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It was like relearning how to be happy, one day at a time.

Little touches that sent sparks of heat through her, arms wrapped around her, shielding her from the rest of Skyhold when she stumbled into Solas’ room in the middle of the night, bleary-eyed from yet another too-long meeting or returning from one more trip. When she could bury her nose in the crook beneath his ear, felt his whisper on her skin as he turned his face to hers, she knew she was home. Lyssa settled into his embrace like into the comfortable warmth of a winter coat, and the soft melody of his voice when he spoke in elvhen to her washed away the tension of the day.

As spring found its way up the mountains and made the trees in the courtyard and garden bloom, smiles came more and more easily to her, fueled by the way he looked at her, by the way they spent whole nights tucked away up on the top floor of the tower where her quarters lay out of earshot, learning to read each other’s bodies like a map.

It was not as carefree as loving Nelos had been. The weight of Inquisitor always lay heavy on her shoulders, and there were days when she didn’t know whether she was unable to move because she was shackled down or because she was floating helplessly on an ocean of responsibilities and letters and decisions. But Solas managed to anchor her. Sometimes, all it took was a short touch of his hand to hers, and she could breathe again.

Vhenan.

My heart. My home. The place where my happiness lies.

There was nothing hidden behind his eyes when the word flowed from his lips like a caress, even the touch of ever-lingering sadness she could see in his careful touches and rigid posture disappearing at her answering smile. He whispered it in her hair, her kiss, against her throat and into her palm. She settled into him like a cat into the warmth of a sunbeam, and he wrapped himself around her like she was the most precious person in the world.

Ma’arasha.

My happiness.

 

“You’re disgustingly adorable with each other, you know,” Dorian said one evening in the Herald’s Rest, his eyes sparkling, easing the edge to his words as he watched Lyssa watch Solas leave for the night. “For your sake, I might even get to like the man.”

“High praise,” Lyssa said dryly, and he laughed.

“It is! I do have standards - I have!” he insisted when she laughed. “But he’s better since he’s your… whatever it is you’re calling it. Let’s go for ‘consort’, yes?”

“Consort?” she asked, amused, and Dorian nodded.

“Yes. He’s lost some of his edges, somehow. Less airy. He smiles, too, and means it.”

Lyssa hid her happy blush behind her glass of wine, and her friend grinned before he got serious again.

“Whatever will you do at the masquerade?” he asked, and Lyssa sighed as she set the glass down onto the rough wood of the table.

“Hide it as well as possible,” she said, a shadow in her eyes. “More for his sake than mine.”

“Good luck with that,” he murmured doubtfully. Dorian didn’t have to ask why they wanted to hide their relationship. Openly presenting an elven apostate as the chosen partner for one of the most powerful women in the world, and at Orlais’ court of all things, was asking for trouble. There had already been the first marriage proposals, once even in person. So far, they had managed to avoid any bruised egos, but it was just a matter of time until that would change. And trying to stop one assassination was quite enough for one evening.

 


 

Halamshiral was all gold and marble, masks and too much wine, dances and candles and pretense and the faint smell of something rotten beneath it all that only Lyssa seemed to notice. The Summerday celebration flowed into the masquerade like honeyed wine into a crystal glass, a whirlwind of heady smells, alcohol, and sweetness.

The evening was only half done when Lyssa managed to calmly walk out on the balcony even if she wanted to run, taking her mask off as she came to a halt at the balustrade. For several minutes, she could do nothing but breathe to slow her racing heart, inhaling the scent of the flowers and the night wafting up from the gardens below. The coolness of the night air was soothing after the heat within, the ball a labyrinth of people and candles, looks and whispers. For a long time, she closed her eyes, letting the sound of the music and voices drop away behind her. Only when she felt someone coming out to her, she straightened and turned quickly. When she saw that it was not one of the nobles vying for her attention or looking down at her with disgust, she let out a breath. She gave Iron Bull a smile as he came up next to her.

"That's the fourth time you’ve come out here on your own. What's up?" he asked.

Lyssa would never not be fascinated by how soft the voice of a person so large as Bull could be.

