What does it mean to be human? Cole wonders. He has asked it and searched for it, and yet, the boy has found few answers. Being alive, it seems, is not so easily explained.
To Cassandra, being human is to have faith—to believe in something that is greater than oneself and one’s own purpose.
For Varric, being human—being a person, being real—means telling stories (and forgetting the ones, in a way, that have the power to hurt you).
When he asks Solas, the elf does not answer him but he thinks, later, that being alive is about loving and hating the world with equal passion, with the whole of oneself: and that Solas is more human than he cares to admit.
To Sera, being a person means making a mess of it, of beating and bruising, and carving a lot of the little you get.
Blackwall thinks being human means making mistakes (and that forgiveness is what is more difficult).
Vivienne thinks little of being human, but does admit that reaching the peak of human potential holds its merits, has its power, has its gains.
Dorian does not agree with the former opinion. To him, being human is not about hierarchy or being better than somebody else. People cannot help but be who they are, Cole. Being human means being true that to self, whatever its flaws, and in learning and in growing, and in never giving up on what you truly desire.
The Iron Bull does not think it needs to be so complicated. In the qun, he explains, you are what you are: you are what you are good at. Being a person is how you have been made. You are a human because you are born human; you are an elf because you are born an elf; etcetera, etcetera. It is the same as saying that Bull is a warrior because he is a warrior. Cole doesn’t have to make it so complicated.
(And yet, he still does.)
What does it mean to be human when Cole has never felt real?
The Inquisition has helped people—Cole has helped people. Once, in the Hinterlands, a mother told them as much when they returned her lost babe to her arms, and she said, “Thank you. You’ve helped more than I could have hoped. I will always remember you.” But…
How can Cole be human when he makes them forget?
Humans are all about memory. They remember their first kiss, their first dance, and the time a loved one died that first time, and they buried them in the garden, amongst the flowers and a box of their favourite things. They remember what it felt like when the blade first pressed deep; they remember the things they did wrong, and they hold these wrongs inside of themselves like black treasure, counting out coins, using their sins as false currency. Humans hold themselves together, at the worst of times. But they hold others, too, at their best.
Humans are about touching and not touching: touching lips, touching hands, and not touching that topic, but touching things they have been told they should not touch. They touch in small spaces and break in small spaces—and when they touch, humans pretend that their hands do not leave marks on their skin.
Cole has seen bodies that have been touched by humans, too hard. They have bled, turned purple, yellow, white, blue—become nothing (although Cole will never forget them). He has seen bodies, too, that were not touched enough and have withered as a result, hidden away like owls at the light of the sun. In this, Cole knows how to be human most of all. But…
“I do not know that I can ever be human,” Cole tells the Inquisitor. They are sitting on the Skyhold wall. The sky is dark as his heart feels dark: spirit-fine and clouded with his questionings. “Broken. Beaten. Forgettable. Bruised. I do not make a good human at all.”
“None of us do,” the Inquisitor tells him, softly. Then, they hold his hand—which Cole can feel: he can feel their hand touching his hand, and he remembers that they, at least, will remember him, as they always remember to remember him, and that’s what makes him feel good, makes him feel better, makes him feel… real.