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The Perfect Song At Imperfect Times

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I.

The walls of the shack are weathered, worn thin with age. Gaps in the planking whistle as the wind shifts, and Ian draws his cloak tighter over his shoulders. Their conversation is lost momentarily, his own voice incapable of establishing itself without being whisked away.

Solas doesn’t press him to speak. He glances briefly, eyes travelling to their corners as if to assure himself that Ian is still present, seated cross-legged atop the crumbling stone wall. At least, Ian thinks perhaps that is what Solas is checking. As his own head ducks, hiding his cheeks from the sting of a breeze that nips and bites, he has to consider what rises at his back. He can feel it, distantly, the greatest rend in the Veil.

Solas must be glancing to the Breach. It is hard to look away from, and it defines their days. Ian, propped atop the wall with his head ducked, feels his gut tighten as he considers how ridiculous the thought had been, that his silence had been cause enough for Solas to reassure himself, that his presence or lack there of might be something that warranted note.

“What are you thinking?”

“I–” He starts, chin lifting from the cup of his palm, and the wind has settled and Solas is watching him, and he stumbles to catch at words that cannot quite find shape. “The Breach.”

Solas’s mouth tightens, just for a moment, and he nods. Ian feels his expression escape, the curve of a smile pulling folds into his cheek, and he ducks his head again. Mercifully, Solas doesn’t inquire as to the source of his smile, and he needn’t stumble through trying to explain just what might have stirred the warmth in his chest, the recognition and emotion that blossomed so irrepressibly that they lifted the corners of his lips.

II.

“I have never had a talent for this.” It’s as close to a real protest as he can manage. There’s a conflict within him, roiling and uncomfortable, deep in his gut. It has become a matter of habit to ask questions, to seek each other’s company, and he fears that refusing this opportunity to learn might cut short the time they share. A little discomfort, surely, is a small price to pay. And yet…Solas has a great knowledge of magic–for a great many things, which seem to grow only more numerous with every conversation they share–and Ian still struggles to allow himself to learn.

It would be a smaller matter, perhaps, if he weren’t so aware of the fool he might make of himself. He has faced ridicule from many, and learned to shoulder scorn, but the thought of Solas believing him to be the fool he is…

Dryness in his throat lends a hitch to his voice, and he leans back on his heels, drawing away from the sigil scraped into the rough stones of the chantry floor.

“May I?” Solas reaches forward, hand hovering over Ian’s glove until Ian nods. He is gentle as his fingers close over Ian’s, pulling him back towards the chalk. He guides the strokes, and together they complete the circle, the symbols. The chalk in itself is not magical, the shape itself is empty, but the sigil must be learned, must be memorized, before it can be filled with magical energy, before it can be used, and Ian closes his eyes to feel the run of it beneath his palm. He can see the passage of their hands as they dragged the chalk over the stone, and as he breathes, magic pulls from within him as readily as air. It pulses like a heartbeat, and he needn’t open his eyes to know that the sigil is alight.

What he must open his eyes to see, though, is how Solas gauges his success.

III.

“Does it help?”

Their question feels spontaneous, unprompted, and they lean in the doorway with their voice lowered, eyes flitting over their shoulder as though seeking reassurance that they are not being spied upon.

”I–sorry?” Ian doesn’t understand Alana’s meaning, misses whatever inference they are trying to relay. He stutters over his question, over the path their eyes take. He doesn’t miss the place their gaze settles before returning to his face, that snow-drifted stone wall where Solas lingers when he watches the split in the sky. “Does–does what help?”

“Calling him ‘hahren’.” They leave the door ajar, letting sunlight flit around their form, mixed in the flurries of gusted snow that lick around the frame. “Does it help?”

Ian feels heat rise in his cheeks, tightening his throat and burning beneath his freckles, and he can’t quite bring himself to keep his face lifted. No answer immediately presents itself, and he half-turns, busying his hands to keep from pulling at his gloves, to keep from rubbing his chest, to keep his fidgeting from denying him what little dignity he might yet keep.

“Oh, I’m–Ian, I’m sorry.” Their fingers catch at their lips, half-hiding the twist of their smile. “I didn’t mean–you didn’t think you were hiding it? Everyone can see–I only wondered if calling him ‘hahren’ made it easier.”

“I…don’t know.” He admits. His hands still over the pestle, stone grinding quietly as it slides along the rim of the mortar, and his shoulders hunch as he forces a breath that leaves his chest aching from the strain. “I think so. He has so much to teach, and I am happy to learn, and we are hardly…these are hardly the times to…I think he is more comfortable in the role of a teacher. I would not want to compromise that. I value his company, and his lessons.”

