Prologue, Seven Months Ago
She wasn’t sure if they’d been here for minutes or if Solas had in fact been indulging her for hours, but Asha knew as soon as she started paying attention the charade would be up. She hoarded every moment the apostate let his guard down around her, and if it meant pretending to be asleep, so be it. Sooner or later she’d show him there was no need to hide the many thoughts racing through his head.
“I know you’re awake.” Solas murmured, making no efforts to stop the progress his long fingers made combing through her hair. “Your eyelids are fluttering.”
Or not. Asha gave one last heavy sigh before opening her eyes. Perhaps she’d only ever see what he carefully curated and presented to the Inquisition. But this in itself was progress, the most relaxed he’d been since they’d started studying together. Since they’d brought...whatever was resting between them into the waking world, and not just into the Fade that day she’d kissed him.
She let loose another heavy breath. Another thing Solas had made no move to bring up during their time together.
“Something is troubling you.” Asha finally looked up, into the hazel eyes that now narrowed as they marked a passage in the book Solas was reading before he set it down and focused fully on her.
“Considering recent events, I think it would be more concerning if I was fine.” She let him play with her unbound strands of hair for a few moments longer before reluctantly sitting up. Her back instantly felt the chill of mountain air without the warmth offered by his lap, and not for the first time she wondered if she was destined to always live somewhere where her throat felt coated in frost when she inhaled.
Solas blinked as Asha reached across his folded legs for the strap of leather he’d removed earlier, examining his now empty hand as if he’d been unaware of its actions while he read. Knowing him, it was all too likely, and this behavior would be monitored from now on.
“You have a lot on your shoulders, and you have handled those burdens admirably, but that is not what I was referring to.” He said at last, slowly tilting his head as she finished tying her hair back into its usual style. “Have I done something to upset you?”
Asha felt the words that would end the conversation dance across her tongue before she bit down on them, ending the trained reaction before it took over. In Orlais, every question about her was fielded into obscurity, the only personality she showed was one that got answers instead of gave them. She’d fallen back on that training when waking up in a dungeon in Haven, but now that she was Inquisitor, now that she needed the people closest to her to trust her with their lives —now that she wanted Solas to let her into his, she would need to work against the instinct to be the liar the Baroness had created.
“Solas, no, of course not. You’ve done nothing wrong.” Asha flinched inwardly but smiled gently, and wondered what the elf she now knelt beside took from her features as she watched concern pull at his. “You’ve done exactly what you promised.” And he had. It was her that was worn thin with impatience, hoping that after their journey to the fade Solas would have given the possibility of something more between them all the consideration he needed. “You told me you needed time, and we agreed to try studying together, but we haven’t exactly talked since.”
At least not about anything personal. There was always the giant hole in the sky, or debates on Dalish civilization, but during their sessions they’d gone from opposite ends of the library to sharing a table to exploring the bookshelves in her personal quarters. Her desk was too small for both of them, so they’d settled for the floor. Shoulders touching, necks bent over the pages before them. And when a morning of training caught up with her...it had felt natural to rest her head in his lap and let the sun filter through her bedroom's many windows as it crept through the afternoon.
“Ah.” Solas coughed slightly, cheeks blooming pink, before taking a deep breath and meeting her eyes once more. His face was already schooled into practiced calm, but the blush remained. “I understand now. I assure you that our conversation is near the forefront of my thoughts.”
“Just the conversation?” Asha steeled herself against whatever words would follow her question. At Haven, in the Fade, he’d seemed frightened of her lips against his until he pulled her back in. Maybe, despite his words in the rotunda, he had weighed the possibilities and found her lacking.
“It would be kinder, in the long run.” Solas slowly, wonderingly, raised a hand, resting his fingertips against her cheekbone. “To take what has already transpired between us and keep it close in memory only.” There was intent in his touch now, and yet it contradicted the regret in his low voice.
There was room to persuade him, to show the man that had saved her life and brought the Inquisition to safety in Skyhold’s arms that she was worth fighting for.
