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Lavellan sometimes came awake from dreams in which her lover watched her sadly from across an endless distance. If they were more than simple dreams, she could not say, for every time she reached for him, he vanished into nothing. Still she searched, and dreamed, and waited for a way to change the Dread Wolf’s heart.
- Epilogue from Trespasser

**************

When Elia finally finds him, he’s not what she expects. Or perhaps he’s just not what she hopes.

He glances over his cloaked shoulder at her. “You should stop searching for me,” he says.

His blunt words are a slap in the face. Pride, he calls himself; unapologetic arrogance, more like, but she supposes that’s not as pithy an appellation. He couldn’t be more dismissive unless he refused to look at her altogether.

She strides towards him, picking up speed until she’s running, sprinting, and still he watches her coolly from across the forest.

She runs, grass flowing into water melting into snow and ice and flowers beneath her bare feet. She ignores it all, her eyes fixed on the back of his neck.

Eventually Elia stops; no matter how long she runs or how fast, he remains out of reach across the sandy dunes. Finally he turns to face her, his hands clasped easily behind his back. “Stop searching,” he suggests. “Do not waste the years that are left to you.”

The years that are left to you. He speaks of her eventual death like it means nothing to him. His presumption takes her breath away. He’s so damned cold and detached. This is not the man she knew - or thought she knew.

She thinks back to when they first met. He’d been humble, helpful, a touch pedantic but nevertheless fascinating in his talk of the Fade. His arrogance started bursting through shortly after, but she ignored it, accepted it as part and parcel of loving such an esoterically intelligent man. She’d point out his more pompous moments and he would smile, chuckle, pull her close, kiss her softly like they had all the time in the world.

It was an act.

She knows this now; of this she is certain. After he stepped through the eluvian, leaving her maimed and alone at the feet of a handful of petrified qunari, she hid from this truth for months. She denied it until long after he was gone, clinging to her rationalizations until they became poison. A potent combination of Cole’s patience, Dorian’s humour, and Cassandra’s pragmatism eventually dragged her out from under the weight of her disillusionment.

Now, the silken scarf he tied over her eyes is frayed and torn, ruthlessly cut away by the jagged edge of truth. As she stares into Fen’Harel’s eyes, she’s suddenly enraged at his duplicity. It’s a fury that’s usually smothered by the blanket of sorrow she can’t seem to completely shuck from her shoulders, but here in this place, the usual inhibitions that hold her back are long gone.

“Fuck you,” she hisses.

He tilts his head slightly, and the faint look of chiding on his face makes her see red for a moment - literally. The verdant moss under his feet, the flakes of snow drifting through the sky, the energy infusing the air, it all glows a vivid crimson for a split second.

He blinks. “I’m surprised, Elia,” he says. “You’ve never been one for petty cursing.”

She steps toe-to-toe with him and glares up into his handsome, haughty face. “And you’ve never been one to show such a complete lack of logic,” she accuses. She’s been thinking about this for a long time, and now that he’s here, now that she’s here, she’s damned if she’s not going to tell him exactly what she thinks. “You think your world was so superior to ours?” she rails. “I saw the Shattered Library. I saw what your people were like. Pulling knives over roof colours, Solas? Really?”

He narrows his eyes slightly, but she ignores the signs of his censure; she’s too angry to stop. “Your people weren’t so different from us. You debated, you learned, you built your worlds, you warred for decades on end. You loved. How can you possibly say you were so superior that we all deserve to die?”

“You saw only fragments in the Vir Dirthara,” he says calmly. “Scattered, disconnected pieces. You do not know what it was like - the beauty we lost, the millennia of history in every individual mind. Spirits walked openly among us, not feared and reviled because of ignorance. The raw magic thrumming through the air… it was more real and more palpable than the humidity after a summer storm. It was more beautiful than you can imagine.”

“There’s beauty in my world too!” she retorts. “The caers of old are masterpieces of architecture. The monsoons of the Storm Coast are marvelous - don’t act like you didn’t enjoy the rain. I saw you turn your face to the sky when lightning struck the sea. I saw you admiring dragons from afar before we attacked. I saw you relishing in that infernal ball at the Winter Palace. It all might seem quaint to the mighty Dread Wolf, but it’s all beautiful too, and I know you saw it. You’re choosing to ignore it now. This is a choice you’re making, and you can change your mind!”

He shakes his head and turns away, but she grabs his arm. “There’s magic in our world too,” she says forcefully. “It might not float in the air like pollen, but it’s there. You know this, Solas. You don’t have to destroy everything. Teach us.”

