Solas found himself just inside the front door of an open, airy home – stylistically a mixture, it seemed, of a childhood friend’s home and one of the high spires he’d occupied in Arlathan so long ago. Light, faded woods and bobbing cotton curtains and greenery creeping in through the windows. He knew, come morning, the shimmering embroidered carpets would be flooded with sunlight, but for now it was night, and instead the room was cast in pale moonlight.
He found himself, as he walked through the parlor that was the lower floor, picking up a book that had been left out and returning it to its place on the bookshelf that extended up the stairs. He smiled when he realized it. Home, then. He could feel deep in his chest that this was the best physical representation the ether could muster of such an abstract concept. Absently, he ran his fingers over the spines of the books where he stood, three steps up the spiraling staircase. Books of poetry, allegories, epics. Higher up he had placed theoretical texts. He recognized all of them as books he had already read; he’d learned long ago not to expect new books to appear in dreams.
He wound up the spire at a slow pace, stopping to linger on each floor. The second was a kitchen, the third a library, the fourth a private sitting room. Climbing to the fifth, instead of simply ascending into a new room on the next floor, he instead found himself in a curving hall. The end of the staircase, the top floor. The outer wall was lined with windows and flowering plants he didn’t recognize bloomed on their sills. And at the very end of the hall were a pair of grand doors, lacquer and elegantly carved. Not grand doors – he had not found himself suddenly in a temple. But large and stately. As he approached them, he found himself afraid to open them. There was always the possibility that this was a nightmare and he had not realized it yet. He stood close to the doors and leaned is forehead against the cool, smooth wood in a way that felt familiar, though he could not place when or where in the distant past he had done so. He splayed his fingers across the door for a moment, and then pushed it open.
This fifth floor was a bedroom, unsurprisingly. In the middle of the wall to his right stood an over-large bed, with tall posts and a canopy of lighter-than-air fabric and blankets spilling onto and pooling on the floor. He took no note of the rest of the room, for his gaze was drawn immediately to where the hallway’s windows continued, and more specifically to the being he had at last encountered.
He did not recognize her, or at least tried not to let himself acknowledge that he did. The being was a woman, curled against one of the pillars between the windows, overlooking the ocean below, overlooking its points of light – the ships that were to the sea as the stars were to the night sky.
She wore a dressing gown a few sizes too large, its shoulder seams falling mid-bicep. It’s mine. He didn’t recognize it – white, translucent, iridescent – but he could still feel that it was his in the same way he knew this house was his. Her hair covered most of her back, red and curled from having been twisted up atop her head all day.
He should have stopped to consider how dangerous the situation was, but he did not; his feet carried him almost of their own accord to the woman, and he let his hands rest on her shoulders. She jumped and twisted around to look up at him, and he recognized it as the same look she gave him every time she saw him in the waking world, too. The context was different, but the jubilant smile and bright eyes were not.
The woman, Matilda – she had been on his mind as of late. He tried not to think of her, and when they met he kept a firm barrier between them, if only because he recognized himself to be standing at the very edge of a steep slope and any step would send him careening down. Of course, the more he told himself not to think of her, the more she appeared in his mind’s eye.
He would have been a fool not to acknowledge that she was quite pretty – but that in and of itself was not a step down the path of ruin. She was pretty, and her father was handsome, as was Sera, as was Dorian. Solas did not find himself sighing after any of them like he did Matilda, because she was not simply radiant but clever and compassionate. He first found that he enjoyed talking to her, and then found that he missed her when she left.
Every few days she left pastries on his desk, linen-wrapped, with compliments or lines of poetry she’d read or simply “I hope you like it! Love, Matilda” written in elegant script pinned to the top. And he kept every little note, and though he had never admitted how he felt to himself, he could not be truthful with himself and also ignore how his heart leaped at the adoration he now noticed in her gaze.
“Na unvagaras,” she said, and she reached her hand up to touch his jaw. “I missed you.”
She turned around fully, unwinding her legs and turning her back to the starry harbor to face him, and she pulled him down into a soft kiss. Soft but not unsure – this was not for her a first kiss as it was for him. But gentle and slow. She was not so hungry for his affection as he was for hers.
She apparently recognized that hunger, for she laughed when they parted for breath. Dangerous. He knew he could get carried away here; he could feel the rope that held him in check fraying. He would have imagined he had the self-control to stop himself, but this encounter was increasingly proving that he did not. What mattered at the moment was that Matilda was here and she loved him; the logical next step was to settle himself between her thighs and cover her body with his and enjoy sucking a dark bruise into her neck. Or he would have done – before his lips could reach the tender skin, his ribs hit a barrier and he jerked back in surprise.
Barrier, not at all – a protrusion between them. Glancing between their bodies, the moonlight pouring in from the window illuminated well her swollen abdomen. He understood quite suddenly why she did not wear her own dressing gown – doubtless she could no longer cinch it.
Of course. Of course, of course, of course. Not content to construct for him a fantasy wherein he might take a marvelous woman in his bed, the Fade tempted him with the promise of a family with her.
Solas’ hand slipped between the folds of the robe to rest on the taught skin beneath them. Matilda laughed again, most likely at what must have been his mesmerized expression, and linked her arms around his neck and pulled him to kiss her again.
“I wish you’d been home earlier. She always behaves for you.”
He chuckled, his own lips migrating from hers to her jaw, then to her neck, that he might proceed with his original plan. “My sincerest apologies.”
She gasped when he laid the first of his love bites on her skin and her fingers dug into the skin of his shoulder. From there his lips trailed down her collarbones while he undid the sash that held her dressing gown closed, pushed it open, kissed the valley between her breasts and then each of them in turn, marked with the shiny lightning strikes that denoted recent growth. He had it in his mind to keep going, to slip lower, to hear for himself what she sounded like in the throes of ecstasy. But he knew better. The reminder that he could not stay crept back in on him, sapped the joyful haze that had settled over the rational part of his brain.
“Brithas souverathe, ‘ma lath.” It wasn’t true – she looked lovely as ever, haloed in moonlight. He returned to the crook of her neck, dotted her collarbones with kisses like beads of a necklace. He wondered, faintly, if the faded smell of fruit and flowers on her skin was entirely fabricated or faithful to the real woman, a detail in her had noted but not consciously. “You should not have waited up for me.”
“I couldn’t stand the thought of not seeing you.”
“Now you have seen me. You need your rest.”
Whether he truly could have lifted her he did not know, but here, he scooped her up easily and carried her across the room to that overlarge bed. She didn’t let go when he set her on the mattress, clinging to his shoulders so he could not straighten. “Come to bed,” she said.
The notorious temptations of the Fade. “I will – shortly.”
Matilda hummed and pecked his lips again, then let go and settled back on her elbows. “On nydha, vhenan,” she whispered.
“Son era, ‘ma lan.” He lingered beside her for a moment, then straightened and returned to the lacquer doors. He made the mistake of glancing back at her, at seeing her face, cast half in shadow, and the adoration on her features. She loved him only in those places he could not linger, no matter how much he wanted to.
But he closed those polished doors behind him and swept down the spiral stairs and he left the fantasy behind.