Torchlight flickers across the crow’s feet at the corners of his narrowed eyes. He carefully stirs a bowl of pigment and water, then tips his chin up critically as he inspects the wet plaster on the wall.
Solas’s face has been creased in a perpetual frown for most of the day, ever since they set foot in Din’An Hanin. Elia isn’t certain what exactly is bothering him. She supposes he could still be thinking about the documents they found in the old elven temple; she’s certainly still feeling raw from the discovery that a misunderstanding involving an ill-fated pair of lovers was the final trigger for the Exalted March against the Dales. But Solas had seemed particularly disapproving when Blackwall suggested that the discovery must mean a lot to him, and Elia isn’t sure why the suggestion was so displeasing. She knows he doesn’t like being lumped together with the Dalish, but this new piece of history is undeniably shocking for humans and elves alike.
He’d been taciturn during their whole journey back to Skyhold. Upon their arrival at the castle late that evening, he’d turned to her with that handsome but unnerving frown.
“I’d like to work on the fresco,” he said. “I won’t be joining you tonight.”
Elia immediately shook her head. “I’ll join you, then. I’ll watch you paint, if that’s alright with you.” Usually she allowed him to keep his mysteries; he shared more glimpses into his life with every night they spent together, gradually unpeeling the pieces of his heart and offering them to her like segments of an orange, but a core of solitude lived in the centre of her lover’s chest, and Elia didn’t think he should be alone tonight.
To her relief, his face immediately cleared, his eyebrows tilting with a hint of gratitude. “It will take all night,” he warned.
“I know,” she replied gently. “I’ll stay with you.”
It was the right thing to say: he smiled for what felt like the first time that day. “Come by in a few hours. The plaster will be ready to paint by then,” he said. He gently stroked her jaw with his thumb, then kissed her forehead. “Rest in the meantime, Inquisitor,” he murmured. “It will be a long night.”
Now, as Elia watches him mixing his paints, she knows she has only minutes to speak to him before he begins. He hates being spoken to while working on the walls, and she’s determined to make him smile again before she loses him to his art.
She lifts her cup to her mouth and glances at him over the rim. “Are you certain you don’t want any tea? It’s delicious.”
Solas raises one eyebrow at her. “You know I detest the stuff.”
She smiles cheekily, and he shoots her a tiny half-smile before returning his attention to his pigments. The frown returns to his face as he finishes stirring the paints and decants them into jars, but this frown is different than before; his lips are pouted slightly with concentration instead of pursed with displeasure, and she’s glad for it.
He places the jars in a paint-splattered crate, then flicks his wrist casually. A flare of green energy lifts the crate gracefully to the top of his scaffolding, and he climbs the ladder easily to meet the crate. Elia shakes her head fondly; she’s skilled in magic and she knows it, but he’s the only mage she’s ever known who makes magic look as easy as breathing.
He crouches beside the crate and selects a jar, and she knows this her last chance. “You should take off your tunic,” she says. “It’ll get covered in paint.”
The helpfulness of her suggestion is betrayed by the sultry tone of her voice, and she finally gets what she was hoping for: he smiles broadly down at her. “A very reasonable suggestion,” he says mildly. “But I shall have to decline.”
A loud voice drifts down from the second level: likely the only other person awake in the rotunda at this hour. “Live a little, Solas. Off with the tunic! Take a chance! Be bold in your artistic choices!”
Elia bites her lip to quell her laughter. “Thank you, Dorian,” she calls. She raises one playful eyebrow at Solas.
He purses his lips and turns to the wall, jar and brush in hand. “That’s enough catcalling from the gallery,” he announces. Then he begins his work with swift, sure strokes of his brush.
Elia obligingly falls silent and arranges her knee-length tunic and her throw blanket over her bare legs. From the angle of his armchair where she’s taken residence, she can watch his profile as he works. His eyebrows are drawn together in focus as he details the upper edge of the panel. She admires the strong bridge of his nose, the fine lines of his lips, the dimple in his chin that catches shadows as he dips his brush.
