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Glass Halla

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Haven had seemed like a remote, quiet place before the explosion at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. The air was always crisp while nugs scurried around, blind to their surroundings as mages and Templars alike occupied the place. There was always a thin layer of snow that crunched when stepped on, and although no one seemed especially welcoming, they weren’t exactly rude either. It was a private area - one that Athesa Lavellan probably would have loved had she been raised there.

Her staff drove lightning into yet another demon, and she took a moment catch her breath. Peaceful, she had told herself the night before she was deemed a prisoner. The idea seemed laughable now, as shades and wraiths poured out of the Fade and her hand pulsed a sickening green. Her fingers traced over it anxiously while she remembered the way the refugees had stared at it while walking with Cassandra. They knew just as well as she did that it was dangerous - she was dangerous now.

Meanwhile, yelling came from all directions, to the point where she couldn’t tell who was being killed anymore. The voices of soldiers and refugees overlapped, interrupted her thoughts and crackled like static in her ears.

“Prisoner!” Cassandra’s voice managed to tear through the static and she spun around immediately. The Seeker was covered in blood and wearing a look that could put fear into even Qunari’s heart, forcing Athesa to remember that she was still treading on thin ice. Nearly stumbling over herself, she called out a yes and put away her weapon before moving on.

It wasn’t long before they could see two people ahead, directly below a rift. One minute she was once again thrown into helping Cassandra fight off a number of Shades, the next there was a cool grip around her wrist. The man pushed her palm to face the rift above them while yelling over the noise to hurry. It sent a burning sensation up her arm until, with a loud crack, it was over just as quickly as it started.

The silence that followed was deafening. No one spoke, leaving her with the sound of her ears ringing from the fight. She rubbed her wrist absently, flexing and wiggling her fingers as the pain slowly began to subside. The hole in the sky was gone and she could finally feel herself breathe, if only for a moment.

“What… did you do?” It came out too breathless and she swallowed hard, gaze quickly moving from Cassandra to the elf who had grabbed her hand moments ago.

“I did nothing, the credit is yours,” he answered easily. She noted the lack of vallaslin, and wondered if he came from one of the Alienages. Then again, as she eyed the staff he carried she realized that he could simply be from one of the Circles. Either way, there was something unusual about him. His posture was incredibly unassuming, with hands clasped together in front of him. Meanwhile, his voice was strangely confident in comparison, as he explained how she was able to close the rift. It wasn’t until he told her that she seemed to be the key to their salvation, though, that Athesa did her best to brush the feeling off as him simply being an elf who took pride in being knowledgable.

Eventually, a dwarf named Varric joined them. He was as lighthearted as someone could be in their situation - which was a nice change of pace from the glares she’d been receiving all day. Cassandra didn’t hold back around him either, which left her raising her eyebrows as the warrior all but growled at him. She quickly learned that he was dragged there as well. Just like you, he’d said, and she glanced to Cassandra for confirmation, only to find her frowning. Clearly, they weren’t on good terms.

“My name is Solas, if there are to be introductions,” the elf added as the others continued to bicker. “I am pleased to see you still live.”

“He means, ‘I kept that mark from killing you while you slept,’” Varric cut in - his attention quickly drifting from the debate over whether or not he’d be joining them.

She turned to Solas, her hand absently drifting back to trace over the mark again. “You seem to know a great deal about it all.”

This time it was Cassandra’s turn to interrupt, voice not loud so much as authoritative, nearly startling her. It took a moment to relax again, and the next thing she knew, Athesa was scrambling to get caught up in the conversation again. “-- Like you, Solas is an apostate.”

The Seeker didn’t seem to startle Solas as easily. “Technically all mages are now apostates, Cassandra,” he reminded her with ease before turning back to the Prisoner. “My travels have allowed me to learn much of the Fade, far beyond the experience of any circle mage. I came to offer whatever help I could give with the Breach. If it is not closed, we are all doomed, regardless of origin.”

So he wasn’t from a circle either. Frowning slightly, she let her hands fall to her sides - still unsure as to where he actually came from. Wouldn’t it be dangerous for him to travel on his own, especially as a mage who studied the Fade?

“And what will you do once this is over?” she eventually asked, hopeful that his answer give some hint of what he did.

“One hopes those in power will remember those who helped, and who did not.”

The bickering continued after that - although it was mostly between Cassandra and Varric. As the group of them walked to another tear, she tried asking on multiple occasions why the Seeker seemed to hate him so much, but all attempts were brushed off. The excuse she often gave was simply that all that was important now was getting to the Breach. Eventually, Athesa gave up altogether, knowing that she was right.

* * *

The compound at Haven was small, tall wooden walls being all that stood between the village and the surrounding pines. It was safe, she supposed, something comforting to be inside of, but she was too closed-in here. Even with the sky the walls still felt too close, everything so loud since she had stumbled out of her hut to see the Seeker. It was too much to think about in such a small space, as if her thoughts were suffocating her.

Sitting crosslegged on the dock of the lake, she could still hear the yelling of Commander Cullen’s soldiers in the distance. Having to listen to them clash their swords together again and again wasn’t the most pleasing noise - truthfully, it had grown annoying a good hour ago. Still, it was better than the whispers she could overhear when reading in the Chantry. The Herald of Andraste. A mage. Even worse: an elf.

Meanwhile, the Tavern was no better - no one looked her in the eye, only stared at her hand before looking away red faced when she caught them. Her jaw still ached from grinding her teeth throughout the day, showing as much restraint as possible. Letting her fingers trace over the grain in the wood, Athesa let the words turn over and over in her head. The Herald knew how humans treated elves, but the fact that they didn’t approach her about it… The villagers hid their words behind nervous smiles every time she approached, as if that was better.

Before she knew it, her nails were digging, scratching and denting the wood beneath her. An elf? they had asked, as if it was impossible for her to be chosen for something that humans actually cared about. She swore that she could still hear them muttering her title, and often had to look over her shoulder to make sure that she was still alone. It wasn’t until the third time that there actually was someone there.

It was Solas, staff in hand and watching her expectantly. Immediately, she scrambled to stand - those thoughts of the villagers leaving her mind easily now that there was a distraction. However, as he stood there quietly - still a good five feet away - she began to regret moving from her spot so easily. Her eyes glanced down to the dock she’d been absently picking at, now mangled with slivers of wood loose, and she slowly placed a boot to cover it.

“The chosen of Andraste, a blessed hero sent to save us all,” he finally greeted her.

It took most of her concentration not to frown, any hope of being distracted suddenly torn away from her quickly. Just like in the Chantry, she was being put on the spot again, and a part of her wondered if he had simply shown up to mock her. She paused, reminding herself that she needed to be friendly, regardless of his intentions. After all, there hadn’t been any word on whether or not she was still a prisoner. “Am I riding in on a shining steed?” she tried to joke.

“I would have suggested a griffon, but sadly, they’re extinct. Joke as you will, posturing is necessary.” His footsteps were quiet against the dock when he walked towards her. The entire time he kept his shoulders back, looking at frozen water that stretched out before them. Athesa found herself stepping to the side when he passed her, the slivers of wood under her boots long forgotten while she watched him.

He began to explain his studies to her, about how he would spend time exploring ruins or even sleeping in them. All she could do was stand there with her hands hanging at her sides and listen to him. Her toes curled in her boots, wanting to know more, wanting to ask him to go into more detail about it, but she bit her tongue. Her Keeper had always lectured her about interrupting others with her own questions, right up until the day she left for the Conclave. So, instead, she kept quiet until Solas fell silent.

“That sounds incredible,” she told him after what felt like years.

“It is. I would not trade it for anything.” He finally turned to face her, his eyes looking distant, as if he was remembering something briefly before redirecting his attention to her. “Although that is not why I am here.”

She raised her eyebrows at him without thinking. “Then why are you here?” It was bolder than she’d intended, too loud for the headache that was beginning at the base of her skull.

He paused, studying her for a moment. Suddenly whatever confidence she’d felt was gone, replaced by a mix of apprehension and confusion. Her fingers began to fidget with the hem of her tunic, waiting for him to say something.

“As one of the Dalish you’ve gone from nomad to prisoner to the spokesperson for a religion you may not even necessarily believe in. With so much going on I can only imagine how taxing it would be for a human, much less an elf mage such as yourself.” His words were careful, precise. She had the growing feeling that he was always like this, though, and told herself to relax.

Athesa pushed a few stray pieces of her blonde hair behind her ears as her gaze quickly dropped to his feet. She wasn’t sure if it was the thought that he doubted her, or that he might be letting her confide in him that make her stomach twist. “I’m fine. If Cassandra and the others are nervous you can tell them that there’s no need to worry about the Herald being possessed by a demon any time soon.”

“I was not asking for Cassandra.”

“You weren’t?” She didn’t bother trying to hide the surprise in her voice, too preoccupied with who else it could have been. Her mind began flipping through the possible suspects - Josephine, Cullen, Leliana, Varric. No one stuck out. “Then who were you asking for?”

“It does not matter now.” Solas gave a fleeting glance over his shoulder to the lake before beginning to walk back down the dock, brushing her shoulder as he passed. It was an accident, but Athesa still found herself jumping back at the contact. “Speaking of the Seeker, she’s been asking of your whereabouts - very angrily. Should I tell her to meet with you here?”

He was nearly at the end of it now, stopping to turn to her for an answer. Taking a step forward, she opened her mouth to speak - about to ask if he’d tell her more about his studies - but promptly stopped herself. “No. I’ll go find her myself.”

“Until next time then.” He gave a final nod before finally leaving her be.

She continued to stand there, watching his back as he made his way back to the compound. He walked by the training soldiers without a second glance, only giving a brief to Cullen when passing. It wasn’t until the tall wooden doors were closing behind him that she really felt alone again, though.

Sighing, Athesa glanced down at her hands, which were still fumbling with the hem of her shirt. They were damn near trembling as they picked at the stitching. She had told them that the armor was fine, lied through gritted teeth that, yes, she was growing used the wearing the boots that had been left for her in her hut. Now, though, the fabric along the seam was pulled and the fabric bunched up in a way that had her flinching just looking at it. She pressed the heels of her hands against her closed eyes and inhaled sharply through her nose.

Cassandra. She needed to see Cassandra in the Chantry.

* * *

The next few days passed in a whirlwind. With Cassandra declaring the Inquisition reborn with a sense of authority only she could carry, she’d offered the elf a place with them for the time being. While the Herald didn’t exactly resist, she didn’t hesitate to question their motives. Even the Chantry refused to support them, how did they expect to do anything but cause more violence? Not only that, but a growing part of her wanted to go back to her clan, where she wouldn’t have to think of the mage rebellion, or the green mark that burned up her arm.

In the end, she stayed, though. As far as they knew, she was the only one who could seal the Breach, and she had left for the Conclave willingly. There was an obligation to help, regardless of what she wanted now. Besides, she reminded herself, it could be good to get to travel on her own before returning home.

So, without any means of support, if fell to the Herald to speak with Mother Giselle in the Hinterlands. After fighting off raging apostates and rogue Templars, she found the woman healing refugees who’d been caught in the fights.

The woman was more comforting than she had expected. Then again, after days of humans treating her like a threat, the bar was set fairly low. Her tone was somber, clearly upset by what was going on, but there was an underlying strength there, too. Her hands didn’t shake like Athesa’s did, and she spoke calmly. Regardless of the fact that Athesa couldn’t answer if she was really sent by Andraste, she still treated her with respect. Like a person, not a “knife-ear”.

That evening she decided to return to Haven with Cassandra and Varric in tow. They managed to seal three different rifts on the way, more because they couldn’t afford trying to go around than anything. With each final wave of demons and wraiths Athesa could feel her hand burn a little less, although she simply assumed that it was because she was growing a tolerance to it. While it was a comforting idea, she could still feel the noise and static in her ears just as strongly as the first time.

By the time they arrived, the sun had already set below the horizon, leaving the sky a light purple. The soldiers were still training, that sharp clashing of metal ringing in her ears when walking by, and she irritably questioned when the Commander wasn’t pushing them to practice. Her head still pounded, a sharp throbbing continuing, even though Cassandra had insisted that she take a potion for it earlier. The thuds of her footsteps resonated all of the way up her legs and into her skull, leaving her just wanting to go to sleep already.

Cullen seemed to notice that something was wrong, because he tried calling to her as she approached the gate. Pausing, she glanced from him to the soldiers, her frown deepening as those swords hurt her ears. Not wanting to get too close, she simply waved him off before continuing on.

Laying down ended up helping, although not as much as she would have liked. With no requisition officers asking for her attention, or loud noises to make her flinch, the sharp pain eventually dulled to a soft throbbing in the back of her head. The only noise was the crackle of the small fireplace across the room. And, although it was relaxing, the day’s events flashed through her mind every time she tried to close her eyes.

She had gotten a good twenty minutes of sleep before jerking awake on her back. The fire was significantly smaller, but definitely still burning. Her hands gripped the blanket until her knuckles were white. She hadn’t even been dreaming, but her chest felt too heavy. It was as if the ceiling was pressing down on her while the walls slowly closed in, trying to suffocate her. She sucked in the warm air, too afraid of being crushed to actually move.

It was three hours before she finally gave up, counting every second before finally throwing the blankets off and standing up. They slid off her bed, landing on the floor with a soft thump as she began to pace back and forth. She needed to do something - to get out of here, where the air wasn’t thick and the fire was burning too brightly for her liking.

Walking to her desk, she glanced over the paperwork she’d been given. Her own scattered forms were carefully pushed to the side to make room for the neat piles, immediately telling her that someone must have dropped them off while she was away. On the top of the of pile was a note from Adan, asking her in precise writing if she could find Taigen’s notes when she had some free time. Just the idea of her having a spare moment seemed impossible, but she picked up the piece of paper anyway. There was a small map of Haven attached to the back, with a mark over where they would most likely be found.

She told herself that this would be as good of a time as any - especially since, if today was to tell her anything, she was unlikely to get around to it during the day. Folding up the map, she searched around until she found her bag, along with a spare potion from the trip. Although it wasn’t likely that she’d actually need it, there was still the threat of that headache growing worse again. Her staff felt heavy in her hand, but she shrugged any fatigue off with the hope that getting out would be better than staying and letting the weight in her chest grow heavier by the minute.

The light breeze was refreshing as she quietly shut the door to her hut. It was cold, sending small goosebumps up her arms, but the feeling of suffocation quickly eased. By the time she reached the front gates, it was just a muffled thought in the back of her mind.

It was surprisingly easy to navigate through the woods to Taigan’s cottage, she found, as long as she kept to the worn down path and followed the map in her hands. She took her time, listening to the thin layer of snow crunch under her boots. There weren’t any soldiers training, or villagers arguing - it was peaceful. The biggest commotion had to be the fennec that wandered too close before running away from her. For what was the first time since being dragged out of that prison cell by Cassandra, she could finally breathe easily.

Trying not to think about how exhausted she’d be tomorrow, Athesa could just barely make out Taigen’s home in the distance. It wouldn’t be long now - maybe five more minutes if she continued with the same pace. Stopping to fold and put away the small paper, she glanced up at the sky. The Breach was barely visible in the dark, but it’s presence was still disconcerting. She wanted to shrink away from it, remembering the burning that ran up her arm whenever she tried to close a rift. It had grown to be more than just the Breach. Now, it was everything that had gone wrong in the past few weeks - how she shouldn’t even be here, she should be with her clan, studying to be a Keeper.

The footsteps behind her came slowly, crunching in the snow just as she had moments ago. Something was… sniffing? Quickly spinning around, she came face to face with a large druffalo. It came towards her at a steady pace, it’s nose hovering over her footprints down the path. Praying that it hadn’t noticed her yet, she took a step back. It wasn’t too late yet. Maybe, just this once, nothing awful would happen, and she’d get to the cottage before it realized she was there. After all, weren’t druffalos harmless unless provoked?

She could feel the twig beneath her boot before putting her weight down, and froze. A rush of air escaped, relieved that she’d caught herself just in time. With one leg hovering behind her, her muscles slowly began to strain. She was wobbling, calf screaming out at her to do something, but she couldn’t bring herself to look away from the animal. She was losing balance, and quickly. Her hands flexed before forming fists, torn between silently waving it away in frustration and making a run for it.

Either way, it didn’t matter, because soon enough she was falling. Tipping to the side, she stumbled for a moment before hitting the ground - hip colliding with half-frozen snow. Her head snapped towards the sound of a pair of hooves digging threateningly, paired with a few more heavy breaths out of its nose.

Athesa pulled herself up off of the ground and scrambled to where she’d dropped her weapon. Her boots slipped in the half-melted snow three times, and she cursed whoever thought that it would be a good idea to give armored boots to a Dalish elf. If she could just get to her staff, she could slow it down - give her enough time to get to safety. However, she was too slow, and the next thing she knew, the Herald was being thrown back onto the ground.

This time she landed on her back. There was a crack as the back of her head hit what must have been a chunk of ice, and she hissed loudly. Her lungs burned, the wind knocked out of her as she struggled to breathe. Get up, she told herself. Run. Her limbs didn’t listen, though. Instead, her hand reached up to the top of her head, as if it might roll off if she didn’t hold it in place. Whatever headache she had lost was surely going to return now.

She was dying. That was the only explanation for the pain that radiated through her. The Herald of Andraste was going to die, because she was foolish enough to walk around in the woods alone at night. She could already distantly hear the Seeker’s noise of disgust upon finding her corpse in the morning.

The image of Cassandra’s disapproving face was finally was drove her into motion again. Her legs ached as she stood, turning her gaze to the druffalo just as it appeared to be getting ready to charge at her yet again. Thankfully, her staff was closer this time, and she had time to pick it up before stumbling in the opposite direction. As it drew closer, she forced herself into eventually sprinting. Blood pounded in her ears the entire time, and in those few moments, Taigen’s hut looked like nothing less than a beacon sent by Mythal herself.

She didn’t even pause to check how far away the druffalo was by the time she reached it. All she could feel was the ache in her ribs, and a sense of impending death. It didn’t matter if there would be time to lock the door behind her, because at this point she didn’t doubt that the thing could break down the door if needed. So instead, she did the first thing that came to mind.

The staff clattered when it landed on the roof, the only thing drowning it out being the pile of firewood that shifted while she used it as a stepping stone to climb up on top of the hut. Her heart continued to race after she was fumbling to move away from the edge. Nearly hyperventilating, she glanced down at the druffalo. It walked around in circles a few times, before coming to a halt.

Finally, Athesa could feel her legs give out from under her, and she allowed herself to fall back right there. It wasn’t ideal, but it was safe. And, if she was being honest with herself, there was still that small fear that the monster below would break down the door if she tried to go inside. So it was decided - for the time being, she’d stay there.

Glancing down at herself, she finally assessed her injuries. Her hands stung from the cold snow she’d been thrown into, but that would go away soon enough. A small groan escaped at the throbbing in her head that had returned, just as expected. Her hand reached up to run over the spot on the back of her head that had taken damage, finding that her palm had a small stain of red when she pulled away. Aside from that, it was mostly bruises, but thankfully nothing broken.

Still not really wanting to go back down and face the animal - or her death - she decided that staying on the roof was the best course of action. It wasn’t horribly uncomfortable anyway. The Herald spent the time making use of the single potion she’d thought to bring, before settling back to lay down to look at the sky. Or rather, the part of the sky that were unaffected by the Breach. The green had mostly faded in the areas where she could make out familiar constellations - mostly ones she’d learned when she was younger.

It proved to be a good distraction, because in what couldn’t have been longer than half an hour, the sky began to get lighter. Shades of purple and pink mixed in with the dark navy, and effectively erased any stars she’d seen. Pulling herself up, her joints still ached a bit while crawling across the roof to peer over the edge - finding that the druffalo was nowhere in sight. She sighed in relief before grabbing her staff and jumping down, hissing under her breath as a sharp pain shot through her legs when landing.

She shook off the pain, though, and opened the door behind her, looking around until she found the notes Adan needed.

Thankfully, her return to Haven was just as quiet as her departure. Even the requisition officer wasn’t awake yet, which was a surprise. The Herald walked through the village briskly, intently on getting to the Apothecary before anyone could find her out of bed. She entered the small cabin with ease, and placed the notes on his desk. Closing the door behind her, she found herself covering up a yawn.

“Herald.” Book in hand, Solas greeted her from the door of his hut. There was an amused look on his face as he looked her over, and she couldn’t help but curl her toes in her boots.

Clearing her throat, she did her best to act nonchalant. “Solas.”

His hands gripped the book he held loosely, and she took the pause on conversation to study him as well. Once again, he didn’t wear any boots. She supposed that that made sense, though, since he didn’t even need to wear his armour here. Eventually, he took a few steps closer, lowering his voice to keep from waking anyone up as he did so. “I take it you had an eventful night?”

He gestured to her casually, and for the first time since getting up Athesa realized how awful she must look. There were still chunks of snow and ice in her hair that hadn’t completely melted yet - in fact, with the cold air they were probably refreezing. Meanwhile, her ponytail had pieces of hair falling out. Luckily her clothes weren’t torn, but they were still caked with slush and mud from the fall earlier-- And she didn’t even want to think about the dried up blood on her hands from feeling the wound on her head…

Subconsciously taking a step back, she tucked the front of her hand behind her ears - as if that would somehow help - and nodded curtly. “There was an… incident. With a druffalo.”

He tried to hold back a chuckle but failed miserably. “Of course. And here I was thinking you had decided to attempt closing the Breach all by yourself.” His tone was lighthearted, but there was something underlying in it that had her reaching for the hem of her tunic like that day on the docks. This wasn’t the first time he’d been friendly with her, however, whenever they travelled he was usually focussed on the task at hand. It felt strange to hear his sarcasm directed towards her for once.

Normally, she may have simply laughed along, but at this point it felt like she was being put on the spot. The better part of her knew that it was just the lack of sleep, the fact that she’d spent most of the night stuck on a damned roof - Creators, there was probably some real embarrassment in there, too. However, another part of her, a currently much louder part, was irritated. For the past few weeks all anyone did was remind her of her role, her importance as the Herald of Andraste, and here he was laughing at her. Clasping her hands behind her back, she dug her nails into her palm. Before she could just say goodbye already and leave without running into anyone else, he spoke up again.

“We need to cover this mistake,” he informed her. “The Herald of Andraste should not be bested by a mere druffalo so easily."

She raised her eyebrows, surprised by his sudden use of we, rather than you. “And what do you suggest?”

Not faltering under her gaze, he shifted his weight until he held the book behind his back as well, mirroring her. “For one, avoid druffalos. At least for the time being. I also have some potions that I can lend you.”

Suddenly, all of that annoyance and frustration abandoned her, replaced by a crushing wave of guilt. Her voice softened, any edge that it might have carried quickly leaving. “... Thank you.”

He simply motioned for her to follow him to his hut, closing the door behind the both of them. As he went through the motions of getting it out for her, Athesa re-tied her ponytail before walking over to his desk. There were scrap pieces of paper and a few books scattered. She briefly remembered what he told her of his studies, and just as she let one of her hands run over one of the titles, he spoke up. “Here you go.”

Taking it, she gave another thank you before heading to the door. However, after grabbing the door handle she paused. “Solas?”

“Yes?” he answered, now standing in front of his desk where she’d been.

“I had a question for you.” Her words must have caught his attention because suddenly he was looking up at her rather than his notes.

His brows drew together, not angry but interested. “What about?”

Athesa briefly thought back to that day on the dock, and how badly she’d wanted to ask him more about the Fade. Just the memory brought back that burning for some sort of answer, only fueled by the fact that she couldn’t understand where an apostate would get a tome on the Golden City, yet there it was on his desk. She felt the sudden urge to just blurt out all of her questions at once, only to remember - once again - how her Keeper had criticized her for it, calling her da’len in that disappointed tone.

“Nothing. Nevermind,” she finally muttered, turning away before she could see the slight look of disappointment on his face.

Shutting her mouth and opening the door, the Herald successfully made her way back to her bed without anyone else seeing her.

Chapter Text

The trek to Skyhold felt too long, with Solas leading the bruised and bloody Herald to the crumbling fortress. He was quiet most of the time, only speaking to tell her of how he found it, or what he guessed Corypheus would do next. It was small talk but she still appreciated it. With the apostate next to her, she could focus less on the pain in her ribs, and more on their destination. Not only that, but it was also better than facing the knowing glances and whispers of the refugees from Haven.

She had to admit that their looks weren’t nearly as guarded as they were before. No one muttered knife-ear, or was too afraid to look her in the eye. Instead, they spoke of how she had to be the Herald now. It was fate, they’d assure each other each night they had to make camp. It was… unnerving, of all things. Her fingers continued to fidget with the hem of her shirt if she thought about it for too long. “I don’t know if I’m the Herald,” she’d insisted to Josephine again and again. However, no one aside from her companions seemed to actually listen. By the time they actually reached Skyhold, it was a miracle that the fabric under her armour wasn’t frayed enough for anyone to take notice.

Regardless of the fortress’ crumbling bricks and fallen debris, it was clear that the residence was sturdy. There were high ceilings that didn’t press down on her as heavily as her old hut, and more than enough space for the refugees. A fresh start, she’d heard someone say behind her when she looked up at the battlements in awe - and what a better way to have a fresh start, than to announce her new title as the Inquisitor.

The sword felt too heavy her hands - that was the first thing she’d noticed. It was at least twice the weight of her staff, and glittered in the light if tilted the right way. If anyone else were holding it, she might have even considered it pretty. Her hands shook slightly - they hadn’t really stopped since that night when they found her half frozen to death, but she did her best to raise it above her head while looking over the refugees. They filled the courtyard, watching her intently as she told them that she would do it for her people. Chest tightening, she vaguely registered that Cullen was calling out to them while her own mind wandered back to her clan.

A quiet voice whispered that she was abandoning them, but she quickly pushed it aside when the cheering began. This was bigger than them, even her Keeper must have known that when sending her to the Conclave.

However, just as Leliana had said, her promise in the courtyard to lead the Inquisition was only that: a promise. The difficult part would be keeping it. After all, there were still bruises covering her knees and arms from the attack at Haven, and after being so horribly defeated by one druffalo, Athesa had no idea how she even got out of there alive.

Thankfully, Cullen, Josephine, and Leliana were all more than helpful as her advisors in the coming days. They each still controlled various parts of the Inquisition for her, but she couldn’t help noticing that they treated her more as a superior now. Cullen’s troops were often sent off to the Hinterlands, either to help more refugees or gather resources, while Leliana’s agents assisted a group of mages from a Circle in Orlais. They were all small tasks, that required the Inquisition’s assistance than the elf’s.

Despite their help and encouragement, though, the Inquisitor found herself retiring to her quarters more than usual. The shaking hands had faded away as Haven grew to be a distant memory, but the headaches didn’t cease. They were a daily occurrence now, pulling her attention from reading in the small library, and forcing her to grip at the bannister until her knuckles were white, as she idly looked down on Solas painting in his study. It was clearly setting her on edge, left her shrinking back from interaction - often simply leaving the dining hall after dinner to go straight to her room for some peace and quiet.

As days passed in her quarters, there were also a growing number of books on her desk. She’d gotten into the habit of sending for someone to retrieve specific titles from the library every few days, usually bringing them to her with her dinner in the evenings. Each time Athesa walked by her desk, saw those mountains of tomes, she could feel herself breathe a little easier. After weeks of being thrown into the middle of a war, there was finally something familiar around. She could lose herself in those pages each day just as she had when studying to be the Keeper for her clan.

In the beginning, there was only a small pang of guilt for ignoring everyone else - one that could easily be pushed aside after learning that Leliana’s shipment of tomes had arrived. The longer it went on, though, the more it began to gnaw at her. She had a harder time focussing on what the words said, paced back and forth in front of her desk wringing her hands. She was their Inquisitor, and there she was shutting herself away from her responsibilities - no better than the time her brother had hidden in the trees to avoid bathing when they were children.

However, as much as she told herself that she should be out there, she couldn’t bring herself to. Her companion’s faces in the courtyard flashed in her mind, remembering just how enthusiastic they were to get going. Their faces were no longer somber, but now motivated as they smiled and asked what her plan for their next move was. She’d been forced to simply stand there, unable to admit that, aside from saving the Empress, there wasn’t one yet. They meant well, she knew that, but it was unsettling all the same. Blackwall’s words still echoed in her ears, telling her that it didn’t matter if she was the Herald or not, the people needed something to believe in.

By the time it was night, she’d find herself sitting on the edge of her bed, too paralyzed with fear to do anything. She didn’t understand how so much could be pushed onto one person - one who was so unfit to lead that she hid away, who lost herself on books with the excuse of her headaches being worse than usual. The shame continued to eat away at her, but she still continued to stay in her own room, putting forth the bare minimum when it came to speaking with the others, as well as completing any paperwork that Josephine had sent her alone.

It was after a week and a half before she could convince herself that her quarters were where she should be. Researching was what she was good at; it was what she’d always been good at. Creators, it was part of the reason she’d been chosen to assist her Keeper in the first place. In order to fight Corypheus, or the red Templars, she’d learn everything that she could about them. There had to something about them that could help her defeat them, and she was determined to learn what it was - even if it took all day and night to find it.

Even if she had completely convinced herself that this was for the better, the Inquisitor could tell that the others were getting impatient with her. Cassandra was training harder, there were vague complaints mentioning something to do with Sera and missing buckets, and even Cole had been quieter than usual. What had startled her the most, however, was when Leliana finally lost her cool demeanor.

“Inquisitor!” she called out abruptly, her tone carrying irritation. Her arms were crossed, with a raised eyebrow as she stared the elf down.

Athesa’s eyes snapped open immediately, a thudding beginning in her chest as her pulse picked up. She’d only closed her eyes for a moment, there was no way that she could have fallen asleep that quickly... “Yes?”

There was a long look exchanged between Leliana and Cullen, and she probably would have reached for the hem of her shirt again had her hands on been supporting her while she leaned over the table. After a moment of silence, Cullen spoke up for her. “We all understand that leading the Inquisition leaves you carrying a heavy responsibility, but Leliana and Josephine feel that you could be taking your duties a bit more… seriously.” His tone was careful, with pauses every so often as if he was trying to get the words right.

“I’m not sure I follow,” she said slowly, a frown beginning to form on her face.

“When was the last time you even had a decent amount of sleep?” Leliana cut in again, uncrossing her arms. Her voice was cooler now, less annoyed and more concerned than anything. “How do you expect to lead the Inquisition when you aren’t even able to properly take care of yourself?”

Stomach twisting, her eyes briefly glanced down to the table. She couldn’t even deny it, knew that the rogue would see right through her. It was true: while her days were spent immersed in books, the Inquisitor’s nights were usually spent on the balcony where the wind was too cool, and the ground still hard despite the pile of blankets she’d stolen from her bed.

The nightmares were scarce now, but in the beginning all she dreamt of was Haven, of Corypheus’ dragon spreading it’s taint, searing flames burning her in the process. Occasionally her clan would be there, or members of the Inquisition. She’d wake up drenched in sweat and unable to breathe, that stupid ceiling pressing down on her again. It choked her, regardless of the fact that her quarters were at least twice the size of what they were before.

That stupid, dreadful ceiling. It was everywhere, weighing just as much as it always did, no matter what room she was in. The only relief would be during the day when she could distract herself with her books, or Dorian’s cutting humour. For those few precious moments, she didn’t have to think about it towering over her every time she walked through the large doors that lead to the main hall. The dark was different, though. Without any lights, or distractions, she could feel it there, hovering over her. The air was too heavy, leaving her chest so tight that it hurt to breathe, like the hot, humid summers she’d endured growing up.

While staying outside wasn’t much easier, the cool breeze helped to clear her head. Most of the time, she’d end up falling asleep looking at the constellations - or whatever ones weren’t already obscured by the Breach.

By the time she was able to get through the night without waking up, going inside just felt like an invitation to bring those nauseating dreams back.

“Don’t mistake us for being ungrateful,” the Commander spoke up again, interrupting her thoughts. His voice was more sympathetic now, and she was able to meet his gaze again. “We just know that if order for the Inquisition to persevere, everyone needs to be in their best state of mind.”

They were right, she quickly realized. So rather than resisting, Athesa nodded and promised to try to get some real rest that night. The topic was easily dropped after that, moving on to how to help more refugees, although she could feel the back of her neck continue to burn as she left the room. It was foolish to think that they wouldn’t notice that there was something wrong, she should have known that.

So, that evening she tugged her blankets off of her bed earlier than usual, and dragged them out to the balcony. It took a bit to get settled, not realizing that she’d forgotten the pile of tomes she had asked for that morning until she was already sitting. Remembering Leliana’s words, she made a point only to bring a couple - one that had a beaten cover from their trip to the Hinterlands, and a smaller one, with an Orlesian logo stamped onto the back. She picked up the second one and began to flip through it until she came back to the cover. It read The Champion of Kirkwall across the top, along with Varric’s name in a slightly smaller font below.

Even if the descriptions weren’t always the best - she still didn’t understand how ‘persecuted’ could be used to described ‘Blondie’s’ appearance - it was still interesting to read. To think that the caring, sarcastic Hawke who Varric wrote about was the same one who she’d shook hands with on the battlements was still unbelievable. Her tone was somber now, her eyes still bright blue but clouded. Then again, after getting to the end of the novel, she couldn’t blame her.

She fell asleep in the middle of the epilogue, yawning and unable to keep her eyes open any longer. Hopefully it would please her advisors.

* * *

The next morning, Athesa woke up to a crow watching her from the railing of her balcony. Most likely Leliana’s, she realized while sitting up and running a hand through her tangled hair. It was earlier than when she usually got up, with the sun barely peaking over the mountains that surrounded the fortress.

It didn’t take long to gather all of the books she’d been hoarding in her quarters, ready to return them to the library in the rotunda. By that point, she was certain that she could recite each one from memory, if pressed. It took three trips to carry them all, and even longer to find their places on the shelves. Dorian was more than happy to help her, sliding whatever tomes he didn’t set aside for himself onto the shelves while standing next to her.

They didn’t say much while she was there, instead content to be silently looking through the books. At one point she sighed, muttering about how long it was taking. Dorian simply raised an eyebrow at her and suggested that maybe she should have left her quarters to come for them herself - at least then she’d know where everything was. She knew that it wasn’t meant to be malicious, but the Inquisitor could still feel her face grow warm at his words. Finally, though, they were done, and she gave a quick goodbye to the Tevinter before making her way to the stairs.

Her footsteps against the stone were quiet in comparison to the voices coming from Solas’ study. Cassandra’s voice rang out clearly, only growing louder as the Inquisitor approached the two of them. It was muffled though, and she wasn’t entirely sure what they were arguing about until she paused at the bottom of the staircase.

Solas’ back was turned to her, his shoulders falling as he sighed irritably. Meanwhile, Cassandra looked irritable - then again, the longer Athesa followed her around while travelling, the faster she realized that the warrior was probably in a constant state of annoyance. Still, she stayed there on the last step, not keen on interrupting their lively conversation until it was necessary.

“You need to speak with her,” Cassandra demanded. Her arms were crossed over her chest, the usual armour now missing.

She could nearly feel the apostate’s frown while his hand reached up to pinch at the bridge of his nose. “And just what makes you think she’ll listen to me?” Athesa quickly realized from his tired voice that this couldn’t have been the first time they’d argued about this - about her.

There was a clatter from one of the mages above them, and the Seeker glanced over his shoulder, making eye contact just in time to see her ready to slink away because clearly this wasn’t something for her to hear.

“Inquisitor,” she greeted formally, back straightening and arms falling to her sides almost immediately.

Feeling her stomach begin to knot, Athesa took the last step down and entered the rotunda. “Is something wrong?” she asked, ready to pretend that she hadn’t been listening to them as long as they were willing to play along.

Cassandra, on the other hand, was as straightforward as always. “As a matter of fact, yes. However, I must meet with Cullen so I’ll leave it to Solas to explain.” She turned back to him, giving a knowing glare. It was the one usually saved for Varric’s stories about Hawke during dinner, and even the Herald had to look away for a moment. She quickly left, though, marching out of the room with her head held high and shoulders back.

After the door shut behind her, there was silence as she waiting for him to explain what was wrong. However, Solas said nothing, simply bowed his head and continued to pinch the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. She could hear Dorian humming above them, and allowed herself to quickly glance up to see if she could see him. When she looked back as the apostate, his hands were at his sides but he was still quiet.

It was an uncomfortable silence, one that made her toes curl into the soles of her books and fingers itch to grab at the hem of her tunic. Leliana’s ravens cawed above them, and what couldn’t have been more than a couple of seconds felt like years.

Eventually, she couldn’t take it any longer. “Are you going to tell me what just happened?” she asked, almost impatiently.

Walking the few feet over to his desk, he picked up one of the books that had been open and closed it before setting it to the side. For a moment, she’d almost wondered if he hadn’t heard her. However, just as she began to prepare to speak again, he turned to face her. “Your companions heard about what happened at your latest war council meeting. They are concerned.”

“I’m fine,” she insisted, forcing herself to flex her hand at her side. She needed to relax, but Dorian’s comment still had the back of her neck feeling too warm, and she wasn’t ready to go through this conversation again.

Her answer only seemed to make things worse, though, because he was quick to answer irritably. “Inquisitor, I know that being Dalish may-”

“Being Dalish has nothing to do with it,” she snapped, cutting him off. At least her advisors’ words came from a place of caring, but Solas. For him to jump to the conclusion that her resistance was just her being another Dalish… It was was infuriating, and although she didn’t want to admit it, embarrassing. Her hands flexed at her sides again, a desperate attempt to stop herself from ruining the hem of her shirt yet again.

He was an elf, and after weeks of having humans not hide their distaste at her race, she’d thought that he of all people might understand. But now, she was left standing there feeling foolish of all things.

“I’m not some… Some child who was manipulated by the stories of her people,” she shot at him, because, yes, she knew exactly that this was where it was leading.

Frowning at her, he clasped his hands behind his back, as cool and collected as ever. “I never said you were. Even adults can be easily manipulated.”

So he did think that she was mislead - somehow brainwashed by the history she’d spent years trying to learn about, as if he thought everything her Keeper had taught her was false. She clenched her jaw, wanting to grind her teeth in frustration but not ready to let him know just how much he’d offended her. “Yes, adults. Humans, Dwarves, Qunari, Elves, people. Regardless of their backgrounds.” With each word, Athesa took a steady step towards him until she stood in front of him at his desk. Her voice was challenging, but she quickly realized that her hands were shaking. She let one drop to rest on the desk, needing something to ground her.

Surprisingly, Solas didn’t avoid her gaze. Instead, he simply returned her stare, studying her. While he still looked calm, his eyebrows were drawn together, proving that he was frustrated with her as well. A lump began to form in her throat, but she forced herself to put the feeling aside.

The apostate was someone who she respected, or at least wanted to. He’d spent what sounded like years travelling the Fade and learning from those ancient ruins, and she could only imagine how much he’d learned. Thinking highly of him seemed to be an increasingly difficult task, though. How was she expected to respect someone who so easily wrote all of her behaviour off just because of where she came from?

Opening his mouth, he paused before closing it again, choosing his words wisely. After a minute or so he spoke again, but his tone didn’t cut into her as much. “Of course. Still, I’m asking if you will take a break from your… research.”

She let out a heavy sigh before answering. “... Alright.” Although the anger was slowly beginning to subside, and her toes weren’t digging into her boots anymore, the Inquisitor could still feel an unexplainable tension. Her neck was too hot, her breathing growing shallow, and suddenly it was just like those first nights in her quarters.

Something was suffocating her, pressing down from above, only this time it couldn’t be the ceiling - this one was so much higher than the one in her room. Meanwhile, Solas’ silence only seemed to make the heavy air between them worse. Minutes ago, Athesa had been able to stare him down so defiantly, but now she could only bring herself to look at a spot on the wall behind him where the paint was peeling. The hand that once rested on his desk gripped the edge tightly, needing the grounding now more than ever.

There was a small throbbing in the base of her skull again, and she immediately recognized it as another headache starting up. She needed a distraction, something that could take her mind off of the way his eyes seemed to burn into her while he studied her. Turning towards his desk, she raised her free hand to rub the back of her neck.

“What are you working on?” The words came out strained, and she flinched; the knot in her throat apparently still there.

He seemed strangely pleased by her question, his hands dropping to his sides while his posture relaxed before turning to the desk as well to answer. “I’ve begun studying the shards the Inquisition has found, in an attempt to find information about their origin-”

She nodded while he continued to speak, encouraging him to continue. Slowly, she was able to begin focussing on inhaling slowly, forcing all of that thick air into her lungs and out again. Once she was able to do that, the weight quickly began to fade away. Her eyes glanced over the tomes he pointed out, able to focus enough to read their titles as her mind cleared. By the time he was finished, the knot in her throat had eased enough to utter a response, before letting him know that she wouldn’t distract him any further.

* * *

Keeping her promise, Athesa brought the Iron Bull, Cole, and Solas with her to the Storm Coast two days later. According to Scout Harding, there had been reports of Darkspawn inhabiting the tunnels there, and needed to be sealed off. While the rain was too cold, and the wind too harsh for her liking, she forced herself to go, knowing that if she didn’t there would only be more complaints.

