After that night, Solas continued to visit Athesa in the Fade on the days when she was busy with Inquisition duties or in meetings with Josephine. They were small moments - ones that usually consisted of him showing her the ruins he had recently explored - but she found herself looking forward to them throughout the day. He was unreserved with her there, even more than when they were awake, and his respect for her grew.
It wasn’t that he hadn't considered her an equal before, but as she ran into him more and more in the Fade a trust between them began to build. She could see it in the way he looked at her, how he openly discussed the spirits he ran into before finally finding her. Thankfully, that trust was seeping into the times when they were awake as well.
He was honest with her, sometimes painfully so. She understood how much he valued the truth, though - knew that the more he shared his thoughts on Dwarven culture and the memories he had discovered, the more he realized that she was open to hearing about it. However, the Inquisitor found herself cringing every time he would say something incredibly close-minded, whether it be about Dalish elves, or humans, or even the Qunari. More than once she interrupted him because of it. Never yelling, only making sure to point out how flawed those views were.
Usually he would make it obvious that he couldn’t change his mind on the subject. Those instances were frustrating, if nothing else. They left her sighing in irritation because, yes, he was right about a lot of things, but definitely wrong about others. There were moments though, when he would say something only to see the disapproval on her face and apologize.
It was the day after he showed her the Arbor Wilds when Athesa stood next to him at his desk. Pieces of the shards she had collected were scattered across it, her eyes scanning over them carefully while she told him that she was about to leave with Dorian, Cole, and Cassandra to search for Lord Seeker Lucius. To her surprise, the first thing he asked was how long it would take for her to return.
“A few days there, and then a few days back, so not long. We’ll be fine,” she did her best to reassure him.
“I do not doubt that,” he smiled softly. “Your spirit is incredibly strong. More so than any I have encountered in my journeys in the Fade.”
“Then don’t worry.” Her hand squeezed his and she leaned in to give him a kiss.
Solas sighed against her lips as she pulled away. “What I was trying to say is that I will miss you.”
“You could always come with us.”
“And deny Dorian the luxury of facing another bear? I could not.” He looked behind her to where Dorian stood waiting, staff in hand and ready to leave. When he had gotten there, she didn’t know. After looking back to her Solas let go of her hand. “Good luck.”
It was their second night away when he visited her in the Fade again. Athesa hadn’t expected to see him - after all, he hadn’t mentioned that he was going to when she told him that they were leaving. His voice made her jump, had her turning to him quickly.
They walked around idly, asking each other simple things such as how the other was. They were all easy conversations, but still made her chest swell. Just hearing him happily tell her what he’d learned about the halla from the days of Arlathan had her returning his smile. After a while she sat down next to one of the larger trees and leaned back to rest against it. It took a bit of shifting for her to sit on the roots in a way that wasn’t uncomfortable - in the end deciding on stretching her legs out in front of her. Solas only waited for a moment before joining her.
“How has your trip been?” he eventually asked.
“Alright.” Her hands began to idly pick at the grass. “It hasn’t rained yet, which seems to make Dorian happy, and I’ve never seen Cassandra so… eager to be travelling. Cole has been, well, Cole.”
“And what about you? Have you been sleeping well?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
He smiled, his shoulder brushing against hers. “An excellent point.”
She looked across the foggy area and for a second swore her own vision went blurry as she tried to take in their surroundings. There were only a few spirits around, none of them noticing her watchful eyes. “Where are we?”
“The Korcari Wilds, as far as I can tell.”
“I like it here.”
“I will try to remember that for next time.”
Next time. So he intended to keep visiting her while she slept. The thought brought a warmness to her face but she welcomed it, along with the idea of being able to see him while she was away from Skyhold. Sure, they were still apart, but at least sleeping wouldn’t have to mean facing that ache in her chest.
