping very deeply.

Chapter Text

Cecil stared at the notch on the pillar. It was just a notch, one amongs many. And that was the problem.

He wasn’t hungry, there was no pit feeling in his stomach. He was okay, really. But this was the third day without food for him. And that meant he was losing.

“You should not take it so seriously” Cole piped up behind him, stirring the porridge in a small pot.

“Yer got just two days” Cecil muttered, sitting down next to Cole.
“You should have none” Cole stated and poured Cecil a hefty amount of the sludge into a bowl. Cecil stared at it with apprehension.
“So should ya, I ‘ad to stalk a guy fer a bit. Couldn’t stop to eat” the mage said and stirred his spoon in the wet mixture.
“There were new refugees, I had to help them” Cole countered, not exactly looking at his bowl with any more love than Cecil was.

“Oh, ya wanna compare,huh?” Cecil asked, chuckling. Cole looked at him with far less amusement.
“I need to, you know that” he said, taking a spoonful of the porridge and almost shoving it into his mouth. It didn’t taste bad, but the texture was awful. Still, he managed to swallow. Cecil, seeing the spirit manage to start, starting wolfing down his bowl.

Only to poke at Cole as the spirit had not taken another spoonful.
“Ya too” Cecil reminded him sternly. Cole sighed and continued, watching that Cecil was eating as well.

They ate as much as they could. It wasn’t much, last time they had tried to eat for ‘storage’, they had vomited it all up and gotten sick to their stomachs. But it was enough for now.

“Bud, hey” cecil said, cleaning up the bowls and the pot. Cole looked up from sharpening his knives.
“Promise ya don’t skip two days again. Ya still look starved” the mage said. Cole smiled back.
“If you promise to take dry meat with you, next time” he countered.

Chapter Text

Cole scribbled onto the parchment. He wasn’t too good with the charcoal stick he was holding. His lines were jagged, made moreso by the glowlamp.

But Rhys didn’t mind, he watched as Cole tried to write. Just the mage being there, encouraging him, made the effort of writing worth it.

“Not bad” Rhys said, smiling at Cole. The young man nodded, offering a weak smile back.
“Could you write down what you wish the most? I can do it too” the mage said then, offering Cole another piece of parchment. Cole looked a it, nodding.

It was clumsy, but the words at least were in right order.

I want them to see me. I want them to remember me.

His greatest wish, to not be forgotten. Rhys’ was..peace, peace of what, Cole didn’t know.

Skyhold was full of so many hurt still, so much work to do. But that was good, it meant Cole’s mind was in its correct course. Not in their blood, their wishes to die. His knives would have their blood, the Inquisitor had promised him it.

But even creatures of compassion had to rest, at least so Cole thought. He would help more as they came near him. Better this way. The cheese was in the kitchens, waiting for the mice. The loaves of bread on the battlements. Waiting wasn’t something Cole liked very much, it made him pick his sleeves and gloves.

“‘Ey, bud” the Inquisitor called out, loping near him. Cole looked up at the man, making room for him.
“Hello” he stated, looking away. The Inquisitor looked over him, despite his best efforts, Cole sometimes felt judged by those eyes.

“Why are ya 'ere? Ya could be at th’ healer tents, bud” the man said, leaning on the railing. Cole wanted to remind the inquisitor that seven feet and a low railing was not a good combination. But he didn’t want to anger him, he was doing so much better now.

“People don’t always understand. 'Who is that brat?’ 'Looks like a stiff’, better they forget” Cole said. The Inquisitor gave a chuckle.
“'Ey, I’d get similar shite if I wasn’t th’ bloomin’ boss 'ere” the man said, giving a tired sigh and shaking his head.
“But they don’t, an’ yer my buddy. They’d not dare if they knew” the Inquisitor added.
“No, better they forget, it is easier that way” Cole said, lifting his hand to catch the Inquisitor if the man truly went tumbling down.
“Is that what ya want?”

Cecil’s desk was full of papers even on good days. Papers that told interesting stories if Cole listened to them.

He shouldn’t read them, really. But he had hid here from rest of Skyhold, their thoughts and pain and eyes were too much for him now. And Cecil understood it, in his own way. Being real, a person, was a struggle for both of them.

Cole went through the papers as gently as he could, people would not like that he read them. So he made sure not to leave any marks.

He stopped when he saw one signature. Rhys, Agent of the Inquisition.  Cole bit his lip, taking out his knife and carefully opening the seal.

So much for being subtle.

Inside was only a short letter, and an aged piece of parchment. Cole turned it around, seeing messy letters written in charcoal.

