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Paper and Ink

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Threnn must’ve thought I was mad when I asked for parchment and quills, but the small stock I secured from the Chantry won’t last. There’s more to record here than I’ve ever had cause to before.

Perhaps these shemlin have something in common with Keeper Deshanna. She has always found it strange that I wanted to write my own stories, preserve my observations, all of the lives and little dramas of our clan. Our histories can’t always have been oral ones – or perhaps that is why so much was lost.

Some in the clan found my endeavors foolish, others dangerous. I find that I am strangely grateful now to be free of their stares and whispers. I may sit and write until my hand cramps with cold or I fall asleep from exhaustion. I am often exhausted. But I cannot as finely capture the many details, the play between wild lies and wilder reality, now, in my mind alone.

So I must have more paper. And ink.

If Threnn shares my request with anyone, if they come prying – I am not worried. Even if one of Leliana’s people decodes this cypher I have been nothing but honest with her, with everyone, about my feelings regarding the Inquisition and my role. I do not believe I am the Herald of Andraste. I am here because it is the right thing to do, because even now the glow from the mark lights this page. I serve no Maker but my own will.

--

Now I wonder if someone has been reading, for Solas spoke to me of my will just this afternoon, the eve before we are to leave for Val Royeax.

“You train your will to control magic and withstand possession. Your indomitable focus is an enjoyable side benefit.”

“Indomitable focus?”

I couldn’t fathom how he could think to know me so well, and spoke too soon.

“Presumably. I have yet to see it dominated. I imagine the sight would be… fascinating.”

I am sure that he is teasing me – surer still that he has not read this or that he desires to. I see something in his face as he looks at me, a stiffness in his posture that reminds me both of the hunter, ready to spring, and the hunted, cornered and seeking escape. We are some weeks acquainted now and still I know him least – for all his easy banter with Varric, his polite inquiries to Cassandra, with me I feel I am always being tested.

It is irritating.

I found him tonight with the dwarf, the pair engrossed in debate as to the value of literature. I was drawn in by their animated faces, Varric’s broad gestures, Solas’ low, emphatic tones.

“Your tales, though thrilling, offer what lasting value to their reader? What legacy of feeling?”

Varric’s smile danced in shadow and firelight, by turns grim and jovial, courtesy of the flame’s touch.

“I’m not trying to pen the next Chant of Light, Chuckles,” he insisted. I was surprised that Solas did not bristle at the name. Indeed, he didn’t even seem to acknowledge it, rather listening with a delicate nod as the dwarf continued. “If people want inspiration, they can go to the Chantry. If they want to forget for an hour or two about all of the terrible shit trying to kill us, they can come to me.”

He caught my eye, grinning. I grinned, too. It is easy to trade smiles with Varric.

“I’d prefer one of your stories to the Chant anyway,” I told him. “Our keeper often told tales to rouse the clan to laughter, or to keep the dark at bay.”

“In my experience, the Dalish do not use stories to entertain,” Solas interrupted, eyes cutting to me, “but to perpetuate half-remembered truths. A flawed, if well-intentioned, strategy.”

I have avoided conversing much with Solas of the Dalish, for what little traffic he’s had with our kind has engendered in him a deep dislike – a mistrust and anger whose depth surprises me.

Still, his patronizing tone is sometimes too much.

“I do not suggest that my experience is representative of all Dalish,” I said carefully, meeting his eyes. They were completely dark, shallow as stones, the firelight having robbed them of all color. “It would be foolish to insist that one person, one interaction, or one clan could define the whole of the people.”

I knew my slight was not subtle, but more than the fire’s heat blazed within me. Keeper Deshanna has always cautioned me, in vain, on my temper.

Varric didn’t help matters by whistling low into his nearly empty tankard before rising to fill it, leaving Solas and I considering each other over the fire.

“You imply that I have misjudged the Dalish,” Solas continued coolly, but he did not give me a chance to address his claim. His next words were as quiet as a hissing curl of steam from a damp log on a fire. “You may be right. Perhaps it is only that I have yet to meet one who challenges my perspective.” Quieter still. “Until recently.”

I laughed. I’m not proud. He seems always to be taking me by surprise.

“Was that a compliment?”

Solas’ eyes glittered, but he was rising, too, and not for another drink but to retire.

“As we’re making assumptions this evening, you may safely assume that it is.”

And now instead of sleeping as I ought before a week of hard riding to the Orlesian capitol, I am lying awake and wondering what to make of the flat-ear who succeeds so deftly in weaving kindness with cruelty.

Chapter Text

I fared no better on this crossing of the Waking Sea than I did when leaving the Free Marches for the Conclave – and though I was not alone this time, my companions were considerate enough not to comment on my green face and unsteady feet. It was a journey of only a few hours and still I emptied my stomach three times, wishing I’d never hungered or thirsted before in my whole life.

At one point, swaying in misery in the ship’s stern, Cassandra laid a gloved hand gently on my shoulder.

“The first mate suggested this as a remedy for your… sensitivity,” she said, offering in her other hand a small pouch. I could smell the pungent root inside and accepted it gratefully.

“I had no idea that water could affect a body this way,” I said, sniffing cautiously. The odor was spicy, strong, but strangely calming. “Our herbalist could not have prepared me. We rarely left the mountains.”

“I have seen this before, in my time with the Seekers. The herb should help.”

Cassandra’s smile was slight, but genuine, and I returned it, somewhat shakily.

The herb did help, such that I was able to sit, sweating, on the deck, rather than heaving over the side of it. And I was glad of the rest, for there was little time for recovery before we received news that we were expected.

Even with my limited understanding of the Chantry and the function of the Templars, I admit that I was surprised by the Lord Seeker’s vulgar display of brutality. Cassandra fumed about it all night, muttering over drinks with one of the Inquisition’s soldiers in the public house where we are staying before departing for the chateau of Duke Bastien de Ghislain.

“Her faith is unwavering,” Solas observed, seeming more out of place than ever with his bound feet on the glossy tiles of the public house’s floor. He sat down beside me with an easy grace, ill-concerned over his appearance amidst the Orlesian splendor. “Such that it extends even to those in her Order who have not earned it.”

“She has high standards for herself and others. It is admirable.” I eyed Solas, wondering that he couldn’t see that he, too, had exacting expectations of behavior – though unlike Cassandra, he seemed to have decided in advance that most would fail to meet them.

His gaze was penetrating. Even now, as I write this, I can still feel it.

“She has made an impression on you,” Solas guessed, and rightly. “Your keeper is a woman, is she not? And you her First. It must seem natural to preserve some of that order here.”

“Are you asking if I am more comfortable receiving guidance from a woman? Or agreeing with me that we are more likely to have the temperament and patience to lead?”

The ghost of a smirk crossed his lips. I can admit now, in private, that the full, expressive line of his mouth is distracting. “I have learned enough of you, Herald, to know that open and direct disagreement with you is folly.”

“That is not an answer.”

“You value her counsel, I meant nothing more,” he said, relenting. The pale skin at his throat jumped with a pulse that belied his calm demeanor.

“I value yours, as well,” I said after a moment’s silence. “And you haven’t the benefit of breasts.”

At this, Solas quirked a brow, and I could not mistake the heat in his gaze, not this time.

“You need not possess them to reap their benefits.”

I hope we have time enough at the Ghislain Estate that I may take a long bath. Alone.

Chapter Text

We had hoped to secure the support of the Chantry and instead we are returning with two unlikely, and utterly unalike, allies. I am not sure that I trust Vivienne or Sera, but I imagine Josephine will be pleased. I can see, at least, that each woman stands to gain something in serving the Inquisition, which should go a long way toward ensuring honest dealings.

Each had business to settle before leaving Orlais, though they may reach Haven before we do, beset by foul weather as we are and burdened by the compulsion to close every rift we encounter.

I feel them before I see them, often from a considerable distance. It is like there is a tear in me, mimicking the rupture in the Fade.

While on watch last night, I studied the mark, its color eerie green in contrast to the moon’s cool phosphorescence, the burnished glow of the fire. There was a buzzing under my skin, not unpleasant, but constant.

“I believe it is my watch now.”

Solas, soft-voiced, approached me from behind. I started guiltily, but it is only reasonable to be curious about the mark, is it not? Solas himself has taken a keen interest in it.

I stretched my cramped legs out, reaching for my staff, but Solas crouched beside me.

“May I?” He asked, inclining his head and holding out a hand. I nodded, thinking he meant to help me up, but his attention was on the mark. He took my hand instead between both of his own, turning it over, studying it with equal parts tenderness and inquiry. I realized that it was the first time he’d touched me since he’d drawn my hand to the rift in the valley, when in a wild, heated moment, the blood of battle between us, he’d shown me that I could close them.

I felt charged by the contact, not unlike I had then, though he was not a complete stranger to me now, not anymore.

Though still strange.

“What does it feel like, when you close the rifts?” He asked, curiosity and solemnity warring for control of his voice. I’d come to recognize this conflict whenever he spoke of arcane matters.

“My blood feels like it’s singing,” I admitted, all too aware of the weight of my hand in his. His fingers were warm from sleep, countering the night’s chill. “A vibration like drums in my bones and then, it’s quiet. I feel at peace. My senses knit back together, as the Veil does, I imagine.”

Solas was silent, contemplating my explanation. He did not release my hand.

“Violence and serenity. Fitting.” A light bark of laughter. “It looks like that, as well.”

He surprised me with one finger swept gently, honey-slow, over the seam in my palm where the light crackled. He stood then, dropping my hand as though it burned him. But it was I who was burning. I rose slowly, telling myself that it was soreness from sitting so long that delayed me and not my pounding heart.

“You watch me when I close the rifts?” I knew it was a foolish question, even then, but I asked it anyway.

“Of course,” he replied. The sly smile I am beginning to anticipate, to want to draw out of him, accompanied his response. “It is an unmatched spectacle.”

“You can say that, even after all you have witnessed in the Fade?”

“There are many wonders in the Fade, but I cannot count upon the spirits for a repeat performance,” he insisted, still smiling, the flash of teeth in the moonlight.

“And here I thought the spirits were your friends,” I needled. I was long overdue for my own bedroll, but unwilling to give up the pursuit of whatever darted between us. “Would they deny you?”

If his expression darkened, I could not see it, for a cloud scudded across the moon, throwing his face into complete shadow. Something in his voice certainly changed, deepening. A warning, perhaps.

“Some are my friends, yes. But even the best of friends cannot change their nature to accommodate a whim.”

I leaned against my staff, a brief electric discharge rendering his features haunted, ghoulish. “Cannot? Should not? Or will not?”

“In many cases, all three.”

I sighed.

“I suppose I am fortunate, then, that it is in my nature to close rifts, or you might take your skills elsewhere and abandon the Inquisition.”

He stood so still and yet I felt overpoweringly that he might touch me again.

He did not.

“It is we who are fortunate, Herald. Not you.”

Chapter Text

“Herald!”

I woke with Cassandra’s shriek in my ear, threatening to split my head open. But it was a memory, the voice. Not the pain. That was real. I could see that I was at the Crossroads, bound to a cot. My whole body ached, most fiercely in my belly.

“My apologies for strapping you down, you were thrashing in your sleep.” It was the voice of the healer we recruited in Redcliffe, and only after she’d confirmed my lucidity did she move to loose the bonds. “You were all but skewered by a rogue Templar on the road. They brought you to me just in time.”

I groaned. It was dark, and the sounds of my suffering were echoed by nearby patients in the makeshift infirmary.

“The others?”

“Scratches and burns, mostly. They’ll heal, and you will, too.”

My relief was as sharp as the pain in my abdomen. We’d been returning from Redcliffe where Grand Enchanter Fiona professed ignorance of the invitation she’d issued us in Val Royeax. I do not trust Circle mages, but she seemed sincere – and must be desperate, to have allied with Tevinter. Especially given what we were told by Dorian, unless he, too, is lying.

But the rifts that manipulate time – those are not lies.

“Your friend was waiting for you to wake up. Not sure where he got to.”

My heart leapt. I wanted to stomp on it, especially when it settled glumly in my chest at the sound of Varric’s voice, rather than Solas’.

At least I can tell when the dwarf is lying.

“Not far,” he called, striding to the opposite side of the cot and holding out a bottle.

“She really shouldn’t,” the healer began, but Varric waved her off.

“She nearly died. She really should.”

With a grim shrug, she moved to tend to her other patients. I accepted the bottle, swallowing gratefully. It was warm, and burned far less than the healer’s poultice.

“Damned Templars are lyrium-mad, or just stupid,” Varric continued. “Probably both.”

“Are you sure you aren’t allowing previous experience to color your opinion?” I started to laugh, but winced, coughing instead.

“Are you sure you aren’t? You did just get run through, you know. Had to have lost half your weight in blood, I’d wager, for Chuckles to carry you all this way.”

“Solas carried me?”

I am sure now that my voice betrayed me, for Varric’s brow arched knowingly.

“Ran most of the way, actually, muttering something in Elvish to keep your insides where they belong.”

I don’t know if I spoke then, or simply stared mutely into the dark. I was too busy trying to imagine what Solas must have been thinking, wondering over what I might have seen in his expression had I not been insensible, or unconscious. Varric watched me, conjuring his own ideas.

“I can think of a few ways you might thank him. Better yet, we could just ask what he prefers.”

“No.”

Varric chuckled, gesturing toward the bottle I still held. “That might help.”

Varric.”

“Okay, okay. Just don’t spoil the ending for me, Herald, by getting yourself killed.”

The healer intervened then, lifting Varric’s bottle from my hand and bidding I drink a small vial, instead. It put me to sleep almost immediately.

--

It was several days before I was fit to ride, but we didn’t make for Haven, not right away. There was an elf, a flat-ear, in Redcliffe, who’d asked me with such sincerity to place flowers upon his wife’s grave. He'd seemed so sure that I would not, so grieved that he could not, that I’d felt my heart twist.

I have often wondered what it must be like to live sundered from the true elves, how my life would have been different if I had been born into an alienage, rather than my clan. The widower lives among shems, but don’t I now, too?

He’d seemed so sure we would dismiss him.

I gathered a heavy cluster of Crystal Grace , their belled mouths reminding me of weeping eyes, and sheltered them as we fought our way through bandits to the grave. It was well-kept, with only a few new tangles of growth obscuring the carvings. I brushed them away, read the words there.

Memorized them.

We camped at the base of the hill, Cassandra and Varric retiring early after the day’s exertions. I waited, hoping that Solas would be awake, too, stalking the boundaries of the camp as he often did at night. He did not disappoint me.

“Your wound is healing nicely.”

He walked toward me, silent as a hunter.

“A credit to your skill, Solas,” I murmured, pursing my lips before continuing quickly, “and the healer at the Crossroads.”

“I do not believe anyone can take credit for the ferocity of your spirit.” Solas’ tone was light, and he surprised me by sitting down near enough that our knees brushed. His next words were softer, touched with concern. “Does it pain you?”

“The wound? Or my spirit?”

Solas laughed, low enough to keep from waking anyone who might already be sleeping. It felt intimate.

“It is conceivable that both could hurt you, though I should hope you are granted some moments’ reprieve.”

“This one’s nice.”

He met my eyes and the angle of the firelight was such that his seemed unguarded, bright with intelligence, caution, longing. “It is,” he said simply, and rather than looking away, a preface to leaving me on my own before he fire, he smiled and held my gaze with a steady warmth that threatened to unravel me.

Eventually, it was I who looked away, but we sat together for some time, a quiet comfort between us, nearly touching. Tantalizingly not.

I am still thinking about it.

Chapter Text

I have traveled a year and back in only a few days.

The nightmare of the potential future I witnessed may keep me from sleep for twice as long.

--

Flissa plied me with some of her strongest reserve and, against my better judgment, Sera and I emptied several bottles between us. I find her infinitely less quarrelsome after a few drinks, or perhaps it is only that I am less prone to sensitivity when I have been drinking.