He laughs, a caustic bark of a sound, and she releases his arm, suddenly feeling like she took hold of a stranger. He looks at her again, and a ripple of heartbreak shivers through her chest; his eyes are hard and determined, with not even a hint of the gentle warmth she treacherously hoped to see. She really doesn’t know this man at all.

“There is no teaching your people,” Fen’Harel says flatly. Wisps of mist collect around him as he speaks. “They walk around with blinders on, ignoring wisdom that drifts at the tips of their fingers. Worse yet, they don’t care to take the blinders off. The Chantry, the Dalish, your precious Grey Wardens - there’s nothing I can do to redeem them.”

“That is not true!” she yells. She throws Cole’s words in his face, words that she’s never been able to forget, even if he forced Cole to forget them. “I’m real, so everyone could be real, and that’s what scares you. Admit it. You’re just scared to change your course of action!”

He spins on her, teeth bared, and she inadvertently steps back from the flare of lupine rage in his eyes. “The only thing I fear is leaving the world in the hands of those who are too Tranquil to see what’s directly in front of them. I will not complacently stand by and allow this to continue.”

“You’re throwing away possibility before you’ve even given us a real chance!” she snaps. Vaguely she notices that the wisps are thickening, massing into a cloud that surrounds them both, but that’s not her concern now; her ex-lover is staring down his aristocratic nose at her, and she can barely hear his reply through the roaring of anger in her ears.

“There is no chance, and no choice. The Veil must come down.”

“You are making a choice!” she yells, and the cumulus of spirits ripples like an ocean wave. “You’re choosing to ignore alternatives, and that’s your failing, not ours. We don’t deserve to die because you’re too inflexible and unimaginative to find a different solution.”

He recoils at the word unimaginative as though she’s struck him, and the spirits around him flare away before returning. She takes advantage of his shock to rally a new argument. “You were only awake for a year before giving your Orb to Corypheus,” she says. “One year. How could you have seen enough of my world in a single year to decide we weren’t worth saving?”

He turns his back on her. The fur trim on his midnight cloak looms around his shoulders, giving him a forbidding air, but she’s not intimidated; despite everything she’s seen him do, everything she knows he’s capable of, he’s never intimidated her.

The silence clots between them, thickening to match the crowd of spirits who drift around attentively. Perhaps she should feel odd to have an audience, but she doesn’t; she and Fen’Harel are intruding on them right now, after all.

Finally he turns to her again, and his face is perfectly calm and placid, like a stagnant pond. “We are comparing one year of experience to thousands of years of wisdom, knowledge, and magic that would be forever relegated to the void. If it is a question of logic,” he says pointedly, “Then the answer is clear, is it not?”

She glares at him. His question is rhetorical, but he gazes at her as though she should agree with him, and her anger flares anew. “What’s the point of this, then?” she snaps. “Why did you bring me here if all you were going to do is tell me to go away and die?

She throws the last word at him like one of Sera’s poisoned arrows, hoping to stir a reaction from him, but she’s disappointed; he only bows his head briefly, then raises his gaze to meet her eyes again. “Your dreams were a distraction, pulling attention from the denizens here. The spirits were distressed and fascinated, clustering too firmly against the Veil.” He gestures to their spectral spectators. “I felt the need to intervene.”

He’s so frigid and self-contained, it’s unbearable. Humiliation strikes her in the abdomen, driving the air from her lungs for a moment. How could she have ever thought she knew this man? A howl of misery scrapes the back of her throat and she’s desperate to smother it, but the only feeling that can compete is a wild, burning rage. The spirits around her press close, drifting over her shoulders and smoothing over her forehead, but she ignores them.

She steps aggressively into his space. “You complete coward,” she spits. “I wish I’d never met you.”

He glances down at her sharply, his hands still folded behind his back. “Words are powerful, vhenan. Do not say what you do not mean.”

Vhenan. And just like that, almost as though he’s cast a spell, the belligerence leaves her.

She can feel the blood draining from her face. She hasn’t heard that word in years. Did he mean to say it…?

She stares at him, her anger completely washed away by confusion. A spirit peels away from the crowd and wraps around her like a gentle embrace, and she feels a brief sensation, a whisper of please try before it releases her.

She looks at him more closely. His expression is stony, but he won’t meet her eyes. The spirits are writhing around him, clamouring as though to get his attention, but he doesn’t move.

“Solas,” she says firmly. “Look at me.”

He bows his head again and starts to turn away, but she grabs his arm and pulls him back. She reaches up and cups his cheek in her left hand. The spirits roil, and she feels a distinct frothing of anticipation as she runs her thumb across his cheekbone.

“Tell me why we’re here,” she pleads.

Finally he lifts his gaze to her face, and she has a split second to take in the utter blackness of despair in his eyes before he surges forward and kisses her.

