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Howling at the Sun

Chapter Text

The last of the evening lanterns in Haven had already sizzled out and gone cold when a shadow trudged down the stairs, disrupting the thin layer of freshly fallen snow. Under his arm, three weighty tomes pressed into fingers red from the chill.

There could be no harm to it. At least, none he could see at the moment. It was unexpected, that was all; and Solas liked to think he enjoyed the unexpected. A flat-out lie, of course. He was still searching for a crack in the qunari’s façade, something to betray her for what she truly was; something beyond, or maybe below, who he’d understood her to be thus far. He’d reached a point in his journey where maintaining his innate curiosity hinged dangerously on the assumption there was nothing left to know.

Still, Adaar had asked. And done so politely, for her, of course.

Three knocks. Equally polite. So it was all the more disheartening when nobody answered the door. Solas furrowed his brow; maybe he knew a thing or two about the world, after all. Securing a tighter grip on the tomes, which had started cutting into his hip with their weight, he turned on his heel – and paused. The snowfall had resumed, brought about by a fresh breeze. He flinched when a snowflake stung his ear.

Behind him, the door creaked open, flooding the purple snow under his feet with candlelight. Solas turned around, blinking the snowflakes off his lashes.

“Solas?” Adaar was in the doorway, hunched slightly so her horns wouldn’t catch on the frame, “Sorry. Come in.”

He opened his mouth to object, but the boredom of the last couple of weeks at Haven got the better of him. He stepped inside.

“Still up, then?”

“As you can see,” Adaar glanced at him from over her shoulder, gesturing awkwardly to her desk.

Well, he only supposed there was a desk there. From where he was standing, it looked more like a pile of yellowed papers, and wax puddles which might’ve been candles in another life. There was an inkwell to the right, and several black circles indicating she’d been using it as a paperweight. In the centre of the chaos lay a letter— clearly unfinished— half of it smudged into grey lines of illegible words. Those same grey lines could be seen on her right cheek.

Solas pursed his lips together to hold back a smile.

“All right. Well, I have the texts you asked for, although it did take some meddling to acquire them,” he lifted the three tomes off his hip, only now realising how badly carrying them had hurt his elbow, “here.”

Adaar nodded and took the weight out of his arms with impressive ease, glancing about for a place to put them before deciding the bed would have to do. It was already too small for her, for obvious reasons. She sat down next to the tomes, and let out a long breath.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome,” Solas placed a hand against the backrest of the chair nearest to him, “is that all?”

He watched her tense up; she’d picked up on the sharp edge to his words, and he suddenly regretted adding it. Muscles tied into knots up her arms.

“If you’ve got time, I’d appreciate if you took a look at them with me—now.”

Although morning drew closer by the minute, Solas took a seat. He reached for the first tome, the leather worn thin on the corners; some of the gold lettering on the ridge had faded, leaving only small flakes to glitter in the dim light. Strange to see it in his hands, material; he’d only heard bits of it in the Fade, through another’s ears.

“This would be—“ he pulled in a breath to gather his thoughts, “everything we know about tears in the Veil, as theorised by First Enchanter Wenselus. A direct transcript of his lectures regarding the subject.”

By ‘we’, naturally, he meant ‘everyone but me’. Solas could’ve written it better, of course.

“Didn’t you tell me we barely know anything about the Veil?” Adaar asked, dipping her head to the side, “this is a… lengthy read.”

Solas looked up at her.

“Scholars do seem to have a way with words.”

“Or a lack thereof. Hardly a talent to fill a thousand pages with nonsense and maybes,” she frowned, leaning both hands behind her and throwing her head back in exasperation.

Solas raised his eyebrows. Adaar caught herself.

“I am grateful, of course. I’ll read it from cover to cover,” she shook her head, “I just wish we knew more.”

The urge to teach prickled. Solas knew his bad habits; he lost track of time when he spoke of the Fade, making up for it with idle silence regarding everything else. It was a kind of unfortunate luck that had gifted him with the most curious Herald he could’ve asked for.

“Most of it is gibberish,” he agreed with a reluctant smile, “but I’m certain you can find a way to navigate it. If I may.”

He held out his hand. Adaar passed him the book, and he opened it a third of the way through, luckily only a couple pages off of where he’d been meaning to. He returned it to the qunari, head left hanging over her shoulder to watch her pointer finger gently travel over the lines of text. She mouthed the words as she read.

She struggled mostly with words exclusive to texts about magic; though her ignorance annoyed him, he annoyed her right back with his endless explanations. He was well aware of it, wouldn’t have any charm if he wasn’t; still, he helped where he could, and answered what questions she had the way any elven apostate would.

Whenever he uttered the words ‘I don’t know’, Adaar shot him a disbelieving look. Not really in a flattering way; in more of a ‘what! You don’t know something? Stop the presses!’ way. And it didn’t bother him… as long as he actually did know the answer.

“Solas,” Adaar began, but stopped to hide a yawn in her shoulder, “What do you think is beyond the Fade? I mean—all scholars speak of ‘passing through’ the Fade after death, of it being… temporary. But is it? Is sleep simply a taste of death?”

He used his knuckle to rub the sleep from his eyes.

“I do not know. Some would say the faithful join their Maker. Others would say there is nothing more.”

She leaned her cheek on her knuckles.

“What would you say?”

“I think…” he hesitated, “I hope there are things entirely undiscovered. Something to make me feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface.”

He meant that, for a change. The smell came to him first; a candle only just blown out, heavy and calming, a reminder of how many hours he’d spent over his books. He missed being the student, still wet behind the ears, quiet and tentative in his writing. Crossing out words, scrunching up paper, ink dripping into his lap. We were all young once.  

“I’d like to see that,” Adaar nodded steadily, pulling him from his memories, “I’d like to see your jaw drop.”

Chapter Text

It’d be a while before she saw him surprised. But he never told her that.

After all, a while was not easily defined. Time seemed to be slipping through the Herald’s fingers; bitter and thick like blood gushing from an open wound. Adaar was scarcely at Haven, it was left mostly under the stern governing of Lady Montilyet and the commander, while Leliana kept to the shadows. The fact Solas accompanied the Herald on her adventures became a state of things so obvious it was often left unsaid; when she came to his door with a mission, he was already packing. For convenience, of course. It saved time.

Solas quickly learned that the most painstaking part of every trip was, to be bluntly honest, the journey. Under a clear sky, it was still four days on horseback until they reached the Hinterlands; but the sky was hardly ever clear. More often than not, they’d arrive to do errands exhausted and stinking of wet horse.

“You are the saddest egg I’ve seen in my life,” Adaar bellowed with laughter at his sullen expression, and thunder crackled overhead, as if to second her.

Solas pulled in a deep breath, his face running with rain.

“I’ll thank you not to call me an egg.”

“Don’t pout,” she held back her horse – a muscular beast, the only thing in Haven strong enough to lift her, except for maybe the Iron Bull – and waited for him to catch up so she could slap a hand on his shoulder, “we’ll make camp once we’ve found the soldiers.”

“Excuse me?” Dorian called from behind them, curled up in his saddle with half his cape draped over his head, “Did I hear something about camp?!”

Solas thought he picked up on Cassandra muttering under her breath.

Adaar pressed her ankles into her mount’s sides, and it set off at a trot downhill. Solas blinked away the rain; there it was again, that tension in her muscular shoulders. Even when her face was carved in stone, her back always showed when she was bracing for something. He hastened his horse. They cut through the treeline, and the rain subsided, blocked out by the layers of leaves overhead. Adaar’s gigantic mare galloped through the arch of the stone gateway, hooves kicking up dirt and grass; she wasn’t even attempting to ration the animal’s energy now.

“Adaar!”

Solas heard it, maybe felt it – the hum of magic, like vibrations through the earth, through the trees. Like a sensation between senses. The three of them stormed after the Herald, ducking under branches and swatting away leaves; Dorian swore loudly in Tevene. When they found her, only twenty steps from the road, she was standing in a meadow.

There were bodies all around her, all bearing the eye engulfed in flames on their chests. Solas scrunched his nose at the familiar stench of blood; it always seemed to force its way down his throat, into his lungs, and clung to his skin even hours later. Red. Coating the grass, the armour, the faces. 

“Damn it,” Cassandra hissed, the first one to slide out of the saddle.

Adaar shook her head, gestured her back up. The Seeker gave her a wide-eyed look, half pained, half angry.

“Will we leave them?”

“We kill the apostates that did this. Then we send word home.”

Silence fell.

“They were taken by surprise,” Cassandra extended one more look towards the bodies, “they must have been. Too many, too close together.”

Adaar’s sharp eyes snapped to the captain, dead in the centre of the meadow. She took a few slow steps in her direction; the woman was twisted oddly, limbs splayed out on the ground at varying angles. When he looked closer, Solas thought he saw something shining underneath her.

“Adaar,” he began, tone warning, “careful.”

The qunari leaned down to reach for the scroll tucked under the captain’s belt. She gingerly put one of her feet forward for balance; in the same second, ice crackled, sending silver dust into the air.

Dorian threw a hand forward, forgetting his staff; Solas heard the dull thump of a barrier being set down, but too late. Adaar had been launched into the air – she landed with a crash, flat on her back, and slid a good couple of steps away from the fading glyph. Ice coated her entire body.

He turned sharply in the saddle. Dorian jumped out of his, but it was Cassandra who knelt in the grass and lifted Adaar’s head; the qunari was gasping for breath, desperately refilling suddenly emptied lungs. After the initial shock had passed, Solas remembered himself; he took a potion from his belt and rushed up, yanking out the cork. Adaar chugged the liquid all the way down in one go, while Dorian melted away both the cold and the pain. 

"There," the Tevinter glanced up at him, "a rather ridiculous display, if it hadn't been so frightening, yes?"

Solas missed his chance to answer, and shook his head instead. 

“Stepped right on it,” Cassandra muttered, with her signature angry relief staining her voice, “right on it… Fool!”

He closed his fists. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears. Once Adaar was up, he was the first to climb back into the saddle; he ignored her eyes burning holes into his back. He didn’t look at her when she whistled for her horse, or when she kept her tone unnaturally level as she announced their plans. 

It was sad work, but Adaar didn’t think twice.

Solas had never before thought to ask her a question, but by the steel in her gaze he could tell that hadn’t been the first time she’d seen carnage. She was not old, but there was no room for bright-eyed youth in her features. Her lips were a thin line. The rest of the day was spent hunting apostates, and the rest of their time after that was spent helping refugees. Occasionally scouring the countryside for resources. It grew mundane.

The path home felt even longer, and they all had fresh wounds and bruises; one of Cassandra’s wrists was in bad shape after a particularly vicious shield bash from a Templar. Adaar had secured two splints to it, sticks she’d shaved of bark, after hearing Cassandra hiss in pain.

About halfway, the weather got better. They set up a fire from dry grass and some branches, but it was Dorian who set it ablaze with a flick of his wrist, then promptly passed out cold on his bedroll. Cassandra followed suit, cradling the injured hand. In the silence that fell in their partial absence, Solas circled the fire, joining the qunari. Warmth was coming off her body in waves. He leaned his back against their travel chest and pulled both knees under his chin, wrapping his arms around them. He could see bottles of Chasind Sack Mead off to the side, tied to Adaar’s saddle.

“I did not take you for the vengeful kind,” he said, watching her profile.

“That wasn’t revenge,” Adaar met his gaze, bold and deliberate, “that was peacekeeping.”

Solas titled his chin up.

“Hmm.”

“You know I value your opinion, Solas,” she sounded weary, but calm, “speak your mind.”

“There is little to say,” he rolled both shoulders, “it had to be done.”

“But it’s…” Adaar breathed in and out, sharp enough to make him look, “never mind.”

Solas tactfully averted his eyes again. Unnecessarily, it seemed. That quickened breath was all she would offer the people she’d killed, and yet he knew she regretted even that. He would not judge her for it. It was late, after all. He could see the stars, draped over the sky.

“Adaar?”

“Yes.”

The question died in his throat.

“You ought to get some rest,” he said with faux politeness, “Goodnight.”

***

When Adaar first left without him, it was within the month after he’d led her to Skyhold. Not just her; the whole Inquisition, broken and battered, but alive. His last resort, or perhaps what would one day turn into his worst enemy.

It packed worse of a punch than he’d expected. He had no issue committing himself to his research; he had a study to himself now, and an actual library, just overhead. Adaar could spend her days chasing butterflies with nets and doing whatever it was she did when she vanished in Val Royeaux. He’d never quite seen the charm in binge-shopping, anyway.

So he didn’t mind. It wasn’t a bother unpacking when he’d been at the ready for days, only to hear the freshly-promoted Inquisitor had already left. They had agreed on nothing. There was a whole army of mages working for the Inquisition now, she could pick and choose if she wanted.

The creak of the door brought him out of his sulking, but he quickly returned to it, supposing it was simply another servant or lost guest cutting across his work space to get to the library. As ostentatious as possible, he picked up a book from his desk and resumed his reading, eyes flicking over the words.

“Solas?” he didn’t immediately make the connection between the gentle tone and the giant qunari woman, but she came into view soon enough, “Hello?”

He looked up, completely neutral.

“Yes, hello.”

Adaar plopped down on the side of his desk, making the wood howl in anguish under her weight.

“Listen to this,” she raised a hand for his attention, “A-neth a-ra.”

Solas exhaled through his nose; the more subtle cousin of a scoff.

“You are looking for ‘andaran atish’an’.”

Nothing slipped by her. Her eyes sharpened, arm dropping loosely to her side; the hint of a smile vanished like a candle had been blown out. She looked straight at him with those huge, attentive eyes.

“Are you upset?”

He looked down at the book again, but didn’t read a word.

“Why would I be?”

“Just answer.”

He didn’t. Blunt silence stood like a wall between them. Angered, but not visibly so, Adaar rose from the desk and took a couple of steps along it, examining the other texts he had lined up. Her back was tense, her shoulders squared. He could see muscles pressing on the fabric of her shirt.

“I finished the last book I borrowed,” she said over her shoulder, without meeting his eyes, “I’ll give it back to you tomorrow morning. If you want it earlier, you can come by my office.”

Ah yes, that sapphire sadness. The unwelcome warmth of the afternoon seeping into the nooks and crannies of his study, eating at the winter spell he’d cast in secrecy for his own comfort.

The book she’d borrowed—what had it been? Something on the Fade, certainly, but he couldn’t quite remember. Many books had been lost in the fire at Haven. Sometimes he forgot which had survived, it was difficult to keep track when Adaar regularly sneaked them out; even though reading them didn’t come easily to her. She consumed book after book in a kind of desperate heat, as if there was something crucial she might miss, as if something wasn’t making sense. Solas furrowed his brow.

After careful consideration, he did want the book back. That is to say, he wanted to sort matters out with Adaar, but that didn’t have to be noticed or admitted. If he sauntered into the cellar somewhere around sunset, that was his own business; if he left bearing a bottle of Chasind Sack Mead he hadn’t been bearing before, well, that was just lucky coincidence.

If Solas ever got tired of his own machinations, he reminded himself that not everything could be anticipated down to the last detail. Best-laid plans, after all. There were variables and there were moments of weakness; denying it would only further hinder everything.

Excuses, excuses. But it’d worked—his excuses had gotten him halfway up the stairs to the Inquisitor’s quarters. His hand felt clammy on the neck of the bottle. Three knocks, too fast to be considered polite.

“Come in!”

Solas pushed on the door, and it caved with a soul-tearing squeak. Wasn’t there a single door in Skyhold that didn’t announce a visitor’s presence to all of Thedas?

He walked up the stone stairs, cold against his feet. Wind brushed between the walls here, bringing chilly air with it; he breathed in with relief. Adaar was standing by her miniature library, carefully examining its riches. The arms crossed on her chest suggested she wasn’t enjoying the selection.

“Inquisitor,” Solas said, and she immediately spun around to face him, “a peace offering.”

He held out the mead to her. The gesture apparently warranted a raised eyebrow, but Adaar accepted, yanking the bottle from his grip with just a little too much strength and a cocky glance to soften it.

Keeping the eye contact another moment too long, she walked over to her cabinet. Then a glass was being handed to him, filled almost to the brim with golden liquid.

“Oh, certainly not,” he stepped back.

“Drink.”

Solas opened his mouth to argue, but something stopped him. He watched her take a slow, thoughtful sip of the bone-quaking, mouth-twisting crime of a liquor.

“It’s horrible,” she said lightly, twirling the drink in her glass, “I love it. Thank you. Now your turn.”

“Adaar, I believe our tolerance level might differ—“

She laughed, a pleasant and warm sound. It was a shame she didn’t do it more often.

“Turning down a challenge? You?”

Adaar walked over to the bed to sit, missed, and sat down on the floor against it instead. She shook it off, placing the bottle on the floor next to her and reaching for a pillow to shimmy underneath herself. Solas lowered himself onto the ground beside her, careful not to spill the drink.

“I am not so competitive that I’ll risk my health in a petty argument.”

“Yes, you are.”

Yes, he was. But there was a rather noticeable distinction between drinking himself stupid and winning a game of chess. One of these things he’d tried with Adaar already, and she’d lost. If he knew the first thing about karma, it was that it was his turn to be humiliated. As if overhearing his thoughts, Adaar had the bright idea of daring him to drink his glass faster than her. Solas would’ve argued that she’d already taken a good three sips, but then Adaar just tilted her head back and downed the whole thing, and suddenly his argument seemed all the more pathetic.

“Very well,” he said on his second glass, with Adaar drinking straight from the bottle, “I was upset.”

“Oh!” she smacked her thigh, “Progress.”

“I had thought…” he caught his breath, not sure where it’d gone, “Very briefly...”

Adaar groaned quietly and poured the remainder of the bottle into his glass. Solas moved his head from side to side. He vaguely remembered that meant an objection.

“I had assumed,” he began again with a deep breath, “that… well, I wish I knew what I assumed. I don’t recall.”

He caught Adaar squinting at him.

“Are you drunk, already?”

“That is…” he pointed a finger, “slander."

She smiled, raising a hand to lightly scratch at the base of her left horn - it was a kind of half-hearted impulse she could contain while sober, but did unknowingly after a dose of liquor. Solas leaned in over her shoulder.

“Would you tell me something about yourself?”

The qunari snorted, a broader grin pulling at her features. She kept glancing back and forth between the bottle and his eyes, like she couldn’t stop checking something in disbelief. No, maybe not disbelief. 

“Will you promise me that it will never leave this room?”

“Consider this an oath of secrecy.”

“In that case, ask away.”

Solas looked at her down his nose.

“Tell me about your family.”

“Well…” Adaar huffed, settling in more comfortably on her pillow and stealing another sip of her liquid courage, “It’s quite the story. I'll have to break it down for you."

She was playing for time, clearly. A sadness had entered her features that he hadn't seen before, but rather than push, he waited. Finally, the exhale came.

"You see, well, my father was a renowned scholar under the Qun. A philosopher. My mother was part of the Ben-Hassrath, tasked with monitoring my father’s two students – both young girls who asked too many questions. I suppose that somewhere between the years, my parents grew close, and I was born. My mother spared my life, but turned herself in for re-education not a month later; that’s when my father escaped with me.”

Solas let the words ring in the air.

“So you never truly met your mother?” he asked when the unheard echo had faded.

Adaar shrugged, wiping the side of her nose with her knuckle. She didn’t reply.

“What about your father?” he gestured with his hand, though he could feel her answer looming over him, “What happened to him?”

“He was declared Tal-Vashoth, and eventually tracked down and murdered,” Adaar leaned her head back, absently reaching for the bottle, but finding it empty, “and that was that.”

Solas’ hand hovered in the air for a moment, then dropped lightly onto Adaar’s shoulder.

 “I am sorry.”

“Happened a long time ago,” she pressed, then looked at the floor, “but I appreciate it.”

He pulled away, but just as he did, a heavy arm weighed on his nape and drew him closer. Adaar’s hand rested comfortably over the side of his chest, fingers plucking at the string around his neck. He could already feel the headache creeping up on him.

“What about you?” she cleared her throat, “do you not have family?”

Solas stared numbly at the wardrobe. One of the drawers hadn’t been pushed all the way in, so that it stuck out by the width of a finger from the others. The corner of some article of clothing, in varying shades of greed and red, was hanging out to the side. It bothered him unspeakably.

“All right, forget I asked,” Adaar exhaled through her nose, “it's like you turn into a statue at the very hint of a personal question.”

Solas’ face hurt. It took him a moment to realise he’d been smiling.

“I have led a solitary life. Sharing doesn’t come easily to me.”

“If not about family, tell me about some of your friends. You know—“ Adaar dipped her head forward, “from the Fade.”

His smile slowly faded, replaced by consideration. The faint buzz at the back of his mind definitely tipped the scales in her favour, but there was simply so much to say, and so little time. Far too little. It wasn't worth it.

 

Chapter Text

Whatever doubt he’d accidentally planted in her mind, it was soon gone. In the midst of a sandstorm, they rode out of Adamant, tiny blades on the wind scratching at their faces. Adaar’s mare had injured a leg, and so they trailed together at the very end, the qunari tracing a reassuring hand over the animal’s strong neck.

The Fade had been a memory of home; far not only in the sense of distance, but of decades, as well. Home was far behind him – but some part of the Fade felt familiar, the missing piece of the world they functioned in. His soul soared, ached.

“Lies woven carefully like the webbing of a spider. Daunting, suffocating. Someone is always looking through a mask; someone behind you, but you put him there, so it’s your own fault. The knife is already in your back.”

A spike of shock. Solas turned around, but the boy wasn’t looking at him; his eyes were fixed in Adaar.

“Be quiet, Cole,” the woman said, her voice heavy and sluggish with weariness, “just be quiet.”

Solas had seen her name in the graveyard, he’d seen the letters etched into the stone. Until this moment, he’d found it hard to believe that betrayal of all things would scare her so gravely – the skin of her back was strong like leather. Only now, he considered that it must have taken quite a number of blows to get so tough.

A sigh escaped him and he passed Dorian a healing potion, as the mage had been on the verge of falling out of his saddle for the last two hours, too proud to ask. And even now, he objected—Solas rolled his eyes and pressed the flask into his hands. Huffing angry words in Tevene, Dorian drank. Another two weeks until they reached Skyhold. Resources were scarce.

Adaar buried herself in reading; chin on her chest, book resting in her hand, with the little finger down the middle for balance. Once in a while, she’d trip and just barely catch her balance; never learning her lesson, hungrily flipping through the pages.

Seeing no other alternative, Solas sank into conversation with Dorian. Though they normally fought during missions, or at least bickered, the exhaustion settling over their whole column of forces was enough to put out any flames of irritation. They talked until the silence became comfortable, and they didn’t have to keep up appearances any longer.

Upon arriving home, everyone scattered, presumably heading for whichever bed was nearest. Dorian opted for the tavern, for reasons unclear; Cole disappeared into thin air. Solas would’ve trudged back to his study, had he not been caught in a moment, watching Adaar; Cullen was with her, pale as death, tapping his quill against his report. Adaar nodded, but it was thoughtless.

Solas leaned his back against the wall and waited. The armour was pushing on his shoulders, and his shoes were wet from the raindrops in the grass.

Adaar saw him, but finished talking to Cullen before heading in his direction. The commander turned to the remaining troops, and dismissed them with a gesture more than a word – the tired men and women dragged themselves to the barracks, already undoing the straps on their armour and leaning into each other for support. They didn’t need to know each other’s names to feel kinship today. Solas knew exactly how they felt.

“Out with it,” Adaar said, stomping up the stairs to the main hall.

Solas followed.

“Do you wish to discuss it?”

“Discuss what?”

He pulled in a breath as they approached the door by the throne, and caught her wrist.

“Do not pretend you weren’t shaken,” he whispered, brow furrowed in irritation he couldn’t name the source of.

Adaar pursed her lips, and in a quick and forceful motion, grabbed him by the collar. Solas gave her an angered look, but didn’t struggle when she pulled him through the doorway—and slammed the door shut behind them.

They were left in the dark staircase, with nothing but a candle on the floor casting golden light over their faces. Adaar’s chest was rising and falling quickly.

“You used to be so good at minding your own business, Solas,” she snapped, barely keeping her voice level, “what happened?”

“I—“

“You don’t hear me asking why you’re afraid to die alone.”

He clenched his jaw.

“Forgive me. My offer was misguided.”

She didn’t hear him.

“I’m not weak,” she rasped out, “I’ve been betrayed, yes. And I’m stronger for it. Understood?”

Solas’ could feel his stagnant heart rising to a strong rhythm. Though there was no iron grip of anxiety on his throat, he found he couldn’t speak; he opened his shoulders. Mustered the courage.

“Listen—“

She stepped back, cutting him off with a sharp look.

Her anger was not the harsh flame he’d expected—words like smouldering embers, barely alight but still hot enough to burn anyone who dared touch them. Solas forced his eyes to the cracks in the wooden floor. He genuinely did not know what to do.

“All right,” Adaar said after centuries of silence, “I’m sorry. I just—I need… I need some time to deal with… that.”

Solas looked up at her. In the dim light, he could only see half of her face; grotesque shadows disfigured most of it, highlighting the scars over her jaw. Dust had settled on her tangled lashes; but she still towered over him, and he could see her eyes even when she looked down. He could watch the emotions mixing in them, like he was watching a play through stained glass.

“For what it’s worth,” the woman added, cocking her head to the side and shifting her weight between her feet, “you won’t die alone. Not while I’m around, at least.”

Adaar scratched her nape and gestured loosely with her hand, turning away. Solas stayed behind. He lacked the nerve to thank her.

He was beyond tired, but sleep would not come to him. He shook off his armour and changed into more comfortable clothes, remaining barefoot despite how cold the floor was; the last time he’d slept, it’d been in a tent, with Adaar snoring to his left and Dorian muttering in his sleep by the entrance. He’d felt an impulse, the slightest hint of an idea; then discarded it. It didn’t feel right to go searching in their subconscious when they were so close, open and vulnerable. And certainly not when they had no concept of who he was, in reality.

Now, he was alone again. Her words kept echoing in his mind.

The paints were hidden in a chest off of his desk, some in metal containers, and some in jars—in a powdered form, vivid pigments. Contrary to how some viewed painters, the act of painting itself was not a spiritual journey. Solas found peace in it, yes, but it was more the nature of the task – which demanded his full attention – and the welcome change of pace, especially after battle, that put it above his research at times.

And of course, it did tie into elven culture. Solas mixed the oil paint in a bowl, gently working it in with a thinner. The brushes he used always stained his hands; he didn’t mind. The paint had a strong, overpowering smell. He didn’t mind. When he’d first picked up a brush, he would still mix his pigments with white wine and egg yolk. He missed the way he used to scrunch up his nose at the stench.

People didn’t make their own paint anymore. That was handy, naturally. He was only sentimental. The first dab of colour is always an exciting commitment; Solas stepped forward eagerly, careful not to knock over the candles he’d set up by his feet.

***

“I am a warrior,” Adaar said, a hint of both pride and amusement in her voice, “I swing a greataxe all day long. You can’t expect me to—“

“Hush.”

He moved his chin towards the fresco in a silent demand, raising a hand to underline his meaning.

“Solas,” she laughed, handing the brush back to him, “I can’t. I have no talent.”

“Then perhaps you’ll think twice before complaining about my work. It is for you, after all.”

Adaar’s smile grew solemn. Gently – as if to make up for his words – Solas took the brush back, and placed it in the cup of water on his desk. Adaar looked up at the artwork, eyes soaking in the colours and patterns. For a long time, she was silent.

“They’re beautiful, but frightening. I don’t understand them.”

He would be in quite some trouble if she did.

“Thank you. I suppose.”

“I see Corypheus—“ Adaar paced along the wall, pointing, “but where am I, then? From this, I would gather we lost.”

She turned around again. Her silhouette was dark against the gold, twisting horns framing the red eye on the wall.

“What do the wolves mean?”

He tapped his foot in annoyance.

“Adaar, it is art. Metaphor. It’s not always representative of one, clearly defined meaning.”

“Oh, bullshit,” she beamed at him, crossing her arms on her chest, and closed the distance between them in two large steps, “I know you. I’ll figure it out eventually. Everything you do is deliberate.”

“Not… everything,” Solas objected, treading lightly, “I am capable of spontaneity.”

“Prove it.”

Adaar was grinning. Shamelessly. With an irritated sigh, he turned his face away, if only to hide the fact his stomach was in knots. That was one thing he hadn’t felt in at least a couple thousand years.

He was forced to admit defeat; went back to his work. Adaar got down to her reading with an impish grin still pushing at her cheeks. Days passed them by.

“Why is there no place for qunari in your books, your paintings? Your research?” she asked on a particularly rainy evening, “You say it as if it’s obvious, but I don’t understand. A common theme between you and me, it seems.”

Rain drummed against the roof. Solas bit back a quip.

“I don’t mean to devaluate the culture of others, or glorify my own.”

“Ah, venak hol. You say that, but that’s just what you think I want to hear,” she stood up and took a careful step to the side, admiring the fresco, “perhaps you are not lying to me outright, but that’s not the whole truth. Tell me everything.”

There was so much to make clear, so much to discuss. For just a second, Solas considered again how little time they really had. Would it be enough to ask her all the things he still wanted to ask, hear her opinions, match them to his own and debate all these things they disagreed on? Unlikely.

“I…” Solas looked away, “very well. I see my people, everything that we lost, and it angers me. With our fall, an unmatched beauty was destroyed. I don’t believe there is anything in this world more worthy of rebirth.”

He joined his hands, crossing his fingers until his knuckles turned white.

“You do not have to agree with me,” he added, not sure why.

“Well, good, because I don’t.”

Adaar walked up to his desk once more and sat down on it, as he’d learned she was fond of doing. Their faces were level now.

“At least,” she raised a hand, closing her fingers around an imaginary object, “I don’t agree with the last bit. Many things of equal, maybe greater beauty were lost in the course of history.”

One of the stumpy candles under the mural went out, wick too short to burn. A thin wisp of smoke travelled through the air, carried by the draft. Solas’ eyes followed it.

“Do you think there is nothing else?” Adaar asked, her voice seeming to come to him from a distance, “You said it yourself, you can only see so much in the Fade. If it’s only an extension of your own imagination, then isn’t everything you see there… biased? Subjective? Not just in the sense that you’re watching someone’s memories, but also that you’re inevitably—you?”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Is that not how we view all of reality?”

“I suppose,” Adaar chuckled, “I’m just wondering what’d it be like to really see the world though someone else’s eyes. I always feel like there’s so much you still keep to yourself.”

***

Indigo dye was hard to get out, and it often stained his hands for days. But the colour was rich, and so multifaceted; almost unpredictable, and therefore interesting – though the dye itself could’ve been better quality. It settled unevenly on the white base, seeped into the tiny brush strokes he’d left there when creating the canvas. Annoyed, he pressed a touch too hard, and water dribbled down from the bristles. Solas pursed his lips, holding his finger against the running paint to keep it in place. The stepladder squeaked under him.

“Adaar, might I ask a favour of you?”

The words tasted strange after the extended silence.

The Inquisitor glanced up from the book she’d been enjoying in her cramped position in Solas’ chair, and removed her leg from the armrest it’d been swung over. The other uncurled from underneath her.

“Oh, my foot fell asleep,” she whined, shaking feeling back into it as she stood up.

It spared time after all, and Solas didn’t explicitly mind her presence. Since she’d started conducting her Fade research here, his books had stopped vanishing, and that was a change for the better – if small. She could grasp purely magical concepts very quickly, as if all it took was something clicking into place in her mind, but she struggled with the act of reading itself; she’d only been taught Qunlat as a child, and picked up Common only in spoken form, not knowing how to read it until recently. He didn’t even want to think about the way she butchered what other languages she’d learned from hearing.

“If you’d only hand me the—“

“I got it, I got it.”

Adaar picked up the cloth from its designated bucket and limped over on her sore foot, reaching up with ease to pass it to him. In exchange, she took the brush, and indigo spilled down her wrist; into her sleeve. She swore under her breath, shaking it out. Solas held the rug against the wet paint and exhaled. His arm ached at the shoulder.

“Beginner’s mistake,” he sighed.

“Well, you can always paint over it, right?” Adaar shrugged, letting the remainder of the paint drop from her fingers and onto the floor.

Solas sat down on the highest step, wiping his hands on the cloth.

“Thankfully, yes.”

If only all it took to fix every mistake he made was put down a fresh layer of paint over it.

“When I was very small,” Adaar said, startling him, “my father told me never to create poetry or art.”

“Why?”

“Well,” her expression flickered with a smile, “for one, he wanted me to be a warrior. Strong and proud, like a real qunari… or rather, like Mother.”

She crossed her arms on her chest and looked at the blue dotting on the floor, her own poorly thought-out abstract piece.

“But life was simple then, my whole world just a small cottage in the fields of Ghislain. I didn’t know there was a danger to it.”

Solas leaned in.

“What kind of danger?”

Adaar looked up at him, eyes sparkling.

“He used to say art is your soul laid bare.”

Solas’ breath caught in his throat and he quickly stepped off the ladder, tossing the cloth aside to maintain the illusion of casual composure.

“He said—“ Adaar hesitated, appearing not to notice, “it’s not something you should try unless you’re ready to face yourself. It gazes back at you.”

Time to draw attention away from himself. Return fire.

“You miss him.”

Hardly a question.

She smiled, it quickly faded; a half-hearted shake of her head, a lazy lie. But she had been there for him when he was forced to guide his own friend into death; when a real, painful wound had opened up in his chest, one that reached through his mask and into his core. And he had to do something.

Solas stepped closer and placed a hand on her back. Her muscles were tense.

“It’s alright.”

“I’m—sorry. I didn’t…”

“Listen to me,“ he caught her wrist, “it’s alright.”

“No,” she raised her eyebrows, and easily ripped her hand free again, “it’s not. I’m not in a position where I can afford to be weak. Or reminisce.”

Excuses. Feet of clay.

“Adaar,” Solas followed her, stepping forward when she stepped away, “wait. I’m willing to listen, if you’d only talk. You did the same for me, did you not?”

“I appreciate that,” she said, eyebrows pulling together, “but it’s… rotten. I have to go. There was a—a report for me. So I have to go.”

Solas gave up with one hand still in the air, flinching when the door slammed shut. It seemed ludicrous.

Chapter Text

Skyhold felt vacant.

Solas rested his cheek on his knuckles an extended a look towards the Grey Warden beside him, cosy in his chair like a tired father on an autumn evening. He’d already beaten Blackwall at Diamondback too many times to cajole the man into another game, which was a shame. He was actually fond of Blackwall. Or at least as fond as he could allow himself to be, given the circumstances.

“Oh.”

The Warden glanced at him, confused. Foam from his beer had settled on his moustache.

“What?”

“You’ve got a little—“

Blackwall wiped his face with the back of his hand and sighed.

“This is just depressing. Sitting around, doing nothing… another month of this and I’ll develop a beer belly.”

Solas feigned innocence, leaning his cheek on his knuckles.

“Oh yes, I think I see it forming already.”

Shut up.”

The air was suffocating and the evening was breathless, a clear sign of yet another night storm on the prowl. Clouds were beginning to gather outside the windows, thick enough to be sliced with a knife. Comfortable silence was the best they could offer each other; one could only fill so many hours with conversation before throats grew sore and words became elusive. Solas was tired from oversleeping; the next day, he’d be tired from insomnia.

“Where is Adaar, anyway?” Blackwall asked, finishing his drink and setting the tankard down, “Did she tell you where she was going?”

“Not this time.”

The Warden furrowed his brow, scanning the tavern, and Solas instinctively followed his gaze. He quickly spotted Bull behind them – rather hard to miss the mountain of a man – with Dorian tucked under one of his tree trunk arms. They were talking with several of the Chargers and Sera, the clamour spiking whenever someone jokingly offended the mage. Which was often.

“If she’s not with them, and she’s not with us—“ Blackwall began, and let it linger.

Solas saw it fit to remind him it was hardly part of either of their jobs to mother hen the Inquisitor. There were others she could have taken. Blackwall gave it up with a shrug and started eyeing the barmaid for even more beer, but the poor girl had her eyes glued to the Iron Bull from across the room; considering it a safe stalemate, Solas excused himself and slipped out of the tavern. As long as the Bull kept drinking all the beer and wooing all the barmaids, Blackwall was safe from miserable inebriation.

He trotted to the main hall, rain dotting his shoulders and thighs. Thunder rolled across the sky, and it cracked open, releasing the downpour; Solas swore under his breath, considering turning around and running back to the tavern. Bucketfuls of water were spilling over his head. As if herded by an invisible shepherd, people made for whatever building was nearest. Except for one.

“Solas!” Cassandra was running towards him, a wooden training shield over her head.

She stopped barely a step away, and held the makeshift umbrella so they were both getting equally soaked.

“Solas!” she repeated, catching her breath, “where is the Inquisitor?!”

“I do not know.”

“What?!” she had to yell over drumming of rain against the shield, face red from the effort.

He huffed and put an arm around her, ushering the woman up the stairs. They made it to the safety of the main hall, both wet from head to toe; Cassandra ran an impatient hand over her face, and blinked the water off her lashes.

“I cannot find her. The last I saw of her, she was chopping wood in the shed. That was yesterday.”

Solas watched the droplets break against the stone stairs, just a couple steps from where they stood under the roof.

“I have not seen her.”

“What?” she grabbed him by the shoulders, lips pursed, “Are you certain?”

“Yes,” Solas leaned in, “I am certain.”

She exhaled steadily, pacing in a small circle beside him.

“Forgive me. She seemed… out of sorts. I had thought, perhaps, the two of you had fought again.”

“It has never warranted a disappearance. She is not so immature—“

“So you did fight?”

“I said no such thing.”

Cassandra scoffed, refusing to meet his eyes. A bad sign. 

“Do not worry,” Solas added, in a poor attempt to bring her out of her masked panic, “she must be somewhere in Skyhold.”

Her snap was immediate. 

“I’ve looked everywhere.”

“Perhaps Cole might be able to help?”

“Cole…”

For the first time since the beginning of the conversation, her eyebrows weren't furrowed. Cassandra nodded, more to herself than at him, and stormed off.

Solas was left alone with the faltering rain, not quite feeling up to getting soaked a second time. He slipped through the small crowd that had formed in the main hall – nobles and officials in various states of drenched displeasure. It was satisfyingly sweet, seeing them taken down a notch. Solas supposed he understood why Adaar enjoyed watching him out of his depth.

Adaar. He knew it was nothing, but his mind kept stubbornly circling back to the same questions. Was she alright? Had she left Skyhold, and if so, how far had she gotten? Was she stranded in the mountains in the midst of a storm?

The irritating voice at the back of his mind kept chittering through his attempts at reading. Soon, another one joined it, deeper and more profound. I need her alive. She’s my only hope of getting it back.

That likely wasn’t true, but it was a good enough excuse, especially since it was well past dark now. Solas leaned back on his bed, but it felt too soft against his back. Slowly, sensation inched out of his hands; then his arms, impossibly heavy, but unable to weigh him down. His legs turned numb soon after. Once he was almost completely disconnected, his mind did the mental equivalent of a somersault, and he was over the edge.

Disorientation was always a given. He looked around; memories the Fade had stored over hundreds of years of history here were dancing in the corner of his eye, perhaps willing to spin yet another yarn for him should he choose to dwell on them; but he didn’t. Silk threads of lifetimes slipped between his fingers as he walked.

So many dreamers curled up at his feet, like toddlers exploring the Fade on all fours. It was a grim reminder, but Fen’Harel had spent enough time here to look upon them with more curiosity than bitterness. He wandered into the barracks, walking past rows of sleeping guards and soldiers, his hands joined smartly behind his back. He passed by Cole’s glowing presence, where he was sitting on the battlements with his legs slung loosely over the edge. The boy waved him a silent hello.

“Did Cassandra pay you a visit?” Solas asked softly, tilting his head.

“Yes,” Cole’s eyes went back to stargazing, “but not here. She doesn’t come here, not like this. I couldn’t find the hawk-eyed friend. She was not happy about that.”

“Hawk-eyed friend?”

“Yves. She always tells me to call her Yves, but I hate that name, it feels like sand in my mouth. Father gave it to me when we came to Orlais, pressed it into my hand, filled it with warmth to the brim, like a cup, and it hurts now. It’s all that’s left of him, so I have to wear it, though it weighs heavy on me.”

Solas sighed and turned on his heel. So there was nothing, then. He paused for a moment, remembering himself.

“Goodnight, Cole,” he said over his shoulder.

The boy kicked his legs in the empty air, chin resting against his chest. He didn’t reply.

***

The morning was not as cloudless as one would’ve expected after such an intense storm, but at least it wasn’t raining anymore. Another day that seemed to drag on into eternity – time to be filled with idle conversation and gambling. It seemed such a horrible waste; at least for these brittle creatures.

Adaar never gambled. Despite a friendly exterior, all those times she’d invited herself into his study and spent hours in comfortable silence betrayed her for the introvert she was; he should have known the moment he saw that focused expression in Haven, the two wrinkles which graced her forehead, the fingertips that idly scratched at the base of her horn when she lost herself between the pages.

“It’s your move, Solas,” the Iron Bull’s thundering voice woke him from the daze.

“Forgive me,” he cringed as he took a small sip of the bitter tea, and moved his knight.

“Late night, huh?” Bull chuckled, watching the board, “Me too.”

“Yes, there is a correlation between the two,” Solas gave him a tired look, “my study is directly underneath the library, as I’m sure you are aware.”

Bull looked up at him from under his brow, then put on a toothy grin.

“Been eavesdropping?”

“It is hardly eavesdropping if I can’t help it!”

The Bull burst out laughing, and stopped only when his throat turned it into a raspy cough. With a barely noticeable movement, he dragged his arishok across the board.

There wasn’t anything Solas could say or do to prevent him from paying Dorian visits in the library; and he didn't want to. There was a simplicity there that he almost envied. Then again, “a subtle qunari” tasted dangerously like an oxymoron, at least when excluding Adaar from his associations; she was a Vashoth, technically. As for the Tevinter, Solas had started to suspect the prudish exterior Dorian had adopted was nothing more than a front; so there was no chance of appealing to his subtlety, either.

It seemed his situation was hopeless.

“So, the boss is still in the wind,” Bull added, clearing his throat, “worried?”

A topic Solas had tried his best to avoid, in conversation as well as in his thoughts. Of course he was worried; not knowing anything gave him the jitters, and when the missing Inquisitor happened to be attached to his only hope of defeating Corypheus, it felt like walking on already-cracking ice. He maintained the mask purely out of habit.

“Why should I be? She is perfectly capable of fending for herself.”

His hand hovered over the board. Bull muttered something under his breath.

“I didn’t catch that,” Solas crossed his legs.

“I said you’re not a very good liar.”

He looked up at the warrior, almost offended, but they didn’t get a chance to continue the conversation. Over Bull’s shoulder, he spotted Cullen and Cassandra walking hurriedly through the courtyard – they were discussing something, with vivid and rather heated body language. A moment later, Sera pounded down the stairs and darted towards the door.

Bull and Solas exchanged a wary look and got up in unison, abandoning their game.

“Hey!” Sera’s head reappeared in the doorway, “Move it! There’s news!”

The grass was still damp after the storm. The three of them caught up with the arguing couple; Cassandra was clutching a roll of paper.

“We cannot let this stand!” she shouted, but Cullen had noticed them approaching; he stopped in his tracks. One of his hands closed around Cassandra’s forearm, to which she immediately ripped it free.

“What’s going on?” Sera ran up, and Solas only now realised she was barefoot, “Where’s Yves? Her majesty, I mean?”

“Adaar is fine,” Cullen pushed out a heavy sigh, “you don’t have to worry about anything.”

Cassandra sent him a glare that could’ve killed a lesser man.

“Even if she is fine now, tomorrow she might not be!”

“Hey,” Sera practically pressed herself to Cullen’s chest, chin raised and shoulders squared in an intimidation effort slightly undermined by the fact she looked like a toothpick next to him, “We deserve to know! She’s been gone for days! She wouldn’t just leave like this! I know her!”

“Sera is right,” Cassandra growled, “Adaar could be headed straight into the fire. I cannot believe you intend to do nothing.”

“Calm down,” the commander took her shoulder in his hand and moved her away, “the fire is contained. There’s no need for—“

“What fire?” Bull interrupted, voice like breaking rocks silencing everyone present, “Cullen, what the hell is going on?”

For a small eternity, the commander said nothing. Bull shifted his weight between his feet, as if preparing for a blow. It never came. 

“Alright,” Cullen closed his eyes in defeat, “come with me.”

Solas quietly followed their small group until they reached the War Room. Once there, Cassandra closed the doors behind them, and joined Cullen by the map; a sensation of secrecy fell over them like a thick blanket. The two looked at each other; the anger between them had ultimately been extinguished, and now there was only mutual worry. Cullen held out his hand, and the Seeker placed the note in it.

“We received a… rather chaotic, but genuine report,” he began, facing them, “stating that the Inquisitor had passed through one of our northern outposts in Emprise du Lion. She appears to be headed for the Heartlands.”

“Alright,” Sera crossed her arms on her chest, “but why?”

“We don’t know. According to this report, she only said it was a personal matter, and that she’d be back soon,” Cullen looked at Cassandra again, “but if she passes through Montfort—“

“The orchards north of Montfort are burning,” the warrior interrupted, “the news came in two weeks ago. We do not know the cause, but we have already dispatched mages to contain it. The Inquisitor could be putting herself in grave danger.”