I cannot remember even half of what we spoke of – not uncommon in conversations with the flat-ear, even when sober – though I do recall working out the particulars of some elaborate prank she intends to deliver upon Cullen.

Or was it Seggrit?

It was perhaps an hour before dawn when I staggered out of the tavern and took a wrong turning, finding myself near the apothecary, the familiar steps I make too often to seek out Solas. He wasn’t there, of course. He would be abed, like a sensible elf.

I leaned against the wall for support and to gain my bearings but found myself sliding down, landing roughly on my bottom without the benefit of armor. I cursed, head spinning, at both the impact and the irrational springing of tears to my eyes.

“Herald?”

“Solas?” I tried to clamber to my feet, but Flissa’s finest conspired against me.

“Have you been drinking?” The amusement in his tone was unmistakable.

“A bit.”

“Truly.”

Holding my eyes open was a challenge. Closing them encouraged a perilous nausea, the feeling of the world turning on its side.

But, no. Solas was lifting me, hooking one arm around my back and tossing one of mine over his shoulders. He bore my weight with ease into the small cottage where I assumed he was quartered – but which I had never entered. It smelled of pine and healing herbs. These would normally have been pleasant odors, but they assailed me now, threatening to bring up what I’d recklessly drank down.

He deposited me on the edge of a low, sparsely covered bed, and I blanched.

“This is where you sleep.”

“How astute you are, Herald.”

“What an ass you are, Solas.”

That low, dark chuckle. Drunk I might have been, but not senseless. Heat stirred in me, my legs, my belly, my sex. But I was cross, too, a war between wanting him and wanting to shake him very hard.

To be taken by him, very hard.

“You didn’t want to hear about what I saw in Redcliffe,” I accused, hoping that my words did not slur discreditably.

“That is patently false,” he insisted, crouching before me rather than joining me on his bed. His defensive tone softened. “It is only that I do not believe we can afford to squander energy and time on what might be. We must focus on what we can do, what we must do, now.”

“I saw you die.”

A shudder passed through me, echoes of the grief I’d felt in that moment, not sure if Dorian’s spell would work, if we would be consigned to that horrible future where my last glimpse of Solas would be of his crumpled, broken form.

“The ordeal has affected you deeply,” he murmured. Even in the dim light, in my stupor, I could see something working in him, passing over his features like a reflection in ice. “Allow it to give you the strength you need to realize the future that you want, lethallan.”

Lethallan.

Lethallan.

How long had it been since someone called me friend?

I did not speak, did not move. The world felt blurred at the edges, unsteady, but I did not imagine the hesitant stroke of Solas' hand on my face, fingers ghosting over my vallaslin.

He withdrew his hand almost immediately, as though burned. When he spoke again, his concern was friendly, almost familial.

And forced.

“I shall never hear the end of it from Sera if you leave here in the morning, but I think parading you in this state to your own bed rather more of a scandal.”

I snorted, but said nothing. Words were increasingly beyond me. I tried to stand, perhaps intended to prove him wrong or drag him bodily into his bed with me, but fell back again instantly.

“Rest, Herald.” He said, touching me with only perfunctory gentleness: slipping my boots off, drawing a thick wool blanket over my frame. His musk clung to the fibers, a scent both wild and clean.

I inhaled, greedy.

When I woke in late morning I slipped outside to find no one in the immediate vicinity. I moved cautiously, head splintering with pain. I spied Solas near the Chantry, engaged in an uncharacteristically loud debate with Mother Giselle. The pair had drawn a crowd – a large one.

He met my eyes.

And winked.

Chapter Text

There’s an air of unbridled joy in Haven, the sight of the unmarred sky above us something I think many were beginning to think they might never see again. I am taking a moment to capture this feeling: relief, but edged with a wariness that I cannot deny.

I can still hear Solas’ command of the mages, can feel the flood of their power passing through me, beyond me, braided with my own to pierce the breach.

It’s sealed.

It’s sealed.

But this isn’t over.

Solas walked beside me as we returned from the temple, one hand on his staff as a pilgrim might clutch a walking stick, the other hanging lightly at his side, sometimes brushing mine.

“How are you feeling?” He’d asked, a quiet hum in his words like a chord struck deep, meaning muffled.

“I’m wondering what happens next.”

“Horizons upon horizons. Are you always looking to the next?”

“Not always,” I said, catching his eyes, searching. “But recently, yes.”

“Do not look too far, lethallan, lest you miss what is near.”

I could have seized him in that instant.

I didn’t.

--

I do not know how to begin.

Or where.

--

I felt the scream of the archdemon, the dragon, lodge itself somewhere in me. It is there still.

I am afraid that I will wake and find that I am making that same scream.

--

The cold passage I made alone, Haven a frozen tomb behind me, beneath me, was only my first exodus, it seems.

“A word,” Solas had said, distant and graceful on the snow. How I wanted him to be tender, when it seemed the whole world was a ruin. My body was wracked still with cold, bruised, but it was my mind that was broken. He told me what he knew; he told me a fraction of what he knew. And now he leads us on.

To Skyhold.

--

They have named me Inquisitor. I walk soft-footed on these ancient stones and I don’t know what to make of what’s happened, what will happen. I know that soon I will be called upon to ride out again, that Corypheus will not wait, but for now I am hiding in a remote tower, open to the sky, nothing but the clean cold and the mountain-quiet to comfort me as I think on Haven.

Could it have gone any differently?

Any worse?

Solas took my hand when we ran forward from the Chantry, our last push to give the others the opportunity to escape. He drew me near to him but only for an instant, saying nothing, instigating no other touch.

But his eyes.

They cut.

They kissed.

They made every conceivable demand.

“You’re still falling.”

Cole appeared, perched on a beam before me, his balance a gift of his nature, mine of long practice. Against Cassandra’s wishes, I bid him stay with us, join the Inquisition. He wants to help. We need it.

“What do you mean, Cole?”

“Stones and screaming, suffocating. You don’t have to stay there, in the cave. You got out. You got yourself out,” he intoned rapidly. I saw only his lips moving, pale fringe shielding his eyes.

“I can’t stop thinking about it,” I whispered, looking out across the mountains, to the south, where the breach had been, where Haven should be but isn’t.

“I could make you stop,” he said quietly, cocking his head. “But your hurts are all connected. Fingers brushing, touching, the pounding of a staff, the thrust of a blade. A song unfinished.”

I sighed, allowing myself to pick up his words, carry them, take comfort in them.

“I suppose I’ll have to finish it,” I answered. Cole nodded, slow as a sage.

“You can’t do it alone.”

Chapter Text

When Solas said he wanted to speak somewhere more interesting, I – had no idea.

I meant to speak with him, intended to, but there has been so much in the settling in at Skyhold, and what I really wanted was easier unvoiced. So days passed.

And nights.

And then when I did, it seems that I didn’t at all. Is this what it must be like for him, traveling the Fade?

--

We walked in Haven again. But more than that, his words linger – and the rest.

“You were a mystery. You still are.”

I followed Solas out of the Chantry, into the snow. I felt the ice-light flakes on my skin, the familiar electric charge that came just from being near him.

“I told myself, one more attempt to seal the rifts. I tried and failed. And then –“

He met my eyes then, each of us reliving that moment, that first touch: of hands, of understanding, of a world beyond our own.

“It seems you hold the key to our salvation,” he repeated himself, as though I could forget the heavy charge he’d laid at my feet. “And right then, I felt the whole world change.”

A fist closed around my heart. Squeezed but with such tender pressure.

“Felt the whole world change?”

“A figure of speech.”

“I’m aware of the metaphor. I’m more interested in ‘felt.’”

His eyes on me were wary and wondrous in the same instant. Like a needle pulling thread I was drawn closer to him, close enough to touch, to smell, to taste.

"You change... everything."

“Sweet talker.”

And then.

I kissed him. I took his fine sharp chin in my hand and brought his mouth down upon mine, too rough, catching him by surprise. His shock reverberated between us and I released him almost immediately, turned away, felt the crawl of embarrassment from my collar to my cheeks. I shouldn’t have.

But.

Then.

Solas took me, turned me, spun me close. I felt the strength in him, the heat, lean muscle beneath his rough-spun clothing. His lips were unbearably soft, warm, and when he parted mine with his tongue I felt my core turn to wax.

He drew back, met my eyes. There was a hunger in his I did not expect – potent, dangerous, compelling.

Another kiss, pressed close enough that I thought I might bear the impression of him on my body. In that moment, I would have born that and more.

“We shouldn’t. It isn’t right. Not even here.”

I was reeling. The cold rushed to devour the heat where he’d held me.

“What do you mean, even here?”

“Where did you think we were?”

I’d looked around then, the snow softly falling, Haven idyllic and empty. It had never been so quiet.

“This isn’t real.”

Even in dreams, his smirk lights fires in me. Perhaps especially in dreams.

“That is a matter of debate. Probably best discussed after you – wake up.”

And I did.

And now I am.

And wondering if he has left me shaking and wanting from his touch in a dream, what I have to fear from him in the waking world.

Chapter Text

“Sleep well?”

How maddening he is to respond days later, the first moment we’d had alone, as though no time had passed. We are preparing to ride to the Emerald Graves, and onward to the Exalted Plains – it will be months, perhaps, before we return to Skyhold. I cannot afford the distraction, but the blue-quiet glow of the rotunda and his company compels me.

I pretended composure I did not feel.

“I’ve never done anything like that before,” I admitted, “on a number of levels.”

“I apologize. The kiss was impulsive and ill-considered, and I should not have encouraged it.”

I balked. I am not surprised he tried to say that he was sorry, but neither was I prepared to let him act as though the kiss was not the culmination of something – of weeks of sly somethings. I am not a fool.

And he knows it.

“You say that, but you’re the one who started with tongue.”

“I did no such thing!”

“Oh, does it not count if it’s only Fade tongue?”

We eyed each other over his desk, daring. I saw the same hunger in his eyes that I had seen in the Fade, the wound-tight lust of a man who has long thirsted, but dare not drink. I wavered somewhere between softness and strength, refusing to give into how much I wanted him, yet unwilling to let him go.

“It has been a long time,” he began, careful, “and things have always been easier for me in the Fade. I am not certain this is the best idea. It could lead to trouble.”

I sensed the same struggle in him, untamed longing combating his better sense. I thought of the elven Inquisition soldier in the Hinterlands, Ritts, who had snatched what pleasure she could from a world grown increasingly erratic and cruel.

Why should we be denied this, too?

“I’m willing to take that chance. If you are.” I spoke without pretense, holding his eyes, and did not imagine the flash from within, a spark of hope – or something else?

“I, maybe. Yes. If I could take a little time to think. There are – considerations.”

Solas had never sounded so uncertain, and I’ve never met a man who hesitated at so bold a declaration, even among my clan, where there were necessary observations of tradition, modesty, love. I am not sure if this recommends him, or if I should run very fast in the opposite direction. It would, at least, give me something to do with this energy.

“Take all the time you need.”

I respect him, but I am not sure that I meant it. I would rather have circled the desk and then his lean frame with my legs, ensuring that time was among the least of his considerations.

But I said it, and if I have learned anything of Solas, he will.

“Thank you. I am not often thrown by things that happen in dreams,” he’d mused, relieved, tone brightening as we returned to safer territory. “But I am reasonably certain we are awake now, and if you wish to discuss anything, I would enjoy talking.”

It was hours before my final briefing with Cullen, and I did not need to be anywhere else – did not want to be anywhere else.

“I would like that.”

Rather than maintain my distance, I crossed to the low couch where I had, now and again, observed him reading. After a moment, he joined me, sitting near enough to be companionable, but not so near that we touched.

He would take an age.

I gestured to the murals.

“If I had not witnessed it at camp, I would think you didn’t sleep,” I teased lightly, feeling uncertain about what had been said – and hadn’t – between us.

“You watch me sleep?” He, too, seemed to be feeling his way forward.

“What sort of Inquisitor would I be if I didn’t take an unhealthy interest in the well-being of my agents?”

Solas chuckled, and I considered that perhaps Varric’s endearment was not as ill-suited as might at first be assumed. “A less terrifying one?”

“Am I terrifying?”

“Undoubtedly.”

We stared at each other. I was keenly aware of the hands-breadth of space between us on the couch, of the almost imperceptible incline of his face toward mine when I spoke, when he listened.

“I would not think that a life spent in the wilds, on the fringes of both human and Dalish society, would afford you the opportunity to perfect such a skill,” I said at last, tearing my eyes away from his to admire the frescoes. There was, not surprisingly, as much nuance in his painting as there was in his speech, and after I admired the first one, I wanted very badly to watch him work. But, the second one simply appeared, filling a wall that had been blank the day previous.

Solas followed my eyes.

“In the Fade I had the opportunity to observe the memories of ancient masters,” he offered, expression distant. “Though these are paltry when compared with the wonders of Arlathan.”

“Certainly their subject matter is far removed from the great deeds of the gods of old,” I said, though I was quick to add, “which is no insult to your skill. Only…”

I knew it was my journey, my choices, that shaped what he painted. I was deeply flattered, but also did not know what to make of the gesture.

Solas took my hands, drew my eyes with his own, intense, earnest. “You only insult yourself,” he insisted. “Great deeds are a matter of perspective. You act with passion, kindness, bravery – never in arrogance or avarice.”

“There’s still time.”

I teased him, lips parted. I wouldn’t beg him, but I would make him regret every moment he waited. I had stayed, and would return, until it was clear which of us was the hunter, which of us ensnared.

I would stay after.

 A thumb snaked over my skin, sought the soft hollow where my thumb met my palm. I licked my lips.

“You are going to make this a challenge, aren’t you?” Solas’ voice was low, intimate. I wanted to feel his hot breath upon my neck. I nodded.

“He likes a challenge.” Cole popped into sight on the arm of the couch, startling us both. “The shape of the chase, the thrill when hands and jaws close on air. When they don’t.”

Cole.”

Solas’ voice was a warning, but I was already laughing, diffusing what tension the spirit’s words had introduced.

“How long have you been here, Cole?”

“Long enough,” Cole mused. I caught the flash of pale eyes under his hat. “Your tongues have many uses but telling the truth isn’t one of them.”

I think Cole may be the best of us.

Chapter Text

If I had to choose one word to describe the Emerald Graves, it would be verdant. Even the ruins feel alive, the trees and grasses almost manic in their vibrancy. The air smells of fertility in one moment and of rot the next, sweet profusion paired with the rank odor of too much. I can hardly sleep at night for listening, breathing.

For dreaming.

Solas remarked on our first evening at Briathos’ Steps that the Veil was thin. Where others might have expressed fear, I noted the anticipation in his voice. Dorian and Varric were each having a go at Cassandra who, by my estimation and experience, was at least an hour removed from losing her composure.

“How can you tell?” I asked, setting aside the rough map of the region that Fairbanks had provided us. I had tried to engage the trainer at Skyhold to increase my understanding of the Fade, but she was more enigmatic even than Solas.

“I can feel it on my skin,” he answered, accompanied by a slight cant of his chin, his shoulders, studying me. “Like the wind changing directions, or the humidity that builds before rain.”

Having lived most of my life out of doors, these were sensations that were familiar to me. But even when I turned my attention to it, when I tried to focus, I felt no change. I am sure that it cannot be like the energy I feel when I channel from the Fade to cast spells, that it must be somehow more pervasive, less precise. But still.

My disappointment must have shown, for Solas walked over to me, standing near but not too near. Others might assume we looked at the map together.

But he wasn’t looking at the map.

“Indulge me. Close your eyes.”

“You know, when Sera says things like that, I worry.”

“I do not imagine Sera waits for you to comply.” The touch of a smile, just there, hands clasped behind his back. Patient.

