“What’re you grinnin’ at, weirdo?”
Sera’s nose wrinkled as she frowned at Cole. She’d never cared for him, even after the Inquisitor had claimed he was somehow more human. She didn’t understand how that was even possible. They’d hightailed it off to Redcliffe one day, got into it with some washed-up ex-Templar, and suddenly she was supposed to believe the demon wasn’t a demon anymore.
“It’s fricked up nug shite, is what it is!” she’d told Meria one evening after Cole’s so-called transformation. “He’s got demon writ all over him, doesn’t he? Just because Varric helped him find some arsehole Templar…”
“Sera, really?” Meria cut her blue eyes over at her friend, shaking her head as she spoke. “Is there nothing he can do to…”
“Nope. Nothing’s ever gonna change my mind. He’s bleedin’ creepy!"
Everything he did just made her… uncomfortable. Oddly enough, it got worse after Meria declared him “human.” The way he could still somehow see into a person. The way he took too long to respond when he was part of conversations. The way his face seemed to will itself into expression, piecing together bits at a time until the emotion was there. It was all so strange, like he was some hollow thing pretending to be human. It sent chills down her spine to think of what might be going on behind those pale eyes.
And now here he was, sitting in the chair opposite her and grinning like some fool idiot. Cole was the last thing she wanted to deal with this morning. Well, except perhaps Cullen. He was… awfully mad at her. Thinking back, even she had to admit that maybe she’d gone too far. Maybe she should go and make some sort of peace offering. She did like Dorian, after all…
She was just so damned scared. Scared of how lonely she’d be knowing that Skyhold was without her Inquisitor. Scared of what Dorian’s anger did to him. Scared of the demon he’d almost become.
But those were all just on the surface – the latest fears on top of a giant pile of them. She had deeper fears that had always driven her; they’d made her the person she’d become.
“That man hates you because you’re an elf.”
“You’re no elf. We Dalish are the only true elves. Dirty flat-ear – you might as well be a shem.”
“Knife-eared bitch. I’ll teach you to remain silent in the presence of your betters.”
Tough as nails and twice as crude, she had become. Her rough exterior was her armor that served double duty. It protected her from getting too close to others and keeping her fears locked inside, hidden from the world. Meria had been the first to really try to understand her, and even her attempt made Sera so uncomfortable that she left Skyhold not long after Corypheus was defeated. Meria had told her Skyhold could be her home, and she did think of it that way, but it was a home she only ever visited. It was too much to stay and completely abandon her armor.
“Seriously, freak, what d’you want?” The long night she spent drinking and gambling (and losing) had depleted her painfully short supply of patience. Her eyes flashed dangerously at the smiling young man.
“Just to sit. To sit and see and maybe speak. And… and to eat. Varric wants me to eat.”
There was something odd about him today. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she knew something was different.
“Sittin’ and seein’… fine,” she replied, cradling her head in her hands. The hangover was just over the horizon. She could feel it pounding around her temples. “You can do that over there. Away from me. Talkin’s all out, sorry.”
“He knows you didn’t mean it. That you didn’t really want Dorian to die.”
Her head snapped up as she grimaced. “Oh, and how do you even know that? Pick it from ‘is great golden head, did you? You wonder why people don’t like you around…”
Cole’s smile dropped into an expression of concern.
“No, no, no. I didn’t hear him. The commander’s a good person. He was just scared. That’s why he…”
“The commander? Scared? You are off your rocker, aren’t you? That man’s never been scared a day in ‘is life, I bet.” Sera scoffed at the very idea of the great Cullen, just a scared prat like her.
Cole’s voice dropped low as he leaned forward, almost conspiratorially.
“He’s scared every day. So many people everywhere depend on him. Cullen, courage and calm, silent and strong. That’s what he wants you to see. His fear makes him stronger, but sometimes it backfires. Sometimes it makes him…”
“Angry?” Sera added, in spite of herself.
“Yes!” Cole leaned back in his chair comfortably. “Fear can turn into anger. And anger can hurt others. You have to know. You have to see that it’s really just fear you’re angry at.” He met Sera’s eyes, brows knit together in thought, “Then, you can’t be angry anymore and it’s better. Right?”
