In the mirror, Tallin watched her hand rise to her face. The raven's talons of Dirthamen were cut neatly into her cheeks, prominent with the dark ink that stained the scars. She had chosen him because of the countless nights of listening rapt by the campfire as the elders recounted stories of the gods and how she could recite every variation by heart by the time she had reached 8 years. How she was always a quiet child that preferred to listen and wait, never raised her voice, remained unbreakable at the prospect of punishment when interrogated for information on harmless pranks that her friends played on the unsuspecting.
Her eyes, brown, 'Like mahogany..or chestnuts,' he once told her.
Her eyes, pupils blown large in the effort to capture the dim light that were held in sconces on the stone walls.
Her eyes, large enough to see her reflection's reflection.
Her cheek, prickling and stinging as nails began to press into the pliant flesh.
Her cheek, smearing red.
Her cheek, stinging from wet salt.
All those subtle jabs at her culture, all his criticisms that seemed to come from a place of prejudice that sounded vaguely human in origin, they were legitimate. There was no question he was telling the truth. Solas was not a person to lie to bring someone low. The question that remained was *how* he knew. Even Morrigan's knowledge seemed restricted to research from centuries-old records, how ever meticulous and exhaustive she was.
He spoke as if he had been present when the original myths had been crafted.
'And yet,' she thought with a wince, 'and yet he is so 'high-minded' that he thinks shattering my faith was a gift?'
He told her the Truth, and as she stood reeling from the revelation he offered, he pinned her with a few sweet words and a kiss that promised more, that silently said 'that does not matter, we are here together now'.
It would have been better had he backhanded her across the face before admitting that he much preferred her skin to be mottled with purple and red bruises. Then, as she recovered from the blow with tears in her eyes, he would give her his utmost assurance that he was capable of accepting her unmolested state just as readily. And gods damn her, by the time he uttered the word "perfect", it sounded so much like he was granting her a favor with his adoration. A favor she couldn't refuse, couldn't bear or afford to rebuff.
She prayed that he didn't know that that tear-filled kiss had not been out of relief by his words but anguish. And yet in the end it didn't matter. Before he pulled away she realized that something between them had fallen to pieces.
They had cozied up to each other over the past few months, and for the first time Tallin believed she found someone who understood the preference for quiet, for ruminating, for passive but enduring resistance. The transition from some suspiciously Fade-touched elf to Inquisitor had relied heavily on emotional support from him, truly. Ashamed as she was to admit it, no one else, not even herself, served as the keystone for all of this.
Her chest felt hollow, and yet try as she might she couldn't stitch it closed fast enough.
Forget about him. Forget about him. Forget. Forget. Forget.
That was what he wanted her to do. Forget. She was trying, gods she was trying. Her meals were taken in her room, the better to avoid seeing him, the better to devote more free time to forgetting, forgetting, forgetting.
It wasn't working, and others were taking notice, though she quietly shut down anyone's attempts to broach the topic.
They were all insistent in their own way, with Dorian and Varric being especially sympathetic, but passive and cautious. She avoided looking Iron Bull in the eye because of how easily he would read into her fears, Cole because she simply did not want to hear what he had to say, because his truths were still lies. Blackwall and Cassandra gave the characteristic 'I'm here if you need to talk' line which was folded into her pocket out of courtesy, but never considered.
She didn't need, didn't want, any of it.
Sera had especially tried to needle her until she would give in. It all culminated into a particularly traumatic experience when she decided that weaponizing her abrasiveness with her streetborne "tough love" would glean the best results: Despite knowing better, Tallin found herself lured into Sera's nook and was quite literally pounced upon by the gangly yet spry elf whose weight led her to being pushed into her odd assortment of cushions piled generously along the oriole window's bench. Tallin tried to push her off but found herself stricken by a paralysis that she only experienced at night when thoughts of him overwhelmed her.
Bony knees pressed into her back, a loud voice rang in her ear. "Come on, you idiot! You won't get better unless you tell me what's wrong!"
She was not ready to confront the issue, she was not ready, they could not make her, they could not, they could not, they--
"Tell me, tell me, tell me, come on you idiot, tell me!"
--could not could not could not couldnot couldnot couldnotcouldnotcouldnot couldnotcouldnot COULDNOTCOULDNOT C O U L D N O T --
So she screamed. She screamed as if flames had been set alight on her skin, as if she were being eaten alive by the living dead. A long, ragged, high-pitched note that she did not know she was capable of making, Sera least of all.
She didn't remember how she was rescued, only that one minute she was unable to breathe, and another the pressure on her back had been removed and voices with words that no longer made sense began to shout. Everything was a smear from the tears that clouded her vision, everything rang hollow from her own screaming which still echoed in her head.
Without thinking she ducked underneath arms blocking her escape and jumped over the railing to land awkwardly on the ground floor. Somehow it didn't faze her. Perhaps she was driven by the dead silence that filled the tavern at the commotion, her weeping, and her spectacular fall. All she wanted in that moment was to disappear, disappear, disappear, disappear. She kept her head down as she ran across the grounds and up the stairs to the main hall. She could not hold it in. She was sputtering, clenching her teeth, tripping over herself as she madly dashed for the sanctuary of her quarters. The soft gasps and murmuring by those dignitaries that milled around for a chance to speak with Josephine might as well have been snuffed candle flames or papers blown off a table.
It was only when she finally scaled the last stairs to her room and jogged awkwardly to her bed that Tallin was struck by how absolutely ridiculous and pathetic and insane she must have looked to all the onlookers, all of her supporters, all of her colleagues.
They'll think I'm insane. They think I'm insane. They think it, they know it. I'm insane I'm insane I'm insane.
This sentiment, repeated until it coalesced into a singular locus; now she finally understood what Cole meant by a pearl of pain. It certainly was, but it grounded her, focused her. Tears that shed for something instead of everything. Pain that she could touch within herself, fixate on like a figure in the distance.
Tallin lay curled up on her bed and stared out at the open balcony beyond the intricately carved footboard until the sky turned black. No one came to disturb her all night.
Quietly, to herself, she whispered a word that now seemed comforting. "Insane..insane..insane.."