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Helping people let go of pain is a kindness. Cole knows this. He knows because he can feel it. Feel the relief when his dagger slips home, swift and merciful, to still the heart of the soldier dying slowly of a festering gut wound. Feel it when he tugs at the memories of the scout with the cheating lover, blurring the betrayal until she can see the farrier who has been trying to catch her eye since he arrived at Skyhold. Cole smiles when he sees their fingers brushing against each other’s tentatively as they walk side-by-side across the courtyard.

Cole likes knowing he has helped.

The explosion so powerful the ground shakes. Cole stumbles, nearly falls, when he sees Varric sneaking a cloaked figure into the castle. The pain clinging to her is bright enough, strong enough, that he wonders that other people don’t see it. He wonders how Varric can laugh at her side and not feel it beating against him like a hammer on an anvil.

The light blinds her. The Chantry gone. Smoldering husks of the dead. Rubble and shards of glass litter the square. She bends down, picks up half of a singed and bloodied rag doll, clutches it to her chest. Maker help her, she had a hand in this. Now she knows. Knows why he grew distant. Why he tried to push her away. Pain and anger and betrayal hot as the bomb explode inside her when he confesses. When he begs her for death. When she almost gives it to him. Anders, how could you do this to them? To me?

Cole follows them to the battlements. Her pain draws him to her. She and Varric don’t notice him shadowing them because he doesn’t want them to. Once they’re safely on the walls, the woman throws back her hood. Even with the burden she’s carrying, she’s beautiful. Long black hair. Eyes the blue-green of the sea off the Storm Coast.

Hawke. Cole catches the name with Varric’s worry.

She needs to sleep more. Laugh more. Hawke sitting in a tavern with him and drinking until she can’t shuffle the deck for their next hand of wicked grace. Singing off-tune and off-color songs with the Riviani. Stirring up mischief right under Red’s nose. She was happy then. Blondie did a number on you, Hawke. Just one more thing I can’t forgive him for.

When Varric leaves to find the Inquisitor, Cole knows he can help them both. He knows the name of Hawke’s pain. Anders. He catches hold of it, follows it through her memories.

Anders, how could you do this to them? To me? So many dead. He kneels in the square, head bowed. “I told you I’d break your heart.” She stands behind him. Fingers white-knuckled as she raises her dagger. Falling asleep next to his warmth. His laughter tickling against her skin. She cannot strike.

His humor turns dark-edged. His words cut. “Find someone else. I’ll only hurt you. If you stand by me you’ll be hated. Hunted.” He tries to push her away. She doesn’t let go.

His arms hold her tight as she muffles sobs against his chest. She doesn’t know how much more she can lose before she is crushed by sorrow. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you, Mother. I’m sorry I couldn’t save Bethany. Or father. I’m so sorry. So very sorry. Anders doesn’t let go. He keeps her from shattering.

Anders comes to her. His hands shaking. His touch hesitant. He wants and is afraid of wanting. “For three years I have lain awake every night aching for you.” His words kindle fire inside her. She’s never felt this before.

Their bodies press together. The scent of elfroot and lyrium as he kisses her. “No other mage I have known has ever dared to love. This is the one rule I will most cherish breaking.” She takes him to bed. Takes him into her. Loving him is deep and sweet as magic. His eyes so full of wonder the first time he says, “I love you.”

I love you, Anders.

Cole pulls back from Hawke’s thoughts, steps back until his back hits the cold stone of the tower. He presses a hand to his chest, his breathing harsh and ragged. Hawke is staring at the spot where he stands, and for a moment, before she turns, he thinks she might have seen him.

Helping people let go of pain is a kindness. Cole knows this, knows he can erase Anders and the pain from Hawke’s mind. But he’d have to erase the love too. The love that keeps her strong. Keeps her whole.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t make it stop.” Cole’s words are little more than a whisper, and it pains him to say them. He leaves Hawke alone on the battlements.

Cole likes knowing he has helped and wishes there was someone who could help him forget the times when can’t.