“I’m really just angry at the fear?” she said softly.
“Yes. No. Wait. We were talking about the commander, I thought?”
Her eyes widened, eyebrows raised in realization. His quizzical expression was too much for her, and she snorted with laughter.
“Yeah, you. The commander,” she replied through her laughter, “I need to get out of here. I’m gonna hurl if I have to watch anyone eat.”
Sera rose. The conversation had her reeling, even as she laughed her way down the stairs and through the door of the Rest. She took a deep breath and raised her face to the morning sun, shielding her eyes. Inexplicably, she felt better than she had in a long time, lighter somehow, despite the headache that loomed large.
“Oh!” she said out loud as she finally realized what was different about Cole. He still spoke like a crazy-wise child, but the disturbing pauses were gone. The waiting until he processed how he should respond was missing. The expressions were genuine, immediate. He was natural, comfortable. Comforting, even.
“Huh,” she muttered as she made her way toward the keep. There was a man inside she needed to see. She had no idea how to apologize to him, but she’d muddle through it somehow. She needed him to know that she didn’t hate him or Dorian. She was just…
“Names are just words. Villages are just places. I know his heart.”
Leliana was lost in emotion. Using Meria against Solas was the most obvious and weakest of tactics. That should have meant he was winning this particular battle of wills. He should have been pleased that she was breaking before him.
He found, however, that Meria’s words burned through his heart as he fought to keep his mask up. Leliana's desperate ploy was working. Was this deliberate or a happy accident for her? He’d lectured her earlier about how he’d used the right type of magic to dissolve Dorian’s possession, admonishing her for not realizing her group had needed the right tool for the job when they tried the same thing years before. Had he been foolishly telling her what she already knew? He was prepared for subtlety and cunning. This clumsy assault, however… it had never occurred to him she’d take this path. He was reeling, caught off guard.
The right tool for the job, indeed.
No one was more surprised than he when she finally relented, saying that since the Inquisitor had trusted him, she would follow suit.
She asked him for his plan. The advisors looked at him with curiosity, but he only asked for a little time to think. Leliana’s eyes narrowed again as she regarded him for a moment in silence. Finally, she sighed and allowed him leave to go do his thinking.
“But, Solas, if she’s in danger…” she called.
He didn’t turn as he replied, “I will be quick, spymaster.”
Solas took a moment to gather himself in the cold silence of the hallway. He fell back against the closed door, hands dropping to his side in exhaustion, heavy and numb. He looked up at the ceiling blankly, breathing slowly and allowing his mind time to clear. The meeting had somehow gone his way, but he didn’t feel like he’d won anything. He got the promise of help he wanted, but he still felt so defeated.
Yet still there was an itch in the back of his mind.
“You don’t have time for this!” It cried, “You have to help the people. She’s one person – they are many! This doesn’t make sense…”
It was his own voice. The voice of cold reason. The same voice that had spurred him to steel his heart and leave Meria alone in Crestwood in the first place. She was only one person. And, regardless of his age or power, he was only one person. Neither of them should matter.
But, oh, she does. She matters.
“Hello, Mythal,” he murmured, eyes closed, “I’m sure you appreciated that spectacle…”
You’ve decided I am Mythal, then?
“I’ve decided to call you that, yes.”
Then, old friend, you are aware she is already at the Black City. With the anchor?
“I am aware…”
She could be the key to open it…
“No. I can’t ask that of her.”
You may have to.
Have it your way for now.
When he was sure the voice had receded back into the depths of his mind, he opened his eyes and made his way through the hall with renewed purpose. He already knew what he needed to do to save Meria. Hadn’t he stayed up all night, pacing the rotunda, deciding the best course of action?
Yes, yes he had. His plan would work. He’d thought about it from every conceivable angle, scrutinized the details in his mind over and over again, and in the end, he knew it was the only way.
But before he would share it with the advisors, there was someone he needed to talk to.