“Even though the times align, we still don’t know why she’d be headed there at all,” Cullen raised his eyebrows at her meaningfully, “It could be a coincidence.”

They started talking quickly again, every sentence making less sense than the one before it. Solas stepped up to the table, silently asking for their attention. He didn’t receive it.

“Adaar grew up near Ghislain,” he said nonetheless, raising his voice just enough to be heard, “is it possible she’s headed there?”

Cullen opened his mouth, then closed it.

“Ghislain?” he repeated dumbly.

Cassandra was equally surprised, but gathered her thoughts quicker.

“Perhaps she has family—?”

Solas exhaled through his nose. He hadn’t expected to find himself the expert on Adaar’s personal history, but it seemed out of the people present, he somehow knew the most about her.

“No. She doesn’t.”

“Still, that must be where she is going,” Cassandra pointed to the map, “Cullen?”

The commander nodded.

“We have to send word to Val Royeaux. I’ll speak with Leliana.”

They both exited in a hurry, leaving Bull, Sera and Solas to stare at the War Table – with its abundance of markers and completely unnecessary trinkets and curiosities. He could tell Adaar had picked out at least half of the objects pushed onto the margins of the map, from the dust-eating books to the orange bottle with the strange label on it. And was that a jar with a  butterfly inside it?

“Idiot!” Sera shouted, making him flinch, “Stupid!”

Solas made a half-hearted attempt at understanding her anger, but came up with nothing. Bull only shook his head, horns tracing small arches in the air.

“I hate this!” the girl added, shoving him in the arm, “I hate it! Everyone leaves! I thought she was different!”

Ah, there. She stared at the floor, brow furrowed.

“I thought she was better.”

“Sera, that’s not fair,” Bull leaned down to pick up her gaze, “Adaar said she’d be back, right?”

His gentle tone when speaking to the young elf sometimes betrayed a kind of protectiveness, something Solas found hard to understand. He turned to walk away, but still overheard the last of the girl’s grumbling.

“Should’ve said that when she left.”

***

As sorry as he was to be the second person today to disappoint Sera (that’s to say: not at all), he had lingered long enough with the intent already clear in his mind.

And who would want his promise of a return? Solas had been likened to a lone wolf by almost every friend he had at Skyhold, and accepted for it. Nothing to pretend. Nothing to conceal, either.

His hand glided over the hart’s wet nose, and he brushed his fingers through the fur between its eyes. The graceful animal danced in place, anxious. It wasn’t used to heading out so late at night; the only light came from the stars, and the two moons hanging low on the horizon. Their glow was pale against the black shadows.

Solas hastily brushed the hart’s back, along the dark strap over its spine. Then, in a practiced movement that breathed new life into old muscle memory, he lifted the pad and saddle together onto its back. The hart whined, throwing its majestic head to the side.

“I know, I know,” he whispered, finding the hart’s forehead again and pressing his palm against it to keep the animal still, “hush.”

He glanced over his shoulder to check if anyone had heard, but Skyhold was silent as the grave. The only ambient noise was the hissing of wind in the stone pathways and over the battlements; constant, calming. Solas absently patted the side of the hart’s neck, and reached under its belly to strap the saddle on.

The tie strap was worn, but still sturdy. He exhaled and yanked it upwards several times, wondering how long it’d really been since he last did this himself. Once he’d gotten the hart into the bridle, he took firm hold of the reins under its chin and walked it out of the stables. Finally.

Now that he was out in the open, the chill stung his nose. He pulled the wolf pelt cloak tighter around his shoulders and led the hart across the courtyard, but didn’t head for the gate; the guards in Skyhold, albeit more asleep than awake, were Cullen’s sturdy men and women. Solas preferred to avoid the confrontation altogether. Despite the Inquisition’s best efforts, there were parts of Skyhold which remained victims of time and one too many battles, but it was not so much the walls that defended against attackers, but the location of the fortress itself; and there were several more ways in and out than just the main gate.

Getting a hart through any given one of them was a challenge, but they were faster than horses – much faster than Adaar’s beast of a mare – and Solas was already four days behind. Pulling on the reins, he led the animal through a hooded, half-collapsed corridor, its hooves clicking on the stone like drops of water echoing in a cave.

Solas muffled the sound with a hastily muttered spell. It faded at once – dulled, but not unnoticeable. He still had to hurry.

They reached a dead end, but the seemingly superfluous support pillar by the wall proved this was the place. He let green fire fill his palm and pushed the stone blocks out of the way; they floated down, pressing into the snow coating the steep slope, until they formed makeshift stairs. In the place where they ended, the rock of the mountain protruded slightly, continuing the path; but not so noticeably that it’d be visible from any other spot. Solas guided the hart down the newly uncovered stairway.

The Anchor was his top priority. To let the Inquisitor die stupidly, in a fire of all things, was unthinkable; she had to live, at least until he got the orb back. But he dared flatter himself with the thought Adaar would be glad to see him.

Chapter Text

Emprise du Lion welcomed Solas a day early, and it was with a blinding snowfall. He’d barely scraped the edge of the local map when he came across one of the Inquisition’s outposts, desolate and half-abandoned; there was only one scout there, a scrawny young elf with still-fresh vallaslin on her rosy face. She was completely alone in the midst of half-frozen fields, with black skeleton trees biting into the grey sky as her only companions; every once in a while, the familiar sweet stench of red lyrium would flow with the wind, humming gently in his ears. He'd found himself far from everything, it seemed.

His hart was steaming, sweat drenching its thick fur, so Solas took off the saddle and let the mount rest properly for the first time since they left Skyhold. At her enthusiastic request, he joined the scout by the fire, and politely forced down a cup of tea that the nervous little thing had brewed him.

“I’ve been out here for three whole months,” she said, chewing on some kind of bread that looked like she’d baked it in a helmet, “The corporal told me it was for a good reason and very important, but I’m starting to think he was making fun of me.”

Solas scrutinised his tea with a newfound curiosity, anything to avoid looking the poor girl in the eye. The corporal had most certainly been making fun of her. She was barely out of childhood.

“Well, it doesn’t matter, because I made it work, and I hunted when they stopped sending supplies, and that one time I fought off a bear, and then the Inquisitor herself passed through! And I made her soup!”

“Did she say exactly where she was headed?”

The girl’s shoulders sank.

“I don’t think so… she was really nice, though. She said my soup was delicious. Even though I only had one carrot.”

Solas inhaled slowly.

“Your tea is delicious, also.”

“Thank you so much!”

“You’re certain she didn’t mention where she’d be stopping next?” he asked again, setting the empty cup down on the frozen earth, “Please, strain your memory. It is of unparalleled importance.”

“Sorry, lethallin,” she sounded far too happy to be simply answering a question, “but she just said to send a raven to Skyhold. So I did. I’m really good at following orders.”

As if he couldn't tell. 

The girl didn’t have much else to say beyond repeating how nice, tall, and muscular the Inquisitor had been. Asked about her clan, she slumped down slightly, and mumbled something about getting kicked out. He knew better than to pry.

“So they’re not sending a search party, or something like that? Just you?” she asked, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.

Solas rubbed his hands together over the fire.

“I was not sent. The Inquisitor is away, of her own decision, and I only look to join her.”

“Oh,” the girl puckered her lips, “Oh! I see how it is.“

“No,” he cut her off, a touch too sharply, “You absolutely do not.”

Justifying himself to a fluttery little girl like her, then. Quite a jab for his pride. He could feel heat spilling over the back of his neck. The girl tore off another bite of her bread, and let out a throaty laugh. Solas stayed a few hours, gratefully accepting the offered bedroll; sleeping until morning was out of the question if he wanted to catch up with Adaar, but his bones ached and as soon as his cheek rested against the soft fur, he was out.

Becoming lucid in the Fade turned out to be a habit easily overturned by exhaustion. Solas woke up feeling like he’d laid down minutes earlier, with only the heaviness in his limbs to suggest it had been much longer than that. The girl, fast asleep next to him, was sticking out of her covers; sprawled out in all possible directions with her blanket tossed aside. Her lips were pale, and she seemed to be shivering. Compassion clutched his heart.

With an exasperated sigh, Solas floated her back into the warmth of the bedroll, and pulled the blanket over her as he walked by. How had she lasted three months here, alone? Barely an adult, thrashing about in her sleep, yet somehow capable. Ah, youth.

His hart sent a glare his way when it saw him approaching, and snorted hot air out of its nostrils with almost audible contempt.

“Yes, I know,” Solas ran a hand over the ridge of its neck and expelled what pains it was feeling, “you’ll have to forgive me.”

On a daily basis, he avoided using magic an elven apostate would not know, but he decided to make some allowances for the hart. He brushed its back, heaved the saddle onto it, tied everything down; only minutes later, he was on the road, hood pulled over his head.

Every time the wind whipped his face, the hollow feeling in his chest grew stronger. At first, he disregarded it as anxiety, but it would not subside even when he slowed his breathing; his hands felt stiff and awkward from the chill. He found himself imagining he was back at Skyhold, holed away in the library or comfortably tangled in layers upon layers of warmth in his bed.

Even when he reached the Heartlands, and the cold had long subsided, the emptiness in his chest did not. He wondered if some daring soul had touched his study, or his art. He was almost certain he hadn’t left any brushes dirty, but then again, he wouldn’t know until he returned. So many things set down in a hurry. 

But that was a pleasant thought. Returning.

Solas hastened the hart. He didn’t want to dedicate another second to missing a place which was not his home, and never would be again. 

***

Far up in the mountains, Skyhold sat silent in its perched position over the glacier. Whenever the Inquisitor was away, life seemed to slow here, though nothing truly changed its pace; fresh bread was still ready by morning, the servant girl with the cleft lip still got shouted at, and the couples still kissed in the shade of the battlements. Maybe it was the energy that the Inquisitor's presence brought to the halls and corridors – without her, there was nobody to be noticed by, nobody to impress. Calm, but unexciting. And so even if all was going smoothly, the guests chatted and the soldiers trained, things were quiet.

Almost everywhere, at least.

“Do we—“ Josephine cringed slightly at what she was about to suggest, “vote?”

Leliana and Cullen both looked at her with barely masked dismay. This was their first official meeting in Skyhold that lacked Adaar, and it was just as empty and unsettling as they’d all anticipated. The act of getting together itself had felt alien and awkward, and though they had all exchanged hundreds of conversations, political and otherwise, since the dawn of the Inquisition – there was something about breaking the sanctum of the War Room that simply did not sit well with any of them.

But times were dire, the date of the ball at the Winter Palace approached in thundering steps – and they were still not invited.

“Adaar has left Skyhold alone before,” Cullen said in the lulling silence, joining his hands to seem more diplomatic, a trick stolen from Josephine, “she is our leader. We cannot afford to undermine her by sending a search party. She’s reporting back, Ambassador. All is in order.”

“But she could be in danger, did you not say so yourself?” Josephine’s brows drew close in worry, “Even with the fire currently under control, it is still fire. It will never be predictable.”

Leliana raised her eyebrows.

“Since we began, there hasn’t been a time when she was not in danger. We have never shied away from it,” she said quietly, but with full intent, “The fact of the matter is, we cannot intervene. Until she returns, we should continue with our work.”

“But we cannot continue without her approval,” Josephine’s voice grew just a touch sharper, “there is too much at stake.”

Cullen shook his head.

“Fine, then. Let’s vote,” he looked between the two women, “all in favour of hunting down the Inquisitor and dragging her back to Skyhold, raise your hand.”

Josephine huffed.

“Well, when you say it that way—“

Cullen squeezed the bridge of his nose, squinting at the map.

“Just vote.”

After a long moment of dissatisfaction, the ambassador wiggled her fingers at him. She was the only one. Leliana quickly made the bare minimum of excuses and headed out of the War Room, sporting the tired acceptance of someone watching a play they’d seen a hundred times before; unnerving to know she'd been playing this conversation out in her head for days now. Cullen sent Josephine a fleeting glance, soft enough to pass for an apology – but she wasn’t looking at him.

“I suppose that leaves me greeting guests,” she said, dejected voice falling low, “and buying us time. Quite literally.”

“If I can do anything to help you, just let me know."

It wasn't much, but what else could one offer?

“Don’t worry about me. You’d best start thinking how you’ll pacify Lady Pentaghast,” Josephine picked up her documents and settled them against her chest, curling her fingers around the side of the board to secure them just as a draft passed through the room, “she will not be happy about this.”

Cullen looked down at the marker sticking out of Lydes, aptly decorated with a red string to signify the Inquisitor’s last sighting. It was almost demeaning, having to track her like some kind of elusive beast, but it was her own fault. He picked the marker up, then let his hand hover before bringing it down over the Heartlands.

“So it goes,” he muttered to himself, and returned his hands to the pommel of his sword.

It wouldn’t be the first time he’d angered Cassandra, or the last. But the warrior’s anger was red-hot iron dunked in water, and once the boiling settled and the metal cooled, she’d see sense. It was likely healthier than his own, which could retain its heat for years under the mask of complete normality; like fireplace stones waiting to burn your hand well after the flames have been snuffed out.

“Inquisitor Adaar never brought up her childhood, or even the fact she grew up in Orlais,” Josephine said over his shoulder, startling him, “Come to think of it, I may have noticed traces of the accent, but I never suspected—“

She sighed, realising she was making excuses.

“I should have been more thorough.”

“Nothing about this is your fault,” Cullen shot her a glance out of the corner of his eye, “nobody could have anticipated what happened. Well, perhaps Solas could’ve, with his apparently intimate knowledge of her past. And I was rather surprised when it was him—of all people—who provided us with information about her… I didn’t think they got along well.”

Josephine gave a very thoughtful nod, but in the next second, she furrowed her brow, turning around to look at him.

“Have you… seen Solas around, as of late?”

The corners of Cullen's mouth pulled downwards and he shook his head.

“Not really, no.”

“Huh. Well, he does tend to keep to himself. He must be very busy with his studies.”

***

The hart had been fussing more and more over the last couple of days, and now its temper grew near unbearable; he had to struggle to keep in the saddle. When he saw the familiar banner of the Inquisition billowing out in the wind only miles away from Ghislain, he forced down his nerves and headed towards it, planning to at least replenish his supplies, and maybe reduce the ache of his joints, in utmost secrecy. The long journey had exhausted him, and he felt old - he was looking forward to a slightly more sturdy tent over his head.

Luckily for him, it was not a camp in the standard sense of the word, rather the field equivalent of barracks; there was a small group of Inquisition soldiers, but they seemed to be merely accompanying the true force, which consisted entirely of mages. Solas looked over them in bewilderment. He hadn’t expected so many, and so well organised. The state of things had definitely changed since they were first recruited, edgy and distrustful; they carried the Inquisition's banners with pride now, while retaining their freedom. Solas had never thought it possible to unite the Inquisition's forces this way, but here it was, with nothing but minor quarrels to play the part of exceptions proving the rule. 

“Messere,” the requisition officer said from the very edge of his peripheral vision, making him jump, “we weren’t told you’d be joining us. Anyway, this might intere—“

“Do you take pleasure in scaring the life out of people?” Solas said with barely contained anger, “Really. You are incessant.“

The woman made a face.

“Just doing my job, ser.”

A beat passed. He repeated his own words in his mind, and exhaled slowly, gathering his wits.

“I am sorry. I have had a… tiresome journey,” he said, making an effort to control his tone, “that was unwarranted.”

“I get that a lot,” she shrugged, “the Inquisitor looked like she was about to punch me in the face when I asked her if she wanted the, uh, thing. The requisition.”

Solas’ eyebrows shot up.

“The Inquisitor was here? When?”

The officer shrugged.

“Couple of hours ago. Left her horse.”

So much for his rest. Not lingering long enough to explain himself, Solas walked back to his hart, and pulled himself into the saddle. He might have as well been carrying a bag filled with rocks on his shoulders, but he was too close to his goal to give up now; the hart galloped out of the camp, sweat glistening on its fur. Solas gave up appearances and held onto the pommel. By the time the camp was out of sight, the hart had developed a temper to rival Cassandra’s, but Solas only noticed once it was far too late.

What he’d originally thought to be a storm cloud hanging low over the orchards of Ghislain was in fact thick black smoke. It curled and kneaded itself, braiding its thin wisps into the sky until there was no blue left over the fields; the air scraped his lungs. Even though he couldn’t see any flames anywhere, it was clear that the scale of the fire was much greater than what he’d been expecting. He passed through a village, blackened with soot – and completely empty. Not even the animals had remained, only still-open doors and sheds, abandoned in haste. The fire may have not passed through here, but its ghost had, in the form of short breath and stinging eyes. Deceitful, unbreathable air. He was getting light-headed.

Pressing his sleeve over his mouth, Solas persisted. A few spells came to mind, including one used for breathing underwater, but he didn’t want to spend mana so recklessly; he still might yet need it for less benevolent purposes. It seemed a paradox, to wield a power capable of healing as well as hurting—both others and himself. Like medicine, with its constant potential to become poison. Or spirits becoming demons. The list went on.

He was almost thrown from the saddle when the hart’s hooves carved into the dried-out soil, and it came to a definitive halt. A quiet command elicited no response. It would not go further into the smoke. Angry at the animal, and angrier at himself, Solas leaned forward and swung his leg over its tail. He was not, perhaps, the best of men—but he wasn’t one for abuse, either. As soon as his foot touched the ground, the damn thing was off, sending clouds of dust and ash into the air. He did not see it stop. It took him a moment to realise his staff had been strapped to the saddle.

Empty-handed, and trying not to dwell on it, Solas trudged down the road. The sun lazed overhead, shimmering through the layer of black, sometimes vanishing entirely—only to reappear, bright and strong, albeit for no longer than a heartbeat. He finally reached what could be generously called a treeline.

The fire had spared the village, but it had certainly made its presence known here. Embers were glowing beneath his feet, large enough to make him watch his step; more trees lay dead and dry on the ground than still stood. He walked, sometimes barely recognising the destruction as the remains of a forest at all; it looked like a graveyard, dead silence in the place of the leaves whispering and life pulsating through the earth.

He didn’t single it out as a cottage at first, but when he drew near, he saw the sad support beams which still held up half of a collapsed roof. It was hard to say how much of the damage had been dealt by time, rather than fire; what still remained was eaten through, rickety. The windows had shattered from the heat, or perhaps from the trees which had fallen over the house, sprawled out like a giant’s fingers. One had collapsed slightly to the side, taking a wall with it, and scattering a pile of round stones that sat just by the cottage.

There was a figure in the rubble. He saw the greataxe, tossed aside with disregard he’d never seen from her before; a pair of curving horns, plated with gold at each tip, with messy black hair tangled around them, falling over a muscular back that sparkled with sweat. She was facing away from him. Strong hands closed, again, around the tree trunk and she heaved, lifting the weight off of the stones with a deep breath. It rose just a few inches, then slipped from her calloused fingers, scraping red marks into her skin—with a hollow thump, it rolled from side to side, and settled back into its previous position.

“Damn it,” she gasped, falling to her knees and slamming her fist down on the bark in an empty release of tired fury.

Solas put a hand forward. He wordlessly commanded the tree to lift, and it obeyed, rising on a steady arch like a lever being pulled. As soon as it began to move, Adaar jumped to her feet, backing away with adrenaline fighting the exhaustion; her feet were steady on the ground, hand already reaching to the empty holder on her back to retrieve her axe. It naturally closed on air. For an unbearably long moment, Adaar was confused –  then she finally looked over her shoulder.

Whatever he’d expected, it wasn’t this. She’d been surprised, yes, a silent Solas? mouthed so gently he barely noticed (but he was so glad he did), a flash of relief and something else, much more important, over her features. Then it was gone. Her eyes drew wide with anger.

“No!” she growled, voice deep and rumbling, “Stop.”

Chapter Text

Solas waited silently, hoping she’d explain, help him understand – but her posture, her squared shoulders turned towards him, muscles pressing on her skin – they betrayed he could count himself among the lucky if he didn’t get punched in the face in the near future. You’re on thin fucking ice, her shoulders said to him. Solas blinked at the vulgarity.

The wind howled between the dead trees, raising ash and smoke. The extent of the destruction was unfathomable; from the dry, lifeless ground beneath his feet, to the grey sky with no sun, there was nothing. Solas stepped closer. 

“I have to do this,” Adaar almost growled, and he didn’t know why she hadn’t hit him yet, because her eyes were on fire, “I have to—“

With renewed strength, she pushed the fallen tree out of the air, so that it fell to the side and rolled away; without a moment’s hesitation, she dropped to her knees, closing her hands on one of the stones. It was almost the size of her head, horns included, and the others were no smaller, but she lifted it – straining – and forcefully placed it in the ridge that the tree had cut into the pile.

The realisation came crashing down on him. He put a hand forward, pleading. 

“Allow me to help.”

“No,” she cradled the stone she was holding, dragging herself to her feet, “no.”

“Adaar,” the warning in his voice wasn’t scared of a punch, “you do not have to do this alone.”

“Yes, I do,” she put the stone down on the pile and picked up the next one, “that was the point, Solas. And you should respect it. I didn’t want…”

She gasped for breath, but lifted another, hands shaking.

“I didn’t want anyone seeing me like this.”

“I would say it’s too late for that. It’d be just as well if I…”

It’d take only seconds to clench his fist and send the stones floating back into place, perfectly, as they’d been before. He’d done it a hundred times, creating paths and unblocking passageways; what was one more small spell? She seemed to hear him, but with every stone, her dedication grew more fierce. Solas felt uncertainty slithering between his ribs, the heavy silence interrupted only by quiet clicks of stone against stone every time she put another down.

Solas exhaled.

“Please."

“My father,” Adaar’s jaw clenched, a drop of sweat rolling from her brow, “would not want magic anywhere near his grave.”

Of course, of course. He did not normally settle for unspoken agreements, he did not even know if this was what she was asking, but for Adaar, he had to act. 

“Very well, then.”

He knelt next to her, and closed his bare hands around a loose stone. It was heavier than he could have anticipated; he didn’t have her strength, and couldn’t carry it, but he could push. They worked together in silence, and with two pairs of hands, it did not take long. There was no ceremonial element to it; no tears, not that he’d expected any from her of all people, sturdier than rock. More than anything, it felt like a duty. If the fire had not destroyed it, this place would have perhaps sat abandoned for the rest of Adaar’s lifetime, but it needed fixing, and so she would fix it. It seemed so simple. 

“I never thought I’d have to do that twice,” she said when they had finished, and the pile stood tall enough to reach her hip.

Solas did not know what to say.

“You have to know, I am to blame for my father’s death,” Adaar raised her eyebrows, voice blunt and level, “My stupidity.”

She closed her eyes. They were shoulder to shoulder, and yet she could not have been further away; it was not the kind of distance that could be closed by simply taking a step. Solas waited. 

“I met a young man, all by himself; he told me he was a Tal-Vashoth, a mercenary, and he’d be gone within the month. He—well, it doesn’t matter,” it obviously did, because her breath caught in her throat, “What matters is I knew full well my father would disapprove, but I still snuck off to see him, never breathing a word of it to anyone.

“But weeks went by, and he wasn’t leaving, so I—I finally took him back to this cottage, this place right here,” she gestured loosely at the ruin, “to my home. A belated… official introduction. I wanted him to be a part of my family, you see. I wanted—“

Her hands closed into fists, and she cut herself off, voice sharp and exact like a blade.

“He didn’t hesitate for a second, Solas. He murdered my father the moment he laid eyes on him. He’d been nothing more than a Qunari spy feeding me lies, and I just ate it all up.”

Adaar pressed the last few words, every syllable hammered home. 

“Like porridge,” she added, tone oddly disconnected in comparison, barely loud enough to rule it a conscious decision.

Solas let it hang in the air. When he finally spoke, his voice was mist. 

“What did you do with the assassin?”

She shrugged.

“Hit him. A lot. He stabbed me right through my arm,” she showed him two matching scars, tracing a thumb between them, “I just kept hitting him. Found dad’s felling axe, hit him with that until he didn’t have a face anymore. Threw his body in the river, you know… there used to be a river here. Should I go on?

“Yes,” Solas turned her away from the grave, and let her pick up her greataxe, finally heavy not just with wood and metal, but meaning, “do go on.”

Adaar told him how she buried her father, though she didn’t know the custom, how she stayed in the empty house for a full week before succumbing to the numb feeling, and finally setting out, leaving everything behind. After that it had been, in her words, smooth sailing.

They went back to the Inquisition camp, and Solas was secretly happy to find his mount waiting next to Adaar’s giant mare. Apparently, they’d found the hart wandering aimlessly right outside of their pretended perimeter, too proud to let itself be led, but easily bribed with sugar and treats. Solas shook his head at the spoilt beast, but patted its neck, muttering a quick apology. Though it was naturally made clear a tent could be freed up for them to sleep in, Adaar refused, settling for a tankard of beer. Two mages almost started a fight over who would cool it for her, but she seemed in a hurry; she downed it in a few quick gulps, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and they were off.

She’s said something about a tavern, but that plan fell through when they passed another burned skeleton of a building to the side of the road. Solas thought he saw a wooden board somewhere in the ash, and the black chain it used to hang from. He couldn’t make out the lettering.

The Pompette,” Adaar said, when he asked her about it that evening, both of them cooped up in their bedrolls, “shame, that. Really. I hope everyone got out alright.”

Solas found himself reminded of the fire at Haven, and he suddenly missed the chilly wind over the mountains, the fresh air that felt like mint in his throat. The snow, the storms, the rain, all better than this suffocating heat.

“Strange,” she said vaguely, leaning her hands on the ground behind her back, and if one accidentally landed a bit close to his, then that was just happy coincidence, “Coming back to the place your grew up in, and it’s… still there. It’s all burned, and empty, but it’s still there to be rebuilt.”

“Mine isn’t,” he replied before he could stop himself, and felt her eyes on him, “mine is truly gone, forever.”

It had been almost four thousand years. A rare moment of clarity. Even if—when it is reborn, it will not be home, but I must try.

“Well, it didn’t go anywhere, did it?”

Maybe she expected explanations, but silence was as honest as he would be tonight, a step above lying. He heard her sigh.

“You… shouldn’t have chased after me,” she said, and the change of topic was sudden and unwelcome, “I left alone. I left without telling anyone, precisely so nobody would follow. You should have understood that. It was my decision.”

He glanced down at her glowing hand moving away from his. He’d had to, he’d needed to. Excuses, excuses.

“A decision made in the spur of the moment,” he retorted, “foolish, and arrogant.”

“This was my own business.”

“Is this not weakness?” perhaps, had he been anyone else, she would have driven a fist through his face; but Adaar sat still and quiet, “You fear it so desperately. You think that to feel is to be weak, but does it not take courage to open your heart to another?”

She exhaled through her nose. He couldn’t bear to look at her either, and they sat locked in that stalemate.

“The nature of cowardice is fickle,” he added, “it varies. Your brand of cowardice is what truly weakens you—your fear of being betrayed, your echoing paranoia.”

He cleared his throat, realising he was being too harsh, once more.

“But I did not chase after you to offer empty guidance, or to be a shoulder to cry on.”

“Then why,” she growled, barely a question.

“I had to know you were alright. That is all.”

Settling for a half-truth, as always. She fell quiet.

“Are you? Alright, that is?” he leaned forward, trying to see her face in the moonlight, “Despite what you might think of me, I’m no mind reader, Adaar.”

She opened her mouth; then closed it.

“Better,” she said finally, nodding, “better.”

***

He was woken by the wild shrieks of a wounded animal.

The sharp, profound sound tore through his psyche and hoisted him out of the sea of dreams, and suddenly, he realised he wasn’t underwater; his lungs were filled with smoke. He coughed into his fist; he couldn’t see in any direction, there was just grey and the vivid, blinding orange of the flames. He couldn’t tell what was burning. He couldn’t tell up from down.

His first thought was the name. He called it; through stinging eyes, he saw her stir, and grabbed a fistful of the fabric of her shirt. Adaar seemed unnaturally sluggish. He called again, shaking her by the shoulders, knowing he couldn’t lift her, fumbling for the right spell to do so. He would not leave her. The flames howled and roared around them. Something crackled like old bones.

“Up!” he commanded, pulling her by the collar, “Up, I said!”

Adaar gave him a hazy look, eyes barely cracked open.

“Solas…?”

“Get up,” he hissed, pressing the words, “what’s the matter with you?”

The snapping grew louder, the flames climbed higher, wrung out by the wind like a wet rug. Solas finally managed to pull her to her feet, but Adaar was disoriented, barely clinging to rational thought. She kept coughing up puffs of smoke.

Solas flipped out a knife and cut both their mounts loose, holding them by what remained of their reins. He wanted to let them go, but he didn’t know the extent of the fire around them; not a risk to be taken lightly. Adaar climbed onto her horse’s bare back, and in that moment, Solas' hart yelped – and tore free, setting off at a gallop through the flames.

“Come on!” Adaar held out her hand.

He grabbed it without a second thought, and was promptly pulled up behind her, legs squeezing the loyal mare’s sides. They didn’t have to give her instructions. The horse ripped forward, desperately, prancing around embers and brushing through burning plants, but not once making an effort to throw them off. Adaar lay low on its neck, pressing her face into the mane. He held onto the straps of her armour, knuckles licked by the heat. He heard her voice, but not the words; warmth fell over his left hand, and he realised she was holding it, pulling it towards her stomach. Hold on tighter. The Anchor in her palm prickled his skin, like a cold flame, a free flow of magic. He’d touched it before, on accident mostly, and in a scholarly setting—while she was unconscious in Haven—but never like this. It sent shivers up his arm.

They burst from the fire and onto the road. The air still trembled here, still burned his throat; he fought to keep his eyes open. The horse wouldn’t stop now even if commanded; it ran at a strong, even pace, with the bare hint of panic in its movements. This was a horse bred for battle, it knew how to charge, and it did; tearing through smoke like it would through enemy lines. By the time it stopped, the fire was far over the horizon. Solas could already feel the bruises forming where the lack of a saddle had played its part.

“Well,” Adaar sighed, sliding off after him in the middle of the dusty road, “This…”

She put a hand over her eyes, ducking her head.

“This is… great.”

Solas looked down at himself. He didn’t have anything, spare for a small satchel he’d forgotten to take off his belt the night before; but their bedrolls, supplies, coin, and weapons were all gone. Adaar looked guilty.

“At the least—“ he hesitated, touched her arm, “we survived.”

You, and I. He was relieved. They’d almost gotten cooked like geese, and he was so relieved he could laugh.

“Shut up,” she shook her head, separating him from those thoughts, “this is the definition of rock bottom. We have nothing."

She looked ready to break something, possibly her own arm. Angry eyes drilling into the sand, but they were blunt, bloodshot from the fire. 

"This is all my fault."

“Adaar,” he raised his hands, “I do not care.”

***

The lake hadn’t been frozen the last time he passed through here, but then, it’d been nearly a month. In that time, the temperature had fallen just enough for a thin shell to form over the water; noticeable, but certainly not thick enough to walk on. Adaar confirmed it when she smashed a foot through it. A bare foot, no less. She was standing in the midst of ice shards, knee-deep at the edge of the lake; her leather trousers pulled up as far as they’d go, but still getting wet when she walked.

“Have you gone completely mad?” Solas asked from where he sat bundled in a scratchy blanket, courtesy of one of their camps in Emprise du Lion, similar in texture to a potato sack, "You will freeze!"

His heart was not in the jibe. He’d grown to doubt Adaar would ever surprise him again; of course she was fond of wading in freezing cold water. Why not. Next thing he knew, she’d be swimming. He let out a sigh.

“The moment we get home,” Adaar said, turning around so that she was facing him, “I’m taking the longest bath of my life. You can draw a heating rune in my bathtub, right?”

“Magic is not something to be wasted on trivial—“

She blew a raspberry.

“As if! I’ve seen the ice runes you set down on the underside of your desk when the afternoons grow hot,” she crossed her muscular arms on her chest, “you selfish man.”

Ah, that stung in that awkward way that truth tends to.

“Fine,” Solas threw a hand into the air, “fine. You have caught me.”

Adaar stepped out of the lake, bare feet pressing into the snow.

“I like you a lot better when you’re honest with me."

She sighed, crouching down to draw water into her hands. Remains of old vitaar trickled down her jaw as she washed her face; once finished, she flicked her fingers at the ground, sending loose droplets flying. Solas pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders, facing away from her. He could not think of an answer that would paint him in a positive light, but it proved unnecessary. 

Adaar shot him a look, and though her lips were a thin line, her eyes were poorly hiding an impish grin; in a quick movement, she threw her hand at the water and splashed, sending a bucket’s worth of pure cold flying at his face. Solas sputtered.

“Oh, are you—really?!”

Before the thought had finished forming in his mind, a swarm of snow was already rubbing itself into her face, pushing down her collar. She shrieked – he’d never heard her voice so high – and fell over, from surprise more than impact, legs arching through the air.

He'd won, of course; but is it really victory if the defeated party is red-faced not from embarrassment, but laughter? He was bewildered. When she wouldn’t stop shivering in her saddle afterwards, he discreetly placed a heating rune on her back. Hardly a waste. 

The horse they’d given Solas was a graceful Orlesian Courser, blinding like a silver star from a distance and truly fit for a knight, but with all the personality of a doornail. He could probably lead it directly into the ocean, and it wouldn’t bat an eyelid as it drowned. For all the comfort of riding on the back of a creature that’d sooner break its legs than throw him off, he missed his prissy hart; he wondered, half-heartedly, if it’d made it out of the fire.

His eyes drifted to the mark on Adaar’s hand, green lightning bound to her palm. They knew now that it’d been utter coincidence, yet some still searched for the Maker’s will in the simple fact Adaar had a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For a brief moment, Solas wondered how things could have gone, had he been the one to acquire that power. Somehow. In some life.

It felt wrong to be weak. There were interludes when he forgot; over a pint of beer, over chess, over paint dribbling down from his brush. But the phantom pain always returned, and there was so little he could do to alleviate it except wait. Solas knew he was not as patient as people gave him credit for.

Teth a,” Adaar said to him when they finally reached the gates of Skyhold on a calm evening, nothing but the tall bridge standing between the two of them and the end of their journey, “Solas.”

“Yes?”

She pulled in a breath.

“I never told anyone about—what exactly happened to my father,” she said, her horse nervously dancing under her, anxious to rest, finally rest, “I’d appreciate it if—if you…”

She cursed, annoyed by her own inability to find the right words. In this particular case, Solas couldn’t blame her.

“You only sought to visit your family home,” he said lightly, urging his horse with a squeeze of his calves, “I know nothing more of it.”

The sigh of relief she let out opened a wound in his chest. 

“Thank you.”

“You have to realise,” he couldn’t let himself linger, focus too intently on that soft expression, the smile that changed her scarred face the same way flowers change when they bloom, “Leliana must know everything.”

The smile vanished like a snuffed candle, replaced by furrowed brows, and the stern glare that felt more familiar than threatening. She caught up with him, her horse dripping foam from its mouth.

“That’s unlikely. But not impossible.”

“Yet you are not bothered by it?”

“My trust in her is professional,” Adaar sent him a cursory glance, “my trust in you is personal. Big difference.”

Solas would have stumbled, had he not been sitting on a horse. He forced his lips together to try and hide the smile, but it pushed at his cheeks.

“Stop it,” Adaar hissed, brows raised again, “I’m warning you.”

He parted his hands to show his innocence. He’d never considered his smile to be contagious, but Adaar was grinning back at him, equally unnerved by that fact; she almost raised a hand to cover her mouth like a lady-in-waiting. Every gesture was so out of place, and charming because of it. To see an arm bigger than his thigh flex just to tuck a strand of black hair behind her ear; to watch her fumble, when she fought with more grace than Orlesians danced.

Someone called out and the gate was raised, heavy chains groaning under the strain. Though the news of their arrival couldn’t have been shouted earlier than minutes ago – and the hour was late – when Adaar rode into the courtyard, her three advisors were there to meet her, each of them in their unique kind of full armour. Solas made an effort to perform his usual routine of fading into the background, but he was pulled back into the limelight, forced to suffer the attention from his hiding place at Adaar’s metaphorical skirt. She hopped off her horse, someone took it away; Solas slid out of his saddle as well, passing the reins to a stable boy. 

Adaar squared her shoulders like she was preparing for an argument, but her advisors were all calm - the cover of night and discreet nature of the whole endeavor had pacified the three, at least for the time being, which was all that concerned Solas. Cullen squeezed Adaar's forearm in a warrior's greeting, while Leliana asked the mage to attend the next meeting at the War Table, voice laced with hidden motives. He’d always suspected she had a proclivity for gossip somewhere under that cold intelligence, but apparently, he’d miscalculated the scale; he had to get out of the line of fire as soon as possible. 

“Give him a rest,” Josephine chimed in, elbowing the Inquisition's spymaster in the ribs, “we’re just lucky someone dragged the Inquisitor back to Skyhold, no? Solas did us all a favour.”

With that, she sent Cullen a pointed look, but it went right over his head. He blinked, keeping his eyes closed just a touch too long; another blink like that was all that stood between him and falling asleep standing up.

“Are you—shitfaced?” Adaar asked outright, leaning down slightly to face him.

Cullen jolted upright.

“No.”

She wasn’t convinced, and inspected him again, more carefully.

“Josie, what’s wrong with him?”

“We have held an unofficial match of who can stay awake the longest while managing correspondence from all over Orlais,” Josephine’s fingertips formed graceful peaks where they met, “in hopes of gaining supporters among the nobles. The commander is losing.”

“Ingenious,” Solas commented flatly.

“Alright,” Adaar bent her knees, and put and arm around the commander, “you’re about to set the record for the longest time a human has ever slept.”

Cullen immediately protested, but she was deaf to his offense, and lifted him onto her shoulder with a groan that sounded more like dramatic effect than actual effort. Her other arm held onto his legs, and she set off in the direction of his tower, ignoring all else; Solas watched Cullen struggle, but his arms soon dangled loosely over her back. That was that, then. 

“I gather our meeting will take place tomorrow evening, then,” Leliana looked after them with a blooming smile, “you’re sure you won’t attend, Solas?”

“I fail to see why my presence would matter.”

“The Inquisitor has such a bad habit of keeping secrets,” Josephine answered for her, “we would appreciate your insight.”

You have come to the wrong place, Ambassador.

“Perhaps another time,” Solas bowed his head lightly, “no moment should be wasted at the War Table, and Adaar can tell the story just as well as I.”

“That is sensible. Nonetheless, I should like to have a word with you over tea—“ Josephine’s lips formed an ‘O’ of surprise, “metaphorical tea, that is. I know you despise it.”

“I will see you over our metaphorical tea,” Solas offered her a hint of a smile, “goodnight.”

Josephine bid him a polite goodbye before curling her arm around Leliana’s, preparing to walk away - but the spymaster lingered, just a beat too long. Her eyes studied his in the dark. A warning chill ran up his spine, but he didn’t falter, feigning oblivion.

Chapter Text

Shouting.

The late hour did nothing to stop them; the only light left was the candle on his desk, melting onto a platter. Solas buried his face in his hands and slowly rubbed his eye sockets, the cold of his own fingers bringing some relief to the headache that just never went away.

“Well, I never asked you to do that!” emerged from the until-now steady stream of muffled arguing.

Bull said something back, and Solas heard the books jump when someone slammed a hand onto something. As a last resort, he pressed his hands over his ears, and leaned down over the papers on his desk in an attempt to focus. That helped. The fight was dulled by ambient sound, like wind which never changed its pitch of intensity. He managed to focus for ten long seconds, comprehending the first word of his reading since the fight began; then Dorian’s voice spiked over Bull’s, higher and almost piercing, and there was true silence.

Is it over?  he wondered, carefully peeling his hands away from his skin.

“Fine.”

Even though Solas wasn’t part of the conversation, Bull’s voice was hollow enough to make his heart sink. Just one word, yet he felt like more of an intruder than he had for the duration of the fight; he regretted it, suddenly, he wanted to go back to the first hint of an argument, leave his study at once. But he’d listened, the same way one can’t look away from a consuming fire.

He heard Bull’s steps on the stone stairs. The qunari could be quiet when he wanted, but now, he didn’t care; the sound of it echoed all the way to the rafters as he came near. Solas froze.

In an impulse, he set down a cloaking spell, hiding himself in the fabric of nothing, shapeless, formless. Not because he didn’t want to be caught, but so that Bull wouldn’t have to know he’d listened, wouldn’t have to feel weak and bare. He’d already suffered enough. The warrior trudged through the study, single blue eye drilling into the ground until he got halfway; then his head perked up, and he exhaled, shoulders dropping. Solas knew that he knew. My apologies. He said nothing.

Ah, passion. The rocky, still-unnamed something between his two companions prickled familiar, old, profound. Solas rubbed his temples. He had lived thousands of years, met many people and many spirits, and it was always the same. The one thing he knew he could relate to just as anyone else, even in this—reinvented world. He’d had his share of longing looks and that crackling energy seeping into every word, every debate, every fight. More importantly, perhaps, he’d had enough. Hearing it again was like picking at old scars.

He rubbed the back of his neck. Someone passed Bull in the doorway, and the tension dissipated - Solas let the spell fall and scatter on the ground.

“Commander,” he said, accenting it like a question, and rose from his chair.

Cullen’s brow was furrowed, but not in anger; he was confused, like a man working out too many knots at once. Still in his full armour, bear fur warming his shoulders. The man had several hours of work ahead of him, even though the sapphire curtain of nightfall had fallen over Skyhold.

“There’s—“ Cullen began, gesturing at the wall behind him and waving his hand about, “there’s a hart at the gate. Adaar said it was yours. It won’t let anyone grab it.”

Solas’ lips parted in surprise. He didn’t find the words to reply, just pushed his chair back and followed Cullen; they hurried down the stone stairs, rushing like shadows under the heavy indigo sky. Two guards were holding lanterns by the mouth of the gate, while two more stood with their hands put forward, trying to catch the struggling animal from both sides. Adaar was blocking off the way to the bridge, arms spread out like wings.

“Steady, steady,” she was saying, but the hart danced, one of its hind legs raised off the ground and bent against its stomach.

As they got closer, Solas saw the charred, bleeding burns on the animal’s thigh, reaching up to its hip. It let out a whine, stumbling between the two soldiers; the saddle still hung crooked on its back.

“Hold,” Solas heard himself say and put a hand forward, “do not crowd it.”

Another quick movement, and he grabbed hold of the bridle. The hart ripped backwards, so he followed, allowing as much slack as he could with the sliced reins; his free hand travelled up and pressed on the majestic forehead. Not quite enough to push it, but to calm, subdue. His thumb stroked the fur. The animal finally bowed its head, snorting warm air out of its nostrils, ears twitching. The injured leg was slowly lowered until it reached the grass, and the hart settled in place. Solas ran a hand down the length of its neck, feeling the once shiny coat, now covered in dirt and dust that sat in paths carved out by running sweat. The hart’s breathing slowed.

Silence fell over the small group that had formed around them, and he suddenly felt the back of his neck sting. The soldiers only dispersed at Cullen’s order; the commander muttered something about too much personality, but promised to fetch a healer, and left as well. When Solas finally looked at Adaar, he noticed the qunari staring, her eyes wide with a kind of sad wonder. They quickly snapped to the grass when she was caught.

The hart would not let itself be touched by strangers, so Solas took it to the stables, Adaar walking by his side. It was late – too late to be doing this – but there was an unspoken agreement, an obvious truth, and neither of them would leave the hart to suffer a moment longer.

“I’m gonna go get some water. Where’s that healer?” Adaar grumbled, and trotted away, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

Solas only now realised that she wasn’t wearing shoes; her white nightshirt hung loosely over her collarbones, one shoulder poking out just so. She’d pulled trousers on underneath it, but it was clear she’d rushed out of bed without second thought, for the sake of the wounded animal at her gates.

“I gave up on you,” Solas muttered, lifting the saddle off the hart’s back, but leaving the headgear on for the moment, “I’m sorry.”

The hart slammed the side of its head into his chest, almost taking his eye out with the antlers. It knocked the air from his lungs. Solas couldn’t find his anger.

Adaar returned faster than expected, with two buckets of cold water in her hands and a healer by her side. He was short, or maybe just short compared to her, staunch and blonde and Fereldan. He let out a handful of words too quick and thick with accent to understand, rolled up his sleeves, and they washed the hart together; though Solas mostly just held it still, absently combing his fingers through its fur, calming it whenever it started kicking. They finally laid it down, Adaar locking the animal in place with all her strength, while the healer spread a green poultice over the burns. The hart struggled throughout.

“It’s not bad,” the healer said finally, standing up from his work and wiping his hands on his apron, “he’s just dramatic, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” Solas held back the relief threatening to flood his voice, “very.”

“Thank you,” Adaar said in his stead, and Solas felt heat in the tips of his ears, “is there anything else we can do?”

“He should sleep now. That’s it.”

With that, the man was off, yawning into his elbow. Solas and Adaar exchanged looks; it had to be well past midnight, and they were both tired. Wordlessly, they headed for the main hall together, but were immediately stopped in their tracks by a high-pitched wail; the hart moved after them, its chest stopping on the door, making it rattle. It cried again, even louder.

“I think—“ Adaar began uncertainly, but Solas had already turned on his heel.

A beat passed, and she followed him back to the stables, bare feet soundless on the grass. The elf sat down in the hay, spine pressed against the door to the box stall; the rusty lock was digging into the spot just between his shoulder blades. He felt a wet nose pressing to the tip of his head, and swatted it away like he would a fly. The hart snorted in annoyance.