“I meant in the Fade. With you.” She reached for his hand slowly, her stare hardening while she looked straight ahead. A part of her couldn’t bring herself to look at him, her ears turning pink - as if she was afraid of him turning the simple gesture away. His fingers intertwined easily with hers, though - allowing her to take a deep breath. “It’s nice to sleep without worrying about dreams of Corypheus.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“It’s different. Normally all of my dreams feel foggy--are foggy.”
“Are they not now?”
“Not as much when you visit. Do you feel it?”
“No, everything appears to be as it usually is.”
She could feel herself letting her guard down, able to once again meet his eyes and lean into his side while she spoke lightheartedly. “Visiting each other in the Fade isn’t exactly normal. Just think about what Sera would say.”
“Would you rather we write letters instead?”
“Possibly. Is there something wrong with that?”
“No I just… had not considered it.”
Athesa crossed her legs and brought one of his hands closer to let her trace circles over his palm. “My mother told me that humans have a superstition where they’ll look at their hands to predict their futures.” She nodded to herself, remembering her telling her about it when she was a child. Now, if she could only remember which line was for what.
His skin was warm - long, slender fingers relaxed enough that they bent slightly in her grasp. Her index finger followed the indent that curved around his thumb lightly and didn’t stop until she reached the edge of his wrist. “This one is supposed to determine how long you’ll live.”
He was staring at her intently. The look burned into her and she avoided it until her curiosity won out. It was a mistake, though - those blue eyes suddenly threatening to drown her. Her grip on his hand tightened as she froze, unable to breathe. The way his eyebrows pulled together just a bit told her that he was waiting for her to do something, to finish whatever she had started.
And she would. For once Athesa’s hands didn’t shake when she raised his hand. She didn’t break eye contact with him when she gently kissed the spot where his palm and wrist met, and there wasn’t any hesitation when she brought it up to hold her face. However, despite how calm she may have looked, the truth was that her pulse was climbing steadily. She closed her eyes, listening to the blood that pounded in her ears. The entire time Solas just watched her quietly. She didn’t say anything either - although that was mostly because she didn’t trust the words that might tumble out.
A pair of lips pressed against her forehead, then her temple, and finally her cheek. The gesture made her smile softly, and when he pulled away she finally opened her eyes. He was closer than she had expected, quickly realizing that she could barely feel his breath on her face.
“Ma vhenan,” she whispered before leaning in to kiss him. He returned it eagerly, hand dropping from her face to her neck, pulling her closer. It was short-lived, however, as Athesa forced herself to break away from him. The sight of him looking just as breathless as she was made her stomach flutter.
“What is it?”
She did her best to hide her smile, and failed miserably. “Fade tongue.”
He opened his mouth to object but paused when he saw her grinning at him. “... You will need to wake up soon. Did you want to do this again?”
His face softened at her answer, obviously pleased by it. “I will see you tomorrow, then.”
She woke up slowly, eyes squinting in the light as she sat up. It was quiet, and for a moment she wondered if she was the first one to wake up. Her suspicions turned out to be true when she left her tent only to find a requisition officer and a couple of scouts.
Once the others woke up it was a day full of travelling, eating, and even more travelling. She was restless the majority of the time, fiddling with the reigns as her mind drifted from thoughts about the Seekers to the mark on her hand. There were numerous times when she would have led them completely off course if it hadn’t been for Cassandra riding beside her. Strange looks were given by the warrior but she did her best to assure her that she was just tired. By the time they decided to stop for the night the Inquisitor could have sworn that her hart was glaring at her from across the camp.
She was the first to go to bed, yawning while stepping into her tent. The process of taking off her armor was agonizingly slow and by the time she was done Athesa rushed to shake her hair out of its ponytail and crawl into her bedroll. Thankfully, she fell asleep easily, dreaming of the Hinterlands.