"I needed some air. Too many people,” she explained quietly, forcing her fingers to relax as she looked up at him. He didn’t seem surprised at her answer.

"Yeah, I can understand that." He was silent for a minute before he asked, “So what is it? The masks?”

Her eyebrows rose, and she blinked. “How did you know?”

Bull only gave her a slow smile. “I see you reading people’s faces all the time. Figured it’d be hard for you here.”

Lyssa took a deep breath and nodded. She shouldn’t be surprised that he had been able to detect the way she was navigating the world. He had been Ben-Hassrath after all, and he was one of the most observant people she knew.

“I should have known you of all people would notice,” she said, giving him a small smile. “It's a habit I picked up when all I could do was watch people."

Bull nodded, though his gaze was thoughtful. Lyssa had a feeling he wasn't really surprised by what she said, but still, he waited for her to elaborate, quietly offering her an opportunity to talk. She didn't feel like talking about her past at the moment, though, not even with him. Instead, she gestured towards the crowded corridor behind them. Lowering her voice so they wouldn’t be overheard, she asked, “How do you do it? Read them despite their masks?”

She had thought about it ever since he told her the masks did nothing to hide the humans’ true feelings. For her, it was like walking through a jungle of puppets, blank and creepy marionettes dancing without strings, pouring honey laced with poison with their voices. Those wearing half-masks were not so bad, but there were enough people with full masks that covered the whole face that she had no idea what truly lay behind their words and intentions. But she could feel their eyes on her and heard the whispers. The crowd did nothing to put her at ease, too often making it hard to breathe. 

Bull accepted her diversion with a nod before he explained, “You’re too fixated on their facial expressions. Gestures and postures can tell you nearly as much.”

He turned around and nodded towards a couple he had talked about earlier. According to him, the man was sleeping with four different servants, and the woman had an affair with another noble.

“Remember them? See how her body is nearly always at least halfway turned towards that noble with the ridiculous feather hat who continues to look to her? Every now and then, she shows him a bit of ankle beneath her skirts, and every time she does, he hides a smile behind his glass.”

Lyssa followed his gaze, putting her mask back on as she turned to watch. Not for the first time, she thought that the masks gave the Orlesians an advantage. Here, at the ball, she finally understood their preference for them. She knew how expressive her face was, but now, hidden behind gold and swirls, she was as inscrutable as they were. Or at least that was the idea. For the Orlesians, she still probably was as easily readable as a book - and they probably thought her as easily manipulated. Not that she intended to let them. Bull waited patiently while she observed the woman.

After a moment, she nodded. “I see it. Ah, and he just deliberately touched that servant’s fingers when she handed him another glass.” Her brow furrowed. “She hated it.” Unlike the guests, the servants didn’t wear masks.

Bull nodded. “Yeah. Two of the others are mostly indifferent and the third actually likes it, but not her.”

Lyssa pressed her lips together and made a mental note to tell Sera about him so that Red Jenny could investigate.

“He’s also calling for something to drink way more often than his glass is empty, and once even was so careless as to whisper to one of them,” Bull added, then raised his glass towards another couple, both with full-face masks. “Now. What do you see?”

Lyssa forced her eyes away from the unhappy face of the elven servant waiting to be called on again and turned her gaze to the couple Bull had indicated. The overwhelmingly familiar feeling of dread when she couldn’t even tell if they were talking welled up again, but with another deep breath, she made herself look away from the blank golden masks.

“She’s nervous,” she nearly immediately said, blinking in surprise at her own insight. But a second look made her wonder how she could not have seen it before. The woman was holding her fan so tightly that her knuckles had turned white, and she shifted her weight repeatedly from one foot to another. “Oh. I think he’s mad because she spent too much money. If they came together, that is.”

Bull nodded. “They did. Why’d you say that?” He sounded pleased.

“Because he’s really rigid. His body is turned towards her, but he looks away. And the velvet of his coat is partly worn while her dress is new. And laced with gems.”

She more felt than heard Bull’s chuckle, and when she looked up at him, he grinned down on her. “See? No need to see their faces when their bodies tell you nearly all you need to know.”