“You do not have to stay, Adaar,” Solas looked up at her, wrapping his arms around his knees, “the responsibility is mine. I’ll watch over him.”

The woman looked at the ground, hands propped up on her hips.

You can go. It rang in his head. There’s no reason for you to linger. But Adaar didn’t need permission from anyone; she fell into the hay beside him, her shoulder leaning against his. She pulled one leg to her chest, rested her elbow on her knee, and turned away. Her horns forced her to keep her back hunched.

“Why does he listen to you?” she asked, “Not me, not Cullen, probably not even Dennet. Just you.”

He rubbed his nose to stall his answer.

“H-It is nothing but an animal,” he replied, “reliant on a self-serving master. It only returns because it knows no other purpose, no other home.”

“I don’t think so,” Adaar startled him with the words, spoken with certainty and enthusiasm he never would have expected to hear, “I saw, you know. You’re gentle. Kind. I think he likes you.”

“Yet again, you give me too much credit.”

“I give you none at all. You’re a stubborn fool and a hypocrite,” she tilted her chin up, “trust me, I’m very much aware of your flaws.”

Solas furrowed his brow at her. Adaar didn’t look away.

“I reckon,” she added, leaning her tired temple against the wooden door, eyes watching him from underneath her lashes, “that also makes me a valid judge of your virtues. So take the goddamn compliment, Solas.”

***

It was good to be back at Skyhold, better than he allowed himself to admit even in his deepest thoughts. It was sweet, and familiar, and warm; he’d had his fair share of hardship, but sometimes he felt it hadn’t given him the thick skin it tended to give others. No, he still wanted candles, pastries, the smell of old books; he was fascinated by the world, but at the end of the day, he always wanted to come back.

After the month they’d spent travelling, he was almost too happy to while away the time in the Herald’s Rest. And if he’d seen Adaar heading there earlier, then well, that was just lucky coincidence.

“Not at all, actually,” the qunari said, genuinely bewildered at someone’s question, hands thrashing about in wild gestures, “well, Cassandra did yell a bit, you know how she gets. Cullen got a letter from Shokrakar, apparently she said to hit me over the head with something heavy.”

She was sitting on one of the tables, feet propped up on the bench on either side of the Iron Bull’s left thigh. Squeezed in between him and the window sat Sera, cards in hand, the pout on her face contrasting Varric’s catlike grin on the other side of the table top. It wasn’t difficult to tell who was winning.

“And the poet? You know,” Bull scratched his jaw with a smile, “that guy.”

She kicked him in the side of his thigh.

Parshaara. Anyway, Josie says it paid off in the end.”

“Oh, yeah?” Bull asked, tilting his head back, and nodding a hello when Solas approached.

Adaar’s mouth was open to speak when she noticed him, but she hesitated, waited for the elf take a seat. She had to give a little shake of her head to snap out of it.

“Well, our mages stopped the fire,” she shrugged, “and the fact I made an appearance in person ‘left a lasting impression on the families in the area’. At least, that’s how Josie put it. So, in short, we are invited to Halamshiral! Of course, we’re still gonna send money and supplies, and hope we can help out the people who lost their homes—“

“And gain even more influence in Orlais before the ball,” Bull finished for her with a hint of a smile, “smart. Next thing you know, you’ll be playing the Game.”

She rolled her eyes.

“I’d rather lose an arm.”

“It will be necessary at one point,” Solas raised his eyebrows, leaning both elbows on the table, “playing the Game, that is. Not the arm.”

“Well, whatever,” Adaar threw her hands up, “tonight, we celebrate!”

The tavern was filling to the brim.

Until recently, asked to choose between morning and evening, Solas would – after brief hesitation – choose morning, and then list the neighbouring assets of the latter, always the diplomat. Mornings were bright, gentle yet harsh like a mother’s hand, stained with pink and yellow as if someone had spilled watercolour paints across the sky. And they were quiet. For the long hour before dawn, the silence was absolute, a tremor of peaceful anticipation; and when he sun finally rose, it breathed life into the world, a quiet rebirth.

But Adaar—she thrived in the evenings. An invisible weight fell from her shoulders, and she wrapped herself in the comfort of the dark outside; like she was switching cloaks, a new side of her emerged. The smile in the corner of her lips, the arm which sat steadier over his shoulders, like she wanted to keep him in place—the way Qunlat crept into her Common after one too many drinks. This was the woman Cole had called his hawk-eyed friend, and the accuracy was staggering.

Adaar had requested drums. Politely, back bent so that she could look Maryden in the face when she asked, but with a note of devilish enthusiasm that called for a raised eyebrow at the least. Sera shoved Bull in the side; when he refused, still sulking, she poured the contents of her tankard into his. A moment later, he was dancing. The floor shook.

Solas looked to the side just in time to witness Blackwall bracing himself against the table.

“Maker,” he pushed back Sera’s extended hands, “no.”

“You’re no fun!” she giggled, tried to pull him up by the belt, but Blackwall was nothing if not steadfast.

“That girl is making eyes at you,” he pushed her, lighter this time, and used his chin to point out the one, “don’t waste your time on unwilling partners.”

Sera looked over her shoulder, and Blackwall was forgotten. He took a long, hard-earned sip of his beer; when he put the drink down, there was a smile hiding somewhere under his whiskers. He remembered to wipe his face, earning himself a discreet snicker from Solas. Just this once.

A vibration went through the floor, and they looked up, realising Adaar and the Iron Bull had collided with each other in the middle of the cleared space. Bull raised a hand, the other on his hip; she mirrored the pose, knuckles pressed to his, accepting some sort challenge. Bull held her waist, gripped it rather, fingers pressing hard into her flesh. It quickly became obvious why.

There’s very little you don’t get to see in four thousand years of travelling the Fade. Maybe it’d been his own lack of interest, or maybe it’d been the fact it’s generally considered a waste of time to dance under the Qun, unless it’s a display of unison and structure—either way, Solas didn’t as much as recognise the steps, though the qunari both seemed to know them by heart even in their drunken state. He could not look away. Adaar slammed the heel of her boot into the floor, he heard the wood crack; she bounced forward, weightless, Bull’s hand in the bend of her waist the only thing keeping her on her feet. His grip stressed the fabric of her shirt, pressing it down, lining her ribs.

A strand of her black hair was sticking to her cheek, its thin lines curved with her smile. Sweat was running down the back of her neck. In the candlelight, it glittered gold.  

Heel, toes, heel, toes, a mad rhythm; a bend of one knee, intertwined arms locked together. Force, but not only – grace, skill. How had this been a secret all this time? A sideways glance found Blackwall sitting with his mouth hanging open. He wasn’t alone in that regard. Solas looked at the two qunari once more, just in time to see the Bull trip on the broken floorboard, but he never fell; Adaar howled with laughter as she grabbed him, barely holding his weight for all her strength, but she kept him standing – feet sliding apart on a puddle of spilled ale. His laughter quickly faded hers out.

“Whatever Sera put in his tankard, I want a bucketful,” Blackwall muttered in Solas’ ear, and the elf rolled his eyes in response.

“That would make for an awkward funeral,” he replied, raising his voice just enough to be heard.

Blackwall twirled a whisker between two fingers.

“But what a way to go.”

They jumped apart when Adaar collapsed onto the bench between them, making it whine for mercy. She pushed the sweat off her lip, and lowered her head to scratch her horn; her eyes closed by themselves, and she sighed, chest rising and falling like a billowing wave.

“Solas,” she said, brow suddenly furrowed, “you don’t dance, do you?”

His stomach sank.

“No,” he replied, too quickly, “I do not.”

“Aw,” she rolled her neck, “a pity, I think. Because you know, it’s good for morale. When we dance. Sera said—to dance.”

Solas blinked slowly. She had passed ‘inebriated’ an hour ago.

“Sit still,” he said, “I’ll bring you some water.”

“No, damn it,” he tried to get up, but oh she is strong, “no water. Listen to me. This is very important.”

He looked at her, expectant. Adaar squinted at him.

“I—“ she pursed her lips, “I love them. The people. When I’m up high, and they’re listening, and they’re just these… tiny little creatures. And my mind is telling me, you know, they’re little ‘cause they’re just far away. Just really… far away, down there, below Skyhold, in the tents and the training grounds and—“

Her face twisted as if in pain, and Solas instinctively raised a hand to her shoulder.

“By my heart,” she almost shouted, shaking her heavy head, he had to shush her; in the clamour, nobody noticed, “oh, they are so tiny, I want to just… scoop them up, like this.”

She clumsily formed a cradle with her hands, and brought it up to her chest.

“They trust me,” she said, on the verge of tears, “do you know how that feels? To hold so many lives, like this, yes?”

Her hands shook.

“Without this, ebsaam maraas.”

“Adaar,” he took those quivering hands in his, “that is not true.”

She shook her head.

“There are no words! I was alone, I was nothing, how to say? Do you know?”

Solas didn’t answer, stunned. Of course he knew, but he couldn’t say, the irony of it; he shouldn't. But he’d felt it, he’d seen the crowds, faces turned towards him in hope, in a silent deliver us. No matter how many times he told them, on some level they never stopped thinking of him as a god, and the echo of it reverberated through the ages – if only under the fickle name of the Dread Wolf.

It was not fair. For millennia, he’d thought his soul would never heal, and perhaps it hadn’t – but aged pain doesn’t sting as badly. All he felt was longing, underneath the layers of carefully laid plans, and now it tore free. She’s going to say ‘I should have known’, but she’ll be lying, lying through her teeth. The way she looked at him now almost brought satisfaction. Had this not been his goal? To have her in the palm of his hand, unrestrainable as she was, to have her there of her own will and volition? What was so off about this?

“She needs some air,” Blackwall’s voice caught on the corner of his attention, “now.”

Adaar had gone white in the face.

Solas held her up on one side, the Warden on the other; they took her out of the tavern to breathe, but she was already laughing, already recovered. Stomach of steel. He wondered, calmly, how strange a part he was playing.

He could swear that he was becoming more and more himself by the second.

Chapter Text

Preparations for the ball at the Winter Palace began immediately, and in a flash, Adaar was gone. For a short while, Solas thought she was skirting around him out of embarrassment after her display at the tavern, but he soon realised he was being too self-absorbed – he caught sight of her one day in the main hall, learning the steps to Orlesian dances with Josephine on her arm.

She never got them right. Adaar could stomp out the most complex of rhythms while being thrown about the tavern in the Iron Bull’s grip, but the quick and gentle one-two-three of a waltz was beyond her; she got annoyed quickly, she didn’t want to keep going, until Josephine’s royal forehead grew clouded.

Solas went back to conducting research, but soon enough found himself trailing over the First Enchanter’s balcony in spite of the promises of marrying his work; Josephine had enlisted Leliana’s help with teaching Adaar the Game, and it was a sight to behold. He cringed at yet another poorly recited line of hollow pleasantries. 

“Solas, darling, do my eyes deceive me?”

“Enchanter,” he pulled his gaze away from the lesson, and looked at Vivienne, “if you’re struggling with your eyesight, you should watch out for black spots in the corners of your vision. Who knows, you could very well be possessed.”

She blinked.

“Excuse me?”

“Is that not how you draw all your conclusions? Demonic possession?”

“Oh, Maker,” her eyebrows shot up in a practiced manner, and she joined him at the handrail, “aren’t you a touchy one today. Did you truly drag yourself all the way up here looking for a fight?”

Well, no, but since he was already here—

“Ah,” she added before he could reply, “interesting.”

Her eyes were tracing Adaar and Josephine, once more trying out a regal dance. Adaar’s heavy boots thumped on the floor.

“My, a bull in a china shop,” Vivienne tucked a hand under her chin with an unreadable smile, “what will they do with her?”

“Adaar is capable of finesse,” Solas snapped instinctively, “she is not the brute you take her for. She will learn.”

Vivienne’s eyes moved to him, and he realised he’d been played. Feeling heat on his nape, he turned away, hands wringing each other out behind his back.

“They are not mutually exclusive, dear,” Vivienne said slowly, pushing herself off the handrail and straightening her back, “simply because she has the potential for subtlety does not mean she won’t choose to play the brute. That is the lesson that must be learned, before she can memorise the steps to a simple waltz.”

“And you doubt she can—“ Solas dipped his head, “move past her brutish nature?”

“Darling,” Vivienne lightly furrowed her brows, only for a moment, “you jump to her defence like a knight on a white charger. It is endearing.”

“It is only fair.”

“A point.”

“Perhaps,” Solas tilted his head back, “she needs a hand more stern than Josephine’s.”

“You can’t possibly mean my own,” a fan materialised in her grip, and she flipped it open, flashing a string of gold decorations, “I do not force my teachings on anyone, dear.”

“Merely a thought, Enchanter,” he gestured loosely with his hand, “do with it what you will.”

He felt her eyes on him, but didn’t look again, stringing together a polite goodbye before he headed downstairs. Wasting too much time, out of touch.

A week. That was all it took – after seven whole days of not seeing Adaar a single time, and wondering idly where she’d gone off to, he realised Vivienne was missing as well, and the line drew itself.

“They are in Val Royeaux,” Josephine told him over their metaphorical tea, “when the First Enchanter found the Inquisitor appears to genuinely enjoy visits to the shops, they set out at once.”

The candle between them crackled gently. It was the same kind Josephine used for everything, the dye nothing short of that rich, Antivan red; he absently recalled he was not the only one missing home. The porcelain in her slender hands was fine enough to let light through – either a gift from a rich sponsor, or a family heirloom. As perfectly as the Inquisition presented itself – thanks to the efforts of the very woman before him – they were not exactly swimming in money.

The old wood creaked. Through the narrow window, he could see the builders hard at work.

“Adaar enjoys... curiosities,” Solas replied, recalling their trips, “trinkets. Useless and obsolete objects to which she can assign her own meaning. She is not one for fashion.”

“I do believe Madame Vivienne can be quite convincing,” Josephine spun her quill in her fingers, then set it down on the low table between them.

 “Ah,” he couldn’t help the grin, “Of course. I forget myself. We are, after all, dealing with the true terror of Orlais.”

“Still,” she subtly reciprocated, not quite a smile but warm acknowledgement, “we have very little time. It is my fault. I should have prepared her better, began the lessons earlier. We are lucky you brought her back when you did.”

Solas froze, only his eyes moving to meet Josephine’s. Waiting for an explanation for the look, she set the teacup down on the table. Her spine immediately returned to its perfectly straight position, parallel to the chair, but never touching the backrest.

“There seems to be a misconception,” he said, weighing the words, “one I’d originally considered a joke. I did not ‘bring her back’, Ambassador—”

She shook her head with a small smile, purposely breaching politeness to dissipate some of the tension which had thickened the air.

Josephine, please.”

“—I merely kept her company when she needed it. She may not show it as often as she should, but she cares deeply about the Inquisition. She would sooner die than abandon you.”

A spike of heat shot up his hands when he realised he’d slipped up, but Josephine didn’t seem unsettled – she was watching him with attentive curiosity, grey eyes piercing layer after layer in the most benevolent way. She was not invasive in her reading, only observant, and yet he still felt scrutinised.  

“You speak with certainty which suggests you know the Inquisitor very well,” she said finally, leaning in by the width of a finger, “If you’ll forgive me, she is… nothing like you. Though I must admit I feel awkward asking this, how did you become so close?”

Solas leaned back into the soft couch.

“Well. I can’t say there’s an exciting tale to be shared,” he looked away under the burn of those grey eyes, “I do not know what you ask of me.”

“That is a sufficient answer,” Josephine beamed, “thank you.”

He couldn’t decipher the source of her satisfaction, though the general idea of it was enough to put him off trying.

***

Adaar’s return did not warrant disappointment – relief, if anything – but the fact of the matter was, she hadn’t changed one bit. Three long weeks in Val Royeaux, and yet she returned in the same armour, her hair in the same loose mess between her horns, her hands still big and awkward whenever they weren’t clutching a greataxe.

Solas was almost worried, but it lasted a total of thirty seconds; that is, until he saw Vivienne. There was a proud smile on her lips, steady and unwavering, and now he was just bewildered. Adaar’s battle axe was already mutilating the third training dummy, and yet the First Enchanter stood victorious; Solas thought he heard the qunari calling her pet names. He watched her spar from his spot by the corner of the tavern, trying to steady himself on ground which was constantly slipping from underneath his feet. Just when he’d thought he understood, he found himself wondering if he could face her.

“Maker, just go,” Blackwall’s voice startled him, and Solas spun around.

The Warden had his arms crossed on his chest. He raised his chin at Adaar, and gave the elf a very conspicuous, wide-eyed glare. It was not as forgiving as Josephine’s knowing smiles, but got the message across all the same. Solas despised it.

“Do you never leave the tavern?” he snapped, “You are working very hard for that beer belly.”

“We can’t all be lithe and limber,” Blackwall shrugged, looking him up and down, “now, get to it.”

Solas crossed his arms on his chest as well, mirroring him.

“I shouldn’t,” he said, facing the ground, “I’ve taught her what I could about the Fade, now the Enchanter will teach her the ways of the Game. Simply put, my work with her is likely done, and I’m happy to return to my research.”

“You think that’s all you are?” Blackwall scoffed, “A scholar?”

Lips pursed. Enough is enough. The Warden seemed to share the sentiment, but on the opposite side of the scale.

“You are making things difficult,” he gestured sharply, “when they don’t have to be.”

But she was smoke and mist. He’d grabbed her, and now he had to let go – before he wound her around his palm too tightly. After all, blind hope only carried one so far; Blackwall’s good intentions aside, he couldn’t forget himself, he could never forget himself.

He submerged himself in desolation, replaced air with research and breathed in. There was always more work to be done, a welcome constant; and despite the friends he’d made, few actively sought him out when he secluded himself. Those who knew him at Skyhold looked upon him fondly the same way one might look at a mildly pretty view; when he was there, they welcomed him, but when he wasn’t, they hardly thought to miss him.

Unfortunately, when Adaar wanted a pretty view, she’d climb a mountain and capture a fortress to see it, simply because her wish was her own command.

“Aneth ara,” she said, almost getting it right, “why do you never teach me any elf curses? I could teach you some in Qunlat, we’d be even.”

“I’ve heard my share, thank you,” he rested his hands on his desk, “what can I do for you, Inquisitor?”

She looked up at the untouched fresco on his wall, perching her hands on her hips.

“Well… nothing, really,” she said softly, “I just came by to see you. Don’t tell me you never noticed I left.”

“I did notice. Eventually. How was your time with the Enchanter?”

Adaar plopped down on his desk, as if she’d been waiting for the invitation. One of these days, it’d snap in half under her weight.

“Enlightening,” she said simply, “I’m leaving again in three days. After that, I’m going to the Winter Palace.”

Solas looked up at her, trying to hear the unspoken part of that sentence, but the whole point was that he couldn’t exactly be sure; and couldn’t ask, either, not without injuring his pride. Adaar knew, but silent agreements could always be broken, and she seemed to enjoy that quality about them.

“Tell me,” Solas said, rising out of his chair, “how did she win your favour, Adaar?”

They began walking, passing through the door and onto the battlements.

“You’ll laugh,” the qunari picked at her forearm guard, hair spiralling out of control in the gusts of wind, “I can’t tell you.”

They stood just outside, feeling the chill blowing between the teeth of the wall. It whistled, very quietly; got caught in corners like fish in traps. Solas looked out and over the courtyard, watching soldiers spar in a whirlwind of shields and blades. Cullen stood in the eye of the storm, still as a pillar, report in hand.

“Do tell me. My oath of secrecy can be extended.”

“She has me reading these—“ she gestured vaguely, “these awful, bullshit tales of court romance. And I love them.”

Solas bit back a grin.

“You know, I get it,” she threw her hands in front of her, “I get it, I get why the Game works the way it does. Maybe I can’t play yet, what with the horns and all, but I—the secret meetings in the alcove, the letters, the dancing, I get it all. I can’t believe I laughed at Cassandra. I feel like I should beg her forgiveness, but that'd mean admitting...”

Adaar joined her hands behind her back, expression falling serious again.

“Well, anyway. In these stories, you can’t trust anyone. Everyone is lying, all romance is manipulation, and they all know it. That really speaks to me. I only lack the patience for the flowery language.”

He’d almost forgotten the way she used to speak to him, and it was like a slap on the wrist. Adaar sighed. She looked like she wanted to say something, but silenced herself, a letter sealed shut prematurely, shy of the postscript.

***

She had completely neglected her studies. And he would not allow himself to be bitter.

But it all extended before him just as he’d predicted; since she’d changed hands, she no longer spent her hours reading in his chair, and Solas’ frescoes stood abandoned. He shuddered at the memory of a brush sitting in his hand, the smell of paint burned his nose and clutched his lungs. It was all strangely bitter. Even when he forced himself to paint, he tired quickly, landed somehow with his back against the wall and his knees pulled to his chest.

The silence was deafening without the ambient sound of Adaar shuffling through crumbling pages.

He saw her off, of course, naively thinking it’d lighten the weight.

“Try to keep Sera sober,” she said, of all the things she could’ve, “no big parties, and no ritewine, I know she’s planning to raid Blackwall’s stash.”

“You are taking… Sera,” Solas paused for effect, “to the Winter Palace.”

“Yeah,” Adaar shrugged, “and Vivvy.”

“I can only hope they somehow balance each other out,” he joined his hands behind his back, “as to avert total disaster.”

“Aw, I wouldn’t worry. Sera can hardly stand against both you and Vivienne,” Adaar snickered, but froze when she saw his expression.

Solas stared. His hands were clammy. Ice crackled in the air between them.

“I was not made aware of the fact I was attending.”

“Oh,” she put a hand to her lips, still completely unaware of the anger slowly swelling in his chest, “I didn’t ask you, did I? I would’ve fucked off to Val Royeaux without breathing a word of it!”

Why do you insist on being so vulgar?” he shook his head, though it wasn’t his wish right now to change the subject, “Your language grows filthier by the day. How do you expect to gain any approval at all at the Winter Palace with such a mouth?”

She flinched. Solas regretted every word.

“Well,” she carefully touched her hands together, stepping away, “Forgive me. I did not expect you to hold me to such a standard.”

“It is not merely the language, but the manner in which you conduct yourself,” heat under his collarbones, in his hammering heart, “head in the clouds, not a care in the world.”

“It—“ she threw a hand up, “slipped my mind, I don’t know.”

“I am tired,” he stepped after her, almost chest to chest, “of your poorly faked insensibility.”

Adaar pursed her lips.

“You sure you want to talk about this now?

“When else? You are constantly away,” he gestured, not really sure where exactly, “Forget it. It matters little.”

“No,” she said, “I owe you nothing. Nothing. Got it?”

“You have made it very clear.”

She turned on her heel and walked away, greataxe shifting on her back with every forceful step. She did not look at him until she was in the saddle; even then, she was still furious, and the fury did not leave her even when she rode out through the gate.

He, for one, was not angry. If he dropped into the Fade the second he was alone, and allowed himself to be engulfed by whirling fire, it was nothing more than an invasive memory, unspoken words pressing onto his tongue. Hardly his fault. He couldn’t see anything else—he couldn’t tell the time, or even feel the ground beneath his feet. There was only the smothering heat.

Behind his eyes, up his thighs, pushing between his bones. Fire. Fire.

No end to it, and no beginning. The sweat on his skin, fear so genuine it robbed him of the right spell; he couldn’t lift her, his hands turning numb. This could not be. Fire, everywhere, swarming around them. He had not taken the time to see the beauty of it. The same could be said for other matters.

To all intents and purposes, he was in control. Wholly and unquestionably. He could play Adaar like a fiddle, but his fingers bled every time he took up the bow.

The Fade twisted around him, white pillars sprouting up into the royal blue of the sky. He closed his eyes, trying to will away the image, but his imagination filled in the blanks with the stubborn confidence of a child learning to walk; he’d managed to keep it at bay for centuries, but here it was now, as real as it had been when it still stood, the pure and untainted image of Arlathan.

Solas felt the presence over his shoulder, and slowly exhaled.

“Look,” it leaned into the corner of his vision, gentle, sweet whispers, “look at them all.”

He would not. But he could hear them, he could smell the fires and the clatter of armour, the old elven tongue which sounded so shallow in its modern, robbed form. I have no one.

“Leave me,” he hissed.

Vhenan…”

“Leave me.”

Such a lazy likeness. The desire demon retreated, dissipating into the fabric of the Fade; he was relieved it knew better than to press him. It was still shameful, of course. He burned the bridges, tore down the towers, left no mark of his presence; and he left.

He wouldn’t sleep. Living vicariously through Adaar was beneath him. I have no one.

So alone. His agents – blind followers, wordless, empty, children asking to be led by the hand. Pawns to be sacrificed. Not companions, not friends; he was alone. What irony it was that his last, desperate stab at kinship was not only to bring back what had been lost, but who had been lost, as well—among them, his mortal enemies. All of it, his fault. Not in the way where he could run from it, search for hidden meaning. It’d been his fault, paved with good intentions, but ultimately a loss so great it tore his heart in half. He owed it to them, to those people who once looked up at him with nothing but hope, faces cleansed of vallaslin; though their bones had long since turned to sand. The crushing guilt of it caged his lungs.

It was easy to search for excuses, to hide behind some sort of justice, some—necessary change. It was easy to spout half-truths, even to himself, when he knew full well there was more to it than the guilt, restoring the world he'd destroyed with his own two hands. He had witnessed four thousand years of history slip through his fingers while he sat, powerless, and watched all that he’d ever known die.

Chapter Text

Despite some initial doubts, the Winter Palace proved better a distraction than he could have ever hoped for. Josephine had stuffed him in a uniform and sent him out into the fray, and he was frankly honoured by her trust in him. Admittedly, there were others more in need of her guiding hand, that’s to say – Sera, sleeves rolled up, the buttons on her uniform already undone. Solas watched, lips pursed in a thin smile, as Josephine patiently did them up one by one.

“Alright, Mum,” the girl rolled her eyes at something the Ambassador whispered, and stepped away, “I got it, I got it! Stick with Solas, don’t talk to anybody. Simple.”

The smile was wiped clean off his face. Before Sera could find him in the crowd by the entrance, he made for the palace, slipping between the guests as if he was invisible. After the necessary introductions, he nestled himself into a corner; from where he stood by the open window, the evening seemed almost uneventful. Hours idled away on nothing but gluttony and two dimensional conversation, but he was no fool. The servants whispered, and the guards were tense. He calmly sipped his drink, watching the room over the brim of the glass.

I saw Duke Clement engrossed in conversation with the eldest daughter of the house of Mariont, if you’ll believe. I do believe conversation is a bit of an understatement, my darling Clarence. But Philip, is she not of inferior birth? Does her blood not pale in comparison to his?

“They all bleed the same to me,” Sera piped up from somewhere under his elbow, “pompous shits.”

Solas exhaled slowly. He remembered the grand affairs his mistress used to hold; the fur around his shoulders, the silver on his breast, the soothing weight of Mythal’s soft palm resting on his knuckles, though it was always her holding him in her grasp. Their dances had been rather different from the risqué twirls and passionate dips of the Orlesian court, but the resemblance was too bold to ignore, like the same song played in a different key.

A bitter and painful memory, yet he could not get enough of it. There’d been security in the marks on his face, for a while; the guiding hand that also held his leash.

“Her Frilliness told me to find you,” Sera added, bringing him out of his thoughts, “and, what is that thing on your head? It’s looking at me.”

“It is a hat.”

“You know where you can stuff it,” she crossed her arms on her chest, swaying back and forth on the heels of her feet, “Hey! Why do you get a drink?”

A gamble. To find the balance between ‘chatty drunk’ and ‘sleepy drunk’, ergo – silence. Oh, the blessed memory of silence. If only they were at the Herald’s Rest, and not representing the Inquisition.

Solas silently gave her his glass. Latching onto it, she looked like a baby with a pacifier.

“Seen Vivvy?” she asked, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, and subsequently smudging the lipstick Josephine had painstakingly applied there, “She’s with Yves, yeah? Putting on a show for all these fuckwits like it’s nothing.”

He snatched another glass off a nearby tray and stuffed it into her hands. Still in the chatty phase.

“Yves isn’t like this, you know,” she mumbled, plopping down gracelessly on the wide windowsill, “but when she speaks Orlesian, she sounds just like them. Faking an accent, like she’s in a play or something.”

“Try not to dwell on it,” he leaned his shoulder against the wall, looking down at her, “it’ll do you no good.”

Sera scoffed, nose wrinkled.

“It’s like I don’t even know her, yeah?”

She looked like she’d just bitten off the head off a rat with all that red coating her mouth and chin. Solas sighed and plucked his handkerchief from his pocket. Sera glared at him.

“Stay still. You look a mess,” he reached to cup her face, but she jerked away, glaring, “Sera. You are scaring the nobles.”

With no interruptions this time, he closed an iron grip on her face and wiped the smudged lipstick off. She immediately started licking her dried out mouth; he’d seen dogs do the same with peanut butter spread out on their noses. He quickly disposed of the apparent murder weapon, his handkerchief covered in red.

Red.

He averted his eyes, turning his back to the room so he was standing in front of Sera. He’d seen it.

“Look behind me,” he whispered, “on the floor.”

She ducked sideways, under his arm.

“Is that—“ she caught herself, lowered her voice, “is that blood?!”

“We should try to see where it leads,” Solas leaned against the wall again, crossing his arms on his chest.

“Alright. I sneak in, you get her Majesty, yeah?”

‘Her Majesty’ rang so bitter, now, she sounded like she was coughing up razors. She scurried off, swaying only a bit, and Solas was immediately intercepted by a noblewoman with a feathered fan for a face; not a single bit of skin was showing from under her dress and gloves. He manoeuvred them both subtly through both conversation and the hall, always watching for a pair of horns out of the corner of his eye. It occurred to him he hadn’t seen Adaar since they arrived at the ball.

“Dreadful, just dreadful,” the noblewoman went on, arm looped around his, “people today have no respect this, truly, la merveille du siècle. Science truly has come so far, has it not, Monsieur? And to disparage it only because you are an elf.”

“Very kind of you, Madame, to show such touching—“ there she was with Vivienne, “consideration, for but a humble serving man. But I must be on my way, forgive me.”

How strange and unnerving, to be lumped together with these clueless creatures living off of scraps of what they’d once had. The noblewoman was already off, likely to torment whatever other elf she could find, and she had many to choose from. They were everywhere – crammed into every corner, behind every column, their whispers fading only when he looked one in the eye. As similar as he was to them in appearance, practically speaking he could have as well been a different species – and they knew at a glance. Solas walked with his head held high.

Underneath the grandeur, black teeth and white bone. Wrinkled hands hidden in velvet, backs thick with scar tissue that renders both trust and betrayal an impossibility. An array of grey. Smoke from the giant chandeliers pooled into the ridge of the ceiling, blurring the paintings, draping a fog of unbreathable air over the corseted crowd. The ball was a game of shadows in an eternal midsummer fever, hot and short of breath even with snow coating the windowsills. He could feel static electricity running up his spine.

“Darling,” Vivienne gripped his elbow, appearing out of nowhere, “was that the Lady Bourbon-Busset?”

He did a double take.

“Possibly…?”

The smile that bloomed on Vivienne’s face bordered on genuine.

“My, you have found yourself quite the patroness,” the iron clasp on his arm loosened, but he still felt the heat of her hand even though her glove and his sleeve, “And you are not the only one.”

A subtle movement of her head directed his gaze to Adaar, still trapped in conversation with two young men sporting identical masks, as well as their considerably smaller and rounder female companion in mustard yellow curtains. Her hand was resting on Adaar’s biceps, without any visible intention of leaving that place. They were drinking sweet rosé.

“That would be delightful,” Adaar’s cheek curved in a smile, he could see it even from behind her.

“My disarming Lady Inquisitor, just don’t mistake me for my friend,” the one to the left clasped a hand over his chest, “I would not let even my own flesh and blood rob me of the first dance of the evening with you, much less this bastard.”

“Jacques, you lying twat,” the one on the right snapped around to face him, “I was supposed to have the first dance!”

Solas watched Adaar’s back turn to stone, the fabric over her shoulders threatening to burst even when her tone remained perfectly level.

“It is a pity they have not invented a dance for three,” she said, smooth voice dripping honey, “spare, of course, for the one danced at the House of Valois.”

“Oh, Inquisitor!” the lady’s hands flew up to her mouth, but both men burst out laughing, in that particular way which left too much room for interpretation.

Solas glanced at Vivienne, but she was examining the ceiling with unmatched purpose. He did not, frankly speaking, want to know what was ‘danced’ at the House of Valois; how Adaar knew about it was another mystery for the ages. He furrowed his brow as the Inquisitor approached.

“I’m not dancing with either of those pricks,” Adaar growled, red-faced and back in all her furious glory, “are they gone?”

“Yes, darling, they are gone.”

Adaar dipped her head obediently, allowing Vivienne to press one of the tiny white roses sitting there back into place. Her black hair had been pulled back into a nest of tiny braids that seemed to weave into each other, supporting the flowers, and falling in painstakingly shaped curls on either side of her face and nape. They looked softer and lighter than spider’s web.

Solas realised the two women were looking at him.

“Sera and I discovered something,” he nodded, lowering his voice to the standard scandalous whisper, “find her by the entrance to the garden. It would be ill-advised to rush anywhere in a group.”

The blank stare she gave him signalled she’d been caught off-guard. Why? Solas blinked. Did you think I would not talk to you? He was not angry with her, he was starting to doubt he ever had been; and even so, did she not think he could maintain at least a basic level of decency? Adaar put a hand forward.

“Solas—“

These were, after all, the first words they’d exchanged since they fought before her trip to Val Royeaux. He supposed it was his fault that she no longer saw the ground beneath her feet. He could’ve broken the silence at any moment—no, he should have. He’d instigated the fight. Oh, when had he become so bad at this.

“Not now,” he waved her off, keeping his tone as gentle as possible, “go.”

Vivienne concurred, and so Adaar gulped, nodded and walked off, as inconspicuous as one could be while a head taller than everyone else and crowned with a pair of golden horns. 

In an impulse bordering dangerously on an old habit, Solas offered the First Enchanter his arm, and in a similar habit, she took it, leaning in as one would to another in their confidence. Not that they were in each other’s confidence, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself,” Vivienne said quietly, “yearning for a lick of luxury after sleeping in a cave for the majority of your life?”

“Enchanter,” Solas jokingly feigned offence, “you’re picking the low-hanging fruit of barbs.”

“Would you rather I comment on the fact you got Sera drunk? Or perhaps the—“ she hummed in thought, “lingering looks which have passed between you and the Inquisitor?”

Solas glanced at her, too fast. Vivienne was not wearing the mocking smile he’d expected; a single, shallow wrinkle cut into the skin between her brows, genuine worry. She was waiting for an answer.

“Now you are scraping your fruit off the ground,” he hissed, quiet enough only for her to hear, “the notion is ridiculous.”

“It is indeed, but it came from a credible source,” she whispered back, “which is why it has become de rigueur to warn you that if you are not discreet, she will be laughed out of court. In this case, quite literally.

“Enchanter, you must be joking.“

“I am deathly serious,” her fingers curled more tightly around his arm, “The Game is not for those faint of heart.”

“Vivienne,” he stopped in his tracks, and looked her straight in the eye, “your source is faulty. There is nothing between the Inquisitor and I.”

She raised her eyebrows, a hint of a smile.

“I certainly hope so, darling."

Oh, he could strangle her where she stood.

***

The evening blossomed into a well-rounded triumph, an oh-so Orlesian tale of drama and romance. Here was hoping it wouldn’t crash and burn like it had last time. Just like in one of your horrendous chivalric romances. Indigo flowed through the halls; Adaar’s hand clad in a black glove sliding over the handrail as she walked, embodiment of grace, watching over what she’d reaped and sowed.

He despised it.

Sera had tried to make a comment about his sullen expression, but he’d told her off harshly enough to have her leave without another word – a personal record. He felt like a sea inside of him had parted, and waves were crashing into each other from two completely different directions. Not a single drop of blood had been spilled, Florianne was in chains – and yet, this had not been Adaar. The displeasure was petty, and it was rootless, but he couldn’t bring his eyes up to hers.

Lights flickered, the difference between stars and candles blurring. There was much to celebrate, but a heaviness had set in, lead strapped to even the lightest of feet. The couples dancing below looked more like puppets than people.

Without even noticing, he’d slumped against the wall, arms crossed on his chest to really drive the image home. If only there was a way of holding a glass of champagne while in this position.

He noticed motion out of the corner of his eye, but didn’t turn his head, hoping whoever it was would either walk past of leave him alone; but the rhythm of the steps was too familiar to be ignored. He looked up, and there she was, a half-empty glass in her hand; Adaar ex machina.

“Huh,” she leaned down, surprised, “somehow, I never took you for such a hopeless wallflower.”

Solas raised both hands in the universal equivalent of ‘and yet’.

“I—“ she bit down on the inside of her cheek, hard enough to crease her skin.

Solas watched her down the rest of her drink in one steady gulp.

With a shaky hand, she reached over his shoulder and set the empty glass down on the nearest statue. Another point shaved off her perfect record. A joke balanced on the tip of his tongue, but something about Adaar’s expression kept him silent – so he only waited, squinting at her in the dim light.

“I really need a break,” she said, hands constantly changing positions.

“Of course.”

She exhaled, eyes anywhere but on him.

“Would you keep me company?”

“Of course,” he repeated himself, awkwardly.

He raised his forearm for her to hold, but she was staring at her shoes.

“Adaar,” he offered his arm again, more pointedly this time.

Without a word, she held on and floated alongside him through the crowd, with all the helplessness of a ship cut from its anchor. Solas hadn’t noticed as much as a hint of it while watching her earlier, but she was exhausted. An introvert at heart, truly.

The cold night air woke his lungs, bringing feeling to the tips of his fingers and stinging his ears. Rain was coursing through his veins. They parted and joined again by the railing, Adaar’s great back hunched over in long-awaited relaxation. With a deep sigh, she popped the button on her collar free, exposing her proud neck to the wind. It sent the curls in her hair flailing.

“Your hat,” she said, turning towards him, “can I have it?”

Solas blinked in surprise, but she kept looking at him with that playful spark in her eye. A long, black strand had freed itself from the intricate structure in her hair, and was now dancing in the wind; she flinched when it brushed her cheek, and tucked it in her collar.

“Well,” he took the helm off and handed it to her, “here. Enjoy.”

A delighted grin stretched her lips. She took the damn thing between her hands at chest level, and pressed the base of each palm against the metal. Her muscles stressed the fabric of the uniform until the seams threatened to rip; but, inch by inch, the helm began to bend, until it caved so suddenly it startled Adaar herself, eliciting a small gasp.

“Whew,” she looked down at the shapeless, utterly crushed chunk of metal she was holding, “that’s been in my hands for a while.”

“In your hands?” Solas inquired, very carefully.

Adaar settled the helm in her fingers, raised her arm like she was drawing a bow, and proceeded to hurl the thing into the night, not sparing any strength. Solas did not see or hear it land.

“I break shit when I’m mad,” she said, so softly it was almost absurd, “and if you say it’s ‘cause I’m a Vashoth, I’ll punch you through that wall over there.”

Her fingers pressed into the dip where the crook of her jaw met her earlobe, and she dragged the fabric of her glove against her skin in slow, absent-minded circles. She seemed vacant.

“Adaar,” Solas said through a tight throat, “After what you accomplished today, you are fully justified in destroying a single helm. In any case, I would never say that to you.”

“Yeah, and I wouldn’t hurt you,” she rested her elbows next to his on the handrail, and from below they were now just two pairs of hands next to each other, “but you’re you, and I’m me, so we need to get that kind of thing out of the way.”

“It was a rather ugly hat, admittedly,” Solas sighed, turning towards her and holding his hip, “It was meant as a—well, I suppose it doesn’t matter.”

Adaar furrowed her brow.

“No, tell me,” she said, “I could use one of your endless explanations right about now.”

The ghost of sarcasm in her voice stung just a bit. She quickly softened it with a smile.

“Seriously. I’m all ears.”

“Well—“ he could feel his face straining not to smirk, “this kind of helm was worn by an order of warriors known as the Drasca. They were originally meant to stymie the Tevinter Imperium’s re-conquest, but after the Second Blight, they—reportedly—rebelled against Orlesian rule. Quite momentously.”

Adaar stared at him, one hand propping up her chin, lips hiding behind a knuckle; she was almost impressed.

“That is… either the most intricate jab I’ve heard in my life,” she drawled, “or you just made that up.”

“I suppose we may never know,” he extended a longing look to where the helm had vanished in the bushes, “since you obliterated the evidence.”

She laughed, finally, a blush staining her cheeks. The stubborn strand of hair tore free from her collar, like a tail running down from the base of her skull. When she turned away, he saw the golden decorations swinging down from her horns; some loose, some draped between them so that the moonlight bounced off in secluded spots, like fireflies lighting up in the dark. He thought he heard the thin chains chime when she looked at him again, eyes droopy from the kohl. Muffled music was seeping out onto the balcony, faint, shy almost—until a fiddle cut a line into the night air, and the steady rhythm of a new melody filled it, fresh and bold.

Like a premonition, he felt the matter of their odd, double-bottomed argument in Skyhold pressing onto her lips, and cold sweat came up on his skin.

“Adaar,” he interrupted her before she even opened her mouth, perhaps she never even formed the thought, “dance with me. Before the band stops playing.”

It was easily the most shocked he’d ever seen her. What had remained of the mask she’d worn for the evening was at her feet now, in pieces; her eyes were wide, one loose fist raised to her chest.

“Do you—“ she got her courage back, a wary smile on her face as she stepped forward, “do you not value your toes? You’ve seen me dancing, Solas.”

He held out a hand.

“I am not so brittle.”

And she was not so clumsy.

“Alright,” Adaar carefully wrapped her fingers around his, “it’s your funeral.”

One step, then another. She was so very big, a challenge to lead. A pillar he could not pull or push with only the hand he had placed on her waist; she went only where she wanted to, careful steps bearing all the signs of a well-taught yet inexperienced dancer.

“Are we supposed to be talking? Florianne made me talk to her.”

Adaar, speaking only to fill the silence? He realised she was nervous, even though he clearly remember her saying she liked the idea. He realised he’d placed her out of her depth, and it served her right.

“Calm down,” he said, knowing it did nothing to answer her question, “you’re doing very well.”

She huffed. To attempt a spin, or not to attempt a spin?

“You see right through me,” she had her cheek turned to him, “you know that’s not something I’m comfortable with.”

Spin. He felt her grip onto his shoulder.

“I must be the only one,” he said in a poor attempt to make her feel better, “you fooled everyone in the Winter Palace tonight with your façade. Even Sera.”

To his surprise, she breathed out in relief, steps gaining fluidity and life.

“I guess I’m glad you know I was acting,” she said softly, not quite a whisper but staying only between them, “I did the best I could, but I don’t feel good about it.”

“The end justifies the means more often than we are willing to admit,” Solas felt his hand slipping, and moved it back up, “a handful of lies is not a steep price to pay for saving lives.”

She furrowed her brow.

“I know.”

Closer. Just barely avoiding tumbling into the handrail, knee following knee, chests together. Her hand looked so slender in that black glove; he wondered, foolishly, if he’d live to see the day Adaar was forced into a ball gown.

She looked at their feet, so Solas lifted a hand from her waist and quickly tilted her chin back up. Couldn’t have her making beginner’s mistakes.

“I don’t want to get lost in it,” she exhaled, “it’s so easy to forget where the line is.”

“You will not. I know you.”

He could feel warmth emanating from her in waves.

“You did brilliantly tonight,” he added.

Her eyes finally mustered the courage to meet his, and they were so, so sad. She faced down, still looking at him like she was scared to blink.

“Vivienne said Orlesians love a show,” she said, “once they got over their fear of the big, scary Qunari, I became that show. Exoticism is their ultimate source of entertainment. I owe my success to that.”

“Adaar, I am your harshest critic,” Solas said, keeping his voice quiet, “and your most steadfast supporter. I believe that makes me a valid judge of your virtues. And you should give credit where credit is due.”

“Oh, aren’t you clever,” Adaar closed her eyes, facing away, “ha-ha, I said that to you, and now you’re saying it back to me. Oh how the tables have turned.”

“No need for sarcasm.”

“No need for smartassery.”

“You just—“ he laughed, “poorly orchestrated.”

She smiled with a slow shake of her head, horns glistening with all the gold dripping from them. When he spun her around, they framed one of the moons in the sky. A peaceful silence extended between them, disturbed only by their boots against the marble, and the sting of her jewellery clicking together.

The world was calm. Every brush of the cold air felt like a caress, Adaar’s undone hair dancing with the wind, pulled by invisible strings. He lacked the self-control to look away, and that was new, and somehow irrelevant, because she wasn’t looking away either; doe eyes under eyelashes that kept catching the moonlight.

“Solas,” Adaar practically turned to stone where she stood, startling him, “the music.”

Or rather, a lack thereof. He found his voice.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh,” she grabbed his hand tighter and pulled him into the ballroom, her face darkening with colour, “come on. We should go back."

Chapter Text

The hart’s hind leg had healed, and in the nick of time, too. The snow was soft under its hooves, steadying the usually jumpy animal into an even pace. Next to him, Vivienne’s grey stallion – the same one Solas had brought with him to Skyhold – tripped over a protruding vein of red lyrium, and barely caught its balance, stumbling through the white.

