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Of Love and Despair

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Cole sat on the upper level of the Herald's Rest, legs dangling through the railing as he listened to the hustle and bustle below. His blue eyes scanned the crowd below, hearing their distress echo its way into the rafters above. It was erratic, almost suffocating, as they stumbled about. The Iron Bull stomped his way down the stairs and made a beeline toward the entrance, before disappearing. The Chargers soon after.

They were going to help the soldiers fight. Defend.

Everything had happened all at once. The green hole in the sky—bright, burning. The explosion had sent everyone into a panic. The Inquisition was mobilizing.

The Inquisitor had made her way to the tavern at first, asking her companions to get ready. Except him. Except Cole. Ellana had been adamant on him staying in Skyhold. She didn't want him to get hurt.

He could see it in her eyes. The spirit always found it hard, almost painful, to try and listen to her. So he learned how to read her face. Her eyes, the way her lips would turn depending on her mood. The flush of her face or the flare of her nostrils. It was the little things.

He could still feel the way her fingertips ghosted across his face as she told him to stay. Urged him so. Cole was loyal to those he cared about, and he would most definitely say that he cared about Lavellan. More so than he should, he knew.

Something was there, he could feel it. Like twine, tangling, tugging at his chest. He felt drawn to her unlike he did with his other friends. It wasn't the closeness he'd come to learn with Varric or Solas, no. He idly wondered if she felt it too, but the Anchor wouldn't allow him to.

She was too bright, burning, blazing like a roaring fire.

Everything had happened so quickly, one thing right after the other. Everyone needing her to do this and that, she was running ragged. Even so, Ellana had found the time to send someone off to obtain an amulet for him. An amulet that would keep him safe from binding. But Corypheus had already made his move.

She always went out of her way to help everyone, even him. Cole never abandoned his friends. Definitely not Ellana. He couldn't let her go without help. Without his help. So he followed anyway.

That's how he got to where he was, now. His feet crunched through the thin crust of snow, his daggers drawn.

A whirling mass of green energy shot up to the sky over the mountains, the wintry wind whipped passed his face as he made his ascent from behind his friends. Friends. The people he's come to care so much about. Varric, who had taken him under his wing and taught him many things about this world. Solas, who spoke to him and mentored him about the Fade. Even Cassandra had been forming an almost reluctant friendship with the assassin.

And Ellana. Cole's footsteps faltered, feet sinking into the snow. Ellana who cared about him and tried to protect him, even though he could do so himself. Ellana, who's tender smiles always made him feel warm, welcome, wanted. Something he had yet to experience. The rogue's gaze slid from the snow in front of him up to the retreating backs of his teammates.

Pull yourself together!

He couldn't just not go, not when she would be at so much risk fighting against their greatest enemy. She could die. He knew of the risk he was putting himself and the others at by following along, but the thought of her dying while he was not there urged him forth. Cole couldn't bear the thought of losing Ellana. So he went, in attempts to protect her from the shadows.

They can't see me. They won't see me.

"Shades to the North!" Lavellan yelled and pointed one of her daggers, her wavy blonde hair shifting and glinting underneath the ominous green swirling mass of stones and clouds above. Whatever was left of the Inquisition forces had come with to help, the other companions busy amongst the battlefield in a blur of activity.

Cassandra, Solas and Varric shifted in unison as they remained by the Inquisitor's side. Their forms fighting alongside one another with a swift efficiency close comrades only had, their experience with one another evident. Cassandra would push forth and take the brunt of the battle, Solas offering support and stray damage. Varric would put arrows into unsuspecting enemies as Ellana flanked them in a style similar to his own.

They sparred a lot, after all.

Cole, for the most part, remained hidden at the back to both his enemies and his friends, confident that he could remain unseen. Everything was going as planned and he'd occasionally take out an enemy that was about to flank the four as they made their ascent to Corypheus. Most of the others had stayed behind to fend off any other demons that seemed to spew forth.

Dagger. One. Two. Three. In the backs of his enemies, his allies never noticed as more enemies seemed to fall as they continued forth. No one noticed the silent sentry that shadowed them. Cole was good at it, afterall.

Don't see me, don't see me.

They didn't.

The dragon was dead, Corypheus was weakened.