I closed my eyes, the tips of my fingers braced against the table. I felt his hands gently part mine from the wooden surface, leaving my fingers searching, empty, at my sides.

“I have heard that some Dalish children endure a trial of the Vir Tanadhal during the first new moon of their eighth season. Did you?”

“Yes,” I murmured, more aware of his closeness with my other senses diminished. “My magic hadn’t yet manifested and so I trained with the others who would be hunters. I was cast out on my own and asked to return with something of value to the clan.”

“The hunt does not interest me,” he said offhandedly, but for once his dismissal of a Dalish custom lacked its usual poison. “Part of that trial would have been to gain an understanding of the tenet of Vir Adahlen, to recognize your own weakness, your smallness, how you are only a part of the whole.”

His voice grew softer as he continued, and I felt my skin prickle with goose flesh.

“It would have been your first full night alone, in the dark, without a fire or friend to comfort you. Do you recall how it felt, to rely only on yourself, what you alone could sense and make sense of? The awareness that comes on you in the dark, in danger?”

I nodded, steeped in the memory of that night. I’d climbed a tree, sharp and splintering bark breaking the flesh of my bare hands, my bound feet. I’d spent the night shivering in the canopy, watching night birds hunt and their prey scurry for safety – or not.

Solas drew closer. I stiffened when I felt the press of his chest against my back, a cool weight that nevertheless ignited want within me.

“The Veil is always close,” he whispered, the ghost of his breath on my shoulders, my neck. Ice slipped down my spine. “In the places where it thins, you can feel what was and what could have been.”

Feather light touches at my hips, my waist, tracing the lines of my small clothes beneath the light armor I wore. I sucked in a breath, eyes popping open unbidden.

Solas stood next to me in the same place that he had been, leaning against his staff, watching.

Smirking.

I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from striking him, or seizing him. Did he meant to tempt himself, or me? Desperately straight-faced, I returned my attention to the map.

“I am not surprised you love the Fade, if that’s what it feels like when the Veil is thin.”

“Not always,” Solas responded. “Sometimes, it is better.”

He walked back toward his tent, his books, his solitude.

Bastard.

--

“That Fairbanks fellow is quite handsome in a rustic, regularly-pisses-in-a-communal-hole sort of way,” Dorian mused, days later. “Don’t you think, Inquisitor?”

We were on the trail of a small group of the Freeman of the Dales and I was grateful for the distraction, my dread at what they plotted with the Red Templars growing by the hour.

“Certainly,” I answered, avoiding looking back at Solas to gauge his reaction. “Unless you are suggesting that because I am Dalish, I find public urination a precursor to romantic attachment.”

Dorian’s hearty response did not entirely disguise Solas’ brief chuckle of amusement. I do enjoy making him laugh.

“On the contrary,” Dorian boasted. “Among the Dalish, I presume it is the stealth one employs when relieving themselves to be a far superior recommendation.”

At this even Cassandra barked out a laugh.

“Is that how they do it in Tevinter, Dorian? Or have they devised some blood magic ritual to curb the body’s natural functions?”

Doriann huffed.

“How crude, Cassandra. The ritual you speak of rather amplifies one’s need so that we may compel our enemies into openly soiling themselves.”

At this I lost all control, wild laughter sure to bring down every beast and Red Templar in the Dales. I leaned against my staff for support, stomach aching. I met Solas’ eyes and his were shining, smile appreciative, comfortable, secret. After a moment he looked up.

“If you are to satisfy the precedent set by previous conversations of base humor, you’ll need to go on for at least ten more minutes.” He paused. “Fifteen, if Sera were here.”

“Fifteen? Truly?” Dorian mock-gasped, touched a finger to his lips. “I think we can do better than that.”

Countless horrors have led me to this place, have brought these people into my life. Is it wrong to be grateful?

Chapter Text

The howl of a wolf woke me, but it was not what kept me from sleeping.

I crept from my tent, shuddering briefly at the touch of the night’s chill. A storm was coming. Tugging my sleeping fur more tightly around my shoulders, my eyes swept over the fire, all but extinguished, the camp hushed, the trees beyond dark sentinels. I was drawn to the quiet serenity of deep night.

I strode forward. The grass was dewy and tempting underneath of my bare feet and I wiggled my toes, breathed a soft sigh of relief. The day had been long, brutal – but the Freemen were no longer a threat. Not anymore.

The wolf howled again in the distance, joined by a chorus of his brothers and sisters. I lifted my head as though I, too, were called.

“Inquisitor.”

The feel of his eyes on me made the hairs rise on my neck and head. I turned slightly, seeing Solas at the camp’s edge. There was the residual glow of magic in his hands – he must have been renewing his wards.

“Solas.”

We eyed each other, but he had been on his way back to camp and it made no sense to delay. He strode toward me, stopped a few paces distant. The wind caught at his clothes, carrying his scent to me and through the fur I’d gathered around my neck. I buried my nose in it, breathing deep.

“Did you require something?” His eyes were fixed on me, for the moment unguarded, traveling up and down again. I wore only a shift beneath the fur and the wind teased this, too, snatching fabric from my legs and exposing pale flesh to the moon’s glow – and, I think, his obvious appreciation.

“I couldn’t sleep.”

I didn’t want to sleep.

“I cannot help with that.”

His eyes were still on me, arrested by the stir of the fur as the wind tore it from my thighs. I felt like a hunter, approaching a live, wary animal trapped unwittingly in a snare. I drew close enough to reach a hand forward, so slowly, to lay against his chest. His heart beat a ruthless rhythm underneath of my palm and I felt my own blood sing in response.

He drew in a sharp breath.

“I think you know that you can,” I whispered, hand planted firm now. With the other I clutched at the fur at my neck before a strong gust of wind cast it over one shoulder, exposing my collarbone. Solas lifted a hand and drew the fur back down, lingered. His fingers arched above the thin fabric of my shift, the heel of his hand resting at the top of my breast. My heart had begun to beat a wild dance of its own, but he instigated no further touch. I felt I would be undone.

“I know you said you needed time, but - ”

“Shhh.”

He leaned forward, but it was not to kiss me. Instead his nose met my hairline, the cleft where my ear met my cheek, the hollow at the base of my jaw. He breathed in, out, languorous.

“Solas, please,” I murmured. Hadn’t I said I wouldn’t beg? I lied. “Ar avy isalal na.”

“You do not know what you ask.” His voice was perilously soft. I did not imagine the tremor in it; his lips were near enough to my skin that I could feel it.

“I know exactly what I am asking for.”

Even as I reached for him he retreated, shaking his head, forcing several paces between us.

“I… can’t. Not now. Not yet,” he added lamely, a consolation. I felt like a live ember raked from the fire and left to smolder in the cold. I took a step closer to him but not in tenderness.

“What are you afraid of? Corypheus is trying to tear down the world and yet you cannot touch me for fear of – what? I could be dead tomorrow.”

Tears were burning in my eyes and I imagined my anger would turn them to steam.

Solas said nothing, only looked at me, expression impossible to read. Disgusted, I turned my back on him, stalked back into my tent.

“That is what I am afraid of,” he said behind me, so low I could’ve imagined it. I did not look back, did not give him the satisfaction.

The wolves began howling again as soon as I finished writing this, and as though ushered in by their song, the storm came upon us.

I felt like howling with them.

Chapter Text

The Orlesian civil war will have to wait. Varric received word from Hawke that we are needed in the Western Approach, as soon as we can get there. I fear what the Wardens are planning; Keeper Deshanna had stories of Wardens and the Blight, though the Free Marches and our clan were spared the horrors of the last one. Spirits and demons I can make sense of, but darkspawn?

I could not write in Crestwood for the relentless rain and wet, but Stroud seemed then, at least, to be an admirable man. He told us the truth, even when it did not serve him.

And so we are riding, hard, stopping only to change horses when we must. I am so weary that I have been challenged to remain awake even for my watch – and the others are faring no better. I foraged just beyond the camp for a stimulating herb my clan often used to induce wakefulness, offering it to everyone, steeped as a tea, before we retired for the night.

Solas surprised me with a grimace. I had been steadfastly ignoring him, aided by our brutal pace. I had given him the distance I presumed he wanted since that night in the Emerald Graves, though my pride had as much to do with avoiding him as anything else.

“If I wished to lose sleep, there are far less foul ways to do so,” he said, declining the tea. I could not suppress the hot blush that crept from my collar. He didn’t mean it as I interpreted it, and even if he had, I would not indulge him.

“But none so reliable,” I insisted, offering an explanation. “I have been having trouble remaining awake on watch.”

“What, Sparkler’s snores aren’t keeping you awake?” Varric interjected. “Must just be me.”

“I have a cautionary tale for you, Varric, on the perils of insulting Tevinter pride,” Dorian replied, lofty, but Varric only laughed. Solas continued on as though the two had not interrupted.

“I could help you.”

“You could, but I thought you said you would not,” I replied softly, for him alone. It was Solas’ turn to color, but only just. If I had not been close enough to offer him the tea I would have missed the pinking of his skin, just there, between temples and ears.

“I had something else in mind, if you are amenable.”

I considered him, aware of Dorian and Varric’s sudden silence.

“Never let it be said that I refused honest aid when offered,” I returned, trying to maintain the upper hand. But I could see already the shape of the thing between Solas and I: I would take whatever he would give. I would ask for more, always.

Solas met my eyes, and when he spoke again his tone had shifted from earnest and intimate to something more formal, loud enough for the others to hear.

“Let us go to your tent, then, and I will instruct you in a ritual of meditation that should allow you to sleep more deeply and awaken more refreshed.”

In my tent, alone, with Solas. I didn’t look at anyone else as he led the way, but I did not miss Dorian’s muttering.

“Ritual of meditation? Is that what the Dalish are calling it these days?”

I told myself that I would deal with him later.

My bedroll was laid out and a candle guttered next to a stack of reports I was meant to read before sleeping. Solas gathered these and set them out of sight, though he allowed the candle to remain.

“You are a restless sleeper, I know,” Solas said, an assumption I could not refute. He gestured to my bedroll. “If you lie down, I can teach you to enter the Fade more quickly.”

I sighed. I did not want him in my tent, not for this.

“I don’t know that this will work, Solas,” I argued.

“Please, lie down.”

I did as he asked. I told myself that it was because he would leave more quickly if I feigned cooperation. He knelt at the side of my bedroll, hands clasped in his lap, eyeing me.

“Inquisitor, you are unlikely to be comfortable enough to sleep in armor.”

“Are you asking me to disrobe, Solas?”

“Only partially.”

I felt like partially murdering him. I sat back up, shrugging out of the leather coat, my heavy belt, my boots. As I reached for the buttons on my tunic, I felt his eyes on me, the green glow of the anchor flaring briefly, reflected in the fabric’s sheen.

“Once I saw a soldier crouch to rinse her blade of blood. The water ran so red she feared an unseen wound,” Solas intoned, his eyes on my hands, at the sliver of flesh revealed between tunic and undershirt. “But her hands were clean and her sword, forged of Stormheart, gleamed envy green.”

He paused, reached for my marked hand. I let him take it.

Why did I let him take it?

“You remind me of that memory, ages lost to time. Your colors are the same.”

“You sound like Cole,” I teased, desperate to turn the conversation. I would not give him the opportunity to reject me again.

“I shall take that as a compliment,” Solas replied, the moment broken. I retrieved my hand, removing my tunic and laying back.

“Close your eyes.”

“I remember what happened the last time you said that.”

“As do I,” he whispered, then continued, more firmly. “This will be different. Meditation is an art that requires considerable practice, but yours is a disciplined mind.”

I made a slight sound to indicate that I was listening.

“A mistake many novices make is attempting to clear their mind completely – minds are not meant to be empty. You must fill it instead by choice,” he continued, voice close. “I suggest you choose a single word, or perhaps an image, that you find calming, that does not instigate the association of other words, other images. Something simple, comfortable.”

I felt the pressure of holding my eyes closed, the ageless desire of wanting to think, to move, to do, but tried to do as he asked. It would not do choose something that held too much value, for I would follow the trail of sentiment to more thoughts, memories, worries. I decided to think on how I wanted to sleep, of a word that conjured silence, darkness, potency.

Deep.

“Have you thought of something?”

“Do I have to tell you?”

“This is not a game, Inquisitor,” Solas sniffed. “Focus on what you’ve chosen. Allow it to fill your mind, to eclipse all other thought.”

Deep.

“It is not the fullness of a busy market square, but rather a small chamber suffused with shadow, or a pool of water whose murky depths you cannot see. Let it fill you.”

Deep.

His breathing I heard but I tried to stifle my awareness of it, my desire to be aware of it.

Deep.

Deep.

Deep.

My own breath, warm, slow.

Deep.

Deep.

Deep.

“Open your eyes, Inquisitor.”

I opened my eyes. We stood together on the ramparts in Skyhold, the crisp outline of the mountains in the distance gilded by the setting sun.

“We’re in the Fade.”

“Correct.”

“You’re here with me? How?”

Solas smiled, rivaling the sun’s burnished brilliance.

“I have had far more practice falling asleep when I wish to, lethallan.”

I breathed deeply, relishing the cold, the thin mountain air. It felt real. I missed Skyhold; it had become home. When had that happened?

Walking forward, I braced my hands against the stones. Smooth and rough, familiar planes unfolding beneath my fingers. “When you’re in the Fade, does it create the world as you dream it, or is it constant – is there a dream Skyhold always waiting for me here?”

Solas followed me.

“I would imagine Skyhold is a fixture in the dreams of many,” he mused, tone appreciative. “In my travels, ruins stand in the same place as decadent palaces, as primeval forests. It is the dreamer who controls what they see, based on what they carry with them into the Fade.”

“You must carry a great deal, to see so much,” I observed, meeting his eyes, finally. He was close – and knowing that it was not a physical proximity made it, strangely, all the more tantalizing.

 “I do,” he replied simply, holding my gaze, intense. He might argue the semantics, but I knew that these were not real stones under my feet, that his lithe form beside mine was not real. What was real was the current between us, the silence swollen with things unsaid. I felt as though my heart might break open, let the silence inside.

“Solas,” I began. He was already reaching for me.

But.

I stepped back.

“I think you should return to Skyhold.”

“Inquisitor?”

His confusion – was it hurt? – charged the space between us. He had said things were easier for him in the Fade. This felt harder.

“You are more to me than an ally, then an agent of the Inquisition,” I said, forced myself to say. “If I cannot be more to you than the Inquisitor, I need – I need you to return to Skyhold. For a time.”

He stepped back. Did I imagine the ramparts grew, the stones between us doubled?

“I understand.”

Softly, his figure retreating.

When I woke – in plenty of time to relieve Cassandra and well rested, as promised – he was gone.

Chapter Text

Supernatural horrors are nothing compared to the violence we can conceive of inflicting upon each other.

What the Grey Wardens have done – what they are doing – is almost too impossible to bear. There is no fear so primal it could compel me to such slaughter, and I’ve known fear.

They should know better.

We cannot confront them as we are, less than a dozen arrayed against the might of the southern Wardens and the demons that now swell their ranks. As swiftly as we have come to the Western Approach we must make again for Skyhold and hope that Cullen has trained forces enough to take on Adamant.

--

“I have been meaning to ask: you sent Solas away. Why?”

Cassandra surprised me as I sat in camp five days into the return journey, scraping mud from my boots with a sharp rock.

“It’s been weeks,” I dodged. “Why are you asking me now?”

“I have been trying to reason it out on my own,” she responded, crouching beside me, graceful and strong. “But it is in Varric’s nature to imagine theories and wild tales, not mine.”

Her voice grew softer as she continued, as it sometimes could: the voice of a confidant, a friend.

“I know that he can be quick to judge your people.”

“It wasn’t that.”

I did not, would not, sigh. I missed even arguing with him.