“Solas.” She whispered, letting her hand rest on his elbow before following the path of his arm until it held his fingers in place against her cheek. “Making a choice for yourself is understandable, but if you’re doing it for both of us without showing me all of the cards, I can’t play this right either.” She could have sworn the hazel tones across from her shifted to something more golden, like her own eyes, as Solas shook his head slightly.
“I cannot.” He bit out, jaw clenching, eyes squeezing shut with such frustration that she almost let his hand slip from her hold. Almost.
“Heartache is my life now.” She spoke firmly, reached out her other hand to prevent him from turning away. “It’s the life of every man woman and child looking to the Herald of Andraste to save them when she couldn’t save their friends and neighbors because despite her, despite me letting them down, I am the one with a glowing hand and a false god that hates me so it must mean I’m the one that can stand against him, right?”
Perhaps this was too much of a move against keeping everything bottled up, but now that Solas was trying to use the threat of something as constant as the pain that chased close behind her, nipping at her heels when she faltered, Asha found herself unable to give a single shit about whether or not her behavior was appropriate of the rank thrust upon her.
“Inquisitor…” Solas began, stopping when she let both of her hands fall.
“In the long run?” Asha asked, pressing the heels of her palms against tears she hadn’t felt well up, but now burned against her eyelids as the cold air sought them out and swept them away. “I could be dead tomorrow, killed by a flare up in the mark overnight. I could be dead next week, if Corypheus found even a hint of the trail we left here and decides that Haven was a slight best avenged sooner rather than later. If you’re going to be kind to me, Solas, you’re better off killing me before something else does.”
“You cannot know what you ask.” Solas sounded strained, barely holding onto the last tether of willpower he gripped so tightly. He let another thread of it go, extended his arms and enveloped her in his arms. “I assure you, your death would be no kindness.”
“Neither would making me walk towards it alone.” Asha felt the energy she’d restored during their time together seep from her bones until only constant, unrelenting exhaustion remained. Her knees ached from pressing into the grooved stone, and a chill crept from the floor throughout her entire body despite Solas’s arms around her.
She wanted his answer, but not like this. Not if it was given after watching her cry on the floor, for Maker’s sake. Besides, unless he took even longer to run their conversation through that unreachable mind over and over again like she feared she’d do when she closed her eyes tonight, he’d already given it to her. “I think that’s enough studying for today.” She murmured, averting her gaze as she rose, refusing to use his arms to brace her as her body protested against the sudden movement.
“Ashalya.” Her name, at last. But she did not want it, not his pity, never that. She wanted his smile when she asked about his travels, his laugh when Varric tricked Cassandra into drinking her coffee without sugar, his heart as he’d shown it to her weeks ago in but in the waking world as well.
“I’ll see you at dinner.” Her bed called to her, begged her to spend more than a few restless hours tossing within the confines of her sheets, but she forced herself to keep going, to walk with purpose down each step leading back to the Main Hall. If there was to be no help from him in combating the darkness threatening to overwhelm her when she thought of the task ahead, then she would not wait to rush into it.
But he had thought about it. Had let thing sit between them, scratched in stone until he’d kissed her on the balcony and declared losing her worse than whatever secret tragedy awaited.
Asha keeled over, emptying her stomach into the chamberpot and stared with empty eyes at the bookcase, wishing she could remember their conversation in front of it with any less amount of clarity. She was able to stop for a moment, breathe between the waves of nausea and sit straight.
It would be kinder, in the long run.
Solas’s words sounded just like him, his voice perfectly preserved in her memories as she watched the spot where they had almost ended things before they could truly begin. Her gut lurched, and her hands leapt from where they’d been carefully cradling her abdomen to clutch the rim of the pot.
She’d outlasted death, survived where Corypheus had fallen and made the life awaiting her span lengths she once would have laughed at. Fear, a demon she once thought his presence could keep at bay, crept closer, rose higher as she bent over once more and hurled.
Solas might have disappeared, successfully fulfilled the prophecy he’d used to ward her off after that first kiss and left her with more than enough reason to call herself a fool. But with each morning that had greeted her since Corypheus’s defeat, Asha had begun to worry that he’d abandoned more than her.