It was quickly obvious that the caves were too dark, and even though there wasn’t any wind to chill her, the walls were still slick with water. Just like everything else, she noted, setting the spiders that invested the caves on fire for a source of light. They hissed and scattered from her, but regardless of their obvious fear, she was still convinced that she was more afraid of them that they were of her. That was her excuse when Bull noted that she seemed more ‘enthusiastic’ than usual, making sure that each one was scorched before they left the tunnel.

After the third day, they reached the final cave and closed it off with relative ease. There were just as many spiders as the first ones, but they didn’t seem to overwhelm her quite as much. By the time they were finally outside again, the fresh air was more than welcome. Athesa began to walk down the worn path towards one of the mountains, stretching her arms and agreeing with the others that they should head back to camp for the evening.

No one else noticed when the ground barely shook under their feet, aside from her. The Inquisitor froze, her eyes glancing down before feeling the thud of Cole accidentally walking into her.

“Did anyone else feel that?” she asked, not taking her eyes off of her mud-coated boots - as if she could stop it from happening again if she was just still enough.

“You feelin’ alright, boss?” Iron Bull called out to her, confusion clear in his voice. He had to have been farther away than the others were, considering how his voice was quiet than usual.

She nodded, although it was more to herself than him, and began walking away. It was nothing, she told herself, she was just tired from their last fight. The gravel crunched under her soles - an unpleasant sound, but it was better to listen to that than the words Cole mumbled under his breath.

The incident had almost left her mind, until it happened again. The second time was stronger, too, and for a moment she almost wondered if her legs would give out from under her. It was accompanied by a strong gust of wind, and a loud roar from above. Head snapping up just in time, Athesa could feel her blood run cold. A large dragon circled above them, swooping around in circles tauntingly. She could feel her heart race as she reached for her staff absently.

Bull enthusiastically yelled something out to the group, but her blood was pounding too loudly in her ears to hear, effectively making whatever he said a garbled mess. She wanted to look to him, to see just what he was doing all of those feet away, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of the creature in the air. It was a dragon, and it was unlike anything the elf could have imagined - larger and louder than any book had described to her.

“No,” she told them firmly. Quickly, she put her weapon away and straightened her back. The Qunari began to protest jokingly, but she quickly cut him off. “We’re heading back to camp.”

He must have noticed the slight shake in her voice because he quickly dropped the subject.

Sitting in front of the fire pit that evening, Athesa could finally feel the tension in her shoulders begin to disappear. Her joints no longer ached as much as she sat there crosslegged, pleased with the quiet crackling. Bull had retired to his tent early, claiming that he wanted to get a good night’s sleep in case she changed her mind about the dragon in the morning. While it wasn’t likely, she simply nodded along before telling him goodnight.

Not long after, Solas declared that he wanted to explore their surroundings a bit more. Once again, she merely nodded in agreement, and watched while he collected his staff and bag. That was when Cole took a seat next to her. He was still quietly mumbling to himself every so often, but it didn’t make her stomach twist uncomfortably anymore. In fact, it was almost calming to have the background noise to tune out everything else.

Although it was relaxing, she could only imagine how strange it looked to others - like a one-sided conversation that went on for hours. The spirit, softly speaking her thoughts every so often while she - for the most part - stayed silent. Once in a while her gaze would stray from the fire to his hands, that picked and knotted long strands of grass in his lap. Luckily, the ground was warm and dry enough that it didn’t make a mess.

“Everything feels too heavy,” he whispered. “Bricks and mortar piled onto my shoulders.”

She nodded, knowing that it was useless to put up a front around him. He continued, prying around her thoughts as she let her mind wander. Her joints ached, neck on the verge of cramping while her fingers were too tired to fidget. She waited and waited for him to say something about the pain, but he didn’t mention it once.

“Dying, drowning, dreams of burning in the Blight.”

Staring at the campfire’s flames, still listening to it’s crackling, she nodded again. The warmth was perhaps too comforting, as she felt herself ready to start dozing off. She couldn’t go to sleep, though, not yet. Cole still seemed to be wide awake, as he always was. Not to mention the fact that Solas wasn’t even back yet.

The Inquisitor rubbed her eyes, remembering the small argument she’d had with him in his study. Ever since, he’d acted like it hadn’t happened. However, she was just as guilty. Any time they spoke, it was about their work and nothing else. They were civil, as she left to shove down all of that embarrassment and frustration down to a place where she hoped it wouldn’t rear it’s head up again.

“Corypheus, spiders, dragons, druffalos. The memories make your face burn like in the dreams, but it wasn’t your fault.”

“I know, Cole.” Her voice was just above a whisper now, and she wasn’t even entirely sure if he’d heard her.

He didn’t speak after that, so the two settled for sitting in silence. Her eyelids grew heavy quickly, dozing off a couple of times but quickly jerking awake. Each time it happened, she looked around for a moment to find that nothing had changed, and allowed herself to close her eyes once again. It wasn’t until Lavellan heard the sound of footsteps crunching on gravel when she opened her eyes.

Solas stood above her, the only thing between them being Cole who still braided the long strands of grass. His hands were hung at his sides, with the staff and bad he took missing. She wondered if he’d gotten back earlier, and only decided to join them now.

“Cole,” he greeted, his face looking more grim than usual. “I was wondering if I could speak with the Inquisitor alone?”

The boy obliged easily, the shreds of grass falling to the ground slowly as he stood up. Solas filled the empty space next to her, sitting down casually. Had she not been struggling to stay awake, she probably would have moved over to make room for him, her guard raising. However, her limbs were too heavy, and she was forced to keep still.

“I wanted to apologize,” he eventually told her quietly.

She watched as the words left his lips, before returning her gaze to the fire. “Apologize?” He didn’t seem like the kind of person to seek others out only to apologize to them. Not only that, but her mind still struggled to think of a reason he could have to tell her that he was sorry.

“The things I said the other day were uncalled for,” he answered without hesitation. She could feel him lean forward, his usually excellent posture relaxing. “You are Dalish, however, that does not mean it should hinder you from completing your tasks as the Inquisitor.”

Athesa knew that she should have answered right away, accepted his apology and moved on - but her toes were curling in her boots, and she was so tired of others discussing her clan as if they were watching them through a microscope. So instead, she kept quiet.

The weight that had finally left when listening to Cole was slowly returning, constricting her chest uncomfortably. Out of a desperate need for a distraction, she directed her attention towards him, and asked what he thought of the Storm Coast. It was a simply question, and for all he knew she was simply being polite, but he answered all the same. The second question came later, and was harder to get out. She had to force her lips to form the words a few times before making any noise, that knot in her through returning as she struggled to ask him if he was eager to return to Skyhold.

They sat like that for what must have been hours - only speaking every once in a while to exchange questions. Questions that were shallow and insignificant, but still brought the Inquisitor a strange sense of comfort. How often do you visit the Fade? Have you spoken with your clan lately? Where are you from?

Are you planning on sleeping at all tonight?

It was the last thing he’d asked her, before standing up. There was the sound of soft shuffling while he brushed himself off, but he still watched her, waiting for an answer. Her stomach twisted, briefly glancing up at the black sky before looking back to him. It was late, too late, honestly, but Cole’s words earlier only reminded her of what she’d have to face in her tent if she went to bed now.

She shook her head, bringing her knees up to her chest before wrapping her arms around them.

“I will later,” she eventually answered. He hesitated, and she knew that he could tell that something was wrong - perhaps hadn’t completely forgiven him for the incident earlier. Solas didn’t pry any further, though, which she was thankful for.

“Goodnight, Inquisitor.”

Chapter Text

It was a quiet trip back, full of long silences that no amount of banter seemed to shake. They never did encounter the dragon again on their way to Skyhold, much to Athesa's relief and Bull’s disappointment (there would always be others, she had grimly reminded him).

It took exactly three days for the Inquisitor to approach Solas after their conversation at the camp.

Not that she’d been counting.

Those three days were long and filled with paperwork; dealing with Grey Warden treaties, and sending Leliana’s agents to Orlais while Cullen’s troops gathered metals from the Hinterlands. Not once did she let herself even think of visiting the rotunda. At first only a small part of her wanted to go see him. But as those three days passed she could feel any resentment subside to the point where keeping a grudge just felt petty and childish. Solas had spent who knew how long travelling the Fade, and even if he had been acting so pretentiously shutting him out altogether felt like a waste.

Ultimately that was what drove her to head to his study that morning. The strong need to smooth things over in the only way that Athesa knew she could.

“I was wondering… if you would tell me about some of your experiences with spirits.” Her hands wrung nervously as she stood in the doorway. There was a small, desperate hope that he’d see through her. Understand that she was trying to reach out to him the same way he had at when he apologized at the Storm Coast.

‘Why?” he immediately asked. It was a logical question, not an expected one at all.

“You’re an apostate who’s travelled among them for years, I’m curious.” Surprisingly there was no hesitation in her voice. “And because I respect you.”

“... You continue to surprise me. What would you like to know?” The words were warm, welcoming even. It made Athesa sigh in relief as she brought a spare chair to the opposite side of his desk and sat down in it. Meanwhile he settled himself by leaning back into his own chair. Finally she could speak to someone face to face about the Fade. While the books Skyhold offered were helpful, they often only warned her about the risks of summoning demons and using blood magic. As well, it was different when someone spoke the words to her. Unlike with books there was someone who could answer her questions, clarify anything she was unsure of rather than being stuck with pure speculation.

And there was so much she was unsure of. Wraiths, desire demons, the Fade, the fact that Solas had somehow managed to befriend so many spirits safely. She wanted to know more about all of it but the words were stuck on her tongue like honey and soon enough she was simply staring intently at the notes on his desk - unsure of where to start.

Crossing one leg over the other, she finally asked, “How old were you when you first began exploring the Fade?”

It made him raise his eyebrows but the apostate answered all the same. He explained to her about how he realized he was a mage as a boy, and taught himself how to control his power without any teachers or guidance. When asked to, he described the village itself and by the time he was done it was like she’d been there herself.

“What about spirits you’ve met? Were there any that stood out?” she pressed.

He told her about a spirit who would watch the dreams of young village girls as love first blossomed. While she half expected him to tell her it was a desire demon, Solas explained that it would carefully steer the girls towards the boys they lived with. Ones who were gentle and sure to reciprocate their feelings. The thought of it left a small smile on Athesa’s face.

As the afternoon passed the Inquisitor could feel herself slowly growing more confident with herself. She folded her arms and leaned forward to rest them on his desk. “Have any spirits ever tried to tempt you?”

“No more than a brightly coloured fruit is deliberately tempting you to eat it. I learned how to defend myself from more aggressive spirits and how to interact safely with the rest.”

He continued to answer her - occasionally asking for her opinions on his choices, which lead to small branches of discussion. She finally felt like she could ask her questions from Haven without pushing boundaries and it was gratifying. The only thing that seemed to tear her away from the conversation was the fact that her stomach began to growl impatiently. Athesa’s eyes widened slightly, realizing that it was probably time for dinner and that that meant she’d spent the majority of the day in Solas’ study. Asking him what (after looking back on it) were quite frankly mundane questions. Especially when they both most likely had work to do.

“I should be going.” Ears burning slightly, her chair threatened to fall backwards when she stood up too quickly. “Thank you. For answering some of my questions.” It was formal. Far too formal compared to the way she’d just been interrupting and interrogating him moments before.

“Of course.” He nodded in agreement, seemingly unfazed by her sudden change in behaviour. “If there’s anything else you’d like to know, I’ll be here.”

* * *

The Inquisitor continued to visit Solas, listening to his experiences, although it wasn’t for nearly as long. She made sure of that. After the first few times she stopped hesitating in his doorway altogether and would walk right up to his desk to see if he was busy. Even if it was obvious that he was she noticed that he’d often say no and put away whatever he was working on anyway. Occasionally she'd dwell on it too much, criticizing thoughts (of course he’d say no, she was the Inquisitor, she needed to leave him be) causing her stomach to tie up in knots.

It wasn’t just Solas she was speaking to more, though. When she wasn’t in war table meetings Athesa often found herself in the courtyard asking Cassandra about the Seekers, or learning more about the Qunari from Iron Bull. Once she’d tried speaking to Blackwall about the Wardens but found he was… strangely vague. So instead she chose to send a couple of agents to find some books on them for her. It brought comfort, each conversation somehow managing to make her feel a little lighter. The constant weight on her chest was finally fading and on good nights she was able to have a sound sleep in her quarters rather than on the balcony.

It was after a morning of speaking with Dorian when she found herself carrying a pile of books recommended to her by the Tevinter back to her quarters. But first, she decided to stop in to check on Solas.

When she found him he was in his chair, eyes closed and face devoid of any emotion. A hand held the side of his face as his arm propped his head up. It was the most peaceful she’d seen him. In fact, it almost looked like he had fallen asleep until her footsteps drew closer and his eyes opened.

He stood up to meet her. “Lethallan.”

She felt her chest constrict at the familiar title. It had been so long since she was around anyone who didn’t just called her the Inquisitor, or Herald. Occasionally Josephine would go as far as to say Lavellan, but those were rare moments in private.

‘Lethallin.’  The reply hung on her tip of her tongue, threatening to spill out if she was too careless with her words.

“Solas,” she answered instead. “I just wanted to let you know that I have a war council meeting soon.”

He looked at her expectantly when she didn’t continue. “Is that all?”

“We’ll be going to Crestwood in a few days... Just- To let you know.” Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear it took a moment before she realized she’d repeated herself.

“Thank you. I’m actually surprised to still see you at Skyhold. Shouldn’t you be off fighting Red Templars or spreading word of the mighty Inquisition? How will anyone in Orlais know which rumors to start if you’re here?”

Ignoring his comment about Orlais, the Herald motioned to the books in her hands, “Fighting is useless if we don’t know what we’re up against.”

He gave a small smile, “Of course. Your indomitable focus seems to be an enjoyable side benefit of your hard work lately.”

It’s said so casually, as if he were telling her about the history of the Dales. But it still somehow made her throat go dry. “Indomitable focus?”

“Presumably. I have yet to see it dominated. I imagine the sight would be… fascinating.”

Not sure what to say, she could only manage a hum in response.

She could feel his eyes on her. Quickly turning to look at the wall a hand absentmindedly scratched at the cover of one of Dorian’s books. “You’ve been painting.” The words sounded small. Breathless. She slowly walked closer to see details added to one of his frescoes - not stopping she was within arms reach from the cold, hard surface. A desperate attempt for a distraction, hoping that the burning on the back of her neck would ease up.

It didn’t.

“A hobby,” he simply stated, walking up behind her. She felt herself freeze, not sure if she should move over to let him stand beside her.

She didn’t.

With feet planted firmly on the ground she wasn’t able to do anything but stare at the wall. Not entirely sure how, she could feel him standing there. He was talking to her - telling her about... About something. For the first time Solas was speaking to her and she wasn’t paying attention to a word of it. Unlike the other times she’d spoken with him there wasn’t a desk or a pile of books standing between them. It felt foreign. The barrier was gone, and apparently so was her ability to speak.

“I - um. They’re r-really.” The stutters were all she could manage to choke out. She tried to swallow two, three, four times but to no avail. He seemed to notice that she was struggling with something because suddenly she could feel his gaze on her all over again.

“Is everything alright?”

A realization that she could reach behind her and easily come into contact with him hit her like a ton of bricks. Would his hand feel just as cool as when he met her, gripped her wrist as he used her hand to seal that first rift?

When the door to the main hall swung open Athesa jumped what felt like a good foot into the air. Spinning around to see who it was, she promptly bumped into Solas - dropping her books and backing into the wall as a result.

Her ears grew hot as she ducked down to pick them up. Quiet curses filled the air around her. Meanwhile the apostate didn’t seem to be fazed at all - in fact, he was already walking back to his desk. Looking to the doorway, she saw Cullen standing there. After apologizing for interrupting them, the Commander quickly went on to remind her that there was a meeting she needed to attend. One she was currently late for.

“Right. Sorry.” Standing back up she began to leave.

“Lavellan?”

Her name this time. Not Inquisitor, not Herald, not Lethallan.

Somehow it sounded different when he said it.

Stopping in her tracks she turned to Solas. “Yes?”

He paused, a smile taking over his features. It was a mischievous one and something she hadn’t seen on him before. “Nothing.”

Turning back around, the Inquisitor followed Cullen all the way to the war table.

The meeting took longer than she’d been expecting. Everyone agreed that they should head to Crestwood soon to meet Hawke and the Warden, and they planned to head out within the week. After that, they’d go to the Emerald Graves to meet with Fairbanks. In the mean time however, the Herald asked that Leliana look into the rumours a bard sung about the Inquisition - regardless of Cullen’s protests.

It was when she turned to leave that Josephine walked up from behind. “Inquisitor, is that… What is that in your hair?”

Immediately the Inquisitor’s hand rose to feel the back of her ponytail, returning to find fingers covered in wet paint. Her memory flashed back to her time with Solas. How in the world did she get paint on her…

And that was when she remembered Cullen interrupting them. Her stumbling backwards into the wall. The details on the frescoes were brand new, of course they’d still be wet.

“It’s on your back, too.” Leliana stepped forward, inspecting it. “Is this…”

“Paint. It’s just some paint.” Quickly wiping her palm off on her pants she could practically feel Vivienne’s disapproval from her balcony. The spymaster gave her a questioning look, but she did her best to ignore it. “I’ll deal with it.”

Getting the paint out of her hair was a frustrating process, and by the end she found herself exhausted. Quickly changing out of her clothes - whatever was on them would be dry so she might as well put it off until the morning, Athesa was pleased to be able to fall asleep in her own bed.

But even in her dream, the word lethallin was still caught in her throat.

* * *

To Blackwall’s delight Athesa took him, Cassandra, and Varric with her to The Hinterlands the next day with promises of finding the Warden’s artifacts. They left early in the morning, stopping to purchase some supplies from some merchants before beginning their search. Surprisingly, it didn’t take nearly as long as the Inquisitor had thought it would. There were only two items and both were relatively easy to find for those who were carefully looking. But still, the fact that Blackwall had a satisfied smile on his face for the rest of the afternoon showed just how important it was to him. By the time the three of them returned to camp Lavellan caught herself smiling too.

That evening Blackwall went to sleep early, leaving Cassandra and Varric to sit in front of the fire with Lavellan. It radiated warmth in a way that made her want to close her eyes and take a nap. They were just finishing up their dinner while Varric went on about one of his adventures with Hawke. Well, he called it an adventure - to her it sounded more like a mistake than anything.

By the time he was done Cassandra was sneering, calling him careless for the trouble he’d gotten into but that didn’t seem to dampen his mood.

“I refuse to listen to this any more.” Standing up, the Seeker brushed herself off. “If you need me I’ll be in my tent.”

It was quieter after she left, the two of them eating the last pieces of fruit.

“Can I ask you a question,  Varric?” she asked absentmindedly.

He pretended to be shocked, “You want to ask me a question?”

Throwing the core of her apple into the flames, she continued. “What do you think of our companions?”

“I’m going to need specifics if you want me to answer that.”

She started with Blackwall, and continued to Sera, Leliana, and Cullen. He quipped at her with each name, but there was a sincerity in his comments that she appreciated.

“What about Solas?”

“Chuckles?” He gave a light laugh. “I think he could pull a handful of flowers from his ass and you’d be tickled pink.”

“That’s. I-- No.” She gave long pauses between each word, trying to think of the right thing to say, but the longer she was silent the more her face burned. “You’re being ridiculous.”

Varric raised his hands in surrender. “You just asked for my opinion. Besides, you walk by me nearly every time you go to see him. Did you really think I wouldn’t notice?”

It was true. Athesa couldn’t even begin to count the number of times she’d said hello and goodbye to the dwarf within the past week. “I go to visit Dorian and Leliana, too.” The words were muttered under her breath. A last grasp at whatever dignity was quickly slipping away.

“I guess that’s true.” While he was allowing her to drop the subject, she knew he was also just saying it to please her.

Still feeling slightly put off, a sigh escaped her lips. “I’m… I’m going to bed. Thanks, Varric.”

“No problem.”

If sleeping in her quarters made her uncomfortable, staying in a tent was hell. It felt too confined, and left her simply laying on her side for most of the night. There were a couple of hours of rest at most - the remainder of the time spent thinking. Thoughts wandered from paperwork she’d have to fill out to requisitions that needed to be completed. She had hoped that it would get easier the more they travelled. However, the trip back proved that she was very, very wrong.

The first thing she did when they got back was call for a meeting at the war table. Her advisors asked if she was feeling alright, apparently they’d noticed the dark purple under her eyes. Nodding along, she assured them that she was good, great even. It wasn’t entirely a lie. She could feel adrenaline pushing through her as she planned the trip to the Emerald Graves. It was a good distraction. What wasn’t good, however, was her constant need to lean on the table as her hands and knees shook helplessly.

Entering the main hall Athesa knew she needed to sleep. To catch up on the rest that had so mercilessly been taken away for the past two days. But she also knew Solas had been looking into the shards for her. The shards that she’d gone to the Hinterlands to collect in the first place. It felt like a waste to keep him waiting when he could examine them after she left.

So it was decided. She’d just drop them off. Quickly.

Walking in, she set the bag containing the shards on his desk.

“Lethallin,” he called. Her stomach flipped, but the Herald quickly pushed the feeling away. It wasn’t the time. Looking up, she could see that he’d climbed his ladder to work on his frescoes. “You’re back early.”

Jumping straight to the point, she took a few steps closer. “I found some more shards while looking for the Warden artifacts.”

“Right. I’ll be down in a moment.” As he began to clean up his supplies, Athesa picked up the bag and walked over to sit on the small couch that was pushed against the wall. She hardly ever saw him use it, but found the thing surprisingly comfortable. While she waited she tucked her feet under her and set the bag on her lap. She stared at the floor for what felt like five, maybe ten minutes before letting her hand support her head as her elbow rested on the cushioned arm.

She was so tired. Too tired. A voice in her head told her to just leave, but her body felt like it was full of rocks - sinking her down. Slowly, her eyes grew heavy. Each time they opened they burned until finally the elf gave in and just shut them altogether.

* * *

After who knew how long, Athesa finally jerked awake thanks to one of Leliana’s ravens cawing loudly. Aside from the birds above, it was quieter than usual. Darker, too. The candles on Solas’ desk looked like they’d been blown out awhile ago and her bag sat on the center of it, a couple of the pieces she’d found taken out. Yawning, she looked down to find a blanket folded up into a neat square beside her.

From what she could see, Solas was nowhere to be found. The Inquisitor knew that she should get up. Go look for him, or at least head to her own quarters. But her feet were still under her, pins and needles and slightly numb. Kicking off her boots her hands rubbed one and then the other. Her side sunk into the back of the couch as she re-positioned herself. The blanket was still there - untouched. Absentmindedly, she reached out and draped it over her lap.

She would leave as soon as she could feel her toes again.

Chapter Text

When Athesa woke up the second time it was to the sound of a door opening. The room was no longer dark. In fact, after listening closely she could faintly hear conversations taking place above her. Slowly, she opened her eyes and was pleased to feel that they no longer burned. With a little fussing her hands took the elastic out of her hair before running her fingers through the tangles. She always preferred to have it up, out of her face. Not because it was necessarily long - after all it only barely fell past her shoulders - but because it always managed to feel like a distraction. There were so many times it would hang in front of her face and block the view of whatever book she was trying to read.

Meanwhile Solas was carefully closing the door with his heel, a cup in one hand and an apple in the other. “You’re awake,” he greeted.

She swallowed, about to apologize for falling asleep, when he began walking towards her. Stopping a few feet away, he tossed the fruit to her before taking a sip of his drink.

To her own surprise she caught it without fumbling. “Thank you.”

“Varric’s recommendation. Although his insistence seemed more like an order when he saw what I was going to bring you.”

Her mind thought back to the last time she’d spoken with the dwarf in the Hinterlands, when she’d asked him about their companions. About Solas. His eye for detail must have been what made him such a popular writer. “They’re my favourite.” She looked down at the apple and was pleased by the loud crunch it made when she bit into it.

Then, it began to register just where she was. The Inquisitor quickly took her feet off of the couch to sit in it normally before holding the fruit in her mouth. With her hands now free, she was able to put her boots back on. Solas took a seat next to her and had another sip before speaking.

“I looked at the shards while you were sleeping, and believe I found something.”

“Really?” Too close. He was sitting too close. She could feel her throat closing up and knew that if she didn’t do something soon she’d be stuttering like a fool all over again. Without trying to be too obvious, she moved the blanket to take up the space between them.

“There is an area in the Forbidden Oasis that would be a good idea to investigate. As long as the Inquisition is not too busy of course.”

“I’ll have Leliana’s agents look into it.” She took a deep breath and counted to four before releasing it.

“So, how did you sleep? Easier than while on your trip I take it.”

“It’s not sleeping that’s the problem,” she muttered, watching as he finished his drink and set the cup on the floor by their feet. Her own apple was still in her hands, only half eaten. “Well, it is. But mostly it’s staying inside, being stuck in tents for hours on end.”

“That is understandable. From my experience it can take a while to adjust, to find comfort in the bricks and mortar you think confines you. But you will.”

Her eyes glanced over at him in surprise - not expecting his words to comfort her as much as they did. “I know, I just didn’t think it would take this long.”

“You are the Inquisitor. Strong. Resilient. It will get easier.” He sounded so sure of himself, of her. “And if all else fails, you could always ask Vivienne for a potion.”

“I guess.” She sighed before leaning forward, elbows resting on knees before she took another bite. “I’m sorry about last night. Interrupting you only to fall asleep like that. It seems that I interrupted you for nothing.”

“Not at all. I happen to enjoy your company.”

She swallowed hard, a soft “good” escaping her lips. Somehow it was a reassuring thought. The apple core fell to the ground, rolling beside his cup when she stood up. “I should go. I promised Dorian that I’d stop to see him before I left for Crestwood.”

Solas stared up at her as she tied her hair back again. “Are you sure you want to leave already?”

She froze, fingers caught between her hair and the elastic. “What do you mean?”

“You were exhausted after returning yesterday. I am surprised you want to go without resting more.”

“It’ll be fine. Maybe I’ll even see Vivienne about a potion, like you said.” Turning on her heel, she didn’t stop walking until she reached the bottom of the stairs. Why were her conversations with him always like this? Ending with her briskly walking away, or closing the conversation. As if she had things she’d rather do. It had become a cycle of visiting, asking him questions, and leaving once she’d gotten the information she wanted. It made her stomach twist with a weird sense of guilt. Then again, what else was she looking for? Something more? He never seemed bothered by her visits, even said that he enjoyed her company. And whenever she said that she had to leave he seemed understanding - after all, she was busy being the Inquisitor.

The more she thought about it the more Athesa’s head went in a downward spiral. It left her feeling restless and frustrated with herself, and ultimately that’s why she hesitated at the bottom of the staircase. “Thank you for bringing the food. I enjoy your company as well.”

He was at his desk now, cup and apple core set carefully beside a stack of papers. “You can study here, if you would like. I’m sure it would be easier than having to carry our Tevinter’s entire collection back and forth from your quarters.”

The offer surprised her, but she accepted it quickly. “That would be great.”

Solas simply looked back down at his notes, and she took that as her cue to leave - skipping every other step as she went up the stairs. By the time she reached Dorian he seemed to have arrived much earlier. He was already up, a small collection of books in his hand.

“I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t return to your own quarters last night,” he greeted her, eyes scanning the bookshelf in front of him.

She walked over to a shelf a few feet away and opened up a retelling of the Fifth Blight. “... I fell asleep.” The pages were worn, soft against her fingers as she flipped through it.

“Of course you did,” he hummed.

There was a comfortable silence between them for a few minutes until the book in her hands snapped shut. “You know, I never took you for the jealous type.” She replied jokingly.

“Jealous? Ha.” Dorian scoffed. “Just don’t come running to me when you have a handful of spirits squatting in your bed.”

“That’s just unrealistic.” She liked this kind of banter between the two of them. His joking manner made her feel less like the Inquisitor and more like a normal person. “Besides, spirits aren’t the only things we talk about.”

“Oh right, of course. I imagine it goes more along the lines of ‘Inquisitor, what incredible ears you have, did you know they’re elven? I’m elven as well, what a coincidence!’“

Raising a hand to her mouth Athesa tried her best to smother her laugh. “No, no. It’s more like this.” Putting the book down she straightened her back and tried to keep a neutral face. “Blood magic is alright, I guess.”

Judging by his reaction, Dorian seemed to enjoy her impersonation. She crossed her arms, this time deciding to try her hand at mimicking Solas’ accent. “Vhenan, come look at these ancient ruins I bet the old elves used to frolic here.”

“Wait, what does vhenan mean?”

Her body went rigid, “What?”

“Vhenan. I’m assuming it’s elvish.”

“Friend,” she spat out quickly. “It means friend.”

“Right.” He crossed his arms. “And that mark on your hand is just a night light used to scare the wolves away.”

Athesa could feel her hands growing sweaty. She scratched the back of her neck, but said nothing.

“Alright,” he finally sighed. “I’m not going to force you to tell me. Not when we could be discussing something much more interesting than our resident apostate elf. Something such as yours truly, or…” His finger ran across the spines of the books, eyes scanning over them quickly.

“Or the apparent corruption of the Golden City. What fun.” He took out a couple of tomes, handing one to her.

* * *

Crestwood was damp, cold, plagued with the undead, and Athesa dreaded all of it. From their very arrival she cursed under her breath as she swapped her usual lightning staff for a fire one she had made with Dagna’s help earlier. She gritted her teeth at the smell of smoke that rose from the endless line of corpses and Red Templars she’d burned to a crisp. Undead were everywhere, crawling up from the ground as if she was in a nightmare. It left the Inquisitor jumping at every sudden movement. Lightning nearly hit Cole twice, Cassandra stopped Shadows from impaling her on at least three different occasions, and as she trudged through the wet gravel there was a sick feeling that her boots would be wet for days. From meeting Hawke’s Grey Warden to finding that Crestwood’s mayor was suddenly missing, the small sense that maybe the Herald was just cursed grew. Doomed to be fighting off skeleton archers and highwaymen as long as the Inquisition stood.  It had been ten days since they’d arrived and all she wanted to do was return to the warm, safe Skyhold that waited.

And when Iron Bull just had to excitedly point out the dragon that circled above them, well that was the icing on the damn cake.

“This is the best day ever!” he exclaimed before looking to her - anticipating a command.

She would have been terrified, if she wasn’t so angry. Ten awful, cringeworthy days of fighting and this was how the Creators thanked her. The Northern Hunter.

“Fine,” she muttered under her breath, taking out her weapon. She briefly thought back to the incident with the druffalo. The thought of how easily it left her gasping for breath. The staff shook in her hands as she told her companions to hold their ground.

It would be different this time. She wasn’t alone. And if anyone was going to take down a dragon single-handedly it would be the walking fortress that was Cassandra Pentaghast.

She spent most of the battle as far away from the creature as possible - knowing that if she got close enough for it to attack her she could easily be killed. So instead she focused on laying down barriers around the others quickly before attacking. The ground shook as the dragon would beat her wings. Druffalos, brontos, they were all nothing compared to this - the pure stamina it took before the four of them were able to even take out a couple of legs. The only thing that kept Athesa fighting was the adrenaline that pounded through her veins. It pushed her to fight harder, with a new focus. She was left panting but somehow her head was still clear - shouting for someone to help Cole as she put another barrier around him. At one point she even managed to use her Mark to her advantage.

Finally, the dragon died. It collapsed on the ground, and so did she.

The high from battle quickly wore off. She was on her hands and knees, gasping for air, chest burning with each breath. She did it. They did it. Cassandra towered over her breathless as well.

“Go loot what you can from the… that thing,” she called out. “When you’re done we’ll head back to Skyhold.”

The others seemed happy to oblige.

* * *

 

“How was Crestwood?” Solas asked her when she climbed up his ladder. It had been two days since returning and Athesa was eager to take him up on his offer of studying with him. With his back leaning against the wall and legs stretched out in front, he turned a page from the book in his hands. There was a pile of them messily stacked and she took a spot on the other side. First a desk, then a blanket, and now a small pile between them. It was getting easier to be next to him without feeling her neck grow hot or being tongue-tied. A small accomplishment, but she congratulated herself nonetheless.

“Surprisingly well I take it,” he said in response to her groan.

The wall felt cool against her back as she mirrored his position and crossed her ankles. “There were skeletons, and demons, and a dragon.”

“It sounds like you had a very busy two weeks.” She could hear the smirk in his voice when he turned yet another page.

“What are you reading?”

“Hard in Hightown.”

“That’s… surprising.”

“It helps to pass the time.” He used his free hand to motion to one of the tombs, offering it to her. “If you would like to join me.”

She picked up one from the pile and studied it. It was larger than the others with a Fereldon symbol imprinted on the front. Something about the wolves in the Brecilian Forest.

After a few minutes she set it back down.

“Why don’t you write down any of your findings?” It was a question that had been nagging at her for a while. After all, he seemed to enjoy talking about his journeys.

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye before putting down his book. “Why should I? So that it can be translated? Misconstrued? Should I just leave others to mull over my words until the original meaning is lost like so many others? I prefer to keep my personal time spent in the Fade is just that: my own.”

So he was still bitter about his encounters with Dalish clans. “Yet you continue to tell me about it.”

“Yes, well, that’s different.”

“Oh really?” She was challenging him and he knew it. Even more, Athesa knew that he knew. “How so?”

“Because you are different.” There wasn’t any malice behind it - stated like it was just another fact. Suddenly she felt bad for trying to get a rise out of him.

Her mouth went dry, fingers fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. He had to stop doing this. Telling her those things that made her chest tight and her mind go blank. He had to know what he was saying. “Why?” Subtly, she wiped her palms on her pants.

He seemed to pick up on her reaction because he let out a small breath and lifted his book to read more. “I only meant that you seem much more open minded than others I have met.” Again, Solas’ tone threw her off. It was almost… dismissive.

The two of them stayed like that, sharing a comfortable silence aside from a few words for the evening. The longer she sat there the more she seemed to enjoy it. Maybe it was relaxing to not have to worry about her words so much around him. Unlike with Inquisition dealings she didn’t have three advisors expecting answers. Or it could have been the fact that she was far less likely to be interrupted when in the rotunda rather than her quarters. Either way, when she left that night she reassured Solas that she’d be returning the next day to finish their pile of books.

That night Lavellan slept fitfully. Dreams quickly turned into green, hazy nightmares. Dark, thundering clouds above her filled what was once a blue sky. She was in Crestwood again. An older Crestwood that looked eerily similar to the destructed village they had uncovered earlier. The screams of women and men alike echoed around her. Raising her hands to her ears she closed her eyes. Maybe if she could just block it out…

Something wasn’t right but what was it?

Everything looked new, but she had been here before hadn’t she? Yes. The Inquisition had troops stationed in Crestwood. They had sealed the rift and killed the dragon. But how were these villagers shuffling around her - all obviously very ill. Tainted by the Blight? Her stomach churned at the sight of one boy who coughed until he retched.

Directly in front of her there was one woman on the ground, sobbing openly. Without thinking she called out to her but didn’t get a response. It was as if she was a ghost, watching the terror but not able to intervene.

“Lavellan?”

She didn’t need to look behind her to know who it was. “Solas.” It came out as a sigh of relief. At least something made sense. Maybe he’d know how to help this poor woman.

However, he looked even more surprised than she did.

Turning back around, she began to walk forward until his hand held her back

“What are you doing?” she snapped. If he didn’t let her go soon, she’d wouldn’t be able to help. The woman would be taken by the Blight - everyone would. How she was going to help, she didn’t know. But there had to be a reason to try. Why else would she be here? Images flashed in her mind of the washed away village she had experienced first-hand.

Solas’ eyebrows were drawn together, obviously pained. “You can’t. I am sorry.”

His hand on her was cool and firm. Like an anchor pulling her out from the chaos that was surrounding them both. Pretty soon the fuzziness of her thoughts stopped altogether and the air grew quiet. She glanced back at the woman only to find her gone - replaced by a young girl. Quickly bits began to piece themselves together before her eyes.

She was dreaming.

“How are you here?” she asked calmly, quietly. The only reason she didn’t question if he was a part of the dream was because of the way he had managed to ground her. Everyone else felt hazy, almost transparent in comparison.

“It is something I would rather discuss another time.”

Athesa nodded. After all, it wasn’t like she could force him to tell her at the moment. “... You can let go.”

“Of course.” His grip slackened.

When the Inquisitor woke up moments later her hand absentmindedly rubbed at her wrist while taking in the view of her room.

Chapter Text

Solas never ended up explaining himself. Instead he skirted around her questions with ease, derailing with his own. Where would the Inquisition be heading next? Had she asked Cole about the missing wheel of cheese? Was she sleeping well? It was as if he had no knowledge of the previous night. But she knew he was there. There wasn’t any doubt in her mind about it. It was why she watched him carefully over the next few days, looking for something. He seemed to notice her caution with raised eyebrows but said nothing.

She brought him to Emprise du Lion along with Cole and Blackwall. There were reports of Red Templar activity in the area and Athesa was more than willing to travel there. She had heard stories from her Keeper about the ruins there. Another place that was taken from the elves. Regardless, she was still eager to see them. They’d have to put off travelling to the Emerald Graves, so once they arrived she asked Scout Harding to go on without her to scope out the area - it was better than nothing.

By the time they arrived it was late into the evening, and everyone decided that it would be best to just rise early in the morning. However while the Inquisitor laid there in her tent, cold biting at her toes, she felt restless. Sitting up, she crawled over to her bag and shuffled through it until she found what she was looking for: a tome on astronomy. It wasn’t the same as the one she’d been given as a gift when she was younger, but she’d already read through it a couple of times. It was accurate, if anything. And what she needed at the moment was accuracy. Sliding on her boots she quietly went outside. It was colder but the sky was completely clear. Her chest swelled with happiness.

There were many times when she’d tried to do this before, but it always felt like something was in the way. First there was the Breach, threatening everyone’s safety and tinting the sky a deep green. Looking at it for too long felt like it was going to swallow her up along with the stars it managed to distort. When she was on her balcony it was easier, but thoughts of Inquisition business had still loomed over her. Here, though - the sky almost welcomed her. Opening and inviting. It was completely silent aside from the occasional nug that came too close.

She didn’t wander far from the camp - just enough to not worry about waking anyone else. Bare fingers brushed snow off of a large rock before she let herself lean against it. With her mind free of distractions, obligations, worries, finding each constellation was surprisingly easy. It was just like she was home. And for a while, that’s what she let herself pretend. Truthfully, the elf felt childish for missing her clan, her family. But being away for such a long time wasn’t exactly something her Keeper had prepared her for when discussing the Conclave. Her mind quickly became wrapped up in those thoughts, because that’s what she was: homesick. Craving her mother’s laugh and younger brother’s sharp words. All she wanted to do was turn back time to before all of this happened.

Hot tears began to run down her cheeks, staining the pages of the book that shook in her hands.

It was babyish, and shameful, and most of all selfish. To so badly want to have no part in this mess with Corypheus. Where would the Inquisition be if it wasn’t for her? Cassandra herself had said that there was no one else to rely on - especially with Hawke’s absence. Athesa had left for the Conclave so willingly, so eager to travel to new places and explore regions she’d only heard of. Only thinking of herself, of all of the information she’d learn before returning. And what had she planned to do then, after it was all over? Brag about her journey to the others? Smile smugly as her brother rolled his eyes at her? What she would have given to see that look of dissatisfaction on his face, in person, now.

Setting the book down she wiped her face, guilt ready to wholly consume her. There was an overwhelming want to just run away like she had so many times before. Hide under the bed like some child who had done something wrong. Let Josephine, Cullen, and Leliana deal with it while she selfishly kept her distance from being hurt. She thought of the druffalos, the darkspawn, and the dragons that barely let her scrape by.

In that moment the Inquisitor had never felt so weak in her life.

She sniffled loudly, looking around to make sure that she hadn’t woken anybody up. In the distance she could see a pair of glowing eyes. Hands reached for her staff instinctively only to remember that she didn’t bring it. The figure stepped forward until the moonlight revealed that it was Solas.

Standing up quickly, she couldn’t bring herself to meet his gaze, instead staring to the left of his feet. “Lethallin.”

“Are you alright?” His voice was quiet. Whether it was an attempt to appear compassionate or to keep the others from waking up she didn’t know.

“I’m- Yes. Thank you.”

They stood like that for a good minute until he spoke up again.

“Tell me, how did you realize you were a mage, Athesa?”

Lavellan was so thrown by the fact that he used her first name she almost had to ask him to repeat the question. The way it sounded coming from him… It felt different. Her chest swelled just like it had when she first left her tent to meet the clear sky. Leaning back against the stone her foot dug into the snow, fidgeting. “I was ten. One night I couldn’t sleep so I decided to go for a walk-”

“This is already beginning to sound familiar,” he pointed out smirking.

“I decided to go for a walk,” she repeated pointedly. “It wasn’t new - I snuck around at night a lot like that.”

“Why?”

Athesa blinked a couple of times before answering, thrown off by his interest in her evening walks of all things. “The Keeper always chose areas with caves and large trees for our campsites. A lot of the time it blocked out the sky. I’d take my book on astronomy with me to try to find constellations. But that night… Something felt different. I could hear rustling. Voices. It took a while, but by the time I got to them I found two humans. They were following a halla and I thought they were going to kill it.” Glancing at him she waited for a nod before continuing.