There were trees everywhere, and she could only guess that she was at the Dead Ram Grove. Walking over to a nearby tree, she took a seat on the grass in front of a small cluster of flowers. Her hand gently ran up the stem of one and turned it towards her so she could get a better look. It was a deep purple, with a small bug resting on one of the petals. She watched it intently, not even noticing when Solas walked behind her. His voice was apprehensive - almost like he wasn’t sure if he should be bothering her. Athesa turned around immediately, though, smiling when she greeted him. She quickly stood up, taking the plant with her without thinking.
There was something off. His hands hung at his sides, that soft smile she had seen the night before gone. For a split second she was worried that he was a demon but immediately shook the thought away.
“Something’s wrong,” she said with a frown.
“Why would you think that?”
“You look grim. More than usual.”
He paused, letting a small sigh escape. “Could we walk?”
She nodded and he led her down the stream. His footsteps were slow but steady, making it easy for her to keep up. There was a long silence between them. It wasn’t an uncomfortable one but as it dragged on her anxiety grew. The flowerhead began to twirl as she rolled the stem between her thumb and forefinger.
“I encountered a memory from Lothering, during the beginning of the Blight. It was… unsettling to say the least.”
“Did you want to talk about it?”
“I already tried speaking to a spirit about it before I found you. I am afraid it wasn’t very useful.”
He watched her hands as they picked at the flower petals. “They are helpful when one needs an objective point of view on a situation, but it can be exhausting.”
“I didn’t think that there was anything about the Fade you disliked.”
“They don’t understand mortality as you and I do. Of course, they are moved by horrid events but…”
He was slouching slightly, that heavy weight on his shoulders returning. “They don’t know what it’s like to witness an entire family dying, or to see a servant watch their mother suffering from the taint of the Blight. They sympathize, but few aside from spirits of compassion actually empathize.”
Athesa frowned again. He had spent so much time telling her about the Fade but not once did she consider all of the terrible moments he must have seen. She let the flower fall to the ground to hold his hand. “Do you usually come across these things?”
“No more than the pleasant dreams.”
“When we first reached Skyhold all I did was have nightmares. I’m sorry that you have to go through that.”
“I would still not trade it for anything,” he stopped walking suddenly, and turned to her. “Thank you. Talking about it seems to help.”
She reached up to gently cup his face. A part of her was selfishly glad that he was telling her about this. It made her feel guilty for being happy when he was discussing something so upsetting, but the feeling washed away when he leaned into her palm. His eyes slid shut for a moment and his hand covered hers. He felt warm against her, less so than when they were together in his study but at least it was something.
“I miss you,” she whispered. The ache that she had pushed away when they first left Skyhold was returning quickly. She longed to just sit beside him while he read, or to wake up next to him again. Those six days of travelling had taken a toll on her, even if she didn’t want to admit it.
Solas took a small step forward when she let her hand drop. “It’s been quiet since you left.”
“When we get back…” Athesa trailed off. When she got back, what? They would probably sit in her quarters together, or discuss what she had missed while gone. Nothing different from what they usually did but it was what she wanted - for the two of them to slip back into that usual routine she’d grown so used to.
“When I get back,” she repeated, “I’d like to hear more about it here.”
“Is that not what I already tell you?”
“No, you tell me about the Dales, and all of the ancient ruins you’ve seen. I’m asking about the things you can’t talk to spirits about.”
“Really?” She asked, surprised by his lack of resistance.
“Okay. I’ll come see you right away.”
This time he reached to hold her face, his thumb running over her cheek before leaning in to kiss her.
She could feel his breath when her eyes slowly blinked open. Her hands were already gripping her bedroll in frustration while Dorian’s voice rang through the thin fabric of her tent. The ache in her gut hit her hard, and for a second she felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. If she tried hard enough, she could have sworn that someone was still holding her hand. Cassandra’s laughter is was muffled, a noise of surprise coming from somewhere far away.
Maybe she could just go back to sleep. Solas could still be in the Fade, and if she was quick he might not have left that small area. Rolling over onto her stomach, she covered her head with the pillow and squeezed her eyes shut. Just go back to sleep. The others can wait.