Relief. It surges through her so forcefully that she can barely breathe. Perhaps it comes from their spectral bystanders, or perhaps it just comes from her or from him, but it surrounds her now as she parts her lips in welcome and clasps his face in her hands.

His fingers slide over her bare shoulder blades as he pulls her close, and she’s vaguely grateful that her left arm has returned to her; one hand isn’t enough to take in the feel of him, the smooth heat of his skin as she runs her palms over the ripped muscles of his back.

His kiss is tender, soft, slow; his lips pull sweetly at the plumpness of her own, and she’s utterly lost. If they were talking about something, if there was something important she was supposed to say, she can’t recall it now. She leans into him dreamily, savouring the warmth of his body. His furred cloak is soothing, blowing and wrapping around them to match the shiver and sway of the spirits.

His fingers slide through her hair. His thumbs stroke the vallaslin she wouldn’t let him take. The pad of his thumb brushes her lip, light and gentle as a petal of crystal grace, and she darts her tongue out to taste him.

He pulls away from her and inhales deeply through his nose. “Vhenan,” he murmurs.

She opens her eyes slowly, then half-wishes she hadn’t, for his face is a perfect picture of pining. This is what the most treacherous and selfish corner of her heart had hoped to see when she found him: evidence that he regretted leaving her behind. But now that she has it, now that his pain is laid bare in front of her, it’s almost too much to take. This is the man she knew, her gentle lover, her Solas, and suddenly the re-education she went through to convince herself he didn’t care is all wiped away by the hopeless longing in his face.

Tears drip unbidden from her eyes. A bold spirit strokes her cheek in sympathy, but this only causes her throat to swell more painfully.

Solas cradles her neck in his palms and presses his lips together, and she shakes her head. “Don’t,” she pleads. “Don’t speak. Don’t think. Just... be here with me. Please.”

“I shouldn’t,” he whispers. His voice is broken and vulnerable, and she feels an incongruous surge of triumph. She can sense his weakness, and she doesn’t hesitate; she presses herself against him from breast to thigh and captures his lips with her own.

Suddenly her back is against a wall. He presses close, crowding her with his body as he greedily returns her kiss. The relief has returned in full force, pulsing more powerfully than before, prompting her to wrap her arms around his neck and arch into his lean chest.

Skin to skin, his heart pounds against her breastbone. She opens herself completely to the heated stroke of his tongue and the tender stroke of his hands over her body. His touch seems everywhere at once: a finger trailing down the line of her spine, a firm grip sliding along her thighs, curious fingers grazing the curves of her breasts, and she luxuriates in the heat of his elegant hands like a dragon languishing in the sun. He stretches her arms overhead, his fingers tightening on her wrists, and a shivering gasp of a breath fills her lungs as his mouth moves over the puckered buds of her nipples.

With every beat of her heart and every breath they share, memories slide inexorably through her mind’s eye. She sees them bright, like explosive arrows igniting specific moments in time, moments she couldn’t forget even if she truly wanted to. She sees them clear, like exquisitely rendered paintings of their history. His fingers trail along the lines of her ribs, and she sees the grateful tilt of his eyebrows when she told him she would protect him from the Inquisition. His teeth graze the tendon in her throat, and she sees the mischievous look in his eye after their first Fade-touched kiss. His palm skims over her belly and lower still, and she sees his palm extended as he invites her to dance at the Winter Palace, the fondness in his gaze as she shares a freshly baked bun with Cole, the glow of his sweat in the candlelight as he looms over her in bed.

She opens her eyes with languid ease. The spirits dance across her vision, slow and relaxed, and she sees him here and now, his lips pressed to her cheekbone, his mouth hot on her breast, his fingers sweet and coaxing between her legs. The memories cascade through her mind, flashes of happiness and pleasure and love crystallizing beneath her skin, the shards coming together piece by shining piece under the skillful influence of his hands. She gasps and cries out, and the ecstatic sound is echoing and muffled both, contained and shared by the benevolent cloud that surrounds them.

Her nails score his arms. They tangle together, her fingers clutching his neck and her legs around his waist, and it’s like she’s come home. This part has always been easy for them, this colourful if chaotic dance, the careless twining of limbs and hips and tender curves that contrasted so dearly with their heated debates and their amiable agree-to-disagrees. Memories continue to flit by, images and flashes that evoke so much more than the boiling lust that their current act embodies.

He nips her breast, and she sees his angry glare when she stops him from killing those careless mages in the Exalted Plains. He grips her hip and flexes, and she sees herself playfully swatting his hand away from an incorrect astrarium solution. He groans against her shoulder, reaching deep inside of her where no one else has ever quite been able to reach, and she sees his lips as they form those fateful words: ar lath ma, vhenan.