“Let’s uh, let’s see here,” Adaar sat up in her saddle, turning the map, and her head with it for some reason, “with our camp behind us, and that big mountain over there…”

Solas reached for the map. She easily held it out of his reach.

“We will be stranded here all day if you keep trying to navigate,” he gripped onto the pommel when his hart danced under him, unnerved by the shift of weight.

“You couldn’t find your own ass if you were sitting on it,” Adaar shot him a look, “remember the Fallow Mire?”

Solas clicked his tongue in annoyance.

“What happened in the Fallow Mire?” Sera’s loud voice pushed between them.

“It is not worth mentioning,“ he took his opportunity to snatch the map from Adaar’s grip while she was distracted, “let us move on.”

In truth, it hadn’t been his fault. After all, wetlands were wetlands, regardless of the direction. It is rather easy to become confused. Adaar wouldn’t have done any better. And the fact she’d had to lift him by the collar out of a lake swarming with undead did nothing to prove her point, either.

 A gloved hand appeared before him and tapped the bottom of the crumpled paper. Solas glanced up, startled – only to see Vivienne leaning gracefully in to his space, brow high.

“Do pay attention, dear,” the Enchanter sighed and rotated the map into its correct position, doing him the favour of keeping her voice below an outright shout.

He felt his neck tense. For the hundredth time since they set out, he missed Blackwall. Or Cassandra, as busy as she was with other matters. Or Cole.  Anyone but the horned mage terror on his heels.

But Blackwall had been dissipating. Something was eating at him, taking bites at a time; Solas did not know how to ask, or truly care. He certainly wasn’t expected to – neither was Adaar, but at Solas’ quiet suggestion, she’d genuinely offered to take the Warden with them to raid the quarry near Sahrnia – and unfortunately, he’d declined. A sprained wrist was still giving him trouble.

The slot was indeed taken by Vivienne, as she had settled too comfortably into the routine, and additionally – Dorian had seemed happy to stay at Skyhold for a change. He assigned the blame to the unfortunate weather, but Adaar knew now how to read between the lines; Solas could tell by the grin on her face when she bid the moonstruck Tevinter goodbye.

After the stunt he’d pulled at the Winter Palace, it would not be possible to maintain the undefined nature of their friendship, but he knew precisely how to lie to himself – and even if he was building on swampy ground, the structure was still light enough to hold. The key was not to add more weight than he could evenly distribute. He could control it.

They left their mounts at camp and set out as the afternoon turned pink.

The eroded silhouette of the wolf looked down at them from where it sat, leaning into the mountain, its harsh stone features unreadable. Snow coated its back and chipped ears, smoothed out and carved anew by the elements. Solas couldn’t quite grasp the scale of the statue, until a flock of birds flew by it, scared out of a tree under the wolf’s chin; and his legs turned to jelly.

He froze in place, nose pinched by the chill, and stared.

“You okay?” Adaar bumped into him, and stopped as well to follow his gaze, “Oh, shit.”

Solas couldn’t look away. The feeling in his chest had no name in any language he knew. A split second of naïve joy viciously stifled by the weight of the centuries; the haunting knowledge this was not a statue created out of admiration, but fear. A lie introduced behind his back while he slept.

First, he was one of the marked—then, a god. Alienated by both sides, even though Mythal had made attempts to soothe the pain she’d caused.

“Weariness, nothing more.”

Adaar gave him a look, but didn’t press, opting instead to squeeze his shoulder and get moving again.  

Pushing forth like a line of heavy cavalry, they finally set up camp as far north as the terrain allowed them; Adaar vanished in the largest tent, hands on her belt, and did not come out for the rest of the day. He only caught a glimpse of her giant silhouette against the dim light of the candles, alone over the map.

The Inquisition had not been faring to her taste; it never was. The impossible expectations she’d placed on herself before Halamshiral had extended to everyone under her command, and though her exterior remained the same, Solas could feel she was dissatisfied. There was little flipping through a book on military strategy could do for her now, and yet she kept learning; every second of every day setting a new goal.

“If all this won’t drive her mad, she’ll do it herself,” Sera grumbled over the fire, elbows resting on her crossed legs, “and it’s goddamn cold!”

She shivered, rubbing her forearms with her hands. Vivienne, who had only just finished washing the kohl off her eyes, went back into their tent and returned with a blanket. She unceremoniously dropped it over the girl’s head, sitting down next to her on a stumpy stool.  

“Ew, it stinks!” her teeth chattered, “I mean, thanks. For the warm, not the stink.”

Her hand flapped a corner of the blanket up and down to get Vivienne’s attention.

“We can’t have you waking a block of ice tomorrow,” the Enchanter warmed her hands with a spell, though the fire was a step away, “we’d have to rejuvenate you with magic, something I don’t suppose you would enjoy. Isn’t that right, apostate?”

The elf tucked his linked hands under his chin.

“Hmm. I’m not entirely opposed to the idea.”

“Yves!” Sera’s head spun around to the huge tent, “Yves! Solas is being a shit again!”

Adaar’s proud head appeared from under the heavy fabric, brow clouded and menacing.

What?”

“I said—“ Sera hesitated, a sight to behold, “shite, now I don’t know.“

“Don’t bother me unless it’s important. You heard boy who cry wolf.”

With that, she vanished inside again, muttering in Qunlat. Sera pouted, bundling herself in her blanket until nothing but her face was poking out; angry eyes sat fixed in the fire. Solas cleared his throat.

“Well.”

He leaned back on one hand and pushed himself to his feet, clapping the snow off his clothes.

“She just said not to bother her, yeah?” Sera glared at him, “Or do you need to piss?”

Vivienne sent her a distinguished stare in the flavour of mild disgust. (“What?!” “Darling, mind your own piss.”) He pretended not to hear as he walked past them, his hands looped loosely behind his back. Ducking his head just a bit as he entered the tent, he let the flap fall back into place before slowly walking closer; giving her all the time she would need to ask to him to leave. She did not.

“You are troubled,” he remarked, naming the obvious, “what’s on your mind?”

Adaar stepped back from the map stretched out before her, fingertips still ghosting over the paper for a second before pulling away. Solas stopped by the side of the table parallel to hers, and waited. Her hand was resting on the edge, pointer finger tapping against the wood.

“You will think me insane.”

“Only now?”

“Solas,” she didn’t appreciate the attempt at humour, strict eyes looking straight at him, “I can hear the red lyrium singing.”

He inhaled sharply, then circled the table so he was at her side again, arm to arm.

“That does not seem possible,” he said in a low whisper.

“I am not a mage, or a Templar, or—I don’t even know how lyrium works,” she ran a hand through her hair, pushing a few loose strands between her horns, “it’s… not inherently unpleasant, either. It’s just there, and that gets tiring. In my dreams, it overwhelms all else. I just want to get out of here.”

Solas had heard it, of course, if quiet and vague. He preferred to let it melt into the background, the stench was bad enough; but Adaar wasn’t angry or upset, not truly. Baffled, almost. Her hands kept fidgeting.

“May I listen?” he asked.

Adaar looked at him with half-genuine anticipation.

“How?”

“In the Fade,” Solas raised his eyebrows, “With your consent, naturally, we can share a dream.”

“What, you’re—you’re serious?” Adaar sputtered, “Just like that?”

Certainly not ‘just like that’, but, well. He nodded.

“That’s incredible,” she gasped, “wait, have you—have you ever done that without my consent?”

“Of course not,” he scoffed.

Adaar pursed her lips, gave a sharp nod.

“Well, good,” she snapped, “that’s good.”

Solas squinted at her. She squinted back.

“So, tonight?” Adaar broke the battle first, and picked up a single marker from the map.

In the dim light, he hadn’t noticed its position or shape, but she held it tightly in her fist now; a small wooden statuette of an august ram, its legs curled under its body. The strokes of the knife had been rough, but something suggested the hands that’d dealt them were capable of much greater force. In comparison, it’d taken a staggering amount of delicacy.

Adaar noticed his gaze, and opened her fist, so the ram sat in her flat palm.

“Blackwall made it for me. Kind of looks like me, doesn’t it?”

She gently stroked its back with the pointer finger of her other hand, as if the object were alive, or as if she were a child with a vivid imagination. Solas crossed his arms on his chest.

“That was rather nice of him.”

“Oh, don’t be jealous,” she gasped, smiling with her eyes, “he could probably make you one if you asked, but an egg would roll right off the table.”

He shook his head in defeat, lightly touching her lower back to guide her out of the tent as she snickered at her own completely idiotic joke. During their conversation, the day had made the small leap of turning from evening into late evening, and the sun had settled comfortably into the pillow of snow between the mountains. The first signs of a nightly snowfall were starting to cling to the branches and tents, and the tips of Vivienne’s horns. She dusted them off. Adaar laughed.

“Mood swings, much?” Sera asked from her spot practically inside the fire, toes curled and hands rubbing her knees.

Adaar’s warm giddiness was vanquished, and Solas shot the young girl a glare much harsher than the situation demanded. A waste of a lovely smile. Through her aimless apology to Sera, Adaar shot him a look over her shoulder, then leaned down and disappeared inside the tent with the bedrolls – leaving their companions to stare at him in complete confusion. Solas sighed.

“If you’ll excuse me.”

“What’s wrong with her?“ Sera grabbed his wrist as he walked past, halting him from a moment, “If something’s wrong with her, we should know, yeah?”

Funny, how people could be divided into those who didn’t ask the questions they didn’t want the answer to, and those who screamed them at everyone they met, later complaining that they would have rather not known. There’d be no living with Sera when she was panicked, yet he also wanted to spare her the fear of red lyrium pumping through the earth beneath their feet. He had just enough patience to see her care for her friend superseded her fear of lyrium and magic; it was kind, and warranted kindness in return. He was about to reassure her, when Vivienne interrupted.

“Sera, your curiosity will land you in trouble,” she said, pushing her ankles together, “our doves deserve some illusion of privacy.”

“How easily your opinion fluctuates, Enchanter,” he turned to face her, narrowing his eyes, “you were not so considerate at the Winter Palace.”

Sera did a double take.

“Hold on,” she snapped, “what?”

“I care little for your personal affairs, and perhaps more importantly, I am not scandalised by a single dance,” Vivienne pretended not to hear, “but the court was, as I well warned you.”

Solas clenched his jaw.

“What is one dance?” he asked dismissively, though the bluff was poor.

“My dear, you’re forgetting the importance of context. One dance is hardly worth a thought—unless it is the only personal dance of the evening. Or, simply put, one of two.”

He almost had the gall to argue, but saw the pathos of it in time.

“Did you think you would not be seen?” she furrowed her brow, “Or have you gone so blind with misplaced affections that you did not care for the damage you were dealing to her reputation?”

Sera’s eyes, round like two silver coins, trailed between them.

“Enchanter, you have overstepped,” Solas snapped.

Adaar leaned out of the tent, one hand dropping into the snow to prop her up.

“Vivienne, I think we’ve heard enough,” she said, brow furrowed dangerously, “are you really in the position to lecture anyone about causing a scandal?”

The First Enchanter’s face remained perfectly still, but she looked almost sickly.

“I believe I am, yes. But as you wish, Inquisitor. We may speak of this another time.”

“Great,” she bent her fingers inwards, beckoning him into the tent.

When he joined her, she was sitting on top of her bedroll, taking off her shoe by pushing the heel off with the toes of the other. She settled for pulling both off with her hands, and ran her hands over her face, everything about her radiating dreariness.

That sucked,” she rubbed her eye with her knuckle, pushing the lid around, “that really sucked.”

There was comfort and familiarity in the sight of her in the crumpled shirt, hanging over her shoulders like clothing draped on a string to dry. Nothing seemed to fit her right, except for clothes sewn especially for her contrasting shoulders and waist; though he couldn’t fathom how anyone thought her unattractive.

“Anyway, you’re sure you’re alright? You looked totally out of it earlier,” Adaar glanced up at him, holding the back of her neck with both hands, “You can tell me, you know.”

He sat down cross-legged in front of the woman.

“I had a fleeting thought,” he said, wringing his hands out, “it brought… a memory of loneliness.”

Adaar looked at the ground, fist pressing into her cheek.

“You’re not alone.”

“Strangely, that makes the memory hurt all the more. There’s little sense to it.”

“No, I understand,” she rubbed the underside of her nose, “I do. You know I was alone as well. Once. Sometimes I compare the way I used to feel to how I’m doing now, and my throat gets, just, you know…”

She raised a hand to her neck and bent her fingers into claws, crushing the air in a fist.

Solas exhaled sharply, forcing his walls back up. He knew it too well, though there was thousands of years between them, and the notion of connection scared him, for all his attempts at creating one.

“Well.  I must warn you, it’s unlikely you’ll become lucid in the Fade without assistance,” he balanced his focus, “you may be disoriented, or not remember this conversation at all. I need you to trust me.”

She pulled a knee to her chest.

“Do we, uh—“ she frowned, “does it have to be in the Fade?”

Solas raised his eyebrows.

“Is there a problem?”

“No,” she replied at once, “no. Do it.”

He nodded, and touched her shoulder, lowering her down onto the bedroll. She turned her head, so her horns wouldn’t get in the way; her face was tense. Solas cast the spell.

“Is something supposed to be happening?” she looked at him out of the corner of her eye, frowning with uncertainty.

“Calm yourself.”

He put a hand over her forehead and pressed gently, pushing her down, beyond the fabric of the tent, the soil beneath them. He felt the rhythm, fast and erratic, pounding in his palm.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

Adaar inhaled shakily. He could see the movement of her heart beating under her breast, and quickly looked away. 

“You,” he lowered his voice, “are in a safe and quiet place. There is only the sunlight, warm against your skin, and the leaves rustling overhead. You know the Fade—you know yourself. Walk with me, and I will guide you.”

He moved his hand and set it down again, between her collarbones.

“You enter a deep sleep.”

***

‘Fade-walker’ was not, technically speaking, an accurate description. Sometimes he walked, yes—sometimes he ran until his lungs burned. He could fly, disintegrate, phase through solid rock, until movement itself became difficult to define. The Fade allowed for the most pure form of existence, in the very essence of his being, and he revelled in it.

On the flip side, here, his barriers fell. The same way alcohol loosened one’s tongue, the Fade tended to overturn one’s inhibitions, and as he extended a hand to Adaar, he felt the ground shifting under his feet. In the next second, it was pouring – rain drenched his clothes, ran behind his ears, trickled from his nose.  

He shuddered, calling her name over the deafening downpour.

She turned around. Gold markings dotted her shoulders, ran down the sides of her face in thin lines, blended into her hair and over her horns. Solas took a step back, startled by the anger in her eyes.

“Can you hear it?” she asked, turning away from him, “Can you hear it?

“Adaar,” he tried, but she wouldn’t face him, “Yves?”

“Don’t call me that,” the rain was cut off like a book slammed shut, and they stood in silence, “not you.”

There was no song.

“We are too far away,” Solas walked up to her, feeling snapping twigs and soft moss under his feet, but unable to see them, “you must lead me.”

Only smoke and mist around them, though the ground was solid. His foot caught on something and he almost tripped; Adaar grabbed his wrist in time, her hand slid down and caught his.

“Are you blind?” she asked, the gold on her skin shining in light that had no source.

He looked around. Smoke and mist.                         

“Solas,” Adaar furrowed her brow, “where do you think we are?”

“I cannot see what you won’t allow me to,” he tilted his head to the side, “I could invite you into an image of my own creation, but that defeats the purpose. You must lead me, Adaar.”

“That’s stupid,” she scoffed, “hold on.”

She gripped his hand; a little tighter, and she’d crush his bones. Colour filled the darkness around him, and he saw a valley cracking open beneath them like skin sliced with a knife. Green sprouted from the wound, and the crevice pushed out a slow breath, sending wind rushing towards them. Adaar’s hair danced. She smoothed it down with a hand led between her horns.

Solas shot her a cursory glance.

“Thank you.”

“I don’t get it,” she didn’t seem to process the words, “I just don’t get it. The singing I heard, I—“

She let out a cry of surprise and stumbled backwards, ripping her hand free to clutch the Anchor. Her knees failed her and she fell into the moss – her glowing fist pressed closed, knuckles turning white. Solas knelt in front of her.

“Adaar?”

She opened her hand. The green mark in her palm flickered gently, and he finally heard it. A faint hum emerged from the roar of wind around them, gentle, not a voice or an instrument, and not in between— something impossible to replicate, the exact opposite of ringing silence. It slowly muted the whispering leaves, the breeze, even their breathing, until it was rattling around his brain in an endless string of echoes.

“Uh,” she caught his attention, “You… don’t look happy.”

Solas sighed; he knew the song so well it hurt. He could see it coursing through her veins, her muscles, infecting her, poison in her blood. It had never been meant for a mortal, and it was destroying her; in the Fade, he could see it glistening under her skin.

“It is not the red lyrium you hear,” he said, eyes closed, “it’s the Anchor. Amplified by the presence of the lyrium.”

Adaar looked at him in bewilderment.

“How do you know?”

It was his magic; he’d weaved the tune himself. He reached out – she gingerly placed her hand in his, the green glow locked between their palms. He willed the music quieter, and it just barely obeyed, fighting back with the stubborn persistence of waves crashing against a cliff.

“Red lyrium fills with emotion, it erodes the line between reality and the Fade,” Solas glaced away, “This is very different.”

“So, is it gone?”

“No. The song is part of the Anchor, and I have only stymied it. It will never stop,” he squeezed her hand, “And you will continue to hear it as long as we linger. I am sorry.”

Adaar let out a shaky breath. A change had cast a shadow over her features. 

“Don’t be. I’m just complaining,” she took her hand back, pressed the fist against her lap, “As long as I get the job done, I’m happy.”

He closed his eyes completely, dipping his head forward, just barely resisting the urge to hide his face in his hands. 

“Solas,” he felt the warmth of her palm on his cheek, “look at me.”

He obeyed, how could he not – the realisation dawned on him thick with irony, like sand in his teeth, bile in his throat. He’d walked right into a trap Adaar had never even known she was setting.

“I know you did what you could,” she said, “to keep it from killing me. I can handle a little singing. You don’t have to—you don’t have to look so sad.”

Solas knew the ultimatum now more clearly than ever. The choice was made, it had been made since the very beginning—but it felt like he was making it all over again, and though the answer didn’t, rather— couldn’t change, it hurt much more this time.

“I am hardly the one the one in need of comforting,” he said as she withdrew.

“I don't know,” Adaar shrugged, “you kind of looked like you were.”

Solas pursed his lips. The wet moss felt cold against his hands and feet, as if he was sitting on the surface of a lake. The chill crept under his skin. 

“I have done what I can. I should allow you some rest.”

“No, no, hold on,” she looked around, “I want to see more of the Fade, while I’m lucid. Can you spare a little more time?”

He was taken back to Haven, she was always so hungry for knowledge; how different this was. He knew her to be considerate, but her innate curiosity always defeated politeness.

“Very well,” he rose to his feet, helping her up with him – or rather formally pretending to, “come with me.”

He did not comment on her hand still holding his. He could understand this was new; she needed grounding, perhaps a different kind of anchor to hold her down. This much, he could offer. No more. He reminded himself again. No more. But it wasn't long until she began slipping, increasingly harder to keep in his hands, like an overcharged spell - and Solas let her go. 

When he woke up in the morning, Adaar was gone. They found her retching behind the tent.

Chapter Text

“Another one! Can you believe?” Adaar spread her arms out for effect, “Commander, how will I show my face to the world?”

Red-faced and positively beaming, Cullen looked up at her from under his brow. The board sat between them, practically abandoned already; Solas raised his eyebrows at the pieces left in disarray. He could think of a hundred ways in which Adaar could have made her meddling at least a touch more subtle. Then again, maybe that hadn’t been the point.

“Dare I say you’re going easy on me?” the commander scratched his stubble, letting go of the queen he’d set down.

Solas extended a knowing half-lidded look to Dorian, an adult eye roll. The Tevinter responded in kind, and they both wordlessly returned to their books – it was a pleasant day, one of the few they had left before winter stomped up to Skyhold’s gate and rattled the bars, and they were both taking advantage of it to the fullest by doing their reading outdoors.

A grand way to look sophisticated, while Dorian was – in fact – reading the very epitome of garbage. Respectively, Solas found himself chewing through the last chapters of Varric’s sweat and tears, borrowed from Adaar after she’d left the copy foolishly unguarded on her desk. It served her right, after the amount of tomes she’d snuck out of his collection. The mild wind fanned the pages.

“I don’t appreciate this any more than I would if you were cheating,” Cullen raised a finger at her, “Try harder, Yves.”

She probably wouldn’t have even tried to explain herself, but before they could speak any longer, a courier swept the commander away – oh, the raw power of a hushed word.

Adaar was relaxed; even with her hair tied down and braided by Vivienne’s handmaidens, strands still tore free, curled around her horns in an effort to escape the clutches of elegance. Feeling a ball of anger slowly rolling up his wishbone, Solas wondered when they’d start starving her, so that her body would eat her muscles.

Dorian sneezed next to him, and he realised the wind had picked up, brushing over Skyhold; the smell of rain weaved itself into the air. Pieces clicked on the chessboard, hard but brittle like bird bones. 

“What in the world do you hope to accomplish by losing to him?” Dorian asked once Cullen was out of earshot, book forgotten.

The sound of Adaar’s laughter warmed the afternoon. Solas stopped reading, but kept his eyes on the page.

“He’s a military strategist, Dorian,” she stretched herself out in the chair, hooking a leg over the armrest, “I’m but a savage Vashoth. Not even the kind that plays chess with imaginary pieces. Woe is me.”

Adaar's competitive streak had been a ruse, then? She confused him sometimes. 

“And he gets this absurdly wide smile on his face when he wins,” she added.

Of course. Solas put a hand up to his chin to cover his lips with his bent pointer finger. Of course. The Tevinter chuckled, oblivious.

“It is rather sweet, yes.”

“Right? The man needs a break. It’s a cause worth looking foolish for.”

“You wouldn’t care for another game, would you?” Solas asked, finally peeling his eyes from the book, “A genuine round, that is.”

“Oh, not a chance, not after last time,” Adaar waved a hand, “you know I’m objectively terrible at chess.”

“Yves!”

They all spun around to see Cullen on the steps of the alcove, out of breath, chest rising and falling irregularly. He was clutching a note in his hand.

“Read it,” he said, air escaping between the words, “now.”

Adaar’s eyes trailed over the writing several times, back and forth, like the letters were floating. Once she’d managed to ram the message into her mind, she jumped out of her chair, knocking it over.

“We need to get Leliana,” she hissed and made for the hall, with Cullen following closely.

Solas and Dorian looked at each other.

“Not a moment’s rest for our Inquisitor, it seems,” the Tevinter raised his eyebrows at him, “but I’d be willing to take you up on that offer, if it still stands.”

Solas snapped his book shut with one hand, and gestured to the table with the other.

“By all means.”

They took the seats Adaar and Cullen had abandoned, and reassembled the pieces on the board into lines. Dorian seemed unfazed by the dramatic exchange they’d only just witnessed, and so Solas made an effort to match his façade, but inside he was flipping through his cards – repeating the words back to himself. Obviously, the matter was delicate enough to keep it from him and Dorian, though that could be said for many of the Inquisition’s affairs, and hardly warranted offense, but...

It also regarded Leliana. A secret was in play. Unsolved, naturally, or else they’d be headed for the War Table.

The fact Cullen had looked genuinely worried suggested the Inquisition’s Inner Circle was somehow involved. Who did Cullen care for? Naturally, the other advisers, and he was very close with Adaar herself. He was also a soldier. Could it be something—

Solas sighed. He could guess all he wanted, but ultimately, there wasn’t enough information to know for sure, rendering all conclusions worthless.

“Things are going well with the Bull, I assume?” he asked, glancing up at his opponent.

Dorian made the first move and sat back with an embarrassed, but happy smile reddening his face.

“Well, yes,” he said quietly, “I’m surprised you care.”

“Only for the sake of my research. It is rather difficult to focus on ancient texts with two stubborn fools arguing over one’s head.”

“Or below one’s feet.”

Solas' eyes snapped up to meet his, but the Tevinter was already looking away to the side - perfectly aware of his own peril, eyes meaningfully wide and eyebrows raised. Solas wondered if he was above kicking the man under the table.

Their game quickly escalated into an actual match of intellect, and they did not exchanged another word, spare for passive-aggressive commentary about each other’s move choices. Dorian lost – solidifying Solas’ status as Skyhold’s chess champion – and demanded another round, but was politely rejected. Solas was a skilled liar—but not a trickster, despite the tales, and feigning defeat was beneath him.

He paid a short visit the stables on his way back, poking his head in the shed to see if Blackwall felt like day-drinking, but found only hay and the wooden rocking griffon on the table; thinking it strange, but nothing concerning, he walked back to his study. When Adaar burst through his door not half an hour later, strapping on her chest plate with nervous fingers, and told him to pack for a trip to Val Royeaux – he dropped everything and followed.

***

The stone of the wall felt cold against his hands, joined behind his back. He exhaled, watching her pace down the length of the room, then back up again, heavy boots thumping on the carpet in an erratic pattern. Her fists were white. The report lay on her desk, but he knew the words by heart; there was no point in reading it again. When a gust of wind tore through the window, and the paper spiralled its way to the floor, he didn’t move an inch.

He did not know how much time had passed since their return to Skyhold, but his body had gone sore, so he removed his arms from behind him - instead crossing them on his chest. The wall pressed against his shoulder blades, grounding him in the moment, though the panicked ring in his ears persisted.

Adaar finally stopped. The floor almost looked worn where she’d walked it well over a hundred times, back and forth, anxiety and anger tearing her to shreds. She hadn’t said a word until now.

“We have to get him out,” she whispered, and fell back into the rhythm again, turning her back to him, “but no matter how I look at it, it’s wrong.”

Another, stronger draft went through the Inquisitor’s quarters, sending the rest of the papers flying like startled birds. Solas pushed himself off the wall and crouched to pick them up off the floor; Adaar didn’t notice. He organised the letters in his hands, straightened them out perfectly against the desk, and weighed them down with the wooden statuette of the august ram.

She joined him, leaning her knuckles against the edge, head falling between her shoulders.

“Solas, what do I do?”

“I cannot say,” he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, “the decision is yours to make.”

“I can’t let another man die in his stead,” Adaar walked out onto the northern balcony, and he followed, “I can’t have our soldiers kill innocent guards for simply doing their duty. Have you seen them? Fat like barrels, but loyal to the throne. It’d be a massacre.”

“That leaves the Lady Ambassador,” Solas raised his eyebrows.

Adaar exhaled.

“I hate to say this, but a favour with the Empress…”

Solas felt his blood boil.

“He is our friend,” he could’ve as well been reading the lines off a script, and yet they tasted true, “A liar, yes, but will you truly let him die for the sake of political convenience?”

Adaar gave him a look, slowly raising one hand under her chin.

“Oh? I thought it was my decision.”

He froze. The theatre had left his chest alarmingly hollow.

“Solas,” she tapped a finger against the handrail with barely masked impatience, “I’m getting Blackwall—Rainier—whatever… I’m getting him back. Leaving him to die is not an option, but I can find another way. I have to plan ahead.”

“Do what you must,” he shook his head.

He felt betrayed. Paper conversations.

“I will send word to Kaariss,” Adaar placed her hands on her hips, facing the mountains, “he’s a bard, he knows his way around the criminal underbelly of Val Royeaux. In agreement with Leliana, I hope he can get Blackwall back without bloodshed.”

“Kaariss?” Solas repeated, but she waved him off, already walking towards the stairs.

He lingered for a moment. Then, realising it wasn’t polite to remain in her bedroom while she was gone, made his way into the main hall.

The following week brought him solitude, as Adaar had holed herself away in her quarters and wouldn’t come out unless to exchange a word with Vivienne. He didn’t seek her out. Truthfully, he’d had enough of company, and welcomed the time he had to reflect – to organise things in his mind again, remove his emotions from the equation. It was good.

He did not attend Blackwall’s trial, but if he stood close to the door throughout its duration, then that was between him and his frescoes. His head angled just so, eyes downturned so that his only focus was Adaar’s muffled voice; hands nervously clasped before him. The door behind him creaked closed on its hinges, and he was left in the dark, narrow hallway, listening intently. He couldn’t make out all the words, and each one he missed made his heart rate spike.

Then, suddenly, he heard armour clatter as guards walked past, chains clicking. A discrepancy between what was fair and what was right. What Blackwall deserved, compared to what Adaar could give him. He furrowed his brow; this was the true tragedy of subjectivity.

Justice was always relative. Blackwall walked free.

***

The Valo-Kas arrived at Skyhold late enough to avoid suspicion, led by the white-horned Shokrakar, her skin tangled with tattoos. The small crowd that had gathered at the sight of a group of qunari mercenaries at the gates seemed somewhere between awe and fear; for all the sympathy Adaar elicited from the people, there were some prejudices still left to overcome.

Solas walked out onto the stairs to see them; their leader was of impressive stature, bigger than Adaar herself, and greeted the Inquisitor with nothing but a firm grip on the forearm. To Shokrakar’s left stood a rogue with a bow on her back, hornless, in full armour with knife markings on the chest plate. Her head was shaved completely to show off intricate ink work, betraying her to be Katoh; prominent in Adaar’s stories as a cold and ruthless woman. To the leader’s right, a man with no visible weapon, tall and lean, with slender arms crossed on his chest – one of his curving horns was yellowish in colour, dotted red and oddly half-opaque. In the evening sun, it seemed to be glowing.

Adaar shook the rogue’s hand, then moved to do the same for the man, but he smacked her arm aside and pulled her into an embrace instead. Shokrakar’s booming laughter echoed off the battlements.

“Thank you so much,” Adaar said over dinner that evening, from where she sat at the head of the table, “you went out of your way to help. I’m happy to still think of you as my friends, though we’re apart more often than not.”

“Shit, you sound like Kaariss,” Shokrakar stabbed her meal with a fork so hard it bent, “our Adaar, silver-tongued.”

“It’s only right,” the bard grinned, “Talking is part of her job now, remember?”

Shokrakar shuddered.

Josephine hadn’t had the time to do any serious decorating, but the main hall felt homely – inviting, too, with the candles burning on every possible flat surface, and the fireplaces giving off whispering heat. The table creaked under the weight of painstakingly prepared food and expensive alcohol; it was a sight to behold, even in the dim light, though devoid of useless ceremony. Further down the table, Solas could see Sera scarfing down whatever she could get her hands on, oblivious to a scrawny man desperately trying to rope her into a conversation.

“Pardon me,” Varric said, leaning in across the table, “but I take it you’re the leader, ma’am?”

“I am,” Shokrakar glared at him, “and what of it, dwarf?”

He raised both hands.

“Just curious. I've heard of your... endeavours. I was wondering if I could put you in a book someday.”

“Me?” she slammed a fist onto the table, “Why?!”

Varric’s eyes grew wide.

“Never mind, then.”

“Uh, Boss—“ Adaar caught herself, “I-I mean, uh… ma’am. These are my friends. You are welcome here.”

“Adaar,” Shokrakar lovingly furrowed her brow, slapping a hand the size of a plate on the Inquisitor’s shoulder, “Your friends, soft like butter.”

The Inquisitor drilled her eyes into the table, face dark with a blush that had spilled over her cheeks, forehead, and shoulders.

“Yes, ma’am,” she replied, just barely a joke.

Solas couldn’t hold back a laugh; he had the decency to hide it behind his hand. The Valo-Kas had been fitting in as well as they would ever, and the invisible line separating them from the Inquisition was flexible indeed, but unequivocally unbreakable. They were a tightly-knit group, at least those present – Solas knew their numbers to be larger than just a few Tal-Vashoth – not unlike the Bull’s Chargers, and though Adaar was regarded fondly, she was no longer one of them. An honorary member, so to speak. Her remaining need for titulature was misplaced, and almost sweet.

“What are you smiling about, elf?” Kaariss raised his chin at him, “Adaar is your boss, is she not?”

Solas glanced at the woman, catching her downing a glass of wine – with the desperation of a man stranded at sea finally spiralling into madness and drinking salt water.

“Undeniably,” he returned his attention to the bard, “I am at the Inquisitor’s disposal.”

“What’s she like, now that she’s—you know, important?” Kaariss asked, and raised a bottle of wine off the table, subtly tipping it in a question.

Solas nodded, and was poured a generous glass of the Antivan red. He muttered an equally subtle thanks.

“I have no comparison,” he said, “but she is righteous. She is... an adequate diplomat, but he knows how to strike where a blow must be dealt.”

“I see,” Kaariss laughed, “so nothing like the Adaar we knew, then.”

“Is that so?”

“Well,” the man ran a hand over the underside of his long hair, which had been shaved close to his skin, “She was our best fighter, right after Shokrakar, of course. Angry. She could slice a man in half from brow to bits in one blow, so we called her Yvvie, you know—“

He smiled, rubbing his forehead, and Solas saw the countless rings on his fingers. Some were clearly enchanted—some only for decoration, connecting to a bracelet that hugged his wrist under the cuff of his shirt.

“To make light of it,” he went on, “so she wouldn’t be as terrifying.”

Solas raised his eyebrows.

“Truly?”

“Oh, yes. Not on the surface, of course, but people really only show their true character when they’re fighting,” Kaariss nodded, taking a cursory sip of his drink, “What, you disagree?”

“No,” Solas looked at Adaar again, but she was still ingrained in conversation with her old leader, “But she never struck me as aggressive.”

“Yvvie’s smart, she knows how to hide it,” Kaariss gave another nod, deeper this time, “but I know she’s got that anger in her.”

Solas narrowed his eyes.

“I don’t believe you know her as well as you think.”

Kaariss beamed at him with poison in his eyes.

Teth a, Yvvie?” he called in Qunlat over the clamour, “Who’s the elf?”

Adaar slammed her tankard down on the table and nudged Solas in the elbow. He’d been mysteriously seated next to her, second in importance only to the guest of honour – how the Lady Ambassador had known to name him Adaar’s left hand, he couldn't say. 

“He bothers everyone,” she said directly to him, “don’t worry about it.”

“Oh, which reminds me,” Kaariss extended his arm across the table, but didn’t quite reach her hand, which had discreetly inched away from him, “I saved your friend. You owe me something.”

The friend in question looked up from his beer, and his eyes met with Solas’ for a split second. The mage quickly turned away.

“What do I owe you, kadan?” Adaar asked, voice heavy with dreariness. 

“You must listen to all thirty-four sonnets I wrote. Some are for your ears only."

“He means the ones about you, Adaar,” Shokrakar grinned, “worst poetry in all of Thedas.”

“Can’t be the worst,” Varric raised his eyebrows, but didn’t elaborate.

Solas supposed the dwarf had seen his fair share of atrocities in his career. He looked to Adaar again, and was happy to find her smiling at him from over a new drink; the spark in her eyes warmed his face.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I’m just glad there hasn’t been any stabbing yet,” she replied briskly, brushing a hand over her hair, “everyone seems to be getting along.”

Her eyes rolled further down the table, and the smile slowly dripped off her face.

“Well, almost everyone. I haven’t seen Bull all evening.”

Solas squeezed her forearm in reassurance.

“I have not seen Dorian, either. I dare say that explains it.”

Adaar’s face lit up and she laughed, because yes, it was obvious, drink in her beer stein dangerously licking the brim. She set it down and untangled her fingers from the grip, leaving the metal clouded around the imprint; the small curls on her hairline had stuck to her skin, wet with a thin layer of sweat from the candles.

“You always know just what to say,” she said, raising an eyebrow at him, “do you keep notes for when I start overthinking?”

“I assure you, it is pure improvisation. I could not anticipate all your worries if I tried,” the wine ghosted over his palate like a flame, “you have taught me something of spontaneity, Adaar.”

She burst out laughing again.

“Oh, you have a long way to go.”

Her fingers covered her cheeks and forehead, but her ears had turned bright red.

They crumbled out of the conversation soon enough, and Solas waited a few minutes before following her out of the main hall, and onto the battlements. The cold wind had picked up during the day, and now only grew in strength, making her rub her shoulders.

The clear sky above them was deceptive; come midnight, there’d be a snowstorm. Solas knew Skyhold's quirks by heart. But at least for now, there was peace - the stars were bright and bold, and he could draw the constellations with his eyes, too many to count, too many that had lost their names to time and lies. He knew that if he searched, he'd find the Dread Wolf swallowing Mythal. He stared at his hands.

“Well, then…” he began, “I take it you were involved with Kaariss?”

He’d said it as conversationally as he knew, but Adaar still shot him a wide-eyed stare.

“No!” she sputtered, too fast, “I mean, yes. Not really. What’s it to you?”

Solas leaned next to her on the outer wall, enchanted by the view stretching out in front of him, ignoring the sky. Purple mountains as far as the eye could see, frozen waves in an ocean of indigo. The thick vein of the glacier curled around the base of the fortress, silver in the moonlight.

There was a weight in his hands, in his stomach. In the paralysing chill of the night, he almost quaked with the feeling.

“You addressed him in a way that suggested fondness.”

Kadan?” she glanced at him, and Solas' jaw clenched, “That’s not always romantic. It can mean your lover, yes, but also your friend, your breast. Depends. What, you don’t have a word like that?”

“There is one,” he replied carefully, “but it is a term of endearment, not quite as multifaceted. It seems counter-intuitive to leave room for misunderstandings, especially in matters of romance.”

He could have as well driven a knife under her ribs, but she looked ahead, supposedly clueless. No, she would never meet him.

“Finally,” she said, “you’ll teach me something in elvish. I’m all ears.”

“Why are you so insistent on learning the language of my people?” Solas focused on her face, every little movement of her features, “Surely not for the approval of the Dalish.”

Adaar gave a shrug of her shoulders. Some of the fear unhooked itself from her back, he could tell. 

“I just… want to,” she furrowed her brow, but not in anger, “I mean, why do you spend so much time in the Fade? It’s—it’s fascinating, the world is fascinating. Language is culture, it's history. The more I learn, the more I understand. I'm happy to play the fool."

A chuckle behind a closed-lipped smile, throwing a glance his way. She wiggled a finger between them.

“Deep down, you and I are the same. You’ve just forgotten the fun in being an idiot.”

Solas felt his heart pounding, still steadily but with force which made his hands quiver to the rhythm. He clasped them on the stone of the wall, watching her, wishing she’d look at him again.

Vhenan means your heart, your darling,” he said finally, “Falon means your friend.”

“Straightforward,” she nodded, “I like it.”

“Hmm.”

He pretended not to notice when she stared at him.

“Alright, listen,” she said slowly, leaning her elbows on the stone so that their faces were level, “if you think I’m dishonest—“

“No,” Solas glanced at her, “no.”

“Then what?”

Defensive, scared. The silent plea to back off. The best he could do was freeze in place, wait for her to meet him where he stood, wait—until he turned to ash. He was safe, she would not reach out, she would not close the distance between them; he wanted to be relieved, but found only disappointment in the tense square of her shoulders. 

He felt tired, the weight of his sleep pressing down on his eyelids. Waking up felt more difficult every time, like something was pulling him back, beckoning. He had to wade through the mud of his own psyche, memories he should have lost along the way clawing at his attention.

"It is nothing."

Remembering was a curse.

Chapter Text

Adaar tapped an impatient foot against the stone floor of her bedroom, muscular arms crossed on her chest.

“I told you,” she stared him down, “I’ll be fine.”

“Only if you’re certain.”

She shrugged. The childish attitude only further betrayed her nervousness. 

“I do not wish to be explicit,” Solas placed his hands on his hips, “but the last time you were lucid in the Fade, it had you retching.”

She looked a little paler than before, chin retracting the slightest bit as she held back her disgust. Solas waited for her to come to the inevitable conclusion and dismiss him, but instead, she sat down on her bed – and furrowed her brow in mournful determination.

“I’ve got a bucket.”

The relative peace of the weeks following the ball at the Winter Palace was an illusion well-kept and lovingly nurtured. Adaar had divided her attention between her duties as Inquisitor, Vivienne’s courtly teachings, and – finally – the Fade, much to Solas’ carefully concealed joy. But as happy as he was that she actually listened to him again, the fact remained—she didn’t take to it well.

He exhaled, dragging his steps down the length of the bed.

“How long?”

“How long what?”

Solas squeezed his hands behind his back in thin-lipped annoyance.

“Have you always reacted this way to the simple act of dreaming?” he stopped in front of her, “Or is it a recent development? A consequence of the Anchor, perhaps?”

Adaar placed her hands behind her on the bed and rested her weight on them, arching her spine until something cracked. She exhaled.

“It started after Adamant,” she said, “before that, I barely dreamed at all.”

Qunari rarely did, but—Adamant? Solas stared at her, unable to pick an eye to look into, until she finally leaned forward and faced the ground under the weight of his gaze. He slowly lowered himself to a crouch in front of her.

“Why did you not tell me?”

She pursed her lips, brushing a loose strand of hair behind her ear. It immediately fell back out again, but he didn’t dare reach for it.

“I know I should have, but I couldn’t,” she said finally, glaring at nothing, “there were more important things on my mind. And besides, it’s—it makes me look weak.”

He let out a huff.

“Have we not discussed this?”

Adaar snarled, slapping a hand onto her thigh, and cutting the argument short.

“Let’s just get on with it.”

Fine, then. Solas stood up, walked over to her desk, and pulled up a chair by the bedside. The Inquisitor’s quarters were suddenly large and imposing; he had to remind himself they were alone. There was little sense in trying to enter the Fade with distractions buzzing in the back of his mind. He needed peace.

“If you’re ready, we will begin,” he gestured lightly with his hand.

Adaar laid down on her back, facing towards him with her hands covering her stomach in one last stab at self-defense. Solas crossed his legs at the ankles and leaned back in the chair, with his fingertips joined in front of him; hands on her stomach would be of little help in terms of protecting herself from an effort of the mind. It was clearly subconscious. 

“Now, you will fall asleep.”

Just as before, she was confused. Solas dipped his head towards her.

“I am here. I will guide you.”

Watching her eyes slide shut under the spell, he walked backwards into the Fade, gently turning reality inside out until it enveloped him.

***

He turned to the side; the second level of the bedroom was missing, replaced by a tall wall with old decorations sparkling on either corner. The bed was far more lavish, hidden underneath a flowing golden canopy – the fabric was almost transparent, dispersing light between the two of them, submerging them in a warm, milky fog of yellow. Everything was glowing, despite being caked in dust; shy patches of moss had began to appear in the corners. Fresh air crossed the room through the giant windows.

Adaar was beside him, wearing layered metal armour, and studying it intently with hands clad in leather gloves. She carried no weapon, but the only visible part of her body was her face, with her hair pulled back into a tight braid. Self-preservation, still. Tickling distrust. She looked at him, bewildered.

“Am I dreaming this?”

“No,” Solas looked away, “you are not.”

“Then what’s going on?” she did a slow turn, taking in the interior, head tilted back so she could stare at the ceiling. 

Solas did the same; the chandelier above them carried a ring of candles, a hundred emerald fireflies like wraiths in the wind. The veilfire looked almost unnerving in this subdued form – so simple, obvious. Solas remembered lighting it with his own hand. A shiver ran down his arm.

He heard Adaar gasp and turned to look at the single balcony – small, curved like the side of a boat, with blossoming ivy falling over the balustrade. In the middle, two women stood close together, embodied only by words whispered in the privacy of the mountains; mist trailing in a river. One of them was holding a handful of flowers behind her back, in clammy, shaking fingers.

“Oh,” Adaar stepped forward, armour clicking, “who are they?”

Solas did not know. Trespassers, presumably. He hadn’t been a very attentive master in his youth; and after his disappearance, Skyhold had naturally been left to fall into disrepair. He almost smiled. He had no clue. 

“Ancient elves, I would assume,” he walked with her down the stairs, “this is not the Skyhold of your reign.”

She furrowed her brow.

“So this is before the downfall? How?”

“It did not happen in the blink of an eye,” Solas joined his hands behind his back again, “though it may seem that way, looking back through the prism of centuries past.”

“Well,” Adaar rolled her shoulder, “Always good to know some things never change.”

Solas opened his mouth to dismissively agree and move on with the lecture, but her words echoed for a long second. 

“Yes,” he looked her in the eye, “it truly is.”

The presence of the Valo-Kas was pushing at Adaar’s mind, he couldn't help but notice it flickering in the corner of his vision. He wondered what he would see, should he choose to delve into her dreams, probe the ghosts she braided out of the strings of her youth. Cards on the table - the reflection of a sigh, the heavy scent of sweat, a single gold horn. He saw battle, let the desperation flow freely through his fingers, the awkward pity of friendship which could not be more. The misery that followed sat on red velvet, draped in silks and choking on gold teeth. Adaar had earned the reputation a good leader—and subsequently, a poor figurehead. One of a kind, desperately fighting the loneliness of it.

The tension, the fast thought of the fight. She does not think her place is in that throne.

He knew.

If he commented on it, he’d have to face what he beamed into the Fade; even if he was strong enough to keep it from her, the guilt of lying pulled at his hands and feet. If he let himself see the Fade as a dreamer, and not a walker, he’d find himself in Arlathan again, or under Mythal’s gentle gaze; neither of which he could show to Adaar. She’d be left in darkness. He clung to the Fade in its purest form.

“We’ll have to set out soon.”

He glanced at her, but she was facing away, gazing out of every window they passed.

“It’s been too long since I was actually in battle,” she added, “vain preening and empty conversations drive me up the wall. It’ll be good.”