She cozies into her blanket and the comfortable padding of his chair. She wants to stay awake and keep him company, but she’s truly exhausted. She tried to nap in the few hours before joining him in the rotunda, but her mind refused to release the tale of Elandrin and Adalene’s grim demise.
Solas, in contrast, is fully awake. His movements are brisk and skillful, his gaze stern and alert for errant drips, and she marvels at how much energy he has. She watches with sleepy interest as the rough outline of his work blooms to life from the colour and shadow of his brushes. Her gaze catches on his hands, pale with splashes of plaster, his fingers long and elegant and grasping the brush just so. His sleeves are pushed up to his elbows, and she admires the tracing of his veins along the lean lines of his forearms.
He moves along the scaffolding smoothly, his brushstrokes swift and sure, and for the umpteenth time she marvels at how he’s able to produce such a large image with complete confidence. She can only assume it’s skill born from practice, but she wonders where he had the chance to perfect his art, since he spent much of his life wandering the world alone.
Another mystery that will come out in time, I’m sure, she thinks. She sips her tea and watches as he begins to detail the stylized collar of Empress Celene’s dress. Her gaze travels across the wall, examining the details of each panel. She’s still amused that he chose to represent the Inquisition as a pack of wolves, given how many of the beasts they had to kill while travelling the Hinterlands. But the more she thinks about it, the more she likes the idea: the Inquisition as a family of fierce fighters, strategic and determined, working as a team.
Eventually her focus returns to her artist. He idly scratches a spot behind his ear, leaving a streak of cerulean pigment behind, and she smiles fondly as he unknowingly continues to paint.
Time trickles on leisurely like meltwater over riverstones, and Elia eventually realizes that she’s dozing off. Every time she blinks, he’s finished another swathe of the mural, and the candle on the desk is shorter every time she opens her eyes.
At the darkest hour of the night, Dorian silently enters the rotunda and bids her a quiet goodnight before slipping away to his quarters. Solas doesn’t turn around at the hushed sound of the Tevinter mage’s voice; the panel is just over halfway finished, and his face is a perfect picture of concentration, his brow furrowed and the dimple in his chin more pronounced than ever as he blends the shifting shades of Celene’s dress.
Elia finally decides to give herself over to the weight of her eyelids. She tucks her legs up on the chair and pulls the thin blanket up to her chin.
“Sleep,” he whispers.
She blinks drowsily. The figures on the walls dance and shimmer in the candlelight, and she can hear humming: one of Maryden’s slower ballads. Her Solas doesn’t hum tavern songs, though, so it must be a dream.
Minutes later, or maybe hours, she feels a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Elia,” he says quietly. “It’s finished.”
She slowly opens her eyes. He’s standing over her, a small smile on his face, and the faintest hints of fatigue are finally visible in the slant of his shoulders.
She shifts in the chair to look at the wall, and her eyes widen. “Solas,” she breathes. “It’s... beautiful.” The word is an understatement; the new panel, like all his pieces, is a masterpiece of elven art the likes of which she’s never seen.
She looks up at him in wonder. “Do you need to do a second coat?” The pigments are delicate in colour compared to the jewel tones of the other panels, and it occurs to her that she doesn’t know much about his process.
He shakes his head. “The colours will deepen over the next few hours. The pigments become one with the wall as they dry.” He lifts his face and examines his work. “The colours may fade somewhat with time, but nothing short of destroying this keep will destroy this evidence of what you’ve achieved. And Skyhold has resisted destruction for centuries.”
He looks back down at her, and she swallows hard. His expression is complex, both proud and sorrowful as he examines her face, and she’s tempted to drop her gaze. The steely gray of his eyes is intense, striking a giddy breath from her lungs, but she forces herself not to look away.
He continues to study her wordlessly as though she’s the work of art, and she plucks nervously at her blanket before breaking the silence. “How do you decide what to paint? How does the whole scene come to you?”