That was it. The only thought that ran through his head over and over as the numbing potion began to wear off. His own mantra of pain.
And oh, there was pain. Pain beyond anything he’d ever imagined. His body was a shivering inferno. He didn’t know where he was or what he’d done to get himself there. All he knew was that intense, searing pain. Every breath was agonizing. Every twitch brought on fresh waves of torture. The wisp of fabric they’d laid over him to help him regulate his body heat grated against his bare skin. Chills ran up his body and he shivered. More pain. Bright lights exploded in his mind and he cried out wordlessly between clenched teeth.
The room brightened as he heard a door open. He could make out a dark figure approaching and prayed it was the healer coming with more numbing potion. He felt pressure as the figure placed its hand behind the pillow supporting his head to lift it just a bit. Even this small movement stretched the burned flesh on the back of his neck, drawing a moan from his throat. And then, the heavenly touch of cool on his lips as his visitor slowly poured the potion into his mouth. He swallowed as the pillow was slowly lowered back onto the bed.
The figure then sat in the chair next to Dorian’s bed and patiently waited for the potion to take effect.
As he finally felt the soothing nothingness wash over him, Dorian’s mind stopped its repetitive cursing and allowed him some freedom to finally think. He closed his eyes and, in his mind, he examined the facts in an effort to help him understand just what had happened.
I am Dorian Pavus.
Yes, that’s right. I am Dorian Pavus.
I am at Skyhold.
I am in pain.
That is very fucking correct.
I am in pain because I lost control.
It’s happened before.
I lost control because I was angry.
I do have a temper.
I was angry because someone was laughing at something.
Strange thing to cause me to lose my shit, but please continue.
The laughter came from someone I don’t like. It was aimed at someone I love.
It’s making more sense now. Keep thinking, Dorian.
Meria. She died. And it was Solas laughing at her.
Ah, right. My friend. There we go. That would do it.
I lost my mind and a demon took advantage.
I'd kind of hoped that was a dream.
Solas entered the Fade and saved me.
Kaffas. Now I owe him.
His power was… strange.
He is strange.
The demon called him “the wolf.”
That sounds familiar.
Meria told you the wolf was real.
Meria. Didn’t something happen in the Fade after? Something to do with her?
You felt her presence in the Fade.
Grey-green eyes snapped open.
“She’s alive,” he husked aloud.
“She is,” the figure said calmly, “And I have a way to get her back.”
“Solas?” Dorian managed a rough whisper, “Damnit, move where I can see you. Andraste’s blood, It hurts too much to move, even with the potion.”
“You seem to be able to move your mouth just fine,” the elf chuckled as he adjusted his chair to match Dorian’s eyeline.
“This wit cannot be contained. At least not while that potion is in me,” his words were flippant, but Dorian’s voice was low and strained. It sounded wrong to his ears. His mouth couldn’t quite form the right words. Burned skin stretched tight over the muscles, constricting them and causing pain with each movement. He suddenly thought about asking for a mirror and then, just as quickly, decided that was a bad idea. He’d satisfy his curiosity later. Preferably alone.
“Good. As I said, I have a way to get her back, but we need to talk. You must be coherent enough to understand and, more importantly, agree to what we need to do,” Solas paused for a moment, “You will have to convince Cullen to allow what I’m about to propose. He will not care for it.”
Cullen, Maker, the look on his face when… and he’d almost…
No, Dorian thought as he firmly pushed that line of thought down, that’s another thing I’ll process later… when I’m alone.
“Alright, Solas, I’ll hear it. But first,” Dorian did his best to make his voice as clear and strong as possible, “Thank you. For what you did. You didn’t have to, but you did.”
“Think nothing of it,” came the smooth reply.
“Right now, I can think of nothing but it,” Dorian let out a weak chuckle, “Things would be… so much worse if you hadn’t stepped in. I’m not often wrong, but… I may have been about you. I am sorry,” a beat of silence passed, and then he added, ”I won’t repeat that, so I hope you heard it.”
Dorian could only smile from his eyes, edges crinkling in amusement at the elf’s surprised expression.
“Now, how about that plan, Solas?”