Her hands hung loosely at her sides, and she walked into the courtyard, finding Skyhold empty. Not a soul in sight, just mist held between the walls. Solas watched an eagle arch in a steady glide above them, black against a sky blocked out by thickly woven grey, spotted like the belly of a dragon. There was no horizon; a snowstorm extended in a lake below them, breaking against the stone and curling in on itself.

A red flame emerged from the white.

Small at first, but growing rapidly, until it spread like a drop of ink in water; the spirit swam past them, turning slowly in figures of eight. It put its hands forward and Solas instinctively held his arm out to stop Adaar, or maybe usher her behind his back; the qunari stood in place.

“Leave us,” he commanded quietly.

“No, wait,” to his surprise, Adaar took a step forward, pushing against his arm, “is that a spirit?”

It slowly flowed into the form of a woman, liquid filling a shape.

Vhenan,” it cajoled, tilting its head far to the side, until its shoulders followed, “my sweet.”

“You know her?” Adaar raised her eyebrows.

“It is a pest, nothing more.”

She nervously glanced between the two, anxious hands joined in front of her; but her voice bordered on steady when she spoke.

“What’s your name?”

The stream of red flinched, and spun around Adaar, pushing between them.

“I have none, my Lady,” it said lightly, “many have named me, but I detest to be defined. I am what I am, though I glitter.”

“Adaar,” Solas turned to her, “careful."

The qunari looked at him again, fear slowly overpowered by excitement in her eyes.

“I just want to talk to her. For a moment."

He blinked. He had come face to face with his lie—and found it to be a truth. Adaar stood before him, open, conversing gallantly with a being from another world. A world he’d been a part of, for all his magical talent and aged curiosity, a world he’d been torn from and to which he would always try to return—he had perhaps more in common with them than he did with anyone born into a time after the Veil, and yet here she was.

“What are you doing here?” Adaar asked, waking him from his melting sense of reality.

The spirit smiled, dipping its head at Solas.

“He aches.”

Ghilas, da’len,” he said softly, gesturing it away with a slow wave of his hand - but it still lingered, laughter like bells settling in the snow.

“Solas?” Adaar had to tilt back when the spirit floated upwards, towering over her, “Really?”

“Yes,” it chirped, “and no. There is so much love here, pure and desperate. I give…”

It fanned its hands out.

“Little pushes.”

“You… bring people together?” Adaar almost grinned, “Well, that explains a lot.”

“It’s not for you,” the spirit quipped, “but for fools like you. Fen’Harel ma halam.”

It was not a demon, naturally, it could not be - not to Adaar. To name sins was to reject elements of one's own nature, when they were reflections, each - half of a whole. Solas. Selfish pride, but also the pride necessary to push forward, to rebel. To overcome and demand. She had grasped the idea of it; the spirit was gentle, and it was fiery red. And it made no move to attack. 

Adaar shot him a clueless look out of the corner of her eye.

“What’d she say to me?”

“An empty threat,” he glanced at the spirit one more time. Ghilas, da’len. Go in peace.

Its vivid colour paled suddenly when it realised it overstayed its welcome; threads of red began trickling in all directions, and within the next second, it was gone. Solas felt it scattering, marbles on a wooden floor. Adaar wasn’t angry. One of her hands was on her chin, the other supporting her elbow; she seemed intrigued.

“I don’t think that one liked me very much.”

“It is fascinated by a memory I carry,” he watched the snowstorm melt into a flood, and quicksilver fell over Skyhold in a giant wave, “forgive the interruption.”

He saw their reflections above them, for only a split second - then it dropped, and disappeared. He caught Adaar watching him. 

“What memory?” she said softly, “If you don’t mind my asking.”

He pursed his lips, leading her down through the knee-deep mercury, under the arch of the gate. Their movements sent ripples out in all directions, angry ridges over the perfectly still surface of the mirror.

“I had a friend,” Solas raised his eyebrows, words spilling from him like water from a holey bucket, “a mentor, rather. A woman of great knowledge, who put up with me despite my brazen tongue and rotten attitude.”

Adaar waited, sensing the conclusion.

“She was killed,” he said, “a long time ago. This spirit has latched onto her image.”

He could feel the bile in his throat. He’d never spoken of it to anyone. The raw pain of holding Mythal’s body in his arms, crying against her neck. Not even oceans of their bad blood had been enough to cure his grief, not the stench of the burning vallaslin, not the anger; the wisp of her that remained was a disservice to her memory, a knife wedged in a wound that would never heal. Cold cheeks, blind eyes, that was all she was now.

“I’m sorry,” Adaar’s hand settled on his shoulder.

He shouldn’t have said a thing. He pulled in a slow breath, almost overfilling his lungs, but couldn’t muster the words that should have followed. Knowing the steps to a dance, yet stumbling; stuttering through the words to a spell he’d written with his own hand.

“The only way I know—“ Adaar's head jerked sideways, horns cut lines into the air, “to cope—is to accept.”

“Is that not akin to admitting defeat?” he turned to her, and the Fade shivered around them, needles quilling through the mist, “If you could choose to bring your father back, would you?”

“Solas…”

“Answer,” he shook his head, “please.”

She clenched her jaw.

“It wouldn’t be right.”

“But—“

“Listen,” she pressed, “if we do not push forward, what’s the point? We are shaped by time and circumstance. To disregard that, reverse it somehow— is to rob yourself of who you are.”

“You refuse to even consider the possibility.”

“Yes,” she furiously nodded, “I will never. There’s a price for everything, Solas. And it’s never what you want it to be. You should know that. You’re a mage, for fuck’s sake.”

He looked at her, her chiselled features, dark eyes like two wells flooding with the light around them. He could count her lashes this close.

She understood so much for someone who knew so little.

“Well, come on,” the note of anger in her voice had faded, “say something.”

It was not possible.

She idly scratched at the base of her horn, eyes fixed in her feet.

It was not possible.

“You—“ he could feel his heart in his throat, “astound me.”

He thought he saw her gaze dropping, but it might have as well been a trick of the Fade, a shimmer in the fabric of his imagination.

“Hey,” she squared her shoulders, head perking up, “do you hear that?”

Solas angled his ear to the direction she’d looked in, but there was nothing.

“Wake us up,” she said, “someone’s about to kick down the door.”

***

The rattling got louder as he emerged from the dream. Solas sat up in his chair, moved life into stiff shoulders; he saw Adaar stir, eyes fluttering open to the blinding daylight. She frowned.

“Oh,” she put a hand over her mouth, blood draining from her face, “oh, no.”

She gulped, eyes pressed closed, and gingerly sat up with her head between her knees. Solas scrunched his nose. He’d warned her; it was her own fault. Exasperated, he passed her the thoughtfully prepared bucket. Adaar gripped it, then proceeded to lean over the other side of the bed and throw up. Her back arched and shook; with a single hand, she brushed her hair between her horns, it stayed in place. Solas felt a pull in his bones.

Another knock.

“Tell them to fuck off,” she said, weak voice echoing from the depths of the bucket.

Solas pushed himself out of his chair.

“As you wish.”

He lightly walked to the door and unlocked it, expecting Josephine – the knocks definitely had her tenacity – or a courier with an urgent message, as unlikely as any one of them was to rattle the hinges, with Adaar in all her terror on the other side, but the face he saw did not belong to a member of the Inquisition. He recognised Kaariss, with the yellow horn. The bard took a startled step back when he saw him.

“What are you doing here, elf?” his upper lip twitched, “I need to talk to her.”

“On the Inquisitor’s order, I am obligated to tell you to—“ he cringed, “leave. With haste.”

Something clattered above them, presumably the bucket, and Kaariss looked up to check - but Solas closed the door in his face. Adaar had only just appeared at the top of the stairs, the familiar sound of her footsteps heavy on the floor. He looked over his shoulder to find her sickly pale, one hand resting firmly against the wall; her proud shoulders had slumped down, so that her collar shifted awkwardly to one side with the strings undone.

Adaar buried her face in her hand and breathed slowly. There wasn't much he could do. 

After making sure she would live, he returned to his study, and for the first time in weeks, picked up his brushes and paints. Several had been running short, a fact he’d forgotten when he’d been conveniently in Val Royeaux; he sighed. Next time the First Enchanter dragged Adaar out to go shopping, he’d be forced to tag along. For now, the watered-down stuff would have to do; he pulled up the ladder, rolled up his sleeves, and looked upon his artwork.

The only missing element thus far was Adaar herself, something she’d remarked on, after all—but he had yet to find the courage to paint her.

Having gently aligned the golden flakes over the layer he’d just put down, he blew, sending tiny foil embers flying into the air. Gold paint could never replicate this; though it was naturally not genuine, the texture was perfect. The way it blinked and sparkled in the candlelight seemed to touch him under his skin.

There was so little he truly enjoyed, the entirety of the list – spare for Adaar’s company – painfully archaic.

Caught up in his thoughts, he didn’t hear the knock on the door; the creak made him look up. Leaning against the doorframe, with freed arms folded under his chest, was Blackwall.

Solas didn’t step down from the ladder.

“Do you have a moment?” the false Warden stared at him with a dark look in his eye, only there to draw attention away from the sheepish plea.

“I am rather busy,” he felt the cold paint water running down his palm, and the same sensation rolled over his back, “another time.”

Blackwall raised a hand and lightly clapped it against the back of his own arm, chest deflating in a steady exhale until his gut strained his belt. Almost like he was bargaining for time. Solas stared him down until he withered.

“Very well, then,” he finally muttered from underneath his whiskers, then turned on his heel and left.

Solas looked down at the brush in his hand. Damn it all, he couldn’t stand the weight.

He set it down on his desk, hard enough to splatter coloured water over three neighbouring tomes and the shard he’d been studying. It trickled onto the wood in veins of muddy purple.

“Now, what was all that for?” Dorian’s voice came from overhead, and Solas looked up to find the mage draped over the handrail, watching him.

He didn't reply. His anger at Blackwall was barely anger at all. Disappointment. Aching, scratching disappointment that made his skin crawl. A lost opportunity, another burned bridge. Solas had spent too many hours in conversation – and too many in comfortable silence – to pretend he didn’t regret it. Not to say that it would ever matter. Not truly.

He sat down on his desk, feeling his shoulders go limp, and was left staring at the pale hands joined in his lap; so pink over the knuckles, with green veins lifting the skin. They didn’t register as his.

Chapter Text

The insomnia was nauseating; he was in a filthy mood, every word above a whisper making him curl in on himself like a dry leaf. He couldn’t even understand what they were saying, there was only the irritation – before he could process each sentence, a new one was already hurting his ears, rattling around his brain like a stone in a metal cup.

He couldn't sleep, gripped by the fear of what he might dream. His heart was in his throat. 

“Oh, Solas,” Cassandra noticed him, finally, from where she sat in front of an array of tomes of varying length and age, “is there something you need?”

The armoury below them was empty, as it often happened to be so late into the evening, and as he had hoped to find it. He turned slightly to show the Seeker the book under his arm, bigger than his chest.

“Do you mind if I join you?” he shifted his weight between his feet, “The library, it is… loud.”

“The library?” Cassandra stared at him, but quickly shook it off, wrapping her arms around her assortment of literature and pushing it to the side of the table, “Take a seat.”

He thanked her and set his book down, then joined her on the bench. That helped; the familiar shuffling of pages in the silence put him at ease. After long hours of struggling with the constant noise, even just the wind rushing through the rotunda, he finally managed to focus on the words—only to see them swimming in front of his eyes.

Solas massaged his burning temples.

“Damn it all.”

“Solas, are you alright?” she glanced up at him, finger holding the place where she’d been reading.

“Would you please whisper.”

“Oh,” Cassandra made an effort to speak softly, something that clashed so completely with her nature that even she was confused, “my apologies.”

He sighed, staring at the book.

“Come to think of it,” she began, slowly closing her reading, “we have not seen much of each other as of late.”

“Indeed,” he leaned back on the bench so that his shoulder blades pressed against the wall, “regretfully. How goes your effort to find the other Seekers?”

She ran a hand through her short hair, lifting it between her fingers.

“There is nothing, still.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

Almost.

“Well. With the Valo-Kas still here, there are other issues to consider,” she blew air out of her mouth in a steady sigh.

Solas turned to face her completely.

“How so?”

Her eyes settled on him, though her head remained in place, leaned against the wall.

“You did not hear?" she grunted, "If they linger any longer, the goodbyes will not be as warm as they ought to.”

“Have you spoken to Adaar?”

“No,” she closed her eyes, leaning forward on the table, “I would not know how.”

Solas put one leg over the other, looking out the window to see the pitch black sky.

He hadn’t entirely—thought things through, so to speak—when he stepped quietly down the stairs to the tavern, greeting Cole on the way. He stopped to chat, but his mind was elsewhere; the spirit said nothing, only looked upon him with sad fondness until he left. It brought him no pleasure to cut Cole off from his thoughts, but it was a necessary evil, another in a line that grew longer by the day.

Mythal had once told him no evil was ever necessary; and if it was, then it wasn’t evil. Then again, between the two of them, she’d been the one keeping slaves--cutting her signature into their faces. Who was to say that she'd ever been right about anything? But it still felt wrong, sometimes, to be without a mentor. Without guidance. Ah, the simplicity of childhood, when word was absolute, and the parental figures in one's life had the strength and wisdom of mountains. Maturity came with the painful realisation that not even they were infallible - and it is everyone's destiny to outgrow them. 

It was as he'd told Adaar, and it was as he'd told himself when he said to Mythal - "no." He traced his fingertips over the scar on his forehead. 

Yet when he wasn’t carving rocking horses or chopping wood for no discernible reason, Blackwall could usually be found in the tavern, and so Solas - in an admirable display of aforementioned maturity - had been trying to avoid it for the past week. Only after his conversation with Cassandra had he been raised into confidence.

Looking around as he descended to the ground level, he noticed the false Warden missing, and exhaled in discreet relief – just as a beer stein flew past him.

The scene playing out in the tavern had clearly been heating up for the past few hours, and had just reached a boiling point. Katoh had her hands on her hips, and a Tal-Vashoth warrior at either side; the Iron Bull remained seated in his chair, legs crossed at the ankles, his silver eye looking up at her from under a furrowed brow. Dorian was next to him, and though his staff was missing, Solas could tell by the way he was hiding his hands that he was moments away from setting something on fire.

“Whoa, there!” a warm male voice flowed through the Herald’s Rest, followed by Kaariss, rushing between then tables, “Hold on, just a moment.”

Katoh turned to look at him, fists eagerly clenching.

“Get out, Kaariss. This is none of your business."

“My friends,” he held her arm, addressing the others - and though it was a seamless gesture, Solas saw her skin outlining his fingers in white, “Ashaad, Dezra, there’s no need for this.”

The two turned to look at the bard, eyes lighting up with surprise. They seemed children, caught red-handed - one of them ducked his head.

“Katoh said he’s not like us,” the other said, in Qunlat.

Heads turned at the foreign language. Solas saw the Bull rise out of his chair. 

“Well, Katoh isn’t always right, is she?” the poet roughly jerked the woman towards himself, and she stumbled, “Have you forgotten her failings? Come on, time to go."

He pushed Katoh behind him, and for a moment she looked like she might strike him; but she wavered. She grudgingly retreated to the door, the two warriors desperately leaning out of sight as they followed. One of them accidentally knocked his horns on the wall - they cut two deep marks into the wood with their pointed ends in what would have been a threatening display, had the qunari not grabbed his head and hissed in pain. Katoh threw a punch at his jaw, just before the door closed behind them. 

Solas returned his gaze to Kaariss, just in time to catch the man making a show of dusting his hands off. 

“Forgive them. Katoh is…” he tapped his temple, “stupid.”

He shot a glance at Dorian, and grinned, narrowing his eyes into slits.

“Are you both well?”

Despite the situation technically having been diffused, the air still crackled with an unspoken threat. Dorian hadn't removed the energy from his hands. Solas could feel it in the base of his spine - the sharp sensation keeping him on his toes, the press of an invisible hand. Straighten up, keep your posture. Measure the spell with your tongue. 

“I am perfectly fine, thank you,” the mage straightened out the fabric over his shoulders, “you… manhandled her quite a bit, there.”

“She could break me over her knee,” Kaariss laughed, a deeply unpleasant sound that brought back Solas’ headache from the day before in a matter of seconds, “it’s Shokrakar she respects. Remember that next time.”

“Forgive me, but are you planning on a next time?” Solas asked, leaning into view from the stairs.

“Ah, elf,” Kaariss raised his eyebrows at him, “I didn’t see you there.”

“Listen,” Bull rubbed his knuckles, “you didn’t have to do that. Maybe we just need to hit each other a few times, work some shit out.”

There was a controlled air of levity to his tone, just enough to keep the conversation casual. Solas had known him long enough to know that he was shielding his blind side, and - coincidentally or not - Dorian, foot put forward for balance. 

“Unless she loses to you,” the Tevinter looked up at him, “And her injured pride leads to a series of violent outbursts, which ends with you murdered in your sleep. And then we’d have to avenge you, of course, and—“

“Aw,” Bull beamed, “you’d avenge me?”

Solas rolled his eyes into the back of his head, but for the first time since he walked in, the conversation felt genuine. 

“Hey. Lovebirds,” Kaariss snapped his fingers, “I’m going to deal with it. We’re going to work this out within the Valo-Kas, you have my word.”

Or, more directly, ‘don’t tell Adaar.’ 

***

“Sometime this year, darlings,” Vivienne walked past them, clapping her hands, and stepped gracefully onto the welcoming land.

Even over the jewel of Orlais, clouds ruled the sky as the approaching winter sucked the life out of the warmer months. Solas followed the First Enchanter up onto the quay, the wood still damp after the morning rainfall – it creaked mercilessly under every step. He turned and held out a hand.

Adaar took it. He thought he saw her calf shaking with the effort of that first step, and held her steady. 

“Thanks,” she muttered, “I really hate boats.”

He offered a smile.

“Yes, I know.”

The quaint streets leading to the market were a dazzling paradox of individuality and consistency. Each shop was unique, but trying to navigate was like trying to look at a hundred stars at once – he couldn’t focus, interest constantly getting caught on something new. The strong scent of creamy sandalwood, the tall pyramids of colourful spices, the orange glow that fell over everything in sight, explained when he looked up and found layers of fabric draped between the buildings.

It was not as official or preened as the rest of Val Royeaux, though he knew all the products sold here to be of the highest quality. The chaos was what made it homely; people flowing freely between the stands, arguing prices in sweet Orlesian formalities. Vivienne led the way like a beacon, Adaar at her skirt, and Solas trailing behind them – head turning like an owl’s to take in as much of the market as possible.

The qunari he’d met would’ve spat on the floor at the notion of shopping for outfits, but then again, she didn’t seem to be changing in the direct meaning of the word. Growing. Understanding. For each step he took towards her, she took one away. He wondered if she despised him for it, like she despised Kaariss.

He thought about how self-centred he’d been to think he could ever have her in his grip without surrendering himself into hers. She’d never been further out of reach, and she’d known it all along, and all he’d done was get angry at it. Like a child.

Solas stared at the nearest shop, glistening with gemstones and rare crystals from the Western Approach, a hand over his mouth as he thought.

He’d been a fool.

He bought a new supply of pigments, and several wide brushes which looked like fluid when he idly ran them up and down his hand, thin and flexible hairs filling in the crevices between his fingers and spreading on his knuckles. Though his art was not half as reliant on quality brushes and paints as it was on the idea and skill, there was something deeply satisfying about owning the best tools of the trade – and practically speaking, it sped up the work. Not that his frescoes had ever been work.

Without this thin pigment, which stained his fingers at even the lightest of touches, he feared his feelings would’ve torn him apart by now. The simple idea of a self-portrait was his saving grace. Two – to match the duality of his nature – and two, so that he would not be alone. A wolf howling at the sun.

Time flew by as he explored, until the sky turned gold like a freshly brewed cup of tea. He found the meeting place a few minutes late, and when he did, Adaar and Vivienne were waiting for him – accompanied by a tiny elven servant, bending under the weight of countless bags and boxes stacked on top of each other in his arms.

"Let me carry that, Adrien,” Adaar was trying to get through Vivienne, but the Enchanter had locked her heels into the ground.

“That’s what he’s here for, darling,” she said stiffly, smacking Adaar’s outstretched hand out of the air in a gesture so quick he barely caught it.

“Solas,” the qunari finally noticed him, and turned around, displaying the full extent of the day’s shopping.

Her shoulders appeared sleeker, somehow, softened by a black bear fur cape that went down to her ankles and curled around her neck, dripping silverite at the buckle. The leather armour she’d been wearing before had been replaced by a foggy, blue-grey velvet shirt, discreet enough to let her fade into the bear fur.

“I feel very… concealed,” she added, looking down at herself.

“Well, even for a qunari, you are a bit of a beast, darling,” Vivienne sighed, “we have to hide that musculature, you’re brutish enough as it is.”

Adaar pursed her lips. The Enchanter placed an almost-compassionate hand over her forearm.

“This is a necessary part of the Game, dear. Just as we discussed before the Winter Palace.”

“Yes,” she stared into the distance, “I understand.”

“Might I suggest we head to the tavern?” Solas asked in a subtle attempt to cheer her up, but it accomplished nothing.

Adaar looked exhausted, but never faced down. She told the elven servant to drop the purchases off at their ship, promised him a drink once he returned, and with that – they were off.

He had not anticipated that he’d find himself shopping when he first joined the stumbling newborn deer of an Inquisition. He’d pictured fighting, politics and meticulous planning – but that had turned out to be a fraction of the Inquisition’s business, and the higher he was placed within the Inner Circle, the more he felt the sense of kinship he’d forbidden himself from. For every strike Blackwall had taken in his stead, for the handful of times he’d almost used an ancient spell to protect a companion’s life, catching himself at the last minute to play his part—he couldn’t deny he warmth of it.

And now there was the issue of Adaar sinking. He could see it; her turmoil, her loyalty to herself wrestling with her loyalty to the Inquisition. The role she’d assumed demanded a level of poise that was not beyond her, but not in her nature, either.

“I hope you weren’t too lonely without us, Solas, dear,” Vivienne said from over a glass of wine, as they sat at a slightly secluded table and enjoyed the bard’s quiet song, “Though given your proclivity for solitude, perhaps you were simply relieved.”

“As much as I would have enjoyed your company, I came to Val Royeaux with a particular goal in mind,” he motioned to his bag, stuffed with his new supplies, “and unlike you, Enchanter, I never did possess a particular gift for fashion.”

A flat-out lie, naturally.

“At least you know it, darling,” Vivienne took a distinguished sip of her drink, “that’s more than can be said for many.”

Adaar ran a hand over the base of her horns, clearly not in the mood to play along. 

“I want to go home.”

“First thing tomorrow, Yves,” Vivienne replied lightly, like she'd said the phrase enough times for it to roll smoothly off her tongue, “we have what we came for. Never underestimate the importance of presentation, especially in the upcoming battle.”

Sensible, of course, though he wondered if she’d ever gotten her horned hat knocked off her head by a low-hanging branch.

“Hey, Solas? Are you going to start a new painting?” Adaar asked him, both hands clasped around her tankard, “With the stuff you bought, I mean?”

“That is the intention,” he confirmed, raising his eyebrows, “why?”

Her face lit up with a terribly childish grin.

“I’m just wondering if you need me to pose for you. When you paint me choking the life out of Corypheus,” her brows bounced upwards in excitement, “make sure you really make the muscles pop.”

She smiled; of course, the very notion of battle was enough to lift her mood. Solas sighed.

“First, I’d have to muster the courage to paint you at all.”

“Am I that challenging a subject?” she leaned back in her chair, eyes daring, either fixed in his or not looking at all.

“Yes,” he tilted his head back to match her, “it is easy to find the right colour and form for a stranger. They are but shadows of our initial opinion of them, they lack the dimension necessary for conflict. But a friend? To capture all the sides I know you possess, all the ways in which you change—no. It is beyond me.”

He studied her expression with scrutiny meant for academia. It was unreadable.

“You see a great deal in me,” she said, tapping a nervous hand on the table as her other arm hooked itself over the backrest.

“Only a fool would not.”

“Yes,” a word sharp like a knife cut a line into the air between them, and Vivienne reminded the world of her presence, “truly, we have all been proven wrong about you, Yves, dear.”

The silence that fell at the table made room for the bard’s song, and they found themselves idly listening to the notes rolling off her strings. The girl’s voice had a slight rasp to it, the mark of a long day’s work, or perhaps a smoking habit; Solas glanced over at her, and sure enough, a pipe was sticking out from under her belt.

A poet does travel faster than his word, with tired eyes which run red unseen—,“

Adaar’s hands pressed closed on the tankard.

“—a broken quill and saddle as my board, dyed dark under a torn sky drowned in green,

The bard coughed into her shoulder. Calloused fingers on an equally worn instrument.

It seems too cruel to face these times alone, yet faced with beauty as yours, my heart dies—,“

Adaar stood up, both hands flat against the table to keep her balance. Solas followed her with his eyes, silently questioning, but she did not respond.

“Darling?” Vivienne glanced at her, “Are you alright?”

"While that tongue of yours cuts me to the bone, all we are is locked within these sweet lies.

The qunari’s fist slammed down onto the wood, making the cutlery jump. Unbearable silence gripped their table. Adaar seemed to be in that particular place of horrid curiosity where she could not walk away now, even if she tried.

The bard coughed her way through another bundle of verses, joyfully strumming the strings; Solas didn't quite catch them, too focused on Adaar's parted lips, moving as she breathed in an attempt to calm herself. She looked pale. 

"Fate grants you to me slowly, inch by inch,"  the bard sang, upping the tempo just as the song came to an end, "Fate can rot, my love—"

"'Cause you're a bitch!" several voices finished from the crowd, quiet laughter sneaking between the drunk guests. 

The bard hid her mouth behind her hand, eyes wide. Adaar’s brows drew close together; in a fluid motion, she turned on her heel and stormed off towards the bay, fur cape raising clouds of dust behind her.

Solas struggled to keep up, leaving Vivienne in the aftermath of the outburst. Adaar’s strides counted for at least two regular steps, forcing him to trot at her elbow until she finally fell against the railing, several streets away from the tavern; the sea an undisturbed mirror before them, hugged by the port. She seemed to be holding herself up on the strength of her arms alone, her body numb and limp, head hanging loosely from her shoulders.

Fucking Kaariss,” she whispered, eyes screwed shut.

“I’m sorry?”

“I’d know that shitty poetry anywhere,” she looked away, the muscles in her jaw playing under her skin. 

Solas dipped his head to see her eyes. Adaar leaned against the railing again, staring at the black water, and the twin moons drowning in it. Despite how close they’d grown over the past months, nothing could’ve prepared him for the sight of her walls crumbling like this; definitely not before his own, and yet, here they were.

“My friend,” he said, “You carry the world on your shoulders. Find your footing.”

She looked down at him, and slowly titled her head to the side. Solas froze in place.

They were alone. He could hear the waves, the quiet creaking of the slumbering boats.

Adaar leaned in.

He felt the warmth of her breath on his cheek when she kissed him; wine and honey, and the breeze on his neck, and her cold nose, cold fingertips over his jaw. When she pulled back, too quickly, the absence sent chills through his skin.

He opened his eyes to find her staring at him, face flushed.

“I…” she grabbed onto the railing again, “I’m sorry.”

Heat in his ears, burning his forehead. Adaar’s lower lip quivered, she immediately bit down on it.

“I don’t know what—that was a bad idea,” she said with a shake of her head.

It was indeed. Solas despised that he’d have to swallow his pride and pull her down if he wanted another. But she was upset, she was vulnerable, and he could not. 

“An understatement,” he said instead.

The exhale burned his lungs.

“Forgive me,” Adaar faced away from him, watching the water, “please, forgive me.”

It took all of his self-control, strengthened over thousands of years, not to do something reckless. 

Chapter Text

She had come to his quarters for just a few moments, and said precious little of her intent; but she asked about Katoh.

The Valo-Kas had risen from being a minor disturbance to a proper, fleshed-out issue, though Kaariss’ sonnet - for one - never did catch on at Skyhold, and perhaps Adaar had Leliana to thank for that. Solas didn’t suppose it actually ended the way it’d been sung at the tavern near the port, but he would not put it past the man, either. That part didn’t matter, anyway. Adaar was angry, and she was embarrassed, as unwilling subjects of love poetry often are – and when Kaariss had asked to come with them on their next mission, she’d rejected him vehemently. Later, Solas saw shattered pottery on the floor where they’d talked.

The train of thought had been rather simple. He replied truthfully whenever possible, and no less; as someone he respected, she had a right to as much honesty as he could offer. Their friendship was under enough strain with the reiterating echo of feelings cut short in Val Royeaux, and he desperately wanted to mend it before the whole thing came apart in his hands. There was a myriad of excuses to choose from - the drinks, the late hour, anger at a past lover; he could pick anything he wanted to justify the kiss. He sought out opportunities to speak to her, to build up what'd been lost, and the pettiness of 'she started it' was far, far beneath him.

Lying to her felt like someone was pulling his ribcage apart, and inside of him, there was a selfish need to alleviate that pain. This was Adaar. He cared too much to pretend he wasn't willing to fight through the awkwardness of it. It was simply too important to let dwindle. So he told her, Kaariss' wishes be damned. 

“Maybe there's a way to work it out,” she said sharply, pacing through his room with her arms crossed on her chest.

Solas looked over the desk, the simple bed, the dark wooden cupboard. He didn’t spend much time here, and so he’d failed to add any kind of personal touch; Adaar didn’t seem to notice. Or perhaps her mind was elsewhere.

“To what end?” he asked quietly, “They have to leave eventually.”

“But—“ Adaar looked ready to punch something, “the only reason why they’re being singled out is that they’re Tal-Vashoth. And they feel threatened, so there’s tension, and I mean—I can get Katoh to leave Bull alone. And Kaariss is a bastard, but he’s my bastard. I can’t just kick them out.”

Solas furrowed his brow.

“Adaar, you are the only thing keeping them here,” he shook his head, “they do not care for our cause.”

She growled in frustration, facing away.

“I am not better than them just because I’ve got a glowing cut on my hand.”

“You have outgrown them.”

“No,” Adaar shook her head, “no. They’re my friends.”

“Are they?” Solas looked up at her face, “Do you have the same ideals, the same goals? Did you ever?”

He stopped to breathe, uncertain when he’d run out of air.

“When your face runs with rain,” he said softly, anxiety scraping his lungs, “and the longer you wait, the less you feel it—is it no longer there? Is it any less cold?”

“Don't,” she put a hand to her forehead and leaned her back against the wall, “you don't understand. I was alone. They took me in. They were all I had, so how can you blame me for becoming what they needed me to be? I could wield a greataxe. For them, that was enough.”

“Yes,” Solas could feel the heat of an argument in the back of his throat, “but you are more.”

Adaar rubbed the side of her nose with a bruised knuckle.

“Who are you to say what I am?” she hugged herself with both arms.

“A fair point,” he inhaled slowly, “I forget myself.”

She stormed out. The Valo-Kas left Skyhold that same week.

Shokrakar held Adaar in her arms for a long, warm moment; then she turned on her heel and led her men and women out through the gates, never looking back. He didn’t spot a golden horn among them, but his attention couldn’t linger; he watched Adaar stand there, stripped of her armour and her weapon, jewellery on her horns. Her hands sat joined before her, loose wrists, like Josephine had said. Though her stance was still too wide for a lady, and her body too muscular and large to be elegant, Solas saw the grace. And the pain.

She’d roll her eyes at the idea. She’d say, people don’t have to be smart to be good. And indeed, they didn’t have to be fools to be evil. After all, Adaar still failed so miserably at chess.

Solas stepped away from the wall and retreated to his study, nervously adjusting his sleeves. Her pride, for a smile.

***

The shrine of Dumat stood tall and intimidating in the wilds of northern Orlais, a bulky paperweight holding down the countryside. Adaar rode first, as she always did, this time with the luxury of Cullen’s company – leaving Solas, Sera and Cole to stew in thick anticipation behind them. She had insisted on a small team, hoping to take Samson by surprise. ‘I want that sword’, she’d said before they set out, while Cullen was busy assigning the last batch of tasks to his underlings, ‘Good blade.’ She still smelled like dragon blood.

Perhaps that was what Kaariss had had in mind, when he’d told him Adaar was terrifying. To her, a man was not a man; he was a sword, a satchel, a handful of gold. A disturbance. Not revenge, but peacekeeping – and occasionally, profit. If that was all that it took to strike fear into the hearts of these numb, blind people, Solas supposed he deserved the name of the Dread Wolf.

Be that as it may, he was trying.

They left their mounts a fair distance away from the shrine, more like a fortress than a place of worship up close, and headed for the gates. There wasn’t a single guard in sight – the only sound the humming of wind through the ancient structure, cut in half by a metallic hiss when Cullen drew his sword.

“What is it?” Adaar took her greataxe off her back, but held it in one hand, still uncertain.

Red flashed somewhere to the side, then shattered with a distinct jitter when Cullen caught it with his shield. His arm had moved seemingly of its own volition, in a smooth, practiced jolt, before any of them had caught onto what was happening; even the Commander himself looked surprised, and shook off the energy. Solas threw a barrier down on the ground, unsure where the attack had come from, but the answer presented itself soon enough – Red Templars began closing in on them from both sides.

Cullen’s shield was up again, protecting Sera as she sewed arrows at the horrors. Adaar ran forward, relying only on Solas' barrier to protect her as she mowed down enemy after enemy, lyrium and blades breaking against the green glow. The original manoeuvre of circling them had made the attackers seem countless, but once she broke the line it became clear there were barely any at all. Reuniting, they rushed up the stairs.

"Yves," Cullen began, "hold on—"

“I don’t think we made it in time,” Adaar said over her shoulder, reaching for the doors – but they were thrown open, sending them all stumbling backwards.

A mountain of red lyrium staggered through the doorway, sharp crystals protruding in all directions like blades embedded in its skin. The Behemoth screamed, the most human thing about it; it’s crab-like claw sliced through their group, throwing Solas to the edge of the stairs. A second later, lyrium sprouted from the ground around him. His vision went black for a few cold seconds.

He heard Sera shout, quick and thin like the stab of a pocketknife, and Adaar’s greataxe tore into the Behemoth’s side. If she’d hoped to split it in two at the waist, she’d misjudged her own strength; the weapon slipped from her hands, and remained embedded there even as she fell heavily to the ground, struck by the claw.

Solas realised he was still on his back, and what was worse –  trapped in the barricade. He saw Cullen scrambling to his feet, just ten steps away; he saw Adaar, on her elbows and knees, looking straight at him with long strands of hair over her face.

“Elfy, get up!” Sera shrieked, arrow after arrow digging into what he assumed had once been the Templar’s neck, but now only clattered like lyrium.

The claw was raised again, high above the monster’s head. Solas half-consciously began weaving a barrier through the very tips of his fingers, sweat coming up on his nape. Adaar lunged towards him faster than he could cast the spell— just as the mass of red lyrium came crashing down.

And she caught it.

With her forearms raised above her, she seemed to be blocking a punch; though she had her back to him, he saw her metal arm guards bent out of shape by the force of the blow. Eyes screwed shut, head leaned to the side as far as it would go, she was shaking with every muscle in her body tense.

She held it, held it still until Cullen drove his sword through the Behemoth’s middle, and the hilt kissed the lyrium. The blade came out on the other side, drenched in blood – human blood, from the Templar inside – and the monster toppled over, whining like an animal. Adaar’s greataxe slipped out of its giant, still body, and thumped against the sand.

Solas felt hands on his shoulders, and realised Cole was helping him sit up. Grey clouds threatened to take away his vision again, but a few slow breaths banished them quickly; he turned his attention to Adaar.

She was on the ground, staring at the damage. Blood was running down her arms, dribbling from her elbows, trickling over her armour. The sand was soaking through with deep crimson.

“Oh, shitballs,” Sera waved a hand in his direction, though her eyes were fixed in the qunari, “Solas? Solas, do something!”

“What have you done?” he scrambled to his feet.

She didn’t answer, strangely calm.

“Hold still,” he knelt in front of her, feeling hot and icy waves rushing up his neck, behind his ears, “do not dare move.”

Cullen crouched down and helped him remove the bent forearm guards, revealing a battered mass of muscle and splintered bone where Adaar’s arms had been. The sound of Sera gagging did not help.

Solas pursed his lips, taking two potions off his belt with a hand that was going cold at the fingertips. He saw it shaking when he made her drink the contents of the first round bottle, steadied it by the second; she frowned at the taste, as if that was something that mattered when her arms were barely their original shape. He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t unravel the knots of thoughts and feelings that were forming in his chest.

He would have cast the barrier in time. Thoughtless, reckless Adaar.

Gold washed over her skin in waves, pulling the flesh back together, rebuilding torn cells and closing veins, fresh and pink. There’d be bruising, and tremendous pain, but this was as much as he could do for her now. Adaar ran her palm over the closed gashes.

“Strong shit,” she whispered in bewilderment.

Solas opened his mouth to say something, anything, preferably in a loud voice to alleviate at least some of the pure fear he’d felt when he saw the blood, but the battle was not over. He reached out, gripped her shoulder.

Never do anything like that again.”

She looked up at him, hair sticking to her forehead. He saw intelligence sparkling in her eyes, thoughts rushing, calculations abandoned. The clever remark never came. She let Cullen help her up - "Stay behind me, Yves," - and they locked into a group as more Red Templars came flooding towards them.

He would’ve argued, but there was a knight approaching. Adaar slammed her axe into his chest, then ripped it out, pushing him off with a kick. Blood sprayed over her. Sera climbed the remains of a fallen pillar and started shooting arrows, ducking every time someone had the common sense to fire back at her. Cole, the escapist, vanished, striking from behind while Cullen and Adaar stood their ground.

The fighting came to an abrupt end, and with the discovery of Maddox it became clear that their target had gotten away; Sera kicked a chair over, scattering documents over the burning floor. The lyrium permeating the room whispered in Solas’ ear, but he could only imagine what it was doing to Adaar through the Anchor. The sooner they left, the better.

“Just grab what you can, and let’s go,” she said, seconding the sentiment, arms strangely immobile at her sides. 

They spread out, searching the creaking and rustling structure for anything of worth or purpose while Adaar and Cullen talked. It was strange sometimes, to know he wasn't the only one she trusted. He did not know why it bothered him, it didn't seem fair on his part. Sera came back with a bundle of documents, and proudly thrust it into the qunari’s arms; the desired ones appeared to be within. Cullen took a moment to go over the schematics, but they did not linger.

***

“Testing, trying, feeling, stepping on ice,” Cole said quietly from under his hat as they rode through the woods, the two week long journey through the snow still extending before them, “it should feel wrong, but it doesn’t. Even though I’m not one of them, and I will never be.”

Solas glanced at him, but the spell held fast. Cole laughed quietly. 

“But I am me, and if that’s not enough, then so be it. I love to surprise him. I love proving him wrong, but not to be right; he wants to be wrong. It’s the only gift I know he’ll accept.”

“Cole,” Adaar glared at the boy, “I will muzzle you.”

“But, Yves…”

“No, no. The puppy eyes worked the first fifteen times,” she threw over her shoulder, “we’ve talked about this. I thought you had it.”

“Yves, I’m sorry,” Cole mumbled, “I only want to help.”

The forest was quiet enough to turn every snapping branch and cracking leaf into thunder, and the conversation set them all at ease; Sera perked up, listening, allowing the chilling silence to dissolve. Adaar propped her hands up on her saddle, completely relaxed on her loyal mare as the majestic animal stepped over the soft moss underbelly of the woods.

“Sometimes, imekari—” she sighed, “sometimes it’s just not possible.”

“Why are you angry with Kaariss? Is it because of the song?” Cole tilted his head to the side, “I like his songs. He hums them over the fire, fire hot like your hatred and his love. Why do you hate him, Yves?”

She exhaled through her nose, a forced smile cracking her lips like an open wound.

“I don’t hate him, dummy.”

“But you do. You want to hit him.”

“I don’t hate him. He’s my family. I’m just annoyed,” she shrugged, a stiff and fake movement, “because he lied to me about something.”

Cole’s head sank between his shoulders.

“Again,” he whispered.

“Yes,” Adaar’s knuckles turned white on the reins, “again.”

“Give him an inch, he’ll take a mile,” Cole’s hat swayed, followed by his body, “he bends me until I fit the shape, breaks my bones and smooths out my scars to suit his whim.”

“What the hell is it on about,” Sera muttered, a mildly annoyed frown twisting her face.

“I just can’t stand it,” the spirit shook his head, voice like a quiet shout, “there are so many words, but they’re not being spoken, not even mouthed. There is love, but not here; waiting, patient, understating. The silence, it overflows. Why won’t someone do something?”

Solas recounted the words to himself.

“Cole,” he looked away, into the maze of narrow trees, “Hush.”

***

The rattling in his bones had not lost any of its intensity since the strike. When he closed his eyes, he saw red; in his dreams, there was only steely panic, and he woke up drenched cold sweat. In the privacy of his room, he imagined he was shouting, trapped in a place between anger and fear, chained down. Silver smoke eating at his vision, bells in his ears.

At first, he thought he wanted to shout at her. Then he realised it was selfish. And then he realised he didn’t care.

He knocked on her door, three times, each harder than the one before it. When she didn’t answer immediately, he gripped his waist, and started pacing. It was in his hands. He could feel it, the urge prickling on the inside of his knuckles, shivers gliding over his shoulders. It wasn’t directed at her, but he didn’t know where else to channel it; when the door creaked open, he walked inside. He closed it behind him. He pulled in a breath.

“A moment of your time?”

Adaar gave him a tired look, and sent a dismissive sigh towards the papers stacked on her desk.

“Sure.”

“I must speak my mind,” he raised a hand, circling the desk, almost running away from her, “I implore you. Listen to what I have to say.”

Adaar followed, until they were by her bookshelf. She crossed her bandaged arms on her chest, and tried to hide that she'd cringed from the pain. 

“Well, you have my attention. What’s going on?”

The feeling hit him like a wave.

“What transpired in the shrine of Dumat was unforgivable,” he fought to keep his voice from a shout, “you behaved recklessly, without a moment of consideration for what would happen to the Inquisition—to the world— should you die.”

Adaar’s brows drew close together.

“My life is in danger more than not,” she said, “it would be a privilege to be unaware of that fact. If you think I don’t understand the gravity of—“

“I asked you to listen,” Solas forced his tone under control, “I am not done.”

She raised a hand towards him, dramatically giving him the stage.

“Indeed, you are always at risk,” he hissed, “and that is precisely why you cannot afford to tempt fate. It eludes me how you survived that strike—how it didn’t break your shoulders, shatter your skull, kill you where you stood—“

“This may shock you,” she dead-panned, “but I am very strong.”

“Listen!”

He almost scared himself with the slam of his hand on the desk, and paused, startled. He’d made her flinch. Guilt washed over him.

“You lead the Inquisition,” he said nonetheless, “and you risked everything you’ve accomplished, everything you must still accomplish, for what?”

Adaar took a step closer.

“For you!” she snapped, “And I’d appreciate it if you’d just shut up and be grateful!”

He had not thought she would actually say it. Her voice rang in his thoughts; she stood before him, a wall of pent up anger. Her eyes, glistening under her brow, the sharp cut of her lips. Oh, but she is beautiful. 

“I would have set down a barrier!” he caught himself, “That is beside the point. I hold you in high regard, Inquisitor. But this was foolish.”

“If you had any respect for me,” she growled, “if you saw me as your leader, your Inquisitor—you’d have shut your mouth when I told you to.”

Solas felt that he was getting light-headed.

“But you don’t care,” she spread her arms out, taking a slow step back, “you think I’m a toddler tripping over my own feet, always in need of your guidance, your wisdom. I let you in, I care about you, and you expect me to just watch—“

“This is beneath you,” he barked, “have we forsaken trust? You acted on feelings that we have both deemed misplaced. Stop playing the stubborn child and admit it.”

Adaar blinked slowly.

“What?” she hissed, “I’m sorry, what?”

Solas expected her to continue, but she’d grown masterful at commanding the silence.

“Your judgement was clouded,” he said, “you cannot claim—“

“I,” Adaar raised a finger, “will not listen to this.”

“If it is untrue, tell me so,” his voice dropped to its regular tone, softer and more thoughtful, “and I will be silenced.”

She pursed her lips. She pointed that same finger at him, then moved her hand to her nape and breathed steady, facing down.

“The truth is of little use these days,” she said, “but if we’re throwing punches, I’ve got one for you. Why’d you kiss me back?”

Solas stared.

“Doesn’t feel great, does it?” Adaar almost laughed, “I can poke holes in shit too. So I’ll only ask once, and then we never speak of this again.”

She inhaled slowly.

“Who exactly am I to you, Solas?”

He’d been wrong. From the moment he’d knocked, he’d been wrong. Embarrassment drenched him from head to toe, but the boiling ocean inside him settled. He suddenly felt very tired. Did he know her at all? She was not the warrior anymore, not the brute. She had the pathetic form of a shield not quite yet broken, but useless in combat, a mere imitation of its original purpose. One strike away from shattering. Was he truly going to be another hammer hitting her when she was already so very weak? Oh, but he was late with the question; why hadn't he noticed? He'd been foolish not to see that the reason their friendship had cracked was because Adaar had cracked, first. Guilt rolled a heavy stone over his back.

“You are my friend,” he said, shoulders slumping, “I cannot lose you.”