They all made their way to the top, the scraggly rogue remained in the background not far from his allies. Keeping track of them was easy. The snow told him where they went, what they did. Hearing them was harder, because of the tear in the sky. It was angry, screaming at him. It should feel like home, but it didn't.

Distracted, the rogue almost didn't notice as they came upon Corypheus. He held the orb high, looking down at them as the wind around them howled ominously. The magister was desperate and Cole could feel his stomach drop as he made eye contact with the spirit. Corypheus could see him.

"You dare come before me, demon!" He bellowed, causing Lavellan and her allies to pause and peer around in confusion. No. No no no. This wasn't happening! "I will bind you."

Cole could have sworn he heard Solas call out his name and tell him to run. But he couldn't. It was like his body seized up.

"No..." His voice wobbled.

As if on cue, he was forced out of stealth and Ellana's eyes met his. The horror on her features was plain as day, despite her usual stoicism. It was almost like everything slowed to a crawl, the look of realization finally dawning on her delicate features before anguish set in and she faced him with her daggers drawn. Pointed at him. Some unseen force slammed into him and it was like he was thrown into the backseat of his body, he could feel his wide eyed expression slowly melt away into indifference as he leveled a steely gaze at the Inquisitor.

They both knew. They all knew. This could happen. Would happen. Wasn't it an inevitability?

Cole felt his body crouch down, readying itself to pounce. He had no say it what he was doing and he wanted to scream. Yell at her to run. But nothing would come out. His voice was suppressed, smothered, strangled as it refused to listen to his commands.

How had I not seen this coming?

The others focused on Corypheus and he felt himself dash forward, daggers glinting dangerously in the green glow from the sky. He slashed at the small elf, forcing her to gasp and block his frenzied attacks. Metal sang on metal as Cole drove her back, farther and farther away from her allies.

All Lavellan did was block, block, block. Tears pricked the sides of her big green eyes, her small pink lips twisted into a frown.

Fight back!

'Kill me!' Cole tried to yell, and with every swing he felt the stone in his stomach get heavier and heavier. He slowly began to realize.

"S-Stop! Cole, I know you're in there." Ellana forced out through gritted teeth, just as one of his daggers nicked her shoulder. The blade dug in through her white leather armor, her red life-force sputtering forth. Her voice cracked as she cried out, "Fight it!"

He realized. He knew.

"Strike him down, Inquisitor! He is not himself!" Cassandra urged, only to get knocked back by the magister. The Seeker would not give up, however, as she rolled into a crouched position and sprung forth with all the tenacity of a one woman army.

She promised. She promised. She said that she would if this happened, but deep down Cole always kind of knew. Ellana never had it in her to harm those she cared about and whether he liked to admit it or not. And he was one of those people she cared about. Held dear. What with the way her expression would soften for him when they were alone or how she oftentimes clung to him more so than she did her other friends.

This was like Cole's worst fear come to light, hurting those he cared about. Maybe the Nightmare demon at Adamant was right. Because he was about to kill Ellana. His chest felt heavy, throat closing up. This shouldn't be happening.

She was going to let him.

He should have stayed at Skyhold.

An arrow tore into his left shoulder, causing him to drop one of his weapons. It clattered into the dirt as his body shifted to keep balance. Cole watched as his focus was torn away from Lavellan and zeroed in on Varric standing not far away with tears in his eyes. The dwarf was loading another bolt into Bianca before the rogue leapt forth, knocking him to the ground. The crossbow skittered across the dirt, out of range.

No. Nonono. Cole stood above him, ready to strike. To kill. Oh Maker, no. He was going to kill Varric. No!

"Kid!" Varric wasn't taking it any better than the Inquisitor was. Cole wanted to scream as he felt the last of his consciousness slowly slipping from his grasp. The effects of the binding coming full swing, he couldn't fight it. Not much longer. Before he could deal a killing blow, however, he felt his body stumble as a weight barreled into him.

They went tumbling in a tangle of limbs and he sprung into a standing position once they separated, blood coated his dagger. Lavellan stood shakily with her hand pressed against her stomach, redness seeping through her thin fingers. Her face a mix of emotions, wincing from the pain, eyes wide and filled with unshed tears. Cole could only watch with a distinct sense of hopelessness as his body stalked forth with purpose.

This wasn't happening. It had to be a dream. A nightmare. Stop! Stop this!