He leans back against the table and folds his arms, and she’s oddly relieved when he returns his focus to the walls. “These are moments that will change the world,” he explains. “You’ve done many impossible things, whether intended or not. But as time marches forth, your acts have become more intentional. You’re more focused. More certain. The more purpose you have, the more exquisite you are. It is a privilege to document your footsteps on these ancient walls.”
Her cheeks heat in a sudden blush, even as she frowns slightly. Solas doesn’t dole out idle compliments, but this one seems… couched in meaning, somehow. She shifts on his chair and crosses her legs. “I wouldn’t say everything I do is intentional. Sometimes it all feels like a series of happy accidents. Or not-so-happy ones, as the case may be.”
He looks down at her, and his face is a mixture of emotions again, both chiding and loving in a single look. “Vhenan, you make difficult choices every day. Impossible ones, at times. And yet, you are always thoughtful. Your decisions are never rushed. You collect as much information as you can before you act. Such wisdom is rare in one so young.”
Elia smirks. At thirty years of age, she wouldn’t consider herself particularly young.
Then, to her surprise, Solas slowly settles down to sit on the floor at her feet. He slips one hand under her blanket and strokes her ankle with his thumb. “You do not see in yourself what I see,” he says quietly.
Her breath hitches in her throat, and she swallows the clever quip that was at the tip of her tongue. His face is perfectly serious, and she can see his pride in her, the confidence glowing in his eyes as he regards her.
Time slows as she stares into her lover’s fierce eyes. The slow slide of his thumb on her ankle is hypnotic, and her heart pounds a drumbeat of anticipation in her chest. She holds her breath as the quality of his expression changes, sharpens, grows heavy with intent.
He tugs gently at her ankle, and she obediently unfolds her legs. He shifts to kneel between her legs and cradles her calves in his palms. His hands slide over her knees, beneath the hem of her long tunic and up along her thighs, slow and careful like he’s storing the memory of her skin in the tips of his fingers.
Elia inhales leisurely, like taking a last breath before plunging into the sea. Currents of desire are pulsing to life beneath her skin, nurtured by his touch, and she wonders - half in jest - if he’s using magic to stoke such an exquisite flowering of want in her belly. He lightly grazes the borders of her smallclothes with his thumbs, and she lifts her hips from the chair, helpless and pleading.
He suddenly rises to his knees and catches her parted lips in a kiss. A tiny whimper escapes the confines of her throat, passing from her lips to his as he tastes her mouth with infinite care. She cradles his jaw in her hands, her fingers sliding carefully over the fine topography of his scalp, her nails lightly grazing his skin until he purrs satisfyingly against her lips.
He presses gently at the juncture of her thighs with his thumb, and she breaks from his mouth with a sudden gasp. “Solas,” she breathes. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this here. Someone might see…” She half-heartedly glances up to the higher levels of the rotunda. It’s unlikely that anyone is still awake, but there’s no guarantee.
“Elia,” he whispers, and she looks back at him. His eyes are dark with desire, his head tilted in a mischievous cant that makes the pulse between her legs beat all the harder. “Your plans are laid, and your goals are set. For now, don’t think. Just... act.”
Elia smiles. His voice is soft, his pale grey eyes coaxing, but his smile is hot and wicked. Then his left hand is sliding up, over the expanse of her belly and higher, and her amusement is utterly forgotten, swept away by his hand cupping her breast. Her nipple pearls instantly under his palm, and he teases the tiny bud with his thumb before kissing her again.
Their tongues slide together, smooth and sleek. She arches into his elegant fingers, pressing her breast insistently against his palm, and he pinches her nipple and hooks the fingers of his other hand into the hem of her smallclothes. Obediently she lifts her hips, allowing him to slide the silken garment down over her knees.
He breaks gently from her kiss, then looks her straight in the eye as he slowly slides the blanket away from her lap. She can see the question in his eyes, his unspoken request for her permission, and she nods eagerly. Her reluctance was but a token protest, a hint of the Inquisitor trying to take control, but in this room at the lateness of this hour, only Elia and Solas remain.