Cassandra studied me, a light coming into her eyes. “Were you… and he…”

“No,” I said, too quickly, backpedaling. “Well, not entirely. I don’t know.”

“Even the smartest man can be a fool,” Cassandra huffed, shaking her head. She looked out across the camp as though to spare me a pitying glance, and I followed her eyes to where Dorian was engaged in a rather heated discussion with the requisition officer. I heard something about “perfumed soap” and the officer guffawed loudly.

“What will you do when we return to Skyhold?”

“Other than take a hot bath?” I joked, smile grim as I wiped muddy hands on my breeches. “I’ll focus on what we have to do to stop Corypheus.”

Nodding, Cassandra still didn’t look at me. When she spoke again, her expression hardened, experience weighing on her words.

“It can be… difficult… to care for someone when you must also lead. Caring makes us vulnerable. But it also gives us something to fight for.”

“I fight for Thedas.”

“Do not forget to fight for yourself, also, Inquisitor.”

I opened my mouth, but could not conjure a response before Cassandra rose. The argument between Dorian and the officer was escalating fast.

“I am going to clarify for the Tevinter mage, again, what constitutes a reasonable request,” she said, amusement creeping into her tone, “before he incinerates another Dwarven puzzle box.”

Warmed by the conversation, I set my clean boots aside, allowing my bare feet the opportunity to appreciate the earth in a way the leather could not.

There are others here that I care about.

He does not own the whole of my heart.

--

We rode into Skyhold at dusk, the main edifice glowing red from the light of the setting sun. Shouts and cheers announced us, and shortly Cullen and Josephine both were rushing down the stairs from the Great Hall to greet us. My eyes skimmed past them to the uppermost landing where a tall, slight figure, roughly-clad, stood watching. The distance between us was too great to read his expression, but he lingered only a moment before withdrawing.

I did not get the bath that I wanted. Cullen ushered Cassandra and I to the war table and by the time we had been debriefed, I returned to my chamber too exhausted even to remove my filthy clothes before falling into bed.

--

In the morning Blackwall demanded a full recounting of his own, and Vivienne had questions about my observations of the ritual. I knew better than to insist she consult with Dorian, and told her what I remembered. She no doubt blames my Dalish upbringing for the flaws in my understanding of magical theory.

And she wonders why I have little love for Circle mages.

It was late morning before I made my way to the rotunda. Avoiding Solas felt too obvious, seeking him out seemed the lesser evil.

And I had missed him. The way his face took on a faraway look when he spoke of the Fade, wise but also quietly giddy, as a child might share their greatest treasure. His low chuckle and dry humor, too often missed or misunderstood. His appreciation for kindness, for aesthetic beauty, for the wilderness and sometimes, for me.

He was seated at his desk, grimacing over a cup of tea, and did not notice me at first.

“Something wrong with your tea?”

“It is tea. I detest the stuff,” he said sharply, distracted. “But this morning, I need to shake the dreams from my mind. I may also need a favor.”

It was almost as though we were having the same conversation we’d last had, with different trappings. Colder, more angular.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have come.

“But you don’t need anything. From anyone. You’re known for that.”

The hurt in his eyes was visible only for an instant before he stood and turned away, stalking past his desk toward the middle of the room.

“One of my oldest friends has been captured by mages, forced into slavery. I heard the cry for help as I slept.”

He was more agitated than I had ever seen him, prowling, arms and hands raking his face, each other.

“When your friend was captured, how did he… she…”

“It.”

“It?”

“My friend is a spirit of wisdom,” he explained, tone evening out as he entered familiar territory: sharing his knowledge with me, explaining, teaching. “Unlike the spirits clamoring to enter our world through the rifts, it was dwelling quite happily in the Fade. It was summoned against its will and wants my help to gain its freedom and return to the Fade.”

It should not have surprised me that he asked for help, that he returned readily to a relationship with me whose boundaries and expectations were clear. There was comfort here, and risks we both understood. Nothing to do with hearts and everything to do with heads, the will to confront, to right something wrong.

“Alright,” I answered, meeting his eyes. An Inquisitor, then. It was enough, wasn’t it? For everyone else. For him, too, it seemed. “Let’s go get your friend.”

Relief flooded his expression.

“Thank you,” he breathed, continuing on about location, coordinating with Cullen. I said yes, to everything. Cullen had explained that an assault on a fortress like Adamant could not be planned overnight, and the commander’s forces would need time to rally and reach the Western Approach, anyway, even after he'd devised a satisfactory campaign. There would be time. I would make time.

I will do this for him.

If this is all he will let me do for him.

Chapter Text

I have tried to be a friend to Solas on the journey to the Exalted Plains.

It is not easy.

“As you know, Inquisitor, we have no Dalish in Tevinter,” Dorian remarked one hot afternoon, all of us feeling the strain of a day spent riding with only a brief respite interrupted by a rogue group of Venatori. “Do your people suffer the same inhibitions as our Ferelden friends?”

Cassandra snorted. “I’m from Nevarra.”

“Ah,” Dorian observed. “Yet you do not argue that you suffer.”

Solas, not surprisingly, made no comment. I looked pointedly ahead, determined not to note his attention or lack of it.

“I do not think anyone suffers quite like a Ferelden,” I quipped. “But if we’re talking about sex, in my clan it is not uncommon to enjoy the company of a number of lovers before you are bonded.”

“See?” Dorian continued, and I looked over my shoulder to see him gesticulating widely for Cassandra’s benefit – or rather, his own benefit at her expense. “How are you to know your own needs and desires without a bit of experimentation?”

“Yes, Seeker,” Varric prodded, enjoying himself almost as much as Dorian. “There are some things you can’t learn by reading alone.”

Cassandra’s outrage was palpable. When I turned to the dwarf, Solas was riding to his left, and it was his eyes I caught instead. A light flared there, distant but hungry. I looked away quickly.

“I’ve read over Cassandra’s shoulder, Varric,” I said, rising to her defense, “and it seems there are some things where no amount of practice will yield sufficient skill.”

There it was again, Solas’ light chuckle, so sweet and dry and quick, caught by surprise, like one of his smiles. Dorian roared his own approval and Varric, good-naturedly, allowed him to.

But my heart pumped hot and cold, wanting to tell Solas what I’d learned of my own desires, better, to show him where I liked to be touched, to learn where he did in turn, in time.

We have so little of it.

Why does he want to waste it?

--

I write this sheltered in the thick shadow cast by an aravel, the fire smelling of sweet herbs and home, tended as it is by Dalish hands. My eyes are filling up and spilling over with memory.

The Dalish are here, in the Exalted Plains.

And Solas is gone.

We approached the place where Solas believed his friend to be late this afternoon, confronted the mages and their summoning circle. The spirit – the demon, in their ignorance they had turned it to a demon – hunched in the center, not defeated but for the moment, still. Solas’ grief was so keen I felt it like a current in the air.

How could I have done anything but what he asked, when he looked like that, features naked with rage and pain?

We freed the demon and I admit there was a moment I feared it would turn on us, but Solas had not been wrong. He knelt before it. Before her. Now you must endure, she said. And he will. I am beginning to think this is part of who he is, someone who endures, whose joys are fleeting, whose sorrows are deep.

And then she was gone and I wanted to wrap my arms around him, but there were so many reasons not to: because Varric and Cassandra were there, because I was afraid of his anger. It was potent as a black storm cloud, a wild and brutal thing that could shatter trees or level forests with a single lightning strike.

Because I did not think he wanted me to.

And then I let Solas kill the mages.

And I was not sorry.

I’m still not.

We will not be welcome with the Dalish for long, but Varric was injured in the confrontation with the demon and they extended a courtesy normally reserved only for the people to all three of us. The poultice will have done its work by the morning and I aim to repay their hospitality by clearing the demons from Var Bellanaris.

They may not want to be here anymore than I do, right now.

--

It will not be possible to move our troops through the Exalted Plains until this region is stabilized. We cannot return to Skyhold, not yet.

But he said he would be there.

I can only hope he told me the truth.

--

Cole observed of the Dalish when we bid our farewells at the camp that “their home is gone,” and it was the first time I have wanted to tell him to be quiet. I do not know what is true and what is not anymore, but I know what is ugly, and what does not need to be heard aloud to hurt.

This place, of all that we’ve seen, feels cursed. The ramparts are like scars or opened veins, spilling demons and humans. Cole would mutter something about how they are sometimes the same.

Solas would be less subtle about it.

I miss him enough to give myself a fever, worse this time than when I asked him to leave. I have never seen him as I saw him that afternoon, with the spirit and with the mages. I did not think him capable of such depth of feeling – the memory of our kiss, shared in the Fade, seems a pale shadow of the tenderness I saw in him when he grieved with his friend. Perhaps it is just with me that he does not feel.

Am I jealous of a spirit, and a dead one?

I am an idiot.

But there’s a rift nearby. I can feel it. I’m desperate for buzzing of another kind, heat and energy I can shape, to exert my will over something that bends to it. And then, home. 

We’ll be there soon.

Chapter Text

There was no elusive figure waiting for me on the landing when we returned.

He isn’t here.

--

I refuse to mourn the end of something that never really was.

For “old time’s sake,” Hawke indulged Varric in a game of Wicked Grace, drawing in half the Chargers and Dorian, as well, after he’d had a few drinks. I am not sure who the mage fancies more, Bull or Hawke. After our fourth hand, I was deep enough in my cups to ask. Dorian laughed out loud.

“I won’t pretend I haven’t entertained the thought,” he admitted, dodging the specifics. “But mixing blood with pleasure isn’t every Tevinter’s dream.”

“Speak for yourself!” Krem roared. Dorian smirked, eyes narrowing on me, far too sharp for the bottle of wine that stood nearly empty on the table before him. It wasn’t fair.

“The bedroom and the battlefield are uneasy partners. But perhaps I have something to learn from Dalish apostates?”

“He’s not Dalish,” I hiccupped, cursing myself for the correction. Dorian laughed again.

“Is there some Qunari protocol delaying your deal, Bull? The Inquisitor is getting confessional.”

“Am not.”

“Maybe drinking for Chuckles in his absence wasn’t the best idea,” Varric mused, proving that perhaps every single person at the table, every soldier in the Inquisition, did not believe in the concept of privacy. “Especially given the stories I’ve heard of the elven constitution.”

“And I,” I began, gesturing with my empty cup only to find that it was not, in fact, empty. Beer sloshed over my hand onto the table, and I forgot what I intended to say. “I am… taller than you.”

Varric’s merriment was plain, and even grim Hawke broke a smile.

“Boss, I think you’d better go to bed before you hurt yourself. Or accidentally tear another whole in the sky,” Bull teased. I didn’t manage a protest. Within a moment strong arms were supporting me from either side, Varric and Dorian and Cole, surprisingly, as an enigmatic escort.

We were silent on the trek to the Great Hall, but Cole began speaking on the climb to my chambers.

“You miss him,” he observed, light steps preceding ours. “The way he sounds when he isn’t speaking. Quiet breath. Frosted touch that ignites a flame.”

“She knows, kid,” Varric said gently, the stature I had insulted no impediment to his helping me up the stairs. “We all do.”

“Well,” Dorian huffed. “Some of us could do with a bit more detail concerning this ‘frosted touch.’”

I stomped on his booted foot.

--

There was no word from Leliana, no commotion in the courtyard, only his lean frame advancing through the gate unannounced, taking me completely by surprise on my way to consult with Blackwall concerning our upcoming assault on Adamant.

“Inquisitor.”

“Guess I owe Varric an ale,” I said, tone light, studying him for a sign of – what? “I wasn’t sure you were coming back.”

“Neither was I for a time,” he replied, a beat between us like a stopped heart. “But only a short time. You were a true friend. You did everything you could to help. I could hardly abandon you now.”

I could hardly abandon you now. My eyes devoured the planes of his face, the sky-depths of his eyes.

“Where did you go?”

“I found a quiet spot and went to sleep. I visited the place in the Fade where my friend used to be,” he replied. I could see the sorrow, still, in his face, but there was a peace, too. “It’s empty, but there are stirrings of energy in the void. Someday something new may grow there.”

I nodded. It felt right, that his friend should be remembered in this way – as we were, by those who loved us. An impression on the Fade, as we left impressions on those in our lives.

I could’ve let him go then, to return to the familiar round of his life here in Skyhold. But he’d come back.

And it felt like it meant something, maybe meant something more.

“The next time you have to mourn, you don’t need to be alone.”

His eyes darted here and there, uncertain. “It’s been so long since I could trust someone.”

“I know.”

“I’ll work on it. And thank you.”

A breath of relief between us, released and creating a space for us to draw closer together. We began to walk back toward the Great Hall, my errand forgotten. For as great as his rage had been, so now seemed his serenity. I did not take his hand, though I wanted to. We walked close enough together, instinctually in step, that I could easily have done so. Instead I glanced at him sidelong, surprised to find his eyes on me, his slight smile.

“You have traveled again now,” I said, feeling heat rush unwelcome to my cheeks. “Perhaps you will have a new memory from the Fade to share with me.”

Solas’ smile broadened, a seductive curl at the corners.

“When I decided to return, I thought only of the memories I might make here.”

Our steps slowed, gazes lingered.

“How selfish of you,” I replied, quiet, holding my breath. He was close, his face only a few hands from mine.

“Quite.”

A familiar shadow clouded his eyes, but his smile persisted. “But I have interrupted you. Come and speak with me when you have a moment. I will wait.”

He left me wordless on the landing, hope and paralysis kindling a strange paralysis in my limbs. He would wait.

I wasn’t sure that I could.

--

I made myself wait, or was made to wait by those who needed my time and energy as we prepare. Our soldiers make for Adamant.

And I sit here in my bed, half-dressed and not by my own hand, head and heart fighting another war entirely.

He asked me to come to him and then asked for a moment alone, stalking toward my chamber and out onto the balcony in a way that made me race with wondering.

“What were you like? Before the anchor?” These were questions for me, but I felt they’d been ones he’d considered at length on his own. “Has it affected you? Changed you in any way? Your mind? Your morals? Your… spirit?”

I studied the mark, not always alight but the feel of it under my skin a constant thready pulse, like another heart, another life.

“If it had do you really think I’d notice?”

He smirked, but only just. “No. That’s an excellent point.”

“Why do you ask?”

“You show a wisdom I have not seen since… since my deepest journeys into the ancient memories of the Fade. You are not what I expected.” It felt as though something troubled him, something he wasn’t saying. It also felt like, despite his line of questioning, it did not have anything to do with me.

“Sorry to disappoint,” I retorted, though I did not want to lose my temper with him.

“It’s not disappointing. It’s – most people are predictable. You have shown subtlety in your actions, a wisdom that goes against everything I expected. If the Dalish could raise someone with a spirit like yours… have I misjudged them?”

I considered his words – among the kindest he’d uttered regarding the Dalish.

“I don’t hold the Dalish up as perfect, but we have something worth honoring,” I said, thinking of my family, my Keeper, allowing the prick of heartache at my long absence from them. “A memory of the ancient ways.”

“Perhaps that is it. I suppose it must be. Most people act with so little understanding of the world. But not you.”

I held a hot breath in my lungs. “So what does this mean, Solas?”

With the setting sun behind him, his eyes were dark pools – each a well from which I wanted desperately to drink.

“It means I have not forgotten the kiss.”

I exhaled, sure my face told him every truth, all of my relief, all of my wanting. Stepped closer because I could, an invitation.

“Good.”

Solas didn’t take his eyes off of me. I followed their path, from my eyes to my offered lips, the curve of my jaw, my neck, buttoned up but welcoming a long overdue unbuttoning. He shook his head and turned to go, but I’d had enough of this game of chase and retreat. I reached for his arm.

“Don’t go.”

His back to me, excuses set in the length of his shoulders as readily as they rose to his lips.

“It would be kinder in the long run. But losing you would…”

And then, then, then.