"I can't. I can't." Ellana sobbed, as if answering his pleas, her dagger hit the ground with a dull 'thud!'. "I can't do it."

She was crying, vision blurry. Can't do it. Why'd you come?

You have to!

His vision blackened, flickering on and off. On and off. Every time he was closer. Closer and closer. Then close enough to count every freckle, every blemish, on her delicate features. Her lips quivered and moved, but he heard no sound. Close enough to see the fine details of her vallaslin, the lines he'd wanted to trace with his fingertips on more than one occasion. Close enough to—his dagger impacted leather, then soft flesh gave way as her breathing stuttered.

That's all he heard.

His dagger was in her chest. Just like that. The sounds of battle slowly drained away, her eyes slowly connecting with his as a sad smile made it's way onto her face. Chapped lips trembled, tears finally spilled.

She couldn't.

It was like something inside of him broke, just then. He'd promised himself! Ellana was just a woman that was stuck in the middle. The last thing Cole ever wanted to do was hurt her. There in the wrong place at the wrong time, but still she walked forward with a sense of purpose. Held her head high with sense of dignity and helped the 'little people' without question.

Saved the smaller, weaker people. Gave him a place to call home.

Her unblinking attitude when it came to helping those in need was part of what drew him into the Inquisition. What drew him to her. Like a tether that was slowly anchoring him to this world, everything coming into focus. She took him under her wing, cared for him. Trusted him.

And look where that got her.

Cole never wanted to hurt her. But he did. The thought slowly began to eat away at him, from the inside out.

He was ripped out of his thoughts when he felt something soft brushing against his bottom lip. She was kissing him. Ki –

He wanted to respond, somehow some way. But couldn't. Wouldn't. His body wouldn't allow it. Only frozen as he stared down at her with cold and detached blue eyes. Which only seemed to add to Ellana's heartbreak. The look on her face just as he twisted his dagger into her heart forever seared into his being.

The frail elf coughed, sending blood onto his chest and neck. His vision blinked in and out and suddenly everything seemed to focus in and become sharper. He could feel the rivulets of her life force as it seeped into his shirt underneath his armor. Just like her tears, which were now mixed with her own blood as she lay motionless on the ground at his feet.

Ellana was facing the sky, her blonde hair matted and splayed beneath her as she stared unblinking at the swirling mass of green. Vibrant green, just like her eyes whenever they crinkled happily at him when they spoke. Bright and warm, inviting. A brilliant green, like her eyes had once been. Which were now a dulled hue, mouth open as if she'd been trying to say something.

He knew. He knew what she was trying to say but he tried not to think about it. Cole was trying so hard that he felt his body begin to shake. He could feel it. See it, even.

The only thing he could do was stare, his hands now free of weapons as his body went slack. The shock to his system too much as he knelt before her. His friend. His dearest friend. It wasn't until a sob tore through his throat that he'd realized that Corypheus was dead and he'd been released from the binding.

His mind fought against the whispered words that had fallen from Ellana's lips right before she'd died. But he couldn't – he couldn't do it.

I love you.

Varric almost couldn't look, it was physically painful to see. Cole's sobs turned into an agonized wail that filled the barren landscape around them, his large hands placed upon Lavellan's tiny chest in a vain attempt to stem the bleeding. But he knew. He knew by the stillness of her body and the sheer amount of blood that pooled beneath her.

Cole seemed to realize this, too. As his cries started to change, voice deepening. Growling. Demonic. His hands pawed at the light armor that Lavellan wore, clawing and shaking.

The Kid's eyes were widened, eyes dilated as the aura around him caused even Varric's hairs to raise. His once soft blue eyes were now emitting a steely blue glow from underneath his stringy hair. His floppy hat lay abandoned next to Ellana's still body. The air around them seemed to grow even colder, the wind picking up and blowing some of the dirt and snow.

Even Cassandra took a small step back and he knew the Seeker wasn't enjoying this any more than he was. She'd formed a hesitant friendship with the once-spirit, after all.

"He's turning into a demon!" Was her distressed statement and Varric hefted Bianca up, knowing what needed to happen. He could feel something in his chest twist at the sight, Cole curled over Ellana's motionless body. The rogue's face twisted into a snarl, showing razor sharp teeth.

The dwarf was sure he heard Solas try to say something, but he took aim anyway. The Kid's wails of despair ringing through his head, a reminder of—

Then silence.