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What is Done is Done

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Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

Ellana Lavellan looks down at hands that aren’t hers. They are a pair of hands she hasn’t seen in more than 2 years. The left hand is calloused, hardened from hours on end spent curled around a staff. The right hand is marred by a brilliant green scar on the palm, and she feels the long-forgotten thrum of power flowing from it into her bloodstream. She turns the hands over, watching with a detached air as they tremble. She clenches the right hand into a fist.

Ellana is crouched on the floor. She blinks once, then slowly gets up. Her body is foreign and so, so heavy. But it’s a comforting weight, like when she was a girl and would snuggle under one of her grandmother’s quilts. She didn’t realize how thin and sickly she’d become until she feels what it’s like to be healthy and whole. Well, healthier – the Mark throbs carries echoes of pain, a reminder that it will claim her eventually if unchecked.

She spares a glance for the body on the floor. It looks identical to her current body, but wrong in so many ways. It’s folded in on itself and even in death, the face bears a grimace. The skin is conspicuously clear aside from worry lines tracing the path where vallaslin blooms on her current face. The hair is cropped short, utilitarian, and the clothes it wears are chosen for practicality instead of fashion. There is no Mark on this body because its right arm is severed at the elbow.

Ellana takes a moment to breath. Soon she’ll have to do something about the body. Soon she’ll have to leave her bedroom. Soon she’ll have to lead. She’ll have to smile and be light and pretend like she’s still the same Inquisitor that walked into her bedroom the night before. She hasn’t been that girl in a very long time.

She closes her eyes as she inhales and counts 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. Her hands that are not her hands still tremble.

It’s the day before the Winter Palace Ball and Ellana has just killed herself to save the world.

 


 

Year 9:44 Dragon, THEN

When the Veil was torn down, Ellana expected she would feel it. She expected the world to rock on its hinges. She anticipated pain, and agony and tears.

Nothing could have prepared her for how fast it happened.

The lingering crumbs of the Inquisition huddled around a campfire in the ass end of nowhere, on their way to some dignitary who promised coin and influence. They were mere scraps of the power the Inquisition once wielded, but Ellana felt confident nonetheless. 

So confident, she accepted a mysterious drink from Bull without much convincing. It would be rude to refuse when the rest of the group was drinking, she reasoned. The truth was the alcohol was a comfort, a few stolen moments away from her thoughts. It was nice to occasionally feel like the carefree 24 year old she should have been, instead of the ruined, humiliated, lovesick embarrassment she actually was.

Sera finished regaling the group with a tale of one of her adventures in Val Royeaux, which included an indecently exposed bottom, 5 smuggled brontos and at least 17 blatant lies. Ellana doubled over in laughter, nearly rolling off her log and into the ground.

“Well, Sera,” she heard Varric say underneath the shrieks of her own laughter, “Only one question remains. How did you manage-” 

At first, she thought the drink had gone straight to her head. The sky flashed an impossibly bright white, the night and stars blanched and bleeding into one thick white line. Her ears rang sharply, then dropped into silence and the stump of her right arm tingled furiously. Her body suddenly ached – not in one specific place but all over – like she’d just woken up the day after a battle. That tense coil of magic she could always feel seemed to rush out all at once, forcing its way through her entire body.

The whole sensation lasted a few seconds at most, and Ellana kept her eyes shut, hoping it would pass soon without her overturning her stomach. It was one thing to let loose with a bottle of ale, but another to be sick from only a single bottle of ale. For one thing, Varric would never let her live it down.

She kept her eyes closed for a few seconds, following her usual calming pattern: breath in, count to 10, breath out. As she rounded 3, she realized her hearing still hadn’t returned, which was worrisome, and even more worrisome as she rounded 8, she heard a string of expletives that unmistakably came from Sera. Sera swearing was nothing new, but she wove her swears seamlessly into her speech like an expert tapestry. What gave Ellana pause, what made her exhale sharply before reaching 9, was the fear soaked into Sera’s voice.

“Fuck, shit, crap. Fuck, fuck, fuck. What the fuck?”

She’d only heard Sera swear like that once before, when they were trapped in the Fade.

Ellana’s eyes flew open. Bull had been sitting opposite her. Now he was slumped backwards, lying on the ground. Next to him, Krem sprawled out at a crude angle, his right arm trailed across Bull’s face.

Ellana stood up suddenly, the world around her. Her body felt light, and her magic poured through her entire body reckless and unchecked. She closed her eyes for only a second, hoping when she opened them her confusion would blink away. When she did, she saw only Sera, Dalish, Skinner and a handful of elves she didn’t know by name still sitting or standing. Sera paced wildly, like a rabid dog, swearing and tugging at her hair. Ellana spun around, finding Varric. The space where Cole had sat next to her was now simply empty.

She knew then, what it meant.

He had done what he promised to do. 

Ellana couldn’t do anything but scream. It echoed through the now lifeless camp. It sunk into her bones and her unbridled magic crackled around her. She screamed and screamed, wishing her body would tear apart from the sound and she wouldn’t be here anymore. She screamed until her breath ran out, then pounded her fist against her leg like a child.

Varric’s eyes were still open, and she stared into them, willing them to blink. She stared so long her eyes watered. When she closed them she waited for another flash of light. She waited to hear voices again, not just sobbing and panicked chattering from the other elves. 

She waited to hear the end of Varric’s joke.

Ellana knew it would never come, but she waited.

Chapter Text

Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

Ellana stands at the end of the steps, hand hovering above the doorknob, almost close enough to touch. The thin wood does little to muffle the sounds wafting in from the hall, that once familiar buzz of life.

She will have to leave. After she shamefully disposed of the body upstairs, there is no reason to stay. The experience of watching her own self melt away under magic should unsettle her more than it has, but she fears what lays beyond the door to her chambers.

She breathes deeply and closes the gap. The green glow of the Mark winks out from where it presses against the doorknob and she focuses on that light as she turns the knob and opens the door.

Already, she hears her title casually dropped in greeting from the people lingering nearby as she emerges. She’s still looking at her hand, which buys her a few seconds to whirl around and make an effort of closing the door without looking up and into the hall. 

I am the Inquisitor,’ she reminds herself, ‘They need me. I have been here before. I won’t let them down.’ It’s a variation of the mantra she used to tell herself before a big mission, when she felt small.

She does her best imitation of casually turning around.

She prepared herself for this moment for months, of course. She knew what it would mean to be here, again. She knew it meant seeing everyone again – dwarves, humans, qunari – vibrantly alive.

Not for the first time, Ellana realizes knowing something and actually experiencing it were two wholly different experiences. 

There are humans in the hall: standing in groups, walking franticly, arguing, laughing. Existing. They smile at a joke or shake their heads at a question. Their hands wave in front of their face as they talk. Blood pumps through their veins. One human is striding toward her with a determined gait and Ellana’s breath quickens involuntarily.

“Ah good, you’re awake,” Josephine says, brandishing her feathered quill and immediately turning her attention to her trusted scroll. “We need to run over etiquette on dealing with certain members of the Orlesian nobility, and I have an update on that shipment of materials you requested, which reminds me that Cullen had something he wanted to discuss before the next batch of assignments, something to do with bees, and I’ll also need you to confirm tha…Inquisitor?” 

Josephine looks into Ellana’s eyes and her own amber eyes widen.

“Are you alright?” she asks.

Ellana curses herself inwardly, desperately trying to arrange her face into a serene stare. She can already see by how fast Josephine’s eyebrows are rising that she’s already seen the traitorous tears forming in Ellana’s eyes.

“I’m fine,” Ellana says quickly, “I’m just…”

Josephine lays a hand on Ellana’s shoulder and she hates how comforting it is. “It’s alright,” the other woman says. “It’s been a stressful few days.”

“Months, really,” Ellana answers, shrugging into her old personality. It doesn’t quite fit and she can feel the gaps where her true self peeks through, but she puts on a manufactured easy-going smile. 

Josephine mirrors her smile. “I just remembered, I need to speak with Cassandra on something important. Why don’t you find me in my office when you’re ready?”

Ellana feels a lump in her throat. She speaks around it. “Thank you. Yes.” 

Her advisor pats Ellana’s arm and turns away. The same power that tugged out her tears compels her to blurts out, “Josie, I just want you to know I appreciate you. I didn’t…I don’t say it enough. You are a good friend.”

Her mouth opens in surprise, but quickly transitions to a smile that’s as genuine as Ellana’s is fake. “Thank you, Inquisitor.” She turns away again, but this time with a noticeable spring in her step. 

One encounter survived and Ellana feels confidence pooling back in her stomach. Seeing all the life around her still makes her body tremble, so instead she turns her focus to an inconspicuous door across the hall. The door is barely cracked open and she can’t see what lies beyond, but it’s as familiar to her as her own breath leaving her lungs in one great exhale.

Ellana frowns.


 

Year 9:44 Dragon, THEN

Ellana stayed awake for three days after the end of the world. She never fell asleep, just kept going until her body shut down. She feared her dreams, what would be there without the Fade.

Turns out, it was him. 

She had no idea if she was dreaming or not, but her body felt solid. They stood in the forest where he broke her heart for the first time. Solas had the nerve to look guilty and Ellana lost herself.

She descended on him, a wild animal. Her scream tore her raw throat, spittle flying and claws out. Her body slammed into his and they fell to the ground together.

Ellana forgot her magic. She wanted to do this with her hands, feel him rip apart under her fingernails. She punched and tore at his face, she felt his skin peel underneath her assault and the primitive joy of destroying something so alive thrummed through her stronger than any spell. 

She said nothing, just grunted and shrieked. Her tears blurred her vision into a red, meaty mess.

Worst of all, he let her do it. He didn’t raise a hand to defend himself or utter any cry of pain. Could he even feel pain anymore? Was this a dream of hers or just another trick of his? The uncertainty made her hate him even more. She scraped her fingernails across his brow, through his wet eye. 

Ellana screamed, bit, destroyed until her breath grew ragged even in her dreams. The evidence of her gore and madness coated her arms. It wasn’t enough. She thought of Dorian, wherever he was. She remembered Varric slumped on the ground, staring endlessly. She brought her arms feebly to his face, rested them against either ruined cheek. 

“I’m sorry,” was all he said.

Chapter Text

Year 9:45 Dragon, THEN

How would history remember her? As Ellana, First of the doomed Lavellan clan? As the elf who led the Inquisition? As the Herald of Andraste, who struck down Corypheus? Or as the girl whose lover destroyed the world?