He stared at it for a while, feeling his stomach tighten. He remember it, he remembered writing those words. The memories came to him strongly. The young man staring at Rhys, eyes wide. Haunted eyes, no hope in them at all. Lonely and lost.

And wishing only to be seen, to not be alone anymore.

Cole shielded his eyes, shaking. Tears welled up, as much as he tried to push them back. He hated what he was before, but the earnest wish he had made then to the world made all that came later hurt. Especially now, when his wish was granted.

Cole folded the paper and put it in one of his many hidden pockets. So he could never forget again.

Chapter Text

Cecil's boots hit the solid ground of the trail. Easy and calm steps, trying to keep his balance as he made his way down this trail he had traveled by horse and cart for years.

Now? He carried only a light bag on his shoulder, the other being near useless with most of the arm gone.

Once, this trail had been through pain and suffering. Of lost lives and hunger. Then, it had been of victory and joy, defeat after defeat against a mighty foe. Yet, now it was the last steps of the former Inquisitor from his old fortress. The Inquisition had done its job, Cecil had succeeded.

He didn't need the anchor now, nor the castle. What he once was, the throat-cutter and the assassin, he was no longer.

The trail felt good under him, and though he did not have a direction now, he knew he left with more than he came with.

The mage's thoughts were interrupted by someone running after him.
"Oh no you -don't-!"  came the farmiliar voice of Cole, and Cecil turned to look at the rogue. Cole was panting, another more human aspect he had gained.

"Bud? What're ya doin' 'ere?" Cecil asked, blinking at the spirit. Cole stood to his full height, smiling at Cecil.
"Do you remember, two years ago, when you thought I had left?" he asked. Cecil nodded, and Cole moved closer, placing his hand on Cecil's heart.
"It was wrong for me to do that. It is wrong for you to leave without me,too" Cole stated. Cecil gave a nervous chuckle.
"Yeah,well, I'm not th' Inquisitor 'nymore. An' ya can read me now. An'...well" Cecil began, lifting his stump a bit. Cole looked at it and shook his head.
"I love you, -you-, not your rank or place in the world. And I know you love me,too" the spirit stated and took hold of Cecil's hand.
"And, you need my help again" he stated, grinning. Cecil blinked, before bursting into a laugh.
"Yer an arsehole" he chuckled, kissing Cole's forehead. The mage looked at his boyfriend then, starting to sniffle. Feeling Cole wrap his arms around him made Cecil break into tears. Cole helped him to sit down then, holding onto Cecil for dear life as the mage cried from the emotions running through his mind in the moment.

Cole woke to a nasty itching feeling in his left arm. That, and a horrible sting that burned his veins. He gripped his hands drowsily, hoping the stinging could stop.

When there was no relief, Cole opened his eyes, sighing. The spirit sat up, looking at his other half. Cecil was sitting on the floor, looking into the wall with blank eyes. The fingers in his right hand twitched, wanting to scratch an itch that was no longer there. Cole stood up and sat next to Cecil, on his left side. He did not look at the stump, it hurt too much for Cecil when he did that.

"Itching, can't relieve the itching" Cole mused, and saw Cecil's mouth twitch into a grimace.
"Yeah" Cecil breathed out. Cole leaned into Cecil, trying to feel his hurt and his pain. With the Anchor gone, he could hear Cecil as well as anyone. No longer a bright light, at least not literally.

It didn't matter to him, though. It might have, years back, when he first met Cecil. When he was still between a man and a spirit. But those years in-between had changed him. He didn't need to literally read Cecil to know when the mage hurt. Nothing had changed but the nature how he saw his boyfriend's hurt.