Though the words tasted more genuine than anything he'd said in months, there was no release. He realised he had more to say, so much more than that, but the things taking shape on his tongue could never be spoken. 

Adaar stared at him. He couldn’t look up. After a long moment, she glanced at her hand, where the Anchor’s poisoned vein had extended to her wrist.

“Well,” her voice was very quiet, “pick your friends better, then.”

Apologies just didn’t seem to cut it.

 

Chapter Text

The wind combed through the desert, howling between the cracks in the dry sandstone. Another mission, scrambling for resources, getting circled by bandits and wading through a dragon’s breakfast.

They’d set up camp in a narrow canyon, with thin trees doubling over on either side to conceal them, the red walls flat and porous like the inside of cracked titan bone. Light seemed to seep into the rock, and they were left with nothing but the faint glow of their half-measure of a fire; sparked with but a turn of Solas’ wrist, and the idle effort to kick some branches together.

“Glad you’ve given me a second chance,” Blackwall grumbled, face downturned.

Solas glanced up at him from over his work, tying down the stray end of the bandage on the false Warden’s arm. Hopefully, it wouldn’t soak through as fast as the last one.

“As am I.”

“I’m told you stood up for me.”

Solas huffed, patting Blackwall’s wrist to let him know he was done; the man pulled his sleeve down, too fast. The elf looked at Adaar over his shoulder, finding her and Sera over two haphazardly chilled drinks. Sera’s shattered potion bottles lay nearby.

“What?” the Inquisitor shrugged.

He turned away.

“I owe you the benefit of the doubt.”

“Right,” Sera rolled her eyes, “or you could just forgive an’ forget, y’know, like a normal person.”

“There’s really no room for infighting when we’re the only real example of unity this continent has,” Adaar downed her drink, wiped her mouth, and forced herself to her feet, “Blackwall, how’s that arm doing?”

“Fine.”

“Then we ride.”

She walked over to her mare, and climbed into the saddle, gusts of wind brushing sand over her armour. They followed suit. Solas had to hold onto his prissy hart’s back with all the strength in his legs, as it hated the sand, and wanted the world to know of its suffering; he couldn’t say he didn’t relate.

“So,” Sera joined Adaar to the front of their group, “good to be out and about after all that stuffy nonsense, yeah? I mean, what did you do in Val Royeaux with those two biting your ankles?”

“Shopping.”

“Seriously?!”

Solas stared at the pommel.

“Eluvian this, elven gods that,” Adaar groaned, “anything that gets me away from Morrigan is good enough.”

She shrugged.

“I don’t like the way she talks about elves,” she added, “like it’s a fable, a fairy tale. I saw them in the Fade. There is so much we do not know.”

Sera glared at her suspiciously.

“In the Fade?

The others  know nothing. They will never; they could never understand. The feeling didn’t quite border on loneliness, this time. When he looked to Adaar, he was reminded – she was with him, in every way he would dare ask for, and she was like him. She was enough.

“Inquisitor,” Solas tightened his grip on the reins, “this discussion is pointless. You might as well be trying to teach a squirrel the intricacies of blood magic.”

Adaar smiled at him over her shoulder.

“Don’t be bitter. Not a good look on you.”

“I thought we were going to fight a dragon,” Sera announced, “let’s get on with it!”

“Quiet,” Adaar put a hand over the girl’s mouth, “we need to get the drop on her.”

***

Bold laughter soared into the starry sky above them as the qunari heaved the dragon’s head and raised into the air, strong arms straining as she held it steady. Sera let out a cheer; Blackwall joined in, slamming the guard of his sword against his shield; but Solas could only see the last remains of the green, as the barrier he’d set down trickled into the sand.

She dropped it, without the same ceremony, and sand flew in waves to all sides. Blackwall assessed the corpse, scaly limbs sprawled out in puddles of fresh blood.

“It’ll be weeks to take this thing apart."

Adaar was covered in it, as well; her hair, stuck into strands by the thick red. She flipped the giant head over to the side with a strong kick of her boot, and the dead beast’s jaw flew open, revealing rows of pointed teeth yellowed with meat and age.

“Uh, Yvvie?” Sera frowned, lips pulling into a shape of disgust, “Don’t be weird about it, yeah?”

Adaar kicked again, loosening a couple.

“You wouldn’t believe how much these things sell for,” she grunted as she pulled them out, strings of bloodied nerves trailing from between her fingers, “Who knows. There might even be a buyer at Skyhold.”

She tucked her trophies into a roll of fabric and pushed them into her satchel, wiping her hands on her trousers. They left red smudges on the leather.

“How do you mean?” Solas asked.

“Well,” Adaar gestured them to follow her, and so they did, “there’s this Qunari custom. It’s pretty rare for people to fall in love under the Qun as it is, but if they do, and choose to commit—then they split a dragon’s tooth in two, and carry the halves with them. It’s a serious thing, you know? My parents had them. My father never parted with his.”

“Hold on,” Sera looked up from a pile of rocks she was going through, “so what happens if someone pops out a kid?”

Adaar spread her arms.

“The child is given to the tamassrans and raised alongside the more—traditionally bred Qunari, I guess. Or maybe just killed, I don't know. But many can’t part with their children, and end up leaving the Qun, like my father.”

The girl abandoned her work, watching Adaar with kindling curiosity.

“What about your mum?”

“Sera,” Solas scolded her with nothing but his tone, and thankfully, it was enough.

“Alright, sorry,” she muttered, leaning down again, “so who’s your buyer?”

The smile returned to Adaar’s face.

“Nunya.”

Sera furrowed her brow.

“Nunya who?”

“Nunya business. Pack up, we’re going back to camp,” she rolled her wrist with one finger in the air, a gesture she’d clearly picked up from Vivienne, “we need to send soldiers here if we want to keep any part of the dragon. This place is crawling with scavengers.”

They made their way back. Sometimes, it felt like that was all they did; riding across fields of fire and ice, constantly short of time and breath. The sky was clouded above them, not a single star in sight, giving the darkness not only shape, but dimension.

And there was so little time. Corypheus had been cornered; if it hadn’t been for the losses sustained by the Inquisition, and the incessant interference of their neighbouring militaries, Adaar would have crushed the corrupted magister under her heel by now. He did not doubt she would win; but there remained the question of how, and at what cost. The Anchor on her mortal hand was unpredictable, and it was consuming.

Solas was beginning to consciously acknowledge the price.

He could not let her die. He’d find a way; he’d remove the Anchor, once he had enough strength, and once Corypheus was gone. There would be middle ground-oh, but it was empty planning. Where he saw a chance for peace, Adaar would likely see a canyon splitting the earth between them, but he couldn’t take his mind off it.

“It’s for our lovebirds at Skyhold,” she said over the fire, her voice lowered into a whisper, “people always start with the romantic gestures in times of desperation. But don’t tell anyone.”

Solas had unhinged some of her trust with his outburst, but the grudge wasn’t there to be held. Out of earshot, Blackwall and Sera were playing Diamondback, but the girl had lost several of the cards; they’d tried replacing them with dry leaves of varying shapes and sizes, but quickly realised that it defeated the purpose. They settled for building houses with that they had, Sera’s jittery hands knocking over anything Blackwall managed to balance.

“My lips are sealed,” Solas whispered back, turning away, “but do you truly think their—affair?

He paused in the question, but she only shrugged.

“—will last?” he finished.

“I don’t know,” she looked away, “we probably shouldn’t be talking about it behind their backs. But I mean, they’re not exactly couple material, are they?”

She stopped herself, and froze, wide-eyed.

“I didn’t mean—,“ she stuttered, “I just—they’re just so different. But if they’re happy, that’s all that matters to me.”

He feared that with their faces so close, he’d make a blithering fool of himself if he looked her in the eye.

“It is interesting,” he tasted the words in his mouth, “polar opposites. The mage and the warrior. Two cultures colliding. It does rather sound like something taken out of one of Varric’s tales. One with a tragic ending.”

“Well,” Adaar bobbed her head from side to side, “when you say it like that, might as well be you and me. And we’re friends.”

We are friends, Solas repeated to himself, and it’s a kind of self-indulgent happiness that he feels when he hears the words in his mind. The anger has past and they have naturally shifted back into comfort, into warmth. He had not thought friendship could be a habit, an obvious way of things.

He pulled a knee to his chest and rested his elbow on it, hand reaching to be warmed by the fire.

“Adaar, I want you to know, I am sorry,” he said, the words already out of his mouth before he could as much as review them, “for everything I said to you after—“

She waved him off. Somehow, that was worse than snark.

“It’s fine,” she kept her voice low, and the pitch fell lower still, “I don’t blame you. There’s value in conversations held when we’ve got no filter.”

She looked at him with a rare kind of fondness, the kind that melted his bones, wrinkled his soul in warm hands like the crinkles forming around her eyes. He felt safe. He felt weak. Adaar snorted. 

“Though, preferably drunk.”

With that, she popped the cork of a bottle he hadn’t seen her prepare. She took a long sip of the contents. 

“You know, several months ago—,” she smiled again, but not at him, “I officiated a wedding.”

That begged for a glance, and Solas caved in. Wisps of hair had freed themselves from her loosened braid, and fell on either side of her face, curling slightly, tickling her cheeks. She tucked them behind her ears at the same time, almost nervously.

The bottle in her hand found its way to her lips again, but she just barely pecked its top without taking her eyes off the thin, blood red sand hugging her boots.

“It was private, almost secret,” Adaar went on, “in that little chapel by the garden. Just the two of them, a couple witnesses, and a Chantry sister. I had to learn the words overnight. I didn’t think much of it back then… just two young recruits in love.”

She ran a hand over her face.

“One of them was killed at Adamant, not a month later.”

Solas pursed his lips, as if to keep himself from speaking, even though he knew the tightness in his throat would’ve prevented him anyway.

“I don’t even know why I’m telling you this,” she shook her head, “I’m sorry.”

There, something he knew the reply to. He hooked a hand on her shoulder and leaned in, not quite facing her, but drawing near.

“Such is war. You did the most anyone could have. Happiness is fleeting—but we continue to suffer for it, so it must be worth the price.”

“You think?” she glanced down at him, “Even if that poor girl has to spend the rest of her life missing her lover? I mean, maybe we’re all just fools in love. It’s an option.”

“Adaar,” Solas moved away, slight disapproval tainted with humour bleeding into his voice, “life goes on. She might yet find love elsewhere.”

“Well, that’s—“ she raised her eyebrows, “surprisingly optimistic of you.”

“I have seen it many times in the Fade. My journeys have granted me some perspective.”

She snorted.

“Here’s hoping.”

Something changed in her features. When she faced him again, the smile was gone, replaced by deep thought. He couldn’t see past the wall in her eyes; there were only hints of quiet consideration, like fish swirling under the frozen surface of a lake.

The fire crackled.

“Are you not set on edge, Adaar?” Solas asked, moving his hand against his knee, “The threat looms, still so vastly unknown. There will be a demonstration.”

She narrowed her eyes into slits, lashes locking like fingers on linked hands. The cut of her lips drew into a tilted arch.

“You want the regular answer, or something more genuine?”

Solas exhaled through his nose, fighting a smile.

“Be as honest as you will.”

A mutual agreement, then.

“No, no,” she raised her eyebrows, closing her eyes as she swallowed another mouthful of the bottle’s questionable contents, “never mind. I tasted the words on my tongue and I’m nauseous.”

“That may be due to your victory whiskey,” Solas pointedly raised his chin at the alcohol, “if the smell is anything to go on.”

“Victory whiskey is tradition!” she exclaimed, red with offense.

Solas huffed out a laugh.

“It is not.”

She nodded to feign attention, then pushed the bottle into his hand; he shot her a dirty look before raising it to eye level to examine the label. He could barely decipher the ink, worn down and smudged by years of abuse, suggesting the drink had once belonged to a Warden. So much for his liver – but well, to her health. A single sip charred his throat so severely that he broke into a coughing fit. Adaar laughed at him without shame.

“How can you stand this?” Solas gasped, harshly setting the bottle down in the sand.

Adaar wiped her nose with her knuckle, left sniffing by the strength of the alcohol. She picked it up and squinted at the writing, carefully dragging her eyes over the letters.

"Warden Rosaline,” she read aloud, “tastes like adultery.

He furrowed his brow.

“Vile.”

“Still, it’s good whiskey.”

***

They entered Skyhold close together. He was tired, but the welcome sight of the gates had sent blood rushing through his veins; Solas was so glad to be home, he lacked the power of will to tell himself otherwise. The evening air was freezing cold, the sky shifting from orange to cobalt; nothing to worry about anymore, not today. The day was over. He was eager to forget the world.

Their mounts were taken from their hands, and Adaar pushed her bear fur cape up onto her shoulders, freeing her arms.

“Get some rest, all of you,” she said to them, hands on her belt, “Blackwall, go see a healer first thing in the morning.”

The false Warden grunted in acknowledgement. Solas rubbed the side of his neck. There was sand in his joints.

Adaar made a beeline for the hall, presumably to call a meeting at the War Table – leaving the three of them to retire to their quarters, and so they did. After unbuckling his armour and scrubbing himself clean in the baths, Solas headed straight for his study, fresh clothes scratching his skin. He was distraught to find he’d left several of his brushes sitting in water, and spent a good half hour kneeling on a rug on the floor, trying to straighten them out again with his hands. They looked like squirrel tails, hair poking out in all directions. A sad sight.

He couldn’t believe his own stupidity, but there would be use for them yet. Patterns, textures, something. He was nothing if not resourceful.

Solas plopped down to the side, wondering how he still made the same mistakes. He looked up; Skyhold had been rebuilt hundreds of times, but when he was in the rotunda, he had to steel himself not to remember. He would never reclaim it, of course, not truly. It was Adaar’s; and should they go to war, it would remain that way, as a gift if nothing else.

War. A gut-wrenching thought. It sent his thoughts into a mad spiral; no middle ground.

He wanted to shout; he wanted to fight. He wanted it to be over. He couldn’t stand the shades of grey which had encompassed his vision. Adaar’s judgement was something he valued beyond his own belief, and though she had to be wrong for him to be right—some part of him listened.

Tales of romance, of love, of hope. What was she on about? And more importantly, what did she see in him? He’d been too bold to throw it in her face; he’d hurt her, she must have felt mocked, when it had been the height of hypocrisy to—

He was so very tired of pretending. The stepping stones before him were worn by a path traversed too many times. 

Vhenan, she’d said to him, her gentle hand to his cheek, what have you done to your face?

He had hated her with passion that stung cold. In that moment, stepping into the sunlight couldn’t have been easier; leaving her behind, in the machinations of her court, in her chiming jewellery, a heart silvered with age and greying morality. Solas had almost gone to war with her, then. He’d almost taken Mythal by the throat and let himself be blinded by rage. He would not make the same mistake again; he wouldn’t dare come close to it, not with Adaar, not with her dark eyes, her glimmering intelligence.

He could control it, he told himself time and time again, he could contain it. He was more than adept at killing his feelings. 

Chapter Text

It’d been Cullen’s idea to move the chessboard table to the main hall, as snow had started settling in Skyhold’s nooks and crannies, muddying the garden and stone paths. Adaar and him had carried it – she hadn’t thought to call a servant – and it only got stuck in one doorway, something of a success. The impact scraped the sides, but other than that, it was intact. Solas carried the chairs.  

A wiser choice than taking it to the tavern, of course. There was hardly need for people to start killing each other over chess. Solas had considered it a rather clever connection, and silently praised the Inquisitor for it, until he saw her rolling a barrel of ale down the hallway. The fireplaces burned wilder, warming the hearth, and the cold night was chased out of Skyhold. Drink slow, sleep well, Adaar had said, ale in hand. Candles dripped hot wax from the chandeliers as Kaariss tuned a lute with his hands and his throat with a drink.

He had stayed. Alone. Josephine, the kind soul, had taken it upon herself to make the Tal-Vashoth feel welcome; she was gently needling him in a voice too quiet to hear from so far away, and once in a while Solas would see his lips moving in a reply, but his eyes never left the strings. Broken pottery.

“Ha,” Bull’s rumbling voice said somewhere behind him, “checkmate.”

“No. You cheat,” Adaar replied, and Solas turned to see her smacking the man’s hand away from her king, “bastard!”

Her playful tone suggested she was getting tipsy. Solas smiled.

“I don’t cheat, Yves,” Bull drawled, “never have.”

“Liar.”

He shot her a look, halfway through standing up. Adaar flooded pale with realisation, and her arm fell over the Bull’s shoulders. She muttered an apology, pressed a cheek to his temple—then her forehead, and their horns clicked together with a hollow sound of wood striking stone.

Qunlat was an unwritten language. It had an alphabet, but no book could explain the intricacies of the tongue; it was in her tone, in the lines between her brows. Oceans of simplifications and compromising that let true meaning drown and be lost in translation, but now the distinction stood clear as day, never to be misunderstood.

Kadan,” she muttered, and it meant ‘brother’.

The Bull clapped her back. In the background, Kaariss’ quiet strumming turned into a melody, and was joined by song in accented Tevene. Who knew he was so travelled; perhaps the rightful question to ask was why Solas cared. He had found a new curiosity in those around him, stemming from Adaar, yet expanding every day. It was unsettling.

He approached them.  

“Solas,” Adaar straightened up, growing another few inches in height over him until she matched the Bull, “hello.”

“The night has turned into a gathering,” he looked about the main hall, “what’s the occasion?”

“Killing time,” Adaar shrugged, “until my dear advisors can give me some results. Where’s Cullen?”

“Saw him leave for his tower,” the Bull pointed over his shoulder, “he looked pale.”

“He always looks pale. Well, at least Josie is having a good time,” Adaar raised her eyebrows at where Josephine was carefully correcting Kaariss’ pronunciation.

Bull looked at the Tal-Vashoth down his nose.

“What’s the poet still doing here, anyway?”

Adaar huffed, falling into one of the chairs by the chessboard. Her wrists sat against the edge of the table, fingertips nervously ghosting over her knuckles.

“Fuck if I know. Go and ask him.”

“I will,” the Bull cracked his neck, giving his words a malevolent edge.

He sauntered off towards Kaariss and the Lady Ambassador, lax and slow in his movements, but no less threatening; something about his steps brought forth the image of skulls cracking under his feet.

“Care for a game?” Adaar asked, breaking the silence.

Solas must have looked very surprised, because she laughed behind a hand, eyes lighting up.

“What staggering confidence,” he managed, half-seriously, and sat down on the opposite side, “what changed your mind?”

She’d taken white. Solas rested his chin on his folded hands and looked her in the eye.

“Well,” Adaar’s lashes fell to fan out as she considered the board, “I figure the only way to learn is through experience.”

Her pawn landed on D4. Solas exhaled.

“And how did you come to that conclusion?”

“For example... I’ve walked the Fade lucid several times now,” she admitted, “and it gets easier. I don’t throw up anymore.”

“Truly?”

He innocently moved his pawn to D5. Adaar smiled.

“Shocking, I know,” she reached out and set her pawn down on C4, “that a qunari could dream.”

“You are full of surprises, Inquisitor.”

Queen’s Gambit. Solas felt himself struggling not to smile back at her.

“You have been practicing,” he added.

“I just told you that. If indirectly."

She was biting her lip, and he almost forgot to take the offered pawn. Adaar moved another to E3 while he set the piece down next to the board. His deceitful advantage.

“Well,” she stated idly, sitting back and bobbing her foot in thought, “it’s hardly fair if you’ve had more time. The sooner I catch up, the sooner we can have an even match.”

“Ah. Excuses, excuses.”

His knight attacked. Adaar’s eyes snapped up to his as she analysed the move.

“The company isn’t too bad, either,” she said.  

Change the subject, push her back. 

“In your journeys into the Fade, have you encountered anything that caught your interest?” Solas asked, unused to the notion.

“Yes. I was in a... kitchen,” she rubbed her chin with a knuckle, “I could hear this dull sound, like something rocking. Took me a moment to realise it was a woman kneading dough on the counter. I could even smell the first batch of bread, fresh out of the oven; like my father used to make when I was a little girl.”

Her mage took his pawn. There it was; the lie of the gambit. 

“I might have clouded the memory with my own. Perhaps I wasn’t completely lucid.”

“Perhaps it does not matter. It sounds like a rather pleasant dream.”

Adaar gave a few slow nods.

“Yeah. It was. Simpler times.”

“The times were never simple,” he let out a soft shadow of a laugh, “unfortunately.”

Solas’ mage slid across the board, and could now take Adaar’s queen within a move. She gasped and threw a piece between them, but Solas took that too. He tricked and meandered until he found a way around the castle she’d managed to set up, bypassing the queen with ease, leaving her locked out; he could see Adaar’s shoulders tensing whenever she strained to put together all the possible paths, and when he found another all the same, she’d slump down.

“Well,” Adaar said finally, sitting back, “this one is yours, Solas. Can't say that I'm shocked."

The main hall fell upon them in all its silent emptiness.

“I ought to get back to work,” she whispered, chair scraping on the floor as she all but ran away, “big meeting soon.”

She seemed embarrassed. Indeed, time had flown by, and they were both so tiny against the desolate hall. The guards by the doors seemed more statues than men and women, though Solas could feel eyes on his nape.

Panahedan,” he said to her, gently.

The corners of her lips quirked upwards.  She sank into an exaggerated bow, hand at her chest.

La ma, ma falon.”

He slept little after that.

And not because of Kaariss’ need to put words to song in the wee hours of the morning; the man’s clear voice rolled through Skyhold, finding Solas wide awake. The sun had not even had the thought to rise when he trudged up the stairs to the balcony, feeling the icy stone beneath his feet.

Chilly winter mornings. The kind that skipped the skin and bit straight into one’s bones; Solas had half a mind to light the torches himself, before the servants had a chance to do it, but the plan was delayed by creeping laziness. It was not a character trait he displayed often, but in the solitude of what had once been his castle, in the very depths of his own character, he warmed himself with a spell and moved on.

It was a blessing to find Vivienne’s balcony empty, so he decided to make the most of it and enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasted. A fog had settled over the snow-laden courtyard, caught in the trees like spider’s silk; he breathed the cold air, feeling his muscles relax despite the pain it left in his throat. Idly, he wished he could see the view from Adaar’s quarters now; mountains had a way of putting life in perspective.

She did corner him eventually, of course, and latched onto his arm as they strolled through the corridors. Vivienne was not easily escaped, but made for interesting company, if caught in a good mood. Solas mulled his way through the usual weather, research and a fair amount of scorn, and found her a surprisingly quiet listener; how refreshing. Even if in some world, he didn’t mind her presence, that voice alone would keep him as far away from Vivienne as possible. It scraped his ears.

Not that he didn’t respect her. If he truly wanted to avoid her, it could be done; if he wanted her out of Skyhold, it could be done. But Solas had grown curious, though he should have perhaps asked for advice from the cat.

“The matter is delicate,” Vivienne informed him, very softly, very calmly, “you must understand that much.”

“Are you still so offended by a simple friendship?”

“I am neither offended nor interested,” she shook her head, her arm resting so lightly over his she was barely touching him now, “I despise having to repeat myself, darling.”

“Then do the world a favour, and stop doing so,” he hissed, “your accusations hold no water.”

“Similarly to your friendship with Yves, and yet here we are,” she smiled at him viciously, watching his face out of the corner of her eye, “people don’t need proof to start talking.

“Then it is hardly my fault if they talk.”

That, darling. That they talk. And indeed, it is nobody’s fault,” she took him out onto the battlements, and they walked together through the snow, “but I have written too many passively aggressive letters about the Inquisitor’s affairs to let this go on any longer.”

Her breath shot out of her nose in a cloud of white vapour, bright in the stark sun. Solas wondered if he owed her thanks, but he supposed she had not been protecting him.

“I do not wish strife on Yves Adaar,” she said, “in fact, in any other life, I would do anything to help her attain happiness.”

Her eyes no longer had a wall of smoke in them.

“But by Orlesian standards, Adaar is a strange and unattractive woman, saved only by her exoticism. For her to be involved with an elven hedge mage, who crawled out of the woods Maker-knows-where? It is a caricature of romance.”

Solas furrowed his brow.

“You are making several assumptions—“

“Then let me be clear,” Vivienne whipped him around so that he stood in front of her, and they came to a halt, “are you, or are you not involved with Yves Adaar?”

Solas could feel fear and anger rising in the back of his throat.

“I had presumed you knew the answer to that,” he whispered, “Enchanter.”

To his surprise, Vivienne turned away. Her heeled shoes carried her carefully to the edge of the wall, and she rested her graceful hands against the stone; after a moment of hesitation, Solas joined her.

“You might imagine Yves is under my influence,” Vivienne admitted, looking at the horizon, “but in truth, she tells me very little. I do not wish to hurt her by asking about a subject likely painful in nature, and even then, she has learned enough self-control to hide her thoughts from me. But you, darling—there are times when you still read like an open book.”

Solas doubted that, but said nothing.

“Your reluctance to admit anything at all is telling in itself,” she sighed, “it seems I have underestimated my student. If you’ll excuse me.”

“Vivienne, wait.”

He crossed his arms on his chest.

“I can understand your concern for the Inquisitor’s reputation,” he said, “but think of what she would have to do to appease the court. Is it even possible? Adaar cannot be melted down and reshaped, but neither can nothingness. Do not destroy her.”

“So you suggest I give up my efforts? Let her make a fool of herself?”

“Let her choose.”

Vivienne paused at that, carefully considered. If there was one thing he valued in her, it was this particular trait they shared. Consideration.

***

Not knowing what to do with the excess energy he could still feel crackling up his arms and thighs, Solas rolled up his sleeves and began tidying. Arranging his things was only half the task – paint and water had seeped into the floorboards, locked into the wood by wax from all the molten candles. It was his mess, and so he would rather die than let a servant struggle with it, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that he wouldn’t do much without some water from the well.

With a sigh, he dusted his hands off and yanked the door into the main hall towards him, taking the first step outside his rotunda—and immediately freezing in place, because there was a silhouette in the doorway. It took his eyes less than a second to adapt to the moonlight coming in through the rose window.

Adaar’s hair was undone, falling in loose waves over her shoulders, damp after being washed. She had her hand half-heartedly raised to knock.

“Still up, then?” she asked, folding her arms behind her back, and dragged the heel of her boot along the doorframe.

“I thought you’d be attending a meeting,” he said in surprise, ignoring the question.

Adaar tilted her head to the side and muttered something under her breath. Solas blinked.

“Excuse me?”

“They kicked me out of the War Room,” her jaw tensed, scars stretching on her skin, “because I stabbed the map. Would you walk with me?”

“Happily. I was just headed to the well.”

She nodded and they made for the stairs together, her hair flowing with every step.

“They told me to get some sleep,” she said, “but I don’t feel like it at all.”

“Neither do I. The night is restless,” Solas looked up at the heavy grey battlements, “do you sense it?”

She shot him a glance, and he found himself recounting his words. There was an abundance of energy in her movements, a sharp edge, but not of anger.

“I think so.”

They crossed the grass, wet with melting snow, and reached the well – only to find the bucket missing. Adaar propped her hands up on her hips, and suggested they check the tower. They climbed the stairs up to the battlements; the wind was stronger here, laced with a more profound chill, the first sign winter had crept into Skyhold’s bowels while they’d been busy. Solas saw snowflakes circling in the air, light and gentle like a shy touch. Adaar stopped by his side.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” she said quietly, blinking when the snow settled on her lashes, “after we killed the dragon.”

Solas leaned his elbow against a merlon, heart pounding in his chest.

“How so?”

She widened her stance, like she was bracing for a punch, but then – slowly leaned in.

“I have not forgotten Val Royeaux,” she whispered, eyes downturned until they hid beneath her lashes.

She pursed her lips for a moment, then relaxed.

"So if you’ve changed your mind, tell me now. I will never ask again.”

Solas felt that he was still exhaling, despite already-emptied lungs. He was light-headed, heat on his nape, rushing through his face where the vallaslin had once been; he was thinking too fast to focus.

He needed to go. Now. Leave Skyhold, find the clarity he’d lost in his uncertainties, then return and never look at her like this again. He turned on his heel, but Adaar placed her hand on his shoulder, so gently the touch was barely hers; he could walk away, if he wanted. He didn’t. She faced the mountains.

“Solas,” she said, “an answer. That’s all I ask.”

No. It was just one word. She didn’t deserve to be met with silence; he was so selfishly cruel to her, but he couldn’t say it. He couldn’t say anything.

He reached up to her cheek, gently turned her face until she had no choice but to look at him; he saw her eyes, strangely glassy, and lips – red where she’d bit down on them. You have me. He wanted to.

His hand moved onto her nape and he pulled her down, closing the distance between them. Cold lips. He wrapped both arms around her, hoping to warm her, and praying she’d reciprocate; Adaar’s hands brushed his waist, and then she was kissing him. She was so very tall. His neck ached from leaning his head back, it could not have mattered less. He pulled back for a moment, caught his breath, and kissed her again. There was so little time. He felt her laughing quietly against his lips.

Solas didn’t quite hear what she said when she finally spoke, but he still followed her. He had to tread carefully through the haze.

***

He woke to the sun spilling over his cheek, thick and warm like honey. He forced his eyes shut, clinging to the remainder of sleep; finding a duvet in his grip, he pulled it close to his face, burying his nose in the smooth fabric. Sunlight dyed the sheets orange between his fingers. Such peace hadn’t befallen him in millennia.

A faint breath of wind rustled the heavy curtains, and finally, Solas opened his eyes. From where he lay on the gigantic bed, he could see the white peaks of snowy mountains against the perfect blue. Not a single cloud; the air tasted fresh and sharp. He raised himself on his elbow, rubbing his brow out of habit, expecting the headache to flood him at any second - but it did not. Adaar lay next to him on her stomach, head in her arms facing him in a deep sleep. He closed his eyes, then opened him again. She hadn’t moved an inch. 

From her undone, messy hair, to her chiselled shoulders and the muscles carving out her skin, she was beautiful. He put a closed fist against his cheek and reached out, but his hand stopped in the air – in that moment, the most important thing in the world was not to wake her, not even with the ghost of touch.

Solas slipped out from under the covers and quickly dressed himself, running a hand over his forehead as if that would chase away the blanket of warmth over his thoughts. He needed the steely clarity of the planning. He needed to be as far from her as possible.

He knew he would do well not to be spotted on his way back from the Inquisitor’s quarters at the crack of dawn. There were guards in the main hall, so he used the ladder in the staircase to get to the lower level; from there, he easily snuck out into the courtyard. A layer of freshly fallen snow had settled in the grass, half-transparent like the huffs of vapour leaving his lips.

He didn’t take the time to change his clothes before entering the dungeon and sneaking out. Every step sent a grounding pang of cold up his legs. 

Chapter Text

Sitting under the skeleton of a tree, freezing fingers pressed to either temple, Solas buckled under the weight of his thoughts.

If he pushed her away now, she would never trust him again. Or was he just making excuses? A fool and a hypocrite. She had no idea how right she’d been. Could she win again? Though it was the heart of winter, Solas felt cold sweat on his skin. The doubt had crept up on him, and now sank the length of its teeth into his back, sending chills through his body.

Am I wrong?

To the confusion of the guards, he returned to Skyhold through another entrance, and appeared suddenly in the main hall – only to saunter out of sight again. The walk had stilled his rushing mind and restored some of his balance; he scraped the edge of confidence with an outstretched hand.

He dropped his anchor in the rotunda, knowing full well that were she to search for him, this was the first place she would check. And he waited; under the pretence of reading, a pretence only upheld for the sake of his own pride, he sat still and couldn’t read a damn word. Fresh memories were pushing at the corners of his vision – when he allowed his eyes to go out of focus, he saw only them, and a fog came over everything else.

But Adaar did not visit his study, and the sand trickling through his hourglass was lying to him. Time had never flown quite so slowly.

The chime of chains caught his attention, heavy and rumbling in its undertone. The gate. Very careful not to draw any attention to himself, Solas cracked the door onto the battlements open and looked out – only to see four mounts, saddled and lined up in the courtyard, one of them unmistakably Adaar’s giant mare.

The rider herself was talking to Vivienne, nodding along to whatever the Enchanter was whining at her in her untuned violin of a voice.

So she was leaving. No rest for the wicked.

“Monsieur,” a voice caught his attention, and Solas quickly returned to his desk to meet the messenger, “for your eyes only.”

He held out an envelope, sealed with royal red wax, then practically evaporated – face carved in stone. His shadow trotted up the stairs.

Solas furrowed his brow, but closed all his doors with a gesture; the locks clicked to his command. In the security of his study, he settled into his chair, and looked at the letter. It had been pressed with the Inquisitor’s private seal, a gift from Vivienne – he remembered – but until now, never used. The curling initial of “A” sat between two curved horns, braided into a Qunari pattern at the base.

He broke the seal and took the letter out, surprised to find it was only a note; a few words calligraphed in blue ink.  

Solas,

duty calls. I’ll be back in four weeks. Do what you will, write if you can.

Adaar

He hesitated, the glanced back up, realising he’d skimmed over his name—purely out of ingrained habit, as it was written in elvish. The ink settled thicker wherever she’d hesitated while writing, the difficult alphabet struggling in her grip; she knew enough to read, but she must have had help. He put his knuckle to his lips, thumb on his chin, and stared at the lettering. Oh, vhenan.

***

He wrote. Crows were faster than horses; her name stained the paper in unwavering Qunlat.

Adaar,

as per Sister Nightingale’s request, I will be brief - you are missed. I had forgotten how large and cold Skyhold stands without your presence to fill it. Though there is no more peace here than in the battle-wrought plains you traverse, winter has stymied the Inquisition’s transports, leaving me without texts to consult – and thus I must admit that the view from my window has been rather dull.

I am therefore reduced to describing the weather, as nature has a passion for the cliché; it rains continuously, summoning storms that rip up the tents in the courtyard and scare the birds north. The air is bitter with bile, strangely yellow to the eye; in the momentary pauses between rain and snow, the windows flash gold. It is hardly the same welcome release as it was throughout the summer. Without the thick heat to announce them, these storms chill to the bone.

Some have taken to assigning religious meaning to the rain, and the chapel sees more visitors than ever before. The people pray for victory, for their sons and daughters, but above all – for your safe return.

Make haste.

Then, he paused. After some thought, he sent out another message, but not to her – and slightly different in nature. He’d learned from his original mistake of chasing after her when she vanished. Something more subtle, this time. Just to keep an eye out.

***

It was stronger than him, it was painful, and it was breath-taking. His becoming drew near; he had so precious little time left before the final clash, yet now four weeks felt like eternity.

Sera sat across from him in the tavern, her legs crossed underneath her on the bench; the rain outside drummed a touch too loudly against the stained glass of the windows, like fingernails on the blade of a sword. Though he wouldn’t dare accuse her of thinking, she seemed bemused; a hand tucked under her chin, eyes in the distance. Her thumb slowly ran up and down the side of her neck, nail scraping the skin until a blush dyed it pink.

“You’re quiet,” Blackwall remarked, dropping into the seat next to her.

He pulled off the heavy gloves and dumped them on the table, chainmail hissing. Solas knew that sound too well.

“We had to call off training again,” the man went on when she didn’t answer, “this damn rain. Only so much you can do in the armoury.”

“Cullen must not be pleased,” Solas sighed.

Blackwall slowly nodded in agreement, and wiped his hands on the front of his tunic.

“That’s putting it lightly.”

“Everything goes to shit whenever Yves leaves,” Sera jolted upright in her seat, feet finally touching the floor, “she doesn’t do much, right, does she—but when she’s gone, it’s trash, yeah? It’s just trash.”

“The Inquisitor hardly controls the weather, Sera,” Solas leaned back in his chair and pointedly placed one leg over the other.

“I don’t mean the pissing weather,” Sera’s foot violently acquainted itself with his ankle, “She’s out there, doing things, and—and we’re here. What’s with that?”

Solas sent her a look.

“Adaar is—“

“No, I’ll tell you, yeah?” Sera looked out the window again, “She’s cutting us off. She’s cutting everyone off. First her Valo-something, now us. It’s all Vivienne’s fault. Yves hasn’t been Yves since all the way back before the Winter Palace, and you better see it before it’s too late.”

He opened his mouth to object, but closed it again without uttering a word.

“Solas,” Blackwall tilted his head to the side, leaning forward with his arms resting on the table, “you’re… close, with Adaar, I mean. What do you think?”

The drumming of the rain got louder as consideration settled over him. Solas pulled in a slow breath, distracted by the uneven melody of the raindrops.

The days felt strange and uneven, like the edges of torn fabric. Time was at a standstill. He felt the disgusting warmth of drowsiness in his limbs, a sickness with no symptoms, nothing to diagnose except the putty of his joints, the thick syrup running down his windpipe and into his lungs. He was calm, yet anxious; tired, yet strong.

As a last resort, he sent for a couple ingredients – to Josephine’s silent and polite dismay – and brewed himself a pot of tea, the dried out petals of crystal grace leaking pink dye into the water. He supposed he could ask for that much. He did not remember all the servants’ names, but thanked them, and returned to his idle reading. In a moment of desperation, he even picked up one of the books Adaar had read under Vivienne’s watchful eye; it was, as rightfully expected, awful. Solas found he only enjoyed court intrigue if he was one of the parties involved; he cared little for imagined characters in imagined ballrooms, whispering imagined words into imagined kisses. He missed Adaar.

***

She returned on a cold afternoon, the bear fur over her shoulders heavy with a layer of cracking snow which had stuck to the cape. Solas watched, gaze flicking between the stairs under his feet and her giant silhouette; her greataxe was chipped and dull down the lengths of both blades, pink with a shadow of blood. Adaar’s face was cut in stone. From under a dark brow, she rolled a calculating look over the courtyard, and lowered herself out of her saddle.

Behind the Inquisitor, Vivienne pulled down her hood and gracefully placed it on her back, fingers spread out to shape it. She then took a step forward—and stumbled, a barely noticeable lapse in step, as if her ankle had bent underneath her. Adaar offered her an arm, but was rejected with a sharp look. It didn’t matter for much longer, because when noticed Solas approaching, she set off to meet him.

“How was your journey?” he asked as soon as she was close enough.

“Interesting,” she nodded, “But no more trouble than usual.”

“And the Enchanter—?”

Adaar glanced over her shoulder.

“Nothing too bad.”

Oh, a shame. Solas narrowed his eyes in careful thought.

“Are you well?”

“I’m fine. And you?”

He glanced down to see her hands wringing each other with quiet pressure.

“Yes,” he said, a touch too late, “yes, of course. Did you receive my letter?”

Her eyebrows shot up. World forgotten, she circled him, and they began walking up the stairs again. His kneecaps stung at the effort.

“I did,” Adaar looked over her shoulder once again, for reasons unknown, “yeah, I—I did.”

Solas watched her profile.

He had to ignore the greetings pooling in from all directions within the main hall. Adaar not only ignored them—she appeared not to hear them at all, eyes ahead, chin raised.

She placed a hand on his shoulder and pulled the door to the staircase open, and they were both submerged in darkness. Her cape had started dripping water onto the wooden floor; the quiet tap, tap, tap of it breathed rhythm into the silence. She leaned her back against the wall and exhaled.

This was too familiar. But she wasn’t angry this time; only tired, and her eyelids sat heavy on her brown eyes, lashes fanning out, striping the dark irises. There was light coming in through the window in the staircase, distant, soft. Flecks of dust hung in the air, frozen in time.

Solas tilted his head to the side, sauntering up to her in the black. She towered over him, and it was strange, but not unsettling. He knew her shape, the sound of her steps, the timbre of her voice. He knew her. He’d willingly given himself up into the overture; there would be no silence, no more.

Adaar exhaled.

Her hand traveled to his cheek and she leaned down to kiss him. There was a tremendous amount of neck pain involved until he finally relaxed; when he did, Adaar held him balanced, her arms around him. Snow from her cape stung his hands where he’d placed them on the sides of her jaw, and he felt the scars under his palm. Later, he’d wonder how she got them, but in the moment his mind was warm and blank.

Somehow, he still pulled away first. She stared at him, and after a moment, her eyes lit up.

“I almost forgot,” she tucked her hair behind both ears at the same time, “can you spare a moment this evening? I need to write a report, but I have a theory, and I want your opinion.”

Naturally, he agreed.

Despite the fact ‘evening’ turned out to be past nightfall, Solas waited patiently, and when she whisked him out of his study – there was only a bare hint of a yawn in his mouth. Adaar dragged him down the stairs and into the lower level, and for a moment he thought they were headed for the kitchen – but she took a turn, and soon, they were in a small corridor.

The only light source was the crackling veilfire in a small bowl on the table. It set down a green glow over the spider silk draped over the bookshelves; the secret library looked like it hadn’t been touched in several decades. Adaar stifled a sneeze and walked up to the giant tome in the middle of the desk, the only place in the room which wasn’t caked in dust – and had clear handprints on either side. They suspiciously matched Adaar’s hands.

Solas moved his wrist and sent a spark jumping over the candles, casting yellow light up onto the bookshelves. Adaar hooked a finger on the ridge of one leathery cover and pulled it out, easily reaching where others required a stool. She regarded it, then placed it over the giant tome, opened down the middle and showing off the sharp letters of old Qunlat.

“While I was out there,” she said, her hands on her hips, “I slept in many places where the Veil was thin, and I dreamed. Not completely lucid, of course, I don’t have your gift of fade-walking…”

“With practice, you could do it just as well as I,” he chimed in.

Adaar scoffed.

“Sweet talker. Anyway, I remembered this place,” she gestured around, “and this one idea.”

Her finger tapped against the page. Pushed between walls of text was an illustration – a circle, covered in curling fire, and revolving around what appeared to be a star.

“My father knew it as the Herah-Hissra,” she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, “you’ve heard of it, right?”

“Yes,” Solas sat down on the edge of the desk, “the absurdity of time. It was discouraged under the Qun, was it not?”

“Yes. My father only studied it briefly—but, well, I thought,” she glanced around, and upon finding nothing, took off her scarf, “I thought, what if it has to do with the Fade?”

To his surprise, she began wrapping the scarf around her palm.

“You can see bits of the past within the Fade,” she said, excitement lighting up her eyes, “so, what if they’re not memories at all? What if everything is happening, all at once? I mean to say, reality in the Fade is both subjective and all-encompassing. I mean—“

She looked down at the see-through scarf on her hand.

“See, the patterns on this—they align, and then you can see them clearly, even though there are many layers. If—if time is infinite, then it’s likely going in circles, and if it is, then maybe in some places… defransdim, I don’t know how to say this.”

She gathered her thoughts, eyes stuck in the ceiling.

“Maybe the Veil didn’t just draw a line between two halves of a world,” she said slowly, “maybe it also changed—or maybe created—time. So, the only reason we have any concept of the past and the future is because the Veil blinds us.”

Solas was silent.

“Some say elves were once immortal,” Adaar went on, watching his expression, “maybe that’s why.”

Solas was silent.

“But that’s just—“ she waved an awkward hand, then rubbed her nape, a shy laugh escaping her, “that’s just idle thought.”

Solas was—

“Adaar,” he began carefully, leaning forward until his hands sat on his knees, “would that not suggest the possibility of using the Fade to see into the future?”

 “Oh,” she puckered her lips, and her face darkened with colour, “well, there goes that.”

He laughed; he didn’t quite know why. He reached out for her hand.

“You are tired. I will happily listen once you’ve had some rest.”

“Forget it,” she squeezed her temples between thumb and forefinger, “you’ll just laugh at me again.”

“No,” he shook his head, leaning to the side, “forgive me. I am… pleasantly surprised. I had not thought I would ever find anyone who regarded the Fade... as I do.”

“I can’t claim to have half your knowledge, but I will learn,” Adaar placed her hands on her hips, “Maybe once this is all over, I’ll have more time to study."

Her lips quirked with energy and she snapped her head to the side to look at him, curious.

"Have you thought about it? About what you’ll do after the Inquisition, I mean?”

She caught herself, too late – only now noticing the other level of that question, one she should not have asked, not for a long time. He saw pure, unfiltered panic in her eyes.

“You don’t have to know,” she added, desperation in her perfectly steady voice, “some questions are best left unanswered.”

Solas silently agreed. There’s nothing quite as disappointing as a spoiled surprise, after all.

“Inquisitor,” he said, vacant, “you assume that in the event of your victory, the Inquisition will be disbanded?”

Adaar leaned back against the bookshelf in thought, horns picking up spider’s web.

“Yes,” she said after a moment, “we have a very particular purpose to fulfil. Once it’s done, only trouble can come of keeping around an organisation that’s really just an army and some people to command it. Our influence is not so well-established that we are a necessary part of the political structure of Thedas.”

She didn’t seem to notice his surprise; arms crossed, eyes lost.

“It’s like taking off splints,” she said, “it’s just like that.”

“That is all you are? Something to be discarded once its usefulness has come to an end?”

“Maybe I just don’t want to lead,” Adaar smiled sadly, still refusing to meet his eyes, “not anymore. I don’t have enough love in my bones.”

Ma vhenan,” he stepped forward, placing his hands on her waist.

“Don’t worry,” she raised her eyebrows, watching him again, gently, softly, “I’ll keep doing what I must, but I cannot enjoy it anymore. It would be a lie to say otherwise.”

She leaned down and pressed her forehead to the crook of his neck.

“I’m sorry. I doubt you want to hear that.”

He’d forgotten himself; she still saw him as someone under her command. The creak of misplaced pieces hurt his ears.

“I could not ask you to lie for my sake,” he said, the roughness of her horn on his temple, “I would not want it.”