How would Ellana remember herself?

Solas waited nearly three weeks after her maiming before visiting her again in her dreams. This time they were in Haven, and it felt fitting to be in a place full of ghosts.

Snow drifted from the sky, and the tiny pinpricks of cold melted into her hair and swatches of bare skin. Solas stood apart from her, close enough to reach if either took a few steps forward but far enough away that nothing existed between them but air and snow. 

If the magic in the rest of the world rose to life when the veil came down, Solas’ had burst forth like a geyser. She hadn’t registered the affect the last time she’d seen him, but now she could feel the power of his magic tugging at the corners of hers just by standing near him.

“I owe you an explanation,” Solas begun without preamble, “But it is one I cannot give. I am sure it seems senseless to you, but I assure you if there were any other way...what is done is done.” He clasped his arms behind his back, it was such a familiar gesture her throat constricted at the sight of it. His eyes narrowed almost imploringly. “It was to protect us. It had to be done.”

Ellana blinked. What is done is done. She had spent the last year preparing herself to face the man before her and reach the part of him that once admitted to her on a Skyhold balcony that he had been wrong, that he could make mistakes. She thought she would lead the shambles of the Inquisition to his doorstep and sway him from his path somehow. Everyone would live and he would cease to be Fen’Harel and return to Solas. Perhaps he would fall into her arms, trembling, and she would hold him and kiss away his phantoms one at a time.

What is done is done.

Even in the dream, she felt the world spin and had to remind herself to take a few seconds to breathe more deeply. He was waiting with his hands clasped behind his back. When she didn’t speak, he started toward her. The way he walked, slowly, reminded her how would have approached an agitated halla. 

Ellana’s trembling arms crossed her chest. “Garas quenathra?” she asked, because he hated when she spoke in Dalish, even though he spoke it often himself. It was one of his mysteries that had once fascinated her. “Garas quenathra?!” She repeated, her voice cracking. “You already got what you wanted.”

His face was mournful and it made her stomach churn. “It was never what I wanted, vhenan.”

Vhenan,” she said, and her voice sounded like it came from someone else, “I loved you. And you killed everyone I loved,” she strode back from him, afraid she would start ripping him apart again if he came within range.

“Not purposefully. I promise you, it was not my intent.”

“Not your intent.” She laughed then, a deranged, incredulous wheeze.

“I worry about you,” he said, “That is why I am here. I know I appear destructively cruel to you, and that assessment is fair. My people could not live while yours did, and I knew you fought against me. I am concerned for your well-being.”

The hair on her neck stood at attention. She could feel it, his power prodding at the edges of where her magic ended, like fingers trying to weave together. His power was calming blue, serene; hers a Fade-soaked green. Where their magics touched it burned vibrant teal. The simple, uninvited intimacy tipped something inside Ellana. She let Fen’Harel wrap his arms around her and kiss her after he promised to end the world. Now that he had, he still expected the same girl.

“I don’t care about your people! I don’t care!” She screamed and her magic burned around her skin, melting the snow at her feet and forcing his power back. “Your people had their chance. They lived their lives. You killed our friends. You murdered children, Solas! Damn your people! We were your people!” 

Like an explosion, her magic flared against his in a brilliant fire, then quieted. 

She collapsed to the ground and her magic smoked out around her. Ellana didn’t try to stop the tears, throwing her face in her hands and gasping as sobs ripped through her. She felt his magic cautiously approach, and did nothing. She heard the crunch of his feet on snow, and did nothing. She felt arms encircle her, and did nothing. He cradled her head against his chest and she let him. She was the same girl who had kissed Fen’Harel.

‘What is worse,’ Ellana thought to herself bitterly as he stroked her hair, ‘someone who does evil? Or loving someone in spite of the evil things they’ve done?’


 

Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

Ellana knows she has to face him eventually, and she wants it to be on her own terms. She wants it now, during the daylight, away from prying eyes. She walks to his room like the undead soldiers Dorian commands, heavy-legged and without will. She supposes in a way, she is undead.

She remembers this walk well. She remembers feeling giddy, practically skipping across the hall. Ellana thought she was so subtle, but everyone in Skyhold could see the conspiratorial smirk and telltale blush that signaled a visit to this room. No wonder Varric used to tease her, she was so obvious. What did Solas think? Was he flattered? Was she like a cute little puppy to him, so loyal and earnest and simple?

Ellana enters the room. Predictably, he’s at his desk. She doesn’t know if he’s heard her or not, but he’s intently reading a piece of parchment. The wall is cool underneath her fingers, and his paintings haven’t spilled over to this section of wall yet. She focuses on the sensation of her fingertips against stone. It reminds her that she’s in the waking world. That this is real.

She’s disappointed that he doesn’t look physically different. She didn’t know what to expect when she saw him again. Foolishly she thought he might look smaller, weaker. He looks almost the same as the one she left behind, only a touch more sleep-deprived.

It would be easier if he were drastically different, so she could pretend the heat rolling from her chest was simply a reaction to seeing something she’d lost.

Ellana strolls into the center of the room, not because she wants to, but because she has to. She’s had years of sleepless nights to decide what to say to him but still has no words.

Solas looks up from his pile of scrolls. He doesn’t smile, but his eyes soften. 

“Inquisitor,” he says.

Her entire world narrows to one pinprick, dominated by blue eyes. He stares at her expectantly as her brain races through every emotion, trying to remember what expression she should have on her face.

“Solas,” she says, nodding her head. The name freezes her tongue, trailing ice down her throat as she swallows. She forces a twitchy, nervous smile.

In the past, Ellana would’ve already spoiled the silence with some worry, needless question, or inane conversation – any excuse to hear him talk passionately. Ellana wraps her old self around herself tighter, sliding into the best imitation she can. She looks around, gestures to the wall behind her. “That’s coming along…nicely. Good colors.”

Solas chuckles. “I know you didn’t come all the way over here to complement my artistry.” 

“Maybe I did. All night I tossed and turned, worrying where you were going to put that aggressive purple you mixed up yesterday,” she says, infusing her voice with a playful zest that feels strange on her numb tongue. She approaches the desk but stops just in front of it.

“Ah yes, well I suppose you’ll have to wait a bit longer to resolve that particular mystery. Not much time for painting lately.” Solas rises from his chair and walks over to her, staring down to catch her eyes. “You are nervous,” he says matter-of-factly.

Ellana doesn’t have to fake the derisive huff of air she lets out. “I have to convince the Empress of Orlais that an evil, ancient creature is going to kill her without any proof, while trying to resolve their civil war in one night, oh and all during some elaborate shem party with a thousand little rules that I still haven’t memorized. What’s there to be nervous about?”

“Do not doubt yourself,” Solas says. He leans in closer and her ruined heart spits once, but she ignores it and stays still. Ellana always loved Solas’ hands with their long, elegant fingers, and devised ways to be near them. Now they curl along her shoulder comfortingly, and she feels nothing. “A party full of sycophantic fools is nothing after the Fade,” he teases.

She reaches out and places a hand on top of his, because it’s what she would have done. His skin feels cold under hear palm. “Honestly? I’d rather be back staring down Nightmare. At least you know where you stand with a demon,” she says.

“You underestimate your chances. You are still a novelty to the court. Follow Josephine’s example.”

“Ah, Josie. Thanks for reminding me of the one thing scarier than Corypheus. I’m sure I’ll trip on the way in and curse her entire family line.”

“Surely only one generation. Maybe two at most.”

“Thanks for the pep talk. I feel so much more prepared.”

Ellana resents how easy it is to chat with him. She becomes very conscious of his hand under hers. She frowns, and Solas smiles.

“I have faith in you,” he says, pushing a stray piece of hair behind her ear. His finger traces ice against her skin. Suddenly, he’s looming over her she feels a warm breath of air as he ghosts a kiss across her temple. This close, she soaks in his familiar scent of ink and earth. The Solas she left behind smelled only of magic and fire. Her traitorous heart beats a touch faster. “You will get through this, vhenan,” he whispers.

Ellana squeezes his hand lightly. “I know,” she says.


 

Year 9:45 Dragon, THEN

When she was 6 years old, Ellana almost drowned. She was only supposed to stay close to the shore, but that was before her brother Mahanon dared her and called her a “cowardly nug” in front of all the other children. After that, she didn’t have much of a choice at all.

She doesn’t remember the jump, only the feeling of sinking lower and lower until finally opening her eyes and seeing the surface so far away. She also doesn’t remember much of the struggle to reach the surface, only that acidic rise of panic in her throat knowing she couldn’t reach it in time. 

What she does remember is the strange acceptance that settled in her when her small, struggling arms had carried her only so far and she knew with finality that she would never reach the surface. She remembers taking in small breaths, the greedy water rushing in to coat her lungs. She remembers staring up at the sun, filtered through the glossy, rippling lid of the lake. She remembers the strange moment where breathing water wasn’t painful anymore. She isn’t sure if she remembers Mahanon diving in and wrapping his arms around her, or if she’s heard it so many times she’s simply created the memory.

She does remember the after, when she was on land. Dying felt easy, near the end. Coming back to life was hard. Her small body shook with the effort of coughing and the endless warm vomit of water rushing out of her mouth. In her short 6 years of life, it was the most pain she’d ever felt. Her lungs felt like they were ripping apart with every cough. Her nostrils protested at every stolen inhale.

Loving Solas was sinking in the water, watching her life slip away in strange acceptance. Now she had to cough him up and come back to life on land.

Chapter Text

Year 9:45 Dragon, THEN

Almost as devastating as Solas’ destruction was the realization how many followers he’d amassed through the promise of retribution. Hundreds of elves in alienages watching their human oppressors, hearts beating in anticipation, rose easily to his call. Far fewer of the Dalish followed him, but it was still enough. Ellana wondered dimly if clan Lavellan would have followed him too, if she hadn’t failed them.

They found anyone left disloyal to Solas. It was far less than it should be. Corypheus failed to destroy the world, but he ravaged the Wardens thoroughly. Of the few left, even fewer were elves. Someone decided they should reach out to them; Ellana let herself be pulled apart in several directions. Useless decisions crashed over her.

With everything taken from her, the only thing left for her was hollow revenge and she didn’t want it. In the depths of her dry, cracked heart knew he couldn’t be stopped. Worse, it didn’t matter. They could kill him, and all the dwarves and humans and qunari would still be dead.