The corners of his eyes crinkle happily at her wordless consent. He gently pushes aside the long hem of her tunic, then nuzzles her tender inner thigh.
His warm breath is tantalizing against her bare flesh. She bites back a moan of longing at the gentle caress of his nose against her skin, so achingly close to her slick center. He drops a whisper of a kiss right between her legs, and she bucks involuntarily towards him, her fingers clenching into fists in the arms of the chair.
He licks the sheen of her arousal from his lower lip and smiles. “Ina’lan’ehnel edhas,” he murmurs. He lowers his face between her thighs and smoothes his tongue over her clit.
Elia sighs with rapture and spreads her knees wider. She’s not sure what he’s said, but he might as well have cast a spell on her; she’s floating, weightless with pleasure, and his tongue has a magic all its own, lifting her higher into a dreamy ecstasy with every stroke. He speaks of her as having purpose, but in these intimate moments, he’s the epitome of dedicated intent. He lavishes her pussy with long, slow strokes interspersed with delicate swirling circles, and she wonders with idle pleasure if he’s tracing runes across her flesh with the tip of his tongue.
Slowly and inexorably, her climax begins to build. He gathers her pleasure on his tongue like he would gather threads of the Fade in his fist. She holds her breath as the pulsing song crescendos in her abdomen, then suddenly she cries out into the back of her fist: the exquisite sensation crests, and sparks of pleasure fan out to her fingers and the tips of her toes. Her eyes are shut tight, but lights float behind her eyelids all the same, blinking and bursting like bubbles in Orlesian wine.
He lifts his face as she shudders bonelessly beneath him. He rises to his feet, then effortlessly lifts her into his arms. His strength always takes her by surprise; her lover is lean and wiry with muscle, but he carries her to the couch with ease and tenderly lays her back.
Immediately she rises to her knees and pushes at his shoulders. “Sit,” she urges, then swiftly straddles his lap as he complies. Clumsily she pushes his tunic aside and tugs at the laces of his breeches.
Solas leans back and calmly watches the eager movements of her hands. She can feel his eyes on her face, her fumbling fingers, the exposed skin of her thighs, and it’s like being watched by the most confident of hunters; his gaze is both heated and cool in one, hungry but complacent. She looks up at his face once his breeches are undone, and despite her rising desperation, she can’t help but smile: he raises one eyebrow, and his expression is so knowing and so smug that she can’t wait to put him in his place.
She reaches down and takes his cock in her fist. He gasps helplessly, and she smothers the sound with her lips. Her smug, self-possessed hunter has snapped; he’s ravenous now, his tongue tangling with her own, his arm tight around her waist as he lifts her and shoves his breeches down. His hands are impatient on her hips, his teeth demanding against her earlobe as he positions her carefully over his shaft, but she’s no stranger to this hunger herself: she greets the crushing torrent of his desire with a frenzied need of her own. Her nails sink into his shoulders as she undulates against the proud rise of his cock, spreading the heat of her arousal over his length, a blissful taste of what they’ll both soon be basking in.
“Now, vhenan,” he whispers.
They slide together, two whispering shards locking into place. The perfect fullness of that first sheathing always wipes her mind blank with bliss, and she moans breathlessly against his cheekbone. His arms are locked around her, holding her tightly in place, and she fiercely embraces his neck in kind.
Time stops as they clutch each other close, locked together so tightly that she fancies them two sides of a single coin. His breathing is slow but intense, so deep that she feels his chest rising and falling against her own. His arms tighten around her waist, and he turns his head to press his lips to her jaw.
“Elia…” His voice is guttural with pleasure yet somehow vulnerable, her name a yearning prayer on his lips. She pulls back slightly to press her forehead to his. Slowly and luxuriously she grinds against his hips, revelling in the hard length of him pressing deep.