“I couldn’t stop them myself, I was only a child. But by the time I brought someone back... I thought - no I knew - it would be too late.” She could remember it so clearly. The need to stop them. That quiet hum of static in her ears that slowly grew louder as she approached the unsuspecting humans. It fizzled and cracked in her palms, leaving a tingling sensation. “Before I really knew what was going on, I’d paralyzed them.”

Solas nodded again and moved to lean on the rock beside her. “Do you miss your clan?”

“Look, I know that… That you don’t like the Dalish, but I was raised by them. Before the Conclave they were all I knew, my family. So yes, I miss them.” She took a deep breath in hope that it would stop her eyes from watering again, “We can hold grudges, but they raised me to be loyal, and to value our heritage and traditions. I don’t expect you to change your views but you need to respect me. As your Inquisitor if nothing else.”

“I do respect you. But please, do not worry if one apostate does not agree with the Dalish. I’m afraid you will find many who dislike you simply because of the fact that you’re leading the Inquisition.”

“This is different.”

“How?” He was challenging her now, just like that time when she had tried to get a rise out of him.

“Because I want to be your friend,” she blurted out, face warming at her own words.

He didn’t say anything for a while. “... I already considered you a friend. A close one, in fact. I’m sorry if I was not clear about that.”

“Good,” she sighed, before saying it again softly - more to herself this time than him.

“Now, we should return before we wake the others.”

She nodded in agreement, grabbing her tome before leaving with him.

The next morning Athesa squinted at the harsh light that reflected off of the snow. There was a chill in the wind that sent goosebumps up her arms and quickly snapped her out of her drowsiness. Red lyrium seemed to be everywhere, sticking out of the ground in clusters. She could feel it in the air, pulsing as if it was alive, breathing. The idea made her uneasy. Fade rifts and rogue Templars were around each corner. They travelled across the snowy ground, their swords of mercy striking down on her at every chance. Slowly they slowly tried to overrun each camp but it wasn’t without a fight. As the four of them approached the last encampment they saw that there were only a couple of soldiers left. They all took out their weapons in an attempt to sneak up on them.

In an instant, she could feel one appear behind her. She began to turn around but it was already too late - the blade sliced through the back of her leg easily. Letting out a yell she felt it give out from under her, hip thudding into the snow as she collapsed. Looking up at the Red Templar as he raised his sword, she tried to crawl backwards but the stinging was too much. The Inquisitor could barely move her leg as her blood stained the snow. Damn it, she knew she should have been more careful. Panicked, she looked to Blackwall and Solas who were both busy slowly taking down a Shadow. The man trudged steadily towards her. She was about to roll to the side, until he gave a strangled cry himself.

A blade ran across his throat, and just like that Cole was behind him. He pushed the now dead Templar to the side carelessly.

“It’s over.” The boy was panting heavily, putting his daggers away.

All Athesa could do was look at her leg. She bit her lip and used one hand to press down on the cut while the other searched in her bag for something that might help. Faintly, she could hear her other companions approaching.

“Are you okay?” Blackwall put away his shield, a frown growing as the two of them neared.

Solas immediately crouched down in front of her to assess the wound. “Does she look okay to you?”

“I’ll be fine.” Fine. She was going to be fine. Injured, but alive. However, she still drew in a quick breath when his palm hovered over her leg. “Please, don’t.”

He quickly took his hand away and stood up. “We should leave. Set up a camp in the Emerald Graves. Wait for you to heal before returning.”

“Sharper than Blackwall’s blade, it stings like Sera’s bees,” Cole muttered to himself.

She shook her head. The four of them had already spent enough time travelling here. To leave just to come back would be a waste of time. Time that they couldn’t afford to lose. “No. Let’s just head back to camp for now.”

“The Red Templars aren’t going to be any more forgiving just because you’re injured-”

“I’m not made of glass.” She cut the apostate off almost bitterly. “Now, please. Help me up.”

He paused but ultimately complied. Her grip was cold and wet from the snow but it didn’t seem to bother him. Once she was up the elf lowered himself slightly to let her arm drape over his shoulders - allowing her to use him for support. He did it without speaking a word. Athesa knew that if it wasn’t for the dull throbbing she’d be pressing her face into a nearby snowbank to cool off.

So she limped back to camp with Solas while the others stayed behind - saying that they wanted to look around a bit more to make sure that there weren’t any stragglers who had gotten away. The Inquisitor just nodded and prayed that there would be another potion waiting for her in her tent.

“We can rest easy knowing that Cole stays as diligent as ever.” He commented as he watched her wrap her leg in her tent. The bleeding had mostly stopped during their walk back, but the requisition officer still seemed surprised at her state. Maybe it was the way she half hobbled - not wanting to lean on Solas too much but needing to - or maybe it was the chunks of snow and ice stuck to her hair.

Her mouth made a hard line at his comment, finishing up the bandaging before she rolled her pant leg back down and brushed off her hands. “Okay, let’s head back.” Hopefully the others would have stayed relatively close.

As the two of them walked back to where they had last seen Cole and Blackwall, she couldn’t help notice the way Solas watched their surroundings.

“Have you been here before?” she asked, glancing behind them for any enemies.

“Yes, but I am afraid it was a long time ago.”

“I wonder what it was like,” she sighed, “before all of the red lyrium, I mean.”

“Cold,” he stated dryly. She was about to pry but was interrupted when their companions approached. They told her that the area seemed to be clear, and even pointed out a place where they could set up camp.

The rest of their trip wasn’t any easier, but with the help of extra barriers Solas put around her they managed to take out the Red Templars without any heavy injuries - meanwhile saving any prisoners they could. By the time they returned to Skyhold a week later she was surprisingly in a relatively good mood. She was reading through a thick pile of reports from Scout Harding about the Emerald Graves when there was a knock on her quarters’ door. Assuming it was the runner who she had asked to get some books from Dorian earlier, she called for them to come in without even glancing up.

“It looks like you’ve finally recovered from our time in Orlais.”

She looked up, surprised to hear Solas’ voice. “What are you doing here?”

He walked over to her desk and set the three books down. “You’ve locked yourself away ever since we returned.”

“Did you miss me?” she joked, standing up.

“Well I’m fairly certain Dorian has taken your lack of presence as a personal insult. He continues to ‘drop’ these while ‘reading’ over the railing,” he pointed to the books, “as if it will give me the sudden willpower to somehow magically summon you.”

Athesa held back a laugh, “I’ve been busy sorting through reports and invitations, but I’ll make sure to visit him tomorrow.”

“Thank you, lethallan.” He turned on his heel ready to leave.

“Wait.” Walking around the table she picked up Dorian’s books and held one out to him. “You can stay, if you’d like.”

After a pause, Solas finally agreed. She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding and watched as he went to sit on her loveseat. There was a hesitation - considering if she should sit on her bed. No, she could handle this. The Inquisitor was sure of it, and kept repeating that phrase like a mantra as she took a seat next to him. Apparently it was a book he hadn’t read yet, because more than once he told her about the ideas of elven history in it. She discussed them with him, telling him about the stories her Keeper had told her in relation. After a while though, the two of them fell into that comfortable silence she loved.

Eventually her eyelids grew heavy. When she closed them it only felt like she’d sat like that for five minutes, but opened them to find a dark room. With a mix of the moon shining brightly and a couple of candles on her desk still flickering she was able to see Solas sitting beside her. His head was rolled forward and she realized that he was either looking down or had fallen asleep around the same time she had. Given that his eyes were closed, she knew the former was unlikely. Slowly, she leaned forward until her hands were close enough to grab the book out of his lap. While it was probably a better idea to simply wake him up, a part of her was afraid to. Worried that he’d politely apologize and leave her.

He didn’t jerk awake like she so often did so maybe that was why she jumped when he reached for her wrist - stopping her. That cool grip weighed down again and she could feel her neck heat up. Something was wrong - he seemed somber. Her mind quickly skimmed through the possibilities. Maybe he had seen something in the Fade that disturbed him?

Athesa stayed perfectly still when he turned and reached up to hold her face. She let her own hand cover his, and when his thumb ran across the lines of her vallaslin she leaned into his palm. There was that heavy force but it didn’t feel like so much of a burden anymore. It grounded her, proved that what was going on what real. Not just some dream from the Fade or a demon taunting her. Her heart beat rapidly against her ribcage as if it was trying to jump up her throat. He had never been so close before. There wasn’t a desk or a pile of books. Just her and Solas and his thumb quietly tracing her markings. The Inquisitor wanted to press forward, to see how much she could push until he turned her away. Would he leave? Just the thought of it made her grip on his hand tighten in anticipation. But when she watched him, really watched, she could see a pained look in his eyes. One that wasn’t caused by trivial things such as missing dinner or snide comments about his serious manner made by Sera.

That was when the weight that was once grounding crashed down around her. She was getting ahead of herself. Surely by this point he could feel the heat rising to her cheeks, but he didn’t comment - he didn’t really say anything. Simply looked at her with a strange, far-off look. Slowly, she leaned back until he had to lower his hand. She thought back to before, when he would do something like this. When she so desperately wanted him to stop casually flirting because of the way it left her unsure and flustered.

“This - You - It needs to…” She swallowed hard before trailing off. Did it really have to stop? She didn’t want it to - didn’t want him to. But every time he complimented her or even just looked at her the right way she felt that stupid ceiling sitting right on her chest. Threatening to suffocate if she didn’t do something about it.

“What is it?” He was frowning, concerned. Suddenly his entire posture seemed to change, pulling back from her.

“I don’t know. Nothing.” The heels of her hands pressed into her closed eyes. “I’m just tired.”

“I should go.”

She stood up with him, effectively stopping the elf in his tracks. Panic and regret began to swell up inside of her - she never should have woken him up. “No. You don’t have to.”

“I do. I apologize.”

What was he apologizing for? Before she could say anything else he was walking around her and descending down the stairs.

Athesa sat on her bed and stared at the loveseat grudgingly. Not entirely sure of what happened, she rubbed her eyes before deciding to just go to sleep already. Maybe everything that had happened was just a bad dream.

When she returned to Solas’ study the next day it was a surprise to find the tower nearly empty. After looking in the main hall, the garden, and the tavern, the Inquisitor finally found him arguing with Cassandra and Vivienne in the courtyard. Relief washed over her as she realized he wasn’t purposely avoiding her after last night.

As she approached them it was obvious that they were talking about Cole and were eager to ask her about the matter. None of them could exactly explain what Cole was - surprisingly even Solas had trouble finding reason behind it - but somehow they all managed to have a very strong opinion. Which, honestly, Athesa was taken back by. She had the feeling that he wasn’t a demon, much to Cassandra’s disapproval. However the question still remained: What were they to do with him. In truth she had been putting this off. She liked the spirit, or boy, or whatever form he was taking. Cole wanted to help, and he had saved her from getting killed more than once in battle.

“He stays. If he becomes a problem, we’ll deal with it.” She said it with more force than she was used to, but it succeeded as far as stopping them from arguing with her. “I will deal with it.” Creators knew she didn’t want it to come to that, but even Cole had asked her to do the deed if needed.

Cassandra and Vivienne left with obvious irritation but said nothing aloud. Instead leaving her with Solas.

“My friend,” he said it with a new warmness.

“Can we talk?”

“What about?”

“I want to know more about you.” She tried to reassure herself that it wasn’t entirely a lie.

He held his hands behind his back, “I do believe we’ve spent a great deal talking about me lately.”

“Not about the Fade,” she clarified, “about you.”

“Very well, let us talk. How about we go somewhere else, though.”

The next thing the Inquisitor knew the two of them were in Haven. It was just like before Corypheus’ attack, only completely empty. He walked with her, told her about how he studied the Mark on her hand. When he mentioned that Cassandra nearly had him executed as an apostate she lightheartedly reassured him that that was just Cassandra. He lead her outside of the Chantry and explained his struggles with trying to close the Breach. About how he was ready to flee.

“But you stayed.”

“I did.” He turned to the Breach in the sky, “I told myself, one more attempted to seal the rifts. I tried, and failed. No ordinary magic would affect them. I watched the rifts expand and grow, resigned myself to flee, and then-”

Her mind flashed back to when she first met him, when he helped her close that first rift.

“It seems you hold the key to our salvation. You had sealed it with a gesture, and right then, I felt the whole world change.”

Athesa felt her pulse pick up. “Felt the whole world change?”

“A figure of speech.”

She took a step forward. “I’m aware of the metaphor. I’m more interested in how it felt.”

“You change… everything.”

Her mind thought back to their time together in his study - when he’d said that she was different. How she’d held her breath, unsure of what to say. It was so unlike this time. Her hands didn’t fidget with the hem of her clothes, looking for something to do. Her breath didn’t catch in her throat. “Sweet talker.”

Her hand reached up to turn his head towards her, and when she kissed him it was brief. She pulled back quickly, a bit surprised at her own actions. Then the apologies began to flood her mind until a pair of hands on her hips pulled her back to reality.

Solas’ hands.

As he leaned in to kiss her she could feel her stomach flip one, two, three times. It wasn’t at all how she had imagined it - there wasn’t any of his usual hesitation. His distance. And there wasn’t any time to think before his lips quickly met hers. Her heart pounded loudly in her chest and Athesa was certain that he could feel the thud thud, thud thud rhythm that her hands shook to as they rested on him - one pulling his neck closer while the other held his side. Solas continued to lean in until she founded herself nearly tipping backwards. Her grip tightened in an attempt not to fall back but it seemed to just make him kiss her harder.

Breathe. That’s what she needed to be doing. But how was she supposed to breathe when her mouth was too busy being on his. As if he’d read her mind, the apostate pulled back. When he kissed her again it was quick but she made sure to reciprocate it. And just like that the hands that once pulled her closer were gently pushing her away.

“We shouldn’t. It isn’t right. Not even here.”

The crushing weight that she so often felt around him was gone and it was… strange. It felt wrong, too light. Never in her life did the Inquisitor think that she’d want that dreaded ceiling above her but in that moment she felt like she was going to float away. She’d be stuck in the sky forever. Was this what those dwarves from Orzammar were always complaining about? Head spinning, it took a moment to realize what he’d said. “What do you mean… even here…”

“Where did you think we were?”

The realization dawned on her. “This… This isn’t real.”

“That’s a matter of debate. Probably best discussed after you… Wake up.”

When Athesa woke up it was in a cold sweat and her own bed. She sat up immediately, breathing heavily. Wiping off her sticky palms, she threw the blankets off and stood up. She marched her way out of her quarters and through the main hall as quickly as possible. Thoughts of her time in the Fade with him still lingered, still had her stomach doing strange flips and knots.

Solas greeted her as confident as ever.

“Sleep well?”

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’ve never done anything like that before. On a… number of levels.”

He laughed lightly and she actually resented him for the way it made her heart skip a beat. “I apologize. The kiss was impulsive, and ill-considered. And I should not have encouraged it.”

Immediately she began to wonder if she had pressured him into it. No, that couldn’t be right. After all, he was the one who pulled her closer. He pushed forward until she had to hold on to keep from falling. He leaned in for a second time, even if it was fleeting.

“You say that, but you’re the one who started with tongue.” As she spoke the words they put a smirk on her face.

“I did no such thing!”

“Oh?” The expression quickly grew into a smile. “Does it not count if it’s only Fade tongue?”

“It has been a long time, and things have always been… easier in the Fade. I am not certain that this is the best idea. It could lead to trouble.”

“I’m will to take that chance - if you are.”

“I, maybe. Yes. If I could take a little time to think. There are… considerations.”

“Take all the time you need.”

“Thank you. I am not often thrown by things that happen in dreams, but I am reasonably certain that we are awake now, and if you would wish to discuss anything I would enjoy talking.”

She wanted to talk, but the way her hands shook told her that she couldn’t. She needed to sit down. To finally process everything that had happened in the past two days. So she assured him that she would be back another time before quickly walking out - almost missing Varric’s greeting as she strode through the main hall and back to her quarters.

Chapter Text

Athesa told Dorian about his father’s letter with a gentle tone and fists at her sides. Mother Giselle had wanted her to trick him, to lie to him, but as she stood there in front of her fellow mage her will quickly crumbled to dust. She hadn’t spoken to him in days, and this was how she greeted him. With news of his family and regret in her gut.

“I think you should meet with this retainer… Find out what your family wants.” He was angry, and he had the right to be. She still found herself hesitating - a small hope that whoever wanted to meet with Dorian would only wish to speak. She didn’t want to jump into fighting without a real need.

“I didn’t ask what you thought, did I?” The words hit her hard.

“That… was unworthy. I apologize. There’d be no harm in hearing what this man of my father’s has to say. If I don’t like it, however, I want to leave.”

So she stood outside of the Gull and Lantern, the toe of her boot digging into the ground absentmindedly. Cassandra and Cole had travelled with them, but quickly made themselves scarce when she and Dorian had gone inside. Cassandra claimed that they wanted to give him privacy, and would be looking at the merchant’s wares in the village if anyone needed them.

Thoughts of the conversation with his father flipped through her mind. He had tried to change him with blood magic. It was no wonder why Dorian had left. The anger in his voice still shook her - she’d never seen him so upset. It felt selfish to ask him to stay. It probably was. Her own plead still rang in her ears: Don’t leave it like this Dorian, you’ll never forgive yourself. She knew what it was like to lash out at someone in anger. To attack them with vicious words only to regret it later. The Inquisitor didn’t want him to feel the guilt of not being able to take those words back. He didn’t deserve it. So she asked him to stay, excusing herself before leaving.

When he finally greeted her again he looked tired, claiming that he needed a drink and some sleep before he was ready to discuss what had happened. Athesa knew better than to pry this time, and did her best to engage him in their usual banter on the way back. She waited a good two days before approaching him again, hoping it was enough time for him to process what had happened. He was still upset but as she told him she thought that he was brave for going he seemed to appreciate the sentiment. He perked up a bit, declaring that he’d be in the tavern if she needed him.

As days passed the mountain of paperwork that Josephine had for Athesa began to pile up. She spent a good amount of time sifting through it all, responding to the appropriate invitations from nobles. The longer she was working the more Solas visited her quarters - dropping off books or just there to say hello. Every couple of days he even stopped by to tell her about what he had learned while exploring the Fade. Each time he walked up those stairs she made sure to greet him with a smile. It was the only way that she could express how much she enjoyed his company without coming right out and saying it. He would sit on her small couch with her or occasionally they would stand out on the balcony. That pile of work sat on her desk, begging to be read after she would push it aside nearly every time. Truthfully, the apostate was distracting her from her less exciting duties but she couldn’t bring herself to care.

He seemed to notice this quickly, though, because one day in particular he motioned for her to sit back down when he entered.

“I wouldn’t want to interrupt your work,” he pointed out approaching her.

“It’s not interrupting.”

“Oh really? It seems that your desk would disagree.”

She paused, looking down at the letters that were scattered before her. So he had finally noticed. “Well, then why don’t you help me?”

He looked hesitant, “I am not sure that I would be the best choice when it comes to responding to Orlesian nobles. Perhaps Dorian or Vivienne would be better suited.”

“Dorian is probably in the tavern and Vivienne is… intimidating, to put it mildly. Besides, I don’t think either of them would truly appreciate how horrible these are.”

“You would rather subject me to them?” He laughed lightly. “Then by all means.”

The Inquisitor gathered up her paperwork and carried it over to the middle of the bed where she sat crosslegged. Solas took a seat on the edge, examining the pile between them. Lavellan watched intently as he picked one up, read it, and set it back down.

“These are all horribly offensive,” he took another one, this time deciding to read it to her, “‘Inquisitor, I would be extremely honored if you could attend a small soiree I’m hosting at my chateau. I would also be most grateful if you wore shoes, I understand the Dalish are a bit more… earthy, than most?’ Earthy? Honestly?”

She quickly picked up another, “How about this: ‘My lady, we are trying to discuss what kind of animals our elven servants would find the least offensive to have served at a dinner, since you yourself are an elf can you give us any insight?’” It was truly awful, but Athesa found herself raising the paper to hide her growing smile. Yes, these nobles were condescending and prejudiced but they wrote their words with such a dignified voice - it was ridiculous. How in the world did they expect her to take these requests seriously when each one managed to insult her in the same breath? “Do you have any suggestions?”

Frowning, he answered with the same spiteful tone she’d heard him use with Dorian so many times before. “A magistrate.”

The thought made her laugh, “I’ll make sure to remember that. Here,” she brushed hands with him as she passed over yet another one. This one had a symbol that looked like it was from Val Royeaux.

Inquisitor, I’ve recently received word that you have taken an elven servant into the Inquisition and have to say that I am surprised. I had no idea you were so… dignified.” There was a smirk on his face, obviously holding something back, and she could feel herself getting defensive.

“What’s wrong?” She could feel the heat rising to her cheeks. “I never said you were a servant. I don’t know where they could have gotten the idea that-”

“No. It is not that.” Athesa watched with a mix of awe and horror because it almost looked like he was going to start laughing. “Apparently the people of Orlais seem to think that you are dignified.”

“... Why are you smiling? Am I not dignified?”

“I never said you weren’t, but do they know that this is the same Inquisitor who has struggled to take down a Bronto by herself?”

“I’ll have you know that I helped to kill that dragon in Crestwood,” she replied defiantly. “Are you not even going to comment on the fact that they called you my servant?”

“Unfortunately, that is to be expected. But dignified...” He let out a small chuckle, setting the letter down. At least he seemed to be in a better mood, she thought to herself bitterly. “Is there anything else?”

Certain that she was still red out of embarrassment and frustration, the Inquisitor scanned the remaining letters. Mostly in hope that the distraction would drain the colour from her face. “Complaining about the fact that the Inquisitor is an elf, outrage at the Inquisitor being a mage, a couple of apologies.”

“Apologies?”

She tore it open, "Inquisitor, I am very sorry that I approached you and asked where the food trays were. You just look very… similar to my servants at home. My sincerest apologies and your ham tastes very much of despair.

“How thoughtful,” he didn’t hide his distaste.

Solas began to read one from Antiva and soon it turned into a game of who could find the most outrageous request. Or even better: who could come up with the best response. While Athesa had an eye for finding them, she couldn’t seem to catch up with his sharp tongue.

My lady, my son heard you were both an elf and a mage and would like you to attend his 7th nameday party. We had a circle mage last year, but he insists that you would have knowledge of other arcane arts to enchant him and his other friends. He would most like to see the shrubbery in the garden come to life.”

“... I may actually go to that one.”

“You can not be serious,” he frowned.

“Why?”

“Elves are already slaves, do you wish to make them novelties as well?”

“He’s only a child.”

“Exactly my point. He is young, impressionable. It is obvious that this boy has already been taught to be discriminatory, why would you want to enforce that?”

“I wouldn’t be enforcing anything. I’d be teaching him that mages - as well as elves- are not to be feared. What if I could show him that elves are equal to humans?”

He paused. “... I suppose that could be true as well. As usual, you continue to surprise me.”

They looked through the last few - two from the Free Marches and three from Fereldon nobles - together before realizing that they had read through all of them.

“I guess that is it.” He almost sounded disappointed.

Trying to make the pile look a little more organized, she sighed, “I’m sure there will be more soon,” there was a beat before she continued, “... I’m bringing Sera and Blackwall with me to the Emerald Graves, and thought you might be interested in coming, too.”

“Certainly. When do we leave?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

“In that case, I am afraid there are some things I must take care of before we go,” the bed creaked slightly as he stood up.

“We’ll talk later.”

“Of course.”

* * *

Sera and I were just talking about you. We need you to settle a question for us.

Lavellan could hear Blackwall and Solas speaking from inside her tent as she got dressed. It had taken them just over a week to travel to the Emerald Graves, only needing to stop along the way a couple of times. The area was surrounded by large, lush trees that made the Inquisitor stare up in awe. She couldn’t help but notice that everything was so green, so different from their time in the Hinterlands. Even if they hadn’t been there for long, she already liked it more. There was a strange familiarity that put her at ease. Leaves and branches were almost always above them when they had explored earlier, the canopy giving a good amount of shade. That morning was a humid one, but she breathed in the dense air happily. It was the day when they would finally meet Fairbanks in person, as well as gather the letters Cullen had asked for. When Athesa finally climbed out of her tent she saw her three companions already standing around in a circle eating.

“-Oh for... really?!” Solas asked, obviously exasperated by whatever the Warden had asked him.

“Look, it’s a natural thing to be curious about!”

“For a twelve year old!”

“It’s a simple yes or no question.”

“What’s going on?” she finally approached them.

“Nothing,” Solas answered harshly, “and nothing about the Fade or spirits is simple, especially not that.”

“Aha! So you do have experience in these matters!”

“I did not say that.”

Sera was turned away now, stifling laughter. The Inquisitor was about to speak again when Blackwall joked, “Don’t panic. It’ll be our little secret.”

“... Ass.”

He laughed. “Who’s twelve now?”

After speaking to Fairbanks they spent most of the day travelling - searching down bandits and finding letters about smuggling lyrium for Cullen. Every so often they would stop to eat, or set up another camp. Slowly, the Inquisitor could feel herself settling into the routine of leading the Inquisition. The cycle of arriving, speaking to Scout Harding, filling requisitions, and fighting off Red Templars or darkspawn as needed. The ease led to a small hope that maybe she was finally adjusting. She would be able to be more than just the First to clan Lavellan.

As the afternoon slowly turned to evening, Sera began to protest that she wanted to head back to camp. They had just taken down a giant so the request wasn’t an unreasonable one, however Athesa still wanted to see if she could find more of what remained from when the elves lived there.

“I’m going to look around some more,” she decided, “you can go ahead, I’ll catch up soon.”

Neither the rogue nor Blackwall hesitated to take her up on the offer, looking to Solas questioningly as they began to back away.

“I will stay as well. We would not want the Inquisitor walking alone when we have yet to find all of the rifts in this area.”

That caused them to give each other a guilty look, but she quickly waved them off. The apostate was just being grim, she would be fine. She was glad to see their relief when the two of them finally left.

“I’m surprised you’re not tired as well,” she commented looking up at the trees that towered above them while walking.

He walked beside her, matching the pace she had set, “I’ll manage.”

While they roamed they managed to avoid any smugglers, only having to deal with the occasional bear or pack of wolves.  The two of them were even able to successfully find and unlock an astrarium.

Eventually they approached a large sculpture that she hadn’t seen yet. The Inquisitor immediately recognized it. After all, she had read all about the elven Goddess Andruil as well as her story. The owl that stood before them was supposed to represent her messenger, and some clans even believed that it was meant to show them the right path to take. If only Athesa had come across this earlier, maybe she would have been able to explain the meaning behind it to the others. Then again, she didn’t think Sera would appreciate her knowledge on the subject.

Her hand reached out to touch the statue as she stepped forward, palm flat against the cold, smooth stone. It was beautifully carved and she felt pride in knowing that it was from the days of her people. The fact that she was standing where they once stood - a place she had only read and heard stories of - was incredible. The very idea had her smiling softly in admiration.

“Andruil’s messenger,” Solas said simply.

There was a small breeze that caused her to hold back a small shiver, “My brother’s vallaslin honours Andruil.”

“What is he like?”

She let her hand drop before turning around to face him, “He’s a hunter, stubborn, and cold - especially towards me - but... loyal. We never got along very well.”

“That is disappointing to hear.” He shifted his weight to lean on his staff.

“When we were younger he’d always yell at me for being too gullible or walking off. Apparently I wasn’t the responsible older sister he had wanted.” She began to idly walk backwards, deeper into the forest and away from camp. He quickly put away his weapon and began to follow. “Our mother always said that he had a heart made out of ironbark: unforgiving in battle, but strong and reliable.” There was a smile on her face as she told Solas about learning she’d be going to the Conclave. How excited she had been to tell Adriel when she would be leaving.

“Of course, he didn’t take it well. He said that I was naive to think the Keeper would choose me out of everyone in the clan to go.” It had been one of their worst arguments. Her footsteps slowed down as she remembered his criticizing tone. How she didn’t brush him off like the adult she was supposed to be. No, instead Athesa lashed out at him in return. She declared that he was jealous and needed to stop taking out his own misery on her. Adriel had stopped speaking to her after that, only giving a silent glare when she finally left.

“I am sure your brother has forgiven you by now,” he tried to reassure her. “It is incredible how quickly one’s attitude can change.”

“I just wish that I could tell him that I’m sorry.”

Taking another step back, the Inquisitor’s stomach dropped as she felt her heel catch on what must have been a tree root.

Solas’ hands reached out for her upper arms in an attempt to catch her. Or had she grabbed onto him in the moment of panic? The iron grip on his elbows softened as she quickly regained her footing, but he didn’t let go of her. Feeling her face begin to heat up, she held her breath. That breeze came by again, causing the leaves above them to rustle quietly, but she didn’t think the shiver was from the wind this time. Creators, he was so close. Unmoving, eyes locked with hers. It was the first time she noticed that they were blue. They were blue, and sad, and looking right at her. She had spent so many times avoiding that gaze out of embarrassment, but now it just felt ridiculous. All of those moments she could have been this close but had hidden away - forced out a goodbye before leaving with her ears tinted pink. A part of her wondered what her eyes looked like to him. Could the golden colour make his mouth go dry and pulse speed up? Did she have the same affect on him, regardless of the way he easily complimented her? The possibility made her stomach knot. If it was true, she could easily just stretch up and…

But, no. She couldn’t. He had said that he needed time to think things through and she accepted that. She had to accept it because the alternative was not seeing him at all and that just wasn’t an option anymore. Not really. They’d spent so many afternoons sitting together quietly, evenings discussing the Fade and their ancestors, she wasn’t ready for it to stop just yet. So instead she would wait.

That’s why she cleared her throat and forced herself to glance down between them. “We should go back to camp. Sera has probably lit Blackwall’s beard on fire by now.”

With the names of their companions hanging in the air Solas dropped his hands and took a step backwards. “Yes, I suppose you are right.”

The air felt clearer almost instantly and Athesa allowed herself to take in a deep, if not slightly shaky, breath. The way he spoke to her on their walk back was as if nothing out of the blue had happened. Like she hadn’t just spent an absurd amount of time watching him stare at her.

All that welcomed them at camp was a smoking firepit and Sera happily humming to herself in her tent. Lavellan was surprised that the two of them had already decided to retire for the night seeing that it wasn’t very late yet but brushed it off without much thought. She stood in front of the fire pit, watching the embers fade out and considering going to bed herself. That was, until she heard Solas’ voice from in his tent. It was muffled, but she thought she could make out a “Fenedhis!

“Solas?” she called out, approaching slowly.

“Come in.” His tone was bitter and irritated and when she entered she could see exactly why.

“Your tent is clearly infested with lizards.” She couldn’t help but stare as the reptiles slowly crawled out of his bedroll and into the tent. There were so many, where in the world had they come from? She wasn’t afraid of them, but the sheer number still left her feeling jumpy.

“Yes. It seems that I will have nowhere to sleep for the night.”

The Inquisitor swallowed. “You could stay in my tent, which doesn’t have any lizards. If you’d like.”

“Oh no-”

“If not that’s fine as well.” The words spilled out quickly, and Elgar’nan, she was going to start rambling if she wasn’t careful.

“No, I just. I would not want to impose on you and your… lack of lizards.”

If there was going to be a time to stop this ridiculous conversation she knew it would be now. Tell him never mind, she’d just help him clear out the tent, or suggest that he sleep outside. It’s what she probably should have done, but the sight of him staring at her was still fresh in her mind. “I don’t want you to have to stay with all of these lizards. I can only imagine what kind of company they’d be.”

“Well they would certainly not be my first choice. So if you insist, it seems that there are no other options.” She hoped that the lack of regret in his voice was real rather than just wishful thinking.

“Okay. I will… See you soon then.” Quickly excusing herself, Athesa made her way back to her own tent to make room for her… guest. Just the thought made the back of her neck burn as she slid her things to one side of the tent. It was shortly after when Solas arrived, now empty bedroll rolled up in his arms while he crawled inside.

She sat on her feet quietly, watching him as he set out what would be his bed next to hers. What did she think she was doing? Inviting him to sleep in her tent like this. It wasn’t too small of a space but the air still felt thicker as she tried to swallow it down. The flimsy walls were closing in on her again. Sure, she had gotten used to it but that was when she slept alone. Not with another person taking up half of the space.

“Have you been sleeping better since getting the potions from Vivienne?” He didn’t look at her when he spoke, instead shuffling through his bag for something. Could he feel her watching him? Maybe she should stop. Looking down at her hands, she frowned after realizing that they were sticky with sweat.

“Yes. They’ve helped a lot.”

Air. All she needed was some fresh air. She told him just that and left before he was even finished saying okay.

The cool air felt refreshing as it passed in and out of her lungs. Her hands rested on her knees as she bent over and squeezed her eyes shut. Breathe in, two, three, four, and breathe out, two, three, four. The Inquisitor was overreacting, that was all. It wasn’t like they were even doing anything. She was simply letting him sleep in her tent for the night, like any friend would in their situation. A friend who she had imagined kissing earlier that evening, but a friend nonetheless.

After a few minutes she forced herself to go inside. Solas was already laying down, eyes closed and breathing even. He faced away from her ready to sleep on his side and it made the darkness feel just a little less heavy on her limbs. Cautiously she climbed into her bedroll and rolled over to face away as well.

They laid like that, Athesa silently counting each inhale and exhale. Her breathing felt so heavy, so loud compared to his. She prayed that he couldn’t hear her. Maybe he was already asleep. After all, his eyes were closed when she had returned.

“Goodnight, Inquisitor.”

Her stomach dropped. Why didn’t he use her name? She wanted him to say it. To find out what it would sound like coming from Solas who laid beside her at night- and Dread Wolf take her, she had to stop thinking like that.

“Goodnight, Solas.” It was quiet but there wasn’t any doubt that he had heard her.

Chapter Text

She woke up before he did, and for just a few moments there was a blissful ignorance to the Inquisitor’s situation. Her arm was numb from laying on her side, getting pins and needles when she eventually rolled over onto her back. Barely lifting her eyelids, she could make out the sunlight hitting the ceiling of the tent. She sat up, pinching the bridge of her nose as she forced her eyes fully open - regardless of the stinging the daylight caused in them. Maybe it wasn’t too late to go back to sleep. The tent felt comfortable - more so than it had in weeks - and she wanted to relish the feeling.

There was a noise coming from beside her. Lavellan turned slowly to see that, just like her, Solas hadn’t moved once all night. His body rose with each slow and even breath, mumbling in something that sounded like elvish. Without thinking she leaned towards him. What was he saying? She wasn’t fluent in the language, but liked to think that she had a good grasp on it. Maybe if she could just hear him... Still, he was too quiet. So she leaned over him a bit more, and more, until the Inquisitor was nearly hovering over him.

It was easier now. She could understand bits of what he was saying. Halam’shivanas. The phrase sounded familiar, but she couldn’t remember the meaning for the life of her. Was he speaking to a spirit? If so it wouldn’t be a surprise. The tips of hair that had fallen out of her ponytail brushed over his face and Athesa shot up quickly. Watching him like one of Dennet’s spooked horses, she prayed that he didn’t wake up. What would Solas think about finding the Inquisitor nearly on top of him? What was she thinking? It was reckless, and creepy, and she immediately regretted the decision as shame washed over her. If it wasn’t for the fact that she was too terrified to move she would have been burying her face in her hands. His nose scrunched up in discomfort as a hand scratched his cheek. She was holding her breath now, heart beating so loudly in her ears that it was a surprise he couldn’t hear it. Thankfully all the elf did was roll onto his other side to face her.

Okay. Good.

Slowly, she let herself lay back down. A sigh of relief was caught in her throat, too afraid to let it escape.

For the next two hours she dozed in and out of consciousness, slipping out of the Fade easily when one of them shifted to another position. After all of those restless nights spent tossing and turning it was a relief to just lay there in a sleepy haze. Every so often one of them would try to stretch out and nearly bump into the other, which would cause her heartbeat to pick up again.

When she finally woke up she could feel that the bedroll was twisted, constricting her uncomfortably. Frowning, Athesa screwed her eyes shut and tried to roll over from her back onto her stomach. It was a struggle that left her huffing but eventually she was able to prop herself up on her elbows. Blowing the hair out of her face, she glanced at Solas.

He was smiling. Just barely, but it was there.

“... How long have you been awake?”

“Not much longer than you, don’t worry,” he began to sit up before rubbing his eyes.

The Inquisitor quickly followed his lead and soon the two of them were folding up their bedrolls to pack away.

“How did you sleep?” she tried her best to keep her voice nonchalant as she faced away from him.

“Surprisingly well.”

A beat. “Did you know that you talk in your sleep?”

“Really? Hopefully I didn’t wake you.”

So he didn’t know. In fact, she found it a bit off that he was acting so… normal. The whole thing felt very anticlimactic. Apparently she was all worked up last night for nothing.

“No, not at all.”

Her hair was still a tangled mess, pieces falling out of the elastic she had neglected to take out the night before. With all of her tossing it was no surprise, but still left her frustrated. There was a frown on her face as she did her best to pick the elastic out but it just wasn’t cooperating. There was a loud hiss when she pulled at it the wrong way.

“Would you like some help?”

“... Please,” she turned away so that he could stand on his knees behind her.

Solas took the hair out of her hands and slowly began to work at it. She sat there staring at her lap while he struggled with the knot. It was obvious that he was trying to be gentle, but she still couldn’t help the occasional flinch. Sorry, he would say under his breath before and after each slight tug. A warning to brace herself that she was grateful for followed by an apology. Thankfully it wasn’t long until he was reaching over her shoulder to drop the elastic in her palm. When he moved to leave however, she quickly grabbed his wrist.

“I have a question.”

“Somehow I am not surprised,” his chest  brushed against her back. She had him trapped in an awkward position - trying not to lean on her as she kept a grip on him that told him to, nearly begged him to.

Athesa maneuvered around to face him, their knees brushing as she sat on her feet. “What does halam’shivanas mean?”

“Do you not know elvish?” There was a puzzled look on his face.

“I do. Or I was taught most of it at least.”

“But not that.”

“No.”

He didn’t hesitate to returned her gaze. “It refers to the sacrifice of duty. Why do you ask?”

She paused, looking down at his wrist that was still in her hand. She wanted to tell him the truth, she really did, but there was a fear there. A fear that told her that if she was honest he’d grow distant again. It would be just like that night in her room when he had held her face and looked at her with those sad eyes.

Solas was finally growing comfortable around her and she couldn’t ruin that. So instead she lied. “... When I was in the Fade I saw a spirit. That was what it had said.”

He seemed to accept the answer. “We should go before the others wake, assuming they have not already. I would hate to give Sera more reason to make assumptions about the habits of elves.”

Letting go of his wrist, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Of course. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

It turned out that Blackwall had already woken up, but said nothing as Solas climbed out of her tent with his bedroll in his arms. Sera arrived not long after the Inquisitor, yawning but in a surprisingly good mood. Thankfully the Warden didn’t bring up anything he might have seen so everything proceeded as usual.

They spent the day protecting refugees from more Freemen of the Dales and fulfilling requisitions. More than once they came across rifts that needed to be closed. The task was surprisingly easy, only dealing with wraiths and the occasional terror. It was nothing new to any of them, to the point where Athesa found her mind wandering while she fought. It was nearly effortless, until suddenly it wasn’t.

She had approached the last rift recklessly - assumed that it would be as easy as the other ones if not easier. But as more terror and despair demons appeared she could feel herself falling behind. Each spell was cast with more desperation than the last. Sera’s swearing was the only thing that was louder than the pride demon’s laugh - a laugh that make her knees weak and heart threaten to stop altogether. Reaching for potions at nearly every break in combat, the fear that they would run out soon was growing. She fired spell after spell at each enemy, only looking away when disrupting the rift to see how her teammates were doing.

“Somebody help Solas!” Just as she yelled the words a terror demon sprang up from the ground. As if it was in slow motion, the creature picked up Solas before slamming his body down into the dirt.

The apostate didn’t get up.

Her hand tingled with static as she closed the rift as quickly as possible. The seconds it took felt like years and she didn’t let her gaze leave him. No no no no no. He was still laying there on his back, gasping for breath. How long had it been now? He should have been up, brushing himself off, but he wasn’t. And the fact that he wasn’t caused the colour to drain from her face.

“Solas?” she nearly tripped over her own feet while rushing to kneel next to him. He had been hurt in battle before, but never like this. Never taken out so quickly. The feeling of fear began to rise, her breathing shallow as she looked over him for injuries. What was she supposed to do? All of their potions were gone, and the only spell that she knew which might help was a simple barrier.

“I am fine,” he finally said and began to sit up. Quickly, she grabbed his shoulder to stop him.

“You’re not,” her hand felt wet and she looked to see that it was stained red. “We’re going back to Skyhold.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

She could feel Blackwall and Sera’s presence behind her now. “I don’t care if it’s not necessary we’ll leave this afternoon - after we eat. I need to speak with Cullen anyway.”

“Lethallan-”

“I’m not changing my mind.”