The others needed this. She saw it in their eyes. She saw it in how Sera shook and cried and never laughed. Let them have it.

They started with old allies, Hawke’s Fenris and Merril. She followed the group without protest. The only friend of Hawke’s she wanted to see rotted in shallow grave along the road.

Fenris watched her with his hands gripped around his sword. She spared Hawke in the Fade only to kill him later. Hawke’s death unmade Fenris and stitched him back together, jagged and wrong. 

“How can we trust her?” He said to Merril when Ellana first met him. He didn’t need to say the rest. The wide-eyed look from Merril was enough. Fool. Liar. Silly girl. Fen'Harel ma ghilana.

Ellana had no answer for him.


 

Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

Ellana lasts 13 hours, 46 minutes and 36 seconds before she seeks out Dorian. She hates herself for even considering dumping this cruelty on him, but she’s selfish and she’s tired of being stoic.

Losing everyone was hard, but losing Dorian was like losing the Mark all over again – being whole and then a vast emptiness inside. The lack of Dorian tingled with phantom pain like her missing arm during sleepless nights. 

She forces herself not to run to him when she spots him in his favorite corner. Ellana hoped this would be one of those frantic nights of reading and re-reading. She used to study the bags under his eyes and worry. Now, their familiar sight makes her throat tighten.

“I need to talk to you alone,” she says without preamble, “In my chambers.”

He doesn’t look up from his book, and the hint of a smirk tugs at the corners of his mouth. “No wine and dinner first? I thought we already had this conversation. I’m flattered, honestly, but what will the nobles think?" 

“Dorian.”

“Not to mention our sullen, misanthropic friend you like to exchange long, soulful glances with. He hates me enough as it is without stealing his woman away from under his rather pointy nose.”

Maybe one day she’ll be able to laugh again. “Dorian, please,” she says, letting two years of emotion bleed into her voice.

He looks up then, closing the book slowly. “Something serious, then? Alright. But I have to remind you if this is about a certain upcoming Orlesian ball, Josephine is a much better dancer than I am.”

Ellana leads him to her room without another word, each footstep thudding in her empty chest. A few people linger in the hall, but they pass them without incident. If they have thoughts about the Inquisitor leading a man to her chambers this late at night, their placid, passing smiles betray nothing.

Once inside her room Dorian positions himself on the edge of her bed with a languid ease she could never replicate. “So, Inquisitor, to what do I owe this late night invasion of privacy?”

Ellana takes a moment before replying, breathing in deeply. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10.

“There’s something I need to tell you, because I need someone else to know in case I…fail. You’re not going to believe me, but I need you to just listen,” she says.

Dorian crosses his arms. “Only one question before you launch into what I’m sure is your lengthy and well-prepared speech. How many sarcastic quips am I allowed?”

“None….one.” She sighs. “Now is probably when you’ll want to use it.”

Ellana clutches her fist. Better to be out with it all instead of wasting time. She knows firsthand the futility of sacrificing time to spare feelings. “Three years from now, Solas is going to destroy the Fade. Everyone who’s not an elf will die. I’m not your Ellana. I used Alexius’ research to come back and kill him.”

She could almost appreciate this moment, for finding the one thing that renders Dorian utterly speechless. Even the sarcastic quip is forgotten.

He blubbers for a few seconds as they get the expected questions out of the way – who, what, why. Ellana lets Dorian leap out of the bed to pace and ask questions at his own time. She owes him that much. Truthfully, she also misses this: laying out all the details like playing cards and listening to Dorian slowly work them into a full strategy.

“The research was destroyed…how did you…?”

“We had time to study.”

“How much time?”

“Five years, exactly.”

“Exactly?”

“Down to the date. The better we could line it up, the easier the jump.”

“Who is ‘we?’”

“Sera, Dalish, Skinner. Hawke’s friends Merril and Fenris. A few surviving Grey Wardens. Others along the way.”

“If you’re not, you, then why do you look like…you?”

“I took my old body.”

“You took…”

“The Wardens helped me apply Corypheus’ soul transfer magic so I could regain the Mark.”

Dorian shoots her a puzzled look and she winces. “Right, we haven’t gotten there yet. Corypheus can jump bodies if his body is damaged. But that’s not important at the moment,” she says. 

Dorian slumps back down on the bed, leaning over his knees. “Right. Murderous megalomaniac set on destroying the world as we know it that can leap from body to body. Not important.”

 Ellana crosses over to the bed, sitting gingerly next to him. “I shouldn’t have told you this,” she says, “I’m sorry. But I need someone else to know in case something happens to me.”

“Something?” Dorian looks up at her, frowning. “What sort of something?”

“Solas is not what he seems,” Ellana says firmly, “he’s an elven god, and a powerful one. But he doesn’t have his full power, not yet. Not if I succeed.”

“In killing him, you mean?”

“Yes.” 

Ellana’s hands ball into fists in her lap, but she doesn’t rush Dorian as he processes her words. His eyes stare unfocused at a point somewhere between hers and he taps a finger on his lips. 

“I believe you,” Dorian says finally, “Every rational part of my brain wants to say you’ve finally lost it, but I believe you. But I don’t believe you’re a murderer.”

Ellana is taken aback for a moment. She shakes her head. “It’s not murder,” she says. “It’s the only way to protect everyone.” The irony of that comment sinks like a hard ball of metal to the pit of her stomach.

“Oh? What about Alexius? As I recall, there were several people clamoring for his head.”

“Alexius was different,” she says firmly.

“He also tried to destroy the world, and as I recall succeeded,” Dorian counters, raising an eyebrow, “Yet here we are.” 

Wrong, wrong, wrong. She expected accusations of insanity and resistance on belief – not pushback on the one immovable, fixed part of her plan. She feels the conversation unraveling. “Don’t you get it?” she nearly cries, standing up suddenly and waving her hands for emphases, “He kills you. He kills everyone. He is evil.”

“I know you’ve been through a great deal,” Dorian says slowly, and his gentle tone infuriates her more, “But the woman I know looked for every option. She never settled on the easy solution. She found the right one. Especially for someone she once called a friend." 

The comment pierces through her flesh, jolting her heart to life. “I’m not the woman you know. Solas killed her along with everyone else.”

“So it’s about revenge, then?”

Ellana thinks she might hit Dorian, instead she exhales sharply through her nose, counting to 10 as she inhales and paces. Dorian waits, saying nothing, watching her through slightly narrowed eyes. “You can’t save people from themselves,” she says finally, eyes closed. She turns to Dorian. “Please, I don’t need you to agree, I just need you to promise me you’ll do what has to be done if I can’t.”

Dorian sighs, standing up. He walks over to Ellana and crosses his arms. “I don’t give a damn about Solas. But I care about you. I care about what this would do you to you.” He sighs again, the weighty breath falling on her shoulders. 

Ellana stares into his eyes and he matches her gaze, refusing to look away. She bites her lip, hard. 

“I’ll make you a promise. I’ll try other options first, if you promise,” Ellana says slowly. “If I fail, that means it didn’t work and Solas has killed me. Someone has to do what has to be done.”

Dorian considers her for moment, then holds out his hand. She meets it, the suffocated glow of the Mark peeking out from between their palms. “I promise,” he says. “Maker help me.”

“I promise,” Ellana echoes. She feels a fleeting pang of guilt at the lie, but it passes as quickly as it comes.

Chapter Text

Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

Almost immediately after Ellana spared Alexus’ life in exchange for his servitude to the Inquisition, Leliana pulled her aside in the Inquisition’s library.

“Your ruling was clever,” she said. “Do you know what Josephine calls you?”

“Wise beyond my years, and breathtakingly beautiful?” Ellana asked. Leliana didn’t smile, and her hardened expression made Ellana swallow her next joke.

“Idealistic. Do you know what the troops call you?” 

Ellana shook her head. 

“Foolish and soft,” Leliana said. “Be careful, Inquisitor. Your kindness makes you a good judge, and also a poor one. Many kingdoms have fallen from a king’s kind heart blinding him to the danger in front of him. You may have to choose between saving someone, and losing everyone. Don’t let your romanticism lead you to ruin us.” 

In the years since, Ellana found herself returning to this conversation many times in her mind. Before Solas killed her, sometimes Leliana would catch Ellana’s eye and her old warning would echo in her mind.

She thought of those words when she first decided to lead the Inquisition to save Solas from himself. They came to her when she first considered traveling back to the past. They come to her now the morning before the ball, after a restless night with Dorian’s words fighting with Lelianna’s inside her mind. Her brain is bruised and her eyes tingle with exhaustion, but her whole body buzzes anxiously.

She weighs a choice in her mind, and for the first time in years there’s no mentor, no council, no rebellion, one else to discuss with but her own self. It’s a possibility she stumbled across in her future, planning her trip back with Sera, Merril and Fenris. If Fenris or Sera knew she were considering it again now, they would rip her head off without remorse. If Merril knew, she would approve, which makes it seem all the worse to Lavellan. 

The simple truth was Ellana was too idealistic. Even when Solas spelled out his plans, she believed she could rewrite them. Even after Leliana lay dead at her feet, she thought she could bring her back. Yet Ellana being here, now, clutching her old silk sheets under the morning light of Skyhold, was because of her idealism. She barreled through the fabric of time mostly on faith, just like she had every other issue she faced.

“You may have to choose between saving someone, and losing everyone.”  

With a frustrated cry, Ellana throws her fist down into the pillow next to her head. Then she sits up, swings her legs over the edge of the bed, and sets out to do something very, very stupid.


 

Year 9:45 Dragon, THEN

Ellana’s numbness fractured until she was all sharp edges, waiting to catch on something. She caught on Sera’s sarcasm, tugging apart month’s worth of blame. She caught on old memorabilia - a scarf that she once wore in a forest far away, an old letter from Dorian. Some days she simply existed. Other days she stumbled from misery to misery, her eyes so red and inflamed she could hardly see even without the tears. 

Most of all, her sharpness tugged on herself. Sometimes when her mind wandered she would see who she used to be, and it horrified her in those moments who she was now. What would she think – her younger self – if she knew this was who she would eventually become? Broken. Scared. Alone. Still pitifully, loyally in love like a beaten dog coming back for more.

Ellana would tug on that thread, unravel it all the way until there was nothing left and realize that she would have always made the same choices. One day while following the thread down its path, she realized there was no more softness left for her. No more opportunities to be young and naïve. As Inquisitor, she always did what needed to be done. She lost her entire clan and kept leading because someone had to. She slew Corypheus and closed the breach because someone had to.