But other things had changed as well. Cole kissed Cecil's neck, nuzzling against him.
"You are not done, Cecil. Not now, not tomorrow. Not in the years to come" he spoke, wrapping his arm around Cecil's waist. The mage looked at him, almost giving a sob.
"Bud,  don't say that. Lost th' arm, now I can't climb worth shit" Cecil muttered, Cole breathed against Cecil's skin, looking up.
"Yes you can. You can use your magic, your knives and your feet. You'll learn" the spirit spoke gently. Cecil leaned into Cole then, letting the tears come.
"Bud, magic's gone. Can't call th' storms as I used to" Cecil said, flexing his fingers. As much as Cole wanted to deny it, he remembered the crackling of lightning that often accompanied Cecil. It was gone. But that was not helpful.
"Valour is still here, those you called to your barriers still listen. It is not gone" Cole stated. He felt Cecil's fingers in his hair then, stroking the messy blond hair Cole had not cared to cut in years.
"Been selfish 'ere,bud. How're ya? Ya seem solider than usual" Cecil mumurred.
"I miss Solas, but I can't do anything about him now. I am rested,though. No longer hungry and haunting, hunting for  a place" Cole answered, holding Cecil close.
"Ya could still do more rescue work, that doesn't end just 'cause the Inquisition is gone" Cecil suggested and Cole chuckled sadly and shook his head.
"No, I've had my turn. Maybe in the future, but now I wish only peace. And us. And helping" Cole answered, looking at the roof. The world was calm, for once. No wars, no Breaches, no rebellions, no Spires. Just, him and Cecil and the people needing help.
"We'll see, bud. Maybe tomorrow the Qunari strike again" Cecil joked, Cole poked him a bit, grinning.
"The world is no longer gray, Cecil. You need to accept that" he said, pushing Cecil back to the mattress.
Future was bright, no matter what threats may lay waiting. And as Cole closed his eyes and fell into sleep, his dreams took him not into the Spire or the bad day. But to the lyrium caves of the Unexplored Abyss, the forests of Emerald Graves and the jungles of Frostback basin.  To the beautiful world he now knew existed outside the walls of the Spire.

And to his friends, wherever they were.

Chapter Text

One of the worst things about humanity was that if you hurt them enough, they would never become the same. Mentally, yes, but also physically. Scars stayed, marks on the flesh telling of past hurts that the body could not heal fully.

Cole had few of his own, of course. Scrapped knees and a broken nose from the real Cole. A long gash on his left shoulder from Lambert's sword, as well as few broken ribs. Few cuts littered his body here and there, with a nasty melted line on his thig from Sha-Brytol crossbows. Scars happened even to him, now.

It still didn't prepare him to seeing Cecil without the mage's ever present clothes, however. It had taken a lot of convincing from the spirit to even get Cecil to take off his shirt and gloves. Now Cole knew why.

The spirit traced a line from a nasty looking brand, feeling the echoes of hurt.
"Just a bloody tanner, 'ad to steal shite from him to prove I could. Caught me an', well" Cecil said giving a far too casual of a handwave in Cole's opinion.
"He burned you in the flesh, Cecil. Marred you" Cole mummurred as he looked at the mage's chest and arms, where the skin was far too smooth. Acid, Cole had never seen it used in combat, but he knew what it left behind.

"Stone worker, same shite. Threw it at me, got lucky an' could wash it off afore it dug too deep" Cecil stated. Cole gave a snort and shook his head.
"You don't care, not even a bit. Just marks on a carcass, boss" the spirit said, and Cecil laughed.
"Yeah,bud. That's what they are. Ya don't get away unmarked, that's life" he said. Cole didn't like that, the idea that to live without shackles was to be marred again and again. Worse was that this could have been him, if he had not been at the Spire. At worst, he had only bruised few knuckles there, hunting treasures.

"Bud, what's with th' gloomy face? Shite happens. Ya got that scar on yer shoulder" Cecil said, tracing the long scar, causing Cole to shiver.
"I-it was from a fight, nobody held me down" the spirit said, smiling then.
"So much to heal, that is why I am sad" he said. Cecil made a face.
"Bud, it's th' past. Don't want people to see 'em so I hide 'em. That's all" the mage muttered.
"'That's all'? Is it? You hate being seen like this. Exposed, raw. Vulnerable under the armor" Cole stated and leaned closer. Cecil was so much more rawboned than he was, especially now. Cole had gotten used to eating, and as some put it, he started to look more like an avvar than before. But Cecil seemed to exist as a tall willow tree by nature.

"Yeah, 'cause showin' weakness is bad when ya don't 'ave friends" Cecil noted, fingers going to Cole's hair and combing it slowly.
"You had friends, you just left them"Cole noted, resisting the urge to moan as Cecil worked out some tangles from his hair. Cecil grumbled.
"...Ya know why, bud" he muttered, Cole opening one eye to look at the mage. Who clearly was avoiding eye contact.
"A choice, run away and be free. Or stay and be caught, chained. Too much fear, too much doubt, you bolted like a hare" Cole stated, holding Cecil's arm then firmly.
"I don't blame you, fear kills the mind" he continued. Cecil chuckled and leaned on the spirit then, head on Cole's head.
"All th' answers in this 'ead, an' its the messiest ever" he said, fingers twirling Cole's hair still.

Chapter Text

Cole had lived most of his life outside the Fade in Orlais. Although it was something he was now unsure about, as he watched the dance and toil of the nobility. In the Spire, nobody truly wore masks like this. Everyone was scared, but the placid mask they wore was a shield.