Adaar pulled back slowly, her eyes heavy with dreariness.

“I have lied,” she said quietly, “not to you, but I have. You don’t know the half of it.”

She closed the book on the table with a gentle hand. Solas pursed his lips, watching her. 

It is a mutual accord. She does not know it, but it is, and I will not say it, but it is.

Chapter Text

Just like that, they were out of time.

Too much remained unspoken. He wanted her to understand, but knew that she would not; it was selfish self-preservation to let her remain close, yet at an arm’s length. In his blindness, he grew uncertain.

Adaar dared him to a game of chess again. She lost, again. Dorian stared at him in bewilderment, but Solas would not insult the woman by granting her a false victory.

“I told you, I can’t,” she said as they rode through the green.

The tense atmosphere of the approaching battle stuck to their skin like thick jelly. One could slice the air with a knife.

“Come on,” Bull asked, tone cajoling, “you need something to take that edge off.”

He had to walk, as no horse available would lift him. Adaar and him took turns on her mare’s strong back, and the poor animal had developed a growing distaste for the man. Not even sugar cubes could soothe the pain of carrying the Iron Bull. Solas silently promised to help as soon as they made camp.

“I said no,” Adaar snorted, her purple-bagged eyes fixed elsewhere, “bother someone else.”

“Damn,” Bull shook his head, “fine. You never stood a chance anyway. I’m the greatest at I Spy.

Adaar hid her smile in the fur around her shoulders, and leaned out of the saddle to punch him in the good shoulder. Bull recoiled; even her play-fighting carried enough strength to smash a window.

She’s dissipating. It would take more than idle banter to hold her together, and Solas did not know if he was up to the task. Not that it mattered. He had to be. He accepted the burden of being the only one in Adaar’s confidence; he took pride in it, a cherished secret. It was a balance. They did not know. Adaar was far more private than people gave her credit for. Not unlike him, he supposed.

These nights before the battle were the most demanding – how was one to sleep with the threat looming? There had been some comfort in being pressed together, elbow in ribs, knee in thigh, soothed by the familiar snoring, words muttered in one’s sleep. Four people pressed into a tent meant for one. Adaar’s warm arm by his shoulder. But now she had her own tent; huge, bold, crimson and gold, banner loosely draped over the top of it in the still night air.

There was silence, and there was darkness – no map dotted in lights across the sky, no wind brushing between the trees within the deep wilds. Solas had accounted for a possible ambush, however unlikely it was with the race to the temple at its end; he couldn’t sleep with the image of her, assassinated in her ridiculous tent, scratched into his eyelids.

Sera hummed quietly in her sleep and rolled into his shoulder. Without missing a beat, Solas rolled her back. 

Ma vhenan. Sweet thing, the thin vein of scar tissue over his heart. He had not thought it possible for another’s presence to soothe him so, not without him giving up some part of himself, but here they were. He pushed the bedroll aside and climbed out of the tent, feeling the cold grass underneath his feet.

My love. The meaning was profound, but stars help him, it was still an understatement.

It unsettled him how easy it was to sneak past the guards. He walked the shadow, slipping underneath the heavy fabric, and quietly crept into the tent. There was a single candle on Adaar’s table, too faint to be seen from the outside; she was sitting on her bed, armour in a pile beside her feet. She didn’t look up to meet his eyes.

“Hello, Solas,” her voice said, not quite there, “my tent has an entrance, you know.”

“I was…” he approached, gently resting his hip against the table, “trying to be discreet.”

Adaar sighed, running a calloused hand over her face.

“Vivienne’s been giving you strife.”

He didn’t see it fit to answer. She gestured him towards herself with a limp hand, and he obeyed, sitting down next to her on the bed.

“Listen,” she began, “I—“

“It’s alright,” he placed a hand above her knee, fingers brushing the inside of her thigh.

Her face twitched, leaving her mouth in a grimace.

“It’s ironic, that we must worry about appearances at a time like this.”

“Only a few short hours separate us from dawn,” he added, raising his eyebrows, "this will not last forever."

Adaar shook her head.

“I can’t sleep.”

“Maybe I could help.”

He laid a hand on her shoulder, gently guided her down, so her back pressed flat against the sheets. She quickly moved her feet behind him and rolled onto her side, black hair spilling over the pillow. Solas pulled off his shoes and joined her.

“You’re sweet,” she muttered, face buried in the pillow so that only one eye met his, “you know that?”

It startled a genuine laugh out of him when she brushed the side of his face, tracing her thumb over his cheekbone. He held her hand in place with his own, lowering his eyelids, hiding in the soft fabric. Adaar let out a small noise of surprise; when he managed to look at her again, she was smiling.

“One man can only be so cold, it seems,” she said, breathing the words with a chuckle in the back of her throat.

“You knew it already, did you not?”

“I guess,” she rolled her eyes, making her words rather unconvincing, “believing is another matter entirely.”

Solas moved her hand from his cheek to his lips.

“Do you believe now?” he asked against her knuckles.

He saw her lip move where she bit down on the inside of it. 

***

His last visit to Mythal’s temple was as vivid as ever in his memory, though it no longer brought tears to his eyes. Panting, he’d burst through these doors. They knew him here, and he felt watched.

Fury turned Adaar to a battering ram. Too many times, he whispered be calm, hold on. He could see her back rising and falling as she ran through the temple, axe always in a sweaty palm. The wounds she’d suffered in the battle bled crimson over her armour, but she swatted Vivienne’s hand away time and time again. Solas kept to the back.

“We’re wasting time,” Adaar snapped, as the lever fell back into place, “we’re wasting time!”

“Come on,” Kaariss reached out, “How much more?”

Solas looked over his shoulder. The statue of the wolf kept its gaze fixed in the distance, cold, emotionless, two eyes greened by moss and ache.

They approached the Well of Sorrows with legs heavied by battle and the countless staircases of the temple. Kaariss slumped to the side, shoulder against the white doorway; his hand at his ribs, where blood was trickling between his fingers. He’d garnered enough approval to justify Vivienne’s glance his way, but it was Bull who held him standing. Solas and Abelas looked at each other in the silence.

“I’ll do it,” Adaar said.

Solas had watched the man so intently that he didn’t catch it, at first; then he turned, a clench in his stomach, towards the Inquisitor. She was looking at him steadily, like she already knew his reaction by heart. 

“Don’t.”

“Solas,” she began, a warning in her tone, and fell silent.

He hesitated, taking a step towards her. Slightly delayed, Adaar moved away, her heel touching the water, sending ripples rushing. A strange dance.

“Let me,” Morrigan followed them both, too focused on her goal to realise the quarrel; she reached out for Adaar, but Solas held out an arm so that she stumbled against it.

He felt the cold grip of her fingers around his wrist, yellow eyes like lightning cutting into him.

Abelas’ whisper caught his hearing as he walked past.

“You should hurry.”

“Adaar,” Solas tried again, knocking Morrigan away and following the qunari, “do not subject yourself to something you cannot understand.”

Her hands instinctively went up to join in front of her, with gently curled fingers shaking. The square of her shoulders closed to protect her.

“Then what do you propose?” she asked where he would have expected a snap, “That I hand this knowledge over to someone else?”

“No.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Vivienne shift her weight between her feet, a hand falling to her hip. He half-expected a comment, but she only watched.

“You,” Adaar said, gently dipping her head to at least try and level their faces, “are the only one I’d trust with this.”

Solas closed his eyes in helpless frustration.

“No,” he whispered, “do not ask this of me.”

Adaar shook her head, a quiet scoff slipping out of her throat.

“You don’t even believe in gods.”

Out of cards. He pursed his lips and jerked his chin away, trying to string together a lie good enough to keep her close, keep her safe; but his mind was blank. He found her eyes again, let his hand hang in the air between them.

“Please, vhenan.

Something changed in her features. Regret aged her, drawing attention to the fine lines in the corners of her face. Her eyes kept jumping over his, like she was searching for something, but always finding it out of reach. 

“Give me a reason.”

“There is no way to determine the consequences,” he pleaded immediately, “it could—“

She swatted his argument out of the air as she turned.

“Not good enough.”

“Adaar, please!” he tried again, following her in two long steps, mindless.

He couldn’t see in the edges of his vision. The others weren’t there, just still, grey pillars, and white sparks crackling before his eyes. Solas caught her wrist just as she took the first step into the Well, but a small wave brushed the toe of his boot, making him flinch away. It’s her or I.

Adaar let his hand slip out of hers as she walked down, knee-deep in the water dyeing her clothes dark. She gave him one final look – and she was gone, falling, legs bending under her. He heard his heartbreak in his ears - and it took him a moment to realise he was gasping.

“Solas,” Vivienne held onto him – needlessly, for he would not follow anyone into the Well, not for any price – and squeezed her fingers shut like a brace, “we must wait.”

***

He had several questions, at first. More than several. Enough to make his mind overflow, enough to blind and deafen him to the interest and concern of his friends. Someone tried to get him tea. Solas stared at the billowing tears in the side of the tent.

There was an ache deep down in his throat, a complete enigma of feelings. He weaved questions from the loose batter, tried to find the words to fit, but they all came out harsh and accusatory. Solas did not wish to hurt her. The anger he kept pushing down was beginning to make his hands shake, his knee jump.

Do you not trust me, his fevered mind supplied. Does she not trust me?

He ran a hand over his head.  

“Solas?” a voice slipped into the rotunda, following by a horned head that made his heart swell for just a moment—before sinking into disappointment.

Kaariss stopped there, back hunched, as if afraid of passing an invisible threshold. Solas made no move to beckon him closer, but the bard did so nonetheless, keeping his head low.

“There’s a warm fire,” he said, “and food.”

Solas slowly shook his head.

“Please, go on without me.”

“Yvvie said you’d say that,” Kaariss pressed his lips into an awkward line, “and she said to tell you it was the Inquisitor’s order.”

“The Inquisitor’s order…” Solas repeated softly.

“Listen, elf,” Kaariss shifted his weight, hand rising to hold the wound still open on his side, “either you come with me, or she comes here. And—“

“She will not.”

“What?”

Solas looked at his hands.

“How is your wound, Kaariss?”

The qunari cleared his throat, chest rising and shaking when he broke into a cough. Solas’ eyes went up to the just barely dried blood on the bandages.

“Not great,” the man replied with a small shrug, “but I’ll live. The mage—she’s been looking after me.”

“Vivienne.”

“Right. Vivienne.”

There was a lapse, and Kaariss hung his head. The golden horn lit up with the light from behind, casting a faint glow over his forehead, littered with small cuts where he’d been hit by a chainmail glove. Taking away his impressive height and qunari build, Kaariss didn’t have the stature or a fighter. In the back of his head, Solas wondered how he’d ever intimidated a woman like Katoh.  

“You know, elf, after this is over, I’m going home. Something’s off about this whole thing—about Yves.”

Solas furrowed his brow.

“What do you mean?”

The qunari’s jaw worked.

“Maybe I put it wrong,” he chewed on the words, “it’s just that she’s not who she used to be. Now, maybe I’m not one to judge—but it’s not a change I like. I barely recognise her sometimes.”

Yes, naturally. Solas dared the thought nobody knew her quite the way he did. 

But pride would be the death of him, as before. Adaar belonged to Mythal now, and it was as if he’d sold her into slavery himself. He supposed his mind was clearer now, though—he supposed that finally, his true intentions, his true feelings were revealed before him.

He understood himself better now, but hated what he’d learned.

“Is that why you stayed?” Solas asked softly, glancing up at the man, “to atone for past sins?”

Kaariss stared at him, with a kindling flame of anger in the back of his eyes.

“Didn’t we all?” he shifted, holding the wound on his side more tightly, “Show me a soul within your inner circle who joined out of the goodness of their heart.”

Solas hesitated, trying out names on his tongue.

“Cole?” he suggested, hooking his tone into a question.

Kaariss rolled his eyes and scoffed. And in some way, he was in the right; who knew about Cole, after all. About Josephine, her sunshone face. The weakness of overly polite friendships was that they never breached the surface of the agreeable, so he’d never had the opportunity to ask.

But perhaps overly polite dislike was even worse. He had had enough of politeness altogether, truth be told; he had had enough of the acting. There were so few he even considered as friends, and yet he was so quick to turn away, wrap himself up in the well-known embrace of solitude.

It was simple cowardice, not self-sacrifice, to willingly return himself to the pain. Solas knew.

Chapter Text

There was a strange sense of privacy to being  home, perhaps due to the fact the only time he saw Adaar was at night. In the dark, words were easier said and gazes lighter held, but he could not speak nor see—he kept his distance, nose poked between the pages of a book he’d taken along. It was something only he would think to do, of course; bringing a book to the aftermath of a battlefield. Wounded soldiers were heaving their last in the tents at the foot of Skyhold, and he read.

Normally, Adaar and her trusted companions would’ve been a day’s journey ahead of the armies, but they had been over a week ahead, and they’d almost forgotten the carnage. There could’ve been awful song and drawled toasts, hot on the lips of men and women who knew what it was to feel happiness at being alive. Solas had fought enough battles at her side to know she valued that reminder more than she let show.

So it came as an icy shock when she remained at work, at first at her desk, and then at the head of the columns of marching soldiers, stiff and tense in the saddle. Cullen’s white mare would occasionally gallop down the side of the road to join her, then retreat again, like the coming and going of waves. Trying to keep up with her, pale and urgent like a newly appointed scout, he looked unsettlingly young. Solas did not come along for these short missions, staring blankly from his window.

Then they stopped entirely.

They set up more barracks, a handful of tents poured out onto the uneven terrain like scattered dice. Snow had turned into greying mud around them, seeping into boots and drenching their furs, so the people pressed together around the fires – leaving Solas to sit further away, desolate. From his secluded spot, he would occasionally overhear conversations.

“Is someone with her?”

“Don’t think so.”

“That’s hardly—“

“What do you want me to do, Cullen? She’ll manage by herself, always does.”

Solas saw the large shape of the qunari move away, but he was halted.

“Forgive me. And Dorian?”

“What about him? Oh—nah, he’ll be fine. He’s been whining all day. Means he’s good as new.”

He would’ve walked up and asked about the matter, but he’d been listening too long now to pass for harmlessly intrigued. Whatever was happening was up to him to find out; but when he stained his ears to eavesdrop some more, he found the voices had gone quiet.

“You’re worried,” Cole popped into existence just next to him, wraiths of smoke twisting into the earth as they dissipated.

Solas held in the urge to scold the boy.

“Even though you don’t know who,” Cole’s eyes were wide and shining, like two pools of mercury, “or what.”

No answer came to him. The boy looked guilty.

“To be whole and made whole, to be unique, but match. Not them. There’s no balance there, just old bonds.”

Solas exhaled slowly.

“You mean Kaariss.”

Cole nodded quickly, and turned his mirror eyes to the wounded.

“He’s not well. And not good.”

***

He could’ve made the trip to Adaar’s quarters blindfolded by now, but it took him longer than the walk to muster the courage of the approach. He wondered what he’d say, and how to say it—he even considered speaking with the others first, but it seemed like simple avoidance.

There were two guards by the door, completely silent, eyes fixed somewhere far ahead of them. An unwelcome surprise – he hadn’t expected her to become paranoid, of all things, with victory so close. Neither looked at Solas until he was a step away. For a split second, he wondered if he’d be allowed inside at all.

“What’s your business with the Inquisitor?” asked one.

“I must speak to her privately.”

The woman’s eyes were calm. She’d expected this—or been told to.

“Very well,” she said easily, “wait here.”

She turned on her heel and vanished inside, only to return almost immediately with a hint of stress in her step. She extended an arm to the side, inviting him to pass.

Adaar was sitting by her desk, hand suspended in the air between the inkwell and a letter. Her features were stark, skin stretched over them like taut fabric on a crudely cut statue; her eyes snapped to Solas as he walked up the stairs. He found himself aching to reach out.

“Adaar,” he said.

Her face was hidden in shadow again, and she closed her eyes.

“What is it?”

Solas leaned his hip against the desk, looking down at her with a hand splayed next to the paper.

“How are you feeling?”

A shrug of her shoulders.

“Not insane—if that’s what you’re asking. I can hear some chattering, but it’s better than the noise the Anchor makes, anyhow.”

“I meant—regarding Kaariss. I hear his condition has deteriorated. We should—“ he inhaled, “we should speak of the Well another time.”

Adaar glanced at him, briefly.

“Okay.”

“You,” he sat, just lightly resting his feet against the floor, and his hands on his thighs, “might talk to me, if you wish.”

“What’s there to talk about?” she breathed sharply through her nose, almost sniffling, “His wound got infected. Whether he lives or dies is up to luck, and I—“

She blinked. Solas saw tears glistening in the corners of her eyes.

“And I am busy,” she breathed steadily, “I must send word to Shokrakar.”

“Surely, we can heal him.”

“I know,” Adaar put the quill down, likely so she would not break it, “Vivienne is taking care of him, but the rot has set in.”

She dragged her fingers over the edge of the desk, trailing them with her gaze. Solas stopped her hand with his, making her lips purse. She looked up at him.

“War, I understand. I’ve watched many friends fall in battle. But to think that he’s to die in a bed, helpless… and there’s nothing I can do.”

He had always hated this particular taste of silence. The empty sound of his own inability to connect; a vague, yet painful stab at his dissonance from this newborn world. He grit his teeth and forced through it, keeping his voice soft and its melody even.

“Some would find comfort in that.”

“How?” she furrowed her brow in pain, “Tell me, how do I find comfort? I’d give my arm just to know he’ll live.”

He nodded in thought. There was much he could do to save the man’s life; but not as Solas, the rift mage. Not today. He lifted her hand gently, dragging a fingertip along her knuckles, and told her Kaariss would survive. It was all he was expected to do, after all. There was a frenzy in her eyes, a kind of blind panic that almost scared him—though her face was turned to his, her gaze kept trailing in the distance; wide and frightened, like a cornered animal stiff with fear.

“I have to admit,” Solas said after a long moment, “I do not understand your love for Kaariss—but I want to. He is clearly important to you.”

Adaar’s head swayed on her spine, eyes pressing closed. For a long moment, he thought she wouldn’t say another word, but then she sighed.

“He is Tal-Vashoth, as you know,” her voice quivered slightly, “but before he broke away from the Qun, he was a reeducator. I know the things he’s done, then—and after.”

That gave him pause. The quiet begged her to continue.

“I know it’s hard to imagine,” she dipped her head, raising her eyebrows without focus in her eyes, “I know. Among Tal-Vashoth, there’s often this… unspoken agreement, that you don’t have to talk about who you were before. It’s always painful in one way or another. But Kaariss was open with me from the start. And he accepted me, without question, because I treated him like a person even after he told me the truth. Now I wonder...”

She rubbed the bridge of her nose with a sigh. Solas picked at his knuckle.

“You are conflicted.”

“It’s been many years since then. I understand certain matters better now,” she glanced up at him, “I understand respect and trust. Largely thanks to you.”

He’d never had trouble unravelling the intricacies of careful speech – he’d mastered it himself – but the line between what she truly meant and his own assumptions had started becoming dangerously blurry. He often read her words in a way he almost didn’t dare to believe, and the sudden honesty was welcome, striking him wide and deep and leaving a gash across his chest. He winced. It seemed wrong to doubt her now, to ask why she’d gone against his wishes—but something must’ve changed in his features, betraying him, because Adaar froze.

“I hope you know that. I know it’s difficult,” she moved as if to stand up, but didn’t, “and I know that we sometimes disagree.”

Solas pursed his lips and looked away. This is not the time to be fighting.

“Your point?”

“Yes,” she flinched, very aware of the cold note in his voice, “my point being that though I am terrified for Kaariss, I’m also—tired. I suppose this must be how it feels to have family.”

She furrowed her brow again, back unknowingly hunching as if to protect her from a blow.

“To be bound to someone, whether you like it or not,” she continued, “to love someone so much that you can’t stop, even if they hurt you.”

Solas turned away.

“That is not family.”

“Come now, kadan,” she clicked her tongue in annoyance, “do you truly think so?”

“Love is not a promise,” he reached down to touch her cheek, hoping to make her look at him while she was seated, and their height difference was reversed, “If you love someone out of obligation alone, it cannot be genuine.”

“It’s not obligation,” she argued, exasperated, but leaned into his hand, “I still feel it. I just hate that I feel it. Because, perhaps, I shouldn’t.”

Solas felt his fingers go numb. He leaned away, his heart a hammer in his chest as a layer of pure ice settled on his skin.

“Well,” she huffed, “I guess I’m just weak.”

“No,” he said, before he could stop himself, “you are not.”

He fought the urge to drag his fingertips over his forehead, where his skin still sometimes prickled—instead, he brushed a strand of hair behind her ear, soaking in the warmth of her face. Adaar looked at him with worried fondness; her hand settled lightly right above his knee, and she smiled, almost falsely, turning away from the documents on her desk.

“Alright,” she blinked, “I can see you’re upset. I’ve dumped enough of my worries on you. Let’s speak of the Well.”

The splinter in their friendship, painful and poisoned.

“You would not listen,” he whispered, “why didn’t you listen?”

He could feel hot waves rushing up the sides of his neck. Adaar took her bottom lip between her teeth, skin going pale under the pressure.

“I made a promise to the Inquisition, Solas,” she replied, keeping her voice low to match his, “and Morrigan is a walking liability. If it could not be her, and you refused—it had to be me. Simple as that.”

“You might’ve paid a price you do not understand,” he closed his hand into a fist, resting it firmly against the table, knuckles pressing until it hurt.

“It had to be done. I don’t understand what—,“ she inhaled, calming herself, “I don’t understand why you’re still angry.”

He lowered his gaze, hoping the sting would leave his eyes.

“Because I love you. You know this.“

“Solas,” there was a warning in her voice, and it was obvious she’d thought about this, “I have one purpose left, now. The mark is stable, but we both know—don’t make me say it.”

Vhenan, nothing is ended,” he gripped her marked hand, pressing a kiss to her brow; then her eyelids, one after the other, “it is no longer spreading.”

Adaar sighed, leaning her forehead against his. He was content to stay that way, but she pulled away too quickly; eyes ablaze, filled with stars.

“It’s old magic,” she said, shaking her head, “I’ve made my peace with any sacrifice I might have to make.”

I have not.

“That being said,” her eyebrows shot up as she looked away for a moment, tilting her head adorably to the side, “if our positions were reversed, I would likely not be taking any of this as well as you are. So, thanks. I think.”

To hear her say it was a strange sensation; eerie, like the cold one feels before the pain hits. One can see the cut; see the blood spilling from it, perhaps even the torn muscle underneath, bare and wrong, but one cannot feel it. There is only the gentle, unnatural cold. The feeling in his chest was similar, but not chilling – like something inside of him was kindling. Warm, though he could see the gaping wound.

***

“If we survive, unlikely as it is,” she hummed, her voice quiet against his neck, muffled slightly by her cheek pressed against his collarbone, “I want to go with you.”

Solas hesitated, taken aback by her words; not a question, but not a declaration, either—not may I, but not I shall. It was carefully prepared and he could tell she’d put much thought into the statement, like metal reforged over and over. Or maybe none at all. Her voice had sounded light enough, fuzzy with approaching sleep. He watched the sky between the billowing curtains on either side of the northern balcony, dark and indigo without the stars to give it charm.

“Go where?” he asked, hoarse.

Adaar shrugged, nestling herself more comfortably against his side.

“Wherever you want to. I know you will leave. I just ask that you let me come with you.”

“How can you be so certain I will go?”

“It’s in your nature,” she said, propping herself up on her elbow to look at him.

She laughed, quietly. She was so warm; like an instrument of pure heat next to him, all muscle. Such a strange and beautiful woman. He leaned in when she kissed his cheek, but quickly withdrew, returning his eyes to the mountains. Perspective.

“You’re a wanderer. Honest, but fickle,” she added with a teasing note to her voice, trying to pick up his gaze as she brushed broken pieces of touch along his jaw, “and I would not love you if you were anything else.”

His eyes snapped to her, almost beyond his control. That he was.

“You would abandon all that you’ve built here?” he asked, looking up at her.

A strand of hair had slipped out from behind her ear, its end tickling his cheek. He immediately felt the impulse to reach up and put it back, more like habit now than an excuse to touch her. He didn’t need excuses anymore.

“Abandon? No,” she said earnestly, “But there will come a time when I’m no longer needed. If you’d wait for me—“

Solas reached for her free arm, dragging his thumb over the scars running down from the side of her wrist to her elbow, imagining he could feel the hardened bone underneath. They’d healed thick and white, like lightning on her skin.

“You’ve paid my worth many times over.”

“I don’t want your gratitude,” her face stilled, turning hard despite no obvious change, “you’ve no debt to pay. Say the word. You can go.”

“What cruelty you are capable of,” he almost gasped, cupping the curve of her jaw in his hand, “Inquisitor.”

Her breath warmed his palm when she sighed, lowering her eyes in a strange impulse. Her breast deflated, heavy between her arms, and she moved her elbows closer together, closing him off.

“Solas?” she addressed the sheets, but after a pause, no question followed.

He shifted uncomfortably.

“What is it?”

Adaar pressed both hands to her forehead with a groan.

“Oh, fuck it. Love me, don’t love me—care for me, but don’t worry about me. Let me lead you, trust me blindly, but always be honest with me,” she parroted herself, bitter and pained, “Solas, do I ask too much of you?”

Some ugly part of him wanted to roll his eyes, but her despair was real. She was looking down at him – for the first time since he’d met her, truly lost – with the eyes of a woman burdened with all the worries in the world, and now carrying yet another, borne of the delicate and painful matter of her love. Because she did love him – he knew – though it didn’t come easily to her, though it wasn’t at all simple, or all the other things it should be. Adaar was the Inquisitor. He was something else entirely.

“At times, it feels as if you do,” he admitted in a whisper, “but then you return to me, as you are, and I am reminded that you and the Inquisitor are not one and the same.”

“That’s not—,” she stuttered, “I’ve never shied away from taking responsibility for what I’ve done, out there. I can be both. I—“

“It is the only way,” he interrupted, as gently as he could.

But was it? He didn’t suppose he was allowed to entertain the notion that something else could come of this, but stars help him, he was beginning to.

Little did she know her fears were so very misplaced; they were equals in the truest sense. If anything, any imbalance she feared was in fact the other way around, and Solas found himself chocked with guilt at not having considered that fact. Adaar worried continuously, day and night, overthinking herself into oblivion – while he thought less and less, dreading the moment approaching them.

He found himself saying things. Not telling her stories – he’d always done that, it was nothing new – but saying things, saying words that had once died on his tongue. The irony of it was lost on him; locking away his guilt felt like inhaling water, but he did it, ever so eager to drown. More and more of him needed her to hear it. Every honest word he forced out of himself gave him a sudden and painfully short high, and he was desperate to know, and to be known.  The experience bordered on religious.

He’d never loved like this.

Still, as much as he was in Adaar’s confidence, his place was not at the War Table – and oftentimes, not in Adaar’s quarters. Yes, clearly, her bed was there, but it was a domain wholly separate from the hurricane on her desk; there were many days when he’d find himself stopped by the guards, told off like an errand boy.

More often than not, he relented easily. Adaar had not exactly been attainable since the very beginning of her career as Inquisitor (and he only barely remembered Haven now; barely remembered her hair dancing in the wind, sprinkled with snow. His first memories of Adaar were… unconcise. Glimpses, stolen when she wasn’t looking, at an angle from the side, from behind; he’d learned the curve of her cheekbone quickly. Solas was taller than the elves of this time—of stronger build—but her eyes could easily glide right above the top of his head, never noticing him. It drove him up the wall, then.)

So he didn’t mind. It was to be expected. He didn’t mind.

Chapter Text

He found himself remembering Haven time and time again.

Maybe it was that his walls no longer had space left for more murals; just the one, maybe two, if he planned ahead, but planning ahead was beginning to feel more like a guessing game. He no longer knew the future, not his and definitely not Adaar’s – and it terrified him, to a point where he submerged himself in the Fade, searching for any kind of hint that Adaar’s theory – that of time being non-existent – might have a grain of truth at its centre, like the sand in the middle of a pearl. Haven was a safe memory, at least. It’d been simpler, and the world had been a smaller place. People all around him, good people, who wanted to do good and create a bubble of peace in a world torn to shreds by a myriad of selfish wars.

But there was nothing. Obviously. He would’ve noticed earlier. He would know, damn it, he would know—but he failed to convince himself. Adaar had proved him wrong. Who was to say she wasn’t right about so much more?

They had all been so ready to help. So many out in the freezing cold, with nothing but what the Chantry’s quickly diminishing fortune could buy. They’d had little, and yet more people came flocking every day, inspired by an ideal. He’d been lucky to get a roof over his head; even now, he knew it was no coincidence that he’d been given proper quarters. He’d heard the wind howling in the commander’s office.

She was wise and kind, damn her, this strange and thoughtful woman who had never sought to appease or indulge him, never made allowances, never wrinkled her nose and turned away. She wanted to talk, and so did he, never believing in hasty agreements; peacefully challenging, talking for hours on end. Stars, he could not go to war with her, not after this, not unless she forced his hand.

Without Adaar, he would be feeling his way through the dark. Again, he was distraught.

***

The guards at her door had been dismissed.

Solas stared at the empty staircase in a state of mild confusion; the woman’s paranoia had been deepening, rather than getting better, and he couldn’t think of a single good reason why she’d send them away. They weren’t needed anywhere else to his knowledge – the Inquisition had a large and well-organised military force, held in the iron grasp of the commander. It was even more unlikely that they’d wandered off, as Adaar was well-loved, but equally feared, and he doubted anyone would dare cross her over something as petty as a few hours’ break.

Whatever the case, he walked up the stairs and knocked, feeling slightly eerie doing this during the day. When he received no answer, he pushed the door open (surprising, also) and made his way up to Adaar’s quarters.

“Are you serious?” came her startled question, still out of sight, “You think he would?”

“He’d be a fool not to.”

Cullen’s words were curt and quiet. As Solas entered the room, he saw the commander on the guest side of Adaar’s desk, seated in a bent position with his legs sprawled out and his hands joined before him. Without his armour, he was a different man – a white shirt, undone at the collar, hung loosely from his shoulders and gathered again where it’d been clumsily shoved in a wide belt. Seeing Solas, he immediately straightened up, though it did little to make him presentable. The bags under his eyes were a tell-tale mark of angry exhaustion.

“Excuse me,” Solas said, not meaning to apologise at all.

Adaar watched him. She was standing up, hands on either side of a large map unfurled on her desk—he looked at her, then at the map again, wondering whether he should remark on the fact it was upside down.

“It’s fine,” she exhaled, “we ought to take a break anyway. What did you need?”

Solas glanced about the room. It was in perfect order – the only odd element was Cullen stripped down to that loose white shirt, and the unnaturally pale chest visible in the opening. As he took a step closer, he noticed a thin layer of sweat coating the man’s forehead.

“Nothing of importance,” Solas winced, “I thought I’d left a book up here. I must have been mistaken.”

“Right, yes,” she raised her eyebrows, “I think I might’ve misplaced it in the commotion this morning.”

Solas hadn’t heard anything. He tilted his head to the side.

“What manner of commotion…?” he trailed off when he saw Cullen raise a hand to his face, covering his eyes behind the palm.

“Forgive me,” the commander rose out of his chair, “Yves, I should return to my office. We’ll continue this another time, if that’s alright.”

“You should return to bed,” she said sharply, eyes widening in a mixture of worry and anger, “I shouldn’t have kept you. Off you go.”

It was unlike her to keep him at all, not when he was clearly unwell.

“Take care,” Solas said to him as he walked by to leave, some note of compassion, or maybe simple habit, making him turn to follow the man with his gaze.

The door clicked shut, a noise promptly followed by the sound of armour chiming and chattering. The guards had returned.

Solas and Adaar were left looking at each other in the suddenly quiet room. She was the first to speak. 

“Sorry. I promise I’ll find the book,” she gave an apologetic little shrug.

“Is the commander ill?”

“No,” she lied smoothly, and Solas accepted it, because it’d been the answer to his curious questions a hundred times already – and he’d long figured out the truth anyway, “He’ll recover, he’s just having a bad day.”

“Yes, of course,“ Solas watched her very clearly not search for the book, and discomfort shifted in his stomach, “Everybody has them.”

Adaar wiped her forehead of invisible dirt, settling down into her chair with a tired sigh. It was time to lower a pointed gaze to the map on the table, but she missed the hint completely, droopy eyes fixed in the open balcony. She looked thoughtful—adrift, almost.

“Where are you?” he asked, leaning the knuckles of one hand against the mahogany.

She looked at him, and a smile bloomed on her lips, bringing life into those dimmed eyes. It was surprisingly genuine; as if the sun had suddenly hit her face, flooding it with gold, each lash and wrinkle carved out in the light. Solas stared in awe.

Once, there had been only existence. There’d been no sense of moment, of that which is fleeting; no fear of loss, and no hope for gain. No poison of greed and avarice, no selfishness of possession. Only the steadfast hum of a world at a standstill. The element of risk was something new; pay the price, how short these moments are, and in return be stunned by the beauty of that which is elusive.

Once, there’d been nothing to fight for, and nothing to fight against. And those two things had certainly never aligned.

“I’m thinking,” she said, turning her gaze away, “just thinking.”

“About Kaariss?”

Her eyes shot up again, this time more alert. She nodded with another hint of a tired smile in her features, cutting a line under her cheek.

“About everything,” she exhaled, “but we’re close, aren’t we? So close I almost want to hold my tongue, of foolish fear I might spoil it.”

“Words hold a different kind of power.”

“Where would you go?”

She’d almost cut him off, her voice urgent all of a sudden, thick with excitement. Solas paused, startled, then considered; to her, this was the end, these moments between them right now – the last, dying breath of the crusade against Corypheus. To him, this was the beginning. Once he had the orb, he was to begin walking a new path – separate from all that she’d accomplished, separate from her. The thought carved his chest in two.

Vhenan,” he asked softly, “but what if we lose?”

He saw her halt; her thoughts, staggering to a stop. She watched him, confusion in her brow, then silent, well-hidden fear.

“Are you serious?” she asked firmly.

“Surely, the thought has crossed your mind.”

“Well,” Adaar winced, “yes, it has, but—stars, I’ve kept it away for so long now. What are you saying?”

He didn’t truly know. He only knew he hadn’t considered it the way he should have.

“We may have very little time left. Weeks, perhaps. You ask where I would go, when all this is over,” he shook his head, “but truthfully, I do not wish to wait for the world to catch up with us.”

***

The smooth surface of the desert sea spread out before them, moonlight pooling into the wide valleys cutting like scars into the sand. Adaar had scraped together some errands to get them here, and now their mounts steaming under them, their feet heavy. The opportunity for camp hadn’t presented itself yet – the wind was blowing harshly, constantly pushing and pulling the rolls and hills, like a giant was dragging his fingers through the sand.

She was unusually quiet.

He’d expected a tale of Par Vollen; the great pyramids which stood there, untouched by time, older than the Qunari themselves. He’d witnessed this many times, told excitedly to the amusement of Skyhold’s few children, and solemnly on evenings when she was too drunk on wine to muster any kind of energy. She’d pulled hundreds of similar histories from the Iron Bull, comparing them to what she’d known of her father’s past, and relayed them to Solas in the privacy of her chambers. He’d heard some of them once or twice before, but the way she told them, he could listen a hundred times and never get bored.

She clearly liked the desert, even though there were days when she complained endlessly. He wondered why here. Why now.

They didn’t join a camp for the night—though Adaar had stopped to pick up supplies, they’d gone further, into the desert, and now there was nothing but quiet in all directions. They finally found a dried-up tree to cling to, like two marooned sailors on an island, and here, protected from the wind, they spread out their bedrolls and lit a small fire. There was only the wind and the stars, everything blurring together into an image of perfect stillness. Solas felt himself sinking into another one of those rare, precious moments of pure peace.

Adaar was wistful.

The issue was not simply that she deserved to know. He might live with himself, if he failed to tell her – he might be able to detach himself from the destructive reality of his betrayal, if he just disappeared, if he simply faded into the snow-laden mountains with not so much as a word. He might suffer in guilt for weeks, maybe months, maybe for all fucking eternity, but it will not be a guilt unbearablea guilt that burns and freezes and leaves him shivering in the night. If the creators of existence had mercy on him, she’d learn to hate Fen’Harel so much that when he was finally revealed, she would not blink before striking.

He could not hope for such mercy. He knew he’d hesitated – for just a split second, a second that had lasted months without his knowledge, exploiting his denial – and he knew that now that he’d realised it, he couldn’t hesitate any longer. The only question left to ask was whether he told her the way she deserved to be told, of if he cowered, like he’d cowered for the past two years.

If he did tell her, laid himself bare before her, his plan would surely fall through. Adaar would never understand – why should she? It would not be not because of ignorance, but in defence of her own survival, of her people’s survival, the same way that he had once—

It was one or the other. It had never been anything else. He could feel his breathing drawing heavy as he thought, fresh air clearing his thoughts. The noise of Skyhold had kept him at bay, made him distanced, but now he was sharper than a razor and his mind felt cold and new.

So when Adaar reached for her bag, he knew. His heart was already in his throat. When she lifted out a bundle of cloth, his desperate heartbeat was drumming in his ears. He stared, perfectly still, as she held the halved dragon tooth in her hands. His fingers closed unintentionally around the cold metal chain, and he stared at it in shock, forcing himself to say the words before it was too late, but failing, every attempt falling through in dead silence. His throat hurt too much to bear

Adaar picked up his gaze, nervous, scared, happy. She took a silent second to gather herself before she asked.

“Solas—“

“I cannot accept this.” He heard his voice as if it wasn't his own - a handful of words spoken quickly and without care, striking her like a knife in the ribs. 

Blank surprise balked her face. Slightly squinting, as if flinching away from a blow, she let her shoulders fall into a curved slope. Her hands looked so helpless by her sides.

“It’s alright,” she said suddenly, and if her voice didn't betray her for how hurt she was, then her eyes certainly did, “that’s alright. You don’t have to.”

The answer was not one she would want to hear, and it never would be. He held his half of dragon tooth out to her, breaching the space that had grown so suddenly large and cold between them; feeling escaped his fingertips, replaced by ice. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, and quickly realised that it was too soon, that the wound he'd inflicted was even worse than he'd thought, as understanding dawned on her. 

She watched him, wide-eyed and paralysed. Painfully vulnerable, her presence slowly leaving her gaze. She wasn't listening anymore. There was nothing he could do to fix it now, but he had to try. 

“I am so sorry,” he repeated, and went on, forcing himself to hold back the hurricane, “but time is short now, and my love, there isn’t any left for you and I.”

Something shifted in her eyes, but she still did not speak, did not cry. He felt short of breath, desperately wishing to hear her voice, anything to go over the ringing in his ears. He felt he had to convince her - prove something - but in the silence, he couldn't think. 

“I could—,“ he wanted to step closer, but didn’t, knowing it wasn’t welcome now, “You are the most astounding person I have ever known. I could spend a lifetime with you, were my lifetime mine to spend."

Adaar’s jaw worked.

“I don’t understand,” she said quietly.

Solas exhaled, unable to look away. 

"Vhenan—"

“You’re le—,” her voice died suddenly, as if she’d run out of air, “you’re leaving me? I didn't... I thought..."

Her eyes shot down to the necklace, still in his hands, and another wave of shocked pain rolled over her. He could see what she was thinking, almost as if he was reading a book, and it was unbearable. Burning still, she stared straight at him. Her lower lip trembled, and was quickly bitten down on, hard enough to turn the skin white.

“Adaar,” he pressed, and his feet took him forward without permission this time, “take this. There will be someone more deserving."

“I’ve no use for it,” she said, closing her fist around her own half with a firm shake of her head, “destroy it.”

She held a hand over her eyes, squeezing her temples between thumb and forefinger, and just for a moment, he heard her breathing dampen. Then she looked up, and still held that steely gaze, still set him on fire with it deep down in his bones. Her voice was less than a whisper when she spoke again. 

“Alright, then."

He knew it was wrong to be hurt by the fact she didn’t fight harder; didn’t tell him I love you, the final argument, the last line of defence. She didn't even ask why. As if some part of her had expected this, though she couldn't have, how...?

She is used to being treated poorly—how it took him this long to notice, he couldn’t say. He suddenly wished he’d paid more attention. Had more time. He could feel his hands pulling tight the knots he’d once used all his strength to undo, hands once again trapped outside, where her gaze was cold and her face was stone. He could see the glassy sheen to her eyes, the blood which had rushed to her skin, but somehow they didn’t matter, because all he could think about was that silent stare of pure misery.

He wished she’d screamed at him, wept, hit him, even, anything to help wipe away some of that horrible thing in her eye; but she only watched.

“Say what you must,” he offered, desperately.

Adaar scoffed.

“Just leave.”

Solas took his staff, turned on his heel and walked. When he looked over his shoulder, a fair distance away, she was on her knees in the sand.

Chapter Text

News came to him as if underwater now.

He’d catch echoes, stumble upon a missed detail, overhear serving girls whispering in the rafters. After a while, he even started asking, but all he got was a blank look at a non-committal grunt. And, of course, Sera watching him like she wanted to personally gut him and spit on his corpse. Her clenched fists made him think that for all her foolishness, she might’ve actually cared at one point or another.

He doesn’t see Cullen – the most loyal of dogs – at all. Some part of him had made room in his mind for a possible confrontation, for accusations, and how to shoot them down, because it seemed so like him; to be possessive, and naïve at the same time, to protect his master. There’d been no need, apparently. Cullen avoided him like the Blight, and with their drastically differing roles to play within the Inquisition, it was not surprising at all – but it felt personal. Then again, everything had started feeling personal, ever since—

Only Blackwall asked him about it. Politely, with that respectful dignity of a chevalier. Solas told him it was private. He backed off immediately. Good man.

The knowledge that he’s kept the necklace was deeply uncomfortable. He’d no idea what to do with it; she’d said destroy it, but he couldn’t—that’s to say, there was no need for it. He placed it in the only drawer in his desk with a lock and carried the key with him, hidden in a pouch at his belt. Couldn’t say why. He finds that he doesn’t allow himself to dwell on it, doesn’t allow himself to recount the words in his mind, remember her face, even justify himself. There was no need. He’d done wrong, and there was nothing he could do to mend it. And this, he found, was an acceptable state of things.

Adaar didn’t avoid him per se. He’d been startled to see her walk into his rotunda right after they’d both returned; he expected tears, shouting, all the things she’d held in before, but again he was disappointed. Not because he wanted her to cry, of course. He’d begun to realise he’d never wanted that, but rather to be accused, screamed at, hurt. He knew perfectly well he deserved it.

But it happened again. She kept her gaze somewhere behind him, slightly below eye-level, as if she was talking to his neck or his shoulder; and she asked what else he could tell her about the Altar of Mythal. He told her, then bade her farewell with a dip of his head and a quiet ‘good luck, Inquisitor’. He didn’t miss the pained twitch of her mouth. It struck him that he ought to ask about Kaariss; but he really had no right to, not anymore.

She didn’t take him with her this time. And he didn’t mind.

“Stop tormenting yourself. What’s done is done,” Blackwall pushed a glass towards him, but Solas gently pushed it back to the centre of the table in a silent refusal.

Pot, meet kettle.

“Listen,” the man tried again, “it’s never easy with these matters. You should accept that.”

He’d clearly had a bit too much, if he was still talking. Solas scowled at him.

“I appreciate your concern, but please, leave it be.”

It was charming that he’d taken his side, even though he knew nothing of what had occurred; if not side, then at least he believed in him, and that hurt, because there was nothing Solas believed in that Blackwall would agree with. Any connection, any similarity he might’ve found all paled and lost its significance when he remembered his true goal, his true values, and his intent.

And it was easier, suddenly. The man they’d come to know, and in some cases call friend, was not real. How could he be? They only ever agreed with him because a huge part of who he was had been concealed, so what did it matter, now? Soon it’d be over. Soon none of this would hold any meaning to him. He could kill the warm familiarity he felt after so many evenings spent over cards with this man—he could kill the respect he had for Cassandra, the quiet compassion for the Bull. He could kill it all, as he’d done before, and return himself to the form of the one who stands for nothing, who protects nothing. Once he had his people back, he could stop caring.

He had been a hero to many, but he had also been dark and cruel, and those two sides were so tightly intertwined that he couldn’t say he regretted either. Perhaps it was time to accept that he was simply not meant to decide.

He got up, ignoring Blackwall’s startled question as he calmly made for the door.

She’d be back soon, hopefully with something to give them the upper hand. And then the lie would end. 

***

“Not going to finish your frescoes?”

Solas stared down at the paint bowls on his desk. There was a heaviness pressing against the inside of his forehead, sticking his eyes shut. He found himself flinching away from stark light, consumed by a strange lethargy permeating his limbs. I should sleep, slipped through his thoughts, but he was more than reluctant. Sleep brought dreams.

He was constantly looking for ways to keep himself busy, but the paintings—he couldn’t touch them, like they burned. He couldn’t find the will to lift the brush, the confidence it took to drag it in a straight line where he wanted. Even cleaning up the paint from the floor was better, or had been, until he noticed a spatter of indigo preserved in a puddle of molten wax. His mind had to be playing tricks on him.

“Your offer hardly stands,” he said quietly, without looking up at her.

He felt her stiffen into stillness as she sank into the background.

“What offer?”

He raised his chin at the empty wall separating his latest work from the first of his frescoes—the great eye of the Inquisition—and the… well. The wolves.

