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Never Too Late

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He talks to Elia still, sometimes.

The conversations take place in his imagination, of course. They are fairly one-sided, and might more accurately be called monologues, but his thoughts are always aimed at her.

He travels across Thedas largely on his own. He moves between his multitude of strongholds and sees the swelling numbers of elves who have flocked to the promise of freedom. He provides the encouragement that he can, and he gives the commands that he must. And all the while, he imagines what she would say to all of this.

He imagines her wide-eyed dismay if she knew that Briala had ceded the eluvians - and her countless spies - to his cause. He imagines the sad resignation on her face if she knew that Abelas had joined him as well. He imagines her, and in the privacy of his mind, he explains to her why he must do everything that he has done.

If he can explain it to her - if he can imagine that she believes him - then he can continue to believe it himself.

He keeps the conversations imaginary. He does not seek her in the Fade. His agents are watching her, just as they are watching everyone, but he refuses to hear what Elia is doing unless it directly impacts his plans.

So far, despite her best efforts, little that she has done has made him need to change his course. He is unsure whether to be relieved by this fact, or to pity her for it.

When he is not plotting and planning and issuing orders to his officers, he walks the Fade and watches where the spirits are clamouring. Sometimes he walks as himself and talks to the spirits. He gleans their advice, and he coaxes them away from the dangers of the thinnest parts of the Veil.

Other times, he walks in his other form so he need not speak to anyone. When he prowls on four lupine legs, he is hidden among the multitude of other creatures who fly and crawl and slither in the shifting unreality of his native world.

It is on one such night that he finds an unusual lacune of peace in the Fade. It is a dark glen, thick with trees and soft grass underfoot, devoid of the usual roiling whirl of spirits who have grown more restless in the past few years. The spirits who float here are calm and sedate and slow.

Curious about this place of quiet, he pads into the glen on his four furred feet.

A raven-haired adolescent sits high in a tree. It is an elven figure, pale of skin and dark of hair, feet swinging with the happy abandon of youth.

He stops when he spots her, and she stops swinging her feet.

Then she turns her head to look at him.

He stares back at her. She is young, and her cheeks are round and bare. But her brilliant cerulean eyes are unmistakable.

She slides down from the tree, and by the time her toes touch the ground, Elia is her full height and age again. Her sweeping vallaslin stands out starkly on her cheekbones, and the exuberance of her swinging feet is gone.

She wraps her one remaining arm around her middle. There is a frailty to her, a certain fragility that he doesn’t recall, but the gaze that meets his own is steady.

“What brings you here?” Elia asks.

Her question is polite and calm: far more calm than he expected, and far more polite than he perhaps deserves.

He cannot answer with his lupine teeth and tongue, and it is for the best. In truth, crossing her path was completely accidental, but Elia has always had a talent for tempting words to leave his heart that are better left unsaid.

He remains silent. A moment later, or perhaps it is an eon, she sits slowly on the grassy ground.

She wraps her arm around her knees and regards him gravely. “You’ve had agents observing me. Observing us,” she amends. “The… former Inquisition.”

Her words are a statement, not a question. She is correct, of course, although observation is only a fraction of what his people have done. But of course, he cannot say that; not with the goals that take precedence in the logic of his mind, and not with his wolf’s jaws and mouth.

He remains silent.

She watches him for a moment longer, then nods her head as though his silence is an answer. The tranquility of this place is as thick and heavy as a wet snowfall, and he wonders if it is Elia’s calming influence that has brought this cloying brand of peace. Perhaps she had purposely sought this silence.

If that is the case, his presence is ruining it for her.

He should go. He knows he should. He knew it the moment he spotted her short and tufty hair. There is no point in his being here; the lines were clearly drawn the last time they met, and there is no place for either of them at the other’s side. Despite the skirmishes he’s orchestrated and the spies he’s sent to infiltrate her allies’ ranks, the worst that he will do is still yet to come.

He studies her face in silence. Her eyes are soft and sad, but there is something strange about them; something oddly flat. He can’t help but remember other times when her eyes were bright with happiness, with the awe of discovery, with love.

He remembers being the focus of the happiness in her eyes. He remembers being the reason for her joy. He didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. But then again, he should never have allowed himself to become so important to her at all.

