After her talk with Solas, things seemed to return to normal. She would spend her spare time studying with him, occasionally reading at his desk while he painted. It was peaceful aside from the occasional hushed argument from above. As well, almost nobody would bother her while she was in the tower, which she was more than grateful for.
One day she walked in to see him sitting in his chair, nose scrunched up in distaste as he set the cup on the desk.
“Something wrong with your tea?”
“It is tea, I detest the stuff. But this morning, I need to shake the dreams from my mind,” he looked from the cup to her. “I may also need a favour.”
“You just have to ask,” Athesa told him a bit too eagerly.
“One of my oldest friends has been captured by mages, forced into slavery. I heard the cry for help as I slept.”
“I’d be happy to help,” she answered immediately - happy that he was even telling her about this. “What did these mages use to capture your friend? Blood magic?”
“A summoning circle, I would imagine.”
Solas went on to explain that his friend was a spirit of wisdom from the Fade. It was summoned unwillingly by mages, and had cried out for help while he was sleeping. Now, he was asking her to help find and save it. It was an odd request, but she wasn’t about to suggest that they ignore the situation. If Solas felt such an attachment to the spirit, it must have been important.
“All right. Let’s go get your friend.”
So they travelled to the Exalted Plains, asking Cassandra and Sera to come along as well. It didn’t take long to find the area he had marked on her map for her but unfortunately they had still come too late. Whatever his friend had been before, it had become a pride demon. There were tall rocks surrounding it with a small group of mages nearby. She turned to Solas, surprised to see that he wasn’t sad. No, he was angry.
“The mages turned your friend into a demon.”
“A mage! You’re not with the bandits? Do you have any lyrium potions? Most of us are exhausted. We’ve been fighting that demon…” A man approached them - one of the mages - looking desperate for help.
“You summoned that demon! Except it was spirit of wisdom at the time. You made it kill. You twisted it against its purpose.”
The mage looked taken aback, stuttering that he could explain the state of spirits to him after they helped. She had to stop herself from laughing bitterly.
“Word of advice? I’d hold off on explaining how demons work to my friend here.”
He began to speak again until Solas cut him off.
The elf began to pace back and forth, frantically thinking out loud. If they could just break the binding, his friend might be saved. The spirit would be able to return to the Fade happily, no longer a demon. It would be as if this mess had never happened.
“I’ll do everything I can to save your friend, Solas,” she assured him. “I’ve studied rituals like this. I should be able to disrupt the binding quickly.”
Destroying the circle wasn’t hard so much as it was tricky. Every so often she’d have to dodge an attack from the demon as she jumped from rock to rock. Finally, she finished, and Solas’ friend was a spirit once again.
“I heard what it said. It was right, you did help it.”
“Now, I must endure,” he turned to her and the sadness in his face made her take a step forward without thinking.
“Let me know if I can help.”
“You already have.”
The words would have been much more satisfying if he didn’t sound so… pained when he said them. He was obviously hurting and didn’t even look at her before he left the three of them.
“I need some time alone, I will meet you back at Skyhold.”
After his departure it took all of the Inquisitor’s effort not to just leave then and there. However, running back to Skyhold wouldn’t bring him back any faster, and there were still some things they could finish without the apostate.
The three of them found a Dalish clan nearby and decided to investigate. When she told them that she wanted to help in whatever way the Inquisition could, their Keeper seemed kind enough. Maybe it was the way she seemed to understand their apprehension, not asking them to be any less cautious than usual. While these elves were different from the ones she was raised with, she still knew that if she pushed too their boundaries, they’d quickly reject her.
So instead she asked them what they needed help with - if there was anything she could personally do - and that was how the Inquisitor found herself chasing a golden halla around a field for two hours. Their Keeper was grateful, as well as the elf who had asked them to find it in the first place. There was more they could do, but the sky was growing darker by the hour so she assured them that she would be back - along with the elfroot that was needed - as soon as possible. When she told her companions that they would be heading back neither of them seemed upset. Apparently they felt that their time could be put to better use once they returned.
* * *
During the time Solas was gone, Athesa found herself pacing her quarters restlessly. Paperwork had begun to pile up again but she continued to avoid it. He had said that he’d meet her at Skyhold but it had been days. Six of them to be exact. She didn’t doubt that he was alive, after all, before the Inquisition he had survived on his own well enough. What she had begun to question was if he would come back at all. Normally it would have been the perfect excuse to continue to research the red lyrium, but even that couldn’t hold her attention. She found herself remembering the last time they had been together, replaying the memory over again and again as if by overanalyzing it she could find the key to fixing what had been done. Never again, he had said angrily when she stopped him from killing the mages. He wouldn’t be angry over that, he couldn’t. But there was still an irrational fear gnawing at her.