He simply sighed before standing up with her. Apparently it wasn’t worth arguing over. Rarely speaking on their way back to camp, Solas did little but wince when his shoulder moved the wrong way or mutter under his breath about how the whole ordeal was unnecessary. The apostate wasn’t pleased but she couldn’t bring herself to care. He was hurt and she felt responsible. If only she had thought to set another barrier around him, or given him more potions.

The four of them sat around the fire, Solas’ injured shoulder now bandaged, eating their food and speaking idly. It was enjoyable, but the Inquisitor couldn’t help looking over at him every few minutes. It was as if she was afraid he’d suddenly drop dead or disappear altogether. She noticed that that was how she felt a lot lately. It was like the two of them were walking on thin ice. They grew closer, but if one of them took a wrong step he’d quickly distance himself every single time. It was obvious that he was holding himself back and each time it happened he left her more frustrated than before.

It was slowly building up inside of her. She wanted him to be able to talk to her dammit. It was definitely possible. There were still those few moments when he would open up, or laugh at something she had read to him. She found herself thriving on it, and had to resist pushing more in order to see that side of him.

And then there was the fact that she had heard him speaking in his sleep.

“Have you ever had any interest in learning magic, Sera?” His words shook Athesa from her thoughts. “While it has not manifested naturally, there are ways to determine whether arcane gifts lie dormant within you.”

“What? Don’t make me think about that. I have to sleep at night!”

“Sleeping would give you the chance to explore the Fade. I could introduce you to spirits.”

The Inquisitor raised her eyebrows in surprise. It was something he hadn’t even offered her, so why was Solas suddenly acting so friendly to the rogue? Sera seemed to recognize this, too.

“Right, you’re messing with me on purpose!”

“Why would I do that? It’s not as if I know who filled my bedroll with lizards.”

She took a bite of her food to keep from laughing.

“Heh. Fair point! That was pretty good.”

The first thing Athesa did when they got to Skyhold was deliver the letters to Cullen. She kept her distance from Solas for those first few days, wanting him to rest until his shoulder was fully healed. Truthfully, those few days without him pained her, so she spent them in the Tavern either with Sera or the Chargers.

It was a week after their return that she found him walking around the courtyard with Cole. She was speaking to one of Leliana’s agents - asking him to give her a letter from Orlais - and it took all of her will not to leave the young man in the dust. Instead, she handed over the letter and dismissed him before calmly walking over to the two of them.

“Thank you, Cole,” Solas said grimly before turning to her.

“What’s wrong?” She frowned, watching the boy leave the two of them to be alone.

“It is nothing.”

“Solas,” she could tell that it wasn’t. The way he was hunched over slightly - it was as if he was physically carrying a heavy burden. “You can talk to me. Is it your shoulder?”

He sighed, letting his eyes close for a moment before speaking. “You were worried when I was hurt. More so than I expected you to be.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Yes. You need to be concerned about yourself first and foremost when in battle.”

“You think that… what? You were distracting me?”

“No. I know that I was.”

“So what do you suggest?”

“That, if you would allow it, I remain here at Skyhold.”

“You weren’t distracting me, though. I was concerned.”

“And it would be foolish to think that your concern did not lead you to lower your defences. If Blackwall wasn’t so attentive you yourself may have been wounded.”

She gave a noise of disbelief. “Let me just... Let me clarify: you can worry about me, but as soon as I’m concerned about the fact that you’re seriously injured I’m being foolish?”

“That is not the word I would have used.”

“Then what? Naive? Reckless? Rash? Callow? I had the right to be worried, Solas. I didn’t know how hurt you were, and you were the only one who knew the right healing spells...” While she listed off the traits irritably Athesa began to pace back and forth in front of him. She was getting too angry too fast, feeling hot in her own skin. It was like all of her annoyances from the past two weeks were bubbling up at once and threatening to spill over. She gained a rhythm as she spoke, momentum building with each word that was spit out at him.

“I know how to take care of myself - I’ve been doing it for years. You’ve taught me a lot about the Fade and elven history, yes, but I am not some helpless, wide-eyed, Dalish elf with a Chantry boy-esque crush on her hahren. You are my friend, not my Keeper.”

“That is true-”

Then act like it,” Athesa snapped. Unfit for combat? Really? If anything he should be happy that she cared about him so much.  “Being distressed does not always equal to being distracted. Creators, caring about someone doesn’t have to be a vulnerability. So don’t you dare mistake my feelings for me being weak - especially when those feelings are about you.”

“... It seems as if something else is bothering you.”

“Yes, in fact, there is-” she paused, suddenly unready to voice her frustration with him. Would he just push her away again if she did? Memories of the fight with her brother sprang to mind. No, she couldn’t let it end like that. Her hand raised to rub her forehead. “I- I need to go... sit down. Or something.”

She walked away still fuming. Solas had crossed a line and apparently he knew it, because all the apostate did was stand there in the courtyard watching as she left. Meanwhile the Inquisitor continued to mutter under her breath, thankful that she had walked away when she did so he wouldn’t hear what curses she spoke now. Her blood had turned acidic, burning as it ran through her veins to fuel her.

“Iron Bull,” she marched right over to his seat when she entered the tavern.

He sat up a little straighter at the sight of her scowling face. “What is it, Boss?”

“I need your help. Bring Krem.”

* * *

The Inquisitor wiped the sweat from her brow, panting heavily. There was another swoosh as the stick of wood in her hands swung at the mannequin in front of her.

This is why you needed to borrow it?”

“Yes.” She grunted, hitting it yet again to create a loud thwack. Truthfully her arms were burning, a plea to just stop already. She was a mage, not a swordsman - leave the physical labour to Cassandra and Blackwall. But there was still acid in her veins and the only way she could think to stop it was by doing this. And at this point her current target was probably a better option than Solas himself.

“Sure you don’t want to talk about it?” Krem piped up from his spot against the tree.

Thwack.

“Nope.”

Was it childish? Maybe. Was the Inquisitor deciding to simply throw a tantrum in front of anyone who happened to walk by? Probably. Should she put Bull’s ridiculously large stick away and talk about her problems like a responsible adult? Most likely. In that moment, however, she didn’t feel like a responsible adult, or really wanted to be one. The only thing she felt was anger. So it was decided that she wouldn’t speak to Solas unless he apologized.

And until then, she would beat the shit out of this mannequin.

The sky began to turn pink when Iron Bull finally convinced Athesa that it was time to stop. Not having the energy to argue, she gave him back his stick and thanked him. Meanwhile the Qunari seemed more than happy to oblige. She woke up the next morning to burning limbs that led her to the conclusion that the previous day had been a mistake. Yes, she should definitely stick to using magic.

The Inquisitor was still frustrated with Solas, but her anger didn’t seem to burn through her as much as before. She didn’t approach him, though. No, if he wanted to speak he knew where her quarters were - Creators knew that he had been there enough. So instead she only visited the circle when she needed to speak with Dorian. In fact, she wouldn’t even allow herself to look at him while she strode through his study and up the stairs.

After the first night a part of her wondered if she was being too petty. What if she had reacted too strongly… No, she would quickly remind herself that while she had been pretty angry, there was a reason for it. She was tired of him being so careful around her. Athesa needed him to realize that while at times she may be in over her head, she could handle herself. The Inquisitor wasn’t a fragile elf who didn’t understand the consequences of her actions.

What she needed was for him to trust her.

So she didn’t say a word to him. For the first week it worked well. Her advisors were pleased to see that she was accomplishing more than ever, pouring herself into her work. The second week, however, was much worse. Her will was crumbling to the point where she had to avoid the rotunda altogether.

The last night was a particularly hard one. She had managed to finish all of her paperwork for the requisitions after dinner and was left sitting on the edge of her bed staring at the floor.

The idea of approaching him first was quickly growing on her.

There was a soft knock on the door, and she nearly jumped.

“Inquisitor,” Solas nodded from the top of the staircase. Her heart skipped a beat at the sight, regardless of her current disfavour with him.

“Solas.”

“I came to apologize.”

She couldn’t help but raise her eyebrows. “Apologize?”

“Yes,” he walked across the room to stand in front of her, “When we last spoke you didn’t react as I had thought you would. I upset you. Offended, even. That was not my intent and I… I am sorry.”

Her fingers dug into the fabric on her bed. “How exactly were you expecting me to react?”

“I thought you would understand that I was simply concerned for you.”

“And I want you to know that while I appreciate your concern, I can take care of myself.”

“Tell me, what should I have said then?” There was an edge to his voice that only fueled her irritation. “Would you have not been angry if I kept my mouth shut?”

“No. I would rather be angry at you for saying something than claim that everything is fine when it obviously isn’t.”

“That’s what I did, is it not?”

“No. I mean, yes,” she sighed, “but that hasn’t been the norm lately. You were right when you said that it wasn’t just that. I…” Athesa glanced up at him, feeling her courage disappear.

“Take your time.”

“Friends tell each other when things are bothering them. I can’t do that when you’re so… distant.”

“... I see. I did not mean to be.”

“No, but sometimes you are. And before,” she bit her lip, unsure if she should continue, “… It was like you didn’t even realize that you could be wrong.”

His eyebrows drew together at her words, apparently they struck a chord with him.

“Maybe it’s just the kind of person you are, but I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t bother me when you act that way.”

“Good.”

She gave him a surprised look. “Good?”

“You are right. In your position I too would rather be aware than left in the dark. And next time I will try to consider my actions first.”

“Okay.”

“I have not had friends aside from spirits for quite some time. It is… unusual for me. But please, do not think that I am not trying.”

“That’s all I can ask. Thank you.”

The Inquisitor stood up with a small bounce in her step before pausing. What now? Did she hug him? Or maybe shake his hand? No, just the thought of it felt too awkward. Slowly, she watched for his reaction as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He hugged her back and a wave of relief washed over her. It was ridiculous, even though their argument had only been a couple of weeks ago she missed it; talking to him and listening while he rambled on about Arlathan. She missed the sight of his frescoes, and reading next to him in his study.

The realization came slowly as they stood there: just how much she needed him to miss her too, how she desperately hoped that Solas wanted her just as much as she wanted him. He was pretentious, and distant, and talked about the Fade far too much for someone normal but she still wanted him. The thought made her chest feel too tight and her hands sweaty against the fabric of his shirt.

“I’m glad. I’m not sure how much longer I could have avoided the rotunda,” she tried to joke, hiding shaky hands behind her back as they pulled apart.

“Me too,” his hands dropped to his sides. “It is late, I should go.”

“Of course,” she nodded in agreement.

She waited until she could clearly hear the door close behind him before sitting back down and letting her back hit the mattress. It took all of her effort to just lay there and not smother herself with the pillow. Instead, she rolled onto her side and brought her knees up to her chest, hands clutching her stomach as it twisted into that tight knot she was getting more and more often. She fell asleep like that, still in her day clothes and curled up, her mind filled with hazy dreams of his arms around her.

Chapter Text

After her talk with Solas, things seemed to return to normal. She would spend her spare time studying with him, occasionally reading at his desk while he painted. It was peaceful aside from the occasional hushed argument from above. As well, almost nobody would bother her while she was in the tower, which she was more than grateful for.

One day she walked in to see him sitting in his chair, nose scrunched up in distaste as he set the cup on the desk.

“Something wrong with your tea?”

“It is tea, I detest the stuff. But this morning, I need to shake the dreams from my mind,” he looked from the cup to her. “I may also need a favour.”

“You just have to ask,” Athesa told him a bit too eagerly.

“One of my oldest friends has been captured by mages, forced into slavery. I heard the cry for help as I slept.”

“I’d be happy to help,” she answered immediately - happy that he was even telling her about this. “What did these mages use to capture your friend? Blood magic?”

“A summoning circle, I would imagine.”

“I’m sorry?”

Solas went on to explain that his friend was a spirit of wisdom from the Fade. It was summoned unwillingly by mages, and had cried out for help while he was sleeping. Now, he was asking her to help find and save it. It was an odd request, but she wasn’t about to suggest that they ignore the situation. If Solas felt such an attachment to the spirit, it must have been important.

“All right. Let’s go get your friend.”

So they travelled to the Exalted Plains, asking Cassandra and Sera to come along as well. It didn’t take long to find the area he had marked on her map for her but unfortunately they had still come too late. Whatever his friend had been before, it had become a pride demon. There were tall rocks surrounding it with a small group of mages nearby. She turned to Solas, surprised to see that he wasn’t sad. No, he was angry.

“The mages turned your friend into a demon.”

“Yes.”

“A mage! You’re not with the bandits? Do you have any lyrium potions? Most of us are exhausted. We’ve been fighting that demon…” A man approached them - one of the mages - looking desperate for help.

“You summoned that demon! Except it was spirit of wisdom at the time. You made it kill. You twisted it against its purpose.”

The mage looked taken aback, stuttering that he could explain the state of spirits to him after they helped. She had to stop herself from laughing bitterly.

“Word of advice? I’d hold off on explaining how demons work to my friend here.”

He began to speak again until Solas cut him off.

“Shut up.

The elf began to pace back and forth, frantically thinking out loud. If they could just break the binding, his friend might be saved. The spirit would be able to return to the Fade happily, no longer a demon. It would be as if this mess had never happened.

“I’ll do everything I can to save your friend, Solas,” she assured him. “I’ve studied rituals like this. I should be able to disrupt the binding quickly.”

“Thank you.”

Destroying the circle wasn’t hard so much as it was tricky. Every so often she’d have to dodge an attack from the demon as she jumped from rock to rock. Finally, she finished, and Solas’ friend was a spirit once again.

“I heard what it said. It was right, you did help it.”

“Now, I must endure,” he turned to her and the sadness in his face made her take a step forward without thinking.

“Let me know if I can help.”

“You already have.”

The words would have been much more satisfying if he didn’t sound so… pained when he said them. He was obviously hurting and didn’t even look at her before he left the three of them.

“I need some time alone, I will meet you back at Skyhold.”

After his departure it took all of the Inquisitor’s effort not to just leave then and there. However, running back to Skyhold wouldn’t bring him back any faster, and there were still some things they could finish without the apostate.

The three of them found a Dalish clan nearby and decided to investigate. When she told them that she wanted to help in whatever way the Inquisition could, their Keeper seemed kind enough. Maybe it was the way she seemed to understand their apprehension, not asking them to be any less cautious than usual. While these elves were different from the ones she was raised with, she still knew that if she pushed too their boundaries, they’d quickly reject her.

So instead she asked them what they needed help with - if there was anything she could personally do - and that was how the Inquisitor found herself chasing a golden halla around a field for two hours. Their Keeper was grateful, as well as the elf who had asked them to find it in the first place. There was more they could do, but the sky was growing darker by the hour so she assured them that she would be back - along with the elfroot that was needed - as soon as possible. When she told her companions that they would be heading back neither of them seemed upset. Apparently they felt that their time could be put to better use once they returned.

* * *

During the time Solas was gone, Athesa found herself pacing her quarters restlessly. Paperwork had begun to pile up again but she continued to avoid it. He had said that he’d meet her at Skyhold but it had been days. Six of them to be exact. She didn’t doubt that he was alive, after all, before the Inquisition he had survived on his own well enough. What she had begun to question was if he would come back at all. Normally it would have been the perfect excuse to continue to research the red lyrium, but even that couldn’t hold her attention. She found herself remembering the last time they had been together, replaying the memory over again and again as if by overanalyzing it she could find the key to fixing what had been done. Never again, he had said angrily when she stopped him from killing the mages. He wouldn’t be angry over that, he couldn’t. But there was still an irrational fear gnawing at her.

When she wasn’t circling her room, the Inquisitor was wandering the grounds. She would occasionally stop by the tavern to hear stories about the Chargers from Krem ,but he seemed to notice that she was distracted. Each time she went into the courtyard Cassandra welcomed her presence, even allowing herself to open up about the fate of her brother. The Seeker admitted that she considered the Inquisitor a friend which brought a smile to her face for the first time in days - something even Dorian’s jokes hadn’t been able to accomplish lately. That was why it was odd when she approached her only to find that she was being secretive.

“Good book?”

Cassandra jumped up, hiding it behind her, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, because I suddenly went blind,” she tried to joke.

“Oh, that? Just… reports. From Commander Cullen. It’s of no interest to you, I’m certain.”

Athesa simply stood there, staring her down.

“It’s a book.”

“I can see that.”

“It’s… one of Varric’s tales: Swords and Shields. The latest chapter.”

“So you like to read? I like to read, what’s wrong with that?”

“It’s frivolous, there are more important things for me to do.”

“That’s just her favourite.” Dorian spoke, passing by two of them.

“Nobody asked you, Tevinter.”

The next thing she knew the Inquisitor had Cassandra at the book in front of her - apparently she realized just how much power Athesa had. Power for their companions, to be more specific.

“You! You could ask him to finish it… Command him to…” she frowned, closing herself off once again. “Pretend you don’t know this about me.”

After quite a bit of debating with Varric, Lavellan finally convinced him to write a new chapter. Apparently he hadn’t even planned on finishing it but promised he would do so as long as he got to be there when the final product was delivered. She agreed to his terms quickly, knowing that it was better than no chapter at all. When he finally handed her the book, she couldn’t resist flipping through the pages.

“- her cave was moist from their lovemaking-”

Athesa quickly snapped the book shut, the tips of her ears growing hot. “I- I...This is… I’m sorry Varric but this is awful.”

He just shrugged, “I warned you.”

“Well, let’s go give it to Cassandra.” Sighing, she handed him the book before they headed to the courtyard.

The Seeker was upset that Varric now knew about her secret, but quickly gave in when he casually told  her that he could just take the thing back. It still needed to be properly edited anyway. When he handed it to her it was obvious that she was eager to start reading - taking it with her to the small bench and immersing herself in the beauty that was Varric’s terrible romance.

Athesa was about to enter the main hall again when she saw Solas walking in through the gates. For a moment she swore her heart stopped, doing a double take to make sure that it was really him. He looked upset as she approached - then again, that was completely understandable. He had lost what seemed like a close friend.

“Inquisitor.”

“How are you, Solas?”

“It hurts. It always does, but I will survive.”

She paused to resist the urge to reach out to him. She wanted to comfort him but wasn’t entirely sure how to do so. “Thank you for coming back.”

“You were a true friend, you did everything you could to help. I could hardly abandon you now.”

“I meant what I said before,” Athesa made sure to look right into his eyes as she spoke, “about opening up to each other. And the next time you have to mourn, you don’t need to be alone.”

“It’s been so long since I could trust someone.”

“I know.”

“I’ll work on it. And thank you.”

The thought that Solas might still be mourning overpowered her want to see him after being apart for those six days, so she gave him some time to himself - just like she had with Dorian. By the time she decided that he was probably feeling better she was itching to see him.

“Inquisitor,” he looked up at her when she entered his study, “I was… Do you have a moment?”

He led her to the balcony outside of her room. It was peaceful, quieter than the shuffling of the mages in the rotunda. He spoke to her casually and it had her wondering why he wanted to speak to her here specifically.

“What were you like? Before the anchor? Has it affected you, changed you in any way? Your mind? Your morals? Your… spirit? ”

She looked down at her hand, studying it for a moment. A lot had changed in the months since the conclave but she didn’t feel any different.

“If it had, do you really think I would have noticed?”

“No, that’s an excellent point.”

“Why do you ask?”

He told her that she wasn’t what he had expected, that she held a wisdom he hadn’t seen since he was in the Fade. She hid her swelling chest and ego behind a joke - telling him that she was sorry to disappoint him.

“It’s not disappointing it’s…” he trailed off. It was the first time she’d seen him at a loss for words so often, first in his study and now in her quarters. “- Most people are predictable. You have shown subtlety in your actions. A wisdom that goes against everything I expected. If the Dalish could raise a spirit like yours - have I misjudged them?”

Her eyebrows drew together, frowning slightly. Why did he always have to compare her to the Dalish? It was as if he thought they were all part of one hive mind, which was honestly ridiculous. So while she wanted to tell him that yes, the Dalish weren’t as awful as he was so quick to think, she couldn’t. It was finally her chance to separate herself from her clan in a way that didn’t disrespect them.

“The Dalish didn’t make me like this. I’m my own person, and the decisions were mine.”

“Yes, you are wise to give yourself that due. Although the Dalish, in their fashion, may still have guided you. Perhaps that is it. I suppose it must be. Most people act with so little understanding of the world, but not you.”

She still couldn’t understand what he was getting at - why he had brought her all the way to her balcony just to discuss the anchor and herself. “So what does this mean, Solas?”

“It means I have not forgotten the kiss.”

Athesa felt her pulse suddenly speed up. It all made sense: why he had brought her there, why he would so easily lose his words. He had mentioned that it was always easier for him in the Fade, and she remembered when he had said that he was trying. What she hadn’t realized was just how hard he was trying for her - especially now. She wanted to encourage him, make it a bit easier, so she took a step forward.

“Good.”

She did her best not to tremble as she stood there: staring up at him with her hands clasped behind her back. It was an open request, asking him to just do it already. Lean in and do what she had spent the past week thinking about, dreaming about. But he just looked at her and shook his head before turning away.

Without thinking she grabbed his arm. No, he couldn’t leave it like this. She wasn’t going to let him leave her like this.

“Don’t go,” she whispered and it came out as a quiet plea. She hated herself for how desperate the words sounded but there was a burning in her chest that threatened take over if the two of them continued to act as they had been - tip-toeing around each other like they’d both get burned if someone stepped too close.

“It would be kinder in the long run, but losing you would…”

When he finally turned around she wasn’t expecting it. She had thought he was going to withdraw yet again but no, he was kissing her. Not only that, but he was letting his arms wrap around her body to pull her closer. Athesa kept her own arms resting at his waist as she sighed against his lips in relief. It felt too good to be true. After all of that time spent impatiently waiting, wanting, keeping her distance - it was like the barrier around him had finally crumbled. She remembered how easy it had been to kiss him in Haven, in the Fade. It wasn’t like that at all. She didn’t feel lighter. If anything she was heavier, air and Solas weighing her body down - proof that it was really happening. Eventually he pulled away to catch his breath, resting his forehead against hers for just a moment before letting go.

“Ar lath ma, vhenan,” he said it with a purpose and sincerity that made her chest swell. Out of all of the words he’d spoken to her she immediately knew that those were her favourite.

Ma vhenan. She’d heard so many elves say the phrase but not to her, never to her. Not when she was so busy learning and preparing to be Keeper. She watched helplessly as he walked away, still breathing hard. Vhenan, that was how he saw her.

“Ma vhenan,” she tested the words on her tongue when he was out of sight. It felt foreign and new, so she said it again. “Ma vhenan... Vhenan, vhenan, vhenan.”

She headed inside and walked to her desk, whispering the word under her breath over and over as if she was trying to get it just right. First Solas, then lethallin, and now vhenan. Her heart. That’s exactly what he was and the realization made her stomach twist into that familiar knot.

Sitting down, she glanced at the letters before resting her elbows on the table and burying her face in her hands. A small laugh of disbelief escaped while she sat there, still not entirely able to believe what had just happened.

* * *

The next day the Inquisitor found herself overthinking every small action she made. Nothing was different as she made her way from her quarters to Solas’ study. The nobles still greeted her as she walked down the main hall, Varric gave the usual hello and nod. It was like every other time she had gone to see him. Everything was the same, but at the same time everything was different.

The nobles likely hadn’t noticed, but she knew that if one of them were to look closely enough they’d be able to tell. Her pace was just a fraction quicker, her body moving just a bit more swift as she walked around the small groups of people, and her ears pink by the time she was finally in the rotunda.

He was standing at his desk, again just like every other day. It might have seemed like he was his usual self if she wasn’t watching him so intently. The papers he stared at were untouched, his posture more relaxed. Creators, he even smiled when he saw her approaching. And when she finally stood beside him he took her hand in his, vhenan spilling from his lips. They were all subtle things but each one still made her feel ridiculously pleased, forgetting how to breathe for a moment.

Creators, maybe she really was more childish than she liked to think.

Athesa turned to lean against his desk and let herself just look at him for a moment. Watched him gaze at her with those sad blue eyes. The colour was familiar but somehow still undeniably Solas.

“Good morning,” he eventually said.

“Good morning,” she sighed. The back of her neck burned as she told him she was just there to say hello. “What have you been doing?”

“Thinking.”

“About?”

“Many things: the Inquisition, Corypheus, you.”

She looked down at the hand that held hers before glancing at one of the walls. “You haven’t worked on your frescoes lately.”

“No. I have been… distracted. As well, I am afraid that I’m running out of paint.”

Pushing herself off of the desk, she let go of his hand. “What colours?”

“Blue, as well as gold.”

She nodded although it was mostly to herself. Blue and gold paint. “I should go. We leave for Val Royeaux tomorrow and I still have to go to the war council meeting.”

“Of course.”

He returned her hug easily, hands pulling her closer. To be able to come into physical contact with him - real contact that wasn’t a brush of the hands or that cool grip on her wrist - was amazing. Now she could hold his hand, or wrap her arms around him without having to worry about if he wanted it, too. That cool barrier he’d placed between them was crumbling quickly and the thought made her smile into his shoulder.

Solas was finally letting her in, not just as his friend but as something more.

Chapter Text

At her advisors’ requests Athesa took Cole, Cassandra, and Solas to the Fallow Mire. They had received word that Grey Wardens had been kidnapped by a group of Avaar, who stated that they wanted to meet with the leader of the Inquisition. They wanted to fight her. Whoever the Hand of Korth was, he obviously thought that he could take her. His confidence unsettled her and left her hoping that he was all talk. Honestly, she found the entire gesture childish. However, Athesa wasn’t going to let the Wardens who were taken suffer because of her.

The trip was long, but eventually they arrived. The rain had all but drenched her, water soaking through her boots regardless of how careful she was when walking. By the time they set up their second camp she had let her hair down to help it dry faster. The last thing she wanted was to have to sleep on a wet pillow.

She had been sitting in front of the campfire for a while in hope that it would speed up the process of getting warm and dry. Only two more days, and then they could leave. The others would go to Skyhold - corpse-less, warm Skyhold - while she and Cassandra would travel to Val Royeaux before finally heading back themselves. Shifting a bit closer to the heat, she flipped through the requisition orders the officer had handed her when they set up camp. Dawn lotus, blue vitriol, summer stone, along with the materials needed for the blue paint.

Eventually Solas joined her, offering some of the food they had packed before sitting down. She thanked him and set the reports down.

“What do you think so far?” she asked.

“Of what?”

“Here - the Fallow Mire.”

“I think we will want to launder our clothes later,” he frowned. “Or burn them.”

“Always the optimist.”

“And you?”

“Too many corpses. And why does Ferelden have to be so… wet?”

“There are not any spiders. Not yet, at least.”

She cringed at the thought. Spiders would be the last thing they needed to run into.

“Tell me, is our mighty Inquisitor ready to face the Hand of Korth tomorrow?”

“Let me make it through tonight without a soggy skeleton breaking into my tent first,” she muttered.

“Perhaps I really am the optimist here,” he smiled.  The two of them ate their food together quietly, focussing on the warmth.

When he rose she grabbed his arm. “Are you going to sleep?”

“I was going to,” he paused. “You can stay in my tent tonight, if you would like.”

“I would.”

So Athesa went to her own tent to change. Her amour couldn’t come off fast enough - her eagerness embarrassing even when there wasn’t anyone else around. While she and Solas had grown closer since their time on her balcony - she visited him nearly every day now - there hadn’t been a lot of time to just be alone with him. Inquisition agents would always knock on the door of her quarters, or a mage dropping something loudly and interrupting them. She cursed while fumbling with the buckles and laces (just why did there have to be so many anyway) as she thought about it. A few minutes later the slightly damp cloth and metal finally hit the ground with a thump. Gathering her bedroll, it wasn’t long before the Inquisitor was in his tent.

He had moved his own bedroll over so she place her own beside him. The humidity left the air warm, forcing the two of them to lay on top of their bedrolls for the moment.

Unsure of what to do, she decided to sleep facing away from him again. Meanwhile Solas seemed content to stay on his back. Every so often there would be a muffled groaning from outside that made her grip the fabric under her tightly.

“Can you hear them?” She kept her voice low.

“Yes.”

“Do they bother you at all?”

“I try not to think about it.”

She nodded in agreement. However, just not thinking about it was easier said than done.

“If you’re having trouble sleeping I could see if we have any of Vivienne’s-”

“No, it’s fine. Thank you, though.”

His arms wrapped around her waist loosely when she rolled over to face him, possibly trying to be comforting.

“What do you think you’ll find in the Fade here?”

It was a comfortable topic, one that she was familiar with and could easily pay attention to. He began to tell her about the spirits he planned to encounter, and the fact that he was surprised to see that there were so many rifts in the area. It left his skin tingling, a strange sensation, but an expected one. He asked her if she could feel it and she nodded. After a few minutes of prying he finally told her about a spirit of Faith he had encountered not long ago. Eventually Athesa let her eyes slide shut and he paused.

“Keep going,” she reassured him. “I like listening to you.”

“Is that why you’re always asking me questions?” he joked.

“No. Maybe. Only a bit, though.”

Solas didn’t reply for a while. After a few minutes she looked to see what was wrong. He was watching her intently, gaze moving from her vallaslin to her lips and finally landing on her eyes. His eyebrows were drawn together seriously, but he didn’t look angry. No, it was more focussed than that. It was the face she often saw him make while studying in the rotunda or when he was deep in thought.

“Thank you,” he said quietly. “There are many who find my journeys in the Fade boring, but you listen.”

“I’m interested, Solas. I don’t just ask about it to please you.”

“Yes, and that matters to me. You matter.”

She didn’t respond, letting the words settle between them- making sure to remember what it sounded like when he said it: You matter. She mattered to him and the idea made her ridiculously satisfied because he mattered to her too.

The Inquisitor reached up to gently run her fingertips across his cheek. “I never noticed that you have freckles.”

“I do.”

“I like them.”

Taking her hand away, she rested her forehead against his before closing her eyes again - appreciating just how close they were. The rain hit the roof of the tent loudly and suddenly it was easy to forget everything else. For the moment it was just the two of them in his tent - no Corypheus, or Inquisition, or kidnapped Wardens. All Athesa could think about was him and the fact that he seemed to rest so easily around herlately.

The air around them was heavy and she struggled a bit to breathe it in. Her hands rested on his chest, feeling it rise and fall in hope that it would help. It seemed to because her shallow breaths quickly slowed down to match his deep and even ones.

“Athesa…?”

“Do you really want this?” she suddenly asked, needing to hear him say it. There was a small part of her that still doubted it, and she needed to get rid of it quickly - before any uncertainty took over her thoughts about him.

“What do you mean?”

“This. The two of us.”

“Yes, why do you ask?”

“I’m not… pressuring you, am I?” she questioned, forcing herself to look at him.  His blue eyes still looked sad but there was something else there now, too. Something warmer.

“Of course not.”

“You’re not just being polite?”

He smiled softly, apparently amused by her worry. “I am not. What I told you before still stands true.”

She leaned in again, pressing a soft kiss to his cheekbone to hide her smile. One of his hands reached for hers to interlock their fingers. Bringing them up to his lips, he whispered vhenan against their knuckles before kissing them.

“Ma vhenan,” she repeated with a soft smile.

* * *

The next day was just as miserable, but she felt slightly less grim while setting fire to the corpses. Every time she was disheartened the Inquisitor would remember the previous night and feel the tips of her ears grow warm, gaining a new determination to see their task through and just get back to Skyhold already. Eventually they were able to run through the horde of undead, and fight their way to the Avvars. It was a bloody fight, but the Wardens were found unharmed and thankful. The rest of the day was spent looking for materials to bring back to Skyhold - an easy task in comparison.

They returned to camp just as soaked and tired as the previous day, sitting around the fire for warmth once again while they tried to dry off. Cole seemed more at ease with the Wardens saved, speaking to Cassandra about the blacksmith’s apprentice. Meanwhile Solas ate next to her again. He sat closer than usual and their shoulders often brushed as he quietly told her about the spirits he’d met the previous night.

“Does it bother you?” he asked that evening. Athesa had invited him to stay in her tent this time, in part because the undead still made her uneasy but also because she didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to wake up next to him again. She couldn’t help but notice the similarities to the previous night - both in the way they laid on their bedrolls facing each other and the question. The only difference was that the rain didn’t seem to fall quite as hard against the roof.

“What?”

“I am older than you, that much is not hard to see. Does it bother you?”

She frowned, knowing that she should consider her words carefully. Of course she knew that he was older but the Inquisitor hadn’t really given it much thought. She’d been too busy thinking about how good it felt to just have him close to her, to be able to speak with him freely. “If it bothered me do you really think that I would have you here right now?”

His face softened and she swore that she could feel her chest constrict. “An excellent point. I supposed you are right.”

“Would you rather I call you hahren, and come to you whenever I scrape my knees?”

Solas groaned, not bothering to hide his distaste at her joke. “Please do not.”

Laughing, she reached up to pull his face towards her for a kiss. It was slow and easy but still made her breathless. Solas seemed eager to continue as he pressed forward, being careful to not break away until he was half on her. Athesa stopped for a second, not used to feeling his weight. His mouth moved to her jaw - not really kissing her but just barely brushing his lips across her skin. He was taking his time. It made her curl her toes impatiently and she could feel him smirk against her.

“Would you just-”

“Just what?” He stopped to look at her, as if he didn’t know what she was trying to say. “If you would like we can stop.”

The Inquisitor did her best to look angry but she was still breathing hard and he just laughed. “You’re awful, and… and cruel, and-”

His mouth crashed into hers before she could even finish.

Her hands gripped the front of his shirt tightly in response. That familiar knot in her stomach returning. It told her that she needed this, needed him to keep kissing her until she couldn’t think about anything other than his hands on her. Solas seemed to understand, his actions becoming less careful - messily pressing his lips to where he had hovered over moments ago. She inhaled sharply when his hand slid just under the hem of her shirt to rub small circles into her hip.

Swallowing hard, she tried to collect her thoughts. All she needed to do was just calm down, dammit. It was hard to do that, however, when all she could think about was the fact that he was nearly laying on her. Solas, who she had always considered so distant, was eagerly returning all of her shaky touches. She’d spent so much time stuttering and feeling flustered around him that she hadn’t imagined anything like this happening - didn’t even consider that her want to hold his hand could escalate this quickly.

She couldn’t breathe. The air was too thick and she cursed the humid rain that fell outside. There was a small arrogance behind his actions that told her he knew exactly what he was doing to her. Desperate for some sort of control over the situation, she reached to pull him up to her, leaving fleeting kisses all over his face: his temple, his forehead, his cheeks. He sighed against her and she grinned. She thought back to that night in her quarters when his hand ran over her vallaslin, when they were in the Emerald Graves and she had nearly tripped, all of the evenings when they would just quietly sit together reading. The memories fueled her, took away any hesitation she might have had. Athesa wanted him to know just how important he had become to her.

Ma’arlath, ma vhenan,” she whispered the words between each kiss that was hastily placed along his jaw. “Emma lath.”

When she moved to his neck her teeth scraped his skin lightly, a shiver running through her when he moaned in response.

There was a rustling outside . Eyes widening, the Inquisitor hastily covered his mouth with a trembling hand. He must have heard it too because she felt his body go tense above her. It wasn’t an enemy. No, the footsteps were too careful for it to be a shambling corpse.

Solas moved off of her quietly and she immediately missed the warmth of his weight. Her head was fuzzy when she stood up, heart still racing in her chest. She nearly tripped over her own feet as she made her way to peek outside of the tent.

The cold air and rain was like a slap to the face, sobering her mood quickly. She could see someone looking around with their sword drawn.

“Cassandra?” she squinted her eyes slightly. “What are you doing?”

“Inquisitor. I heard noises, and suspected that someone may be approaching.”

Her face turned red. “... Do you see anything?”

“No,” the Seeker sighed before putting away her sword. “I must have been hearing things. Sorry for waking you.”

Only when the tent flap shut did she let herself give a sigh of relief.

“Is something wrong?”

“... Cassandra heard you.”

His ears turned a light shade of pink at the accusation.  “Are you sure it was me? After all, you were being very… receptive.”

Athesa laid down on her back, her face warming at his words. Suddenly she felt embarrassed for getting so worked up because of him.

There was a pause before she turned her head to speak. “Okay, she heard us.”

“It will be a long trip tomorrow, for you especially. We should rest.”

“Yes.”

He didn’t reach out to her while they slept. No arms around her waist or chest pressed against her back when she rolled to face away from him. Instead, he gave her her space. Although laying next to him seemed to help distract her, the walls of the tent still felt like they were closing in. She needed the little space that was left to breathe, and Solas seemed to understand that without needing to be told.

She woke up before he did, rolling over to see that he was still sleeping on his back. He didn’t move when she whispered his name, and she took that as a sign that it was safe to get up without waking him. It took longer to put on her boots and armor quietly and snuck out of the tent when she was finished.

Cassandra was already awake, giving her a nod as the two of them had a few pieces of fruit and bread. When finished they threw the remains into the fire that was slowly going out.

“There’s an order I want to fill before we leave,” Athesa told her. “Could you go get Cole?”

“Should I wake Solas as well?”

“No,” she answered a bit too quickly. “We won’t need him for this one.”

It didn’t take long for the three of them to gather the materials. The only trouble they faced was, once again, avoiding the murky water that seemed to be everywhere. Athesa found herself using the large rocks to jump across areas, only to slip and skid into puddles that went up to her knees. It left her irritably blowing the wet strands of hair out of her face each time she bent over to gather herbs

After a couple of hours, though, they were finally done and headed back to back to camp. She dumped the metals and herbs into one of the crates quickly began filling out paperwork for the special orders. It was just as she finished when Solas approached her.

“Inquisitor.”

She gave a small jump, one hand slamming against the table to cover the details of the order for his paint. A part of her knew that it would probably be fine if he read it, but she wanted it to be a surprise. “Yes?”

“The others would like to know when we will be leaving.”

“I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”

Her hand stayed on the form until she could no longer hear his footsteps sink into the mud.

After everyone had packed their things the four of them prepared to split up into their pairs, Solas’ hand resting on her shoulder for just a moment longer than necessary when he told her Dareth shiral. No one else seemed to notice anything different, though, and they went their separate ways.

The trip to Val Royeaux took longer than she had expected, her and Cassandra arriving at the capitol two days later than planned. The headaches had returned during their time spent travelling, a dull pounding at the base of her skull. However, as the air grew warmer and she didn’t have to face the constant downpour Athesa found herself still enjoying the trip. The Seeker on the other hand, didn’t seem to have the same patience. While she assured the Inquisitor that she was happy to could help, she didn’t understand why she was needed. Especially when all they would be doing was speaking to merchants. Why not bring someone familiar with Orlais, such as Vivienne or Josephine?

Each time she answered vaguely Cassandra simply sighed, probably irritated that she wouldn’t just come out with it already. But the truth was she had asked her to come because she was too afraid of anyone else teasing her. The woman was strong and harsh, but underneath all of that armour there was a strong compassion that drove her. It left Athesa hoping she would understand. However, she also knew that she was guarded, and didn’t want to drive her away. So instead she would just shrug off the questions with answers that didn’t really help.

“Do you remember that chapter of Swords and Shields I asked Varric to write for you?” she asked when they finally arrived, passing the large statues that towered over them.

“Yes.” She frowned at the memory.

“It’s... similar to that.”

Thankfully the merchant she found was more than helpful when it came to finding the right kind of paint. The Inquisitor didn’t know much about the different uses for each type, but eventually settled on a gold that the merchant assured her would be long lasting. It was a warm gold that reminded her of the lion statues they had walked by earlier.

When she walked outside Cassandra was leaning over one of the railings - watching the water in the distance.

“I’m ready to go.”

The Seeker’s eyes wandered to her hands that the small jar of paint. Her tone softened at the realization that it must have been for Solas. “I take it you found what you needed.”

“Yes.”

“Then we can return to Skyhold.”

“Cassandra?”

“Yes?”

Her hands fidgeted with the jar, nails running up and down the smooth glass as she spoke. “Thank you for coming with me.”

“You’re welcome. I now understand why you would be hesitant to ask the others to accompany you.”

* * *

“What do you think?”

Athesa jumped and turned to face Solas. She had approached the frescoes while she waited for him to climb down his ladder, eager to give him his gift. It had taken a couple of days to have the order for the blue paint filled, however hopefully it would be worth it. The moment she’d received word that it was in the Inquisitor had all but ran across the courtyard to retrieve it - eager to see Solas’ reaction.

“You’ve added more.”

“Observant as always,” he joked, walking forward until she was able to clasp her hands together behind his neck. Her eyes glanced to the ground, where she could see some paints and brushes scattered on the floor.

“I better not get paint on me again,” she said, going up on her tip toes just a bit - ready to press a kiss to his lips. Those lips that said things that made her throat go dry and pulse speed up, the ones that were currently smiling softly at her comment. She was so frustratingly close to him again and again and againbut now she could finally do something about it. Her toes curled and dug into her boots at the thought that she could do it now. Right now. So she closed her eyes until she could feel his breath on her lips, waited for him to press forward and kiss her.

There was a loud thud that made them both freeze. His hands quickly returned to his sides and Athesa could feel herself deflate.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt. However, while we’re on the subject…”

Athesa raised a hand to cover her face as Dorian’s voice echoed down to them - mentioning something about how he’d learned more about the Venatori and was so eager to tell her about it.