It was different than it had been in the Fade – sweeter, deeper, stronger – like a tea newly steeped and served so hot it burned the tongue. And he burned mine, claiming my mouth, a delicious pressure I surrendered readily to.

His arms looped around my back, snaked down, pressed me against the full length of his torso, hips to hips. I was everywhere so warm I thought I’d catch fire, clutching at his arms, his back, anything to keep him close.

He broke away, his words leaping between us like a misplaced kiss.

“Ar lath ma, vhenan.”

I took a step after him, shock stifling any response I might have made. I leaned against the balcony door for support, eyes following his retreating form, marveling.

“What part of ‘don’t go’ was lost on you, Solas?”

He slowed, stopped, caught my eyes over his shoulder.

“If I stay…”

“I want you to stay.”

A breath shuddered through him – I could almost see it, like a breeze shaking a new tree in spring.

“Then let us have a little distance between us,” he began, continuing quickly on at my warning glance. “There are few moments in life like these. Allow me to savor this one.”

I closed my eyes briefly, banishing irritation, searching desperately for composure.

“That is rather a poor choice of words, Solas,” I replied, crossing to stoke the fire. Not that I was even remotely cold. Having something to do with my hands was an absolute necessity if I was not going to drag him to my bed.

He chuckled softly, took a few steps back into the room. Hesitant, for this was an invitation of a different kind. “I will attempt to be more careful.”

“I think you’re taking too much care,” I insisted, catching his eye before the heat fled mine completely. “But I respect you.”

“And I you, vhenan,” he said, so certain, so painfully sincere, that my heart dropped and soared in the same instant. “Which is why I wish to take our time.”

I looked away, cheeks burning. After a few half-hearted attempts with the fire, I returned the poker to the stand, settling down cross-legged on the rug.

“Will you sit with me?”

He did, adopting a similar posture, facing me. Our knees were close enough to touch and our hands, too. And so we did. After a moment, he lifted my unmarked hand to his lips, kissed my callused fingertips. I shivered, and when he continued his work, shifting from knuckles to the base of each finger to palm and exposed wrist, I closed my eyes and imagined my blood blazed.

“Will you come with me to Adamant?” My eyes opened, the question urgent, one I hadn’t even meant to ask. But I realized I had only just got him back again, had just gotten him for perhaps the very first time, and I didn’t want to be parted from him again.

Solas held my hand still and my eyes, planting a more chaste kiss before returning my hand to my own lap.

“I will,” he answered. I felt that I could ask anything of him and have the answer I wanted, in that moment. But there were questions I was still too afraid to ask and continued in safety. “Will you teach me to dream in the Tevinter ruins there? To enter the Fade as you do?”

Solas’ eyes flashed.

“You may not like what you see.”

“You will be with me.”

“Yes,” he murmured, and as easily as he had returned the hand he seized it again, drawing me onto his lap. His hands were too busy with the buttons at my neck to encircle me this time, but I did not mind in the least as they were quick to light against the skin of my throat, brushing my collar aside. His mouth next, the knife-sharpness of his teeth countering the tender pressure of his lips. I gasped but leaned into him, my own hands slipping beneath the fabric of his tunic, exploring the muscles of his shoulders and his neck.

“I will not take you tonight, my heart,” he whispered, but even still more buttons yielded to him, more flesh exposed. “But I would like to taste more of you.”

Words, Solas,” I returned with a laugh, overwhelmed, wonderful, the way I felt, the way he made me feel. “You said you would be more careful.”

“My apologies,” he murmured, taking one of my breasts in his hand, his stroke gentle, his tongue quick. “I find I can’t be trusted to speak.”

“Then don’t.”

He was true to his words, and his actions.

Chapter Text

I quickly relieved Solas of any delusions he had of sleeping apart from me on the journey to Adamant.

We have not yet lain together and I can admit here that my eagerness is tempered with a very real fear. I feel something for him that makes my youthful dalliances appear gossamer-thin; they are a trickle of rain water and he is the sea. And what I worried for then – starvation, exposure, incursion – are mere shadows of my concerns now. There is so much more to be lost that I am afraid of losing myself in him. So much weighs on me, so much waits on me.

Still I am greedy and what I have allowed myself, I want completely. After only two nights of suffering my temper and Varric’s pointed looks anytime he entered the tent they shared, Solas ducked into mine, clutching his bedroll under one arm and a cloth of fresh berries in the opposite hand.

“I have noticed that you eat them right from the bush,” he explained, “so I gathered these for you when I was setting wards tonight.”

I took it for an apology for being wantonly stubborn in his insistence that we go on as we always have done when away from Skyhold, and I accepted it without scathing comment.

He laid his bedroll out next to mine, settling down and turning that tempting, level gaze on me.

I popped a berry into my mouth.

“They are like the berries we would harvest in late summer,” I began, shrugging out of my leather coat. “Though these are sweeter.”

“Numbered among a very few things that are sweeter now, I imagine,” Solas said, eyes appreciative as I removed my belt, my boots, my leather breeches slinking down my legs.

“Not so few,” I returned, watching him watch me. He met my eyes, a smile beginning in those cool depths.

“Come to me, vhenan.”

I crossed to my own bedroll, kneeling before him. Rather than give him the kiss that I wanted to, the kiss I knew would put an end to all talk, I pressed a berry to his parted lips. He took it with his tongue, holding my gaze.

“Tell me of these harvests,” he said, reclining gracefully, weight supported on one elbow. Having now had some experience of his lean strength, I fought to keep from sliding closer. Instead I selected another berry, holding his eyes as I slipped it between my teeth.

“What would you like to know?”

“Were these girlhood revels in the forest? Was it leisure or necessity that dogged your steps? Was it the bounty of the season that thrilled you, or sober thoughts of the winter ahead?”

The earnest edge in his voice asked for more.

“I learned when I became Keeper Deshanna’s First that I must always be in all places, the past, the present, and the future. I must live fully in the understanding that I am not guaranteed more than this moment, that the next and the next and the next are gifts. So it was for me, for her, and for our whole clan.”

I rolled a berry in the cloth, following with my eyes the trail it purpled in the homespun.

“If I were going to someday remember for our clan, to teach and lead as Keeper Deshanna did, I had to embrace everything. No matter how brief the joy, how deep the sorrow – all must change me, move me. But not stop me.”

Solas placed a hand over mine, stilling the nervous motion.

“You are a wonder,” he said, a fleeting sadness in his smile that he disguised by leaning forward, catching my mouth in a gentle kiss, slow, a delicate pressure that traveled from lips to cheek to jaw, but no further.

“What about you, Solas?” I asked, curling into him. “What were you like as a younger man? Were you the stoic boy, cautioning others against foolish and daring deeds?”

His body tensed, but only for an instant. Slim fingers plucked a berry from the cloth and lifted it to my lips. I accepted it. His voice, when he answered, made me shudder with wonder and want.

“Oh, no. I dared. I was a very different man then. Quicker to anger, quicker to action.”

“And how have you come to cultivate such patience?” I asked lightly, fingers trailing down his chest to his waist, his hip. He growled and swept me easily beneath him, searching my face.

“I made many mistakes. I learned that I have to think, to take my time.”

And now there was a darkness in his expression that persisted, so sudden and haunting that I brought my face to his to kiss him, to bid those eyes close, his demons sleep for a time. He groaned when I shifted, angling my hips to fit beneath him, to initiate a sweet pressure just there. That I wore no breeches and he yet did was lost on neither of us. I gasped when he pressed experimentally forward, driving my hips into the bedroll.

But a sticky, spreading coolness under my back gave me pause.

“Solas, there has been a casualty,” I murmured, wriggling free. The berries were squashed beneath us, a stain bruising my bedroll and my tunic. He laughed.

“There’s room enough for us both in mine, vhenan.”

He doused the candle, allowing me some modesty when I lifted my tunic over my head and changed quickly into another. When he opened his arms I entered his embrace, fell asleep after a time with his hands stroking my back, my arms, his earthy scent dominating every breath.

--

The Inquisition’s scouts intercepted us two days ride from Adamant, providing us an update from Cullen, who waited in the encampment just beyond the fortress.

Until now, our attacks have been on a smaller scale, our forces scattered, engaged in subterfuge or strategical strikes. But this was a campaign, a siege, and would prove, or not, the might of the Inquisition against an organized foe. It seems more real, somehow, to know our standard flies above a collected force.

Rather than tell jokes, Hawke, Stroud, and Varric discussed strategy in those last hours before we made our approach, and Cassandra’s eyes were flinty as she surveyed the desert. Only Dorian maintained some levity, but as neither Bull nor Solas would indulge him, even he lapsed into silence, after a time.

I rode ahead of them all, preceded only by our own scouts, welcoming the hot blast of wind against my face, as though I could be scoured of the fear I felt. If Warden Commander Clarel will not hear reason, how can there be any outcome but a bloody one?

I began writing this when we stopped for water, to ready ourselves, though I was grateful for Solas’ interruption when he crouched beside me to fill his waterskin.

“War is seen through a fractured lens in the Fade, a reflection of the last sights of the living and the dead. There is no truth to it, only an echo.”

I recognized his words for what they were: an attempt both to comfort me, and to ground me. I was not a soldier, as Cullen and Blackwall and Cassandra were, was not used to taking risks of a kind that Leliana and Varric and Sera took as easily as a breath. It was one thing to choose a hard life on the fringes of the world, and quite another to choose deadly conflict. When I agreed to help the Inquisition, when I assumed the mantle of Inquisitor, I had no illusions about what those things meant.

But a ceremonial blade is not a bloodied one.

A war table is not a battlefield.

“Then I hope there are no songs about today,” I returned, steeling myself. “No martyrs, no haunting memories.”

He met my eyes in tenderness, but did not touch me.

It will begin and end soon.

Chapter Text

Sometimes I fear my mind will break open and there will be no one here who knows me well enough to piece me back together.

--

We survived Adamant only to fall into the Fade. I suppose we survived that, too. But not all of us.

Even those of us who walked out again left something behind.

Griffon Wing Keep was the logical place to fall back to and I am desperate for logic after the mind-wildness that was physically walking in the Fade, remembering the experience wholly – and remembering, too, what came before, at the Temple of Sacred Ashes.

The others have been avoiding me, even Solas. I find myself most often in Varric’s company, the pair of us staring sullenly out at the desert or into our own futile hands. We couldn’t save Stroud, and Hawke is gone with the Grey Wardens. I never believed that I was touched by Andraste but having it confirmed that what I am now, what I can do, is born of a mistake; I don’t feel relief or rightness. I am only tired, and frightened.

“Did I ever tell you about the time Hawke drove a pack of wild nugs through the middle of Hightown?” Varric began one evening as we sat on the ramparts, uncorking a bottle of wine and passing it to me. I shook my head. He grinned, slow but determined.

We emptied the bottle between us and I don’t remember a single detail of his story.

--

The sun had long set when I approached Solas the day before we were to leave the Western Approach behind us and make for Skyhold.

“You promised me you would teach me to dream in the ruins,” I began, without pretense. “I choose tonight. Right now.”

Solas only nodded. If he was surprised, he did not show it. He glanced around before gesturing me to follow him to one of the scaffoldings our forces had constructed following the Inquisition’s seizure of the keep. We stood for a moment on the landing, looking out over the scorched land, crystal-blue in the moonlight.

“Not here,” I elaborated, and he nodded his agreement.

“Already this place is changing, the Fade reflecting the lives of those that now occupy it. Come.”

And we climbed down, boots digging into the sand, hands reaching without thought, each of us for the other. With staves out we were a formidable threat, but already I could feel myself drawn into him, less aware of where we were than I was of the smooth, cool pressure of his hand in mine.

We did not have to go far, and I was grateful no one noticed our going – I wanted to imagine for a moment that I was not the Inquisitor, but only myself. I stood with my back against a ruined pillar, watching as Solas laid a perimeter of wards. I appreciated the flare of magic around his hands, the precise motions of fingers and wrists. There was something different about the way he cast spells, an elegance even Vivienne lacked. I was rarely afforded the opportunity to simply watch and admire his technique, so I did.

When Solas was satisfied, he returned to me. From his pack he produced a rolled woven mat, large enough for two provided we lay hip to hip, arms circling each other. It would be good, to be so close. I met his eyes, their depths shifting in the low light.

“Vhenan,” he murmured. I sensed his restraint, that he did not kiss me because it would mean not doing as he had promised. We lay down together and though I meant to try to sleep instead words found their way to my lips, heavy and fast.

“I feel like I took all of the fears of that place with me when we left. The demon collected them but when we destroyed it…” Desperation and panic rose in me. “I need more memories. I need to see the Fade for what it can be, not what it was.”

“The Fade is many things,” Solas said softly. “It is beautiful and terrible and wild and still. You choose, vhenan.”

“How?”

He hushed me with a hand that swept gently over my eyes, closing them, brushed my check before settling on his chest.

“It is like before, only you must let go of some of yourself. You must be willing to let the Fade in – to go where others have gone, see not just what the Fade reflects for you, but what it is for many.”

In his arms I felt willing as clay, pliable and serene. I breathed deeply in and out.

But my mind wasn’t quiet yet.

“Solas, I saw the stone in the Fade,” I said, unable to keep the tremble of feeling from my voice. “I know what frightens you and – ”

“Please, my heart,” he said, the tightness I felt in his chest reflected in his voice. “Nightmares are instinct, madness, the terrible dream that has no substance in the light of day. Do not think of it.”

I thought of how I had not been able to make sense of the demon’s taunting of Solas, how of all of us, he had been the least afraid to be trapped in the Fade. I had marveled, too, to lay eyes on the Black City, to see lives reflected in the Fade, no matter how horrible their memories. I had laid them to rest as best as I could.

Perhaps Solas could do the same for me.

We breathed together, quiet and deep. I had my head against his chest, his arm around my shoulders. I felt folded into him, the steady drum of his heart begging my own blood beat to the same rhythm.

When I opened my eyes there were screams, distant and warbled. But the figures who emitted them were practically on top of us, a horde of Darkspawn, bloodied and howling. I scrambled to my feet, choking down a scream of my own, but Solas was quick after me, holding me fast.

“An ancient battle of the second blight,” he said, too calm for the chaos. “You see reflections only.”

I shuddered against him. He had told me I might not like what we saw here. A moment’s breath in his arms and I was able to see how insubstantial these Darkspawn were, there and not there.

“I want to see something else, go further back. Before the blight,” I clarified, searching his face, wondering if it could be done. Solas studied me – was it with curiosity, or concern?

“Let it in, vhenan,” he said after a moment, crouching and bidding me crouch with him. It was strange to act as though we were not in the midst of the battle, but I tried to do as he asked, planting my hands against the ground for balance. I felt the soil shaking with many brutal, booted feet, but beneath that, there was a verdant past. In the Fade, this wasted land remembered how to grow. I closed my eyes.

I felt a cool breeze against my face, opened my eyes to find we stood on a rich mosaic, the faceted eyes of dragons glittering with a false intelligence beneath the sun. Nearby, two magisters put their heads together over a floating book, the pair glowing red as they initiated some ritual. It was strange to see them beginning the casting, in the midst of it, the flourishing conclusion, all in the same instant, memory layered upon memory. I looked away for something constant. The sky was a rich blue above, cloudless, the air heavy with the perfume of flowering trees.

I was surprised that it had been so easy to fall further back, but even after a few moments observation, I met Solas’ eyes again.

“Is there anything before Tevinter?”

He knew what I asked. Something unspoiled, something ancient. Something I had never seen before, that no Dalish in living memory had seen.

Solas’ curt nod was cautious, and this time we searched together – hands clasped fast, bodies close. When he exhaled I breathed him in, but the sweetness that entered my lungs was not his entirely. My eyelids trembled against the fabric of his tunic before flickering open.