Some of the tension eased from her shoulders, and she felt lighter as she nodded with a smile. It did take away at least some of the pressure she felt, even if it wouldn’t help with the overwhelmingly crushing feeling of being in a crowd.

“Thank you, Bull,” she said, feeling alright for the first time this evening, and he laid his hand on her shoulder, pressing it reassuringly.

“Any time, boss.”

 

“Am I interrupting?” came Solas’ voice from within. He had two glasses in his hands but did not approach them until Lyssa smiled. “Not at all.”

Bull nodded at them both and went back inside. As he turned the corner, Lyssa saw him wink at her and, as if by accident, the curtains that were held aside by a silken rope fell close, giving her and Solas some semblance of privacy. Solas raised an eyebrow as he saw it, and they shared a grin before he handed her one of the wine glasses as she took the mask off again.

“I thought you could use it,” he remarked as she thanked him and clinked glasses with her before pulling his own mask off. “How are you holding up?”

Lyssa shrugged, taking a big swig of the wine, then another. “Bull just showed me a few things that should help with the rest of the night. But I confess it’s a bit much.”

“You could’ve come to me,” he said, an unasked question in his voice. As he searched her eyes, tenderness welled up in her, and without a second thought, Lyssa threw all caution for appearances into the wind as she took his hand, holding it tightly.

“You seemed to enjoy yourself. I didn’t want to spoil your mood,” she admitted. Solas slightly shook his head, a smile on his lips as his fingers interlaced with hers, soft caresses in his touch, his thumb drawing lazy circles in her palm, invoking memories of a completely different touch. This time, the reason for her heart speeding up was not at all unpleasant. 

“Ah, Lyssa. You couldn’t if you tried,” he murmured.

She couldn’t say if it was the wine that made her bold or just the need for something familiar and honest, but as she looked at him smiling down on her, she could no longer hold the professional distance she had maintained until now. Quickly, she downed the rest of the wine and put the glass aside. Solas gave her an amused look with raised eyebrows as she turned back to him and took a small step towards him until she was standing so close that she could feel the heat coming off him. Closing her eyes, she inhaled his scent, feeling the warmth of his body against her skin. Her senses were fuzzed by the drink, and yet they felt heightened, lulled in by his warmth.

“What did you say you liked about events like this? A heady blend of intrigue, power, and… sex?” she whispered, her lips brushing over his ear. As she felt him still, she looked up at him from beneath her lashes.

“Was that a challenge?” he asked, his voice dropping to a seductive tone, and he put his glass away as well, his hand coming to her hip to draw her closer towards him, so she was all but touching him. The way his eyes narrowed as she tilted her head ever so slightly sent an excited shiver down her back. Her slow smile was answer enough, and his hand wandered from her hip to her back, running beneath the seam of her low-cut gown that left most of her back free. Goosebumps shivered over her from where he touched her skin, heat radiating over her body. They hadn't had much time for themselves since leaving for Halamshiral, and there was hardly any privacy to be had on their trip. Not with the big entourage, the tailors, coiffeurs, and lessons on dancing and politics, the cramped wagons and tents, and Leliana and Josephine taking up any free moment drilling all of them for this night. By now, she wished for nothing more than a few days or even just hours alone with him.

“You are aware that there is only a curtain between us and the whole of the Orlesian court?” His voice was barely more than a hum in his throat, but there was a dark intensity in his eyes that made her breathless. Lyssa caught her lower lip between her teeth and quickly looked back to the thin barrier that separated them from the rest of the ball.

They shouldn’t. She knew it only too well. Josephine had told her more than once not to display any favoritism, especially for Solas, so her being alone with him out here was already more than the ambassador would approve of. She should go back into the rooms full of faceless people and play the role she needed to play.

But as she felt his thumb run over her skin, a completely different need rose in her. And the thought that they could be discovered any minute was strangely exhilarating. When she looked back at him, a flush was on her cheeks.