However, ten minutes later the Inquisitor was still awake.
Frustrated with not only Dorian but also herself, she sat up and began to get dressed. The entire time she thought over what had happened in the Fade. The way his mouth frowned when he told her about spirits not understanding, the relief that seemed to replace it when he held her face. The memory was comforting as she finished tying her hair up and left the tent.
The Seeker was inspecting her shield when Athesa approached, a focussed look on her face.
“We should arrive at Caer Oswin this afternoon.” Cassandra put away her shield to speak.
“You sound worried.”
“I am,” she frowned. “The Seekers are like my family.”
“We’ll find them.” She did her best to sound reassuring
They left shortly after that. The Inquisitor had to push away the knots in her stomach as they drew closer to the castle, but her unease only grew the farther they went. First it was the lack of soldiers outside, then the dead Seeker they found, and finally the note. It felt like everything was escalating, but she could figure out to what. It had her fidgeting as they explored the castle, desperately trying to think of a reasonable explanation.
She had to turn away when Cassandra drew her sword on her old apprentice, felt her own heart sink at the sound of the blade taking his life.
“We can do something for him when we get back to Skyhold,” she promised before they finally moved on. No one answered her, just grimly walked up the staircase that lead outside.
* * *
Solas didn’t visit her in the Fade that night, or the next, or the one after that. Which was fine - if not slightly disappointing at first. What it meant, however, was that the Inquisitor was left with her own dreams. Visions of the Seekers, Corypheus, and Cassandra’s determined face flooded her mind each time she laid down to go to sleep. The potions Vivienne had given her were quickly put to use, which thankfully stopped her from waking up until morning - when she would rise with a pounding in her head and a weak stomach.
Meanwhile, the Seeker was quiet travelling back - her nose pressed into a large, unfamiliar book whenever they weren’t moving or sleeping. Even then, Athesa had left her tent on more than one occasion for some fresh air only to find a candle lit in the woman’s tent. She wanted to confront her, comfort her, but judging by the looks she gave during the day, Cassandra needed some time to herself.
So Athesa didn’t bring up the fate of her friend’s order. Instead, she spoke to Dorian about the books he had bought from a merchant they had run into, and took Cole with her to look for herbs.
“You know what’s wrong but you don’t help her,” he said softly as she stood up from gathering some elfroot.
“I can’t help her yet.”
He waited until she was finished putting the leaves in her bag before speaking up again. “It’s different now. Soft hurt but from somewhere far away. A murmuring brook in the back of your mind. Watching. Waiting.”
She wasn’t entirely sure what to say about that, so she began walking with him to some nearby crystal grace while he continued.
“The dreams are mostly gone, replaced with something quieter.”
“We should head back,” she said suddenly, her face burning. “Maybe Cassandra will be feeling better.”
She found Cassandra standing at the requisition table idly, a small bundle of letters in hand.
“What are those?”
“Reports from Skyhold. A scout came by earlier to drop them off to you.” She handed her the stack. “He said that Leliana needed your direction on an urgent matter before leaving.”
Athesa nodded and thanked her before retiring to her tent to look at the reports. There weren’t many, five envelopes in total. The first three were reports from Cullen: describing the resources his troops had retrieved and telling her that the bridge they worked on in Emprise du Lion was complete. The next one was from Leliana, just as Cassandra had described.
Her spymaster explained the situation clearly and without any fuss. They had received a letter from her clan - her Keeper, specifically. There was trouble with some bandits, and her Keeper was asking for protection from the Inquisition. The note was attached to the back of Leliana’s note and she read over it quickly. It mentioned the hunters, Adriel included, describing just how outnumbered they were. Athesa turned the page back over to find out how each advisor wanted to handle the situation.
Ultimately, she wrote back to ask for Josephine to contact the Duke of Wycome for assistance. She had provided a good solution the first time the clan contacted them, and hopefully it would strengthen their alliance with the Duke.