“I was to paint your portrait,” he reminded her softly, keeping an eye on the woman as she walked along the curve of the wall. She stopped with the fade of his voice, her motions smooth and graceful like the coming and going of the sea.

She had changed; he feared so had he. Adaar turned her dark eyes on him, a strange look on her face—not a hint of a smile, yet gentle benevolence, as if there was something she knew that he didn’t. Something quite lovely.

She straightened up, shoulders broad and proud.

“Paint it.”

Solas froze. “Are you certain?”

“It won’t be much of a tribute otherwise,” she glanced at the frescoes again, crossing her arms, “Don’t you think?”

“There would be some charm to it,” he said before he could stop himself, warmth managing to seep into his voice despite his efforts, “A tribute to the Inquisition which does not include the Inquisitor. A celebration of deeds rather than people.“

“No.” She scoffed, not without humour. “That makes no sense.”

Solas raised his eyebrows.

“Perhaps not. Shall we?”

He brought her a chair and she sat. He asked her to undo the braid—her hair had grown longer, even more beautiful with the instruction of Vivienne’s finest—but she fumbled with it, still unaccustomed to the motions. With his heart in his throat, he pulled out the pins himself, placing them gingerly in her hands.

Adaar stared at the floor. She was already reaching up to tuck the loose strands behind her ears, but he halted her hands, grip loose on her wrists.

He’d had many ideas for how to paint her. She was the most important piece on the board; more important than him cowering in the details and behind metaphors. She deserved to be the centre of it all, her face immortalized for future generations to see.

He had no idea where to start.

The helplessness of it brought him back to the first of his lessons, where he’d begin with a simple sketch. He sat on the floor before her, muttering a dismissive sound when she looked down at him. “Look straight ahead. Pretend I am not here.”

“Harder than it sounds,” she muttered, throat working.

He’d barely put down the first line when he caught her watching him again, a strange expression on her face.

“Won’t it make me look—distant?” she stuttered, awkward and uncertain, “I’m no expert on art, but I don’t want to be some lifeless statue.”

A point, surprisingly. This was how a hired painter would portray her—from far below, aloof and proud. A symbol more than a woman, but she’d never wanted that. He’d cowered again.

“Very well.” He went over to the desk to fetch another chair, bringing it back to her. His hands were cold on the coal when he sat.

He didn’t have to tell her to look at him; Adaar’s dark eyes were unwavering, stark and black until he wondered if she could see him at all. Sharp intelligence behind raw physical strength—a rare and dangerous combination, hindered only by that constant second-guessing, that fumbling uncertainty of a woman never quite in her element.

“Good?” she made sure, raising her eyebrows for a moment before sinking back into the neutral expression. He nodded.

He’d done well, if unknowingly, to strike his first blow before she became too strong to need him.

***

The sky swirled with black and red.

He found her in the rubble, with light trickling from her hand, flowing over her stomach and chest. Her breathing was laboured, with horrible, wet coughs escaping her every time she inhaled. When he lifted her head gently off the ground, pushing his hand underneath to cradle her, he saw blood on her tongue. Her next cough sprayed red over her chin, mixing with what was already running down from her broken nose.

He should’ve joined them earlier. He should’ve been here.

She sputtered, ignoring his shushing.

“Solas?”

“Peace, vhenan,” he whispered, glancing down at the rest of her to check for any other injuries, “Don’t move.”

Her breastplate was bent horribly over the left side of her ribcage, the shape so unnatural that he had to assume several of the bones were in splinters. How she’d managed to stay standing just moments ago was beyond him. He held her gently, arranging the facts in his mind, trying not to look at the shattered Orb on the ground beside her. For a moment, he let her be more important.

The scar on the sky still pulsed with green, but the glow was beginning to fade into the clouds. They were suspended – but it would not last, and he had to hurry. Adaar huffed, the sharp exhale causing a shudder.

“Is he gone?” she struggled to ask, brow furrowing only to smoothen again. She swallowed, throat moving with difficulty.

“Yes.” Not exactly, but the next best thing, and he hadn’t the heart to explain.

“Good,” she squeezed her eyes shut, and a moment later, he realised what she was trying to do.

He tried to keep her in place, but Adaar sat up, clutching her ribs with her good arm; the one carrying the Anchor still lay limply at her side, crackling with magical energy. She managed a slow, shallow intake of air, and broke into a coughing fit that sent more blood trickling from her mouth and nose in thick, terrifying lines.

Solas closed his eyes.

The magic came to him more naturally than breathing, as it always had – a green glow that gathered in the palm of his hand, gently spilling where he pressed it just beneath her chest. The plate bent back into its original shape, and Adaar inhaled, somewhat shakily, as he mended the muscle and bone underneath. She was but a construct—a bundle of flesh with blood coursing through her, infinitely complicated, yet comparably simple.

Relief overcame her and she slumped down against him, head falling to his shoulder as her fingers tangled themselves in the straps of his armour, holding him in place. He pulled her close – gently – with his entire being focused in only just his hands, where they could feel her warmth.

He might’ve stayed there, but his eyes fell to the broken pieces of the Orb again. Adaar got to her feet without his help, going after him when he walked – though still protectively holding her ribs – and followed his gaze.

“Solas,” she began, clarity returning to her, “what are you doing?”

He felt grief rush cold in his veins. He knelt again to hold the pieces in his hands, but the magic was gone, without leaving behind so much as an echo; he was clutching dead stone. Adaar’s voice reached his ears, but he couldn’t decipher the words, didn’t care to listen. He had lingered.

There was nothing for him here.

***

For the first few months, he didn’t feel a thing. Then, one night—late at night—he buried his face in his hands and simply wept. It hurt a very real kind of pain, in the centre of his chest, not at all different from a physical injury. Ultimately, that was what allowed him to kill it.

***

Hahren,

the Inquisition is still weakened after the battle, and the Inquisitor is much the same. Her search continues, but she will find nothing, it will be taken care of. She keeps her lapdog close, which complicates things, but that too will be taken care of in time. There will be servants cleaning her chambers within the week – I will send Enansal with them, she will search the desk.

There was a funeral. A big one. Some qunari bard, friend of the Inquisitor’s. Was grim.

Ele’noir

***

Hahren,

Enansal found the letters – I send them to you as they were, unsealed. The Inquisitor is unlikely to miss them, but in case she does, send them back to me once He has seen them. Their contents have led me to believe she is not planning on continuing the search, but I will not stop watching her until He gives the order. I hope you understand.

The Inquisition’s forces are strengthened, but their political situation is not. The Inquisitor’s close friendship with the Commander has led many to believe she is going to rely more heavily on military presence, and it’s causing tremors in King Alistair’s court as well as Empress Celene’s, but the Inquisitor has not made a single move towards relocating her forces yet. The only squads currently outside of Skyhold are those belonging to the Spymaster, including the few agents within Halamshiral; Lath’hol is with them, but his reports are curt. If there is trouble, we have yet to hear of it. No updates from Minaeve.

Ele’noir

***

Hahren,

the Inquisitor attended the meeting with the Empress. It was put to her that the Empress does not approve of the Inquisition’s still-growing military force. The Inquisitor reacted harshly, and for the time being, it seems she’s going to keep her armies in both Orlais and Ferelden. Something about ‘behaving like children’ and ‘being disciplined like children’. Suffice to say, the Empress didn’t like that. I’ll send you the details once I get a hold of Lath’hol.

Lastly, send the letters back at once. The Inquisitor has noticed their absence, and she is furious. Make it known to Him that if we can’t plant them soon, someone’s getting accused of treason, and it’s best it’s not one of ours.

Ele’noir

Solas stared blankly at the reports. Then, returning his attention to the letters piled before him, he dragged a hand over his head. Adaar’s familiar, sharp handwriting covered each page on both sides, the ink staining where she’d pressed too hard on the paper, almost splitting the quill. With Vivienne gone from Skyhold, what had once been private conversations between the two of them was now written correspondence – and getting his hands on it had been something of a necessity. He touched the edge of the nearest one, just his fingertips, but it still stung like fire. His eyes moved up to the agent.

“Take them, then.”

Relief filled the man’s face. He looked like he wanted to say something – that press of his lips, the wide look in his eye – but he didn’t, drawing the letters into a pile and taking them into his hand. He bent in half, sinking into a deep bow.

“Quickly,” Solas muttered against the knuckle pressed to his lips.

The man left.

***

Hahren,

we successfully planted the letters. The Inquisitor is wary to say the least, but at least she’s not yelling anymore. She has taken one of the abandoned strongholds further south, at the end of the mountain range, and now controls the border. We haven’t been able to decipher what she’s attempting to do. Just that the lapdog probably put her up to it. He’s not left her side since the battle. I’ll have Irene find out if she’s bedding him.

If rumour is to be believed, the Hero of Ferelden has resurfaced in Amaranthine. The Inquisition has dispatched an armed escort. Contact Him immediately.

Ele’noir

***

Hahren,

there’s been a development: the Inquisitor is receiving King Alistair as her private guest at Skyhold. He goes by a false name, carries himself plainly and keeps to his quarters, but it is him, without a doubt. The Inquisitor’s armies are still in Ferelden, and the King is clearly not pleased, but he does not seem to be planning a departure. The Hero is to arrive within a fortnight.

There is talk of an Exalted Council. Even with Divine Victoria’s unwavering support, the Inquisitor walks on thin ice.

Ele’noir

Chapter Text

They were not equipped for another war.

Well – theoretically, they were. Enough horses and men, enough gold sitting beneath Skyhold to fill the basements, and all the corridors between them. Adaar was a dragon perched on her mountain, with a firm grip on the border and fortresses spreading out in both directions. She held her position better than anyone else could, but she was still slipping. Tired.

It did not weaken her the way it did Cullen. His was a different weariness; he found himself staring out the window, caught his breath humming a song he couldn’t remember the words to, but which had once been a companion on sunny afternoons. His mother would knit, seated in an ocean of her harsh linen skirts, and sing. It’s more frightening than it should be, for a Templar—taken away so young, sworn to loyalty—that his once big and loud family has scattered to the winds, or been lost to the Blight. He bought proper parchment and wrote to Mia.

After the battle, Adaar’s friend died from the wounds he’d sustained several weeks prior, in the Graves. It’d been an unnecessary cruelty on the Maker’s part – Cullen spends three hours on his knees in the Chantry, interchangeably thanking him for Adaar’s victory and blaming him for the last nail in her coffin. In the following months, he stays close to her, lets her talk when she has to. He worries quite genuinely about it, but somehow, she doesn’t die of grief.

He wants her to leave.

He would miss her, of course. Void, he’d miss her, but she needs to go – abandon the plans, the maps, the letters. Let the Inquisition slowly fade from reality and into the ink coating the pages of chronicles. Let the continent recover, heal, take off the splints and pull out the stitches. Never once, as long as he’d known her, had he suspected she might one day become addicted to power.

And maybe she wasn’t. Maybe it’s not the power, or the influence, maybe it’s just having a reason to get up in the morning. She gets up, she washes her face, and she lifts the world onto her shoulders with grim resignation. Nobody else can do it, she told him once, so I will. This is not true, of course.

Months passed, and now that there was no demon army, no Corypheus, there was a hundred voices volunteering. Indeed, there would be an Exalted Council, and not even Vivienne could protect the Inquisitor from the consequences of her actions. King Alistair had shoved his foot in the door and poked his head inside, a scowl on his face. Now that it’s all fixed, I’d like my country back, please.

Cullen had already hidden in his office when the King arrived at Skyhold (they might’ve as well dangled the Hero like bait; a day after the raven was sent, there was already a response), but he didn’t manage to avoid him for long – the day after their reunion, he and the Hero tumbled into his study and simply stared. He was sweating cold and desperately embarrassed. Twelve years.

“Where have you been?” he asked, too sharply. As if he had any right to do so.

The Hero hooked his elbow against the King’s shoulder and grinned.

“Trying to cure the Calling,” he said, the most natural thing in the world, “Among other things. You might’ve told me there was a war.” He gave Alistair a pointed look.

They were something else, the two of them. Ready to brave anything the world might have in store; ready to die, the way Wardens were. Alistair pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I told you, I tried. You didn’t exactly take care to make yourself available.”

You tried, Cullen thought, bitter, bewildered both by the King’s brooding and the Hero’s levity. From what he remembered of them, they used to be the other way around. Things used to be simpler altogether, but then again - the Hero was here, and there was a shield strapped to his back, a sword at his side. He was Ferelden’s greatest warrior; never stopping, never yielding, immortalized in a thousand songs and books that carried his deeds on the wind. He’d barged in like he owned the place, and for a split second, Cullen had wanted to believe in him.

Then it passed. He knew what was real, what was true, what was reliable, and this man was none of these things, just overly confident, riding on his own flamboyance and occasional charm. More skilled at bluffing than he’d ever been at swordplay; more likely to throw his shield than parry with it. For years, he’d been gone – how could he demand trust, when he abandoned the world?

“I take it you’ve spoken to our ambassador,” Cullen said. “The Inquisitor is away.”

They were not listening to him.

“I descend into the blight-fucked depths of nowhere, spend years searching for a cure, and you tell me I didn’t make myself available?” the Hero threw his hands up, “Alistair, you can’t be serious.”

The King turned to face him, closing his eyes for a long moment before bursting with words too long withheld.

“There’s no damn cure, alright? I told you there wasn’t, I begged you to stay, and you—”

He felt he shouldn’t be witnessing this. Small behind his desk, overwhelmed by the two men before him arguing like children.

“—Oh, so now I’m to blame for trying? I don’t know about you,” the Hero poked him in the chest with a gloved finger, “but I’m not done yet.”

Cullen was done. Alistair, by the looks of him, was done too. And still, the Hero of Ferelden fought his war—loved the fight, the blood, the breath of an enemy on the back of his neck—and Cullen didn’t understand how.

“Well,” he whispered, and pinched the bridge of his nose to alleviate the rising headache, “you and Adaar are certainly going to get along.”

***

Not a week later, Adaar returned from her meeting with the Divine. Against everything they could accomplish with the Hero’s findings, the world in order again, they were being summoned.

Had it not been for the Inquisitor’s insistence, he might’ve argued that he should keep out of sight, not ride alongside her like a banner advertising their armies. That was the problem now, wasn’t it—and they might’ve been welcomed with less reserve, but Adaar hadn’t cared.

And he—he no longer knew how to say no to her.

The summer was hot, the occasional brush of wind a harsh but much-needed blessing; he was boiling in his uniform, sweat coating his temples and nape. What was left of the grease in his hair likely did not look as flattering as it had in the morning, and he adjusted himself with little skill and a fair amount of anxiety. Official social gatherings were easy to despise, especially when they were taking place in Orlais.

Glad to be allowed a semblance of privacy at the small distance he was keeping, he waited for Josephine and Leliana to halt their subdued argument; he’d known them long enough to tell when they were fighting, even though the exterior was nothing short of blind devotion. They couldn’t afford to seem divided in public, and certainly not with an audience of officials from both Orlais and Ferelden, the two current sources of their strife. If the eventual desire to see the Inquisition destroyed – one way or another – was what finally united two countries with centuries of bad blood between them, Cullen would throw down his sword and laugh. Maybe fall on it, later.

Adaar, thank the Maker, was seamless. Sauntering through the gardens, exchanging polite greetings – bending under the weight of solid gold rings holding her horns. When she raised an elegant hand, jewellery gleamed in the sunlight. Grace, wealth, and influence. A side dish of charm and bold humour that conquered the hearts of the court, in case the first three courses had not. The comparison made him frown; the way people looked at him here, he felt like a meal, but more the kind you wolf down without consideration for the taste or said meal’s willingness to be eaten.

He was discovered, eventually, where he’d hidden away in a knee-high hedge maze. He thought he’d heard a dog barking somewhere—and it’d gotten him stuck. Adaar stepped over the rows with ease.

“That’s not very sensible,” she muffled a laugh, and for a blissful moment he wasn’t sure if she was referring to the ridiculous garden decoration or his general appearance, but her hands immediately travelled to fix his collar.

With a focused look on her face, she adjusted the fit of it on his shoulders (it had always been a little tight in places, but, according to Josephine, that was by design) and down his chest, where it still pinched at the armpits.

“Any progress?” he asked, looking up. Still very much interested in righting him, Adaar brushed a hand through his hair.

“I’m not even finished with the pleasantries,” she muttered, and her eyes dropped to his cuffs. “Oh, Maker.”

She’d stolen it from him – she wasn’t religious, and never had been. Her hands pulled at his sleeves.

He blinked, vaguely offended. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” the arch of her eyebrow said otherwise, and so did the wicked grin that followed, “You’re lucky you’re handsome, beres-taar.

He gave a weak, crooked smile.

Apparently satisfied, Adaar stepped away and crossed her arms on her chest, admiring her work – or using the moment as an excuse to reflect. Her face fell slightly, and when she spoke, she was still addressing his neck.

“I want this to be over, too,” her voice grew soft, “We just need to sit through a couple more days of this bullshit, then we’ll leave and get back to our work. Wouldn’t want to keep the great Hero of Ferelden waiting, after all.”

“Yves,” he exhaled, pressing his lips into a line, but gave it up quickly. She knew.

Adaar only shrugged, gaze moving away from him. He saw the way her fingers tightened on the fabric of her sleeve.

“They’ll impose a couple restrictions, at best, and so what?” she shook her head, “If they want to enforce them, they can hike up to Skyhold and ask me nicely, see how that works out for them. This whole affair is ridiculous.”

“Then let’s be done with it,” he nodded, content to allow her this semblance of hope, “and go home.”

***

It did not happen as it should’ve.

The moon hung long above the horizon, allowing a stripe of stars to stretch across the sky, like the writing on the spine of a book. It was late, and it was cold—Adaar had forgotten to stoke the fire, and now its ghost sat sad and forgotten in the burnt pine. The faint smell, familiar, but unpleasantly charred, permeated the room and flowed freely out of the balcony windows.

Cullen had never seen her this drunk.

She was sitting with her back against her desk, horns mercilessly scratching the lacquered mahogany. Without the support, she likely would’ve toppled over – she could barely hold the bottle in her hand, and kept running her fingers over her head, as if to smoothen her hair. It was gone now, of course, still short after she’d shaved it at the skin.

Four years he’d known her, and this was the first time he’d seen her cry.

It wasn’t pretty, either. Not some quiet tear rolling down her cheek; she’d been sobbing, her face puffy and hot, eyes still weeping droplets that no longer cut lines on her cheeks, only blended with the water already there. She kept trying to wipe it, but her hand was completely wet, too. Her stump arm was moving in tandem. Cullen stared at her, suddenly cold about his ribs, and clutched the report in his fist a little tighter.

The Hero’s refusal to their request had come as no surprise – he’d never been one to recognise authority other than himself – but he’d still agreed to stay, which was more they could’ve asked for. Despite some grievances on the King’s part (more arguing echoing down the corridor) they remained together in his quarters, conversation falling to a steadier pace.

Cullen supposed that meant the matter was settled for the time being. It could wait.

“Inquisitor,” he tried, in some futile and likely misplaced attempt to remind her that she had no right to be crying on the floor. Maybe he just didn’t want to see her there. Maybe she had every right – maybe, if there was one person in the world allowed to be crying on the floor in this moment, it was her. “Yves.”

She looked up at that, dark eyes still beautiful, if bloodshot.

“Oh, fuck,” she groaned, glanced away – as if he’d disappear if she just stared at the floor for a bit – then faced him. “Fuck.”

He’d taken care to lock the door behind him, as she demanded these days. For the first time, he was glad for it.

“I’m, uh…” she gestured loosely with the bottle, but it slipped from her grip. Cullen flinched instinctively, but no liquid spilled out – it rolled a slow half-circle over the stone floor, ringing with noise. Empty. “I’m crying. Well, drinking and crying.”

“I can see that,” he sighed, his soldierly demeanour finally giving way to his heart. He dropped the reports where he stood, and in a few large steps, he was kneeling beside her.

His hand found the bottle and righted it, ceasing the annoying sound. They were left in soft silence – the cold air nipping at his ears, cheeks, the tip of his nose. Guiltily, he wondered if he was really the one best equipped to deal with this. Still, Yves was his closest friend, in his rare moments of honesty with himself—and as odd as it felt. He’d not expected it, never planned for it, and yet here they were – here he was – his embarrassment overshadowed by the painful need to comfort her. Secure her. And, once she was safe, to take her pain, or rather the source thereof, and run it through with his blade.

He wanted to draw her into his arms, but he was halted. Who was to say she wanted to be held? To be further made to seem weaker—no, if he knew anything about Adaar, it was that she despised being seen as vulnerable. Instead, he shuffled closer, and closed a firm grip on her shoulder.

“Can you stand?”

She stared at him for a while too long, unfocused eyes sliding over his face. She slowly, deliberately shook her head, then threw it back – and let out a low, throaty chuckle.

“I can’t fuckin’ stand,” she repeated and bellowed with laughter, lax body slowly tipping to the side. He caught her before she hit the floor. “Oh, my sides!”

He dragged his tongue against the underside of the scar on his lip, thinking. His hand remained on her shoulder, just in case.

“I had plans,” she complained, forcefully slamming her horns against the desk to accentuate the last word. As if the weight of it was too much for her neck, she fell to the other side this time, sagging in Cullen’s grip. “Miles and miles of ‘em. I was gonna get a dog. That’s the saddest fuckin’ part of it, really. I really wanted a dog. Nugs are cute, yeah. But a nug just won’t do. It had to be something that could come with us, travel, you know. A mabari. But mabari don’t really like ox-men, do they?”

Cullen clenched his jaw, running a soothing hand up and down her arm.

“My pup likes you just fine.”

He hadn’t meant for it to sound like he was volunteering a replacement. Like he could volunteer a replacement. She hiccupped, and her face sank, dread paling her eyes.

“Cullen,” she wept again, holding the backs of her fingers to her mouth, “I’m so sorry.”

“My faith in you is not so easily shaken,” he promised, and offered his hand, “You should sleep. You need the rest.”

“I don’t want to sleep,” she pushed back against the desk, but gave him her hand in return. “Can I talk to you? I don’t have anyone to talk to. I’m not allowed to. Can’t say a thing. I don’t know how Vivienne does it.”

“You can always talk to me,” he echoed the words she’d granted him, once, “But if you do so now, you might regret it. Go to bed, Yves. In the morning, we can talk about anything you wish.”

It was so easy. He’d cut his words short and hardened his heart many times against many people, but it was so easy to lay bare in front of her when he knew she’d never ridicule it.

“In the morning, I’ll be stronger,” she raised her eyebrows, “and weaker for it.”

He helped her up, her footsteps thumping across the stone, side pressed to his. With an arm wrapped tightly around her waist, he held her steady, until the very last moment before she fell into the covers.

“He told me it was real,” she said, dead and unmoving with her arm and legs sprawled out on the bed. Cullen stood over her, embarrassed and strangely faint. “Can you imagine? The audacity. Real.” She closed her eyes. “Didn’t even have the balls to lie and say he used me. Just one last lie. Would that really have cost him so much?”

“You wanted him to lie to you?”

“His love or other affections aren’t worth shit to me,” she said flatly, “We’re going to war.”

Cullen was acutely aware now of how drunk she was. There was a good chance she wouldn’t remember this at all in the morning, and maybe that was what possessed him to duck his head and whisper, “I am so tired of war.”

She covered her face with her hand, crying yet again, tears spilling down the sides of her face and into her hair.

“He must be lying,” she managed, small breaths in and out of her nose as she tried to contain her sobbing, “if he isn’t, and he did love me, you know what that means?”

Absently, he shook his head. There’s nothing I can do.

“It means I wasn’t enough.”

Cullen wanted to tell her, saw the absurdity in time. He shouldn’t even be here.

“It means he spent all those months thinking about it,” she inhaled, “and then, after such careful consideration, such deep regard, he still turned around and said ‘you know what, actually? Fuck Yves Adaar, and everything she stands for.’ I fought him so long and argued so much, and I thought I’d gotten through to him, but no. You can’t win with him. He always knows better.”

Cullen had given them some thought, despite himself, and he remembered it now. Yves had come to him beaming, and he’d been so glad to finally see her happy – he could only wonder who, who had done this? and then the surprise, the moment spent thinking she’s joking. How in the world?

“He was so strange,” her eyes were closed, and she was barely mumbling, but the words still left her lips loud enough to understand, “and I am strange, and I guess I thought we could just be strange together.”

The difference, he thinks idly, is that you are not strange. You never were. The world decided this for you; demanded things of you that nobody could’ve given. The difference is that you were born into this world, and there is a place for you, always. But him? He doesn’t belong here.

He says the last part out loud, and her eyes slide open again, just for a moment. There's fire in them. 

“He could’ve.”

Chapter Text

Yves Adaar had spent the majority of her life in solitude.

It did not hurt. The prickle of pain she feels when she pushes an earring through a thin layer of scar tissue is no worse. It felt wrong, but it also felt familiar, very familiar, and one could not be afraid of that which was known; she settled into it with grace, or so she hoped.

And of course, she had help.

Her help was currently camping out in her quarters, chained down here while his office underwent a proper renovation. It wasn’t ideal – he couldn’t see the door, and she knew it upset him – but it was also private enough to grant peace and quiet where he’d normally had constant scuffle and a leaking roof. He also had her. There was a personal kind of pride in being somebody else’s help.

Selfish, perhaps, that she never quite quelled her desire to be needed. Renovating Cullen’s office wasn’t only a favour for a friend; it was an affirmation that he’d have use of it for months, maybe years to come. It was a promise. It was reassuring.

Because Vivienne—bless her—Vivienne was gone from her balcony, gone from her chambers, gone from under Adaar’s elbow. Gone. Josephine wrote long letters to her family, the contents of which remained mysterious. Adaar didn’t press, but she could tell by the long looks, the sky reflecting in the woman’s lovely grey eyes, that she missed home. And she would let her go, she would let them all go, if it wasn’t for that quick little stab of pain – putting in an earring after too long a break – that scared the life out of her.

You were my friends, she found herself thinking at the empty halls, this was all I had.  

“You could retire,” Cullen muttered, eyes slipping over a report, but not quite paying attention. He’d abandoned his gauntlets on the cabinet, his sleeves poking out from under the forearm guards, stark and white.

“With him out there, unaccounted for?” Adaar looked up from the map on her desk, startled from her decisively pathetic line of thinking, “Don’t joke like that.”

“I’m not,” he squinted up at her. “It’s been almost a year, and—nothing.”

“And what’s that tell us?” she shrugged.

“It tells us that you’ve done enough, Yves,” he rubbed his temple, already giving up, and she couldn’t help but blame herself for his reluctance. They’d gotten into arguments over trivialities too many times already. “Nobody expects you to go to war with some… some ancient elven god.

“He’s not a god,” she muttered, more out of habit than anything.

“Yves,” he raised his honey-brown eyes at her again, more patient this time, “We cannot trust anything he said to you. What we know is what you found out from the evidence you gathered.” He looked down at the report again, rightly bewildered. “It’s still not much to go on, to be honest.”

Adaar felt unease moving in her stomach, incessant at the notion that Solas had lied again, though a child would know by now that anything he said was worth less than dirt.

She knew how it would sound, were she to take a stand and say I knew him. Had she? Of course, they were all correct in telling her to set aside what she thought she’d learned, but there was a far louder voice inside of her, a roar undying in its insistence that I k n e w him.

“I know this is incredibly difficult for you,” he said, and it was only then that she realised multiple minutes had passed in complete stillness. She hadn’t even lowered her hand, left hanging in the air where she’d let go of the map. She pulled it close to herself, now. “I don’t mean to say I don’t believe you can keep on this path. I fear that you will.”

“It’s nothing,” she forced herself to look at the map again, feeling tension somewhere behind her nose, as if it’d gone numb.

“I cannot imagine.”

Cullen was right. A new thing for him, even if she’d always enjoyed his to-the-point approach; he was a staunch reminder of what truly mattered, outside of the dance of the court and the whispers trailing behind the thrones like a bad smell. He was the one raising his eyebrows at Leliana and Josephine’s wild skirting; many times, the two women had told her watch your step when he’d told her charge. To dance the dance, but know when to throw a punch—that had been her goal.

Now, the balance was tipped. Josephine dreamt of the sea; Leliana, well, who knew with Leliana. And Cullen—

She looked at him, feeling an odd sense of responsibility for the way he was staring at the floor, lost somewhere in the flow of the world. He had once been the stone that parts the river, but something about him had changed, as if a fundamental part of his structure had been taken out and replaced with pure air. Racing, uncontrollable wind.

She wondered if this was the man he would’ve always been without the lyrium leash to bind him to the earth.

“Are you alright?” she asked, sitting down behind her desk. “You seem… distant.”

Cullen looked up at her from his seat nearby, woken from a daze.

“I’m sorry,” he blinked, “I-I didn’t mean to…”

She smiled at the stutter. “Tell me your thoughts, beres-taar.”

He sighed.

“There is something…” his eyes flicked away, “something I’ve wanted to discuss with you.”

Adaar waited patiently, keeping her gaze attentive and calm.

“You are aware that many Templars don’t survive the withdrawal,” his soft voice barely carried even through the complete stillness of her bedroom, but it had the tone and slow intonation of something well thought out. “They can lose their minds to the pain. If it hadn’t been for Cassandra and you, I don’t know if I…” his voice hitched, and he patiently paused to collect himself, his eyes closed in focus. “I was so lucky to have you.”

Needles shot up her missing arm. She inhaled and waited until he looked at her again, brown eyes warm and sensitive. She’d always noticed that about them—something so genuine, so delicate, contrasted starkly by the piercing blue—

“I couldn’t imagine what it would be to go through it alone,” Cullen tapped his fingers on the armrest. “But it is the reality many men and women face after rejecting the Order, or being rejected by it. I want to help them. I know we could.”

“Alright,” Adaar blinked, “What did you have in mind?”

***

The heat in her throat made her head swim. She furiously dipped her quill in the inkwell, splattering a few drops of indigo across her desk as she brought her hand back to the letter.

The Inquisition’s independence is what guarantees its impartiality, she wrote, scraping the words out of the paper, It might’ve originated as a branch of the Chantry, but since the day it chose me for its Inquisitor, it—

The intent had been to control the Chantry through Vivienne, but she should’ve known better. Surrendering herself to her own agent felt like a slap to the face.

This is the reality you face, darling, she could already see the words in Vivienne’s elegant twirls, The compromise is your only option. Do not crown yourself a tyrant because of your personal insecurities.

Maker, Adaar thought, and bit down on her tongue, fighting to return to her own words. She found the abandoned sentence and grabbed it like a tether, bringing it to a sensible conclusion.

—it has been an incorruptible force.

Her quill stilled and died like a bird. They had been corrupted. They had been infiltrated and used. She almost wished Hawke hadn’t left, just so she could ask for her guidance, but well—

As it turned out, the Hero was more than willing to give it anyway.

“Listen to me, my dear,” the elf combed a strand of hair behind his ear, long and pale as silk, and leaned closer across her desk. “For years, you’ve been fighting a losing battle. You can’t win with them,” he jerked his head to the window, indicating the entirety of the continent, “You just can’t. So forget them. There’s a different enemy to face.”

Adaar eyed the Hero with some doubt. His eyes were black and earnest.

“King Alistair won’t be lenient much longer,” she pointed out. He’d already left Skyhold (but not before getting into another heated argument with the Hero in his quarters, if what the servants were saying was true) and not even her new friend’s support would keep him at bay.

“Indeed. He really committed to this whole…” the Hero raised a hand and drew a band in the air around his head to mimic a crown. “Well. That’s what I get.”

He sighed, shaking his head like it could get rid of the distraction.

“The Inquisition has fallen,” he pressed with a new intensity to his tone, “But you have not.”

Adaar ran her fingers over one of her eyebrows, absently smoothing out the mussed hairs. “I am the Inquisition.”

“No,” he said, patient and slow, like he was speaking to a child, “You are a woman. An intelligent, resourceful woman, but only flesh and bone. Darling, believe me—” he reached out and placed a hand over her wrist, and while she might’ve ripped free from another man, the warmth of his palm did not bother her, “I know your fears and your pains. I will help you.”

“You saved the world when you had nothing,” she studied his features, very much aware of the hot touch on her skin, oddly calmed by it. “I had entire armies, and I still failed.”

His face fell. “My dear, I couldn’t blame you. You were betrayed in the most heinous way imaginable.”

“I was blind.”

She expected agreement, but not the sad smile. “Love can surprise us in the worst of ways.”

“I don’t want to discuss it,” she hissed.

“Of course, of course.” He released her wrist, leaning back in his chair again. “Forgive me.” His fingers drummed out a pattern on his thigh, just above his knee, and she was already grinding her teeth when the inevitable continuation fell out of his mouth. “Perhaps you should discuss it. You… loved this man,” something strange flicked across his features, “You trusted him. Now you’ve sworn yourself to a war against him.”

Adaar stared at him with her hand cold and clammy in front of her.

“So what are you saying?” she asked when she was confident her throat wouldn’t betray her, hiding her clenched fist under the desk.

“Can’t he be reasoned with?” the Hero leaned in, “You really don’t strike me as naïve. Could you have misjudged his character so badly?

“He lied to me,” her voice finally gave, after lasting longer than she could’ve asked for anyway, “He betrayed me in every imaginable way. I will not reason with him.”

“Oh,” the Hero’s eyebrows shot up. “So this isn’t about saving the world at all. You want revenge.”

She stared at the wall behind him. Somewhere out of focus, his brow dropped into clouded furrows.

“You would let this world spiral into carnage if it meant you got your way,” he shook his head, still lost while she looked straight on, at the stone of the wall—the centuries-old stone, wiser than forests—“Sound familiar?”

“Do not toy with me,” she said, forcing herself to be calm. It does a woman no good to lose her temper, Vivienne had said.

The Hero nodded sagely, as if he’d truly just been testing, stepping forward only to withdraw at the slightest hint of her unease. His slender fingers danced against the table now, knuckles jumping with the movement; each finger heavy with the weight of at least one ring. Adaar stared at the largest, on his middle finger, with a round crest embedded instead of a gem—when she looked closer, she saw two mabari on their hind legs, crimson against interchanging white and gold.

Is that the Theirin family crest?, she thought to ask, but then she remembered the dragon’s tooth split in two, and the way it wouldn’t burn (Maker, of course it wouldn’t burn, it was a dragon’s tooth, but she’d always been so stupid, so stupid—), and how, in the end, she’d sent it hurling into a lake she didn’t know the name of.

“If it’d been me,” he raised his eyebrows, gaze falling again as a mist drew over his eyes, “If I—If I’d fallen in love with someone, and they abandoned me—I don’t know if I’d have had it in me to confront them.” His lips quirked into a smirk, but he was still lost somewhere, unseeing. “I can’t help but think I would’ve cowered. Disappeared even, maybe.”

His chest deflated in a sharp exhale. Adaar couldn’t look away.

“Because it hurt,” he met her eyes again, startling her, his brows drawn together in compassion, “It hurt to be angry. And to remain burning, forcing hate where there was only pain to cover up the void it left in me; my darling, it will destroy you. You must know this.”

The silence stretched. Adaar was fighting tooth and nail not to cry.

“Did you try, at least?” he watched her with careful consideration, leaning back in the chair again to give the exchange some distance, “When you saw him those months ago, what did you say to him?”

Her breath shook. The Hero’s eyes drilled into her lowered eyelids.

“What did you say to him, Adaar?”

“I told him I’d kill him,” she swallowed, “Just like I killed the last man who lied to me.”

He inhaled sharply through clenched teeth, dark eyes no longer meek and warm. The furthest thing.

“What would you have had me do?” she snapped, “Beg?”

He winced, and she froze, because would it have really been so bad? Would it have really been so horrible, to walk up to Solas, to Solas, wry and familiar, and say ‘please’? And would it have made a difference—perhaps not, but would she have not felt better if he’d only hesitated, if he hadn’t simply let his eyes go empty as he tore off her arm—

***

She thought about what the Hero had (and had not) said for a very, very long time. Longer than he’d likely intended; he didn’t seem the type to dwell, but naturally she wasn’t like him, she wasn’t strapping and charming and incorrigibly optimistic—she couldn’t forgive as easily, or love as steadily.

But he’d fixed something. Damn him, he’d fixed something.

She knew love, but it was neither patient nor understanding. It was turbulent, vicious sometimes, both proud and eaten through with guilt like rust in an old blade. To love him was weakness; to hate him was unbearable suffering. She was trapped in a cage she knew had no exit – she knew every seal and every lock – but slammed herself against the bars anyway. Oh, he’d love to see her like this, certainly. (He wouldn’t. She knew this.)

So, in rare moments of peaceful clarity, she loved Solas. She was beginning to understand that the crushing emptiness she felt at the Inquisition dissipating—the longing, the terrible urge to hold it all together in her arms, bring it close—was all just a substitute for the home she’d truly lost, the pain she wasn’t allowing herself to feel.

She sometimes remembered those nights when she’d lay awake, staring at the ceiling out of sheer excitement. The first time she found herself looking forward to tomorrow. The first time she realised three years from now was not some abstract concept, not some imagined dream – it was her future, and though she’d made room for doubt (for the thought that they’d part ways, that he’d change his mind) her heart had sang it all anyway; because she’d trusted him.

And now, the Inquisition was no more.

“It’s perfect, isn’t it,” she said, looking over the vast fields spreading out around them. Cullen had lost his armour in favour of simpler clothes, riding bareback on a greying brown mare beside her. Adaar craned her neck to follow the dark line of the forest in the distance.

“It is.” He smiled, toothy and unrestrained, unlike any smile she’d ever seen from him. The first subtle traces of crow’s feet creased his skin and she—she couldn’t help but think thank the Maker.

“I’m sorry I didn’t visit,” she added, tugging gently at the reins in her hand to slow her horse down. He was jumpier than Cullen’s lovely mare, used to a much faster travelling speed—but there wouldn’t be much of that anymore.

“No, of course,” the man looked flustered. At least that hadn’t changed, then. “Will you be staying long?”

“No,” Adaar said, just a touch too fast, and her hands tightened on the reins. “Only passing through.”

She didn’t miss the way his eyes snapped to her.

“Where are you headed?”

“Skyhold,” she bit her lip before her expression could become a smirk—or a frown. “Sooner or later.”

“We would be happy to have you, Yves,” he offered, tipping his head to the balk-white buildings far away, drowning in the sea of gold. “More than happy. Ele’noir will be delighted to see you again.”

“Oh, of course,” Adaar blinked, recognition blooming, “How is she? Is she comfortable here?“

“I’m sure she misses ruling over the servant echelon at Skyhold,” Cullen smiled, but then looked worried, for the slightest moment. “You aren’t planning on taking her back, are you?”

Adaar smiled back, feeling the weight. “Well, she was only supposed to stay as long as it took you to figure out how to run a household…”

“And I would be so lost without her,” he gestured wildly with his hand, only for it to drop to his nape, where red was creeping up from under his shirt.

Adaar gave a strained smile. “I’m sure you’re doing great, beres-taar.” Her heart sank. “I’ve missed you.”

There it was again – that broad, happy grin. “And I you.”

“So,” she chewed the inside of her cheek, “In your letter, you mentioned there was a… disturbance in the area.”

She looked down at her missing arm, hoping to feel something where the mark would’ve been – but of course, nothing was simple these days.

“Not a rift,” he clarified quickly. “But the children have been seeing things, hearing strange noises. At first, I dismissed them, but then Lizzie came to me crying—Lizzie would never lie, not to me—and told me she heard something whispering in her ear. Speaking a strange language.”

“Cullen,” Adaar pressed her hand over her chest, only partly a show, “You didn’t say anything about kids!”

His mouth popped open. “Oh—oh, they’re not mine.” He hesitated. “The children, they… they tend to spring up like mushrooms around here.”

Adaar could think of many things to say to that – comparing it to training soldiers, to his natural proclivity for leadership, the way he could talk and be heard by hundreds—and then again stammer and stare at his feet. He was a trier. He had trouble showing his care other than through worry, building around himself instead of underneath, where his walls could make a strong foundation. But he’d learned.

Maybe that was what she liked about him, really. If there was one thing Cullen knew how to do, it was learn from his mistakes; something forever out of reach for a woman as stubborn, as distrustful, as stupid

“Lady Inquisitor,” a voice came to her soft and distant, hours later, floating on the heat from the fireplace.

Adaar looked up to see an elven woman. Her dark hair had been pulled into a long, tight braid, harsh enough for stray hairs to fall around her forehead. It took her a moment to recognise the elf for who she was – she looked so different outside of castle walls, naturally fitting her surroundings like liquid in a vase; the linen of her skirt, the simple cut of her sleeves. The jarring lack of two maids at her sides, ready to heed her every word.

“Ele’noir,” Adaar greeted in return, standing up from her chair. Her bones creaked in protest. “You look so different.”

“So do you, if you don’t mind my saying, Lady Inquisitor,” the elf bowed her head.

“Walk with me,” she invited, gesturing to the door, “Tell me how you’re finding your work here.”

“It is very different from my original assignment, but I enjoy the change of pace,” Ele’noir joined her hands behind her back, straightening her shoulders into a perfect posture. “I still take my duties very seriously. If only Cullen had told me you were coming—"

“He didn’t know,” Adaar inhaled, “I… stopped on the way.”

There was a small moment of silence.

“How has it been?”

“We’ve adapted to our roles here,” Ele’noir nodded. “It took time and patience, and a great deal of inquiries about our supposed upcoming wedding,” she discreetly forced down a laugh, the way Vivienne used to, with her lips sealed shut. “If I am not in his employ, then clearly I must be his wife, after all.”

“Would you want to stay? Have Cullen actually take you on as the housekeeper?”

For the first time, Ele’noir hesitated before giving her answer. Her eyes darted to the side and lingered, as if she was struggling with something.

“I think I should like to remain here,” she admitted finally. It took more out of her than Adaar would’ve expected. “What we’ve built… is mine, in part. Cullen is a fast learner; he can handle the household by himself now, and perhaps you’re right to assume I’m no longer needed. But...”

She breathed, slow, closed-eyed.

“He told me he couldn’t imagine this place without me.” Something sharper flashed across her face, almost like she was a hunter on guard. “That means he wants me here. Doesn’t it?”

Adaar mulled it over. “Yes, I’m reasonably sure that means he wants you here.”

***

The night was cool in the fields, and she decided to wait through the evening before she set out. Cullen was, as always, good company – they spoke without pause for long hours before falling into complete, comfortable silence, sipping the wine which had been standing untouched between them. It was sweet and strong, fiery at the last possible moment running down the back of her throat. She had to fight through the weariness that came naturally with it; no matter her tolerance, wine never failed to put her to sleep, and it seemed to be working a similar magic on Cullen.

When he finally told her goodnight the stars were bright and shining above them. To her, it was a map drawn over a pitch black sky; she read it instinctively, like the road home.

Cullen’s hand caught on her shoulder when he walked around her chair to reach the door. He stopped; Adaar tilted her head back to see his face, painted in firm strokes of gold light from the lantern. He opened his mouth, closed it—and leaned down, pressing his lips to her forehead in a soft, chaste kiss. He lingered there, warm and achingly new, as sensation seemed to drain from the rest of her body and focus exclusively on where their skin was touching.

“You know where I’ll be,” he whispered, then was gone.

Perhaps he knew she was leaving—perhaps he didn’t. Adaar quickly cut the musings short and walked to her quarters, picking up her greataxe and her few belongings. She didn’t worry about food or water—years on the road had taught her enough—but something prompted her to take some bread from the kitchen, a small luxury, and awkward realisation of her own spoiled nature.

It was still dark. There was time.

As she took the turn, stepping over a stone threshold, something shifted in the dark in the corner of her eye. Adaar’s missing arm howled with phantom pain, as if the mark was still there to use in her own defence; it took conscious effort to reach for the greataxe instead, and by then, the movement had already shifted forward.

“I know why you came here,” a voice said, “Do not go there. He will kill you.”

Adaar looked bluntly at the woman, tilting her head to the side. Ele’noir’s shoulders were no longer a gentle slope; her hands not joined prim in front of her. She stood further away than before—ready to attack, ready to run—and Adaar’s arm sagged with the weight of her weapon.

The silence drew stretched and cold between them.

“You’re one of his, aren’t you.”

“Yves Adaar,” the elf’s voice was sharp, like a blade dragged through flesh. “He will kill you.”

Adaar let out a small, tired sigh. “No, he won’t.”

Ele’noir blinked, stunned into silence.

“None of his agents ever betrayed him,” Adaar continued, shrugging with one shoulder, “So for all I know, he ordered you to warn me. Which means he’s bluffing. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Inquisitor,” she hissed, “I swear on my life, I tell the truth.”

Adaar stared at the ground. The stone was uneven and cold underneath her feet.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re telling the truth,” she said softly, “You’re a traitor either way.”

“Do what you will with me. You have given me a great gift. I could not look Cullen in the eye knowing I didn’t warn you.”

Adaar thought. Ele’noir waited. It had been years since she’d last judged someone; it was a sobering thought, to be standing in a quiet kitchen, no flaming eye on her chest, no Josephine at her side—and yet, to find herself the Inquisitor still.

“You will come clean with Cullen.” She hated the waver in her once-commanding voice. “Then, you will do as he tells you. If he tells you to leave, you will leave. If he tells you to turn yourself in and aid our cause, you will do just that. And if he asks you to stay—” she paused, cleared her throat. “That is the only time you may choose.”

Ele’noir did not bow. “Thank you.”