Work Header


Work Text:

"Dorian, why do you consider yourself a man?" 

Dorian’s mustache twitches the way it always does when Cole asks a particularly interesting question. He strokes it for a moment before settling with a small shrug.

"I suppose the best answer to that question is that I never considered myself anything else," he says with a sniff, "I never had the inkling to put on a frilly dress and call myself Susie, though plenty of wonderful women I know abhor dresses anyhow."

"Cassandra does not like them." Cole plays with the brim of his hat, brows furrowing as he picks at strands of Cassandra’s memory. They hadn’t spoken in a while and the pieces are all fuzzy at the edges, graying like a rain cloud. "Her uncle tried to make her wear one once. It did not work. You shouldn’t try to either."

Dorian’s smile cracks open wider in a manner that is far more wicked than any magister’s. “Oh, never say never,” he chuckles impishly, “I’ve been known to make miracles out of impossibilities quite often.”

 Cassandra’s hair shines in the afternoon light, always sleek and black, even when she’s sweaty. Cole is drawn in by it as he tiptoes nearer. She is reading Swords and Shields, he can hear Varric’s carefully spun voices in her head, so vivid they’re almost real. Even without his powers she wouldn’t notice him approaching until he speaks.

"Can I ask you something, Cassandra?"

She startles, predictably, so Cole does not shy away when instinct kicks in and her hand shoots for her sword. With a double-take her shoulders relax but her brows are still thickly furrowed. 

"Maker's breath, Cole," she sighs, "Yes, but please do not sneak up on me like that again. I don’t think I will ever get used to it."

"I understand." He shifts his weight from one foot to the other, wringing his hands. "What does it feel like, being a woman?"

Her brows arch upward in surprise. He waits for her features to even out as she sits down again, letting her book rest in the grass. “Well, it feels like many things,” she says, “Sometimes it feels like the most wonderful thing in the world. There is a power that comes with being a woman, sometimes in the adversity of others trying to convince you otherwise. There are other moments where … I never truly wished I was a man, but I wished things had been different. There were restrictions placed on me growing up and certain expectations I had no interest in meeting.”

Bright dress, floral pattern, makes me want to vomit — That is not what I meant, exactly. I meant … how did you know you were a woman?”

He can tell that thought never crossed her mind even without having to read it. She looks away for a moment, the furrow of her brows more thoughtful this time. “I never really gave it much thought,” she confesses, “When I was born, my parents gave me my name and treated me accordingly because of it. It never made me uncomfortable to be considered a woman. It simply felt … correct.”

"Dorian said the same thing too," Cole says, staring at his hands.

"What is this about, Cole?" Cassandra asks before he can say much else.

"Would you braid my hair?" He is hesitant but hopeful when he looks up at her. 

"You … you are serious?" she says, incredulous but not unkind. 

"If you are willing to, yes."

She looks down at her book for a moment as if it will offer some sort of sage advice. It says nothing. She rises and puts a hand on her hip.

”I will agree to braid your hair only after we have washed it,” she says, nose wrinkling, “I can’t make anything decent out of something that oily.”

 There is an old mirror in one of the storage rooms near the garden. It’s cracked from the journey to Skyhold, dusty and forgotten, but Cole doesn’t mind. He wipes away the dust and sets it upright, stepping backward.

Cassandra had done a wonderful job despite the warrior’s callouses covering her deft hands. He likes that about her the most. His washed hair is the color of pale gold, tied back in a neat bun. A few stray strands fall over his forehead and he brushes them back, regards himself with a tilt of his head.


He tests the word in his mouth, the wispiness of it. 

"Shhhe." He says it like a question, then as a declaration. Slowly he brings his hands to his chest, trying to imagine himself with a gentle swell of breasts, the wide jut of a woman’s hips. 

"Her." He cocks his hip to the side, thinking of Sera: the little giggling snort she makes that always reminds him of horses, her feet hardly making a sound as she walks, the way her eyes light up whenever she sees a particularly large pair of … well. Ditties.