Solas’ smile deepened at the sight, and his other hand came up to cup her cheek. Lyssa turned her head into the caress, and when his thumb brushed over her lips, she caught it, sucking it into her mouth. He nearly hissed at the suggestive gesture, his lips opening slightly. The tension between them grew, as he stroked his thumb over her tongue, pressing further in, his eyes burning into hers. She flicked her tongue over his thumb, sucking gently, and his eyes darkened at the sight. Her hands found their way to his hips, her touch barely noticeable, and when she released his finger, a sweet smile was on her lips.

“I guess we’d have to be very quiet then,” she whispered in a low voice, and something in his eyes flashed at her words. His fingers curled at her back, and the other hand was in her hair, pulling her head back slightly until she was fully looking at him. Her breath caught in her throat at the intensity and pure want on Solas’ face. Then his mouth was on her ear, his hot breath teasing along her bare neck, followed by a sweep of his tongue that sent shivers through her.

“Are you sure you’ll be able to do that, vhenan?” He had barely finished speaking before he sucked her earlobe between his lips, and a gasp fell from her, sharp desire stirring deep inside her.  

“Worth a try,” she murmured, turning her face towards him to breathe in the scent rising from his skin, a tremble running over her at his low chuckle. It was enough to throw her last concerns overboard and let herself sink fully into the moment, into the thrill of the night. A stolen moment of happiness and closeness in this evening of pretense, didn’t they both deserve that? She felt drunk on his presence, emboldened by the heady scent of flowers and alcohol in the air, the faint music and laughter, the voices fading into the background. With a sigh, she kissed the curve of his neck, feeling his pulse quicken beneath her lips as she arched against him. “Vera em su tarasyl,” she breathed against his skin, desire coursing through her veins. Take me to the sky.

“Vhenan…” The endearment was a groan in the depth of his throat as his hands tightened on her, and then his lips were on hers, kissing her deeply. Her eyes fluttered closed at the way he devoured her mouth, warmth pooling in her lower belly. She nearly stumbled over the hem of her dress as he pushed her backward, but his hands came to her waist, catching her just in time before she bumped against the wall. His kiss drank her muffled moan as his hand found the mound of her breast beneath her gown, brushing the light fabric off her shoulder and cupping her with a tight grip. Lyssa gripped his vest, fumbling with the buttons in a try to get to the shirt and the skin beneath, but he caught her hands, pulling them off himself.

“Din’melana, vhenan.” Not yet, my heart.

A satisfied rumble was in Solas’ chest at the way she surrendered beneath his touch, her hands falling to her sides and gripping the fabric of her dress as she leaned against the wall, looking up at him with eyes darkened by desire. The stone against her bare back was cold and rough, scratching, but she barely felt it. She couldn’t take her eyes off him, captured in his burning gaze that held a promise that made her breathless. His fingers painted a trail of heat over her skin, and the nipple of her exposed breast hardened as he circled it, sending a direct pulse to her core. A slow smile tugged at his lips as he felt the tremble beneath his touch, and he lowered his mouth onto hers, stopping just a hairsbreadth before he kissed her.

“Let me hear how quiet you can be, ma’haurasha.”

His voice seemed to curl over her skin, and his kiss caught the moan in her throat as he pinched her nipple between thumb and forefinger. The silken, light fabric of her gown whispered over her skin as Solas pulled the skirt up, running his fingers along the inside of her thigh until he found the cleft between them. Her legs parted willingly for his touch, her hands clutching at him to pull him closer. She could feel his arousal press against her hip through the fabric, and her kiss became more desperate as he rubbed deftly over her mound. His smile curled on her lips, and when he pulled back slightly, there was a devious sparkle in his eyes.

“Shh,” he hushed, just as his hand dipped into her underpants, one slender finger stroking over the slit, teasing her in slow, deliberate movements. She gasped against his lips, her hands clawing into his hips. Blood rushed through her ears as his finger dipped deeper, parting her, and a satisfied hum came from Solas’ lips at the wetness he found there. His thumb was still rubbing over her nipple, sending streaks of desire through her, and every apprehension Lyssa might have had was burned away by the heat between them. His name was a whisper on her lips as he lazily stroked over the center of her desire in the same rhythm as he teased her nipple.