Eventually, the rotunda was quiet again.

“I brought you something,” she muttered, hand reaching to scratch at the back of her neck, “that’s why I came.”

Stepping around him, she walked to his desk and began to dig through her bag. The final product was smaller than she had expected - her hands able to easily close around the two jars - but hopefully there would be enough for him. Solas picked up the book Dorian had dropped. She watched while he read over the title with disappointment.

“Something wrong?”

“He couldn’t have bothered to use a decent one.” He set the book down before looking to her. “What was it you wanted to show me?”

She carefully set the paints down in front of him and Solas looked genuinely surprised.

“This is…”

“Those were the pigments you needed, right? I wasn’t sure what shade of blue you wanted.”

“They are,” he replied simply. It almost looked like he was at a loss for words. “Thank you, vhenan.”

She had wanted to stay longer, to actually see him use the paints, but she was still tired from the trip back. It hurt her head to keep her eyes open - and ultimately she excused herself to retire to her quarters early. Hopefully she’d be feeling better in the morning.

* * *

When Athesa woke up she felt anything but better. The dull pounding in her head had grown into a sharp pain that left her squinting in the light. The sun was far too bright and made her groan and pull the blankets over her head stubbornly.  The back of her throat tickled, forcing her to cough into her fist uncomfortably.

It was official. The Inquisitor was sick.

That first day she slept or laid around in a haze, her head feeling fuzzy and congested every time she tried to stand. As far as she knew no one visited her, the room completely silent aside from her occasional sniffling.

The second day was better. She at least could sit up or read when awake. However, her nose was still stuffy with her throat raw from spending the night coughing. As well, the headaches had come back with a vengeance. While she rarely got sick when travelling with her clan, mostly out of pure luck, so the symptoms hit her harder than usual this time. It wasn’t until the evening when there was a knock at her door. Her voice strained to call for them to come in but it was worth it because soon enough Solas was standing by the foot of her bed.

“Athesa.”

She sat up, crossing her legs under the bed sheets. The mattress sunk down when he settled on the edge of the bed beside her.

“How are you feeling?”

The Inquisitor cleared her throat before speaking. “It’s just a cold, I’ll be fine soon.”

It was a lie. The truth was that she had spent the better part of the day debating the likelihood that she had caught the Blight.

“I see. Do you think that it was from the Fallow Mire?”

“That’s what I’ve been told.”

“Leliana mentioned that she will be visiting you this afternoon to give you an update on her reports.”

She slumped back against the headboard, eyes shut tight in frustration. All she wanted was to spend time alone with him without any of their companions intervening for once. Why was that proving to be so difficult? “Solas, please. If we get interrupted again I’m going to scream.”

He laughed, actually laughed, at her words before leaning in to kiss her. It was soft and sweet and she eagerly returned it.

“Leliana can wait,” she hummed at him.

For a moment she swore she could hear him mutter a Good but quickly decided that it was her mind playing tricks on her.  Athesa wrapped her arms around his neck to bring him closer. However her breath caught in her throat when he leaned in to kiss her, and suddenly she was choking back a cough all over again.

He froze. “Are you alright?”

“I’m great,” she wheezed, determined to see this through.

Solas sat up, giving her room to cough into her sleeve. When she was finally finished he spoke.

“You should rest.”

“... Sorry,” she coughed again.

He reached up to brush the hair out of her face. “You have nothing to be sorry for. If anything I should apologize for getting carried away when you are sick.”

“You don’t need to apologize for getting carried away.” Unable to meet his eyes, Athesa stared at the wolf jaw that hung from his neck. A dull pain ran across her forehead - her headache quickly returning.

“I shall bear that in mind,” he smiled softly. “Like I said, Leliana will be visiting you. However until then I would be more than happy to talk.”

Solas sat with her until the spymaster arrived, his hand holding hers while she asked him about what he knew of Arlathan. He was able to discuss it for longer than she had thought he would - happily telling her of the people he had met until their conversation was interrupted yet again.

Chapter Text

There were many things that Athesa Lavellan could do. She could name nearly any constellation that was pointed out to her, summarize most topics she’d researched while at Skyhold, even remember the small pieces of elvish that Solas spoke under his breath around her. What she could not do, however, was dance. It had never been a necessity, and thus, something that no one in her clan had bothered to teach her.

When Josephine had learned this, she was not surprised but still worried. At first she had asked her to practice with Leliana, and she quickly refused. It was one thing to admit that she didn’t know how, but to show her advisors just how clueless she was was out of the question. They were relentless, though. It took three days of ‘lessons’ that consisted of stepping on Cullen’s toes and tripping before anyone finally listened.

On the fourth day, the Inquisitor found Leliana shoving a small pile of books into her arms.

“What are these?”

“You seem to learn best by reading. We would like you to take these to your quarters to study for the next few days.”

She glanced down to read the titles that she’d been handed. “You want me to learn how to dance… by reading about dancing?”

“It’s clear that what we’ve been trying isn’t working, and we’re worried that you’ll break one of poor Cullen’s toes.”

“I’m right here, you know,” he muttered from a few feet away.

She nodded, relieved that she wouldn’t have to embarrass herself in front of them anymore. “I’ll go get started then.”

“Good. Let us know when you are ready.”

 

“What are you doing?” Solas asked that afternoon from the couch in her quarters. He had lowered his book on the Free Marches enough to look at her as she stood in the middle of the room.

“There are two weeks until the Inquisition has to make an appearance at Halamshiral,” she told him without taking her eyes off of the book in hand. Every so often she would take a step forward or to the side, trying to remember what little advice her advisors had given her in the previous days.

“So you have decided to prepare by…” he trailed off.

“I’ve decided to prepare by learning how to dance,” she frowned as she took a step back and bumped into the desk.

“Would you like some help?”

“No. Well, yes, but,” she paused to look at him. “I nearly killed Cullen yesterday.”

He stood up and walked over to her, gently taking the tome from her hands. She leaned back to brace herself against the table and watched as he flipped through it for a moment. Her neck began to grow warm as she watched him.

“Are you sure? Some things are better put into practice.”

She swallowed. “Just… watch your toes, okay? You’re not even wearing boots.”

Nodding, he lead her away from the desk. One hand held hers while the other rested at her side.

“Athesa?”

He was taking a step closer and her throat went dry.

“Yes?”

“It would be a good idea to breathe.”

Sucking in a breath, she nodded and exhaled. He began to take a small step to the side and she stumbled but quickly regained her footing.

“Sorry.”

“I now see why Josephine was worried,” he held back a smile when he spoke. “Now, try taking a step back.”

She did as he said, but too quickly. “... Sorry, again.”

“It is fine. Try again, but this time I’ll count to three first.” Solas waited for her to nod before counting. “One. Two. Three.”

Athesa took a step back just as he moved forward.

“Good,” he smiled at her. “One. Two. Three.”

When he moved backwards it was slow, giving her time to catch up to him. It became easier as they continued. His counting grew quiet until it was just a mumble she could faintly hear, but it never sped up. She appreciated that, knowing full well that if he did she’d probably trip again. They continued like that, until she could feel her palm grow sweaty in his grip and she found herself focusing more on the way he held her than what he was actually saying. That was when she knew she needed a break, and brought up the fact that they should probably eat dinner soon.

The next time they practiced was when she found him in the Fade.

She had fallen asleep reading next to him, her book falling onto the mattress. Suddenly the Inquisitor wasn’t in her quarters, she was in the Emerald Graves. Only there wasn’t the usual breeze or sound of bandits fighting - everything was hazy and quiet. She wandered around for a bit, taking her time looking at the ruins they had come across when they visited.

Solas was speaking to a spirit when she found him. The Inquisitor kept her distance, leaning against a tree as she waited for him to finish. When he eventually approached her he looked surprised.

“Was there something you needed?”

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear nervously. “I thought that maybe if we practiced here, it wouldn’t hurt as much when I stepped on you.”

He nodded in agreement. “I suppose that would be true.”

So Solas lead her to a nearby area that was free of spirits before taking her hand. Athesa stepped closer on instinct, mirroring the position they had taken in her quarters. Just like before, he counted under his breath between each step, and again, he kept the pace slow for her. It was easier the second time around - in fact, she didn’t even need to look down at their feet when moving. However, it meant that she was able to focus on him instead. She could have sworn that his hold on her was tighter than usual, and when she saw him looking at her so closely the Inquisitor held her breath.

“Breathe,” he interrupted his counting to mumble.

“Hm?”

“You’ve forgotten to breathe again.” It was said casually, as if he didn’t even realize that he was the reason she had stopped in the first place.

There was a rustling in the bushes behind them and he quickly dropped his hands to his sides.

“I believe you have picked up on this rather quickly,” he said to her after a few seconds of quiet.

“Let’s hope whatever shoes Leliana puts me in won’t ruin that.”

Gently, she returned his hand to it’s place on her waist while holding the other. Solas took it as an invitation to pull her closer this time so that she was pressed right against him. How unsteady she felt because of it was ridiculous. When they began to move again she wasn’t even sure if she could call what they were doing dancing - it was more or less just swaying back and forth slowly. However, as her heart raced Athesa couldn’t bring herself to complain.

She took in that thick air that seemed to always surround him happily. The weight was still on her but she couldn’t tell what it was anymore. If it was from thoughts of the Winter Palace, or Solas. It was fine, though, because his hands were still holding her close. Those hands that anchored her there, a helpful reminder of what was real. They were real, he was real. It grounded her in a different way than how her lightning staff did.

“You know,” she finally spoke, her chin resting on his shoulder, “I’ll need a partner at the Palace.”

“I doubt you would earn any favours with the court by dancing with an elf.”

“I am an elf, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“That you are,” he hummed with closed eyes and she forgot how to breathe all over again. He sounded so relaxed, like he might fall asleep right then and there if they weren’t already. As if confirming her thoughts, he buried his face in the crook of her neck. “You are many things, vhenan.”

He was right when he said that things were easier for him here, Athesa could see that now. Solas was happy. The way he held himself around her had changed, but there was something else, too. Something deeper, far back behind that polite mask he always wore. Just like the constant weight on her chest, he carried a burden around Skyhold but being in the Fade seemed to make it a little lighter.

Suddenly she desperately wanted to ask him why his blue eyes looked so sad when she caught him watching her, why he would always trace her vallaslin with that far-off look on his face. However, he was still buried against her and she couldn’t do it. In that moment he seemed genuinely happy, and Athesa was afraid that her questions would bring that hidden weight back to his shoulders.

So instead, she just stood there and swayed with him. She thanked him for helping her practice, and when she told him that she loved him it was a quiet declaration. His reply was muffled, warm breath hitting her neck when he spoke.

After a moment, she readjusted herself to be able to hug him. When his grip around her loosened she leaned back enough so that she could see his face.  “Thank you for bringing me here.”

“Thank you for coming. Truthfully, I was not entirely sure you would want to.”

“Why not?”

“Learning about the Fade and travelling in it are two different things.”

“I like it here.” I like seeing you here.

When she woke up on her back he was still sleeping on his side, facing her. Solas was usually good about giving her space when they slept next to each other, but this time his arm was stretched out. It draped across her stomach, pulling her in when she carefully rolled over to face him. The motion made her freeze in fear that she’d woken him up but he was still after that.

Her mind wandered while she laid there. She thought about the looks on her advisor’s faces the next day when she’d tell them that she had learned how to dance, and considered what they would have her wear. They were easy thoughts that didn’t make her feel heavy for once. Her hands fidgeted with Solas’ necklace while he slept, fingers running up and down the rough surface, vaguely wondering where he had gotten it.

He stirred, and she looked up just in time to see his eyes open. For a second the sadness she was so used to seeing in them was gone, a soft smile on his face.

“How did you sleep?” she asked.

“Surprisingly well, thank you.”

She absentmindedly let go of his necklace to hold the side of his face. “I’m glad.”

* * *

The trip to Orlais felt longer than it was. She had asked Solas, Cassandra, and Sera to come with her, and Josephine was convinced that she simply chose who would be most likely to misbehave. Athesa tried to reassure her that this was not the case, but she was too busy trying to sort out the details of their arrival to properly listen.

So after those few long days of negotiating Athesa stood outside, watching members of the Inquisition prepare to go inside. Josephine and Leliana were speaking intently outside of the gates - the former looking panicked while the spymaster just smiled. To say that the ambassador was worried about something going wrong would be an understatement. That morning the Inquisitor had to constantly assure her that yes she felt ready to make her appearance, and no she wouldn’t be offended by the disdain the nobles were sure to have for her.

However, Josephine’s nerves were contagious. Even watching her speak to Leliana from a distance made her feel tense. Her stomach flipped, the threat of nausea beginning. She forced herself to quickly turn around - bumping into Solas in the process.

“Nervous?”

“About trying to disrupt assassination of the Empress of Orlais that would otherwise throw all of Thedas into chaos? Of course not.”

He laughed and the sound was so unexpected that she nearly jumped. What with being an elf and an apostate, she had expected him to be at least a bit apprehensive. However, he didn’t seem fazed by their evening at all. His calm demeanor helped, her posture relaxing a bit when his gloved hand rested on her arm.

“You’ve seen events like these in the Fade - any advice?”

“Try to refrain from anything involving dances in the moonlight or nug sacrifices. We wouldn’t want to reinforce the stereotypes these nobles love so much.”

“Thank you,” she told him dryly.

“All joking aside, just remember what Josephine told you.”

Athesa nodded in agreement, reaching up to tighten her ponytail. All they had to do was get through this one night, and judging by the way Leliana spoke of the Court she might even enjoy herself.

He tried to help by brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. “The nobles attending tonight are fickle, but can be persuaded.”

“Even by an elf?”

“Yes.” He sounded so certain that she found herself believing him.

“I’ll see you later,” she told him. Her hand reached for his, holding it tightly for a moment before letting go.

“Good luck.”

She watched as he approached Leliana, speaking with her for a moment before the two of them went inside. Meanwhile Josephine took the opportunity to quickly remind her important information about Empress Celene.

The Winter Palace was huge, to say the least. Everything was blue and gold and left the Inquisitor staring in awe.  She found herself just walking around the majority of the time, looking for anything that may help while taking in her surroundings. More than a couple times she was lost but quickly found her way back to the main hall. More than once did she interact with the other guests, their pretentious accents ringing in her ears.

They all treated her with a strange sense of respect. She was the Inquisitor, so of course they couldn’t be seen treating her poorly, but she knew that that could quickly change and did her best to remain just as polite when interacting with others. With their intricate masks, hushed whispers, and elaborate outfits, none of it felt real. Athesa quickly understood why they called it ‘The Game’ - everyone there was just playing dress up. She rarely ran across someone who seemed to have sincere intentions.

Realizing this made it easier for her to play along. The Inquisitor did her best to be intentionally vague, even when the Grand Duchess asked her to dance. In between gathering evidence and eavesdropping on others she finally found a moment to speak to Solas - which was as relieving as it was short.

He was leaning against one of the statues when she approached him, watching the others interact.

“I hope you’re enjoying yourself,” she greeted.

“I do enjoy the heady blend of power, intrigue, danger, and sex that permits these events.”

“Have you had any trouble with the nobles?”

“The Orlesians do not know what quite to make of me. I have kept to myself, for fear of giving them some purchase to cling to. The food and drink are excellent, however, and the servants have been happy to refill my glass.”

“And just how many of those glasses have you had?” she asked with raised eyebrows. It was a surprise knowing that he would have anything to drink in the first place - even at Skyhold she couldn’t recall seeing him at the tavern.

“Do not worry, vhe- Inquisitor. I would not do anything that may sabotage our purpose here.”

She held back a smile at his slip. “Do you have any interest in dancing?”

“A great deal. Although dancing with an elven apostate would win you few favours with the Court. Perhaps once our business here is done.”

“Then I’ll talk to you later.”

“Hunt well.”

The rest of the evening seemed to go by in a rush. From gathering blackmail against Briala, Duke Gaspard, and the Empress to learning that the Grand Duchess was working Corypheus, everywhere she turned there seemed to be signs pointing to a disaster. The whispers of nobles gave her a strange motivation, and she decided that they would save the Empress as well as expose the Grand Duchess’ plans if only to prove the ones who had called her knife-ear and rabbit wrong.

So maybe that was why she felt the need to confront her in front of everyone, or it could have been the fact that she had taken Florianne’s game and beaten her at it. Afterwards, the Inquisitor was left with a swelling sense of pride that she had made it through the night alive.

In the end, the guards took her away and Athesa was left with a small headache forming in the base of her skull. All of the conversations around her felt louder than usual, leaving her feeling horribly tired of the whispers and masks and lingering eyes that she once found so interesting.

Eventually she made her way to one of the balconies outside, ready to smell something that wasn’t expensive perfume from Val Royeaux. The sound of music was still present, but not nearly as loudly. She sighed to herself when she leaned against the railing. For the first time all night it felt like she could think clearly. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes before she heard Solas approaching. He mirrored her position, watching her.

“I’m not surprised to find you out here. Thoughts?”

“It’s been a… very long day.”

“For everyone I’d imagine,” he placed a hand on her back. “It’s nearly over now. Cullen’s giving the men their marching orders as we speak.”

“How do Orlesians do this on a regular basis?”

“I think we can assume that for the most part it is all they know.” There was a moment of silence, the answer settling between them, before he spoke up again enthusiastically. “Come, before the band stops playing, dance with me.”

She turned to find him bowing slightly, his hand held out for her to take. The sight made her stomach knot.

“I’d love to.”

It was a bit of a struggle to keep up with him at first, their pace faster than what she was used to, but she caught on quickly.

“So,” he started, “do you think you could grow accustomed to The Game?”

Athesa made a face of disapproval, her nose scrunching up. “Not at all.”

“Was it not to your liking?”

“It was fun, but you won’t see me living here after we defeat Corypheus.”

A silence fell between the two of them at the mention of what would happen after they defeated the magister - after the Inquisition had fulfilled it’s purpose. The unspoken question of what they would do when it was all over that hung in the air, leaving the atmosphere tense. Honestly, she had just assumed that she would return to her clan. The Inquisitor hadn’t even considered the possibility of staying at Skyhold before, but suddenly she was.

She looked at Solas, quietly wondering what he planned to do, if his decision would change her mind.  She could ask him, but a part of her was afraid to know his answer.

“What do you think?” She questioned instead.

“I would have to agree.”

Their pace slowed and she found herself not able to look at him. Instead, she looked behind him where she could see the constellations from her books in the sky. It felt incredibly cliche to want to kiss him under them, to feel the heavy weight that always meant he was close. Just the thought made her face burn because the Inquisitor wanted to somehow recreate the moment he had shared with her in the Fade. She wanted to see him happy again. However, thoughts of what he had told her earlier about the Court disapproving sprang to mind and she decided against it.

“I’m surprised you were convinced to wear boots,” she told him.

“I never said that I was completely against the notion. I just find it more comfortable to go without.”

“Still, I didn’t expect you to be this committed tonight. Actually, I’m surprised you’ve enjoyed yourself so much.”

“What was it that you were expecting?”

“I don’t know... Not this ridiculous hat.”

Smiling, she reached up to tug on the bridge of his mask lightly. For a split second he looked caught off guard and she thought she had somehow offended him - before suddenly leaning in to kiss her. Her grip on his arm tightened as her legs threatened to stagger backwards. The hat she had poked fun at was now pressed against her face, the cool metal uncomfortable. Luckily, she was focussed on the mouth that slid against hers to do anything about it.

When Solas finally pulled away he seemed surprised by his own actions. He looked at her as if he was waiting for her to say something - anything - but she didn’t. She was too busy thinking about the fruity drinks he tasted like to come up with any words so the Inquisitor just stared at him slightly dazed. Maybe it was a good thing that she hadn’t had anything to drink that evening.

“That was… nice,” she finally said quietly. Without thinking, she inched closer until she could feel the rise and fall of his chest as it slowly grew even again. He was trying to compose himself: his eyes glancing away to the side while he swallowed, the tips of his ears still a light shade of pink. Seeing it made her smile and when he looked back at her he was quick to return it.

The second kiss was shorter, softer - something he snuck in before they began slowly dancing again. It wasn’t the best idea, however, because she wasn’t ready and quickly stumbled.

“Sorry,” she muttered, still not looking away from his face when she felt herself nearly step on his foot. The fact that she could quickly go from not having the nerve to look him in the eye to not wanting to tear her gaze away was incredible.

“It would seem that we will have to practice more after returning to Skyhold.” It was most likely a joke, but he sounded so sincere that she was inclined to take him seriously.

“That’s fine with me,” Athesa told him earnestly.

She felt him chuckle more than heard it, his arms loosening up slightly.

“You said that you were here in the Fade once before, right?” she asked.

“Yes, why?”

“Could you show me?”

“If you would like, yes. When would you want to?”

“Tonight.”

* * *

They slept in their own tents as they travelled back to Skyhold, but Athesa was able to find him quickly in the Fade that night. Just like before, everything felt hazy. A thick layer of fog hovered over the ground as he walked through an unfamiliar forest with her.

“I thought we were going to the Winter Palace.”

“Yes, there was a place I thought you might enjoy first, though - if that is alright.”

She told him yes, because all that really mattered was that he was showing her something, and he took her hand before walking again. Their arms swung lazily together, Solas’ posture relaxing while they brushed shoulders every so often. It wasn’t long until they had entered a small clearing.

“Here we are.”

“Is this…” she trailed off. Everything looked familiar, but the mist around them seemed to almost distort her view.

“It is the Free Marches, yes. More specifically,” he paused to look behind her. Athesa quickly turned around to see a group of spirits resembling Dalish elves. “Clan Lavellan.”

She took a step forward, letting go of his hand. “This is my clan?”

“There is a strong possibility. However, because we are still in the Fade you won’t recognize any of the spirits that linger.”

“But they were in my clan, yes?”

“You could say that, although I’m afraid we cannot be certain.”

That was fine. All that mattered was the fact that she could see the spirits there. He found pieces of her clan’s past and thought enough to not just tell her, but to bring her to them. Her eyes began to water, and she quickly pressed the palms of her hands into her eyes to stop any from falling.

“How did you find them?”

“I simply looked.”

“They were in the Free Marches,” she turned around to face him, “that’s not exactly easy to come across.”

“It is not, no.”

There was a pause as she waited for him to continue, but he didn’t.

“This means a lot.” The words felt shallow but she couldn’t even begin to tell him how much it meant to her. All of those nights spent watching the sky and thinking about her family, her chest painfully tight. And now they were right there in front of her - the remains at least. Visiting them had never been an option, what with leading the Inquisition, but she had never even considered this possible.

The sight of Solas in front of her was blurry, eyes continuing to water until a couple of tears fell down her cheeks.

“I was hoping that it would help ease the pain until you got to see them in person. I’m sorry, I didn’t consider that it would make it worse.”

He was apologizing, but why? Was it because she was crying? The look on his face told her that he was regretting his actions.

“No,” she tried to reassure him, “I’m happy that you brought me here. Thank you.” She took a step forward to wrap her arms around him. He returned the gesture, heavy hands pulling her out of her thoughts. It was strange - he felt more real than anything she’d seen that night but it still didn’t feel completely real. It wasn’t like the way he held her when they were awake.

They didn’t end up approaching them, but did sit underneath one of the nearby trees. Athesa let her hands play with the jawbone that hung from his neck as she sat beside him, her eyes glancing over every so often to watch the spirits. At one point she looked at Solas to see him watching her hands fidget with the charm.

“It smells different here,” she commented at one point. He nodded and told her that it reminded him of his home. She released her hold on his necklace, the end of it hitting his chest softly.

“You don’t speak about where you came from very often.”

“Is there a need to?”

“No, but I’d like to know.”

There was a pause before his answer. “I would rather do it another time, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not.”

Her hand found his to give it a small squeeze and he pressed a kiss to her forehead in return.

Athesa woke up in her tent alone, half-convinced that she could still feel his hand in hers.

Chapter Text

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?”

“Yes.”

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.

“What happened?”

“I’m sorry?”

“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.”

“Why not?”

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…”

“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.”

“... Alright.”

“Really?” She asked, surprised by his lack of resistance.

“Yes.”

“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.

God dammit.

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

“Thank you.”

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.”

“Soon, though.”

“Yes.”

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?”

Chapter Text

“Should you not be in a meeting somewhere?”

Athesa looked up at Solas from where her head rested in his lap. “Do you want me to leave?”

“No,” his hand paused in her hair, “but you do not usually come here until after you’ve finished your work.”

It was true that she’d shown up earlier than usual. The Inquisitor had left for the rotunda almost immediately after waking up, wanting to tell him about the book on astronomy Dorian had lent her the evening before. He was sitting on his couch, a large tome open in his hands when she arrived. He continued to read as she sat next to him, and when she shifted to lay down he simply raised the book to make room for her head. There had been a moment of hesitation - not used to being quite so forward - but she found herself able to relax after seeing the smallest smile of his face.

That had been nearly an hour ago. Since then, she told him not only about the book but also that they’d be going to the Storm Coast with Iron Bull soon. Thankfully, he nodded when she asked if he would join them.

“I’ve spent the past two days in meetings,” she pointed out. “If I have to hear one more noble ask about mages, or Templars, or why there isn’t a Chantry in the garden, I’m going to tear my hair out.”

“Yes, it must be difficult to have so many awaiting your command, ready to serve.”

Despite his sarcasm, she continued to rant. “Why do we even need a Chantry? Do they not realize that I’m Dalish?”

“Perhaps you should consider making a shrine to one of the Gods you believe in, then.”

“Such as?”

“Mythal, Sylaise, Fen’Harel.”

Athesa gave a short laugh, placing a hand over the one he had rested on her stomach. “Somehow I think doing that would only make things worse.”

“Joking aside, I would not want to distract you from your responsibilities.”

“You’re not, so don't worry.”

He only smiled and moved to brush some more hair out of her face.

“Inquisitor.”

Athesa bolted up at the title immediately. A runner who was clearly out of breath stood in the entrance of the rotunda. “Yes?”

“Your advisors would like to speak with you. Right away.”

“What’s going on?” Her mind tried to think of possibilities. Samson, red templars, Corypheus, Haven. Her fingers began to dig into Solas’ leg without meaning to, forcing him to jump slightly. She let go immediately and nodded to the scout, dismissing him. The moment he was gone she began to look for her hair elastic only for the apostate to hand it to her.

“Thank you,” she smiled softly, before letting him know that she'd speak with him later.

When she quietly entered Josephine’s office the Inquisitor was met with Cullen, Leliana, and the ambassador herself. The latter sat in her chair while the others stood around her desk, staring at it while none of them said a word. They all looked so… upset for some reason.

“Is something wrong?”

“Inquisitor,” Cullen nearly jumped when she spoke. “No. Well, yes.”

“What happened? Is it Corypheus?”

“No, not at all.” He reached around to rub the back of his neck. “Perhaps you should take a seat first.”

Her toes dug into her boots impatiently. “I’m fine, just tell me what’s going on.”

Josephine wasn’t even able to look at her, simply watched the letter on her desk as if it might disappear. “Inquisitor,” she finally spoke up, “I would like to apologize. I am… truly sorry. I contacted the Duke to assist with your clan just as suggested but…”

Athesa could feel her stomach drop. Suddenly she regretted everything - waking up, listening to the scout they sent, coming here so quickly. “But, what?” Her voice was low, already afraid of the answer.

“I am afraid he was too late. By the time our allies arrived there was little left.”

“They were killed.” Each advisor nodded slowly, looking pained for her. “Is that the report?”

Her hands shook when they passed it to her. Her heart was racing, but not in the way she had grown accustomed to over the past months.

“I’d like some time alone." They nodded and and apologized for what must have been the fourth time.

She could barely remember the walk from the office to her quarters. All she knew was that there were too many people around to be upset. So she did her best to remain composed, tried to push away the fear that threatened to take over. Even as she walked up the stairs and stood in the middle of her room, everything felt numb. It was a nightmare. She must have fallen asleep with her head on Solas’ lap, that was the only possible explanation.

But the letter folder in her hands was very, very real.

The parchment felt heavy and rough against her fingers. It begged to be opened, but at the same time she couldn’t bring herself to. The Inquisitor was desperately clinging to whatever composure she had left and knew that the moment she read the words everything would come crashing down. So instead, she quietly set it on her desk.

They weren’t gone. They couldn’t be. There were too many things to do for them to be dead. She still had to tell her mother how much she missed her, thank her Keeper for sending her to the Conclave. A voice told her no, she wouldn’t be able to do any of those things now. All of those nights spent homesick weighed down on her as she walked to her bed and sat on the edge.

The Inquisitor didn’t bother to try to keep track of how long she stayed there - it could have been days for all she cared. At one point her stomach began to protest, but she selfishly ignored it. She felt too nauseous to even think about eating.

Eventually, there was a soft knock at the door. Athesa didn’t move. She couldn’t handle another person trying to check in on her, didn’t want them to see the Inquisitor locking herself away. It was just like when they first arrived at Skyhold - she was isolating herself, just as homesick and afraid as she’d always been. Just the memory of all of those nights sleeping on her balcony made her feel ashamed, and ultimately that was what made her call for whoever continued to knock to come in. Soon enough she heard quiet footsteps, and then a voice.

“Vhenan.”

“Solas.” Her voice was steady and even - numb, just like her. She looked up to see him frowning. “Did they tell you?”

“Vaguely, yes.” Slowly, he walked over and sat down beside her. “Would you like to discuss it?”

“No.” Athesa continued to stare at the floor in silence. Her thoughts began to wander quickly - going over what could have only been five minutes in Josephine's office. It played in her mind over and over like a broken record. “... I lied.”

She felt fragile, as if she was made of glass and it would only take a few of the wrong words for her to shatter. It was an awful feeling - one that made her want to curl up in shame. She told him this quietly.

“I shouldn’t be the Inquisitor. Everyone at the Winter Palace was right.” She stared at her hands as she spoke. “I’m not the Herald.”

“I disagree.”

“It’s not a statement that’s up for debate,” she snapped. A new wave of guilt threatened to crush her immediately, forcing her to squeeze her eyes shut. “That was uncalled for.”

He wrapped an arm around her waist and Athesa leaned into his side, holding the front of his tunic tightly while she stared at the ground a few feet away.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” she whispered.

“That is alright. You have time.”

“They’re all just… gone.” She watched the wolf jaw as it rose and fell with his breaths. After a few seconds of silence she looked up to meet his eyes. “I love you.”

He looked so troubled when she said it, and she felt her heart sink yet again. Something inside her broke and she pulled away, sitting up to properly speak.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked, eyes watering despite how hard she tried to stay calm. “Whenever you watch me you always look so sad.”

He frowned, but stayed quiet while she wiped away tears and continued.

“Do I make you sad?” The question came out without thinking, voicing the fear she never acknowledged. Solas opened his mouth, but paused, obviously torn over something.

“Please, just tell me.” A part of her was yelling at herself to just shut up already. She wasn’t thinking straight, was taking all of her dread and misery out on him.

His arm tightened around her waist just slightly. “I am sorry if I hurt you. I didn’t mean to.”

“I’m not hurt.” It was a lie. A terrible, awful lie but that wasn’t the point. “I’m asking if I hurt you.”

“No.” His answer was immediate. “It is just that there are times when I worry about the future.”

“All anyone has done since the Conclave is worry about the future,” she choked out, “but right now everyone I love is gone. Everyone except for you, and I’m right here, and I care about you, and I love you.” Athesa felt herself begin to panic as she spoke - the reality of her situation finally sinking in. Of course she still had her companions, but this was different. Solas was different. He was more than a friend who she visited the Fade with. He was someone who was so important to her that it was downright terrifying.

She didn’t realize that she was shaking until he was huggingher, holding her together as she felt herself finally fall apart. She wrapped her own around him without any hesitation.

“I don’t want to be someone who makes you upset,” she said into his shoulder.

“You aren’t. You are incredibly important - more than you realize.”

“I don’t want to be important. I want to be home, with my family.” My dead family, she thought, and felt a sob escape.

“But you cannot. And for that I am sorry.” He sounded sorry, too - seemed to be incredibly pained from seeing her like this.

“Why?” She muttered almost bitterly. “You hate the Dalish.”

“I am frustrated with the Dalish, and I do not hate you. In fact, you’ve made it very clear that you are far from what I know of them.”

She didn’t respond, and instead tried to focus on her breathing. Every so often it would pick up again and she would have to force herself to count in her head with each exhale. It was difficult, but better than thinking about the current circumstances. Eventually, Athesa let go of him to wipe her eyes with the backs of her hands again. “Could you get the letter for me? It’s on my desk.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” No.

While he got up to retrieve it for her, the Inquisitor moved onto her bed so that she was leaning against the headboard. Solas stretched out beside her before giving her the letter. Her hands shook as she opened it, suddenly unsure of herself. Was this really necessary? After all, she already knew what it said. But the way her heart began to race told her it was, and she tore it open with more force than needed.

It said everything that her advisors had told her: the Duke’s forces arrived too late to help, with no survivors in the area. Overall, it was surprisingly short and only confirmed her thoughts, leaving her with a lump in her throat. When she was finished, Athesa folded it up carefully before setting it down between them. She swallowed hard, sinking down until her head was on the pillow. That damned ceiling pressed down on her like so many times before while she stared at it.

“I want you to tell me about Ferelden before the last Blight,” she told him quietly. “Please.”

The mattress shifted as he moved to lay down beside her. He kept his voice low when he spoke - describing the scenery, explaining the kind of spirits who still lingered there in the Fade. It proved to be a good distraction and for just a bit it was easier to breathe. She could pretend that the entire day hadn’t happened, that she had just spent the after happily speaking to him in his study rather than her own room.

Every so often she would doze off only to jerk awake, and after what must have been the fourth time Solas rolled over, quietly running a hand through her hair and telling her to go back to sleep. That heavy weight on her chest was coming back quickly so she nodded and let her eyes slide shut, feeling him watch her slip into the Fade.

* * *

Her entire body jerked as she woke up. Hot air filled her lungs, burning with each breath. It was too hot. Sweat covered her neck while she laid there on her back - too terrified to move. The sheets felt cool in her sticky grip and the only light seemed to be coming from the moon as it shone through the windows. Still, it felt too dark. The shadows threatened to swallow her up while the ceiling pressed down on her limbs.

She thought that it would be okay, that for at least a few hours she might be able to escape, that the fact her clan was gone would act as a shield against any dreams in the Fade. After all, what could be worse than the harsh reality she would wake up to?

It turned out that it couldbe worse, and it was. Because nothing could rival the fact that her family was dead except for the visions of them still being alive. Hazy dreams of her Keeper lecturing her for wandering off, echoes of her mother’s laughter, her younger brother’s vague noises of disgust.

A hand covered one of her own, gently prying the blanket out from her iron grip. When she turned her head, Athesa found herself face to face with Solas. His eyes were closed but she could tell that he was awake. His eyebrows were drawn together, a small frown replacing his usually peaceful face. By the time she was able to let go of the fabric he was pulling her towards him. Her forehead pressed against his chest as it slowly rose and fell with his breaths. In and out, in and out. Arms rested around her, holding her loosely - a reminder that she was free to ask him to leave.

She let her own shaking arms wrap around his torso clumsily - practically clinging to him. Still gasping for air, a broken sob choked out. The hand that was on her lower back started to move in small, soothing circles. Eventually, words began to spill out of her mouth. They were fragments of sentences and pieces of elvish that hurt to say out loud but she had to. She had to get the words out into the air instead of keeping them caught in her throat - where they would burn and corrode until she couldn’t say anything anymore. He seemed to understand because all she got in response was a quiet hum; an indication that he was still listening to her babble on through the tears that streamed down her face.

She wasn’t sure how long they were like that: her face buried in his shirt until all that was left was her sniffling every so often. Her eyes were red and sore so she let them slide shut - not going to sleep, but just lying there. She noticed that he smelled like elfroot and pine and it reminded her of home to a less severe degree - soothing her rather than bringing back the piercing pain in her gut.

When her eyes opened again hours later neither of them had moved. Her face felt gross, sticky with dried tears. She didn’t get up, though. The hands on her back had stopped moving, and while a chin rested on the top of her head the Inquisitor had the growing suspicion that he had fallen asleep. When Athesa felt the circles on her back begin again was when she knew he had woken up.

“Ma serannas,” she whispered, the phrase raw in her throat.

He shifted until Athesa could feel a pair of lips kiss the top of her head. “Ir abelas, ma vhenan.”

Everyone was gone. All of the history she had learned about her clan as First might as well have been for nothing; everything she had planned to return to after the Inquisition had just disappeared. The realization made her chest heavy and she could suddenly feel the broken sobs returning. What was she supposed to do now?

Solas’ hand ran through her hair and quietly reminded her to breathe.

“I didn’t even get to tell him that I was sorry.”

“I am sure he knew.”

“I ruined it all,” she continued. “Nothing of our clan’s past will be remembered and it’s my fault. Everything is my fault. I should have sent Leliana, or Cullen, or gone myself. It was stupid to trust the nobles to help.”

“You could not have known, lethallan.” His voice was full of regret - the sadness she often saw behind his composed mask shining through brightly. “I can empathize more than you realize.”

“Can you, though?”

“Yes.”

"... Thank you," she told him again quietly.

* * *

The next day Athesa took Solas, Cole, Iron Bull, and the Chargers with her to secure the alliance with the Qun just as planned. She needed to get out of her quarters, a determination to not let this be like the last time driving her. Everything seemed to be normal as they travelled and ate during the day - none of her companions bringing up what had happened, which she was more than thankful for.

The nights were more difficult, even with Solas sleeping next to her. The time between when he fell asleep and she did was short but still very much there. She would lay there on her back and remember moments from her childhood until they threatened to consume her - leaving her feeling alone with shaky breaths and stinging eyes. Whenever it got to be too much she would reach to intertwine their fingers like he had done so many times when they were awake. Doing it didn’t make everything better, not that she had expected it to, but it did help to ground her. In the morning she would wake up to find that she was still holding onto him. While Solas didn’t bring it up, she noticed that he would give her hand a small squeeze before letting go to get up.

The Storm Coast was just as cold and wet as Athesa had remembered it to be. It was raining when they arrived and continued to even as Iron Bull gave Krem his orders. When they saw the Venatori approaching the Chargers, she could practically feel the Qunari’s ease slip away.

“Your men need to hold that position, Bull.”

“They do that, they’re dead.”

He turned to Bull, frowning - telling him that if they didn’t the Venatori would retake it. “You’d be throwing away an alliance between the Inquisition and the Qunari! You’d be declaring yourself Tal-Vashoth. With all you’ve given the Inquisition, half the Ben-Hassrath think you’ve betrayed us already.”

She stood there quietly, the humid air heavy in her lungs.

“I stood up for you, Hissrad! I told them you would never become Tal-Vashoth.”

“They’re my men.”

“I know, but you need to do what’s right, Hissrad… For this alliance, and for the Qun.”

Bull turned towards her questioningly. It took a moment for her to realize that he was waiting for orders - her orders. She glanced to where the Chargers were. An alliance with the Qun could help the Inquisition, she knew that. However, she knew the Chargers as well, knew how important each one of Bull’s men was to him. They were like his family - similar to how the Seekers were Cassandra’s, and Clan Lavellan had been hers.

Her grip tightened on her staff at the comparison. This was it: a chance to stop history from repeating itself and she wasn’t going to take it for granted.

“Call the retreat.”

So Bull blew the horn, despite the other elf’s protests.

“We can make this up to your people,” she tried to reassure him.

“No, you can’t.”

They were left out on the cliff, forced to walk back to their camp with wet armor and soaked boots in silence. Bull seemed quiet as they ate dinner, and she couldn’t blame him, but knew that it would have been worse to lose the Chargers. She wondered if it was selfish to throw away the alliance because of personal interests, but quickly put the thought out of her mind. What was done was done.

That night Athesa sat cross-legged on her bedroll, staring at her lap while she thought over the day’s events. Solas sat next to her, quietly reading one of the books he had brought with him from his study. The heels of her hands rubbed her eyes irritably when she felt them begin to water. She was tired of crying, tired of that sick feeling in her stomach, and the knot in her throat that never seemed to go away. Most of all, though, she was tired of feeling so sad.

After running her hands down her face, she looked over at Solas. His book had been put down, although she wasn’t sure when he had done that, and he glanced at her.

“Do you regret it?”

“No.” Shaking her head, she turned so that she was sitting in front of him. “It was the right thing to do. The Chargers are safe.”  At least she was able to save something this time.

“Good.”

“Good?”

“You had to make a difficult decision, and it is good that you are able to stand behind it.” He leaned in to press their foreheads together. “I am impressed.”

Stomach fluttering, Athesa moved forward until she was sitting in his lap, legs loosely wrapped around his waist and arms around his neck. “How impressed?”

“Very.” His mouth trailed along the vallaslin on one of her cheeks, pressing chaste kisses until he reached her hair. A small laugh bubbled up, to her own surprise. Creators, it felt like years since she had last laughed.

Thoughts of her clan still lingered in the back of her mind but she did her best not to think about it. The entire trip to the coast had been spent digging herself out of that rut that left her with tears and guilt, and the thought that she could easily be stuck in that vicious cycle again was worrying. Instead, she focussed on the rain that fell outside, what it was like to be sitting so close to Solas, what it felt like to laugh - the Inquisitor tried to memorize all of it. She buried her face in his neck, still smiling as she felt him fold his hands behind her back.