When she wasn’t circling her room, the Inquisitor was wandering the grounds. She would occasionally stop by the tavern to hear stories about the Chargers from Krem ,but he seemed to notice that she was distracted. Each time she went into the courtyard Cassandra welcomed her presence, even allowing herself to open up about the fate of her brother. The Seeker admitted that she considered the Inquisitor a friend which brought a smile to her face for the first time in days - something even Dorian’s jokes hadn’t been able to accomplish lately. That was why it was odd when she approached her only to find that she was being secretive.
Cassandra jumped up, hiding it behind her, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, because I suddenly went blind,” she tried to joke.
“Oh, that? Just… reports. From Commander Cullen. It’s of no interest to you, I’m certain.”
Athesa simply stood there, staring her down.
“It’s a book.”
“I can see that.”
“It’s… one of Varric’s tales: Swords and Shields. The latest chapter.”
“So you like to read? I like to read, what’s wrong with that?”
“It’s frivolous, there are more important things for me to do.”
“That’s just her favourite.” Dorian spoke, passing by two of them.
“Nobody asked you, Tevinter.”
The next thing she knew the Inquisitor had Cassandra at the book in front of her - apparently she realized just how much power Athesa had. Power for their companions, to be more specific.
“You! You could ask him to finish it… Command him to…” she frowned, closing herself off once again. “Pretend you don’t know this about me.”
After quite a bit of debating with Varric, Lavellan finally convinced him to write a new chapter. Apparently he hadn’t even planned on finishing it but promised he would do so as long as he got to be there when the final product was delivered. She agreed to his terms quickly, knowing that it was better than no chapter at all. When he finally handed her the book, she couldn’t resist flipping through the pages.
“- her cave was moist from their lovemaking-”
Athesa quickly snapped the book shut, the tips of her ears growing hot. “I- I...This is… I’m sorry Varric but this is awful.”
He just shrugged, “I warned you.”
“Well, let’s go give it to Cassandra.” Sighing, she handed him the book before they headed to the courtyard.
The Seeker was upset that Varric now knew about her secret, but quickly gave in when he casually told her that he could just take the thing back. It still needed to be properly edited anyway. When he handed it to her it was obvious that she was eager to start reading - taking it with her to the small bench and immersing herself in the beauty that was Varric’s terrible romance.
Athesa was about to enter the main hall again when she saw Solas walking in through the gates. For a moment she swore her heart stopped, doing a double take to make sure that it was really him. He looked upset as she approached - then again, that was completely understandable. He had lost what seemed like a close friend.
“How are you, Solas?”
“It hurts. It always does, but I will survive.”
She paused to resist the urge to reach out to him. She wanted to comfort him but wasn’t entirely sure how to do so. “Thank you for coming back.”
“You were a true friend, you did everything you could to help. I could hardly abandon you now.”
“I meant what I said before,” Athesa made sure to look right into his eyes as she spoke, “about opening up to each other. And the next time you have to mourn, you don’t need to be alone.”
“It’s been so long since I could trust someone.”
“I’ll work on it. And thank you.”
The thought that Solas might still be mourning overpowered her want to see him after being apart for those six days, so she gave him some time to himself - just like she had with Dorian. By the time she decided that he was probably feeling better she was itching to see him.
“Inquisitor,” he looked up at her when she entered his study, “I was… Do you have a moment?”
He led her to the balcony outside of her room. It was peaceful, quieter than the shuffling of the mages in the rotunda. He spoke to her casually and it had her wondering why he wanted to speak to her here specifically.
“What were you like? Before the anchor? Has it affected you, changed you in any way? Your mind? Your morals? Your… spirit? ”
She looked down at her hand, studying it for a moment. A lot had changed in the months since the conclave but she didn’t feel any different.
“If it had, do you really think I would have noticed?”
“No, that’s an excellent point.”
“Why do you ask?”
He told her that she wasn’t what he had expected, that she held a wisdom he hadn’t seen since he was in the Fade. She hid her swelling chest and ego behind a joke - telling him that she was sorry to disappoint him.
“It’s not disappointing it’s…” he trailed off. It was the first time she’d seen him at a loss for words so often, first in his study and now in her quarters. “- Most people are predictable. You have shown subtlety in your actions. A wisdom that goes against everything I expected. If the Dalish could raise a spirit like yours - have I misjudged them?”
Her eyebrows drew together, frowning slightly. Why did he always have to compare her to the Dalish? It was as if he thought they were all part of one hive mind, which was honestly ridiculous. So while she wanted to tell him that yes, the Dalish weren’t as awful as he was so quick to think, she couldn’t. It was finally her chance to separate herself from her clan in a way that didn’t disrespect them.
“The Dalish didn’t make me like this. I’m my own person, and the decisions were mine.”
“Yes, you are wise to give yourself that due. Although the Dalish, in their fashion, may still have guided you. Perhaps that is it. I suppose it must be. Most people act with so little understanding of the world, but not you.”