"Her." He thinks of Vivienne, all grace beyond feline, the high arch of her brow as she glares at those beneath her. 

"I am Cole, and I am a she." The words roll around in his mouth again and again but they don’t stick. Their meaning withers on his tongue. Slowly his hands slide away from his chest. 

"Then again, maybe I’m not." With a shake of his head he blinks out of the room. Perhaps he is not a woman after all but he keeps his hair pinned up regardless. It’s very pretty. 

"Nice hairstyle, Cole." Bull says it without a hint of sarcasm, his smile as big and jolly as always. "Didn’t think you’d so much as touch that mop of yours but this isn’t a bad look for you."

"Do I look like a woman?"

"What? No," Bull snorts, taking another swig of his amber ambrosia, "At least, I don’t think so. Most humans look the same to me, I’ll be honest. You’ll get a better answer outta Krem de la Kreme over there, if he wasn’t so busy making moon eyes at the barmaid."

"I heard that one, chief," Krem calls out without even turning his head, sliding a couple of silvers into the barmaid’s palm. 

"So what are women like where you’re from?" Cole tries to sift through Bull’s memories but they’re frantic, scraps of a childhood he can’t decipher in this noisy tavern. 

"The tamassrans in Par Vollen are pretty powerful." He sets his goblet down with a mischievous smile. "You don’t want to fuck with them, that’s for sure. They control who breeds with who and raise little qunari like me into big powerful death machines."

"Or they have you tillin’ fields ‘till you can’t till anymore," Krem cut in, taking a seat next to Bull without preamble, "Then when you start shittin’ yourself they start carin’ for you again. Sounds like a pretty good deal if you’re into that sort of thing."

"Thanks, Krem," Bull grumbles, rolling his eye, "Can always count on a ‘Vint to paint an accurate picture of the Qunari."

"Any time, chief," Krem says with a wink.

"I still don’t understand," Cole confesses, biting his lip. He didn’t intend to sound so irritated but the tavern is full of color and sound and makes him more antsy than usual. "There’s so many things being a woman isn’t, I still don’t know what being a woman is.

"You alright kid?" Bull’s good humor is tempered in a blink. "Haven’t seen you this confused since Blackwall and Dorian tried to play twenty questions with you."

"I asked Cassandra what it was like to be a woman but I don’t …" Cole digs his nails into the table, feels the wood prick at the tender skin underneath. He needs something, anything to ground him. "I don’t think I feel it. It doesn’t fit right but neither does being a man."

Bull and Krem both go dead silent, exchanging brief but knowing looks. Without a word Bull rises from the table and casually walks over to Dalish and the others. Cole can hardly notice when he gets like this. Before he can stew on it much longer, Krem’s voice cuts through his jumbled thoughts. 

"Let’s go outside," Krem says, clapping a hand on his shoulder, "Easier to talk out there where the air doesn’t smell like stale piss-beer."

 The stars are small but bright, high up in the sky. Cole is too distracted to find them as wonderful as he usually does, practically staring at his feet as he follows Krem out. He could reach out and uncover what Krem was thinking but for some reason he holds back on the instinct. He’d tried to grab for the answer the same way he grabs for everything else and he’d only wound up more lost.

"So, uh." Krem clears his throat, looking him over in the moonlight. "When did you start feelin’ like this, Cole?"

"I don’t know," Cole says, wringing his hands, "I don’t know when it began but it won’t go away, now. I … I was meant to become him, but I think I became something more.”

"Right," Krem says, rubbing the back of his head. Trying to make sense of a spirit would be a challenge but you don't become lieutenant of the Chargers without an inkling of perseverance. "If it’s getting worse, maybe it means you’re just not happy with the way people are lookin’ at you now. I wasn’t."

7 years old, hips still straight, but between my legs isn’t right.

Krem startles just a bit, forces himself to take a deep breath. Bull had told him about this. He knew Cole meant nothing by it and this wasn’t about him now anyway.

"Yeah, do you … do you feel anything like that?"