A bit of her old sharpness came back to her. Loving Solas was the only choice she made, and it was the wrong one. She’d been soft and complacent for years.

She cried and cried alone in her little bunk until every inch of her face hurt. She let every sob rip out of her without complaint, and each wave left her feeling emptier. Not the same kind of emptiness she’d felt for a year – a new kind of emptiness.

So when Solas reappeared in her dream that night, she wasn’t angry. She was still raw, true. Still nothing but sharp edges.

But edges could cut both ways.

Solas stood in front of her, his hands clasped behind him. Every other time she’d seen him, he’d been wearing a thick coat. He’d left it behind and almost looked like his old self. Almost, if not for the heavy purple bags under his eyes. 

For once, he didn’t speak first. He eyed her cagily, clearly remembering their last meeting. Her days and nights bled together into one long fever dream, but Ellana was sure that was the time she told him to his face she wished he had killed her along with everyone else.

He sighed. “Ellan-”

“No,” she said. She strode the distance between them, catching his face in her hands. As her lips pressed against hers, she couldn’t help but remember a kiss so long ago in another dream.

His lips parted in surprise, then his hands were on her, and she also remembered when the sensation of his long fingers trailing the delicate skin on her neck and behind her ears would fill her suddenly with heat, like a boiling pot overflowing. Now, she just felt cold.

He pulled her so close it hurt, even in the dream. His lips and hands wove a story - a thousand apologies and justifications of love and lust, of loss, of relief. She let him speak, but didn’t listen. Instead she lost herself in the sensation of his warm face under her fingertips, the pain where his arm encircled her back, the fluttering of his hand on her neck and the softness of his mouth.

She wretched her mouth away from his and gently stroked his cheek with her thumb. Ellana opened her eyes, catching his gaze. In Skyhold, whenever he looked at her she felt it like a pinprick of intense heat. She often wondered if she had the same effect on him. She knew she did now, when she stared into his eyes and felt that power tunneling through her. 

“We will not speak again,” she said slowly, “you will not come here anymore. You’ll leave my head and think of me only as a mistake.” 

His lips opened and she slid a finger down to cover them.

“You were right. You’ve distracted me. Consider this a better ending than the one you gave me.”

She felt rather than saw his lips turn into a snarl.

“We are not having this discussion,” Solas said, “There are things you don’t understand…enemies of you and be both. You’re in danger. Vhenan…”

Ellana soaked in the bags under his eyes and a weariness in his magic, as if it had been stretched thin too many times and was beginning to rip. Whatever enemy was worth sacrificing the world over clearly seemed to be getting the better of him. The knowledge that he was still fallible spurred her onward.

“You will leave and not come back,” she repeated. “I allowed you here before. I allowed you here now. That won’t happen again.”

He began a protest again, but she gathered a forgotten magic from her old travels into the Fade and began forcefully pushing him back. Even in her weakened state, Solas was decidedly more powerful than her. But this was her head. Here alone she was powerful. His body slowly leached color and faded. Solas still shouted, his lips forming silent protests.

Mala suledin nadas,” Lavellan whispered. She blinked, and every trace of Solas was gone.

When Ellana woke, her face was still slightly swollen, but her tears had dried. She took a deep breath and counted 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 until her lip no longer trembled. She quietly dressed and left her room. Sera, Merril and Dalish were sitting around the kitchen table in their little base of operations, chattering to themselves. Ellana sat down at the empty head. They didn’t look up when she approached, but Sera spared her a glance when she cleared her throat.

“I have an idea,” Ellana said.

Chapter Text

Year 9:41 Dragon, THE FIRST TIME

“When did you start exploring the Fade?” Ellana asked Solas as they walked side-by-side. They trailed back to their makeshift camp in Crestwood, and every inch of Ellana was cold and soggy. Her footsteps squelched with each step she took and the further she walked, the more mud soaked into her boots and stained her mood. Vivienne and Sera followed behind them, bickering back and forth. Normally she watched their arguments like a game of catch, but with the water sloshing between her toes she was content to leave them behind before she snapped.

Solas glanced at her sidelong. “As long as I can remember. Every mage explores the Fade, whether they want to or not. I decided that I wanted to. I suppose I would have been a child when I started, but I didn’t begin traveling physically to explore new areas until I was much older.” 

Ellana nodded. Many questions clawed at her mind ever since Solas had entered her dreams and brought her to Haven. She chose the most innocuous and gave it breath now. “Could you teach me?” she asked, “how to explore the Fade without getting lost?”

Solas considered her, rubbing a hand underneath his chin. “I’ve never explored the Fade with another person.” 

“I don’t mean we have to explore together,” Ellana interrupted. “I mean, I wouldn’t want to intrude. Not that I don’t want to be alone with you. Not that I don’t want to explore with you! I mean…”

Solas chuckled to himself, as Ellana coughed and turned her reddening face away. 

“That wasn’t a no,” he said. 

Ellana peeked back around at him, her cheeks warm. “I’ve just never given the Fade much thought beyond ‘don’t mess with demons.’ But it seems with this,” she waved her right hand, a green streak trailing few seconds behind like a firework, “I have to be concerned with the Fade. I’d like to know more about it.”

“I am not confident I will be a good teacher, but I can show you what I know,” Solas said. He glanced at her with a look that made her want to cut the space between them and impulsively kiss him again. The corner of his mouth rose.

At that moment, the water sloshing in her boots, the mud caking her shins and the angry chatter behind her didn’t seem so bad after all.


 

Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW, THE MORNING OF THE WINTER PALACE BALL

As Inquisitor, Ellana’s mission was to close the rifts. She tapped into their power briefly, to reign down power before snapping them shut. Her first waking visit to the Fade was more than enough to convince her the rifts were too dangerous to seriously mess with. She worried if she tugged too hard, she’d unravel the entire fabric of the world.  

Ellana had since seen the world unravel. A few hours before they would leave for the Winter Palace, she retreats to her room. Carefully, she locks and barricades her door, and draws the curtains closed one by one. She’d told Josephine she needed time to mediate ahead of tonight’s activity. Playing into the mystic Dalish mage stereotype had its occasional perks.

As Inquisitor, Ellana would’ve fought tooth and nail against what she was about to do. It violated every moral code in her. It was selfish, and risky, and dangerous. Moreso, it was a heinous violation. Who she was now, Ellana’s arms don’t even tremble as she opened a small rift in the Fade and slipped inside.

Solas taught Ellana many things, both practical and impractical. One of his practical lessons included how to navigate the Fade so she could learn more to defeat Corypheus. Ellana isn’t entirely sure where to go to find what she looks for, but Solas’ advice comes back to her as she navigates the Fade again for the first time in 2 years.  

“All mages know demons can sense your presence in the Fade,” he’d said, “but what many do not realize is you can manipulate that awareness to your advantage.”

He’d taught her techniques to repel, not attract. But if Ellana has one skill, it’s not doing what she’s told. Instead of masking her presence and calming her mind, she makes herself unmistakably visible.

Walking the Fade while awake is like navigating a labyrinth, so instead of trying to find a location she conjures up a memory, of the first time she journeyed into the Fade while awake. It isn’t a pleasant memory, but Ellana is used to pain. She was just a girl back then, in way over her head and full of too much daring. As she walks the Fade now, she pictures two figures, one young and one old, scrambling over rocks as monsters chased them. Both full of fear.  

As she remembers the blinding white light that sent her home and took her memories, Her prey appears.


 

Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

Ellana fiddles with the last button on her sleeve and lets her face show the nervousness she feels. Something deep inside her tells her it has to be tonight. They will be alone later, on the balcony. His guard will be down. In her past, that was the night they danced and she knew she would always love him. Tonight, she will end it.

She stands near the entrance of the Grand Ballroom, her neatly-pressed suit just as stiff as it was the first time. Dorian’s promise pokes at the corner of her brain like a stubborn hangnail she can’t rip off. Dimly, she hears her name being called and she walks into the opulent, glittering ballroom.

Women and men smirk behind their half-masks. Good. Let them look at her and see the uncivilized knife-ears thrust above her station. She felt a nervous need to prove herself the first time she was here. Now, she only feels smug disdain. They don’t deserve to be saved, but she’ll do it anyway. It would be a fine thing to save the world from Fen’Harel only for Corypheus to claim it again.

She bows before the empress and smiles placidly. ‘There’s one advantage to this night,’ she thinks. ‘At least it will be a lot easier the second time.’ Her eyes flicker to the pale woman lingering behind Empress Celene and her smile turns into a smirk.


 

Year 9:41 Dragon, THE FIRST TIME

Faint music and the sound of hundreds of voices talking in bemused merriment drifted lazily out of the Winter Palace, trailing behind Ellana but not quite reaching her. She leaned over the railing of a balcony, surveying the partygoers mingling on the palace’s lawn and feeling strangely cold. 

She desperately needed a second to herself, just to breathe and to process everything that happened (and hadn’t happened). She’d retreated to the balcony, hoping everyone would be too busy trying to piece together the shards of the night’s mystery to pay her attention. But even here, she wasn’t alone. As Morrigan finally left and Ellana thought she might just have that moment alone, she heard a new set of footsteps. 

She turned around, opening her mouth to protest, but was met with a familiar pair of blue eyes. She saw it was Solas, and slowly the desire to be alone crumbled away, piece by piece.

“I’m not surprised to find you out here,” he said, crossing the balcony to join her. He leaned against the railing, a little too close to play at friendship. “Thoughts?”

She considered the answer to the question and who should answer: the leader of the Inquisitor, or Ellana Lavellan. She missed Ellana. Each morning, she put on the Inquisitor when she put on each piece of her armor. It was becoming harder and harder each night to take it back off again. “I never meant for the grand duke to die,” she confessed.

Solas’ brows furrowed, as if confused by her admission. “He wagered his life for the crown and lost. He knew what to expect. Remember what happened; do not dwell on it,” he said. She felt something warm rest on her back, and a thrill rushed through her when she realized it was his hand. “You cannot save people from themselves.”

From inside the ballroom, a clock chimed. Solas looked around, but the warmth remained. He turned to her, smiling. “Come, before the band stops playing, dance with me.” He retreated a few paces, withdrawing from her, holding out his hand. 

