“I was a fool.”
The words fall quietly from his lips.
She is tired. The world is ash and dust, and she has lost so many pieces of herself; markings and heart, left arm and left eye, trust and faith. It has become such a painful thing, to love him. And yet.
“Sit with me?” she asks.
He is bloodied and beaten, hollow-eyed and worn thin, standing in his tarnished armour amidst the corpse of the world he’s destroyed. She has no more use for pretense; she is on the ground, her arm in the dirt, staring at their mutual failure. His world could not be restored, and hers could not be saved, and now both are only phantoms lingering on the cusp of death.
She could turn away from him now, but what would be the point? He will die soon, anyway, and if they are the only two left in all of the world, they may as well die together.
He turns and looks at her. It feels like it has been ages since he really looked at her. He has been trying not to, she thinks. Trying not to see, because if he saw what he was doing then he wouldn’t be able to keep doing it, and if he couldn’t keep on, it would mean accepting that he had destroyed his world.
That he was so willing to burn hers to regain it is bitter ash in her mouth.
But then, she has no one but herself to blame for her failure to stop him.
He steps, carefully, legs trembling, until he falls to the lifeless earth beside her. His descent is ungainly. He lands at her right side.
“Any apologies would be insufficient,” he muses.
“Don’t even try,” she agrees.
Overhead, the sky looks molten. Something wails in the far distance. Whatever it is that’s being injured, neither of them has the strength left to try and help it.
Solas shakes. He shakes, and he crumples, and he weeps. And she understands.
She wishes she didn’t. This would all have been so much easier if she didn’t understand.
Her hand moves, and she lets out a breath, and drops it onto his back. Slides it up and rests it at the base of his neck. The only warm thing left is that single point of contact between them.
His shaking intensifies.
The Destroyer of Worlds is a weeping mess beneath her simple touch.
“I did not want this,” he whispers. “I did not mean for this. It should not be this way. Please, please, please…”
“Vhenan,” she says.
He falls silent. As shocked as if she’d slapped him.
“The world is ruined. No one cares about your intentions anymore,” she tells him, softly. Her voice rasps with dryness and dust. The words hurt. Her wounds are bleeding, and will run out of blood sooner rather than later. Her patience is gone. There’s no point in any of it anymore. He’s made himself a monster, and still she loves him, as she always knew she would.
“I should have killed you,” she says.
“You should have,” he agrees.
“I never could.”
“It’s what I would have done, in your place.”
“Of course it is, ma vhenan. You’re the sort of man who burns the world. Only someone who can destroy everything, even his own principles, even what he loves most, can do that,” she replies, wryly.
He looks at her and it is as if the light has finally – finally – gone off.
What terrible timing.
The laugh, broken and hysterical, bubbles out of her. Her wounds spasm and she cringes on it, clutching herself a moment as the black spots eat up her vision. She sways, a little, but the moment for her end isn’t quite at hand yet.
Still. The air is getting thinner, and her legs are cold as ice. It won’t be long, now, until she sees what death has to offer. Mercy, she hopes. At this point she would gladly take pity, as well. But if the trends of her life have been any indication, it will likely offer neither.
They sit in silence until she recovers. Words have failed him. Of course they have; there are precious few for times like these. She doesn’t know of many people who have faced the end of everything together.
“Just out of curiosity, what was supposed to happen?” she wonders. There is a strip of light on the horizon. It would be a lie to call it anything approaching ‘sunlight’, but it doesn’t burn quite as angrily as all the rest of it.
“Does it matter now?” he asks.
“It’s one last question for you to answer,” she replies.
His eyes find hers.
“When the Veil came down, time should have become inconsequential,” he explains. “I planned to revert the world to the state it had been in before Mythal died. It would have been a moment of burning chaos, and then over in the blink of an eye. Your future would never exist. You would never exist. As painless an end as possible; the denial of a beginning.”
Tears run tracks through the blood and dust on his cheeks. She’s amazed he even has any left. Hers are all long spent.
“It didn’t work,” she notes.
“No,” he agrees.
The wind howls over them.
“I can’t say,” he admits. “The existence of the Veil changed so much about the world. I thought I had grasped the differences. Apparently, I missed more than I ever imagined.”
It’s his turn to laugh inappropriately, then, though soon enough he is back to weeping. The air around them trembles. The light on the horizon grows, like an angry dawn. Like a serpent rising up to eat the sky.
He turns, and looks, and suddenly there’s just the faintest glimmer of something in his gaze.
“What?” she wonders.
There’s no possible way things just got worse, is there? If there’s a bottom below this one, she doesn’t want to find it.