"I don’t know," Cole says with a shake of his head, finding a spot near the stairs to sit down, "He had a prick so I do too, I think, but it’s more than that. I tried to imagine breasts. I tried to imagine it all away. None of it works. I feel like … "

"Like you’re neither?" Krem sits down beside him, trying to follow his gaze. He had no idea if spirits even saw the same way he did. He wasn’t sure if he ever really wanted to know.

"Yes," Cole sighs, placing his head on his knees. "In between man and woman? Outside of it? It’s all so very confusing."

They fall into a lull of silence again, listening to people stumble drunkenly out of the tavern, the crackling of fires and the occasional snore. 

"Well, I’ve got a story for you, if ya want to hear it," Krem says, "I think it’ll help you a bit."

"Yes, please."

"Bull once had us running a fetching job for a rich merchant in some tiny fisher’s town, nothing too excitin’. Long story short shit got more complicated than we were expectin’, so we’re holed up in this miserable wet little hole for a while. Anyway, on that job I met someone." He looks at Cole, smiling as the memory returns. "They were sellin fish, which is what everyone did there to make a livin’. Don’t know why I picked their stand, but I did. I pull out a bag a’ coins to pay them off and say ‘Thank you Mister —’ and they start laughin’."

"Is fish really that funny?" Cole wasn’t sure what the point of this story was but he was enthralled regardless. Not many people just sat down with him and told him stories.

"No, but they weren’t a Mister. When I said ‘Miss’ they started laughing again. When I asked them what was so funny, they said ‘I ‘aint a miss or a mister, lad. Enjoy the fish’." 

"So they were neither?"

"Yeah. Point is, you’re not the only one like that out there. And even though I thought they were a mister at first, it doesn’t matter. What you look like to other people’s their problem, right? You’re you."

"I am me, yes." Cole nods his head with enthusiasm, though he still doesn’t entirely understand. "But if I’m me and I’m like that fisher … person, does that mean I have to start selling fish?"

Krem can’t help it then, he laughs. He doesn’t give a damn if he wakes up the refugees below. “No, but that is a good way to make some coin," he says, "Just don’t go fishin' in the garden well and you’ll be fine.” He claps a hand on Cole’s shoulder, whose eyes go wider than the moon.

Not many people willingly touched him for any reason yet Krem didn’t want to use him, didn’t want anything from him. He just wants to be there, to listen. To make his own hurt better.

He isn’t sure what that feeling is on his cheeks, but when he rubs them he finds they are wet. A small hiccup leaves his throat unprompted and he claps his hand over his mouth. 

"Hey, it’s alright," Krem says, soothing as he rubs his shoulder, "You’re gonna be alright, Cole. You’re a pretty bang up fella for a spirit, I think." He isn’t expecting Cole to suddenly jerk forward in a hug but Krem is nothing if not quick to adapt. He moves his hand to Cole’s back, rubbing it in slow circles. "Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay."

"Thank you." Cole’s voice is muffled into Krem’s shoulder. "Thank you so much."

"Just doin for you what the chief did for me," Krem says, "We gotta look after our own after all, right?"

"I think I understand, now." Cole finally calms down, pulling back. His words come out slow, carefully chosen. "I am not a man nor a woman, but something else. I don’t have to be anything other than what I am and I am … what was that word you used? They?"

"They? Yeah," Krem says, his smile wider now, "Most people use it when they don’t know the gender a’ someone. Really wish people would start using it more around folks like you."

"They." Cole tests the word, likes the weight of the "th" sound. It feels different than "he" or "she", but somehow better.

"Them." Cole thinks of Dorian with his carefully maintained mustache and radiant smile, Bull with his rippling muscles and grizzled jaw.

"Their." Then there’s Cassandra, steel and fire and everything else that makes her her, charging into battle without fear. There’s Sera and Vivienne and Josephine and Leliana, all made up of a hundred different hopes and fears, all of them women.

"They." Cole looks up again at the stars and their smile turns into a grin. "My name is Cole, and I am a 'they'."