The last letter fell out from under Leliana's, landing in her lap softly. She would have easily missed it, too, considering how small the envelope was. Only her title, Inquisitor Lavellan, was written on the front but she immediately knew that it was from Solas. The parchment tore easily under her fingers as she sat there cross-legged, revealing the small letter.
His writing was messier than she had expected, all flowing lines squashed together horizontally. It made it difficult for her eyes to scan the page quickly but that didn’t matter because the second she was done Athesa read it over again. Then a third time, and - after a few minutes of trying to smother the smile on her face with her hand - a fourth.
His words took up nearly the entire page. First, explaining why he had not been visiting her in the Fade after their last talk. Apparently there were some new ruins he had discovered and he wanted to explore them before she was back. Then, he asked how their search was going - were they able to locate Lord Seeker Lucius? Had she found any ancient artifacts while they were there? He ended the letter by telling her that he hoped she would return soon. Dareth shiral, he wrote at the bottom of the page, along with his name underneath.
She began writing a reply right away. Her hands shook in the beginning, accidentally smearing the ink slightly as she rushed to answer his questions. The mission to find the Lord Seeker could have gone better, but the four of them were safe and for the most part unharmed- she would have to tell him more about it when she returned. No, they hadn’t seen any artifact but if they did come across one she’d make sure to handle it accordingly. She asked just what it was that he was exploring this time, if he would need her to find more paint for him soon, and reminded him that they would be back within the next day or two. There was a pause as she hesitated to tell him to be safe as well, wondering if it was necessary since he was just at Skyhold. Ultimately the Inquisitor decided against it, instead telling him not to get lost while he was in the Fade during the nights to come. Finally, her name was signed in small letters along the bottom with a breath of relief.
She carefully set it in between the notes for Cullen and Leliana, leaving the small pile in her tent. It wasn’t until the morning, however, when she would give the stack to one of the Inquisition scouts.
* * *
They arrived at Skyhold in the evening - after the sun had already set. The Inquisitor rushed to put away her mount and forced herself to quickly change before heading to Solas’ study. For the first time since they headed to Caer Oswin she left her hair down. Hopefully it would help the dull thudding in the base of her skull.
“Vhenan,” he looked up as soon as the door to the rotunda shut behind her. Her chest swelled at the sound of his voice, not realizing just how much she had missed it. She wanted to reach out to him, wrap her arms around him, but resisted the urge.
“Vhenan.” She took a few more steps forward, until she was close enough to hold that warm hand she had traced in the Fade.
It only took a few minutes for him to put away his work. She watched as he closed the book he had been reading and blew out the candle on his desk. What only took a couple of minutes felt like years and left her shifting her weight. Finally, though, Solas was done and followed her to her quarters.
The door clicked shut and in an instant his hands were on her hips, gently holding her back before they were even finished walking up the stairs. His face buried in her shoulder while he hugged her from behind. Her heart skipped a beat at the sudden contact.
“Miss me?” She tried to joke - as if she hadn’t just been rushing to go see him.
He laughed against her skin and it caused a slight shiver to run up her spine. "Is that a serious question?"
Athesa turned around to properly return the hug, her arms wrapping around his neck easily.
"Ma’arlath,” she looked right into his eyes as she said it. Those sad, blue eyes that made her feel like she was floating on water if she stared at them for too long. She wanted him to know how true it was, wanted to somehow be able to convey all of her feelings for him in that single look.
“Ma’arlath,” he replied seriously, sincerely. A part of her vaguely wondered if she would ever grow tired of hearing him say it.
Solas returned her quick kiss urgently - as if he was trying to make up for the time they had been apart before she would inevitably step away. Which, after a moment of hesitation, she did. He had been asked to go with her for a reason, and she was determined to follow through.
Not letting go of his hand, she led him up the rest of the stairs all the way to her little couch. The Inquisitor took a seat beside him, tucking one of her legs under her so it was easier to face him.
“Now,” she began, “where do you want to start?”