He turns to leave.

“Solas,” she calls.

He stops in his tracks. Solas. It is a foreign word to his ears. He hasn’t heard this name in years. He shed the name when he shed her people - when he shed her. But the impact it has, the power of this name in her soft and rolling voice…

“You can still change your mind,” she says. “You don’t…” She pauses. “You are stepping farther away from the man I knew,” she tells him. “I don’t want that for you.”

He turns around to face her. Her cavernous gaze is deep and full of empathy. The weight of it - of her understanding - is more than he can bear.

Suddenly he is speaking, speaking before he can stop the words from leaving his now-elvhen tongue. “I did not want any of this for you,” he says.

She rises slowly to her feet. “Then make it stop,” she says simply.

Her voice is gentle but just as flat as the look in her eyes, and his ominous sense of offness increases.

“That is impossible,” he says.

She steps closer to him. “It’s never too late,” she says. “It will never be too late to fix this.”

She is wrong. There is always point of no return, a point at which it is no longer possible to go back, and he is swiftly reaching that time.

She stops a foot away from him. Her one remaining hand hangs limply at her side. “I haven’t given up on you, you know,” she says.

Her lackluster tone belies her words, and the bleakness in her expression continue to strike a discordant note in his heart. He may be moving farther from the man she knew, but the woman before him - this woman with the weight in her eyes and the weariness in her face: this is not the Elia he knew.

He swallows hard before speaking. “I assure you, I am beyond your reach. It would be wiser for you to invest your energies elsewhere, Inquisitor,” he says.

For the first time tonight, she smiles. “I haven’t been the Inquisitor for years. You know that. Or have your spies been so amiss?”

Her smile is a twisted mask of rueful bitterness, and finally he realizes what is wrong. She may not have given up on him, but she has given up on herself.

A boil of emotion rises in his chest, frothing behind his eyes and at the back of his tongue. He hates seeing her like this, so devoid of hope and so lacking in passion. He would almost welcome the vitriol that she screamed at him the last time they met; at least it was evidence of passion and of life.

But she is only like this because of him. He has no one but himself to blame.

Before he can stop himself, he is reaching for her.

He cups the softness of her cheek in his hand. Her eyes snap to his face, and for an instant, there is a spark in them. He stares greedily at her eyes, hungry for that spark and wishing with his entire aching heart that he could foster it, but he knows it isn’t possible.

I’m sorry. The fault is entirely mine. The words rattle in his mind, but he holds them back. He has said these words before, and they were useless then. They will be just as useless now.

She stares back at him, and bit by bit, that fragile little spark dies away. She smiles again, and the smile is wrong, heavy and crooked with melancholy.

“I’ve never stopped defending you, you know,” she says. “For all that we’ve been working against you, I’ve never stopped believing you’ll change your mind. They all think I’m a fool.”

“You should listen to them,” he says, then winces at his unintentional cruelty.

Elia laughs, but it sounds distinctly like a sob. “I should, shouldn’t I?” She sighs heavily, then takes a step away from him. “I can’t give up, Solas. It’s too late for me. But it will never be too late for you.”

She takes another step away. He wants to follow her, to convince her that - what? That there is hope for her, to survive and thrive? That he will come back to her? That he will change his mind?

His tongue is paralyzed by the lies he refuses to tell her. He simply watches as Elia backs away. “You know where I’ll be,” she says. “Or your spies will, at least. If they do their jobs.” She shoots him a tiny smile.

It’s wan and sad, but more genuine than any of the other smiles she’s given him thus far. Before he can properly appreciate its beauty, she is gone.

He takes a deep breath and presses his fingers to his burning eyes. Then a small voice speaks in his ear. “Waiting, wanting, never waning. ‘He does not want this,’ she says. They don’t believe her, but it’s true, isn’t it?”

He sighs. The spirit always seems to find him, even when he begs it to leave him be. “You should go to her,” he tells the spirit. “She needs you more than I. And I am certain she misses you.”

Compassion floats in front him, a faded reflection of a boy with shaggy hair. “Yes,” it agrees. “But she misses you more.”

A tear slides down his cheek. “I know,” he whispers.