Slowly, smoothly, she rolls against him like gentle waves lapping the shore. His fingers stroke the line of her throat, tracing over her ribs, slipping beneath the hem of her tunic to caress her hip. His hand slides in, up, over her breast, a careful thumb drifting across her nipple. In and out, his breathing sets a rhythm for the rocking of her body.
Time stretches like strands of sweet molasses. He pulls her close, grinding her hard and deep on the rise of his staff as she strokes the delicate bud between her legs. Their breaths align as they move together; she’s mesmerized, dreamy with pleasure, eyes open but unfocused as the colours of the walls and the flickering of the torches swirl through her awareness. Solas fucks her slow and sweet, and the images of his making drift across her half-open eyes: mages and assassins, swords and wolves, all spun together in a whirlwind of intrigue and adventure and grief. It’s all there in the walls, the most guarded essence of her mysterious lover, a bursting of passion and vibrancy that he holds in reserve and expends on two canvases alone: the rough walls of this room, and the smooth curves of her body.
Her second climax rises slow and steady, then immolates her with a sudden burst when it finally arrives. She cries out involuntarily, an echo that rings through the rotunda, but he swiftly stifles it with a kiss. The leisurely pace of their loving is broken by the sound of her ecstasy; he flips her abruptly onto her back and cradles the nape of her neck as he drives into her hard, a rough and wild love that spins her pleasure out to infinite lengths. Solas fucks her hard, his hunger matching the fierce hunter in his eyes, yet his kiss remains tender, his lips gentle and sweet as they travel across her cheekbone. When he reaches his peak after a few long, delicious minutes, his fingers tighten in her hair, his teeth scrape across her neck, and his broken groan of rapture resonates against her throat like a favoured lullaby.
They lie pressed together as they catch their breath, his head pillowed against her chest and her legs twined around his waist. She strokes her fingers idly over the smoothness of his skull and the tips of his ears, and her attention returns once more to the walls. Idly she admires the newest panel; the colours already seem deeper than before.
“They really are marvelous, you know,” she murmurs to him. “These frescoes… they’re more than I deserve.”
He lifts himself onto his elbows, and she’s surprised - and a little dismayed - to see that a hint of a frown has returned to his brow.
“No,” he says. His emphatic tone belies the low volume of his voice. “You deserve much more than this.” He glances at the murals almost dismissively before returning his gaze to her face. “Lacking the best of everything, you must accept these walls as my gift to you.”
She cups his cheek in her palm; he’s so strange and mercurial sometimes, but the joy he brings her is more than worth his moods. “I have you,” she reassures him. “That’s good enough for me.”
His eyebrows lift slightly as he smiles, and Elia is confused; she doesn’t quite understand the trace of sadness in his face.
He lightly brushes her sweaty bangs away from her forehead. “Come,” he murmurs. “Let’s go to your quarters. The rest of the castle will be waking soon, but we should get some rest.”
She wants him to smile. He’s frowned so much today, and she just wants to make him smile. She smirks cheekily at him. “You didn’t care so much about the rest of the castle half an hour ago,” she purrs.
He smirks as well, and she breathes easily again as humour washes the melancholy from his face. “Come,” he repeats. He rises and helps her to her feet, then picks her smallclothes up from the floor and hands them to her with a mocking little bow.
She snickers as she takes the garment from him, and he ushers her towards the door with a solicitous hand at the small of her back. “Forget the rest of the castle for a while,” he whispers in her ear. “Let’s go to bed.”
She smiles and leans into the warmth of his shoulder as they approach the door. Just before they leave the rotunda, she glances at the grandeur of his walls one more time.
Moments that will change the world, he says. Elia still isn’t sure she’d give herself that much credit; after all, history is rife with important figures, and who is she to say she’s anything more?
But she knows one thing that’s true: these walls are his labour of love, shining evidence of his feelings made clear. He says it’s not enough, but in these masterfully rendered paintings, he’s made their love immortal.
Her Solas may cloak himself in sadness sometimes, curling tight around secrets that she has yet to unpack, but Elia will never doubt what they have together.
These ancient walls say it all.