“He learns from you, too, you know. And–” The twist of their lips creases in the corner of their eyes as their smile takes on a mischievous bend, their whole face dedicated to the expression, “–if I recall correctly, you carried the title of ‘hahren’ for some time.”

“It’s hardly the same.” The heat in his cheeks refuses to subside, spreading until his lowered ears burn clear to their tips.

“You could try talking to him.”

Ian laughs, and answers as though oblivious to their meaning, “I do talk to him.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes.” His admission is accompanied by another laugh, lending an ease to his breathing that finally allows the warmth in his face to begin to fade. “I know.”

They leave him to his work, and he watches their departure with a rueful smile. Through the door they leave ajar, he catches sight of a sharp profile lit by the undimming Breach. Solas stands with shoulders squared, hands folded at his back, face turned upward, as though he might observe something in the torn sky that has not yet been realized.

Teeth catch at the inside of Ian’s lip, and he tries to think of something else. This isn’t the time, and it’s hardly the place, and, really, it probably never will be.

IV.

“Let me see it.”

Solas turns his face only a fraction, watching the healer from the corner of his eye. His hands move, tucking behind him to fold over themselves as tight lips push at a smile.

“There is no need to trouble yourself.” He assures, as though the bruising there is untroubled by the pressure of his own fingers, as though blood doesn’t dot the hems of his sleeve or blister against the rawness of the scrape that spans pale knuckles.

“Please, Hahren.” Ian doesn’t step closer, already stands less than a pace away. A gloved hand extends, crossing the greater part of that distance, and he feels his ears droop until the edges of his curls tease and tickle the earrings that catch against it. “If it is such a small thing, it will take only a moment. Let me see it.”

White knuckles unclench, slowly unfolding, as though reluctant to extend the way they do. Ragged fingers come to rest over the cup of Ian’s palms, and he ducks his head, studying the weathered skin. Callouses and bruises, nicks and scrapes. Blistered fingertips and bloodied knuckles. Nothing serious, but there is no reason to endure even slight pain when the remedy is so simple. He inhales, counting seconds as his lungs fill, and warmth blossoms at his wrist where the crystals inset in the hems of his gloves stir, lending energy when he finds himself too weary.

There is no reason for their hands to linger the way they do, for Solas to rest his knuckles against the leather that encases Ian’s palms. There is no reason for Ian’s eyes to remain lowered, to traverse the lines that map newly mended skin. Callouses, and creases, and inkstains.

There is no reason to linger the way they do, and yet neither of them move. It is a fleeting thought, an impulse that is stifled almost as quickly as it is birthed, but for half a moment he imagines. These palms are rough, but so are his, and for only a second he indulges the idea of lifting them slightly, of brushing lips over callouses and lifelines and newly mended scrapes. Instead, his hands fall, and he lifts his eyes to smile.

“Thank you.” He offers. “I feel better.”

Solas snorts, and the smile at his lips lacks the strain of moments before.

I.

There’s no illusion. The victory does not belong to him, and yet it makes him bold. Around them, Haven is alight with celebration. Though they stand a bit apart, the distant sounds of revelry and merry-making are unhindered by the howling winds. The sky at his back still pulses, great glowing scars that swallow starlight and leave the night brighter than it should be. The Breach is closed, but the world is not the same, and it will never be again.

He teases gently as he approaches, and Solas’s eyes travel to study those scars, the jagged lines where the sky had knit itself back together.

The world is not the same.

Words fail him, as they so often do, and he relies instead on the boldness that he borrows. Hesitant fingers slip forward, half-curled into his palm as he tries to muster enough of himself before tapping the pads of his fingers against the curve of Solas’s jaw, reaching up to request that Solas look down.

He meant to say something. There should have been words–a request, a reassurance, a question–but Solas looks down, and Ian looks up, and hesitation is forgotten. Their lips crash together with his eagerness, his inexperience and enthusiasm. His kiss stutters and stumbles, as faltering as any sentence he has ever uttered. Heat rises in his face, and he steps back rapidly, eyes trailing the snow he’s kicked onto the bindings that wrap the other’s feet–he hadn’t even felt the impact of his boots against Solas’s bare toes. Ian’s ears fall, and he feels the courage that the victory had lent him slip away. Only echoes of its presence remain, enough that he might glance up, shy and almost desperate as he tries to measure Solas’s response.

Solas smiles, and Ian’s heart beats a rapid cadence against his ribs.

The world is not the same, he thinks. It never will be again.