She arches gracefully into his hard body. “Do you see them?” she breathes.

He brushes her bangs back from her forehead. “I see them every night,” he says softly.

He sounds pained, and his eyes are molten granite, liquid with longing. She refuses to sink into that pool right now, so she kisses him hard, wraps her arms around his neck, rises to meet him thrust for thrust until he shudders against her, his tongue in her mouth and his chest flush to hers.

As the euphoria wanes and the twinkling memories fade, she becomes acutely aware that her every breath comes closer to the last one she’ll take in his presence. She knows where they are, knew this couldn’t last forever, but that knowledge is somehow unable to cross the threshold of her heart until it’s too late.

He holds her close, cradled beneath the heat of his body, but his fingers are gripping her flesh a bit too tensely, his arms tight and strained around her, and she knows what this means. He always holds her closest when he’s preparing to set her free.

She wraps her arms firmly around his neck, determined not to let him go, but despite her best efforts, he peels away.

“Don’t go,” she begs. She deserves her righteous anger, she’s well and truly earned it, but at this moment, it’s nowhere to be found.

He squeezes her hands, then kisses her ersatz left palm. “You’ve lost too much already,” he says. “I won’t see you lose any more time.”

His fingers are spectral, melting from her grasp though she tries to clutch them. Their wisplike spectators tremble and trill with sorrow, but they’re withdrawing now as well, as though compelled by his departure.

“No,” she says. She’s desperate now, clinging fast to his presence even though his warmth has melted from her grip. “We’ll figure something out. You don’t have to go. You don’t have to do this!”

He shakes his head and turns away. How did he get so far away so quickly? “I was never here,” he reminds her gently.

His voice is in her ear. It’s right here. How can he not be here when his voice is a warm breeze against her cheek? She steps towards him, then picks up speed until she’s running, the dunes warping into grass flowing into water melting into snow and ice and flowers beneath her bare feet. “You’re the one who told me that dreams are more than they seem,” she cries.

He brushes her cheek with his knuckles, and she stares up at him with breathless hope, but it’s all for naught; his expression is tender but pitying, and despite a fresh wrench of indignation in her chest, all she can do is beg. “Stay with me,” she says. “Don’t go, Solas. Please don’t go.”

He shakes his head and steps back. His cloak is billowing and black, swallowing him piece by piece as the light rises behind her. “I’m not the one who is leaving, vhenan,” he says. “You are.”

She shakes her head. Horror is rising like bile in her throat. She can’t stop this, but she needs to. “No. No.

“After all, it’s time to-”

No!

“-wake up.”

Her eyelids snap open. Her maimed left arm is stretched in front of her, a glaring reminder of everything she’s lost. “No,” she gasps.

Her eyelids are heavy, and she fights to stay under, to remain in that slippery threshold of sleep and wakefulness, but the fiery sunrise is too bright through the windows. Just before traitorous wakefulness takes her in its claws, she hears his final whisper.

Ara vhen’an’ara… ar rya shivana, y ma ina in ara lath’in bellanaris.

Tears leak down her temples towards her ears. She chokes back a sob and roughly wipes her face. “You coward,” she whispers hoarsely.

His absence is a gaping hole in her bed. The ache is fresh and throbbing, a wound that’s been opened far too many times, and she curls on her side and grips her hair fiercely, praying for the agony to leave her chest and assault her scalp instead.

She lies paralyzed for a long, painful moment. Then, slowly, she heaves her aching body from the bed.

She splashes cold water on her face. She rolls up the left arm of her night’s watch coat and pulls it on. She fixes Dagna’s mini-crossbow prosthetic in place.

She finds Sera in the great hall, sitting on a table eating a stale cookie. Sera munches the cookie noisily and inspects her face, then speaks through a crumbly mouthful. “Phwoar. Rough night, you?”

Elia manages a half-hearted smirk. She doesn’t have it in her to explain, and Sera would hate the explanation anyway. “Let’s stick it to some nobles,” Elia says instead. “What have we got?”

Sera grins devilishly. “That’s the spirit, then. I’ve got a little man who thinks he’s big, but bees in his breeches will set that right, innit?”

Elia nods, and they make their slapdash plans. If every haughty noble they antagonize today bears a certain wolf’s face in her mind’s eye, nobody can blame her.

She’ll catch Fen’Harel in the end; this she knows for sure. Big people never see the little ones coming. And if a treacherous corner of her heart still aches for her Solas, she ignores it. The embers of his memory might come in handy someday, but she can’t count on it.

After all, who can count on a man who appears and fades from reality as easily as he does from her heart?