Ellana twisted around to keep his gaze. Solas didn’t smile often, at least not a true smile. He flashed polite smiles, and the frequent mocking smirk masquerading as a polite smile, but true expressions of joy were fairly rare. Whenever he did, his entire face transformed. To Ellana, he was beautiful no matter what expression he wore. But when he smiled, it took almost all her restraint to keep her knees from buckling and throwing her arms around him as she fell. Something intangible, but pleasant, flared to life in her stomach when he smiled. She wondered if he knew. She wondered if something she did had the same effect on him.

So when he smiled, Ellana really only had one answer. “I’d love to,” she said, resting her hand in his.

He pulled her close, and Ellana was suddenly graceful for the dancing lessons Josephine insisted on. She made a mental note to apologize for the sulking later.

They hadn’t been this close, for this long, for too long. Solas used his affections sparingly, choosing them as carefully as he chose the paints for his murals. Each time he offered one unprompted Ellana pounced on it hungrily. She supposed there was a logic to it, to try and mitigate the whispers. Unfortunately for Solas, she had no intention of being logical. 

And as he held her close for the dance, she very illogically buried her head in his shoulder. He smelled like his study, ink and paint and underneath it an earthy scent he couldn’t quite scrub away.

He sighed, and Ellana felt it more than she heard it. Not his usual put-upon sigh, but a contended sigh. A relived breath of air released at the end of a very hard trial. “Everything will work out,” he said.

Ellana had only been in love once, with a boy named Ilmen. He was the son of clan Lavellan’s halla keeper. He had golden hair and not a single drop of magic or ambition in his body. They grew up together as children, and he would occasionally pull her pigtails and she would cry and lash out with magic, and then resent him as Keeper Istimaethoriel lectured her on keeping composure.

One day when she was 16 she met his eyes while walking past the halla enclosure, and the force of her attraction slapped her across the face, leaving her bloody red and speechless. Falling in love with Illmen was as fast and unavoidable as a sneeze. It was a sudden tightness in her throat and a tongue-numbing tangle of disjointed thoughts sticking to the roof of her mouth. He was an annoying child, and then he wasn’t. She was a little girl, and then she wasn’t.

The suddenness of her love (and the suddenness it left her, when his indecisiveness and simple conversation bored her) left her utterly unprepared for the slow burn of her love for Solas. It was friendship and lust that pooled in the pit of her stomach. The simple pleasure of listening to him talk slipped down her throat and into her heart like freshly-brewed tea. Her love bled slowly, like a pen left a little too long on paper. She never knew every part of her was stained until they danced on the balcony in the Winter Palace and a familiar tightness yanked at her throat. 

Ellana pulled away slightly, so she could see Solas’ face. He smiled at her, another real smile.

‘Oh,’ she thought.

Chapter Text

Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW, THE MORNING OF THE WINTER PALACE BALL

Nightmare rears before her. It is much smaller than last time they met, more like an overgrown spider than an ancient, massive demon. Even from the distance between them she senses the unmistakable aura of weakness, of something dying. She doesn’t bother masking the crack of smug satisfaction that pierces through her.

It makes no noise, but its front two legs stomp on the ground. She can guess what emotion is sweeping through it.  

“Inquisitor,” it hisses. Its rumbling voice comes from all around her. “Back again so soon?”  

She raises her hands. “I’m not here to fight. I’m not the same person when we last met.”

Nightmare ignores her, creeping toward her. It could strike out at her, but it holds back. She doesn’t move as its body violates the invisible barrier of personal space around her, but her skin feels tight.

“The Warden died screaming, you know,” Nightmare says, twisting around Ellana, “His fear only satisfied me for a moment, but it was sharp and sweet.”  

He did more than just scream, given Nightmare’s current state. But Ellana decides not to point that out.

“Fascinating.”

Nightmare’s proximity and encircling sends tingles racing down her spine, but she holds firm. Her body’s response to it is only natural, but she doesn’t fear Nightmare. Her mind is calm. She knows it can sense her reaction when it pulls away slightly, spindly legs carrying it in front of her so they’re face-to-face. Or would be, if Nightmare had a face.

“I want to strike a deal,” Ellana says.

She doesn’t have to guess what emotion Nightmare feels when an unnerving laughter erupts around her.

 


Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

Ellana finds herself on the balcony of the Winter Palace, alone again. The first time she was here, her entire body buzzed, torn between victory and anticipation of more to come. Now, a very different nervous energy vibrates through her. She taps her fingers on the railing to calm herself.

She was careful this time. After bullying the leaders of Orlais into a shaky truce, she cornered Morrigan herself. She couldn’t take the chance of anyone interrupting later. Before leaving the ballroom, she exchanged a meaningful glance with Solas, sure to inject the perfect amount of quivering lip. Now she waits, exposed and alone.

The inky blackness of the party on the grounds below stretches before her like a shadow, and the competing voices of Dorian and Leliana shout soundlessly in her mind. Somewhere underneath it is Ellana. She still can’t hear her. A concealed knife in its sheath, warmed from contact with her skin, caresses her thigh. The Mark on her hand stretches tight, painful. Its green light reflects lightly off the gleaming surface of the railing.

It isn’t much longer before she isn’t alone. His presence is unmistakable even without turning around.

“I’m not surprised to find you out here,” he says, leaning against the railing next to her, “Thoughts?”

A loaded question if there ever was one. She turns her face toward him. “Many. Which one do you want?” 

Solas chuckles. “I’ll settle for what you’re thinking about at this moment.” 

He’s so close she could close the distance between them without moving forward. Ellana stares at him, her eyebrows knitting together and she can see on his face what he thinks he knows she’s thinking. In truth, she imagines pushing him over the edge of the railing. 

The hint of a smile crosses his face. The corner of his mouth yanks the cogs in her mind into place. She grips the railing slowly, afraid she might go tumbling over the edge. She watches his pale blue eyes, the sweep of his long eyelashes, and how his gaze never leaves her face. A great choice stretches in front of her, two diverging paths. One hard, the other even more difficult.

The choice, for once, is truly hers alone and she has no idea what path she’ll take until she starts speaking.


Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW, THE MORNING OF THE WINTER PALACE BALL

“Hear me out,” Ellana insists, as Nightmare’s laughter trails off. As it stops an echo trails behind, like a ghost.

“And why should I? Corypheus promises me whole countries of fear. What do you have to offer?”

“Nothing,” Ellana says, “but a single fear more deep and powerful than Corypheus can give. And I think we both know that Corypheus’ plans won’t last. You’ve seen his methods. Even if you kill me, he’ll destroy himself. And what I’m offering, you keep Corypheus’ deal. You gorge yourself on all his fear he offers. But you do something for me first, something that will stop the only thing that can and will kill you without my help.”

Nightmare approaches Ellana once again, scraping at the edges of her mind. Her magic rises in response, urging her to resist. Instead, Ellana swallows and pulls back her magic, doing her to quiet her magic’s reaction to the intense wrongness of Nightmare’s attention.

Nightmare sniffs. “You are different,” it says at long last, and the scraping feeling recedes. “Alright, little Inquisitor, let’s hear what it is you have to say before I decide whether or not to devour you.”  

Ellana lays it out, piece by piece. To its credit, Nightmare doesn’t interrupt, but as soon as she finishes its hollow laugh echoes through her bones.

“Oh Inquisitor. You come to me with an even more delicious fear, the fear of millions of lives snuffed out in an instant, and you expect me to aid you in preventing this? Perhaps you haven’t changed at all…”

“Then you weren’t listening,” Ellana explains, her voice emotionless even though her blood rushes so loud she can hear it, “you will also be snuffed out in an instant. He destroys the Fade and every creature inside it. That means no more dreamers to feast on, and that means no more you. Nightmare doesn’t exist in the future.”

 


Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

“I haven’t been entirely honest with you,” Ellana says, discovering each word as it leaves her lips. She glances back into the ballroom, to make sure no errant guests float out their way, then leans closer to him and lowers her voice, “You remember when I traveled to that future, the one where Corypheus won?” 

Solas matches her body language, leaning closer. His breath caresses her nose. “Of course,” he says.

“There was more,” she says, “about tonight, I mean. The ball was only the start of it. I…,” she sighs, “I’m not sure how to say this. I’m not sure if you’ll believe me.”

“Try. You may be surprised what I can believe.” 

It’s easier this time to slip back into her former self. She shrouds herself in her old insecurity, matching his gaze with a blinking, pleading neediness. “Alright, well…there was more. A backup plan. Maybe. But not in the palace. Not in this version of the palace. In the Fade,” Ellana says slowly, “I only caught snippets of it, so I’m not sure, but I think it’s worth checking out.”

She can picture the battle playing out in his mind, between curiosity and suspicion. Outside, his face is passive. “Why haven’t you mentioned this before?” he says, his voice conspicuously devoid of emotion. 

Ellana looks away. “I didn’t have anything solid like his attack on Celene. Like I said, I only caught snippets of conversation. It could be nothing. Or it could be something worse. And if it’s in the Fade, there’s only one person that can do anything about it,” Ellana points to the Mark. 

She can’t see his reaction and he says nothing. She lingers in the silence for a few moments beyond a comfortable pause, then sharply tugs on his ego.

“Oh, I know, I shouldn’t have said anything. The truth is I’m scared.” She turns her head back toward him, catching his gaze. “The truth is…I was hoping you would come with me.” 

“Just now, with no plan or weapons? Blindly and headfirst?” Solas breaks his silence, but holds onto her eyes. His voice and expression are still impassive.

Ellana forces out an awkward laugh. “You know me, that’s how I work best.” She frowns. “I’m going either way, but you’re the only one I could trust with this. No one knows the Fade better than you.” 

“I don’t like this, vhenan.” 

“I know.”

All around them, the party continues. Hundreds of voices speaking at once lazily drift toward Ellana’s ears, ghostly and unintelligible when they finally land on her. The brilliant lights dotting the banisters of the Winter Palace outshine the stars above them and behind them, the ballroom twinkles with a thousand impossible lights. Every direction around the two of them life thrums, vibrant and stubborn and ignorant. Ellana feels every inch of the world and feels painfully alive as she waits under Solas’ gaze for him to answer. His brows furrow and she sees Bull, lying on the ground. He blinks and Varric is before her, cold and unresponsive.

Solas tears his eyes away, leaning back from the balcony. “This is perhaps the foolish, most shortsighted thing you’ve ever asked of me.” He sighs, but when he speaks his words are infused with an unmistakable mischievous lilt, “And I am a fool for agreeing to go along with it.”

Ellana coaxes a smile on her face. “Thank you,” she says.


Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW, THE MORNING OF THE WINTER PALACE BALL

“And what if Corypheus simply destroys this Fen’Harel with the rest of the world?”  

Ellana scoffs. “If you believed that was possible, you would’ve devoured me before I finished speaking. He only pretends to be a god. Compared to the real thing, he’s nothing. Corypheus offers you fear, then death. I offer you fear, and existence.” She waves her hand in front of her face. “What you do in the Fade is your business. Keep his deal. Take what fear he gives you. Continue to feast on every dreamer that walks through the Fade.”  

“Ah, and I suppose you come to me with this information out of your own kindness? I still haven’t heard this deep and powerful fear you offer me. You should know that your puny fears are worthless to me now, before you think of prostrating yourself to save the world.”

Ellana closes her eyes to steel herself. She remembers long grass and blue eyes framed by even longer lashes. He told her he was Solas long before he was Fen’Harel. Well, perhaps he could be Solas long after Fen’Harel.

She opens her eyes and smirks. “I offer you Fen’Harel’s memories.”

Nightmare’s laugh shakes through her entire body. “I’ll give you one thing, Inquisitor. You’re always interesting.”

 


Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

Ellana and Solas stand side-by-side on the Winter Palace’s balcony. She glances sidelong at him.

“You’re also not going to like this part,” she says, wincing, as she moves the Mark in front of her, and a brilliant green sliver appears, shimmering in the air. She palms the sky and it widens, just large enough for a person to slip through. 

True to her prediction, Solas scowls. “So, you’re opening rifts now. Good to see my lessons are being put to such use.”

“No!” Ellana interjects, infusing her voice with a skittish warble. “I mean, not intentionally. Just the once at Adamant, that’s where I got the idea. You know we can’t go in the normal way. We can’t waste time with demons’ games, especially when we don’t have weapons.” 

She holds out her other hand. “Solas, please.”

Solas looks disgusted, and she can almost see his distaste for tampering with the Fade wrestling with his desire to solve another mystery. “Alright,” he says finally. He takes her hand and they step through one at a time.


Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW, THE MORNING OF THE WINTER PALACE BALL

Ellana doesn’t respond, just blinks slowly at Nightmare while it circles her. Eventually it speaks again. “Why not just kill Fen’Harel?”

The answer to that should be simple, but nothing with Fen’Harel is ever simple. “Why didn’t you kill me?” she counters.  

“I’ll be truthful: Corypheus insisted on it. That curious Mark on your hand is key to his plan of destruction, and key to the fear he promises me. Will you be truthful, Inquisitor?”

“Like Corypheus, I have a need. I need Solas to seal the breach. I don’t want him harmed.”

“A half truth, then,” Nightmare rumbles. It does not say what half was truthful, instead it extends a spindly leg toward her expectantly. “I’ll admit, I’m curious to feast on the fear of a god. I accept your offer. I will take his memories of Fen’Harel as I took yours of the Fade.”  

Ellana is taken aback by the abruptness of its answer. “He won’t be harmed?”

“He will not. Surely you remember when I stole your delicious memories? He will know who he is, but forget where he’s been.”

The hairs on the back of her neck tell her to stop, but Ellana extends her left hand and shakes the end of its leg. It’s scaly, slimy and cold. She pulls her hand away just as quickly, her fingers tingling. “How will I find you again?” She asks.

“Where there is fear, I am,” it answers.

Chapter Text

Year 9:41 Dragon, THE FIRST TIME

Ellana felt like one of the support beams that lined the halls of Skyhold – ceaselessly pressed upon and never resting. As First of her clan, she thought she knew what it was to lead. Becoming the Inquisitor made her realize she knew nothing.

Her advisors ended another tense meeting abruptly – Corypheus hovered just out of reach, no one had any answers and everyone had someone to blame. As soon as Josephine suggested they try again tomorrow, Ellana strode out the door and didn’t know where she was going until she found herself staring at one of Solas’ unfinished paintings. She turned away, searching for the painter.

He sat behind his desk, buried behind paperwork. His slumped body looked like it was holding as much weight as Ellana. Solas had left without warning the day before. And just as suddenly, came back. The worst part for Lavellan wasn’t watching him leave. It was that brief moment when she wondered if he would ever return, and she realized he would take a part of her with him forever if he did.

Long fingers framed each side of a scroll. Solas wasn’t a beautiful man to most people. He never turned heads the way Cullen always would simply by walking past. But Ellana thought if anyone studied his elegant hands, they would swoon. She remembered the feeling of them pressing against either side of her face. He looked up at her as she walked toward him, and his blue eyes softened.

 She made a show of looking around, bending over slightly to peer out the slit of his door. “It’s a nice night out,” she remarked.

“So it is,” he said, without looking, because he was still looking at her.

She straightened up. “I think I’ll go for a walk. Join me?”

To her delight, he did.

They walked around the ramparts, the air chilly but not uncomfortable. In the meeting room, Lavellan lost track of time, and now night was in full bloom. Skyhold never completely went to sleep – she could hear the sounds of movement and smell a fire burning somewhere – but this late at night the ramparts were nearly empty save for the occasional guard. She cherished the illusion that it was only the two of them right now, alone in the world with only the stars and the mountains watching.

Her eyes caught the pale outline of his hand, and it struck her how nice it would be to hold it. She reached out to entwine her fingers in his. He didn’t break his pace or acknowledge her touch, but he accepted the gesture and his thumb softly grazed hers.

She had her own worries she was dying to unload on him, but instead she looked at him sidelong and asked, “What’s on your mind?”

Solas paused before answering. She often envied how he could compose himself and gather his thoughts. Ellana’s thoughts overwhelmed her and spilled out of her mouth faster than she could grasp them. 

“Many things,” he said finally, “I mourn my friend. I worry about the breach. I wonder what will happen if we don’t stop Corypheus. I think about you.”

Ellana felt her face flush, glad for lack of light. “You do?”

“Of course. I worry about you. About the enormous pressure on your shoulders,” he said. Ellana almost laughed, her cheeks still pink. They rounded a corner. He turned his head to look at her with a soft imitation of a smile on his face. “I am sorry, I did not mean to make it worse. I am sure you have enough on your mind.”

She waved him off with her other hand. “It’s ok. I worry too.” They kept up their leisurely pace, and she considered the soft weight of his hand in hers, the tingling pressure of his thumb against her skin. “Honestly, I’m terrified,” she said after a while. “A few months ago I was no one. Now I have this power that I don’t understand and it scares me. I know if I can’t figure it out, everyone will die.”

“You will,” he said.

“I have to,” she corrected. “But honestly, what scares me more is doing nothing. The best I can do is to try. Well, the best any of us can do is to try, really. It just never feels like it’s enough.” 

Solas squeezed her hand gently, firing a bolt of sensation rippling up her arm, where it pierced through her heart. “You are strong, even though you shrink away from praise and credit. But you have one thing wrong,” he said.

“Oh?” 

His other hand rose to tuck a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “You were never no one. You were always important.”

Chapter Text

Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

The Fade glows sickly green, slapping Ellana with an overwhelming feeling of unease as she leaves the waking world behind her. Solas follows shortly behind her, and somehow she’s calmed.

Behind them, ghostly pieces of the Winter Palace hover in tatters. “Come on, this way,” Ellana says, giving his hand a tug as she leads them back toward the twisted version of the ballroom at a quick pace. The warm sheathed knife on her thigh kisses her skin as she walks. 

Solas matches her stride. “Perhaps now you can tell me what exactly it is we should be looking for,” he says. 

Ellana is sure not to look at him. “I’m not so sure myself. All I know is it’s something big, and it’s somewhere near the Fade’s version of the Winter Palace. Could be nothing, or…”

“It could be worth the risk,” Solas supplants. “Do you have any other information to go on other than ‘something big?’” 

Before them, the Winter Palace unfurls. Like most things in the Fade, it’s almost right, but undeniable warped. A few chunks of wood float in the air feet above a staircase and Ellana releases Solas’ hand so she can navigate a particularly large gap. 

As she walks, she tsks, and shrugs. “Unfortunately, no. As I was trying to find my way back out of Radcliffe Castle, all I heard was a conversation between two guards about their plan to kill Celene and something about a surprise in the Fade. I didn’t really have time to stop and ask fore more details.” She glances over her shoulder at him, and flashes a once familiar apologetic smile. “Sorry. Some leader I am, huh?” 

He mirrors her smile, but it’s not one of his genuine smiles. When she loved him, it was an easy flash of understanding. Now she knows it’s the smile of a haggard adult indulging a simple child’s ramblings. “You do just fine,” he says.

“Just look for anything out of the ordinary,” she says.

“Out of the ordinary? In the Fade? That should be difficult to find.”

“Funny.”

“I can be, on occasion.” 

As they walk, the Fade presses on their bodies. Ellana looks around slowly as they pass by rotted rooms. Compared to the Winter Palace they just left behind, this version is eerily quiet.

As if reading her mind, he says, “Strange, isn’t it? I suppose we handled most of the demons that were occupying this corner of the Fade on our side.” He matches her pace, then quietly overtakes the lead, steering them toward the living quarters. Ellana follows in stride.

“Is it terrible to admit I like this version better?” She asks his back, a hollow lilt to her voice. “I suppose I’m not cut out for court intrigue.”

“The Fade is just as duplicitous as the court,” Solas counters, “Demons lie and warp reality for their own means. As a mage you look for their tricks and outsmart them. Palace intrigue is much the same.”

She taps a finger under her chin. “I suppose…but demons can’t help but lie. It’s their nature. People chose to lie.”

“Some would argue otherwise,” Solas says. He guides them toward the private quarters, and even in the Fade it feels voyeuristic. He hesitates outside of Celene’s room, peering inside ahead of her. “Nothing here.”

Ellana gestures down the hallway. “Let’s try this way.”

One by one, they peer into each of the rooms and find nothing. Their questioning faces search for any misplaced files, prowling demon or suspicious object. The Fade answers with silence.

“Maybe we missed something,” Ellana says, charging past Solas and leaning dangerously low over a staircase.

“Ellana, stop.” His voice is gentle, but the tug on her arm is firm, pulling her back to the ground. “I recognize aimless wandering when I see it. I don’t believe there’s anything here.” 

The Inquisitor would refuse to give up. She would shrug off Solas’ hand and continue searching. He would roll his eyes but indulge her, and when she finally slumped in defeat he wouldn’t tease her. He would rub her shoulder assuredly and she would blink back frustrated tears.