“What are you thinking about?” he eventually asked.

“... Months ago I couldn’t even sit next to you on your couch without shoving a blanket between us,” she answered quietly. “Now I’m sitting in your lap, in my tent, while you kiss me.”

His tone grew serious. “And what do you think about that?”

“Good things.” She brought her face up to meet his. His eyes were bright and blue and she couldn’t bring herself to look away.

“I am pleased to hear it.”

“Good.”

“Good.”

Chapter Text

Those first few days back at Skyhold were hard. The nightmares were still there, lingering in the back of her mind along with that weight in her chest. Regardless of them, however, Athesa forced herself to sleep in her bed. She refused to stay out on her balcony again. After all, she wouldn’t be able to do it forever. On the particularly bad nights, Solas would sit with her on her couch, talking to her about their companions or his frescoes. Each time she would doze off next to him, and he would politely wake her up before leaving so that she could go to bed. Every morning after, she would find herself in his study, hugging him tight as an unspoken Thank you passed between them.

During the day she would fill out paperwork, or visit Dorian, or listen to Varric’s stories about his adventures with Hawke. One day Sera even asked her to help with pranks around Skyhold. At that point she was so desperate for a distraction that she immediately agreed. It had been more fun than she anticipated, and for the first time since that night after saving the Chargers she was laughing again. The entire time no one said a word about her clan, and - aside from reassuring Josephine that she didn’t blame her - she didn’t bring it up either.

After about a week things finally felt like they could return to normal. She had survived seven days, why not seven more? Why couldn’t days turn into weeks and then turn into months? It was still difficult, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel now. As her advisors helped her to prepare for the trip to Adamant, it became easier to think about the future without feeling like everything would come crumbling down.

That was why she found it incredibly odd when Vivienne approached her for help - telling her that she needed the heart of a snowy wyvern. It was news that the mage was interested in alchemy at all, much less needed the Inquisitor’s help for it. She never told her what it was for, either - only that it was very important to retrieve it. While it was an odd request, Athesa agreed to help. She had found the First Enchanter intimidating ever since their first meeting, and figured that it at least this way she could try to get to know her better. That was the reasoning behind her decision, and was what she told Solas in her quarters when she asked him to join her.

Finding the Snowy Wyvern itself was surprisingly quick. It was in a swamp-like area where the water rose to their knees and she had to do her best not to cringe at the sensation. Meanwhile, their actual fight seemed to call every other wyvern in the area to come forward. By the time they were finally done there had to be at least an extra three corpses sinking into the water. The sight had Cassandra making a face of distaste as she watched the Inquisitor remove the heart and put it in a small pouch. Finally, they could leave.

Or not.

Athesa’s jaw dropped the moment the dragon flew above them. It circled one, two, three times before finally swooping down. She felt her knees shake just like they had with every other dragon, swallowing hard. The ground shook as it landed, and let out a loud roar.

“Inquisitor?”

She only nodded to Cassandra, indicating that - even if they weren’t prepared - they’d try to fight it. The Seeker and Blackwall immediately took out their shields, but she didn’t notice when they began to fight. All she could do was stare at the creature in awe. It looked incredible: all navy, yellow, and white, and breathing lightning. She had never shared Bull’s appreciation for dragons, but seeing it standing there, she was finally able to at least understand it.

The ground shook again as it let out another screech. Static crackled in the air, not unlike what she felt when using her own staff. It was stronger this time, though - strong enough to leave goosebumps on her skin. It stared right at her, and she vaguely felt a chill run down her spine.

Lavellan!”

The next thing she knew, Solas was at her side, putting up a barrier around the two of them. Luckily, he did it less than a second before the ball of electricity hit the water a few feet away. It dulled the effect, leaving her flinching rather than doubled over. The pain brought her to her senses quickly, grabbing his free hand and pulling the two of them up onto higher, thankfully dry ground. Thank you, she panted. He didn’t reply, simply put another barrier around Cassandra and Blackwall, who were attacking the dragon’s front legs.

The battle ended up being more tedious than she had expected. It was frustrating - between putting up barriers, avoiding the water, and trying to not get hit by balls of lightning, the Inquisitor found herself running around more than actually fighting. However, after more than a couple close calls, the shrieks that made her ears ring were finally cut off. The remaining static and electricity still buzzed in the air, but as everyone assessed their injuries - mostly minor cuts and bruises - it was obvious that they had defeated it.

“You are becoming quite proficient at this,” Solas told her after putting his weapon away.

“Does it hurt?” she immediately asked, hand hovering over the shallow cut on his temple. It was red but, thankfully, had stopped bleeding.

“No.” There was a small pause when she didn’t take her hand away. “Vhenan, I am fine.”

Cassandra approached them before she could reply, her voice making her jump and drop her hands to her sides. “Now, it would seem that all there is to do is to return to camp.”

“Yes,” Athesa spoke up quickly, not knowing why she was so nervous but hoped that the Seeker wouldn’t notice.

* * *

“I can’t do anything unless you keep still,” she muttered to him.

Solas had been the first to retire to his tent that night. She approached him once he stood, quietly asking if she could speak with him before going to bed. Slightly surprised, he had agreed and she stopped by her own tent before meeting with him in his. Now, the Inquisitor was sitting on her feet in front of him, carefully dabbing at the cut on his temple with a piece of cloth. It was a nearly pointless attempt to clean it, but she tried nonetheless. However, his flinching was less than helpful.

“Usually I am the one healing you after a battle.”

“Exactly, so let me help you this time.” She let the stained cloth drop to the ground with a small thump. He seemed confused when she raised her hands to hold his face. “I have something for you - something I’d like to tell you about if we ever get this done.” What she didn’t tell him was that it was the whole reason she had even come into his tent in the first place.

Nodding, he covered her hand until she finally let go. Athesa wasn’t sure if it was what she said, or the fact that she kept a soft grip on his chin, but he was noticeably still after that. At least, more than before. Every so often he would inhale sharply through his nose, and she’d immediately mutter a soft sorry before continuing. Eventually, she was able to set down the cloth with a sigh of relief.

“That’s as clean as it will get.”

“Thank you… Now, what was it that you wanted to ask me?”

Reaching behind to where she’d taken off her boots, Athesa picked up two small tomes. There was still some dust on them, regardless of how hard she’d tried to wipe it away with her sleeve beforehand. She had found them in a small library next to the vaults back at Skyhold.Her hands reached out slowly, giving him the tomes with slight caution. The entire time she kept her eyes on his face, watching for some sort of reaction.

“... They are Elven.”

“Exactly. I don’t know how much you know, but I thought that you might be able to translate it.”

“There would not be any harm in trying.” She watched as his fingers flipped through the pages, clearly already absorbed in it.

“And…”

He paused to look up.

“I would appreciate it if you spoke to me in elvish more often. I’d... like to learn more of it.”

“Of course.”

“Really?” Her eyes lit up, already smiling.

He shut the tome quietly before setting it aside. “Yes.”

“Thank you.” The Inquisitor beamed at him, recklessly hugging him and nearly sending the two of them toppling over. Solas’ arms curled around her quickly, with one hand reaching up to tangle itself in her hair. The action made her relax, had her melting into him. It was so nice to just have him hold her. Before she knew it, she was letting out a small, content sigh.

“It’s getting late,” she said, and felt his grip tighten.

“It is.”

“I should probably go back to my tent soon.”

“You raise an excellent point. However, an unnecessary one.”

She frowned slightly. “Unnecessary?”

“If you would like to stay, that would be fine with me.” Solas pulled back to look at her. “I won’t deny wanting to speak with you some more before we sleep, though.”

Athesa felt her face grow warm at the invitation. “When you say you want to talk…”

“I mean only talk, yes. Would that be a problem?”

“No, not at all.” she answered quickly, realizing what her question probably implied. “Of course not - I love talking to you.”

Reluctantly, she let her arms fall to her sides, telling him that she’d be back with her things soon. It didn’t take long for her to retrieve her bedroll, and when she returned Solas was already laying down on his. The books she’d given him were closed and on the ground beside him, next to his wolf pendant and belt. He watched her set the bedroll out quickly, rolling onto his side when she laid next to him.

When he spoke his voice was kept low, forcing her to inch forward to hear him. She wondered if he was doing it on purpose, but was distracted from the thought when he told her more about the spirits he encountered from Halamshiral, and the memories he saw there. At one point she apologized for what happened with Briala. The Inquisitor still felt guilty for not helping her with the elves of Orlais. He was quick to reassure her, however, that he didn’t feel upset over it. In fact, he was strangely neutral on the topic.

“She was an admirable woman.”

You’re an admirable man. Not many people know who they are the way you do.”

“Thank you. Both for saying that, and... for seeing it. Few in this world can, aside from seeing a pair of pointed ears.”

They dropped the subject after that, both of their minds wandering while the silence settled between them. Rolling onto her back, she stared at the ceiling of the tent. It was flimsy, a cloth draped over them. For the first time it didn’t feel like it was pressing down on her. Her breathing was slow and even, no sense of suffocation. It felt no different from being outside, aside from her bedroll making the ground softer to lay on. She hadn’t even had one of Vivienne’s potions yet there she was: feeling peaceful for once. Everything around her seemed still.

When she spoke, it was a whisper. “Do you ever worry about becoming an abomination?”

“No, why do you ask?”

Her eyes didn’t stray from that spot on the ceiling. “Do you think that I could?”

“You have made it this far, have you not?”

“Yes, but…”

“But, what?”

“You can’t really know, can you? Even the mages who have Harrowings can still be possessed.”

She could feel him watching her now. “You are incredibly strong-willed, vhenan. I do not think you need to worry.”

Finally, she let herself look at him. He was always so sure of himself, so certain that he was right. Usually, it was frustrating - knowing that it meant he couldn’t always see when he was wrong. However, she still found herself thankful for it. He had faith in her as the Inquisitor, and it was a comfort.

They continued to talk until Athesa could feel her eyes fighting to stay open. Eventually, she closed them altogether, humming in answer to whatever he was telling her every so often. His words began to slow down, trailing off as if he kept losing his train of thought. At one point she felt him drape his arm across her waist. Then, after a few minutes of silence, he moved closer to bury his face in her shoulder. Her arms wrapped around him immediately, a combination of hugging and holding that made him relax against her. It had her chest swelling as she balanced on that fine line between being alert and asleep, left in a tired daze.

“Don’t look for me in the Fade tonight,” she mumbled quietly, not even sure if he was still awake.

His answer was muffled, telling her that he was on the brink of sleep just as she was. “Why not?”

“I don’t want to distract you from your studies.” She felt him curl into her and let out a small breath. “Besides, this is enough.” It was more than enough, more than she had expected from him. Laying there, holding him, the feeling of him practically clinging to her in return, his breath hot on her neck while they both drifted off - she felt horribly spoiled by it all.

Yes, in front of their companions he still had a part of that wall surrounding him, but in the small moments when they were alone together she was surprised by how much he seemed to be indulging her. They were quiet moments - a hand on the small of her back when she stood next to him, watching her tell him about her day in his study, or when one of them was about to slip into the Fade like they were tonight. She didn’t even have to ask him to be more open with her anymore, he just was. Athesa wanted to thank him - was going to tell him how much she appreciated it - but finally felt herself slip into the Fade before she could even open her mouth.

Solas kept his word about not visiting her that night, and, for once, her dreams weren’t anything more than average. No nightmares about her clan, or hazy dreams about losing the Seekers. A part of her wondered if it was because of the way she had fallen asleep, but she quickly pushed that thought aside. Even if that was the reason, it didn’t matter anymore.

When she woke up she found that they were in nearly the same position that they’d fallen asleep in. The only difference seemed to be that she wasn’t holding him anymore. One arm was stretched out now, numb from being under him, while the other rested on the arm he still had across her stomach. She wasn’t sure how long they had slept, but could clearly hear their companions outside - already awake and up. Someone was arguing far too loudly and the Inquisitor let out a quiet groan. Solas stirred at the sound, but stayed asleep.

She needed to get up. They needed to - but he still had that hand around her and that head on her shoulder and it was so tempting to just lay there like that, pretending to be asleep. Groaning again, she reached up to his shoulder and shook it slightly. It took three tries before his eyes opened. For a few seconds she only watched him as he tried to make sense of where they were. An arm propped him up while he looked down at her. She couldn’t make out the emotion on his face - a strange mix of hesitation and content.

“Sleep well?” she eventually asked.

“I-- Yes, I did. Thank you for asking.”

“... Is everything alright?”

“Everything is fine.” The hesitation disappeared, and she gave him a small smile in return.

“Did you find anything new?”

“Yes, and I’d be more than willing to share it later.”

With that, Athesa sat up and they began to get ready for the day. Neither of them spoke, opting to enjoy the silence. The entire time she desperately tried to think of what she would say when Cassandra and Blackwall would inevitably see her leaving his tent.

* * *

The Inquisitor found Vivienne on her balcony once they returned to Skyhold. Perhaps it was out of nerves, but the moment she addressed her, she felt her spine go straight and shoulders roll back. Stiffly, she presented her with the heart.

She seemed not only thankful, but also surprised - confessing that she had misjudged her. Athesa wanted to ask just how she had been misjudged, but bit her tongue. In the end, the Enchanter ended up asking her to join her. Again, she agreed - mostly out of her own selfish curiosity, wondering what Vivienne could have possibly needed something so specific and dangerous for.

It only took an hour for the two of them to leave, but - as they stood there in front of a dying Bastien - she wished that it had taken longer. Anything, to put off the sight of the cold, sharp Madame de Fer looking so vulnerable.

Her hands formed fists at her sides. “Vivienne, I’m so sorry.”

Her words felt shallow. She wanted to be angry, to break down and hit something but she couldn’t. There wasn’t any anger buried inside of her, only regret and more guilt. Those seven days she’d been so happy with suddenly meant nothing. What was the point of being pleased with a few measly days when more people were going to die? First the Seekers, then her clan, and now this. It was never going to stop, and she was always going to be a part of it.

However, watching the way Vivienne looked Bastien, Athesa slowly realized that she wasn’t part of this. At all. She didn’t even know him. The same went for Lord Seeker Lucius, and the spirit of Wisdom Solas had known. Yet somehow she spent so much time in her quarters, feeling responsible for what had happened for them. Maybe it was the fact that she was the Inquisitor, but at the same time she knew it wasn’t likely that there had been a way to prevent it. A hand subconsciously reached up to rub her forehead, feeling another headache beginning.

Nearly all of her companions had lost something, from Cassandra to Bull to Varric. Still, they all managed to continue on with their lives, move forward. She realized that there wasn’t any point in feeling guilty anymore - not about this, or the alliance with the Qunari, or even her clan. She couldn’t have stopped it. Creators, each time something like this happened she even tried to help and it didn’t work.

It was Vivienne’s composed voice that pulled her from her thoughts. “There’s nothing here now.”

The trip back was quick and quiet, taking no more than a couple of days. For the first time in awhile, though, the Inquisitor didn’t head straight to the rotunda or her quarters after returning her mount to the stables. Instead, she went straight to Vivienne’s balcony.

“Bastien is dead. I can hardly believe…” There was a sadness and nostalgia in her voice that made Lavellan feel that regret building up in her again. She began to tell her of how the two of them had met - she had been sent by her circle to entertain nobility. Truthfully, it sounded like the stories she had heard when she was younger. Athesa told her this, and she only replied that she supposed it was a more innocent time. “Now, he’s gone, and I…”

Suddenly, that composed voice was coming back, going over the necessary arrangements that would have to be made.

“If I can help you, just say the word.”

“No, my dear. I’ll handle everything. Excuse me, I have so much to do.”

She left the balcony and walked to Solas’ study lost in thought. Everyone had lost so much without even getting a chance for closure. She was tired of it, needed something that could distract her from everything she had been feeling for the past two weeks.

When she entered Solas’ study he was reading at his desk. He must have heard her footsteps because he looked up before she could even greet him. “Inquisitor.”

“I need to speak with you. Privately.” He began to set down his tome, but she raised her hands for him to stop. “We don’t have to now. Could you just… come to my quarters when you’re done your work?”

He assured her that yes, he’d visit her once he was finished, and she left his office quickly. Truthfully, she was thankful that he wouldn’t be arriving until later. There were still some things to think about first - go over what she planned to say to him beforehand.

And that was exactly what she did. Leaning on the railing of her balcony, Athesa rubbed at her temples as she went over and over what she wanted to tell him. Something about her felt different since returning with Vivienne, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Her mind flipped through the possibilities as she watched the sky slowly turn colours - going from a blue to light orange and, eventually, pink.

It was the weight on her. She didn’t seem to feel it crushing anymore. Yes, it was definitely different now. There wasn’t any sharp pain with it, only a strong pressure. A hand rested on the center of her chest absentmindedly. Standing there alone, she felt a strange comfort in its presence, as if it was holding her together, keeping her solid. However, as she let her hand fall back to the railing, she knew that that could quickly change. For just a few moments, though, it was nice.

She wasn’t sure how long she stood there waiting for him, but it couldn’t have been too late. The sun was still up, if barely, and the sky was still that shade of pink. There was a soft noise when her door opened and shut behind him, and soon enough he was standing beside her.

“Vhenan,” she breathed, not looking at him quite yet.

“Lethallan.”

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

“What is on your mind?”

Athesa turned to face him, leaving one hand resting at her side. “... When I found out about my clan I said some things to you - things I wish I hadn’t.”

“I am not sure I follow.”

“You were trying to help me, and I wasn’t very appreciative. I wasn’t thinking clearly.” She thought back to the way she had snapped at him so easily and cringed. “I was upset, but that isn’t an excuse.”

“Vhenan, I’m not angry with you.”

“Please, just... let me finish. There was a reason why I asked if I hurt you before.” Her thumb traced small circles on the railing, feeling the rough concrete while lost in thought. She was determined to be completely honest with him, and it was unnerving. “Sometimes when you watch me you seem so sad. It’s worrying, and I never know if it’s because of me. Back then, I told you I loved you and you looked hurt. It was terrifying.

“I’m not asking for an apology, I’m not even saying you did anything wrong.” She let her hand drop to her side. “I didn’t know why you were upset, and I was scared that it pained you to be around me. I should have told you that, should have… asked what was wrong instead of bottling it up.

“I used to worry that if I did something wrong you would just close yourself off again. It was ridiculous, though.” She began to speak without hesitation, without thought - realizing the truth as she went along. “You’ve been so open around me lately, especially when we’re in the Fade. I love it, love that you don’t seem so afraid of the future now. I was so upset that day, I think I just forgot that.”

He kept quiet the entire time she spoke, listening to the words pour out of her as if it was beyond her control. There wasn’t any indication that he was even still listening to her ramble on, except for the fact that he didn’t look away. That was enough of a signal for her to continue, though.

“Which is why I also wanted to say thank you. I know that it’s hard to let someone in, especially considering all of the time you’ve spent travelling alone. I’m happy that you’ve tried - that you even wanted to try. It means a lot to me.”

“Can I ask what brought all of this on?”

“Seeing why Vivienne needed the wyvern heart... It made me realize a lot of different things, including how important you are. I never got to tell my family how much I cared about them - I don’t want that to happen with you, too.”

His hand reached up to cup her cheek, thumb running gently across her vallaslin and she froze. Like so many other times, he simply gazed at her - eyes moving to each feature on her face before finally landing on her eyes. “Thank you.”

Her pulse sped up, although she couldn’t figure out why. He wasn’t doing anything, wasn’t even saying anything. All he did was look at her, yet somehow just that made her heart thud so loudly in her chest that it was a surprise he couldn’t hear it, too. When she spoke it was quiet in comparison to the blood that pounded in her ears, straining to get her question out into the open. “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

“I believe I do.”

Her breath caught in her throat, thrown off by how intimate it felt. The thick air that hung around them, the heavy weight on her chest, those blue eyes that still looked sad.  But there was something else in that look, too. It was something that told her yes, he understood just how important he’d become to her - Solas knew, and he wasn’t closing himself off, or telling her that it would be better not to in the long run. Seeing it gave her a new, strange sense of courage.

She leaned in slowly, making sure not to break away from his stare. There was a need to know that hewanted this, too - that she wasn’t just throwing herself at him again and again. As she pressed herself closer his hand slid from her cheek to hold the back of her neck, encouraging her. That was all she needed before quickly closing the short distance between them. Her eyes finally slid shut and a hand reached for his shoulder, needing that grounding he always managed to give now more than ever.

He made a noise when she pressed forward - holding his sleeve and opening her mouth for him easily. Suddenly he was taking a step closer, and her stomach dropped as she stumbled back a step. His arms wrapped around her waist quickly, helping to steady her. Her mind went blank at the feeling of his hands sliding under the back of her shirt and lightly tracing along the small of her back. His fingertips turned cold, causing her to arch her back so that she was pressing herself against him.

“You’re doing that on purpose,” she managed to stutter when he broke away. Solas didn’t say anything, simply rested his forehead on her temple while he tried to catch his breath - a soft smirk on his face. All she could do was stare at him, watched his eyes squeeze shut when she pressed another lingering kiss to his lips.

His cold hands pressed flat against her skin and she gasped against his mouth. He was smiling now. She would have been frustrated by his smug attitude if it had been possible to keep a train of thought. When Athesa stopped to breathe, to recover, to just calm down or something, he moved to her jaw.

All she had planned to do was talk to him - hadn’t thought much past what his reaction could be. Yet here she was, shaking - trembling as he pressed quick kisses along her neck - the sound of her heavy breathing and pounding heart drowning out any thoughts.

“Inside.”

He continued, even as he hummed questioningly to her, burying his face in her skin.

“Inside,” she repeated firmly. Solas didn’t stop, though, and she had to keep reminding herself that they were still outside. “Now.

The urgency in her voice must have gotten his attention because he stopped for a moment. However, her patience quickly ran out and the next thing Athesa knew she was kissing him again, gripping the front of his tunic to pull him with her while she walked backwards into her room. There was a small thump when the backs of her knees hit the bed, and she let go of the fabric to hold his face. “I missed you… while I was gone,” she muttered as she left quick kisses all over his face. Creators, she had missed him - missed the way he held her hand, all of those subtle touches in the rotunda that only she noticed, even how he looked when she’d catch him watching her. “Did you miss me?”

“I did.” He reached around to work the elastic out of her hair.

“How much?” she asked, staring at him - face already warming at an answer he hadn’t even said yet.

“A great deal.”

He sounded so incredibly honest when he said it. She thought back to the ache she always had when away, wondering if he felt it as well. Just the idea made her heart skip a beat. What if he felt that weight she always got when he looked into her eyes? Did wrapping an arm around her waist make his chest tight?

“Is something wrong?”

Athesa’s eyes dropped to his mouth when he asked the question. Suddenly, her knees felt weak, shaking with adrenaline and threatening to give out under her. How in the world they got worked up so quickly, she didn’t know. It didn’t matter, though. All that mattered was that she had told him what she wanted to, and that he was still there with her. “We should move to the bed.”

Solas waited for her while she desperately tried to take off her boots, cursing them the entire time. She really needed to stop wearing them, or at least get a pair with less buckles. Sitting beside her, he rested a hand on her back. At any other time it would have been comforting, but in the moment all she could think about was hurrying. Finally, though, she kicked them off and was able to move until she felt her head hit the pillow.

He hovered over her and she could only imagine what she looked like: wide eyes, heavy breathing, and a burning face. The way he looked at her, though - it made her chest swell. She wanted to be close to him, needed to, as she thought back to all of those touches that didn’t feel completely real in the Fade. Without thinking, she pulled him down to kiss her. It was long and searing - the kind of kiss that left her stomach fluttering helplessly. Any hesitation either of them might have had seemed to melt away immediately.

“Please,” she muttered - unsure what she was even asking from him but there was a knot in her gut for something. An arm wrapped around his torso while her opposite hand held the back of his neck, practically clinging to him. He quickly returned to the place on her neck where he’d been kissing back on the balcony. The way she felt like putty in his hands was awful. She hated it, wanted to resent him for doing this to her - even as she held him tighter, tried to bring him closer. For the first time in a while the weight that threatened to crush her was welcomed, a reminder that he was there with her rather than a burden.

His pendant dug into her uncomfortably, pulling her out of her own thoughts. Frowning slightly, she reached to tug it over his head and let it fall onto the bed beside them. Solas opened his mouth - probably to apologize - but she interrupted him by pressing her lips to his neck. She kissed along it softly, slowly. Each one seemed to make him more tense, press against her harder. Still, she did her best to take her time. For once they weren’t being interrupted and she wanted to savour the moment. All she could focus on was the static that crackled in her ears and the sound of her name coming from his mouth between kisses. Athesa, Athesa, Athesa. She loved hearing him say it. Then again, he could read her a dictionary and she probably would have been satisfied.

“- Athesa, stop.

The Inquisitor froze, vaguely registering that his hand was gripping one of the clasps on the front of her shirt. “What’s wrong?”

“Someone is at the door.”

“That’s okay,” she muttered.

“Are you certain? What if it is important Inquisition business?” Even as he spoke, his hand slowly played with the clasp. “For all we know a nug may have strayed - wandered into the grounds and found a home in Vivienne’s bed.” He was teasing her, and it was clear why Varric called him ‘chuckles’.

“Yes, I’m sure... ma vhenan.” She saw him swallow hard and grinned.

“Ma’arlath.

He loved her. The thought played itself over again and again in her mind. Serious, sarcastic, grim Solas loved her. Of course, she already knew that, but each time he told her seemed to make it even more real. She fumbled with the hem of his shirt, pushing it up until he understood what she was trying to do. It was then that he pulled the tunic over his head and set it beside her. Athesa tried to do the same, but only succeeded in undoing the first few buttons on her top before he was kissing her again.

She had never seen him like this. Not necessarily eager, but so unreserved. It was like those words on her balcony had taken down the walls he put up around so many. He wasn’t being as careful, didn’t hesitate to press his lips to the base of her throat. It dawned on her that Solas was showing her how important she was to him - even if he didn’t mean to. Her breath hitched at the realization, suddenly very aware of each of his movements - from the way he let his eyes close to how his hand was on her hip, just holding her.

Ma’arlath.” It must have been the third time she had said something along those lines that evening but she needed him to know.

Ma sa’lath,” he replied immediately, words so sharp and sincere that they threatened to cut through her right then and there.

That knot was still in her gut and it drove her to pull him up so they would be face to face. She kissed him hard, teeth nearly clacking together. A quiet moan escaped when the hand on her waist gripped her tightly, grasping like she might vanish into thin air, and her ears grew warm at the realization that the sound came from her. She vaguely remembered when they had visited the Fallow Mire, when she shivered at the sound of him moaning against her, when Cassandra eventually heard them in her tent - but there wasn’t anyone around to hear them now, and knowing that forced her to register just how alone they were.

His kisses became urgent, pulling her out of her thoughts. That pulsing in her ears returned, and she couldn’t breathe properly. It was too much at once. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to handle it for much longer and anxiety quickly began to build in her. Opening her eyes, she forced herself to pull away.

Nearly panting, she stared up at him in a daze. His ears looked as warm as hers felt, and his cheeks were stained a light shade of pink. The sight made her stomach flip.

“Athesa?”

“... Could we slow down?” She couldn’t keep up like this, knew that soon enough the pounding in her chest would be the death of her.

His body froze for a moment before beginning to pull back, but Athesa quickly stopped him - realizing what it probably seemed like.

“No, it’s not that I don’t…” she paused, face warming out of embarrassment. “If we continue I think I’m going to have a heart attack.”

The statement earned her a soft chuckle. “... Of course.”

“You don’t have to leave,” she quickly added. “I would rather just… lay down for a bit.” Yes, that was what she needed to do: calm down, breathe, wait until she could finally think clearly.

His eyes softened, all blue but no trace of sadness for once. He brushed some stray strands of hair off of her forehead. “My heart.”

After a few seconds of silence she reached to cup his cheek. He smiled, taking her hand and pressing a light kiss to the inside of her wrist before getting up to put his shirt back on.

The mattress sunk when he laid down next to her. A part of her was disappointed to not feel his warmth but when she rolled over he was closer than she had realized. She reached to hold his pendant only to remember that she had taken it off, and settled for holding his hand instead.

Athesa wasn’t sure how long they were there like that, possibly a couple of hours. The majority of the time they spoke quietly, Solas answering her questions about the Veil. Keep going, she would reassure him each time she interrupted to press a kiss to his face. He didn’t seem to mind, though, and did the same when she told him about her research on the astrariums. Occasionally, he would look at their hands and tell her something in elvish. They were unconventional phrases, ones she had never been taught as First, but the way he said them made her face warm.

“It is getting late,” he said when she held back a yawn.

“It is,” she hummed, content with the way his hand lightly ran up and down her back. “That’s okay.”

“Is it?”

Nodding, her eyes slid shut. “If it’s okay with you.”


It felt strange to be under her covers with him beside her. All of the other times when they’d fallen asleep on her bed had been an accident - dozing off somewhere in between reading and speaking. But now Solas was definitely laying next to her, watching the ceiling while she watched him. Carefully, she reached out under the covers to find his hand. She held it loosely, not noticing just how tired she was until her eyes began to close.

Chapter Text

It was three days after that night when Athesa received more information of the Venatori working in the Forbidden Oasis. The news had come in the form of two letters. The first was from Leliana, detailing the trip arranged, with the second from Scout Harding. It included not only where the Inquisition’s forces had been staying, but also described a temple that had been found by Harding herself - who suggested that it could be linked to the shards.

She was sitting at her desk when she found them, mixed in with more requests from nobles and Cullen’s reports. Her eyes scanned over each one twice before looking over to Solas. He had arrived after dinner to return one of the books she’d forgotten in his study. Now, however, he was laying on her bed with his eyes closed.

“Pretty soon I’m going to think that you’re just using me for my quarters.”

He didn’t move. “I can only assume that it is one of the many advantages of being asked to save all of Thedas. And is it my fault if this is one of the few places where I won’t be interrupted while visiting the Fade?”

“No,” the Inquisitor stood up and walked to the other side of her desk to lean against it. “It’s certainly convenient, though.”

His face softened into a faint smile for only a moment. “‘Convenient’ is when Dorian just happens to toss another horrible romance over his railing as I finally fall asleep.”

She opened her mouth to tell him that it probably wasn’t on purpose, but promptly closed it - knowing that it would be a lie. “If you wanted to sleep here it would be fine,” she suggested instead. “I’m not doing the most exciting work today.”

“A tempting offer, however, I should not distract you any more. For tonight, at least.” Finally getting up, he walked towards her until they stood nearly toe to toe. The desk creaked slightly as she pushed herself off of the edge.

“Leliana said that all of the arrangements for travelling to the Forbidden Oasis have been made, and Scout Harding wrote to me about the temple. We can leave with Cassandra and Sera tomorrow.”

“Good,” he reached up to brush a strand of hair out of her face. “I will see you in the morning, then.”

His hands moved from the tops of her shoulders, running down her arms to interlace their fingers. Smiling, she inched forward with closed eyes. He was so close, and it felt so satisfying when his lips brushed over her cheek. Without thinking, Athesa hummed softly in approval. She could feel him smile against her before doing it again.

When he spoke it was quiet - so quiet that she probably would have missed it, had his mouth not been hovering over her ear. It was elvhen, mumbled in a way that told her he said it without thinking.

You make my heart sing.

Solas rested his forehead against hers, apparently too occupied with his own thoughts to notice anything else. She wondered if he knew that she understood. Her throat was dry, only able to think about the feeling of his thumb rubbing circles into the back of her hand. Even though she was standing still, it felt like her entire body was pulsing with each thud thud in her ears.

It sounded different when she tried to say it back. There was more stuttering, the syllables feeling broken by the time she was done. He didn’t move, didn’t say anything - only stood there with her quietly. Maybe he hadn’t heard her? Clearing her throat, she tried again. It still sounded breathless, but at least it was understandable.

He definitely heard her this time. She could tell by the way his arms wrapped around her, hugging her tightly. Face pressed into her hair, Solas’ hands wandered over her back for a moment, just feeling her, before settling. It was so different from that night after she had spoken to him on her balcony. There wasn’t any urgency, or hard kisses, or fumbling to get closer, yet somehow it made her chest swell just as much. Her hands gripped the back of his tunic, suddenly needing to stay like that. She didn’t want to remember the Inquisition, or Corypheus - only wanted to think about how easy it was to melt into him while they stood there.

“Stay,” she asked quietly, adding on a please when he didn’t answer.

He let out a small breath. “Alright.”

Athesa felt the small knot of anxiety in her ease, grateful that the feeling of him being so close could continue.

Wordlessly, he sat down with her on her couch. For the first few minutes she stayed next to him silently, their thighs pressed together while she stared at their hands. When he let his arm wrap around her waist, she shifted to drape her legs over his lap, her side leaning into him. The air felt heavy like it always was, but it made everything seem closer, more intimate. With none of Leliana’s agents running around, it struck her that she was alone with him. Even more, there weren’t any books or stories of the Fade providing distractions - all of his attention was on her.

“Can I trust that Sera won’t be putting any more lizards in my bedroll while we’re travelling?”

“I’ve already asked Leliana to make sure that she doesn’t bring any.”

He pressed a quick kiss to her head, so fleeting that his lips barely hit her. “Thank you. I doubt you would want to repeat what happened last time.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad,” she joked. He moved over her ear, warm breath making heat rise to her face even more. “Unless you suddenly hate sleeping in other tents.”

“I can think of worse things that could happen,” he said casually, pulling away to look at her.

“Good.”

Solas raised his hand to hold her face, that sadness flooding his wonderfully blue eyes so quickly.

“What’s wrong?” she looked at him, confused.

“Nothing, for once.” His thumb brushed across her cheek. “You are beautiful.”

Her face burned, and it took a moment to realize that she was smiling at him. She tried to repeat the phrase he had said to her earlier. However, the look on his face told her that she had gotten it wrong. He was… holding back laughter. The grin on her face disappeared, and, just like that, whatever spell they had been put under was gone.

“What? Why are you laughing at me?”

“Not you. Your pronunciation. Nonetheless, was a good attempt,” he assured her, a smile on his face. “It will just take practice.”

“Don’t I get credit for trying? Or… something?” She dragged a hand down her face, suddenly feeling terribly self-conscious. He was still smiling at her, regardless of her embarrassment. “Creators, just get it over with and call me da’len already.”

“You are anything but.” He reached for her hand. “Thank you, I appreciate that you tried.” It was comforting to hear him say it, to be reassured that he still viewed the two of them as being on equal ground. “... I didn’t mean to imply that you were a child.”

“You laughed, Solas.” She glanced at him. His eyes were lit up, and he looked incredibly pleased for once. “Even now, you’re still-”

He cut her off quickly. “I’m smiling because I am happy.”

“Happy?”

“Yes.” Leaning forward, he brushed his lips over her cheek just like he had before. Her eyes closed almost immediately. She felt him move to her jaw, and found herself tilting her head to make room for him. The way his breath ghosted over her left her incredibly tense, fumbling to get a better hold on his hand.

It took a few moments for her to realize that he had muttered something. Not able to speak, she hummed questioningly.

“Breathe,” he quietly repeated, pressing a chaste kiss to her neck. Athesa exhaled shakily.

For the first time she wasn’t impatient. It was alright if he was being agonizingly slow, because it suddenly felt like they had all of the time in the world. She did her best to stay perfectly still, not wanting to do anything that would cause him to stop. Still, a sigh escaped when he moved along her cheekbone and back down to the corner of her jaw.

Goosebumps ran up her arms and she forced herself to inhale again. “I keep seeing Leliana in the gardens with Morrigan.” Maybe if she just kept talking it would be easier.

“Hmm?”

“I think they knew each other during the Blight.” She waited until he hummed again before continuing. “I haven’t asked her yet, though. I’m still surprised that she knows so much about elven history.”

Another mhm before he was pulling back. Athesa frowned at him instinctively.

“Did you not want to talk?”

“Not if you’re going to stop.” It came out in a rush, complete and bare honesty as a result of not being able to think straight.

Solas chuckled and moved to press his mouth against her neck - not kissing her but just resting there. She didn’t bother continuing the conversation, her train of thought now long gone. Instead, she focussed on the hand she was holding - using her thumb to run up and down his.

He was always so genuine when they were this close, and somehow it was always a surprise. Maybe it was because of the way he acted when they travelled, fighting bandits and rogue templars. It made it so easy to consider him cold and uncaring. But he was right there, pressed against her and warm - from his hands to his breath to the face he’d made when she had failed at telling him her feelings in elvhen.

They couldn’t have been there for more than twenty minutes, but when she opened her eyes the sun had already gone down. She wondered how long they had been sitting there in the dark, if he somehow dozed off like that.

“Solas,” she started, but stopped when he kissed her temple.

“If we are leaving in the morning, we will both need to sleep.”

“Yes,” she breathed, not fully comprehending what he had said until his hands were gently moving her legs off of him. Her head still felt fuzzy, drowning in the feeling of how close he’d been.

“I will see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow, right.”

When he kissed her at the top of the stairs it was slow and easy, despite the weight that still hung above them. His hands found their place on her hips and she held onto his elbows. She stayed there for a good five minutes after he left, staring at the ground a few feet away while lost in thought.

* * *

As much as she wanted to deny it, the Inquisitor had grown used to Solas joining her in her tent. The nightmares of her clan had stopped nearly altogether, so there wasn’t much of a need anymore, but every night she continued to ask him to - and each time he would say yes. Occasionally it would lead to something more - his hands wandering up her back while she kissed them until they were both breathless. However, more often than not, he would simply lay next to her, holding her hand while they both drifted off. It was strangely satisfying either way, and each morning, she’d patiently wait for him to wake up.

The morning before their arrival was different, though. He paid careful attention to her as she changed into her armor and put up her hair. It was more than slightly distracting, and left her struggling to do up her straps more than once as she constantly glanced over at him. Usually, they would discuss what he had seen in the Fade the night before, or joke about which nobles were being conveniently nice to the Inquisition, but this time neither of them said a word. He didn’t appear to be angry, just lost in thought.

She was about to ask what he was thinking about when Sera’s laughter rang from outside. It clearly startled him, but got him up and talking again. Soon enough, he was pressing a kiss to her hair and leaving.

Athesa found that she enjoyed the Forbidden Oasis more than she had expected. It was incredibly dry and hot, but compared to the rainy Storm Coast it felt like a paradise. There were plenty of spiders and corpses, and more than once she had to carefully navigate the cliffs for shards without falling to near-death, but at least the Venatori were a nice excuse for her to use her lightning staff.

She was finished with one of the apples she had brought along at camp when Solas approached her.

“Could I have a word?” His eyebrows were drawn together, deep in thought just like he had been that morning.

“What is it?”

“Alone.”

They didn’t walk far from camp, only going around a corner or two until they were both out of sight. The moment they were far enough, however, his hands were around her waist to hug her from behind. She held her breath when she felt his forehead rest on her shoulder, his ear barely brushing hers.

“Is something wrong?” she asked when he didn’t pull away. Her toes curled in her boots, suddenly extremely aware of her own arms.

His hands slowly dropped to his sides, allowing her to turn around and face him. “No, not at all.”

“You aren’t usually this…” she trailed off, unable to describe it without her neck growing hot. The last thing she needed was to die of heatstroke.

“I wanted to tell you that I plan on visiting the Fade while we are here. Which means that, for the most part, I will be staying in my own tent.”

Athesa nodded in understanding, trying to bury the slight disappointment that settled in her gut. It made sense, though. After all, he was the one who suggested that they could find the origin of the shards here. “Tell me if you find anything interesting.”

“I will.”

With the knowledge that she’d be sleeping alone for the next handful of nights, the rest of the day seemed to drag on. They fought more Venatori, sealed more rifts, and eventually set up camp again. Sera seemed to be in a particularly good mood while they explored the new areas, up until they found the Temple of Pride. At that point she seemed particularly fidgety, but the Inquisitor shrugged it off.

After Athesa ate her food at camp, she stood at the requisitions table, looking over a number of forms that would eventually need to be filled out. Nothing seemed to be unusual as far as the way Solas treated her around the others. Honestly, she felt silly for expected anything else. After all, it wasn’t like they weren’t seeing each other at all. If anything, that hug had just been a fluke, a quick attempt to prepare for the days to come when he wouldn’t be able to.

It made it so much worse, though. He was always right there, but neither of them could ever do anything about it. She remembered the feeling of his forehead resting against hers, and the sound of him sighing her name. She dragged a hand down her face. Elgar’nan, it had only been one day, yet here she was: desperately thinking about the nights in her quarters with him as if that would somehow help.

It wasn’t even that she necessarily missed him right then, but the knowledge that she was going to that killed her. Vaguely, she thought that it might be easier if he hadn’t come along at all. At least the temptation would be gone. That wasn’t an option, though.

It took all of her self control not to jump when Solas stood beside her, shaking her from her thoughts.

“Vhenan.” She greeted him quietly enough that the others wouldn’t hear. The last thing she needed was Sera yelling at them from across the camp.

He repeated the endearment back to her under his breath, and she had to clench her hand into a fist at her side in order to fight off the wave of butterflies in her stomach.

“Did you need something?”