Solas gets that look on his face, though. One that makes her feel centuries younger, like they’re back in Skyhold and he’s just had some brilliant epiphany, and all the pieces of a puzzle have fallen into place. His fingers even twitch, the way they do when he wants to cast a spell or pick up a quill or find a paint brush.
“What new horrible thing is happening now?” she presses.
“It’s a fold,” he says.
She considers that sentence. Allows it to sink in a bit.
“Was that supposed to make sense?” she finally asks.
He turns to her, a thousand conflicting things dancing in his eyes.
“It worked after all, in some fashion,” he rasps. “That is the point where time has turned back. If we can reach the opening before it collapses, we can salvage something from this mess.”
Better something than nothing, in the end.
Her cracked lips split in a pained and painful smile.
“I guess you succeeded after all,” she says.
“Come with me,” he asks.
Finally, finally, the fool wants her to go with him. She laughs. Shakes. Looks to the pool of blood spreading like a banner behind her.
“It’s sweet that you think I can even stand,” she tells him.
There is a moment of silence.
At last, she slumps against his side.
“Go. Live well in your new, old world,” she asks.
There is a part of her that has always been more selfish than he is, underneath all the rage and hurt and resentment; and it’s actually glad that he might make it. That he might be happy, one day. That at least one of them will dig something out of these ashes he’s made. That it’s her love, of all the people out there, who gets to survive. Even if he doesn’t deserve to.
He looks at her. All his pain is written so clearly on his face.
Then he struggles to his feet again.
She lets out a breath, nearly topples over, and is not too shocked when he catches her. She expects to be lowered gently to the ground.
With a tremendous force of effort, she is lifted upwards, instead.
He can scarcely stand under his own weight, let alone the addition of hers.
She is amazed when he takes a step forward. And then another.
“You won’t make it carrying me,” she tells him.
“Then I won’t make it,” he replies.
He keeps walking.
“I’ll be dead before we get there.”
One step. Another.
Of all the moments for him to suddenly decide she was too much to sacrifice.
“You bastard. Drop me and go,” she demands. It’s getting harder to stay focused.
“Now. Now I’m worth saving?” she spits.
He keeps walking.
“You always planned to let me die.”
One step. Another. His right leg is dragging, now. His arms are shaking.
“Well, your plan has worked. So let me die.”
He keeps going, apparently by sheer stubborn pride alone.
“Plans… change,” he grits at her.
“Remember your goals, and do nothing that does not further them,” she parrots back at him.
He stumbles, and they both fall. The crash to the ground is painful enough that she’s almost convinced it’s actually going to do her in. For a few seconds the world goes dark. But then it blinks back, and he’s crouched over her, on his hands and knees.
Somehow, she works up the strength to touch his arm.
“You are right, vhenan. I cannot make it with you,” he admits.
“Go,” she commands, again.
He leans down, and presses the most painful of kisses to her lips.
His eyes gleam silver.
“Dareth shiral,” he says. It seems a strange choice of parting words, considering he’s the one due for another journey.
Then something strikes her like a bolt of lightning.
It’s a painful feeling. It reminds her of the anchor; like a piece of the universe is trying to wedge itself under her skin. She screams, she’s certain. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, a thousand burning knives cutting into her flesh, and why, hasn’t she suffered enough, why is there more pain?
Then it stops, as suddenly as it began.
Above her, Solas turns to grey stone, and thence to dust, and is gone.
She stares in shock at the empty space where he had been.
Her breaths are ragged as she sucks them in. After a few seconds, she attempts, carefully, to sit up.
It’s painful, but not impossible. The bleeding has stopped. Her legs can move, too. She rises, shakily, looks around the horizon. Her chest burns. She’s not sure if it’s the pain of her injuries, or something else.
No. That’s a lie.
She knows it’s something else.
But she can scarcely process it.
“Solas?” she calls.
He won’t answer. Of course he won’t. She saw, even though she can scarcely believe it. Or comprehend it. He’d won. He’d won, and then… why hadn’t he left her? That was his plan, all along that was his plan, he was supposed to go back to his damned world and do whatever it was he needed to do and ensure the ancient elves never fell from their damned pedestal and – and…
And he is gone.
He is really gone, now. Whatever he did saved her from death, and took the last of him.
She turns, slowly, as if to make absolutely certain that there is not even a ghost of him on the wind.
The band of light is much closer, and growing closer still.
But it is also growing narrower, as if the back half of it is catching up. As if it is closing.
She stares at it and suddenly understands; this is how you fall below the bottom.
By realizing you’re going to have to climb back up.
She takes one step, and then another, and then with a cry of rage she charges, all of her meagre strength pushing her, staggering into a run. When she hits the light it’s almost gone.
When she hits the light, it’s like hitting water and glass.
It breaks around her, and the world goes white.