Something inside her screams for an action, and her heart quickens its pace. 

“Fine,” she says, “I suppose we can call it a wash. But before we go back, one question…” She smiles cheekily at him, stepping closer.

“I may have an answer,” he says, smiling conspiratorially.

She blinks slowly and leans into him, her lips hovering near his ear. If he can feel her racing heart underneath her wrists, she hopes he’ll mistake her anxiety for mere nervousness. “How about a dance?”

Solas graps her arms. “….vhenan. I admire your tenacity, but I don’t know if I’m as keen as you to spend any more time here than necessary.”

“Fine,” she sighs, pulling back and out of his grasp. “I suppose you have a point. But you should know, I’ll count this as a debt.” She can practically hear the blood rushing in her ears.

“That’s more than fair,” he says, as he turns back the way they came. She doesn’t follow.

“Oh!” she says. “There was one more thing.” He glances back at her over his shoulder.

The sensation of her own heart beating makes hear nearly sick. It’s the same nauseating rhythm she felt before she faced down Corypheous. Lavellan feels like she’s staring down over the edge of a very tall cliff. Her heart ignites a fire in stomach and she leaps over the edge. 

She cocks her head to the side. “When were you going to tell me you’re Fen’Harel, vhenan?”

In her darkest moments, it made Ellana feel less pathetic when she pretended she could see the seam where Fen’Harel and Solas met. When he would come to her in her dreams, she’d imagine a dark glimmer in his eyes that meant she was talking to Fen’Harel. When she remembered a conversation between two friends on the way back to camp, she swore she saw something else in his eyes back then.

As it always is, the truth is more complicated just than a switch being flipped. But as Ellana’s accusation lands across Solas’ face like a slap, she watches his entire personality changing. His shoulders rise up slightly, his eyes narrow, his feet spread wider. His beautiful, long fingers clench into fists. 

He slides into a tense posture, like a predator about to pounce. “Who are you?” he says.

It should sting, that even now, he underestimates her so much. Instead it nearly makes her roar with laughter. He is the trickster, the cunning wolf. But she is a predator too.

For the first time that day, the voices in her head quiet. Ellana is alone. She stands up, jutting out her chin. “I’m Ellana Lavellan: First of the Lavellan clan, leader of the Inquisition. Ask me how I know. Ask me.” 

Solas doesn’t respond.

“You told me,” she says, taking a step forward. She can sense by his body language it’s dangerous, but she has to keep moving. “You told me you loved me.” Step. “You told me your plan.” Step. “You told me I couldn’t stop you, and you were right.” Step. “You killed half the world and you were still miserable and fighting invisible enemies.” She stops just shy of his reach.

She found herself in a wholly new experience: a silent Solas. Every moment they’d known each other, Solas walked a few steps ahead of her. He had no qualms about carrying on inappropriately-timed discussions in the midst of battle, and even when he revealed himself to her he reveled in the conversation. Now that Ellana is the one looking back at him, all the conversation flees from him. 

His jaw is clenched so tightly she can almost hear his teeth cracking. 

“What now,” is all he says when he finally speaks. It’s spat out as a statement, not a question. She wasn’t sure what she expected his reaction to be other than more verbose – asking how she got here, demanding proof, another long-winded monologue. 

“Now we both know everything,” Ellana answers. “Is there anything I can say to you to get you to give up on this crusade? Will telling you, in detail, all the ways it failed make any difference? ” 

“If you are who you say, then you already know the answer to that question,” he says through whitened lips. 

Ellana spreads her arms wide. “Then we’re staying here. Good thing you like the Fade.”

There’s no one to laugh, so Ellana lets out an aggressive huff of air from her nose.

Chapter Text

Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

 

Even in their future, Solas always remained in control of his emotions. The closest she’d ever seen to raw, untapped anger was when the mages had corrupted his spirit friend.

In this past, Ellana blinks, and Solas becomes unhinged. He doesn’t speak or make any frustrated noise, but his entire being shifts. It’s like a distorted reflection of the first time she saw him after he’d torn down the Veil – outwardly the same, but perceptively different. She doesn’t have time shudder before he lunges at her, pinning her against a wall. Her head slams into the edge of a portrait and she cries out.

Ellana stares into his narrowed eyes and cold, hard blackness looks back. She feels a sharp crack of fear like lightning in the pit of her stomach.

“Are you going to kill me?” she asks.

He doesn’t answer.

She stomps on his foot and he huffs out a grunt of pain but doesn’t release her. He pushes her body against the wall, hard, and her head explodes in agony. He lets go as she stumbles to the ground on all fours, her ears ringing and the Fade spinning around her hands. Her body suddenly feels very disconnected from her frantic mind, and her vision seems to lag a few second behind reality. Dimly, she’s aware of her right arm rising in front of her. Something sharp prods at the palm of her hand and a brilliant flash of green light streaks across her fading vision. With horror, she realizes Solas is holding her right hand and pouring his magic into the Mark. It sparks in answer. 

She rips her hand away with the last of her strength and crawls feebly away, moaning. The fear burns acidic in the back of her throat and she sinks into it, letting panic take over. With it comes a spike of adrenalin. She still feels light-headed - like her spirit is floating somewhere just above her body, fingernails scraping at her back – but the ground in the Fade also feels slightly more solid under her knees and hands.

“Inquisitor.” Solas says. It lacks warmth. It’s not even a command. It’s a promise of more pain. “This is futile.”

Ellana rises like a newborn halla taking its first step. Her knees threaten to buckle, but she stays on her feet. At least, until Solas lunges at her again, pinning her to the wall with his body.

“I won’t kill you, but you do not need to be conscious to use the Mark.”

Distantly, she feels an answering tug on her fear. Solas, who is snaking his fingers around her throat, does not react. He squeezes slowly at first, a bit of the blackness in his eyes slipping away to reveal a bit of the Solas she once knew again. 

“Don’t make me do this,” he says. 

“No one makes you do anything. You choose,” Ellana answers, her voice labored, “you always choose.”

His fingers close tighter on her throat and she claws against them, the primal urge to live sending her body into a frenzy. He squeezes and doesn’t feel the unnatural breeze of movement. He squeezes and he doesn’t see the lumbering shadow rise behind him.

1…2… Ellana counts in her head, as if she can ward off unconsciousness by power of will …3…4… matching pairs of spindly legs rise behind Solas …5…6…a wide, dripping mouth looms closer …7…8… the legs close in as if to embrace him…9….her consciousness is leeching away from her and it strikes her how similar it feels to drowning.

“Ten,” she wheezes, more in her head than out loud. 

Solas’ hands abandon her neck abruptly and her consciousness rushes back to her full force. She loses a few seconds falling to the floor and gasping for air, eyes closed and spit flying unabashedly from her mouth. When she opens her eyes again, she fills in the gaps of what she missed.

Nightmare engulfed Solas’ entire head and torso in one fell swoop, and Solas fought back. With her senses returned, her nostrils fill with a scent like burning leather, and she catches the side of Nightmare’s body, charred and missing a few legs. 

Even with its injury, it grips onto Solas. His face and arms are completely lost in its mouth, but she can see him still struggling. She should feel pity, but her neck still throbs.

She watches every second, as Nightmare wriggles around Solas and screams. Light bursts from underneath its mandibles. The motions grow fainter and the light disappears altogether. Nightmare pulsates, and as she watches in disgust its damaged side stitches back together. The missing legs reappear as short stumps, knitting back together slower than its body. 

Is this what it looked like when Nightmare stole her memories? Like a helpless rabbit struggling in the jaws of a predator? She shudders. At least it took those memories as well.

Satisfied, Nightmare ceases its pulsing and scuttles back off Solas. His unconscious – but otherwise unharmed – body drops loudly on the floor. His skin and clothes are slick with Nightmare’s saliva. Even Ellana winces when his head bounces against the wooden floor of the Fade-palace.

Nightmare sighs deeply, its spindly legs trembling. She isn’t sure which of the bumps on its face are its eyes, but its head turns towards her and it laughs.

She opens her mouth to thank Nightmare, then quickly shuts it. Instead she arranges her face back into a neutral position and shakily tries to stand up.

“I enjoy the sight of you creatures on your knees. Pathetic. Powerless,” it says.

“Fascinating,” Ellana says. She’s fully upright, although her knees are still trembling. She braces two hands behind her on the wall. “You didn’t kill him, I hope,” she says, jutting her head toward Solas’ body. 

Nightmare’s entire form shakes, a low growl sliding from its closed mouth. “The elf will live, as promised.”

Ellana grunts in acknowledgement, then sighs and braces her head against the wall. Her mind tingles, the pain and anxiety prowling around her edges, waiting for the guard of her adrenaline to crash down. Nightmare advances on her slowly, and another spike of adrenaline shoots through her, sending pain and anxiety leaping back.

“There’s still the matter of your fee, Inquisitor,” Nightmare purrs. It’s so close to her now her nose crinkles and her arm hair stands at attention. 

“We had an agreement,” Ellana says as evenly as possible. She bends her knees and slides her hand down the wall in a show of buckling in pain. 

“That was before he blew a hole in my side,” Nightmare says, towering over her, “I believe I do miss your memories after all, Inquisitor. I think that payment only fair. Not that you are in any position to disagree.”

Before she can respond, Nightmare lunges at her. If she had been any other person, or if she hadn’t seen Nightmare pull the same trick moments before, she would have found herself chest-deep in its mouth. But because she is Ellana, because she learns, and because she no longer is surprised by treachery, she drops to the floor. She rolls to the right, away from Solas’ body, crouched on her toes with her left arm stretched in front of her.

Nightmare’s pincers snatch at empty air. It grumbles. “It will be easier for you if you simply stay still.”

Ellana talks with her magic, slicing her glowing left hand through the air. A rift tears into existence in front of her. Nightmare lunges again, but Ellana rolls away once more, the heat of its breath only inches away from her back. 

With Nightmare right behind her, she has no time to lose and throws her left hand in front of her, still crouched. A ghostly stone fist erupts, pushing Nightmare through the winking rift. The force isn’t enough to push Nightmare’s entire body through, but it’s enough for her to smile as she clenches her fist and the rift begins to shrink.

Nightmare shrieks, the sound tearing through her like a physical blow. Its legs scramble for purchase in thin air as the rift tightens around it. Her hand trembles, and she braces it with her other hand, letting out a primal growl of effort. Closing the rifts was always more challenging than opening them.