“Would you like to go for a walk?” With a soft thud, he set a book on the table. It took a moment to realize that it was her tome on astronomy.

She let herself turn to face him. “I thought that you wanted to visit the Fade.”

“I do. However, it is not completely night yet, so there is still some time.”

With a nod and cautious glance back to their companions - who were still finishing up their dinner - Athesa agreed. She picked up the tome from the table quickly before following him with her staff.

They didn’t wander far from camp, just enough that the others were barely out of sight. There weren’t any trees or stones to block her view here, leaving the sky dark but open. It threatened to swallow the two of them up as Solas watched her take a seat on the ground.

She opened her book and began to flip through, looking back and forth between it and the sky. The pages were thin and worn from being used so often, and she had to be careful not to rip any. The only thing that tore her attention away was the sound of a nug approaching before getting scared off.

“Are there any you recognize?”

“Most of them,” she admitted. Honestly, Athesa had read the thing so many times that she probably didn’t even need it anymore. “There’s Fenrir, and Belenas. That one over there is the Oak, Fervenial.”

“You’ve learned from your research on the astrariums quickly,” he noted.

“It’s not difficult. Compared to plants they’re easy.”

“How so?”

“They don’t change. Tenebrium isn’t going to suddenly have an extra wing just because it’s winter. Even with the Breach, they’re all still there.”

A comfortable silence settled between them. Athesa closed the tome and traced along the cover. When they returned to Skyhold she would have to ask Dorian if he had received any new ones lately - possibly about the Old Gods.

“I used to be so happy before all of this,” she mumbled. “I wanted to travel more and see new parts of the world--but now the world is in chaos.”

He covered the hand that was resting on the sand with his own, that grounding he gave again and again pulling her back to the present. She had told him so much about her life before the Conclave but it felt like she knew next to nothing about him. A part of her couldn’t understand how he managed to be so passionate about elvhen history, yet hardly ever mention his own.

“What were you like before?”

He sighed. “I was temperamental, hot-blooded.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And arrogant. I spent my time looking for fights and ways to prove that I was right.”

“You’re different now.” It was true. Of course, he was still pretentious at times, and loved to think that he was right, but he was almost always composed. To imagine him as a temperamental mage was a stretch.

“I made many mistakes.” That sadness returned to his eyes and she felt her chest tighten. “Ones that, if possible, I would like to correct.”

“Do you feel guilty?”

“Incredibly - however, guilt will not bring back what has been lost.” There was a small pause. “Do you?”

“Sometimes. I try not to, but it’s... hard.”

"It is. You have sacrificed much.”

“Whatever you did… you can tell me.”

“While I appreciate your concern, I cannot.”

Her stomach dropped. “Why not?”

“I am not ready to discuss it yet.”

“Solas-”

“Vhenan, please.” Suddenly, there was raw emotion in his voice, all of that hurt in his eyes threatening to spill out. The grip on her hand had tightened only slightly, as if he was trying to restrain himself.

"... Okay."

"Thank you." He opened his mouth to speak again, but she interrupted.

"We should go back to camp," she said simply. There was a slight edge to her voice that made him pause, that sad look deepening, but eventually he nodded in agreement.

For the first time since their arrival, Athesa was happy with the knowledge that she’d be sleeping by herself. She laid there in her bedroll, ready for the loneliness and fatigue to swallow her up with a new willingness. Solas’ voice rang over and over in her mind mercilessly, each word hitting her hard. He wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. She should just accept that and move on. It was obviously something that pained him to talk about, not something to take personally.

But she did take it personally. The Inquisitor had told him so much about her past and every time she asked about his, he was evasive. She squeezed her eyes shut and rolled over onto her side.

She carried the weight of their conversation on her shoulders for the rest of the night, and through to the next day. A part of her was resentful towards him for keeping whatever he was hiding away from her, but mostly she was just upset. Not only over how he was closing himself off, but because he didn’t seem to trust her.

As the day wore on, she could feel her irritation growing. The only positive effect of it seemed to be that it drove her to fight harder in battle. She threw spell after spell at each enemy they encountered without hesitation, not stopping until no more were in sight. Luckily, Cassandra seemed to approve of her newfound enthusiasm.

Sera, however, seemed to be relentless with her commentary. She didn’t hide her distaste at the shards they continued to collect, complaining that she could have picked the ‘stupid locks’ if it wasn’t for ‘stupid magic’. Even after Cassandra declared that she would be in her tent if anyone needed her, the banter continued.

Athesa sat next to Solas in front of the fire, holding his hand while he read. It was the closest she had allowed herself to get to him all day, because - although her ego was still bruised - the Inquisitor wasn’t able to deny that she was starting to get tired of looking at him without actually talking.

Sera sat across from them, examining one of her arrows carefully. “So, you and the Lady Inquisitor. Interesting.”

“Your interest is not my concern,” he replied, not looking up the book in his lap.

“That’s alright, because I meant boring. The elf always takes the elf so bumping bits will mean something.”

A page turned loudly as the comment rolled off of him easily. “It is not a topic for discussion.”

“Oh, come on, drop ‘em and rebuild the Empire. Phwoar!”

Athesa bit into her food loudly, staring at the fire as her ears turned pink without her permission. No, she wasn’t going to say anything. She was going to be mature about this. The rogue’s words wouldn’t get to her, just like how she hadn’t let the corrupted spiders or corpses get to her.

She didn’t realize how tightly she’d been holding Solas’ hand until he tried to wiggle his fingers in her grip. As if she had been burned, the Inquisitor let it drop.

“What? Nothing?” Sera huffed after the long moment of silence. “Like I thought, no fun.”

“Think what you will,” he told her coolly. “It is clear I am not here for you.”

After a moment, he put down his book and looked at her through the fire. He asked what colour the sky was. A simple question, but there was a strange challenge behind his words.

“Hang on.”

“It is an earnest question. What colour is the sky when you look at it?”

She told him mostly blue, aside from the Breach. When asking what she saw beyond that, his tone was lighter, suddenly interested in what she would answer with.

“Greenish? Then clear a long ways, and kind of… felt like falling. Ugh!” she set down the arrows to pinch the bridge of her nose. “Makes my head hurt. You make my head hurt.”

“We are not so far apart, you and I.”

“We will be.” With that, Sera stood up and marched to her tent.

Solas smiled faintly, his voice quiet enough that only Athesa could hear. “I must admit, I am surprised that that worked so well.”

She threw the remainder of her food into the fire, listened as it sizzled and cracked.

“... Are you alright?”

“I’m going to go for a walk.” That edge was in her voice again, resentment rearing its head back up for what felt like no reason at all. It made each word cut deep into her as she stood up. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Thankfully, he didn’t ask to join her. Apparently that cutting tone had hit with him, too.

It only took a few minutes to gather her staff and tome, and just like that she was ready to go. She didn’t wander far, opting to visit the same place she and Solas had sat at the night before. The area was quiet, peaceful even. The sand shifted beneath her when she sat down and opened her tome before looking up at the sky. It was wide and open - just like before. A few clouds drifted by, but aside from that everything seemed to be clear. Everything that was, except for her mind.

Even though her eyes scanned the pages of her book, she found her mind constantly drifting to the conversation she’d had with Solas. Bits and pieces of it still played over in her head, leaving her feeling rejected of all things.

She couldn’t force him to talk about it. Even more - she didn’t want to force him. All Athesa wanted to do was help him. There had been so many times when she was struggling and he was there for her. Why couldn’t he let her do the same?

Her heel dug into the sand stubbornly.

She had been so cold towards him all day. Every time he looked over at her while they travelled she would avoid his gaze, usually approaching Cassandra with the first question she could think of. While he seemed disappointed by her behaviour, he never pushed. He just accepted that she wanted to be by herself. Looking back, she realized how pathetic it had been. A part of her wanted to bury her head in the sand right then and there until it swallowed her up.

Guilt quickly began to build in her chest and she hated it. Sitting there, she was the little elf with a crush on her hah’ren all over again.

Only the apostate had told her again and again that he didn’t think of their relationship like that. He showed her memories in the Fade, and listened with interest when she told him about the things that bothered her. Solas treated her as his equal now, but there she was: putting up a tantrum because he said no.

Athesa let out a heavy sigh. Just a week ago she had told him how thankful she was with how he had opened up to her. Now she was demanding even more of him, and why? Just because of her own curiosity? To get rid of her feelings of guilt? He had never pressured her into situations, always stopped without complaint when asked. Yet that was exactly the opposite what she had done. Putting down her book, she brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs.

He was uncomfortable with sharing something personal and she had been petty enough to resent him, instead of accepting it. And he seemed so upset when she had tried to pry. She needed to apologize. Not only for letting her insecurities cloud her judgement, but for closing herself off when she should have told him what was wrong. How was she supposed to expect him to be open when she couldn’t do the same?

When she returned to the camp everyone else had already retired. She considered seeing if Solas was still awake, to tell him how she felt, but decided against it. He wanted to explore new areas of the Fade, and she wasn’t about to interrupt that.

That was why the Inquisitor jumped when she entered her tent to find someone else already there - the apostate himself. He had brought in his bedroll and laid it next to hers, but the book that had fallen next to him told her that he hadn’t meant to fall asleep yet.

Very slowly, she took her boots off - making sure not to be too loud with each buckle that came undone. By the time she was finished he had rolled over onto his side, facing the wall. His shirt felt warm as she reached out to shake his shoulder. He moved, but just barely, a small groan rising out of him. She should wake him up. She should tell him to go back to his own tent.

How long had he been waiting for her? She thought he’d wanted to visit the Fade. Or maybe he was, and - just for tonight - he thought that he could be here with her, too? If that was the case, why hadn’t he just done this before?

The scent of pine was overwhelming when she laid down next to him. It dawned on her that this was Solas’ bedroll. The fabric was too thin, and it was just a bit too long for her legs. Which meant that he had fallen asleep on hers. The thought that maybe he had missed her made her chest tight.

There was a good thirty seconds of hesitation while she stared at him. Finally, though, her arms wrapped around him carefully before moving closer. He shifted a bit, but settled quickly.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured into his back, “for being so cold earlier.” It was a poor way of apologizing - only doing it when he wouldn’t hear her - and she knew that it probably made her a coward. But still, Athesa continued.

“I’ll stop asking you about it until you’re ready.” That curiosity threatened to itch at her again, but she pushed it away.

The sun was what woke her up. It shone brightly through the fabric of the tent, leaving her squinting as her eyes tried to adjust to the light. It was painful, though, and left her groaning. At some point in the night Solas must have rolled over onto his back, because Athesa found herself laying on half of him, her arm still wrapped around his waist. Eyes closed, she could feel his hand on the small of her back, lightly tracing random circles against her.

Her head told her that it was too early, begged to slip back into the Fade, and she was more than willing to oblige. Arm tightening around him, she tried to move closer. It proved to be difficult, though, due to the fact that she was already nearly flush against him.

“I am sorry,” he told her quietly. “I did not mean to fall asleep.”

“S’okay.”

“I wanted to talk to you, but you hadn’t returned yet.”

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, already half-asleep.

“I would still like to, when you wake up.”

She nodded against the fabric of his tunic.

The Inquisitor didn’t end up falling asleep, not completely at least. While her body lied there heavy and lifeless, her mind wandered in a strange daze. That hand continued to trace along her the small of her back, every so often tearing her from her thoughts. When she rose again, Athesa felt much more rested. Her eyes blinked open easily, voice no longer thick with sleep as she cleared her throat and told him that she was ready to talk.

“You seemed upset yesterday.”

“I was,” she admitted. “I’m not anymore, though.”

“Was it because of before?”

“Yes,” she frowned for a moment. “You’ve helped me so much. I want to be able to help you, too.”

“You are here, that alone is more than enough.” His free hand moved to rest over the one she had moved to his chest. “If I’m unable to discuss something, please don’t blame yourself.”

She gave a small sigh, her mind flooding with the memories of her previous apology. “I’m sorry if I was pushing. It wasn’t to pressure you into anything.”

“I know.”

Finally, she pulled herself off of him and rolled onto her back. A hand dragged down her face while she felt his eyes on her. “I’ll stop asking you about it,” she promised. “At least until you want to talk.”

Solas thanked her quietly, sincerely. That raw emotion was back but it didn’t seem to hurt him as much. Slowly, he shifted until he was hovering over her. She watched while he looked over her before meeting her gaze. “Ar lath ma, vhenan.”

Her heart skipped at the phrase. They were only five small syllables but somehow they still managed to burn right through her. “Ma’arlath.”

“You’ve changed everything,” he told her plainly, just like that first night in the Fade. Leaning in, he gave her a kiss that had her lifting her head for more when he pulled away. Athesa frowned slightly at the loss of contact, and swore that she heard him chuckle before ducking down again.

This time she reached up to hold his neck, keeping him there while her eyes shut. All of that resentment and hurt that she’d been carrying seemed to dissolve right away. His mouth slid against hers with a sense of familiarity, and before she knew it, he was pulling a soft moan out of her.

“Why did you stay in your own tent?” she panted when he broke away. “Why not here?”

“I feared that I might be… distracted.” He gave her another short, searing kiss. “Such as now.”

“Right,” she nodded, gut wanting more but ultimately taking the hint. Their companions weren’t going to wait around forever - assuming that they were already up.

Once Solas got off of her, she sat up and began to tie back her hair once again - quickly slipping back into that routine of getting ready for a day of fighting demons, Venatori, and hyenas. It felt strangely satisfying to be sitting next to someone while she did mundane things like roll up her bedroll and put on her boots. That heavy air still hung between the two of them, but it didn’t hurt her so much as let her know that he was there.

The Inquisitor took her time putting on her armor, facing away from him while she fussed with the buckles and straps. “What were you reading yesterday?”

“One of Varric’s novels. Many of them are in the Inquisition’s library now.”

“I didn’t think you would be one for crime novels.”

“Usually, I am not. It is interesting, though.” His voice grew closer, and suddenly his hands were on hers - relieving her of the strap on her back that she was struggling with.

The moment that hot breath was off of her next she turned around to grab his shoulder, holding him there. He gave her a puzzled look but for once Athesa didn’t falter. “Thank you.”

It wasn’t in elvhen, but she put as much sincerity into the phrase as she could. With that, she pressed a swift kiss to his cheek and got up to climb out of the tent, turning away before she had the chance to see the small flush that stained his cheeks.

Chapter Text

Despite the fact that they had taken their time getting ready, Solas and Athesa left her tent only to realize that they were the first ones up. However bright it may have seemed inside her tent, being outside was only worse. Her eyes blinked furiously while she stood at the requisitions table, rubbing them every so often in an attempt to adjust to it. There was still paperwork to be filled out and sent back to her advisors - mostly reports about what they’d managed to find while away.

Meanwhile, Solas gathered his things, carefully organizing the rest of his pack before eventually joining her. His footsteps were quiet, but that didn’t stop her from noticing his arrival.

“We’ll need to stop at the Exalted Plains on our way back to Skyhold,” she muttered.

“Why?”

The Inquisitor glanced up at him from her work. “I want to see if the Dalish clan we ran into is still there. They mentioned that they could use some more supplies.”

“And you intend to help?”

“Of course I do.”

Solas paused, as if he was thinking over his words. “Their Keeper has already allowed Loranil to join the Inquisition.”

Signing the last form, she set it on the completed pile before turning it to him. “I’m not doing this for the Inquisition. I’m doing it for me.”

“For you.”

“Yes. It’s the right thing to do, and I’ll be able to sleep better knowing that they’re doing well without Loranil there to help.”

The statement settled between them while he took her hand, holding it up to study her mark. “... Does it still hurt at all?”

“Not since we closed the Breach.” She watched his finger trace over her palm lightly.

“I see.”

It was then that she saw the distance between them. Just a few minutes ago he was a good foot away, but now he almost stood toe-to-toe with her. Usually, she was incredibly aware of where he was when they were together, but he had managed to do it so discretely. She reached for the hand that hovered over hers, holding it up while intertwining their fingers. “It still feels strange when I seal rifts, though.”

“Well, that is to be expected.”

Athesa felt her neck grow warm, and dug the toe of her boot into the ground. “If it’s to be expected, then why did you ask?”

“You are not the only one who is able to have questions.”

Letting his hand drop, she took a step back to lean on the desk. “... I think I hear the others.”

Solas turned just in time to watch Cassandra emerge from her tent. “There is something I needed to discuss with her…” He looked back at Athesa. “I will not distract you any further.”

Nodding, she stood and watched him approached the Seeker, not moving until they were both fully engaged in the conversation. It was then that she realized how hungry she was, and soon enough, she was sitting cross-legged in front of the fire pit with her food in one hand, and the bag of leftover shards in the other. They hadn’t been able to get to the heart of the temple this time, but - if everything went a planned - she’d be able to get to it they next time.

By the time she was finished eating and looking at the shards, Sera took a seat beside her, yawning but awake.

“Boney,” she greeted.

“Sleep well?”

Sera only groaned in answer. “... Can you not hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“Your stupid, magic... shard... things, what else? All you Dalish complain about ‘flat-ears’ as if yours work any better, when - really - you can’t even hear what’s right in front of you.”

“I do,” she muttered, putting them back into the bag and pulling on the drawstring tightly. “Better?”

“Thanks,” she paused. “Something’s not right with them - worse than dollhouses, they are.”

She gave her a confused look. “Dollhouses?”

“Creepy things. Don’t whisper the same, but still… wrong. How close are we to being done anyway?”

“... Close. You’ll be back to shooting arrows at demon’s faces soon, don’t worry.”

“Brilliant!” Just like that, Sera was getting up with new enthusiasm and looking for something to eat - leaving the Inquisitor alone with the shards.

She stared at the bag, not wanting to take them all out only to put them back in a few minutes, but also not wanting to get up just yet. So, instead, she was left doing nothing but inspecting her armour for tears in the leather. At one point she glanced over to where Solas and Cassandra stood - the former explaining something with his brows drawn together while the latter nodded in response.

The way he gestured with his hand almost made it seem like he explaining something about his magic to her, but that didn’t explain the way she seemed confused. The woman was a Seeker, the Right Hand of the Divine, she understood how magic worked.

Lavellan watched as the Seeker gave him a strange look, frown growing when she interrupted him. “-Is that perfume?”

“You must be…” he turned his head to the side to sniff his shoulder. “Strange.”

Cassandra looked at him expectantly.

“Perhaps it’s the trees.”

Suddenly, Sera piped up, stating exactly what they were thinking. “What trees? We’re in the bloody desert.”

The bag fell out of her lap with a soft thud as Athesa stood up to walk towards the three of them. “We should go if we want to stop on the way back to Skyhold.”

“An excellent idea,” Solas answered, voice composed despite the way he gripped his staff.

This time it was her turn to receive a look from Cassandra. She did her best to remain unaffected, though, and soon enough she gave up completely - walking away to retrieve her sword and shield while Sera collected her bow.

After looking back to make sure that the others were preoccupied, the Inquisitor closed the distance between them - turning her head towards his shoulder and inhaling deeply. The familiar scent of candles was gone, but it wasn’t necessarily replaced by anything. Although he seemed surprised, Solas simply stood there until she was done. “I don’t smell anything.”

“It would be a surprised if you did. After all, it is likely your perfume.” There was a brief look in his eyes, one that could’ve only lasted for a second but still made her hold her breath.

You’re the one who appeared in my tent with no warning,” she defended.

“An excellent point. Perhaps I should be more careful to keep my distance next time - to keep from alarming our companions, of course.”

“No.”

He raised his eyebrows, a faint smiling beginning. “Oh?”

“That won’t be necessary,” she clarified.

“And is that an order, Inquisitor?

Her mouth opened, not able to hide the fact that she was surprised. Usually her title was a sign of him keeping his distance, but there he was: teasing her with it. And he was being so smug about it, too - that look she’d seen briefly seen before returning and taking over. She was about to reply when Sera called to her, complaining that she was sick of waiting around for them.

Turning back, Athesa stared at his shoulder and muttered a quick Yes before leaving him standing there.

* * *

The stop in the Exalted Plains was quick, only staying for a day before packing up and heading back to Skyhold. Regardless of their short stay, however, seeing that the clan was still getting along well helped to put the Inquisitor’s mind at ease.

They made camp not far from where the Dalish were staying. It was close to where they’d found the Spirit of Wisdom - closer than she would have liked. More often than not, she caught herself looking at him to see if he was alright. That mask he wore was strong, though, and for the most part the apostate seemed to be at ease. From the way he fixed the grip on his staff to how he set up barriers and wards around them, it was almost as if he didn’t realize where they were.

By mid-afternoon he seemed to take notice of her stares, raising an eyebrow at her from across camp. She turned away quickly to glare at her weapon, busying herself with the rune that had been added onto it until she was certain that she couldn’t feel his gaze on her anymore.

In the end, both he and Sera stayed when she finally decided that it was time to finish with the clan. Considering that, ironically enough, the two other elves were the most likely to “accidentally” insult the other Dalish, she was thankful. The last thing they needed was for the apostate to decide to share all of his knowledge by explaining just how wrong Keeper Hawen was when it came to elvhen history.

So Cassandra helped her to drop off the elfroot and spindleweed to Nissa, before they both separated briefly. She found herself speaking with the merchant, Master Taniel. Athesa sold off what she had looted from the bandits they’d run into on the way there, and soon enough she had enough extra gold to buy more than just supplies.

The elf was selling a variety of things, including weapons, robes, a few books she knew Dorian would be interested in, as well as a few schematics. No one noticed when she bought the two ironwood rings, or when she slipped them into the pocket of her tunic, under her armour.

They stayed there for the entire trip back, weighing heavy on her despite her efforts to ignore the way the wood felt too hard whenever she held them in the comfort of her tent. They nagged at her, kept her awake at night wondering if it was a mistake. After all, she hadn’t even fully considered what giving Solas one of them would mean when she had asked how much they cost. Because if she was being honest with herself, that would be the ideal end. She’d have one, and he would wear the other- and whenever she looked at him while they travelled, she’d be able to glance at the hand that would always pull her out of her thoughts and see the ring on it.

Eventually, she settled for carrying them in her bag until their return, where they would be out of sight but still safe. Not once did she bring them up to Solas, or Cassandra, or anyone really. It had been impulsive to buy them, she knew that. Yet, at the same time, she couldn’t bring herself to regret the decision.

Each night her mind would go around in circles, with or without the other mage laying beside her. Sometimes she would be convinced that bringing up the idea could do no harm, while during others, she’d decide that maybe keeping them for herself wouldn’t be bad either. Even if she did do the latter, they were still Dalish - and as she continued to act as the Inquisitor, a part of her felt like she was forgetting what being Dalish was like.

It had been so long since her time before the Conclave. So, maybe it was selfish, but she wanted to cling to whatever scraps of her people she could find. If that meant buying jewellery off of a clan’s merchant, or stopping by every so often to help in whatever way she could, then so be it.

In the end, Athesa kept the rings in the top drawer of her desk, in her quarters. They stayed there for days, untouched and unseen while she busied herself with Inquisition duties. Every so often her mind would wander back to them, not able to continue whatever task she was finishing - only realizing her mistake when Solas’ hand would reach out for hers subtlely.

If he noticed that something was wrong, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t pry like she always had the habit of doing, and for that week and a half she took full advantage of those small moments he gave her. Even if it was just brushing her hair out of her face, or catching him watching her, she felt her heart skip and let herself think about what it would be like to see that promise ring on his hand.

It was on the tenth day when she sat across from Solas at his desk, using that spare chair she’d pulled up so many times when they first arrived at Skyhold. One hand flipped through the pages of the book in front of her casually. It wouldn’t be long until they departed for Adamant, and the Inquisitor was desperate to find out as much as she could about the fortress before leaving.

She had been pestering Blackwall for details for the past couple of days, on the Calling, on the Western Approach, on anything that could be helpful. It was hopeless, though, as he was what seemed to be intentionally vague. Creators, Cullen was giving her more information on what may happen than he was.

Her fingers were drumming against the table, lost in thought, when a hand suddenly moved to cover hers. She glanced up at Solas immediately, at first thinking that he was trying to get her attention. However, he didn’t look up from the pages of his tome, even as he shifted to get a more comfortable hold on it. Swallowing, her eyes drifted back to the page she had been reading.

“Have you had any luck translating those tomes I gave you?”

“Surprisingly, yes. I should be finished within the next few days.”

Slowly, he began to rub his thumb back and forth over the back of her hand.

There was a loud thud from above, followed by quiet cursing, and Athesa felt her fingers curl as she began to pull away, getting ready for someone to interrupt them. After a long silence, though, it seemed that whatever happened had resolved itself and she let herself relax before sliding her hand back into his grasp. His thumb went back to running over her knuckles without hesitation. It was such a simple gesture, but the way he did it so absentmindedly made her heart skip.

Soon enough, she was at the end of yet another chapter. The Inquisitor let out a small breath before opening her mouth to speak. Despite the fact that he had spent so long looking so deeply invested in what he was reading, he looked up at her immediately. The quick reaction made her pause, losing her train of thought thanks to those eyes burning into her expectantly.

“... I’m going to go to the tavern - possibly see Blackwall if he’s there.”

Nodding, he released her hand. “Of course.”

Standing up, she began to put the tomes into as neat of a pile as she could. With all of the research she’d been doing with him, even Athesa couldn’t deny that the stacks of books were starting to be overwhelming. Meanwhile, he returned to his own readings easily. When she was finally done, Athesa let him know that if he wanted look at the books Dorian had lent her, she’d be in her quarters that evening. He nodded again, and told her that he’d see her later, then.

* * *

The tavern wasn’t as crowded as it usually was. The Chargers sat together in one of the corners, laughing and talking, while Iron Bull sat alone on one of the benches. The air was stuffy, though, telling her that she had missed whatever large group had previously been there. Rather than join his men, this Inquisitor found herself taking a seat next to the Qunari.

“Inquisitor! Come, have a drink.” He took a cup and began to fill it for her enthusiastically. “To killing that high dragon like warriors of legend.”

A part of her wondered just how long ago he had arrived. “That was weeks ago.” She glanced at the contents before looking up at him. It was dark, and just the smell of it burned her nose. “And what exactly am I supposed to be drinking?”

Maraas-lok.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means drink!” He began to do just that. She watched carefully, but apparently it was at least safe.

Picking up the drink, Athesa began to gulp it back without giving herself time to hesitate. To say that she immediately regretted it would have been a massive understatement. It burned the entire way down, flames running through her as she coughed and hacked until her throat felt raw. Fear that it had poison in it left her paralyzed for a split second before she let the cup hit the desk loudly. She continued to cough, but the pain was slowly beginning to subside. “What the hell is this?

“I know, right? Put some chest on your chest,” he laughed. “... That little gurgle right before it spat fire? And that roar. What I wouldn’t give to roar like that. The way the ground shook when it landed. The smell of the fires burning… Taarsidath-an halsaam.”

Her mind thought back to the dragon she had fought in the Exalted Plains. It had been terrifying, but also beautiful in the way electricity seemed to hover around it. All she'd been able to stare at it in awe.

“You know, Qunari hold dragons sacred? Well, as much as we hold anything sacred. Here, your turn.” He poured her another drink, along with one for himself. How was he able to treat it so casually? As if whatever was in it wasn’t deadly.

Not entirely ready to go through the experience again, she asked him a question instead. “That thing you just said. You shout it during our fights, too. What does it mean?”

“Oh, taarsidath-an halsaam. Closest translation would be, ‘I will bring myself sexual pleasure later, while thinking about this with great respect’.”

“You shouted that while a dragon was breathing fire at us.”

“I know, right?” He grunted, and all Athesa could do was shake her head slightly in disbelief.

Tucking her hair behind her ears, she realized just how hot the air in the tavern felt. Her eyes were heavy, despite the fact that she’d hardly had anything to drink. She vaguely remembered her conversation with Solas, that he was going to visit her tonight, and wondered if she should return soon. It was awful. They’d spent so much time together yet just the image of him waiting for her made her stomach flip. She rubbed the back of her neck, feeling it grow warmer the more she dwelled on it.

Before she could spend more time thinking about it, Athesa gulped the drink down for as long as she could before her senses came to. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, but the fire that ran through her acted quickly. Soon enough, she was coughing all over again - although, not as badly as the first time.

“Yeah! The second cup’s easier. Most of the nerves in your throat are dead after the first one.”

“Wonderful,” she choked.

“Atashi. ‘The Glorious Ones.’ That’s our word for them: Ataaaaasheeeeeee.”

A silence hung over them. It could have been a comfortable one - both of them sitting together quietly. However, those thoughts of seeing Solas after still nagged at her. Her finger ran over the rim of her drink absentmindedly, desperate for a distraction. “Is it just the Qunari who think of dragons like that? The only time I’ve come close was when I saw the Stormbringer. Even then, it was only speechlessness. No… ” She made a face, unable to remember what he had described it as exactly thanks to her buzzing head.

Taarsidath-an halsaam?”

She gave a nod. “That.”

“Well, you know how we have horns? We kind of look more… dragony… than most people. Maybe it’s that. But a few of the Ben-Hassrath have this crazy old theory. See, the Tamassrans control who we mate with. They breed us for jobs like you’d breed dogs or horses. What if they mixed in some dragon a long time ago. Maybe drinking the blood, maybe magic. I don’t know.” He turned to her. “Your people have something like that, too, right? The halla.”

“They’re our companions.” Nodding, she cleared her throat. "The Emerald Knights rode them into battle.”

“See, just like that. Except less riding, more trying not to get stepped on. Something in that dragon we killed… spoke to me.”

Her brows drew together. “When you put it like that, I’m worried I killed one of your Gods or something.”

“Nah. One of Tevinter’s gods, maybe. They worshipped dragons, right? Kill the shit out of them all you like. Dragons are the embodiment of raw power. But it’s all uncontrolled, savage...” Bull refilled her cup yet again, telling her about how they needed to be destroyed, bringing order to chaos.

“To dragons!” Bull raised his glass enthusiastically, coughing when he downed the rest of his drink.

The air only seemed to grow warmer the longer she stayed, buzzing with voices of the Chargers in the background when the Qunari eventually joined them. Blinking a few times, her finger still traced around the rim of the glass as she tried to gather her thoughts. Solas - she needed to see him. He was probably in her quarters already.

The chair scraped against the wooden floor loudly, but the Inquisitor hardly noticed it. Those thoughts on him waiting came flooding back, and with no one there to take her mind off of it, she could feel her stomach twist in anticipation.

Compared to the warm tavern, the cold air outside was sharp, cutting against her skin. It hit her like a slap to the face, disorienting when mixed with her already fuzzy head. She crossed her arms over her chest while she walked across the courtyard, eyes fixated on the ground in front of her. There wasn’t much of a breeze, but she still found herself shivering before entering the main hall.

The lack of people in the main hall told her that it was later than she had thought. Suddenly her heavy legs made more sense while they carried her up the stairs - dragging a bit until she was pulling the door to her quarters and slamming it shut behind her. For just a moment, she leaned back against it with closed eyes.

Solas was already lying on her bed when she finally entered her room. There were a few books scattered over the foot of her bed, as well as one already in his hands. He didn’t say anything when she walked in, obviously deeply involved in whatever he was reading. Quietly, she walked over to her desk and let her hair out of it’s elastic before picking up the tome she’d set aside that morning.

Solas finally noticed her when she sat on the edge of her bed to take off her boots. “How was the tavern?”

Her mind flashed back to the raw burn in her throat, and she rubbed it without thinking. “It was alright.”

“Simply alright? From the way our companions speak of it, I had thought it was comparable to being at the Maker’s side.”

“And how, exactly, would you know what that’s like?”

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “For as vague as he is about the Wardens, Blackwall can be very descriptive when he chooses to be.”

“How have your studies been?”

“Okay,” he answered. “However, they’ve grown to be significantly less interesting since you’ve decided to join me.”

Finally, she laid down next to him, head still hazy and limbs warm. “I just got here.” Athesa watched as he turned another page.

“I fail to see your point.”

Dragging a hand down her face, a soft laugh escaped. “Flatterer.”

“That does not make it any less true.” There was that tone in his voice again. The one that always happened to make itself known when he was being forward with her, a mix of arrogance and satisfaction. “Even if I was simply complimenting you for the sake of it, would there be something wrong with that?”

“No.” Athesa leaned over until she was able to press a chaste kiss to his neck. Then a second, and a third, and finally, a fourth. There was a pause each time, as if she was telling herself just one more.

“I thought you wanted to read.”

“I do.” She kissed him again, shifting until she was half laying on him - close enough that she was able to bury her face in the crook of his neck.

“Yet it does not seem to be a priority.”

“Right now, you’re my priority,” she mumbled, surprised by her own boldness. Her hand blindly reached out to take away his book, closing it and letting the tome hit the mattress.

The arm she was laying on shifted up to wrap around her, and his fingertips began to lightly run up and down her spine. The action made her sigh, relaxing against him, and she almost swore that she felt him do the same.

“I now see why Josephine would not let you have anything to drink at the Winter Palace.”

“I haven’t had that much.”

“I’m fairly certain that that makes it worse.”

“You know what I meant.” There was a long silence before she spoke again. “I can stop, though, if you want.”

His hand paused at the small of her back before curling around her waist. “No, it’s fine.”

She let her eyes slide shut. He still smelled like old books and the candles from his study, so different from the smell of the tavern that must have been clinging to her clothes. Head buzzing, she breathed it in without complaint. Neither of them said anything and her hand moved to rest on his chest, feeling it rise and fall. His breaths were always so deep and even, always so calm compared to hers. Hot-blooded and temperamental, he had said.

“... Athesa?”

“Yes?”

“If you would like to sleep-”

“I’m not sleeping, I’m enjoying your company.”

“I did not realize my presence had such an affect on you.”

A short laugh bubbled up in disbelief. As if he didn’t notice the way her hands always shook when he got too close, or how she couldn’t always think clearly enough to speak. “You’re the one who always tells me to breathe.”

“I simply thought that you might forget.”

“You’re a terrible liar.”

“It’s not a lie,” he defended. “I’ve heard that many Dalish will hold theirs when they feel like being particularly stubborn.”

“I thought that I wasn’t like the other Dalish you’ve met.”

“... You’re not.” It was a quiet statement, but the silence that followed was deafening.

Everything felt hot, from her face to his neck to the air that filled the room, and his compliments only seemed to feed the warmth that ran through her. Her chest swelled and for once she felt incredibly happy. “Vhenan…” she hummed, although it was mostly to herself.

“Yes?”

“I love you,” she eventually breathed. “... I love how helpful you’ve been to the Inquisition, and how passionate you are about the Fade...”

Her guard was falling, crumbling down against her will - something that she noticed happening more and more as they spent time alone together like this. Maybe it was whatever Iron Bull gave her to drink, or the solid arm that was wrapped around her, but she wasn’t as afraid of him turning her away. It was like the dam that had been holding all of her feelings for him finally broke, leaving the words tumbling from her lips helplessly. “I love your voice, and how you seem so happy when you’re asleep, and the way your eyes light up when I ask you questions. Even your clothes, regardless of what Dorian says about them.”

“My clothes?”

“They smell like candles and trees. Sometimes it reminds me of my clan.”

He probably didn’t appreciate being compared to the elves she had known, but if that was the case, Solas didn’t say anything about it. Instead, he only nodded in response.

Her mind wandered to the rings in the drawer of her desk. “Is it still easier to do things like this in the Fade?”

“... Occasionally. You have given me plenty of practice, however.”

“Practice...” Even if she did give it to him, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that he’d accept it. Her chest grew uncomfortably tight at the possibility. “What if it wasn’t?”

“What do you mean?”

“Nevermind.”

“Athesa-”

“It’s nothing. Just… rambling.” She peeled herself off of him, propping herself up with her elbows. He gave her a doubtful look, but it rolled off surprisingly easily. “I’m drunk, remember?” Before he could try to further the conversation, she interrupted him with a kiss and began to sit up.

“Now,” she continued with new enthusiasm, “what were you reading before I interrupted?” Her hands reached for the tome, but Solas snatched it up before she could grab it.

“Are you sure you’ll be able to remember anything I tell you?” His leg pressed against hers while he flipped through in search of where he’d been.

Turning a bit, she rested her forehead on his shoulder, headbutting him gently. “You underestimate me.”

“You would think that I’d know better than to do that by now.”

“It’s okay, I forgive you.” The sound of pages flipping stopped, and she raised her head to look at where he had opened to. The writing was in elvhen, with annotations scribbled in the margins of the pages.

“This one appears to mention the Elvhen Pantheon.”

She leaned forward in interest. A few sentences and words stuck out, but the majority of it was foreign. If the book was as old as it looked, maybe it would have information even her Keeper hadn’t known. Maybe there would be something abou-

“Unfortunately, it’s simply a collection of stories about them. Legend, mostly.”

Athesa let out a sigh, practically feeling herself deflate. “So nothing new.”

“Not that I was able to find, no.”

They spent the rest of their time going through the tome slowly while Solas explained the grammar used - according to him, it was different from what she had been taught by her clan. While the changes were small, no doubt things that had been lost over time, she still had trouble wrapping her dazed head around them. He asked her more than once if they should wait to continue until the next day, but she shook her head in disagreement. She wanted to learn as much as she could as quickly as possible, and having no Keeper to train her meant that she’d have to start searching out for these things herself.

It wasn’t until they were both yawning that she gave in and agreed to continue another time. She walked with him to the doorway, faking any confidence in her balance that she might have lacked.

“Are you alright?” he asked when she stumbled a bit.

“I’m great,” she assured with more enthusiasm than necessary.

Solas chuckled under his breath, and she realized how relaxed his posture was for once. “If it was able to affect a Qunari as much as you’ve said, it is a surprise that you’ve lasted even this long. Maybe you truly are the Herald of Andraste.”

Without thinking, she wrapped her hands around his neck. “If they find my body in the morning, tell Cassandra to blame Bull.”

They slid up to hold his face, and - for just a moment - she let herself look at those blue eyes, really look at them. Solas returned her gaze without any hesitation. She never wanted to turn away, wanted to stare and stare until she was drowning in them. It wasn’t possible though, because soon enough she watched them close. An arm slid around her waist easily, pulling himself closer.

Dareth shiral,” she whispered, inching forward to let her lips brush over his cheek- along those freckles she had spent so much time staring at.

Dareth shiral, vhenan,” he breathed, and her stomach fluttered at the endearment.

When they pulled apart it felt far too soon, but she bit back any complaints as she closed the door behind him.

Chapter Text

She had almost given it to him.

All of those days spent debating the idea of showing them to him had suddenly meant nothing, and why? Because she had been drinking? It was… reckless, and impulsive.

Athesa rubbed her eyes, leaning on the desk with her elbows. It was a mistake, one that she couldn’t afford to make again.

That was why the Inquisitor didn’t bring Solas when she announced that the Inquisition would be returning to Emprise du Lion to help Cullen with his search for Samson, and why she locked those two small rings in her desk drawer before leaving. She needed to be able to think, without worrying about accidentally bringing it up before she felt ready to.

The Emprise was just as painful as she remembered it. While Athesa very clearly remembered killing most of the Red Templars before, by the time they returned it seemed that the Order was up on its feet again. Everything was red and raw, from the spikes of lyrium that rose from the ground to the eyes of the slaves whom she did her best to save. Although they weren’t fighting Venatori, Dorian seemed more than enthusiastic when it came to cutting down the enemies’ numbers. In fact, the only time they weren’t fighting off soldiers and wolves was when she was collecting herbs and crafting. They were the rare, peaceful moments in between combat that she was even more grateful for.

Their last night in was especially long. When she wasn’t jerking awake thanks to the soft sounds of animals outside, Athesa was having nightmares of the red lyrium. All of those worries about Redcliffe - memories that hadn’t bothered her in months - returned with a vengeance. They made her chest hurt, remembering what it had been like to see her friends slowing being killed by it. It was finally when she dreamt of Solas there, locked away and tainted by something that shouldn’t even exist, that she jerked awake.

She sat up slowly, gasping for air in her small, flimsy tent. She could feel the tainted magic humming from somewhere far away, and her gut clenched uncomfortably. The image of him sitting there, alone, with red eyes that faintly pulsed with her anchor filled her mind every time she blinked. She felt her eyes begin to water and let out a shaky breath.

It was just a dream. It wasn’t real. Hands trembling, the Inquisitor crawled out of her bedroll and over to her pack. She dug through it recklessly, not caring for anything but what she was looking for. After what felt like years, she finally found the potions Vivienne gave her before they left - grateful that she had packed them ‘just in case’. Her mind wandered while she gulped them down, suddenly wanting to see him. A part of her was desperate to know that he was okay, needed some kind of reassurance that it really was a dream, and when she returned to Skyhold he wouldn’t be in that awful state.

Soon enough, she was getting back into her bedroll and rolling over onto her side. It didn’t take long for her eyes to feel heavy, but she welcomed the feeling.

While she wasn’t entirely sure how, Athesa found him in the Fade almost right away. He was in what looked like the Exalted Plains, crouched by a lake that felt familiar but she couldn’t place. Everything was… strangely quiet, too. There weren’t any spirits around, or even stray halla. Only him.

“Solas?” She took a few steps forward, uncertain of what exactly he was doing.