A wood, still and deep and sun-spotted. The trees were as wide around as cottages. I heard no sound but the rustling of leaves until, close by, a light, musical laugh.

Elvhen.

She was young, or perhaps only small, racing by in a blur with her hair a curtain of ink behind her. I had the strangest feeling, that it wasn’t spirits but the Fade itself in this place remembered her, this carefree moment captured ages ago and preserved like an insect in amber. She moved away from us but her laugh persisted. Perhaps it was that sound that allowed Solas and I to see, to stay. I realized after a moment that I was crying, that I shook and the leaves of long-dead trees did, too, not with her laughter but with my sobbing.

“Vhenan,” Solas began, his own voice breaking. He held me more tightly but I only cried harder.

“This world is dead,” I managed, anger and heartache squeezing a howl out of me. “Who remembers her? Who will remember us, when we’re gone?”

“You are not gone yet, my heart,” Solas answered, stroking my hair, my back, drawing away just enough to meet my eyes. “And if Varric were to ask me tomorrow to make a wager, it is Corypheus who will be forgotten, and your victory remembered in song.”

“Ours,” I insisted, capturing his mouth with my own. It was a brutal kiss, urgent. I heard the rush of blood in my ears, our quickening breaths, the birds and winds of an ancient world. We pressed together against one of the trees, sturdy as a wall, and I was tugging his tunic free of his breeches, loosening his belt. Solas broke away but did not speak, searched my face only.  

It had to be there, the first time. It was fitting. We fit, there.

Ours was not the slow, sweet pairing of new lovers but a desperate joining of two people who, for an instant, wanted to choose what they felt and how. With every thrust I feared I would break open beneath him; I wanted to break. I held onto him with shaking hands, pleaded with him, cursed and called for him.

When we woke together in the ruin, it was still dark, the moon high. We looked at each other, quiet and certain.

Solas undressed me and then, we took our time.

Chapter Text

Skyhold is a changed place, or perhaps it is that I am changed.

Bull has asked to train with me and Cassandra, too, each taking my measure and their own. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that I don’t need a weapon in my hands to be lethal – after Adamant, after the Fade, they want to test the limits of my body, to test their own faith in what we can do together. Because I am the Inquisitor.

I am the Inquisition.

Dorian, too, makes demands of me, but he tests my mind. His barbed wit, his contest of every intellectual argument I attempt to make; I leave the library with cheeks hot from defending myself. I know that he, too, wants me to be strong, that he needs the nightmare demon – our deeds – to not have broken me.

But I know that there is something in me that has been unmade, and that it is Solas who is every night trying to remake it.

It was cold in the mountains before but now it is winter, my windows thick with frost even as the fire burns hot and high. Sometimes when we lie naked before it I imagine Solas ignites something in me, that I am shooting sparks as witless as the cries he tears expertly from somewhere deep within my chest.

He does not even need to be inside of me. I will catch his scent on my skin when I am sweating in the practice yard and feel that desperate tug low in my belly, wanting his touch.

The night before we were to leave for Emprise du Lion we were together, his fingers tracing ancient glyphs on my bare back. Josephine begged me not to go – we are soon expected at the Winter Palace – but I need the wilds, just once more, before I must submit to the game.

I am wild, myself.

I studied Solas’ face, reached a hand to brush from brow to lips. He caught my thumb in his mouth and nipped me softly, eyes locked on mine, inviting me to close the little space that had settled between us. And I knew that I would.

But not just then.

“How did you get your scar?” I asked, fingering the sharp depression above his nose. His own hand stilled on my back but only for a moment, and I wondered, as I often did, if he were deciding what truth to favor me with. I knew that Solas did not lie to me, not directly, but I knew, too, that he kept secrets.

“I have told you what sort of man I used to be,” he began, rolling over onto his back, lean shoulders and chest exposed. “I was a man of ideals and before I learned that there are some whose hearts cannot be turned by words or fists, I fought.”

His voice had the faraway cadence he often adopted when speaking of the Fade, but this was different. It felt personal.

“I had a rival. We were friends until we were not. They gave me this scar.”

His expression told me that this was the end of his story, that he would not elaborate – and that to ask meant he would exit my bed and leave me to sleep cold and alone. It was not cruel, but it was certain. There were some things that I could not know.

At least, not now. Not yet. Hadn’t it been the same when he had first embraced the thought of me, of us, in the Fade?

I slipped a hand around his cheek, turned his face to mine. His eyes were a low sky, blue-grey clouds waiting to break. I knew that he had other scars that I could not see.

“Tell me nothing or tell me everything, it will not change my heart,” I said softly. “Ar lath ma, Solas.”

He had said it to me, just the once, and now I returned the gift. These were words I had imagined I would share only with the person bonded to me, in a time far removed from this one. But there could be no other times. No other person.

“Vhenan,” Solas muttered, broken as a strangled breath. And then he had turned himself over on to me, his mouth claiming mine. His teeth cut against my lips, drawing blood. I pressed closer. He was already hard and I shifted, taking him in my hand and drawing him in, quick. Solas moaned, but then his head was buried in my shoulder, breath steaming against my flesh. He could not be close enough, deep enough, the rhythm between us echoed in my blood, my bones.

I wondered once what I had to fear from him, from what he could make me feel.

I think I must fear everything.

--

Emprise du Lion is an ugly wonder, the white of the virgin snow bloodied by the thrust of red lyrium through rock and soil. The Red Templars have staked a claim here and at every footfall, they fight us.

“The power of bad orders followed to the letter is not to be underestimated,” Dorian bemoaned as we collapsed before a hasty fire just outside the reclaimed quarry. “Templars and Wardens, Wardens and Templars. I have had my fill.”

“And what of the Venatori?” Cassandra interjected, her look pointed as she cleaned her blade. “Their fanaticism is certainly a product of the Magisterium’s lack of control.”

Dorian’s laugh was sharp, entirely absent of amusement.

“Fanaticism? Tell me, Cassandra, how has your Chantry fared in recent years?”

“The Mages – ” Cassandra began hotly, but Varric raised a hand. I wondered if he wouldn’t lose it, by the look on her face.

“I think we can agree that everyone is terrible, and the Inquisition is just the least terrible,” he said, tone light. “And with the exception of Ruffles, we could all stand to learn a thing or two about diplomacy.”

Eyes returned to her blade, Cassandra’s muffled retort was barely audible.

“Telling the truth is diplomatic.”

But Dorian had begun fussing with his bedroll and either hadn’t heard or had chosen to ignore Cassandra, leaving Varric to clap a hand lightly on her shoulder. “Of course it is, Seeker.”

I smiled, weary but grateful. I could not blame them, any of them, for trying to find fault, to lay blame. Corypheus’ power feels absolute. We need a mortal element, some failing that makes sense.

Solas returned to the camp after setting wards, exchanged a few quiet words with one of the soldiers standing guard before meeting my eyes. I followed him into the tent we shared, into the small world we created with hushed whispers, lingering touch, where we had only to make sense of each other. It was a challenge, every morning, to leave it.

But we did so together.

Chapter Text

I have grown used to the heavier make of shemlin armor, learning how to move and dodge in boots and heavy pauldrons.

But this military costume is something different.

I fingered the buttons where it hung, felt the slick brass and the scratch of wool against my callused fingertips. There was a full length mirror in the private set of rooms I had been given in the palace. I stood in front of it in nothing but my small clothes, considering the uniform and studying the changes the war had wrought in my body. My scars were more numerous, such that my unmarked flesh seemed only to be waiting for more.

When Solas returned bearing a tray laden with fresh fruit and bread still steaming from the ovens, I blushed and stepped back from the mirror, drawing a length of blanket around myself. I was not ashamed to be seen by him, not now, but to be caught in an act of vanity better fitting someone half my age? It was embarrassing.

Solas only smiled, quick and quiet. He set down the tray and crossed to me, tugging the blanket’s hem to draw me closer.

“The kitchen servants were all too obliging when I told them who this was for.”

My color no doubt deepened.

“Didn’t Josephine mention something about not giving the court reason to gossip?”

Solas produced a wedge of cheese, offering me a taste.

“They believe I am a servant,” he replied, darkness rippling through his eyes and gone again. “And besides, sleeping with the help is hardly cause for gossip in Halamshiral.”

Before I could protest he pressed forward, surprising me with a kiss that sweetened the sharp tang of cheese still on my tongue. I allowed him to slip his hands under the blanket, but stopped him when he reached for my small clothes.

“You are poking fun at me,” I said, breaking away, but not so far that I couldn’t feel how serious he was about other matters. “How is it you are so much more comfortable in this place than I am?”

I had noticed the change in him, a subtle ease in his bearing, a persistent swagger I would’ve anticipated from Dorian – but not an elven apostate unused to court.

Not to be deterred, Solas closed the little distance I’d created between us, nosing my hair and neck, his voice a low growl. “This game is like any other,” he said softly, lips brushing my neck. “Once you’ve learned the rules, you do not forget.”

“If you knew the rules, you should've taught me,” I returned, my wounded tone entirely false.

“You are a swift learner,” Solas replied, catching my mouth with his own and lifting me bodily into the sumptuous bed. His strength was still a surprise to me, muscles whip-lean but powerful.

“I suspect you are making some assumption about my experience,” I teased, scooting just out of his reach. “But you are hardly my first lover.”

He quirked a brow, and I did not mistake his expression as he pursued me across the bed: a predator, closing upon his prey.

“Better that I am not the first,” he mused, bending to press a line of kisses from my hip to my stomach, the hollow between my breasts. His fingers slipped inside of me, grin wolfish. “I am challenged to eclipse their every touch in your memory.”

“So cocksure,” I said between hitched breaths, willing myself not to moan, not yet. Solas laughed but made no response, allowing his hands to affirm him, thumb and long fingers finding a symmetry, a rhythm, persistent as a song.

Truthfully, I remember each of them for what they were not, now that I’ve known him.

But I'm not going to tell him that.

--

I held my breath when we were announced, and on what felt like a leagues-long walk from one end of the ballroom to the other.

I held my breath when I scaled the wall in the garden, grateful for the cover of Dorian’s scandalous tales of the Magisterium.

I held my breath between quips with Grand Duchess Florianne.

And I held my breath when I approached Solas in the corridor and, with a sly curl of his lips, he spoke of “the heady blend of power, intrigue, danger, and sex that permeates these events.” It was only when I drew him out to a nearby balcony under the pretense of seeking his counsel that I breathed a moment’s relief.

“You risk discrediting yourself by consorting with an elven apostate,” he cautioned, steering me to a strategic position between two windows where we would not be seen unless sought after.

“These shemlin are exhausting,” I responded, low enough that I hoped only he would hear, if we were being observed. Briala had ears everywhere.

Though his expression was grave, Solas’ eyes were merry.

“It is you who exhaust them.” He traced a finger lightly from my temple to the tip of my ear. “They cannot decide if they want to impress you or exile you.”

“I’m not sure which is worse.”

Solas chuckled and, heedless of our surroundings, drew me swiftly against him. He parted my lips with his tongue, an urgent heat building between us.

“Would that I could show you the grand gatherings that I have witnessed in the Fade, the beauty and the peril paired in anonymity," he whispered, lips moving down my throat. "This uniform is doing you few favors, vhenan.”

I snorted.

“Your hat is ridiculous.”

Our words and our kisses, the work of our hands, risked scandal. I knew that I should step back, that I should focus on the game, but I cupped him in my hand instead and squeezed. The huff of his breath against my cheek was that of a questing animal. I loosed one button. Two. We were alone on the balcony but I knew our time was limited.

Vhenan.”

A warning, wanting. Three buttons. A ran a finger up the length of him, his cock alert, trembling.

“You cannot – ”

“I can.”

Even as I write this I am still reeling from the anxiety of having almost been caught.

Well, we were.

But not by someone who would use it against us – at least not immediately.

“Inquisitor?”

Leliana’s voice preceded her, but only just. Solas turned, seemed to consider the gardens below even as he shifted his uniform's coat to disguise his unbuttoned trousers. Perhaps he would have allowed me to continue. The game be damned, I think I would have.

The spymaster looked between us, grin honey-slow as she pieced together the scene. The woman missed nothing.

“It’s nearly time,” she offered, tone formal despite her expression. “The decision is yours, Inquisitor.”

I met Solas’ eyes, sobering in an instant. I’d spilled blood tonight. I did not want to spill more.

“Orlais may believe themselves the whole of the world, but they are not. And it is the latter you hold in your hand,” he said after a moment, holding my gaze. I felt Leliana’s attention shift from me to Solas, to the pair of us, still fighting to catch our breath completely. “More than the fate of the Empire will be decided tonight.”

I leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips, not caring that Leliana watched or if the entire court peered through the window, offering commentary on my form as readily as they did on the floral notes of their wine.

“I’m ready.”

--

I have forced an accord.

I do not know if it will last.

But they know that we are watching.

Chapter Text

If I weren’t bringing him into my bed every night, I’d be concerned that the conflict between Solas and Morrigan would evolve into something else entirely.

The witch is unpredictable but biddable; she would rush us to the Arbor Wilds if she could, heedless of the dangers to our forces. She is not keen on taking orders but has proven herself wise enough not to openly contradict my authority. At least, not yet. The blush that climbs to Cullen’s cheeks when she enters a room is heartily amusing.

But, Solas.

“I am beginning to think that I am the only mage you can maintain a cordial relationship with,” I commented one afternoon, looking at Solas’ form from where I lounged on the rotunda’s sofa. He looked up from where he was working at his desk, quill poised above a thick piece of parchment, half-filled with his thin, elegant script.

“Cordial?” His brow quirked, a subtle expression. “That is not the word that I would use.”

“The sentiment stands,” Dorian scolded from above, disappearing from sight as quickly as he had appeared. Solas made a discontented sound, abandoning his desk for the modicum of privacy a conversation in low tones on the sofa could afford.

“I would argue that it is Sera who is the most contentious of our acquaintance,” he insisted, sitting down next to me but not so close that anyone walking in – or Dorian observing from above – could make assumptions. Our relationship was far from secret, but despite his lack of restraint in Halamshiral, Solas was generally adverse to open displays of affection.

“I cannot argue with that,” I demurred, wishing that we were in a quiet place alone together in the wild, where he would take my feet into his lap, or place his head in mine.

“It is rare for you to walk away from an argument you could win,” he teased. “Are you well?”

“So you admit you antagonize the others on purpose,” I crowed, but Solas looked away, lips turned up very slightly at the corners.

“They invite scorn,” he argued, “by considering themselves masters of arcane disciplines whose origins are as lost to them as the nature of birth is to an infant.”

“Do you keep counsel with infants, then?”

“You know what I mean.”

I studied him, turned over the measure of his voice in my mind, the cold tone betraying a deeper outrage than he expressed.

“You’ve told me in the past that you approached the Dalish, attempted to teach them, and they scorned you,” I observed. “It doesn’t seem as though the Dalish are the only ones to have done so.”

Solas was not the sort of man to sigh, but he looked at me sidelong, appraising.

“I have traveled far and seen much. There was a time when I wanted to share knowledge, but now,” he began, eyes lingering, words wandering. “Few minds are like yours, vhenan. Willing. Quick.”

I knew better than to point out that it was his approach that lacked the easiness that made for good teaching – he could be taciturn and impatient. He relished curiosity, abhorred reticence. He enjoyed questions, but not stupid ones.

And while I loved him for it, others did not.

Seeing a familiar darkness clouding his eyes, I turned the conversation. I do not know if it was a mercy, if there was more he wanted to say, but I know there are things about me that I am not very proud of: that I can be selfish, especially of my time with him, that I find comfort in teasing words when true ones are harder.

“Willing and quick? Are you sure you are describing my mind, Solas?”

His eyes bore into mine and he didn’t smile; he was too serious, his lips too soft. I started at the touch of his hand on my ankle, curled on the couch.