These people had made their gowns and coats into armor and their masks into helmets. Their words and retorts were the blades and shields, even spells. This was a battle, but an unfair one. And one that took the leaders from the realities of the war they were supposedly fighting. Did they even know how their men had struggled in the Exalted Plains? And how both sides would have perished by demon and blade, had the Inquisition not stepped in?

Cole had heard the mumurs of the  war before it truly began, the man with  the silly helmet and the talk of it Wynne and Adrian had. But the realities had escaped him as he wallowed in his own misery. Now he wished he had listened more, and done more to help.

The spirit sighed, taking a glass from the tray he had smuggled into this dark library. He was no use here, these people wanted no help and knew no compassion. Cole tasted the liquid, closing his eyes from the bitter taste of alcohol. But it was brewed with purpose, and to deny it would be wrong. He was not his the real Cole's father, he could stomach it.

"'Ey, bud" a farmiliar voice cheered, as Cecil arrived to the library. Eyes hard, controlled, the man wore his own mask now. One that Cole hated seeing.

The mage sat on the railing, locking one leg to the decorative structures it had. And swung the other. Cole stared at the sight, feeling a creeping fear for easy it would for Cecil to fall down.
"They dance, words like blades and eyes like daggers" the spirit mused, putting his drink back on the tray. Cecil seemed to find that funny.
"Yer kiddin' me? Ya started drinkin'?" he said, Cole rolled his eyes.
"No, but it needed to do its purpose" he countered.
"'Cause you can't?"

Cole nodded at Cecil, sitting next to the man on the railing.
"Nobody listens, nor wants to listen. They all want to war with words, when they should try to stop the real war" the spirit mused.
"Bud, that's Orlais fer ya. Or nobility in general. They don't much care fer th' lives of th' people. Fuck, even Ferelden 'as 'em" Cecil groaned, leaning back a bit. Cole's hand twitched, ready to grab the mage. But Cecil did not fall.

"Dorian is not like that, nor Josephine" Cole said, eyes still on Cecil and the potential and literal fall of the mage.
"Bud, Josie's not nobility. She's a merchant, 'er power comes from 'avin' goods. As fer Dorian, 'e's not rulin' shite. Just 'as the blood" Cecil spoke, confident in his words.

"'Sides, it's like a...well, it is a Game. All courts 'ave it, Orlais just made it official. Used to get good coin fer stickin' few knives into th' right people" the mage continued. Cole nodded, but felt even more sick of all of this now.
"You wear a mask too, and you made it into a game as well. But so it wouldn't hurt you" he spoke, Cecil tensing. Cole was beginning to realise the mage was not going to fall at all. He was in control, knew how to move the right way.
"Yeah, an' ya love tearin' th' mask down" the mage mumurred.
"It is not better this way? You can be you with me?" Cole noted, offering the best smile as he could in this situation. Cecil rolled his eyes and patted Cole on the back.
"Yeah, but me an' you ain't th' whole world" Cecil said, getting up in a single movement.
"But, we 'ave time. Wanna dance?" the mage asked. Cole gripped the railing with his fingers. He had never truly danced with anyone. Sure, he was agile and flexible, but that was fighting.

But then, this might truly be their only chance. The spirit nodded and got up, offering cecil his hand.

This reminded him of so many dreams young women had, in Skyhold and even on the road. Of dancing with a handsome noble who would sweep them of their feet. They never dreamed of missed steps, of toes being trampled. And all the sweeping the two men did was fall on top of one another, laughing.

It was a quiet moment, as Cole looked at the ceiling from the floor. Someone had painted the roof with shapes. Shapes that were geometric, a beautiful unity of rules made images. The laws of numbers were like looking into the very make of the universe, something Cole found strangely relaxing. The part of him that was still a spirit liked it, for some reason.
"Bud, who are ya spyin' on?" Cecil asked next to him, yawning a bit.
"Oh, sorry. I was just enjoying the ceiling" Cole answered, smiling brightly. Cecil chuckled, nodding as he usually did when he couldn't understand what Cole meant.
"Maybe yer right, bud. It's nice to be me fer a bit" the mage said, taking a gentle hold of Cole's hand. Cole took Cecil's, looking back at the ceiling again. The spirit sighed a bit, the hurts of the world forgotten for just a bit.

Their moment of reflection was ruined by the loud fireworks the servants had set up. Cole curled into a ball, holding his ears. Still, he felt Cecil's hand on his back. He'd remember that from tonight, at least.