Its her will and strength now against Nightmare’s. Piece by piece, more of Nightmare reappears even as she tries to force the rift shut. She stands up, shakily. Another of Nightmare’s legs reappears, flailing wildly.

She remembers the sensation of long fingers caressing the side of her neck. She squeezes her palm tighter. She feels the ghost of fingers around her neck, and screams. She sees a smile, unapologetic and sincere. She sees eyes looking at her that fill her stomach with heat. She walks toward Nightmare, throwing her hand in front of her like a shield. The rift tears at Nightmare, and it tears back.

Ellana remembers arms closing around her and feeling safe. She remembers the smell of death. She clenches her fist so hard her fingernails pierce her flesh and droplets of blood trickle out. Nightmare struggles, and then a sudden silence descends as the rift snaps shut. The half of Nightmare left behind hangs in the air for a few seconds before crashing to the floor. Ellana follows it down, her knees slamming against the wooden floor.

She turns her head and vomits. Ellana huddles over herself, clutching her stomach and closing her eyes as sweat drips down her forehead. Her entire arm throbs in a warning that pain will seize her for days after. With a shaky jerk, she looks behind her. Solas lies crumbled where he fell. Before her, Nightmare’s lower body twitches. The stench of her sick and Nightmare’s blood make her want to vomit again. Instead, she throws her head back and laughs.

 

Chapter Text

Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

Somehow Ellana stands back on her feet. Somehow she finds the knife still strapped to her leg and cuts crude strips of fabric out of her and Solas’ clothing. Somehow she slips it back into its sheath instead of stabbing it through his heart. Somehow she ties strips of fabric around his body and grips them in her hands. Her body is beyond protest, instead submerged in numb acceptance tinged with dulled pain. Aided with her fabric strips, she drags his still unconscious body back along the path they came. Somehow she puts one foot in front of the other, but she doesn’t know how.

Finally she comes to her first rift, a smaller slash in the air than when she left it, but still large enough to squeeze through. She unceremoniously pushes Solas through, then tumbles after him. 

The fresh, cool air of Val Royeux welcomes her back with a passionate kiss. She should close the rift again, before demons return to that part of the Fade. Instead she closes her eyes for a few moments and crouches on all fours.

“…dirty…trick…” a voice wheezes, all around her. 

Ellana whirls around. Nightmare’s pointed head lies on the ground, haloed in a pool of its blood. The tip of two severed legs lie motionless like discarded crab legs at a feast. Ellana slides to her haunches and rises her chin.

“You changed the terms of the deal first,” she reminds it.

Nightmare wheezes in and out slowly. “I should have killed you the first time we met.” 

“Yes,” she says, rising to her feet. 

This is the exact moment where the Ellana she was before would’ve stopped to gloat. She would have admired her own foresight and brilliance and, of course, sent off her foe with one last playful taunt.

Instead, she stands up, approaches Nightmare’s head, and gives it a swift kick that elicits a high-pitched moan. It twirls through the air and into the open rift. She sinks deep into her reservoir of magic, to the last few drops she can feel, and clenches her fist. The rift does not yield.

She hears a noise behind her and turns her attention away from the Rift and back to Solas, who begins to stir. She crouches back down to her feet, wary like an animal ready to pounce at the first sign of trouble.

Ellana watches him come back to life, with one large breath before he opens his eyes. He blinks a few times, then pushes off the ground with one hand. For a few seconds he’s confused and vulnerable, a soft innocence in his face that Lavellan has seen only once. It shakes loose a memory of a misty clearing, an easy smile and a warmth in her chest.

His eyes slide into focus and catch on her. He narrows his brows in confusion. “Inquisitor?”

She isn’t sure she can trust herself to speak, so instead she nods sharply. She waits.

Solas shifts his body into a more comfortable position, taking in his surroundings. “What happened? We were talking, and then…” he trails off, his eyes cast downward. Immediately he’s more alive, leaning toward her with his eyes wide. “Your neck! Who attacked us?”

Ellana is the same, and she’s not. She’s hardened and ruined, but hopeful. A tinge of buried, denied affection bites her heart and lets an old affection slip past her tongue. “It’s alright, vhenan. It was just a lingering demon.”

She knows something is wrong by the long pause before any response.  “Oh no,” Solas says. His blue eyes are flanked by reddening cheeks. “Inquisitor, I am flattered, but…,” he says, avoiding her gaze, “well, what I mean is, I am sorry if I gave you the impression I was…interested.” 

Ellana blinks. She leans back on her heels, hand bracing the ground for balance. “Solas. Do you remember what happened Haven, the last time we were there?”

His brow creases. “Yes. Corypheus razed it to the ground and we barely escaped with our lives.” 

“No, not then. In the Fade, later?”

“I am sorry Inquisitor, I am not sure what you’re talking about,” he says.

Of course.

Nightmare had insisted she pay a fee. It seems she had.

She stands up too quickly, her body empty.

“Nevermind, I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I was…carried away and confused. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“Inquis-”

“We were attacked by some lingering demons,” she says, and finds that it’s the voice of the Inquisitor coming out of her throat, “You took a nasty spill and hit your head. We can speak later, but I’m very much hurt, very much tired, and very much need your help.” 

Solas was never one to hold back on questions, but for once he swallows and rises to his feet silently. Her eyes follow his as he stands up and shifts his weight almost imperceptibly to lean away form her.

She turns her whole body to the face the rift. “I was able to send them back into the Fade, but I don’t have enough magic to close it. I need Lyrium potion, badly, and I need you to find Josie. I think we’re going to need to make a quick exit.” She looks over her shoulder at him. The green light of the Fade throws his shadows into sharp relief.

His lips are pursed but he nods. “Yes, Inquisitor.” 

Solas strides back into the ballroom. Ellana watches until his back disappears into the crowd. He doesn’t look behind to make sure she’s still standing. Something inside her squeezes tightly, then releases.

Chapter Text

Year 9:41 Dragon, THE FIRST TIME

Every one of Ellana’s senses clamored for her full attention. Her skin tingled under the press of magic, her ears pricked at the rush of water, her nose sniffed at the cool, damp air while her tongue tasted the earthy musk her inhale left behind, but all she could focus on was the sight of Solas’ pale, glowing hands waving in front her face.

If Keeper Istimaethoriel were still alive, she would be mortified to see what her former First was doing. Guilt ebbed inside Ellana but it crashed soundlessly against curiosity and indignation.

Solas’ hands were impossibly gentle as they slid over her face, barely touching her skin. His magic flared minty green and warm where it painlessly pierced her flesh. As his hands trailed to the side of her face, his magic dimmed and she peered at his face. The light of his power danced around him, reflecting in his eyes and bouncing off the panes of his face. In the sharp light, so close and so gentle, he was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen.

His eyes were fixed on his task, but as the last of his magic sparked away, he looked at her like no one had ever looked at her before. Solas was a powerful mage, but his true power was in these moments where he made Ellana feel every sensation like a punch.

Without her Vallaslin, she felt more naked than if she was actually naked, but she liked the feeling. She caught his eyes. His mouth slid into a reassuring smile.

Ar lasa mala revas,” he said, “You are free.”

She felt it as their eyes stayed locked. She felt it as they stood up together, weightless. She felt it as she dared imagine a future - one with Corypheus vanquished. One of safety. One where Solas always looked at her the way he did now, every single day. One together.

She was free.


Year 9:41 Dragon, NOW

The fiery streak of sunrise cuts through the sky and every inch of Ellana’s body aches for sleep as they approach Skyhold. She adjusts the borrowed scarf around her throat for the dozenth time, just to keep her body moving so she doesn’t slump over on her horse.

She’s flanked by Josephine and Cullen on their own mounts. Neither of them speak, so Ellana ignores the worried glances Josephine keeps shooting her way when she thinks Ellana isn’t looking. 

The crisp Skyhold air stabs her nose with every intake of breath, but she’s grateful for the sensation. The cold air in her nose, the ache of her throat, her hands gripped around reigns, the warmth of her horse against her legs ground her and remind her she’s still in reality.

When they finally reach the stables, she isn’t surprised to see Dorian approaching with a walk a little too slow to be a completely casual early morning stroll. She can picture him pacing around Skyhold’s library, glancing out the window every few seconds and racing down the steps as soon as their riding party appeared in the distance as pinpricks. The thought settles like warm tea in her bruised throat. 

She nods to Dorian as she commands her horse to stop. Ellana dismounts quickly, patting her horse and pointedly keeping her eyes straight so she can pretend she doesn’t see Josie’s head turn toward her. She takes longer than she needs to remove her items and guide her horse back into the stables. She's even more careful not to look back at the riders behind her. Ellana chances a glance to her left and spots Dorian, standing mercifully alone. 

As she strides toward Dorian, she’s stopped by Solas, who steps in front of her with his arms across his chest. She curses inwardly.

“Inquisitor,” he says. “I’d hope we could speak.” His assured posture is slumped into such a genuine distraught that she almost feels a tug of sympathy. “I am still feeling out of sorts. What happened tonight…there are…gaps. Worrying gaps. I know you had recent experience with something similar. And you were the only one with me on the balcony, I-”

“Of course,” Ellana interrupts. “I’m always happy to help you, Solas. We’ll talk later, I promise. After I take the longest nap of my life.”

He blinks slowly, his lip drawing into a line. “Yes, certainly,” he replies, his tone inscrutable. Then he puts on a smile, the one he used before an intense bout of brooding. “You need rest after your hard work at the palace. You should be proud of what you’ve achieved here today. My problems can wait.”

“Thank you,” she says briskly, and walks past him. She doesn't turn around to see what his reaction is. At this point, she isn't sure she cares. Instead, she folds her hands behind her back and slowly walks toward Skyhold as Dorian reaches her and matches pace beside her.

Dorian smiles at her, eyes nearly twinkling. “I knew you would do it,” he says.

She raises an eyebrow. “Do what?” 

He bumps her with his shoulder. “Find a better way. Still save the world. The usual Inquisitor thing.”

Save the day. Had she? There were so many loose threads. Solas could regain his memories again. Fen’Harel could kill her outright this time. Corypheus still plotted to destroy the world. And there was the matter of the mysterious forces that had Fen’hrel scared. 

But that was the future. Who knew what it held?

Ellana smiles at Dorian, and for the first time in more than 2 years it is genuine. “I did what I said I would,” she says, “I killed Fen’Harel.”