“There is something that I would like you to see, vhenan. When we travel to the Arbor Wilds, we will pass through a place where I have dreamed before. Will you go there, with me, when we are near?”

“Of course,” I said, releasing a heavy breath.

“Good.”

He shocked me further by taking my hands, then, lifting me from the sofa and turning me in his arms as he had at Halamshiral. My bare toes brushed his, but it was not the music of the palace I heard in my mind. I was swept instead into a girlhood memory, the crisp song of fleeting winter in my ears in earliest spring, the prickle of frosted grass beneath my feet, the play of a cold dawn light on my face. I closed my eyes, leaned into him, his scent, his strength.

“Would you like to go upstairs?”

A humid whisper in my ear.

“Yes, please.”

--

I thought he meant to show me an ancient wonder of our people, but I was wrong.

We lay together, spent, underneath of the stars, the cool grass brushing our bare legs, the strips of flesh exposed by tunics hitched high to allow for hands to wander.

Solas stroked my neck, the fringe of hair cut short in anticipation of the brutal weeks to come. He had made no comment and I was grateful for it; this war-ready version of myself was not how I felt on the inside, not how I felt when he held me in his arms.

“Sleep, vhenan.”

He pressed a kiss to my temple, the pressure compelling me forward into dreams.

When I opened my eyes again we stood together in the grove where we lay in life, and it did not seem so different to me, aside from the blaze of daylight above.

And the fact that we were not alone.

Before us a wisp, a shiver of golden light that took shape even as we beheld it. At first it stood tall, helmed, a valiant soldier of Orlais, but Solas’ measured gaze seemed to transform it – in an instant, a Dalish scout in heavy polished armor stood at wary attention. When it spoke, it was in the language of our people, fluid and without emotion.

“Falon, you come again.” The spirit addressed Solas with only a cursory glance at me; called him friend. “Why?”

With a deferent nod that I echoed, Solas was quick to reply.

“I did not know if I would find you here still; I am pleased,” he began before looking at me. “We face a terrible enemy. As a spirit of valor, I had hoped you would have some inspiration to share.”

It was for me that he asked, and me that then felt the full pressure of the spirit’s attention. It was not temptation like I had felt as a child, but something similar: the sense that forces much greater and more volatile than I could pull me close, braid my will with their own.  

But my hand was anchored in Solas’ own, and I did not waver.

Around the spirit others rose, but these were merely echoes, memories. This grove had once been a battlefield, though the forms were so indistinct that I could not place them. Not Dalish, not Tevinter, perhaps not even ancient Elvehn. By the staggering volume of figures and feelings, I sensed that a time-lost victory was won here, against insurmountable odds.

“This one has courage,” the spirit intoned, eyes alight with an alien fervor. “She is willing to sacrifice everything.”

The spirit’s attention was chilling and Solas squeezed my fingers, urging the blood back into them.

“But it is not sacrifice that demands the most. It is surrender.”

The spirit looked away from me, eyes like twin suns as they fixed on Solas.

“You have this to learn, as well, falon.”

I felt Solas stiffen, and we were both of us abruptly awakened. He had drawn away from me, risen to brace his hands against the bedroll we had moments before shared, staring out into the night. I felt chilled all over, my heart pounding. I considered the spirit’s words, sure that it had not intended that we surrender to Corypheus. Or perhaps I only hoped that a valorous spirit would not find our battle one that we could not win.

“That was not what I expected.”

Solas’ voice was bone-cold. He did not look at me.

“What did you expect?”

But he didn’t answer, standing instead and slipping into his breeches, shouldering his pack. Only after he had composed himself did he again look at me, a fleeting darkness in his eyes. It felt like a warning.

“Vhenan,” he began, soft and urgent. He knelt and took my hands, seemed ready to speak but strangely, did not. I had not seen him so undone in some time, and it frightened me more than the spirit’s words had.

Finally, he released my hands, reached for the rest of my clothing.

“We should stay in the camp tonight. It will be an early ride to the Arbor Wilds.”

And we did. And it was.

And I am still wondering what he didn’t say, given he may never have the chance to say it again.

Chapter Text

I followed Solas into the wilds last night.

Because we make for Temple of Mythal. Because we march on Corypheus. Because something between us has been shaped, changed, by the encounter with the spirit of valor. Because I am afraid of what we will find, what this place will find in me.

Because I wanted to.

“Solas.”

He had gone too far to only be setting wards, which were unnecessary, besides. There was always someone awake in a camp of this size, plenty of soldiers whose dread kept them from sleeping.

“Vhenan.”

Not a sigh but near to it, the endearment on his lips. He knew that I was following him, perhaps, or suspected it. He held his arm out to me and I slipped underneath of it, tucked close to the heat of his body. I liked that he was taller than I was, than the Dalish that I had been with. I felt folded into him, like a seam of sweetness in the bark of a sturdy tree.

We didn’t speak, not at first, but walked close together, deeper into the wooded dark. There were Red Templars here and beasts, too, but I felt the hum of the anchor in my bones and dared them try to part me from him.

“What do you know of the temple? Of Mythal?” I asked after a long silence. The distance between us and the camp was great enough now that I felt we were truly alone, untethered.

“The witch has shared considerable intelligence,” Solas replied, dodging the question in the same instant his tone cast suspicion on what Morrigan had told me.

“It shames me that she seems to know more than I do, more than my clan. She is a shem. I wear Mythal’s markings on my face,” I continued. I wasn’t angry. Only sorry to find one more way that my people had failed me. “When this is over, if I live, I don’t think I can return to my clan.”

If I survived tomorrow. If I survived it all, bested Corypheus, saved our world.

His fingers felt of frost on my jaw when he turned my face so he could look into my eyes. The moon had plated his in silver.

“You must not resign yourself to a fate yet unwritten,” he murmured. I pressed my lips to his palm, not taking my eyes from his.

“I am not resigned. I am making a choice,” I returned. “I know that world will be too small for me now.”

I didn’t tell him that any world without him in it would be too small. Didn’t tell him that I knew he wouldn’t go with me, if I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to hear him concede that it was true. Or maybe, on the eve of such vulnerability, I didn’t want to make myself even more vulnerable.

 I was treated to a smile, his eyes flashing with admiration.

“You rise to every challenge. Beautifully.” His pride was a brand he pressed to my brow, my cheek, drawing a flush of heat beneath my vallaslin. “You are beautiful.”

He pulled me against him. My hands slipped down his lean frame and he stiffened, stiff.

“I am not worthy of this devotion, vhenan.” His voice was as hard as the rest of him, but cautioned, too. I hushed him with a gentle pressure, an eager squeeze.

“Devotion? There is no man or god in this world that has earned mine, yet,” I teased. “It is my hunger you have. My thirst. My love.”

I thought to take him slow, to forget for an hour in the dark what waited for us both in the morning. But Solas had other plans, stirred to a fever by my words or my touch or both. He lifted me, swift and easy, driving me against a nearby tree. He made quick work of my breeches and his own and with a practiced smoothness, drove into me. I wasn’t ready, but my yelp of surprise softened to familiar encouragement when he warmed me with his thumb.

He was relentless, pulling me to the edge without going over it himself. All the time in my ear he murmured in elven, many words I did not know, others whose meanings made me moan.

“The road lusts for your bare foot upon it, the forests for the sight of your naked, sun-dappled flesh. You change everything, my love. All you touch. All you trust. You change me – you have changed me.”

There was an edge of desperate sorrow in his voice. The hands he’d braced against the tree fled to my body again, fingers digging into my hips, cupping my ass as he thrust again, deeply. I cried out, shuddering against him as we came together.

I realized, then, that I was weeping, head and heart and body raw, full of him and feelings for him. I held Solas tightly, not letting go even as he lowered us carefully to the grass, pressed his brow, damp with sweat, to my breast.

After a moment, he spoke.

“You may find that when this is over the world is bigger for your working in it,” he said, careful and sweet. If he noticed my tears, he did not say anything.

“And I hope that you will then concede the role you played in showing me what I could do.”

He said nothing but withdrew, studying me. His fingers stroked me from shoulder to breast, a familiar touch.

“It would be a privilege, to be remembered as your teacher.” His tone was unreadable, moody.

“Instead of what?”

But Solas did not answer me, did not indulge in the darkness that lurked in his eyes. He leaned forward once more, kissed my ear, my cheek, found my lips again. Salt clung there, from crying. I gasped as his fingers traveled down, touching me where I was still wet.

And he went slowly, the next time, because I think he didn’t want any more of my questions.

Because I think he didn’t want to give me answers.

Chapter Text

I’d felt the hunger of the pool, the answering pulse in my blood, the same as Morrigan had.

It was only Solas’ refusal to enter the water that staved my own desire to do so. He knows so much about the ancient elves, that he would refuse felt too cautious - I felt sure there was something he wasn’t telling me. I wished we’d had a moment alone, then. He hasn’t wanted to talk of it since. We'd agreed only that he is "grim and fatalistic," and now I wonder if I didn't miss my opportunity to press him further.

The Eluvian allowed us to travel an incredible distance, parted from the bulk of our forces and without Leliana’s birds to communicate quickly. With the mirror shattered, she, Cullen, and Josephine will be weeks away. I suppose there has never been, and maybe never will be again, an opportunity to leave Skyhold only because I want to, and not because I am needed.

So, when he asked me for my time and it was not, to my surprise, a quiet moment shared in my quarters, I obliged. We saddled horses, securing provisions enough for two, and have been sharing the warmth of a fire - sharing warmth - alone in the wilds. He hasn't told me where we are going. I find that I don't mind.

Last night, two nights out from Skyhold, Solas stroked my bare skin from my neck to the hollows of my knees. For me he conjures a little warmth in his fingers, a fire I have never seen him summon in battle. When I asked him if he did it only to keep me from reaching for my breeches and tunic, he favored me with a gritty laugh, but didn’t answer.

“When you were learning magic, did you ever venture deeply into the Fade?” He asked instead, surprising me. I was usually the one with questions.

“I was cautioned against wandering freely,” I answered, which was as good as admitting that I had.

“I would not think a warning could deter you.”

I glanced up at him to better appreciate the amusement I’d heard in his tone.

“There were winters when we camped at the mouth of a series of caverns. I couldn’t get away to explore them during the day, but at night, no one could stop me.”

“And you did not fear possession?”

“Every young mage fears possession,” I admitted, smirking. “But I was a teenager and possessed already of my own self-importance.”

“Far more frightful a thing than any demon,” Solas agreed, stretching his lean frame out beside mine, grin wolfish. “What did you find in the caverns?”

I leaned forward to kiss his shoulder, nipping the flesh softly before curling close. He drew a heavy fur over the pair of us just as I began speaking.

“In the Fade, the stones had voices. They whispered to me of those who came before,” I murmured, remembering the forbidden thrill of exploration. “It was a warren, chambers hewn by hand and water and time. It had housed war refugees and other Dalish, many generations of my people. And before them folk who claimed the mountains as their own, warriors whose culture has been forgotten. Utterly unlike the Avvar, though I wondered if they were not some distant ancestor.”

As I reflected on the spirits I had encountered, I remembered, too, the gut-clutching feeling of being discovered. Solas must have sensed my sudden anxiety, for he tilted my chin up to look at him.

“What happened?”

“Keeper Deshanna found out. We never returned to the caverns.”

I did not tell him that she had threatened to send me to another clan, to take another as her first, if I could not learn caution and obedience. But I didn’t need to tell him. Already his expression hardened, as it often did, when we spoke of the Dalish.

“How can the Dalish hope to preserve ancient mysteries when they cannot even risk learning the whole story?” He scoffed. “They do not treasure knowledge. They are content with scraps.”

I shrugged, looking down, tucking my face against his chest to keep him from my shame, my anger. “Perhaps they feel it is better to secure what they have, than risk losing all for a little bit more.”

“And is that what you feel?”

He cut too close, or I did.

“I am not my clan’s Keeper. It’s not for me to decide.”

“You are the Inquisitor. You decide for us all.”

I met his eyes again, found them hard and bright and tinged faintly with green, like the sky before a storm. His lips were an unforgiving line and still I found him beautiful.

“I will not walk away from Corypheus. I know what will happen if I do; I saw it when Alexius cast me forward into the future," I replied, aware of the heat that entered my voice, that filled my body. "But the Dalish have no such knowledge. If their light is extinguished, there will be no one left to remember the Elvhen. The shemlin would celebrate our passing and the flat-ears would live forever ignorant in their alienages. Tevinter would brand every mystery as their own, and apostates like Morrigan would cannibalize all that remained. I do not want that future, either.”

I finished speaking in a hurry, my cheeks hot, holding his eyes. Something in Solas’ expression shifted, some certainty softening his brow and lips. He kissed me softly and I didn’t give in, not right away, but there was a power in him to diffuse any fury.

“You love your people and wish to protect them,” he said when he broke away, fingers tangling in my hair as he looked into my eyes again. “It is admirable and I will never ask you to be sorry for it.”

“That’s good, because I’m not.” I tried to smile but couldn’t. Still his lips drew wide, and then his laugh again, quick and low.

“It is better to be your lover than your enemy, vhenan,” Solas said at last, bending to nuzzle my cheek, behind my ear. “Corypheus should consider walking away from you.”  

I shifted to offer him greater purchase, my own lips wandering.

“I’d like to see him try.”

Chapter Text

We are crossing Lake Calenhad and in no hurry, it seems, to reach the opposite shore. The pace has been easier on my stomach than previous crossings. We anchored this afternoon to catch a fresh meal and wait out the heat. There are others being ferried across, pleasure seekers from Orlais who seem as contented as we to take our time. I know I should be focused on what comes next, on the war, but I have accepted that these hours are stolen ones.

While the Orlesians lounged beneath colorful canopies, catered to by their flat-ear servants, I hastily stripped to my small clothes and dove from the stern into the bracingly cold lake. Solas grinned at me from the deck, his bare feet hanging in the water.

“You will scandalize our traveling companions,” he observed, darting a glance at the gawking Orlesians.

“You forget that I have experienced Halamshiral,” I reasoned, paddling near. 

His eyes were heavy-lidded as he gazed down on where I bobbed in the water. I swam closer, holding his eyes, allowed his foot to brush my bare shoulder.

“Join me?”

I considered using the hand I’d snaked around his ankle to pull him in, but thought the better of it. I wanted my words to be enough, the invitation of my eyes and the play of exposed flesh under sun and water.

After a moment Solas tugged one-handed at the neck of his tunic, pulling it over his head and casting it aside. He slipped into the water after me, sleek as a seal despite retaining his breeches. His arms circled my waist, lean and strong, and we floated together, chest to chest.

The Orlesians had grown bored already of the spectacle of a half-clad Dalish and an apostate. I took advantage of their distraction to kiss him, softly. His necklace bobbed between us, the contrast of pale flesh, dark bone, and sparkling water drawing my attention.

“Hunters in my clan kept trophies of their first kills to wear,” I mused, fingering the time-dulled teeth of the jawbone. “Somehow, I think that is not how you acquired this talisman.”

Solas closed his fingers around mine, cradling the pendant between us.

“It is not trophy, this is true,” he murmured. “But a reminder of a time when my convictions drove my hand.”

“To what?”

“To change our fate.”

Did he speak of his family, a distant lover or friend? I wanted to ask but the raw, haunted quality in his expression silenced me. The laughter of the others on the deck, the lapping of the water against the hull, all sounds diminished. He pressed his forehead against mine and the weight of his breath was all that I could hear, troubled and slow.

“What is it?” I’d whispered at last, willing his eyes to meet mine.

“It is nothing.”

His voice was hard and he was obviously lying, but before I could protest he seized my lips with his own, drawing me beneath the surface. My trust in him was absolute: I opened my eyes, shared his breath. We moved like timeless creatures in an unseen world, like spirits in the Fade.