“Tell me, ma’haurasha,” he murmured, his breath tracing over her mouth, “tell me how you would like me to take you.” Her breath caught in her throat at his words, and her eyes widened, shrouded by raw desire. Slowly, he rocked himself against her, the low rumble in his chest growing until she realized it as a barely veiled moan. “You’re so ready for me. Should I just take you against the wall?” His finger sank deeper into her, then another, curling into the center of her heat, and she slapped one hand to her mouth, barely biting back a low, desperate moan at his ministrations. He accentuated his words by another slow movement of his hips. “Or would you like me to bend you over the balustrade and take you from behind?” His fingers worked relentlessly in and out of her, and she had started to roll her hips to meet his movements, all but writhing beneath his touch. Her breath came in short, hot whimpers, her eyes dark and transfixed by him. “Tell me, Lyssa,” he whispered, his voice dropping until it was barely more than a tremble against her skin as he ran his lips over her ear, teeth nipping at her earlobe.

Her head swam, and her skin seemed to burn all over. Her desire curled tighter and tighter in her belly when he slightly upped the pace of his fingers, and she was glad that she was pinned between Solas and the wall or her legs would have given way underneath her. “Anything,” she gasped out and reached for him again, rubbing a hand over the bulge in his pants, “please, Solas.”

Now it was his turn to groan, pressing his lips against the curve of her neck to muffle it. Lyssa used the opportunity to find the laces that held his pants and began to undo them with feverish fingers. She freed his length, her fingers closing around its pulsing heat to give it a few slow strokes and she could feel him thrusting nearly involuntarily, desperately in her firm grip, quickening his own rhythm within her. She whimpered without meaning to, and immediately, Solas stopped, taking her hand off him and pulling his fingers out of her. A low, disappointed sound escaped her. The next moment, his hand was on her mouth, slick from her arousal.

“You wanted to be silent, vhenan.” His voice was hoarse, and she could feel him twitch against her. The knowledge that he was just as affected as she sent another anticipatory tremor through her. His fingers wandered over her lips, and she opened them, letting her tongue flicker out. His eyes narrowed, and his breath was a low groan as she sucked his fingers clean, tasting herself. For an endless moment, he just looked at her, as his hand wandered from her mouth over her throat, slowly trailing her skin over her shoulder, pushing the second strap of her dress over her shoulder so that both breasts were uncovered, tightening in the cool night air. Lyssa let her head sink back against the wall, her breath heavy in anticipation. Solas’ eyes slowly wandered over her body, and the tip of his tongue flickered over his lower lip with an appreciative smile. Then he moved slightly against her, and she felt her gown being lifted, as one of his hands wandered over her throat again, his thumb feeling her racing pulse under the skin. With a sudden tug, he grabbed one of her legs and lifted it up, the fabric of her underpants stretching nearly painfully over her throbbing center. She bit her lip to catch the gasp in her throat and eagerly wrapped the leg around him, fitfully writhing against him. She was rewarded by another stroke of his fingers over her folds and a soft kiss on her lips. 

“Quiet now,” he whispered, and her squirming against him turned into a tense stillness. A tremble ran over her as she felt his fingers wander beneath the seam of her underpants and with a sharp tug, something ripped, and she felt the cool air against her wetness. The hand on her throat wandered around her neck, and Solas pulled her in for a deep kiss. Immediately, she put her arms around his neck, kissing him desperately as she finally felt him push against her, the tip of his length parting her. It was a shallow thrust, barely breaching her, and she trembled around him. He grabbed her other leg, his breathing hard and heavy, lifting her against the wall for a better angle, and another roll of his hips sank him further into her. His moan vibrated against her lips, and she clawed at his shoulders, urging him on with tiny movements. It only made his grip on her hips stronger, holding her still, and another forceful thrust buried him deep inside her.

Her body felt like molten glass, her thoughts barely more than a disconnected string of moremoremore, please, the words withering on her tongue. Her lips were on his neck, teeth scratching over his skin as she clenched around him. In the corner of her consciousness, she was aware of the laughter and talks just beyond the curtain, and the way he breathed his restraint through his nose as he sat still within her. Her desire rippled from her core over her spine, and she tried to buck against him for more friction, for just more, but his grip kept her in place.