She still couldn’t understand what he was getting at - why he had brought her all the way to her balcony just to discuss the anchor and herself. “So what does this mean, Solas?”
“It means I have not forgotten the kiss.”
Athesa felt her pulse suddenly speed up. It all made sense: why he had brought her there, why he would so easily lose his words. He had mentioned that it was always easier for him in the Fade, and she remembered when he had said that he was trying. What she hadn’t realized was just how hard he was trying for her - especially now. She wanted to encourage him, make it a bit easier, so she took a step forward.
She did her best not to tremble as she stood there: staring up at him with her hands clasped behind her back. It was an open request, asking him to just do it already. Lean in and do what she had spent the past week thinking about, dreaming about. But he just looked at her and shook his head before turning away.
Without thinking she grabbed his arm. No, he couldn’t leave it like this. She wasn’t going to let him leave her like this.
“Don’t go,” she whispered and it came out as a quiet plea. She hated herself for how desperate the words sounded but there was a burning in her chest that threatened take over if the two of them continued to act as they had been - tip-toeing around each other like they’d both get burned if someone stepped too close.
“It would be kinder in the long run, but losing you would…”
When he finally turned around she wasn’t expecting it. She had thought he was going to withdraw yet again but no, he was kissing her. Not only that, but he was letting his arms wrap around her body to pull her closer. Athesa kept her own arms resting at his waist as she sighed against his lips in relief. It felt too good to be true. After all of that time spent impatiently waiting, wanting, keeping her distance - it was like the barrier around him had finally crumbled. She remembered how easy it had been to kiss him in Haven, in the Fade. It wasn’t like that at all. She didn’t feel lighter. If anything she was heavier, air and Solas weighing her body down - proof that it was really happening. Eventually he pulled away to catch his breath, resting his forehead against hers for just a moment before letting go.
“Ar lath ma, vhenan,” he said it with a purpose and sincerity that made her chest swell. Out of all of the words he’d spoken to her she immediately knew that those were her favourite.
Ma vhenan. She’d heard so many elves say the phrase but not to her, never to her. Not when she was so busy learning and preparing to be Keeper. She watched helplessly as he walked away, still breathing hard. Vhenan, that was how he saw her.
“Ma vhenan,” she tested the words on her tongue when he was out of sight. It felt foreign and new, so she said it again. “Ma vhenan... Vhenan, vhenan, vhenan.”
She headed inside and walked to her desk, whispering the word under her breath over and over as if she was trying to get it just right. First Solas, then lethallin, and now vhenan. Her heart. That’s exactly what he was and the realization made her stomach twist into that familiar knot.
Sitting down, she glanced at the letters before resting her elbows on the table and burying her face in her hands. A small laugh of disbelief escaped while she sat there, still not entirely able to believe what had just happened.
* * *
The next day the Inquisitor found herself overthinking every small action she made. Nothing was different as she made her way from her quarters to Solas’ study. The nobles still greeted her as she walked down the main hall, Varric gave the usual hello and nod. It was like every other time she had gone to see him. Everything was the same, but at the same time everything was different.
The nobles likely hadn’t noticed, but she knew that if one of them were to look closely enough they’d be able to tell. Her pace was just a fraction quicker, her body moving just a bit more swift as she walked around the small groups of people, and her ears pink by the time she was finally in the rotunda.
He was standing at his desk, again just like every other day. It might have seemed like he was his usual self if she wasn’t watching him so intently. The papers he stared at were untouched, his posture more relaxed. Creators, he even smiled when he saw her approaching. And when she finally stood beside him he took her hand in his, vhenan spilling from his lips. They were all subtle things but each one still made her feel ridiculously pleased, forgetting how to breathe for a moment.
Creators, maybe she really was more childish than she liked to think.
Athesa turned to lean against his desk and let herself just look at him for a moment. Watched him gaze at her with those sad blue eyes. The colour was familiar but somehow still undeniably Solas.
“Good morning,” he eventually said.
“Good morning,” she sighed. The back of her neck burned as she told him she was just there to say hello. “What have you been doing?”
“Many things: the Inquisition, Corypheus, you.”
She looked down at the hand that held hers before glancing at one of the walls. “You haven’t worked on your frescoes lately.”
“No. I have been… distracted. As well, I am afraid that I’m running out of paint.”
Pushing herself off of the desk, she let go of his hand. “What colours?”
“Blue, as well as gold.”
She nodded although it was mostly to herself. Blue and gold paint. “I should go. We leave for Val Royeaux tomorrow and I still have to go to the war council meeting.”
He returned her hug easily, hands pulling her closer. To be able to come into physical contact with him - real contact that wasn’t a brush of the hands or that cool grip on her wrist - was amazing. Now she could hold his hand, or wrap her arms around him without having to worry about if he wanted it, too. That cool barrier he’d placed between them was crumbling quickly and the thought made her smile into his shoulder.
Solas was finally letting her in, not just as his friend but as something more.