No sooner had the sun set after we reached the shore and made camp, he drew me to him. The grass felt of velvet beneath my bared skin when he hastened me out of clothes, his body by turns supple as the new growth of a tree, hard as tempered steel.

Ma ane din emma, vhenan,” he breathed, every languid stroke stoking a fire. “Ma an ar elana ema.”

I held him to me fast, shaking with want though my words were whispered steady. “Tamahn din alas’en iras min alas’en.”

A groan as he buried his face in my shoulder, as he came in a rush that threatened to dissolve me from within.

Ar tel’ajua ma arla.”

I hushed him with another kiss and coaxed him, after a time, to take me again, to root him in this world - to be rooted by him.

--

I have guessed where we are going. It is the grove where we encountered the wyrm, an ancient place of the elvhen.

I would like very much to lay in his arms beneath those stags, dreaming of another world.

 

Chapter Text

It is raining.

And I am alone.

--

I have recorded all during my time in the Inquisition and found solace in the remembering, even the hardest things. Still I have abandoned my quill again and again within the last few days. I smashed a pot of ink in a rage and poured another out, black as ichor on the beaten grass.

Everything, everything, feels like a lie.

He took my hand and we walked, gentle and easy, into the grove in the night. It was clear and cool, the day’s heat dissipated, and I’d felt more rested and restful in his company than I’d had cause to in months.

“I was trying to determine some way to show you what you mean to me.”

“I know what we mean to each other.”

“Even so.”

We stood close together, hands on hips, a strange caution between us. I tried to soften it with a touch.

“For now, the best gift I can offer is… the truth. You are unique. In all of Thedas I never expected to find someone who could draw my attention from the Fade. You have become important to me. More important than I could have imagined.”

I ache at the remembrance of his eyes now, what I perceived then as tenderness.

“As you are to me.”

“Then what I must tell you. The truth… your face… the vallaslin. In my journeys in the Fade, I have seen things. I have discovered what those marks mean.”

“They honor the elven gods.”

“No. They are slave markings. Or at least, they were in the time of ancient Arlathan.”

Shock had reverberated through me – I’d resisted the urge to touch my face. Why that knowledge? Why then? I’d railed, at him, at my people, at the moment twisted.

“So this is… what? Just one more thing the Dalish got wrong?”

“I’m sorry.”

“We try to preserve our culture, and this is what we keep? Relics of a time when we were no better than Tevinter.”

“Don’t say that. For all they got wrong, the Dalish did one thing right. They made you.”

I’d wanted to pull away, to process, but Solas knew me too well, drew me in again with another of his wonders, his gifts.

“I didn’t tell you this to hurt you. If you like, I know a spell… I can remove the vallaslin.”

His words commanded my eyes again, the conflict I felt taking a different shape. “These marks have been a part of me for so long. I don’t know if…,” and I’d trailed off, thinking of the long hours I had spent under the Keeper’s needle, day after day. I had been so young, so proud.

And of what?

“I’m so sorry for causing you pain. It was selfish of me. I look at you and I see what you truly are… and you deserve better than what those cruel marks represent.”

We looked at each other and I hated the knowledge between us, my ignorance. Maybe he had failed in sharing what he knew with the Dalish he encountered, but I would not. My gaze hardened.

“Then cast your spell. Take the vallaslin away.”

I remember the feel of the cool stones beneath my knees, the heat and light of his hands. It was painless but so bright and warm, removing in seconds a lifetime of meaning. His fingers touched lightly in my hair, strands electric with the spent energy of his spell. I’d tried to see my reflection in the water, but it was a blur, my heart racing.

“You are free,” he’d said, and “you are so beautiful,” too. The firm strength of his lips and hands had all of the thrill of new love, the intimacy of years. I’d been so grateful for our time away from Skyhold, had thought of how this respite would strengthen me for the battle to come.

And then.

He’d pulled abruptly away, a half-breath between us. This look I had seen on his face before but never so dark, so certain. His expression closed on me. Now I think I knew what he intended to do, maybe had always intended to do.

“And I am sorry. I distracted you from your duty. It will never happen again.”

“Solas…”

“Please, vhenan.”

He’d taken a step back as though it was I who asked something unreasonable of him, who had breached some hidden code of conduct. I felt the tears coming already and fought them, fought him.

“Tell me you don’t care.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Tell me I was some casual dalliance so I can call you a cold-hearted son of a bitch and move on!”

I shoved him again and again and he did not resist. I wanted him to take the hands that had known only sweetness between us and break them, the hands he had made weapons. I wanted him to give me some other pain to feel. The anchor burned and my heart did, too. I turned away as the tears began to fall, hot and fast enough to shred flesh. I heard him speak but did not look back.

“I’m sorry.”

What I’d wanted to say, what I was too choked by my own rage and sorrow to manage, was that he could never be sorry enough.

Never as sorry as I was.

--

I saw my reflection in the polished breastplate of an Inquisition scout on the road today and I tried not to stare, to instead answer her questions – Did I require any assistance? Why was I alone? Should she send word ahead to Skyhold? – but her curiosity was as keen as mine. My naked face looked younger, vulnerable and broken as a discarded doll.

I gave her a message to deliver by crow to Leliana and did not remain with her for an answer.

I am coming home. Be ready to end this.

There is nothing else for me to do but see it through.

Without him.

Chapter Text

He is here.

I don’t know why I am surprised but Solas' skills and knowledge in service of the Inquisition be damned, I wish he were anywhere else.

--

He dared to call me “Inquisitor,” to turn his cool gaze on me as though there had never been any heat in his eyes when he looked upon me. We must focus on what truly matters? Does he not imagine that I might use that “cutting edge” against him?

“You really don’t let anybody see beneath that polite mask you wear, do you?”

I’d held his eyes while I’d said it, my own many days from the last time I’d shed tears over him, red with fury now, rather than crying. There was nothing in Solas' expression to betray him, but his posture shifted slightly, a sorry cant to his shoulders. I hoped that it was shame.

“You saw more than most.”

I have been such a fool.

--

Bull and Dorian cornered me last evening, though I hardly fought them or their continuous filling of my tankard.

“It was not the first time I have seen Solas slink toward that desk of his, but he certainly looked more guilty than usual,” Dorian bemoaned, glowering when drink had pulled the whole story from me. He looked at Bull as though to be sure the Qunari was given the opportunity to admire his pouting lips. “Have at him, Inquisitor, and I shall animate his corpse for your pleasure.”

I grimaced, taking another deep, bitter drink just as Bull clapped a hand on my shoulder, making swallowing a challenge.

“Fucking your undead ex, that’s… new,” Bull said with a whistle, and Dorian laughed.

“I intended for the Inquisitor to continue to abuse him after death, but who am I to judge?”

“I don’t want anything to do with him, living or dead,” I lied, reaching for the bottle. Bull’s other hand shot forward, battle-quick but fingers surprisingly gentle.

“Not the answer, boss,” he said softly, eyes kind in an incongruously brutal face, his mild expression rendered a leer by the Vitaar he wore. It made me miss my vallaslin, the strength I’d felt when I’d worn it. Solas had taken so much from me.

And I had let him.

“Then what is?”

I pressed my face against the table, barely disguising a sob.

“Unforgiveable bastard,” Dorian muttered, sharing a look with Bull that resulted in the Qunari relenting and pouring me one more pint.

I must have fallen asleep, or passed out, before I could finish it. I woke in my bed, head splintered with pain. I started at the sight of Cole sitting on top of my desk and thought I might throw up.

“You’re hurting.”

He cocked his head, pale chin expressive. Cole grew more human every day - one of the few things Solas and I had openly disagreed on, before - but he was still the same enigmatic wanderer, appearing where he shouldn’t be, soft-footed and strange-tongued.

I didn’t respond, only lay gingerly back down, eyes slitted. He alighted on the carpet, moved to crouch at my bedside.

“So heavy, sorrow like stones placed upon your chest, one after another after another. You can’t breathe. You’re afraid to dream,” he whispered, words feverish. “The weight. I can’t bear it.”

“Neither can I.”

I closed my eyes. After a moment, Cole took my hand. I felt too sick to be surprised.

“You liked this when you were a girl, when you got hurt. Someone quiet. Someone close.”

“Yes,” I managed, a hollow at the back of my throat reserved for a howl, a cry, that I couldn’t loose. I was the Inquisitor. I had work to do. This had to be the end of it.

“He feels it, too.”

Softly, the sentiment a hesitantly shared one, as though for the first time, Cole wasn’t sure how I would respond to his attempts to comfort me. He should know something else about when I was a girl: while it is true I never liked to suffer alone, what I liked better was to see the one who’d hurt me suffering, too.

“Good.”

--

Morrigan wishes me to travel with her to the Arbor Wilds, to the altar of Mythal.

I left with her without a word.

Chapter Text

We were not long alone. Skinner tracked us from Skyhold, Cassandra fuming at her heels.

“What were you thinking, to take such a risk?” I hadn’t been the focus of Cassandra’s anger in months, but it had lost none of its power to inspire.

“The Inquisitor is hardly without the means to defend herself,” Morrigan insisted, haughty tones utterly wasted on the Seeker. “And I am with her.”

Cassandra grunted her disapproval. In truth, I was glad to see her, and the Chargers and Varric, too. Our numbers are yet few enough that we can travel with haste, and I am not left with only the witch for company. Loathe though I am now to share any opinion with Solas, there is some greed in Morrigan that I do not like.

Just tonight, Cassandra attempted to offer me a freshly filled canteen but Varric waved her off, producing a flask instead.

“Your veins run with that swill, Varric. The Inquisitor need not suffer a similar malady."

“Water is for baths and horses, Seeker,” he replied, settling companionably near the fire.

Cassandra made no comment, but I smiled when she, too, took up a nearby post. I indulged in a shallow pull from Varric’s flask before returning it. She seemed ready to protest, but instead spent several moments uncharacteristically fidgeting before speaking. “Dorian told me what happened. With Solas.”

Varric caught my eye, curious, and I willed my expression still. He was interested in my reaction - this wasn’t news to him, either.

“It’s not a secret,” I replied after a heavy moment. “And even if it were, nothing stays a secret in Skyhold for long.”

“I just wanted you to know that I am sorry,” she continued, voice soft, a reader of romance rather than a warrior, for an instant. “He behaved abominably, and to do this now!”

I knew what she meant - Solas claimed he had distracted me from my duty, but it was a shallow excuse for his behavior. I was more distracted now than I had ever been, largely with devising ways of making him feel terrible about himself.

“He promised to tell me the truth, when this is over,” I said, wishing I hadn’t been so quick to return Varric’s flask. “But I don’t believe him.”

“Oh, I expect he’ll have a version of the truth prepared,” Varric interjected, eyes hard in the firelight despite his usual bemused expression. “I know a storyteller when I see one. His kind have always got a tale.”

His kind? Don’t you mean your kind?” Cassandra scoffed. Varric shook his head, catching her eye.

“Whatever you might think about me, I don’t hide behind my stories, Seeker. I know when I’ve made mistakes. But Chuckles?” He whistled, looking away. “I don’t think he’s even telling the whole story to himself.”

I rose, walking over to Varric and holding out my hand for the flask.

“The next time I want to sleep with someone, remind me to ask you for a character reference.”

--

There was a rift.

I knew I shouldn’t have attempted to close it without the others, but I suppose I’ve grown too bold, or too careless. It sparked and crackled with energy from the Fade and my anchor throbbed in return, waking me from sleep with a persistent hum that began in my palm and arced toward my heart.

There were shades only, at first, and I tore them apart, easily. I felt them return to the Fade, the warm tug at my center that had become so familiar, heightened by the time I had spent traveling in dreams with Solas.

A demon of rage, then. I wonder if it wasn’t called by the bitter heat I’d swallowed? I only just survived, closing the rift with bloodied hands - my blood. I fell to my knees in the scorched grass where the demon had fallen, my hand shooting up almost with a will of its own to close the rift. My chest felt heavy and hot, and I wished that it were as easy to banish my own anger as it was to banish the demons it attracted.

In my tent I chewed elfroot while waiting for a healing tea to steep. I drank it while trying not to think of his face every time I’d offered him a similar brew.

Nobody asked me how I’d gotten hurt in the morning, but Cassandra’s eyes were sympathetic.

--

Though Morrigan has resigned herself to our traveling companions, she insisted that only the pair of us may approach the altar. We left the others within a day’s ride and ventured into the wilds alone.

--

If Mythal yet lives, could there be others?

We have her aid against Corypheus. My questions will have to wait.

Chapter Text

We arrived in Skyhold just as the sun was setting, blood and gold on the ramparts. I intended to head straight for the war table: to smooth for Josephine any feathers inadvertently ruffled, to inquire after Leliana’s latest intelligence, to update Cullen on the status of the troops we encountered on the return from the Arbor Wilds.

But I didn’t go to the war table.

Not right away.

I opened the door to the rotunda, quietly and with none of the eagerness I once knew. Solas wasn’t there, but I could see he had just stepped out. There was a paint-spotted cloth on the floor before the last empty stretch of wall, and on it his powdered paints and brushes. Small ceramic vessels of varying sizes were laid out in a careful order, their sides smoothed with age and frequent touch. I crossed to the wall and crouched without intending to, lifting one of the cups and cradling it in my hands. I imagined a warmth in its shaped surface, his gentle fingers clutched purposefully around it. I saw on the blank wall the broad, powerful strokes I imagined him making; I wondered even as I cursed myself for wondering how his imagination would translate our story’s end.

“Inquisitor.”

How long had I knelt there? How long had he waited patiently in the doorway behind me?

“You’re nearly finished,” I said, tone hollow. I dared to look back at Solas even as I replaced the cup, meeting his eyes. His still expression could not calm the storm there.

“I haven’t begun.”

We stood opposed to each other and I am angry with myself still for how much I wanted to touch him, to be held by him, to ask him to lie to me for just a little bit longer.

But he made a choice.

And so must I.

--

The sky is green with envy and rage and promises of a broken world. I am taking this brief moment to write, to remember that once I was someone else, someone contented and hopeful and simpler, if not simple. I am not only their Herald, their Inquisitor. I am a friend. I have known love and terror. I have laughed so hard a healer checked my ribs for cracking. I have seen wonders and participated in their creation.

I am the First of Clan Lavellan. I am not yet Keeper, maybe I never will be Keeper, but I keep my own memories. Here, and in my heart.

I am afraid to die.

But not so afraid that I will hesitate to do what is right.

--

It is done.

Corypheus is dead.

It is done.

--

I know that I should feel relieved but instead I feel lost. The breach in the world that has defined us for more than a year isn’t gone - it’s just a part of me now, as the anchor is. The irony that the mark persists beyond the work that it seemed designed to do is not lost on me. It is still here, and I am still here, and the Inquisition is still here.

But Solas is not.

Despite my assertions to the contrary, I had hoped that he would surprise me. That with the breach closed and Corypheus defeated, he would have the answers he promised. We could start again, in honesty.

Instead he told me that what we had “was real,” as if that would be a comfort, knowing that he put those feelings firmly in the past. The breach is closed and his heart is, too.

There is a half-finished fresco in the rotunda. I've let myself study it only when the castle is sleeping - by candlelight and light from the mark and flame conjured from my own hands. I have touched it and willed it finished, this last abstracted message from my love. Because I do love him - I love him and I hate him, from my first unremembered hours under his care to our last moment together, when I should've realized that what he was saying was goodbye.

I don't know what the rough images mean. I traced the wolf's jaws and the plastered edge was still sharp. Not enough to cut, but nearly. 

I am going to leave Skyhold for a time. There are rifts yet to close and trouble in the Deep Roads. Perhaps I will be lost in one or the other, searching still for meaning, for what comes next, after all of this. I don’t feel much like writing the rest of this story and may retire my quill awhile. Varric warned me once not to spoil the ending.

He should’ve warned Solas.