“Ha’mi’in, ma’vhenan,” he growled into her ear, relax, my heart, causing another shiver to run through her, and then he finally started moving, slowly, deliberate. Lyssa felt as if the desperate attempt to keep quiet heightened every sensation. She could feel every whimper in her core, every swallowed moan, her body strung like a bow as she panted through each of his languid thrusts. One of his hands found her breast again, rolling her nipple in his palm and she had to bite hard down on his shoulder to keep her outcry in at the sudden spike of heat rushing through her. Solas sharply drew his breath in, and she could feel the tremble going through his body as he sped his rhythm up, her name falling from his lips in a strangled pant. It did not take long until he used all the leverage he had to slam his hips against hers, low groans in his throat that came and fell with each thrust. Lyssa had forgotten everything around them, the world getting lost in the heat swirling in her belly, the tension building more and more. Her pleasure left her in strained little whimpers, and then everything within her tensed, her head falling back. In an instant, his mouth was on hers, drinking her deep, sobbing moan as she became undone around him. He was still kissing her when his thrusts became erratic, his fingers clawing into her hips as he buried himself within her again and again until he was spent.

Lyssa clung to him with what little strength she had left as she rode out the aftershocks of her release, small shivers running over her as she panted against his neck. Slowly, her heartbeat returned to normal, and her breathing calmed down. Eventually, she felt Solas’ lips on her throat, pressing little kisses along the side of it up to her ear.

“Are you alright, vhenan?” he murmured, and she chuckled slightly, tightening her arms around him.

“More than that.” She lifted her head to look at him, her eyes bright. Tenderly, she caressed his cheek. “That was… unexpectedly intense.”

Solas hummed his agreement with a smile. “Maybe I should make you stay quiet more often,” he smirked and she laughed quietly.

“Maybe you should.”

For a second, he just looked at her with rare softness in his eyes. “Ar lath ma, vhenan,” he breathed, and her smile widened, wild happiness coursing through her.

“Ar lath ma,” she answered and kissed him again. When they separated, he let her down, and they fixed their clothing as well as possible. Lyssa stepped with a shake of her head out of her destroyed underpants. For a second, she was unsure what to do with them, but before she could come to a decision, Solas took them with a mischievous smile and pocketed them.

“It’s a good thing that nobody but you sees beneath this skirt,” she murmured and Solas chuckled deep in his throat, running a hand over her back. She felt the soothing tingle of magic run over her bare skin, realizing he probably healed the scratches left from the wall.

“I might take advantage of that fact, depending on how the evening progresses,” he said, and a warm shiver ran through her. Before she could answer, though, the bell that called her back to the ballroom rang. 

Lyssa looked towards the curtain and the lights beyond. Regret flooded her. "I need to go back to the Game,” she sighed, then she turned back to Solas with a whimsical smile. “Hold that thought, though,” she said as she put her mask back on and tried to smooth the locks that had come free of her hair back into the elaborate braids upon her head.

“I will,” he smiled, reluctantly letting go of her hand, a promise burning in his eyes.

“How do I look?” she asked, fully aware that there was no way she looked as pristine as before their encounter, and that not even her mask would fully hide the blush in her cheeks or her lips swollen from his kisses. But what were a few more comments compared to the happy warmth inside her as she looked at Solas? And in the end, it wouldn’t matter. She would never be able to please the whole court.

Solas ran a cool finger over her still flushed cheek and smiled. “As if you have played a part of the Game that the Orlesians didn’t expect you to play,” he answered, and she chuckled.

“Being unpredictable in the Game is a good thing, isn’t it? With luck, they’ll think they underestimated me and that I actually know how to play it.”

He laughed, fondness in his eyes as he looked at her. “I think they underestimate you anyway, vhenan.”

Lyssa was far from being sure of that, but her smile was soft as she raised herself to kiss him one last time. “Thank you for making at least some part of this night worthy of happy memories,” she murmured against his lips. “I’ll see you later.”

Then she turned towards the curtain, taking one last, deep breath and disappeared again into the crowd.