He looked over his shoulder, and she could see the sad look on his face before it quickly dissipated. Regardless, she felt that crushing weight from in her tent disappear as soon as she noticed his eyes. They were wonderfully blue, with no signs of red lyrium, or taint, or anything else that shouldn’t be there. It was just a dream.

She took a few steps closer, and, thankfully, he took it as a sign to stand up. Her hands reached out before she even got to him, hugging him once he was close enough. It took him by surprise, simply standing there for a few seconds before she felt him return it. It wasn’t as real here - she couldn’t smell the candles when she buried her face in his shoulder, or really grasp how warm he was, but he was there.

Solas was okay and Redcliffe had never happened, not really.

Athesa sighed in relief, letting go of any hesitation that she might have had about visiting him here. He wasn’t able to take away her problems, but she found that seeing him helped. Things felt more manageable when she could reach out for him whenever she needed to be grounded again. She pulled back enough to look at him, hands still resting on his sides.

Although he looked confused, he didn’t hesitate to return her gaze. “I did not expect to see you here.”

“I’m not interrupting you, am I?” She glanced over to the spot where he’d been sitting. It hadn’t looked like he was doing anything, but maybe she had misjudged in her rush to see him.

“Not at all,” he reassured. “I simply thought that you would be preoccupied.”

“Preoccupied?” she asked, as he lead her to his previous spot. Her legs stretched out in front of her when she sat, watching the edge of the lake.

Solas, however, seemed skeptical of her feigned confusion. “I have seen the letters from nobles demanding your attention on your desk. Not to mention that the situation with Samson has kept you busy lately.”

Her toes curled in her boots, staring out at the water. “I wanted to see you,” she admitted, leaving out the part about the nightmares. Her ears felt warm, but the soft breeze seemed to help. Her hand reached for a piece of spindleweed and began to tear it up into pieces, each one smaller than the last. “You’re more important than a group of nobles from a place that doesn’t even bother learning how to spell my clan’s name.”

“Yes. It is good to know that however many people choose to call me knife-ear, you will always view me as above those who take pleasure in asserting their dominance over others,” he told her dryly. “I can only imagine what you thought of me before.”

Letting the shredded leaves fall to the ground, she laughed. “Is that still not better than how you first saw me? A misguided Dalish who was bullheaded just like the rest of her kind?” she pointed out, not needing to look at him to know that there was a faint smile on his face.

“A good point,” he accepted.

Maybe it was the dream still pestering the back of her mind, but she felt that concern from before returning. Something felt off-- wrong. Everything was too clear for this to be a place they hadn’t been to. She reached to cover his hand, noting that it was cool while she tried to remember where they were - why it was so hazy but still so familiar.

It didn’t take long for the realization to hit her, to be reminded of his face when he saw the Pride Demon. He had rarely mentioned it since that day when he returned to Skyhold, but suddenly she understood. “... Are you alright?”

“Why would I not be?”

“You haven’t spoken about your friend lately,” she answered. “I didn’t know if it was still difficult for you.”

His face relaxed in understanding. “You are worried that being here will upset me.”

“Should I be?”

“No. I won’t let it distract me from completing our task - that includes my time spent in the Fade.” His voice turned harder, just enough that she could notice it.

Sighing, she turned to him and her hand reached up to hold his face. “I didn’t ask if you were distracted, I asked if you’re alright.”

His face softened. “I am fine, vhena-”

She woke up shivering, knees curled up to her chest with Dorian’s voice ringing from outside.

It took all of her will, along with repeatedly reminding herself that he was one of her closer friends, to keep herself from asking Sera to hide away all of his belongings that afternoon.

* * *

Athesa sat on the edge of her bed, staring at the tall bottle in her hands. It was made of dark glass, with an Orlesian label that was covered in cursive writing. She had purchased it on their trip back to Skyhold, not able to fully understand the label but knowing that she recognized it from the ball in Halamshiral. Her fingers traced over the seam in the glass idly. It was hard and cool, the liquid inside sloshing around.

Truthfully, she was wasting time before Solas was due to arrive. She had asked him to come to her quarters with the promise that she had a gift to share with him. It wasn’t that he was necessarily late, but more the fact that she’d been pacing her quarters all evening waiting for him to be finished with his work. Of course, there was the usual pile of letters waiting to be answered, but it remained untouched.

Walking over to her desk, the Inquisitor set the bottle next to the two glasses before sitting down. There was a pause, followed by the sound of wood grinding against wood when she opened the drawer to look at the rings. They sat on top of a few scrap pieces of paper, waiting for her to make a goddamn decision already.

Sighing, she shut it before standing up again.

It wasn’t much longer after that when Solas finally came with a short knock before letting himself in. His hands held a couple of small books, which he set on the desk while he walked towards her. Without thinking, she reached out to hug him eagerly. He returned it at first, arms wrapping around her easily, but pulled away to remind her that she’d said that there was something she wanted to show him.

“Yes,” she nodded, and gestured to the bottle and two glasses. “Here.”

Looking at it for a moment, he directed his attention to her. “Wine?”

Nodding again, she picked it up. “It’s the kind they served at Halamshiral. You said that you had liked it, didn’t you?”

“I did.”

As soon as the words left his lips, she began filling the glasses. It didn’t take long before she was finished, and Athesa took a long sip before reaching for the tome he’d brought. “What’s this?”

Solas gulped down part of his drink, setting down his glass back on the desk to answer her. “A book on the Avvar warriors.”

Her hand ran over the cover in interest. She knew little about the Avvar, mostly due to the fact that her clan had never come across any while they travelled. Picking it up with her free hand, she used her thumb to open to the first few pages. Her eyes scanned over it while she walked across the room.

She stood next to the bed, unable to put the book down. Athesa could feel his eyes on her, waiting for her to do something, but honestly, she hadn’t thought of much past these initial moments. Her toes curled impatiently as her mind drew a blank. Eyes glancing at the mattress, she turned to sit on the edge of it while her hands busied themselves with setting the tome down on the table next to her.

His footsteps were soft but steady, as always, when he finally decided to join her. The bed creaked slightly, mattress moving against the boxspring after finally taking a seat. After another second of shifting, the apostate sat next to her while the two of them leaned against her headboard together.

The wine tasted strangely fruitier than she had expected, with some sort of spice mixed in. Whatever it was, she found herself drinking it quickly. He watched her finish the rest of her drink from his spot with slight amusement. “I must admit that I am surprised you’re so eager to do this again.”

Setting the glass down, she turned to him. “This will be different.”

“Really?” he asked skeptically.

“Yes.”

“How so?”

“This time I’ll be with you.” Athesa inched forward, gaze dropping to his mouth before meeting his eyes again.

“Of course, I had forgotten how the effect of myself alone could outweigh such a strong drink.”

She nodded, mind wandering too much to pick up on his sarcasm. He was right there, using that dry sense of humour as if she hadn’t just come from a week of travelling and fighting Red Templars. He was being lighthearted, like he let himself forget all of that pain she always saw in his eyes, if only for a moment. She leaned forward to rest her forehead against his temple, closing her eyes. “You’re in a surprisingly good mood.”

He hummed questioningly, but she couldn’t bring herself to break the small silence to elaborate. It had taken days for the faint, red singing that nagged at the back of her mind to stop. And when it finally did, the migraines had managed to kick in. Sitting there on her bed, though, it was completely quiet, aside from his breathing and the faint buzzing that came with her drink.

She listened to that lovely silence as she pressed a light kiss to where her forehead had rested, smiling against him until he leaned back to look at her. Her eyes glanced down to his wolf jaw, remembering the way it had pressed into her uncomfortably before. Without thinking, she pulled it over his head before leaning in to kiss him.

Solas must have known what she was going to do, because his mouth met hers sooner than it should have - impatiently closing the distance between them. The action threw her off, her stomach dropping even as she squeezed her eyes shut. The times when he kissed her like this were rare - they’d only happen when they were completely alone, but it was always full of eagerness, unafraid, like he was willing to lose himself in it, in her. It was just like how he’d kissed her at Haven.

The buzzing in her head grew louder, but she didn’t try to stop it, not even when his hand moved to rest on her knee. She wasn’t even away from Skyhold for very long, but he still mumbled under his breath about how much he’d missed her. Her grip on his neck tightened, and she wanted to tell him that she had missed him, too, but it was hard to get the words in when he seemed determined to not be apart for longer than strictly necessary.

That wall she’d been rebuilding - growing stronger each day she spent thinking about those rings - came crumbling down just as easily as before, possibly even more quickly. All she could think about was how good it felt to reach out and hold him, what it was like to know that he wanted her. At one point a moan escaped, and the next thing she knew, Athesa was pulling herself onto him - arms wrapped around his neck and legs loosely around his waist. She noticed it all: every heavy sigh and quiet moan, each time she would do something innocent like break away to press a kiss over his closed eyes, and he’d try to pull her closer to him.

She had spent so long feeling irresponsible and childish, but there he was - groaning into her mouth as she let her hips roll down lightly. He might have considered her just another stubborn, misinformed Dalish before, but now she was Athesa - and she could see it in the way his fingers grasped at her, digging into her skin under the back of her shirt.

One of his hands reached for her face, holding her there carefully while he gave himself some time to breathe.

“If I knew that this was going to happen, I would have dragged you to the tavern earlier,” she panted in a rush of boldness.

Solas laughed before raising his head. “Is this the only reason you asked me to come here tonight?”

She let out a breath, suddenly unsure of how to answer. “No.” A beat. “It is nice, though.”

“And here I thought you were scheming to seduce me.”

Now it was her turn to laugh, her grip on his sleeves tightening. “Would you have said yes if I was?”

“It does not matter now, does it?”

“I think so,” she hummed. Her heart raced, the meaning behind her words only hitting her after she spoke them.

His hand reached back so that his fingers could tangle themselves in her hair, brows drawn together slightly while in thought.

“... You’re right, it doesn’t matter,” Athesa backtracked. She could feel him growing tense, and immediately knew that the conversation wouldn’t be worth it. Not now, at least. “No, there wasn’t any scheming on my part.”

She gave him a lingering kiss, eager to take away that look that clouded his eyes, before brushing her lips over the freckles on his cheeks. She moved slowly, carefully along the top of his ear, only leaving light kisses every so often. His hand slowly dropped from the back of her head to wrap his arms around her, hugging her.

Ma’arlath,” she whispered. He repeated the phrase so quietly that she had almost missed it. It was such a simple thing to lean in and press their foreheads together, but she was all too aware of the way he relaxed when she did.

Solas eventually pulled away to kiss over her vallaslin lightly, and she found herself smiling. It would be so easy to just give him the ring now. It was right there, over on her desk -- she could get up, walk those few steps, and be back within two minutes. That voice in the back of her head tempted her with the idea over and over. It would be so easy.

Her eyes slid shut, and that heaviness on her chest back but she did her best to push the feeling away. “Can I ask you something?”

“Now?” he questioned, his hands freezing at her sides.

Still, she nodded, swallowing hard as she worked up the courage to voice her question.

Solas stopped to give her his attention, his nose barely brushing over the corner of her jaw. “What would you like to know?”

“... Do you dislike my vallaslin?”

He tensed under her. “Why would you think that?”

“Please, just answer.” She sounded more desperate than she would have liked, most likely giving away just how much it had been bothering her. However, if she wanted to even consider giving him that ring, then she needed to not only know this, but also not be afraid of his answer. It was as difficult as much as it was ridiculous. She’d spent so many afternoons asking him to tell her about the Fade, yet hesitated when those questions really meant something to her.

“As a Dalish elf, I can only imagine how important it is to you,” he told her before pressing a chaste kiss over the spot where he’d been hovering. “So no, I do not dislike it.”

“You’re always tracing over it.”

“You are beautiful,” he told her simply - as if that explained everything. “That would be true with or without it.”

Although she didn’t respond, his answer seemed to cause the knot in her gut to ease. Athesa exhaled loudly in relief. One question down, one more to go.

“Was that all?”

Her gut clenched, and in that moment she almost said No, almost asked him if he thought all Dalish traditions were wrong. Thankfully, she thought better of it and nodded, before quietly thanking him for answering. Everything felt warm, and he felt so close, and it was just like when she had returned from speaking with Bull in the tavern but somehow better. And she - ultimately - was a coward, too afraid to ruin the night.

Slowly, he began to leave a trail along her neck until reaching just under her collar, where he bit down lightly. Her arms wrapped around his neck and he did it again, this time higher on her neck. It left her gasping, hips moving against his again when she tried to shift herself closer. She tilted her head to give him more room, quickly losing her train of thought.

Eventually, she felt his mouth move even higher - far higher than where her shirt or armor would be able to cover - and tore herself away.

“Varric’s going to write a serial about us if you keep doing that,” she threatened, still trying to catch her breath. Just the mention of their companion at a time like this brought a shade of red to her cheeks, as if the dwarf could sense that they were talking about him and would burst into the room. “A terrible one filled with inaccurate metaphors.”

He laughed and her chest swelled at the sound. “You have a point.”

“He’ll say that I was the unlikely Herald of Andraste,” she told him between kisses, “and you were the apostate who could kill anything if you scowled at it for too long.”

“If that were the case, I think that our Tevinter mage would be long gone by now,” he replied dryly.

A giggle bubbled up at the thought. She rested her forehead on his shoulder, trying to contain it but she couldn’t. All the Inquisitor could think about was the chapter of Swords and Shields Cassandra had wanted so badly, and how awful it would be if Varric tried to write another romance serial. She wondered how he might describe the apostate and the phrase angry cat came to mind. One of the arms she had draped around him dropped, desperate to smother her laughter.

“I did not realize I was such an entertainer,” Solas muttered, raising his hand to brush her hair away when she finally looked at him again. “Perhaps after this is all over I should look to become a bard.”

“And give up the Fade?”

“I have other interests, too.”

This time her laugh was shorter, disbelief apparent. “Such as?”

“I’m sure you do not need me to answer that.”

Her nails raked along the back of his neck lightly, coaxing a sigh out of him. “I’m flattered.”

“As you should be.”

He kissed her again, this time not pulling away until he unhooked the first few clasps of her tunic with his free hand - just enough to pull away her collar. As if sensing what he was about to do, she felt her body tense. When he bit down it was harder than before, and her mouth dropped, threatening to swear loudly. However, all that came out was a strangled gasp.

Creators, he was trying to kill her.

“What are you doing?”

She felt him kiss over it softly. “You do not wish for your people to see anything, correct?”

“That doesn’t mean…” That didn’t mean he could go ahead and do it where they weren’t likely to see. Athesa exhaled shakily. He continued to press open kisses over the small area gently, as if he was trying to be apologetic. Her heart was still racing in her chest, though - that knot in her stomach returning.

Her face burned when she quietly told him to do it again.

She was ready for it this time, although that didn’t stop a noise from escaping. The hand he rested on her hip moved, reaching for hers to interlace their fingers. Immediately, her thumb began to trace up and down his absentmindedly. It was a good distraction, keeping her from being overwhelmed by the feeling of his mouth hot on her neck.

The gesture made him let out a shaky breath. It was strangely comforting, to let her know that she had as much of an effect on him as he did on her. Just as before, he pressed his lips over the spot softly. A shiver ran up her spine as her free hand dug into his shoulder blade. He needed to be closer, but at the same time, each kiss seemed to burn into her. A part of her had expected him to be smug about it, just like so many times before, but when Solas finally pulled back to look at her he just looked happy.

“I’m going to need to find a shirt with a bigger collar,” she blurted out.

He chuckled. “That would certainly be one alternative.” When he kissed her it was hard and searing, followed by a second, and finally a third - each one more muted than the last. It seemed crazy to think that months ago she had been worried about pressuring him into being with her - not that his affection for her didn’t still surprise her at times.

Her fingers traced up and down the nape of his neck again, closing her eyes when she listened to him exhale.

* * *

Athesa half-heartedly brushed the front of her hair out of her face as she stood in front of the war table. Her mind had been reeling all day with memories of the night before with Solas. After spending breakfast feeling so flushed that she was half-convinced she had a fever, she was desperate for some sort of distraction. However, at this point visiting Solas wasn’t an option, and would only make the pink that tinged her ears worse.

So, after spending a considerable amount of time in the courtyard watching Bull and Krem train, she found herself heading to the war room to look over strategies for Adamant. Cullen had mostly been the one to help her, giving advice on how to approach the area so that they could be as efficient as possible.

The table was covered in markers over a map of southern Thedas, as well as a small pile scattered to the side. She picked up one of the pieces and began to roll it around in her hand, staring at it while she felt the sharp edges dig into her skin.

She had gone to bed alone the night before, Solas leaving a good hour or two after the majority of Skyhold was likely already asleep.

If she was being honest with herself, she was avoiding him. The fact that she had been so ready to tell him about the rings again was... unsettling. A part of her considered that maybe her eagerness proved that she should, and just-- get it over with already. However, the Inquisitor quickly pushed it away, shaking her head to herself. It wasn’t something to be taken lightly. She knew that, and knew that Solas would likely take it seriously, too. Yes, he spoke poorly of the Dalish, but even he still spoke elvish, still took an interest in his people's’ history.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the door opening loudly, likely echoing down the hall and all of the way to Josephine’s office. Her body jumped from the sudden noise, air leaving her lungs immediately. Before she knew it, her head was whipped around and she was face to face with Cullen.

“Commander,” she greeted loudly. Well, this was off to a great start.

Thankfully, her skittish behaviour didn’t seem to concern him. He paused in the doorway, as if he was unsure if he should come back another time. “Inquisitor. I’m not interrupting you, am I?”

“Not at all.” Athesa released her grip on the marker, and let it roll onto the desk quietly. “Since you’re here, I was actually wondering if we could talk.”

“Oh, I-- Of course.” His hands moved to hold onto the pommel of his sword, his weight shifting back and forth for a moment before settling. “What was it that you needed?”

Brushing her hair out of her face again, she leaned back against the edge of the desk. “I wanted to make sure that everything is going well,” she paused, swallowing, “with the lyrium.”

“It’s been…” He let out a breath, and suddenly she could see all of those years of Templar duty trying to hold him down. Cole had called them chains, and in that moment she couldn’t think of a word that described the look on his face better. The Inquisitor had never set foot in a Circle, but she could still barely feel that pulsing magic that hung onto him. “Difficult, at times. However, you won’t need to worry.”

While she wasn’t sure if she was prying into matters that weren’t her business, her curiosity won out in the end. “I’ve heard that the withdrawal can cause nightmares, is that true?” She could feel her stomach tighten in anxiety. Whenever she’d spoken with her Commander, it had always been friendly, but still very much professional. Yes, he had told her a bit about his life as a Templar, but she still didn’t know what boundaries he needed. Suddenly unable to find something to do with her hands, they shifted from the edge of the desk, to tightening her ponytail, to crossing her arms. Eventually, she settled on holding them in her lap.

When he spoke he sounded guarded, his eyes glancing away for a moment while lost in thought. - as if he was debating on whether or not it would hurt to confide in her. It took a moment, but eventually Cullen pulled himself back to the present. “Sleeping can be troublesome, to say the least, yes.”

“And the headaches, are they bad, too?” The question left her lips without thinking, and she cursed herself for pressing the subject so easily when it obviously pained him to think about it.

Sighing, his posture relaxed a bit. She could see the dark purple that stained under his eyes even from where she stood, speaking for him. “Some days are worse than others.”

“The tea they make in the kitchen helps with them, especially before going to bed,” Athesa offered lightly.

“Thank you,” he breathed. “Ever since our encounter with Maddox, they’ve grown much more... persistent.” He frowned at the last word, as if just the thought of them gave him a bad taste in his mouth.

He ended up staying with her for a bit, going over strategies to find Samson and Maddox for what felt like the millionth time, as well as reports he’d been working on that week. She was impressed, not only by his organization with the troops, but by the fact that he was so dedicated to their cause. It was obvious that he was determined to locate Samson, no matter how much it took.

It turned out that he was even more determined than she expected, because the Commander insisted on travelling to the Shrine of Dumat when her, Cassandra, Iron Bull, and Varric. He wasn’t unpleasant to travel with, however the longer it took to arrive at the temple, the more he seemed to grow impatient.

By the time they arrived, Samson was nowhere in sight. Instead, they were met with tainted Templars, abominations, and shards of red lyrium. She could feel it in the air, pulsing and humming faintly. The only thing that seemed to drown it out was the blood that pounded in her ears as she pushed herself to fight despite it. They managed to fight all of them off, although it was a messy battle to say the least. All of her cuts burned from the lyrium, had her crying out whenever a shadow leaped out from behind. Even she couldn’t deny the small satisfaction that rushed through her when she finished off the last one.

Finally, Athesa leaned on her staff for support, out of breath but finally safe. Her stomach twisted, a mix of dread and illness finally settling deep in her gut just like during those nights in the Emprise. All she could do was stand there and clench her teeth, hoping that the waves of nausea would eventually go away.

With some time to catch her breath, the Inquisitor took in her surroundings. Everything around them was crumbling, a temple that might have been restored if Samson hadn’t let his abominations and shadows loose on it. Her grip on her weapon tightened. It was so selfish, and thoughtless to throw something so important away only because he was too cowardly to face them himself. Samson had sacrificed all of it, including Maddox of all people, to save himself. Eventually, her gaze landed on Cullen. He looked frustrated, disappointed, but not as cold as before.

Regret threatened to swallow her up when she watched Varric pull a bolt out of a Templar, remembering just how much he hated talking about the lyrium, much less being around it. At one point he tried to joke about how they needed to look on the bright side: at least it wasn’t as painful as when the Guard Captain of Kirkwall found out that he used her for the cover of Swords and Shields.

No one laughed.

By the time she finished collecting the remains of Maddox’s things, Athesa’s companions looked more than ready to go. With a snap of the lock on the toolbox, they began to head back to Skyhold.

The trip back felt shorter than the trip there and, thankfully, the effects of the tainted magic wore off more easily once they were on the road. She wondered if she was growing an immunity to it, or if somehow the anchor had an effect on it. Her mind quickly wandered, though, apparently too tired to think about it after such a stressful trip. The others were quieter than usual, too. They seemed to take the loss hard, although from the way they acted, it seemed like no one really expected Samson to be there. Still, the Inquisitor did her best to be encouraging - assuring Varric that the next time they went to the Hinterlands they’d finish destroying the clusters of lyrium that grew in the area.

Once they finally arrived to the grounds, Athesa opted out of visiting Solas after returning her mount to the stables to instead go straight to her quarters. The room was dark, lit only by a few candles and the light from outside. Thankfully, it was quiet, too. There weren’t any yelling soldiers, or feeling of the Veil raising goosebumps on her arms.

She changed out of her armor immediately, letting it hit the floor with a loud thump, before sitting at her desk. There was a pile of letters and paperwork left by Josephine and Leliana, but she pushed them aside without a second thought. She could feel her pulse pick up, and she forced herself to exhale slowly. If she wasn’t careful, the ceiling would begin to press down on her like so many times before.

Slowly, Athesa pulled open one of the drawers. The sound of wood grinding against wood made her recoil, inhaling sharply. There wasn’t anyone else around, but a part of her was still fearful that one of her companions would jump out, possibly from under her bed - most likely Sera, if she was being honest with herself. After getting over her hesitation, though, she took the two rings out of the drawer and carefully set them on the desk in front of her. The week away from Skyhold had helped to clear her mind. However, she was no further on coming to an actual decision on it.

She slid the ring onto her finger, feeling the wood while she watched her hand. It was pretty - covered in intricate designs that mirrored the ones she’d seen as a child. More importantly, it feltgood to be wearing it. Her chest was tightening the longer she kept it on, but it wasn’t painful, only grounding - just like all of those times when Solas had grabbed her wrist.

Her thumb twirled it around her finger over and over, committing the feeling to memory. Her eyes were locked on the second one that stayed on her desk. There was a sense of urgency building up in her; one that told her that if she was going to give in, it needed to be soon. They would be going to Adamant in a couple of days, and while she wanted to be optimistic about it, she knew that nothing from the past few months had ended exceptionally well. Who knew what would happen when they arrived in the Western Approach?

There had already been two different times when she’d almost asked if he wanted it. How many more would it take before she finally broke down and did? That voice still nagged at her, told her that all she’d have to do is go see him, show it to him. Solas may not understand completely, but at least she’d tried - at least she could finally let it go.

It would be so easy.

She didn’t even realize that she was standing until her hand had closed the door behind her.

Chapter Text

Before leaving her clan, Athesa had never experienced problems when it came to her health - nothing serious, at least. She could breathe the air of the Free Marches in easily, her hands never shook when she tried to summon fire, and that pounding her head only made itself known when she’d been arguing with her brother. Lately, it had seemed to be getting better. The roof of her tent felt light and flimsy above her while travelling, and she rarely had a real struggle with the thick air, even when around Solas.

And, regardless of the face that the sight of a druffalo still made her uneasy, things were finally getting better as she let herself lower her guard. However, that seemed to make the return of it all that much more painful.

The weight was back, pressing down hard with the very real threat of crushing her completely.

The worst part, Athesa quickly realized, was that she couldn’t breathe. The fact ran through her mind again and again, but it didn’t make sense, because she knew that she was panting harder than a mabari. The thud thud of her boots echoed though the main hall, and she barely noticed the few nobles she had to dodge around in order to make her way to Solas’ study. All she wanted to do was stop, turn around and walk straight back to her room. Her quarters, where it would be safe, where she wouldn’t have to fear any rejection, or feel like she was having a damned heart attack. Her hands shook, leaving the fists trembling at her sides while she furiously fought to keep her knees from giving out under her. Her feet were moving too quickly, as if they had a mind of their own.

She shouldn’t be here, she wasn’t ready, but her legs still carried her closer. A clock counted down in her head as she realized that it may be too late to turn around. The very idea made her stomach twist painfully as dread threatened to swallow her up. That door was getting closer and closer, and, Creators, she didn’t even consider what she was going to tell him. There wasn’t enough time to think.

The quiet chatter around her felt like static, interrupting her thoughts every time she finally felt like she might be getting a grasp on things. Why were there even guests still awake? It was the middle of the night, and Athesa grinded her teeth in irritation while they watched her pass. Hopefully, unlike the hall, the rotunda would be empty.

She finally came to a stop at the door. Varric was missing from his usual spot, but she didn’t notice his missing greeting as her free hand hovered above the handle. While her body had been so insistent seconds ago, suddenly she couldn’t move. Her feet were frozen to the ground and for a moment she wondered if someone had paralyzed her. Maybe one of those nobles had snuck into Skyhold to assassinate her. Even thinking of the ridiculous possibility, she couldn’t even bring herself to get angry at the hypothetical bard. At least she wouldn’t have to face Solas.

Someone behind her cleared their throat loudly and the Inquisitor flinched so hard that she nearly jumped.

Okay, she wasn’t dying. The blood that had pounded in her ears was beginning to fade, and she gripped the doorknob before her mind could tell her otherwise. All she had to do was give it to him. That was it. She desperately tried to remind herself that this was Solas. She had spent so long wanting to get closer to him, to be able to trust him - she didn’t need to be scared.

Sucking in a deep breath, she opened the door and walked into his study.

He was standing at his desk, arms on the table as he looked over scattered papers. Her heart began to race all over again at the sight. That ring on her hand felt too heavy, like it was made of iron rather than wood. Too occupied with her own thoughts, it took a moment to realize that he hadn’t noticed her enter. That clock wasn’t ticking down anymore. There was still time to gather her thoughts, put it off for another day. Slowly, she took a step back - all too ready to leave before it was too late.

Her eyes were fixed on him the entire time, too afraid that he’d notice if she turned around. One hand reached out behind her for the door while the fist that held the ring - his ring - pressed against her tightening chest. The hinges screeched when she tried to open it, and Athesa cringed as she let her head drop.

When she looked back up to Solas, he was obviously watching her, frowning slightly while he probably tried to understand what was wrong. Her hand dropped from her chest, and she tried her best to straighten her back. If this was going to happen, she wasn’t going to allow herself to beat around the bush.

“Solas.” She nearly cringed again, her voice sounding colder than intended. Her footsteps were quiet as she walked towards his desk - pace quick but somehow not quick enough. By the time she finally got to him, her heart was beginning pick up again and the Inquisitor forced herself to exhale loudly.

Her hand almost reached for his, purely out of habit, before remembering what she held and clasping them behind her back.

“My heart.” He said it too quietly, too happily. Hearing it made her chest feel tight, and she had never thought that she’d dislike him looking so open, but for once she wasn’t sure if she could take it.

Swallowing hard, she did her best to steel herself. It was happening, and she needed to accept it and move on to actually discussing it. “I wanted to talk.”

“Of course, what about?”

She turned to lean back against the desk, desperate for something to brace herself on. “There’s something that I wanted to give you - a gift.” It’s almost over, she reminded herself, despite the fact that it had quite literally just started. All she had to do was give it to him, and her warm quarters would be welcoming her within minutes.

He shifted away from his studies, turning to her until Athesa found herself stuck between him and the desk. “I hope that this isn’t the same gift you and Sera gave Josephine weeks ago.” His hands were clasped behind his back, mirroring her stance from just a few minutes ago.

A small laugh escaped at the memory of a drenched Josephine, and she shook her head. This was… too light. Her heart was beating loudly, leaving her ears ringing yet somehow he still managed to make her laugh like it was any other day. “No, it’s actually--” she paused, the words leaving her lips as her mind slowly drew a blank. No, no, no. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She couldn’t back out now, not after all of this stress over it. Memories of the halla she found when she was ten sprang to mind, and she could only imagine that she looked just as fearful as it had that night. Her gaze fell to the wall behind him, fingers beginning to fidget with the rings as she tried to gather her thoughts.

She wasn’t sure how long she stood there like that, but it couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes. Still, his tone grew serious, hitting her hard in comparison to before. “Is something wrong?” Something shifted in the air, and her toes curled in her boots. The situation was suddenly very real - from the way the edge of the desk dug into her to the high ceiling that pressed down on her chest.

“... Give me a minute,” she breathed. It had been weeks since the weight had been this bad. It was still there, but up until tonight at least it had been manageable. She could still remember those nights in her tent when it had almost appeared to be gone altogether. Now, it threatened to crush her completely. Meanwhile, Solas waited for her patiently - staying close, but giving her enough space to collect herself.

“What are you studying?” she blurted, desperate for a distraction. However, the question only seemed to make the suffocation worse, realizing that - yes - she was backing out yet again. She was weak, too afraid to even really express her feelings. A coward, she told herself. He opened his mouth to answer, but she quickly cut him off. “No-- That’s not why I’m here.”

Athesa didn’t realize that she’d held her hands up to stop him until he was staring at the ring on her finger.

Eyes widening, she glanced from her hand to his face. He was strangely calm, however slightly confused. Her mouth opened and closed, hoping for some sort of explanation to magically come out without thinking. After a moment, though, it was clear that she would be left to fend for herself. His gaze eventually landed on her, and while a part of her wanted to stare back at that wall behind him again, she couldn’t bring herself to. “... This is why I’m here.”

Her free hand reached for his slowly, and set the second ring in his palm before closing his fingers over it. They were cool compared to her own sweaty ones, forcing her to let go quickly out of embarrassment. He watched her the entire time, face horribly devoid of emotion. When she finally let his hand go, he opened it back up to examine the carved wood. “And what is this, exactly?”

“Promise rings-- Dalish promise rings.” That familiar heat began to creep up her neck, but she pressed on. “When I was with my clan, elves would give them to each other.”

“I am well-aware of the tradition.”

She stared up at him, her stomach dropping. He didn’t look upset, or angry, or… anything really. “You don’t like it.” Despite wanting to compose herself, the disappointment rang clearly in her voice.

Her neck burned now, already beginning to regret being so unprepared for this. It wasn’t like with the red lyrium or demons, though. She couldn’t spend days researching the apostate to predict his reaction. There weren’t any books containing instructions on how to give such a sentimental gift to the one you called vhenan - although she would have to remember to make the suggestion to Varric later.

Solas’ response came slowly, calm but thankfully not cold. “I simply do not see why they are necessary. You already know how deeply I care for you. Besides, I am not even Dalish.”

“No, but I am,” she answered without thinking. He hadn’t said no, but it still felt like a rejection. “And I know that you care about me, this isn’t about that.”

“Then what, exactly, is this about?”

Taking a deep breath, she paused. “I’m not forcing you to accept it, this isn’t some… deal breaker - but back at Haven, I told you that I wouldn’t let the Chantry use the fact that you joined the Inquisition against you. I said that I’d stop them however I had to, and I meant it, I still mean it.” Her voice shook slightly, too focussed on putting together coherent sentences to notice that his gaze had softened.

“Yes, I remember,” he told her quietly.

This was it - she had given it to him. The hardest part was over, and realizing that made her chest hurt a little less. “You’re… incredibly knowledgable about the Fade, but that can only take you so far, even you know that. I have my mark protecting me, but you have me.” Her cheeks flushed after realizing how horribly cliche her answer sounded.

He stayed silent while she sucked in another breath, his eyes occasionally dropping to look at their hands.

“It’s not like I’m proposing to you,” Athesa continued. Each word lifted the weight on her a bit more, although that blush didn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. “But I saw them, and thought that if we both wore one you’d remember that you aren’t alone anymore.”

“And this is important to you.” It was a statement, his words slow but deliberate. Something about him felt guarded, his eyes clouded over while he thought about what she’d said.

“It is,” she told him, surprisingly confident. It was important, otherwise she wouldn’t have spent so long debating on whether or not she should bring it to him.

“Then thank you.” Finally, that clouded look left and he smiled. “Hopefully I will not lose it while travelling.” Prying his hands out of her grip, he set it on the desk before returning his attention to her.

Her heart skipped a beat, and for a moment she wondered if she’d misheard him. “Really?”

“Yes.”

Relief washed over her, and the next thing she knew she was pulling him in to kiss her. He took a step forward to steady himself and she moved back, bumping into the desk. The scraping echoed through the rotunda, and she was incredibly happy that she’d decided to see him now rather than waiting for the morning when they’d have to remember that there were mages shuffling above them.

“I was so worried,” she admitted. “That you would say just no, or think that it was a bad idea.” Or childish.

“It is the least I can do after all of the time you’ve spent-”

His words went right over her head as she cut him off, teeth clacking together while gripping his sides - only the fact that he had said yes on her mind. That knot in her gut was returning, her heart racing despite the fact that it was neither the time nor the place to be doing this. But that ring was on her hand, and her stomach was fluttering, and everything in her begged not to pull away. Maybe she couldn’t help him with his past, or stop him from seeing those horrible memories in the Fade, but at least now he wouldn’t have to think that he was alone in dealing with it. There had been so many times when she told him he wasn’t, of course, but this felt different. It was something that was real, for when she was away and he couldn’t visit her in the Fade.

“Na tu ma vhena’sulahn.” It came out in a rush, the need to tell him quickly becoming more important than kissing him.

Hands falling to rest on her hips, he froze. “... You have been practicing.”

She nodded, too caught up in trying to catch her breath to say anything else. It had been something she’d tried at small intervals, usually when she’d look over the tome he translated. While her pronunciation probably wasn’t the best, she had been more focussed on getting the phrases out without stuttering or sounding broken.

A breathy laugh escaped from him, surprising the both of them. “Ma serannas.” He was happy, but she couldn’t wrap her head around why. She’d given him that long speech, shown him his gift, yet this was what made him trail over her vallaslin with a faint smile.

“Vhenan, I-” she started, but he interrupted with a kiss. “It’s not like I stood in front of an eluvian all night rehearsing.”

“No, but you made an effort. It is still important.” Another quick kiss. “You are importa-”

Solas broke away without warning, that tight hold leaving her as one of his hands dropped to his side. She gripped the edge of the desk, leaning against it for support while her heart continued to race in her chest. She was about to ask him what was wrong when the loud banging of a door closing interrupted her.

Head turning quickly, she was met with a mage. Their arms were struggling to carry a large pile of books, but they quickly came to a halt when they saw her. They were young, with guilt written all over their face at either being caught for staying up so late or walking in on them. Athesa shifted to stare at her own feet, not even able to meet their gaze. Meanwhile, she could feel the hand on her hip all too well - light fingers impatiently drumming against her. That old frustration of being interrupted reared its head up and left her glaring at the ground. Was it really too much to ask for five minutes without hearing someone greet her as the Inquisitor? Granted, she had probably asked for it the moment she’d decided to meet him here rather than in private. There was some more shuffling, and eventually the footsteps completely disappeared.

Finally, she allowed herself to look up. “What?”

He was smirking, just barely, with amusement written all over his face. “You looked like you were ready to set them on fire.”

“I was.” Pushing herself off of the desk, she sighed. “... I should go. If Leliana sees me falling asleep during our meeting tomorrow I’ll be the one on fire.”

“Of course.”

* * *

There were three days before the Inquisition finally departed for Adamant. While Athesa spent her days travelling, her evenings were mostly spent with Cullen. He did his best to be friendly with her, but even she could see the way his posture went stiff when going over strategies for whatever they may encounter. After all, the troops were under his command.

After the first few meetings, she wanted to somehow reassure him that she trusted his judgement. However, even she could feel it taking a toll. Each night that the Inquisitor left his tent to make way to her own, that uncomfortable knot in her gut only grew. She’d enter her tent rubbing the back of her neck, a dull thudding at the base of her skull keeping her awake through more of the night than she would have liked.

Solas, meanwhile, wordlessly slept alone in his own tent. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement between them that, with her late nights spent with her advisors and his need to study the Fade, it would be easier to simply keep to themselves until the entire mess was over. She didn’t enjoy it, but a part of her knew that if he had joined her, she’d only be sitting around anxiously while he slept.

Storming Adamant was nothing like she had expected, the old castle looking nothing like descriptions in the tomes she’d read - although that was more because the place was full of demons than anything else. They were around every corner, ready to spit acid at her or try to throw chains of lightning her way.

Up the stairs, around another corner, through the doorway, up more stairs - clearing the battlements took what felt like years, even if she saved as many Wardens as she could. The sight of Clarel being thrown to the ground like a ragdoll was burned into her mind. She was too stunned to move, her eyes were fixed on that dragon in the sky. When the ground began to move under her, though, it threw her back into action and she was nearly tripping over herself to get to somewhere safe.

The next thing she knew, they were in the Fade. It was all too green, too solid. She could feel the water soak through her boots as they trudged through and fought off wraiths. Her hand lightly pulsed up her arm and she felt the mix of the Veil and magic hover in the air like a thick fog. It was nothing like her dreams with Solas - she didn’t even have the need to reach for his hand when they began to follow the Divine. She fidgeted with her staff absently, unsure how to handle the fact that she was in the Fade yet didn’t need that grounding he always gave her.

Regardless of how different everything was, Solas was still the first one she asked about their surroundings. Her shoulder brushed his, standing next to him but still unable to take her eyes off of the sky that stretched out above them forever. That gut feeling of being swallowed up by the Breach at Haven returned, and made her blood run cold as she spoke. “I don’t suppose you have any words of wisdom for this part of the Fade?” He was so enthusiastic when they first fell, that she couldn’t resist asking him. After spending so much time exploring, surely he knew something.

“Why would I ever voluntarily come to this part of the Fade?” he told her, his tone unusually harsh. His weight shifted, and her gaze dropped down to his feet.

Like always, he wasn’t wearing any boots or shoes. She couldn’t help but wonder how he was able to walk around without complaint, because, yes, even she was able to handle the dirt roads when travelling with her clan, but they weren’t in the Hinterlands or the Forbidden Oasis. This was the Fade - the Raw Fade - where the ground was covered in sharp rocks and cold water.

Swallowing hard, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. She’d asked him the question lightheartedly; it wasn’t meant as an insult to him or his studies. Somehow, though, she had the feeling that he’d taken it that way. Maybe it was Blackwall’s comment about not getting distracted that had irritated him.

Regardless of the Warden, his cold answer made it that much harder to reach for his hand when she did. She pushed herself to anyway, though - ready to try again. “You’re the expert here. I just thought that you might know something helpful.”

He sighed, his posture relaxing just enough that she could notice it. “The Fade is shaped by intent and emotion. Remain focussed, and it will lead you where you wish to go.” His face softened, glancing at their surroundings with a strange enthusiasm. He’d shown her many places in the Fade before, and as happy as he looked when they were there together, it was never like this.

“Thank you.” Nodding, Athesa squeezed his hand before letting go, ready to move on.

While the Champion and Stroud were there to help fight off wraiths, neither of them could assist when it came to retrieving her memories. The first one was by far the worst - left her hissing in pain and gripping her head as she was forced to think back to walking in on the Divine and Corypheus. By the time she opened her eyes she was on her knees, ears ringing too loudly to hear Varric asking if she was okay. Her hands shook nearly as badly as when she’d given Solas his ring - her body not necessarily afraid, but more in shock.

Slowly, as the Inquisitor uncovered more, it became easier. Her head was still spinning, and occasionally she would need to take a moment to piece the memories together, but it was definitely an improvement from the trembling that she had before.

And she felt better as they went on, too, as if there was a piece of her that she didn’t even realize was missing. Each wraith brought back a piece of who she was, and as they went on she couldn’t help but notice how much it helped navigating the Fade. Her footsteps were louder, not even bothering to respond to the Nightmare’s voice that shook her to her core. It was a demon, nothing more and nothing less. As long as she didn’t give it any reason to speak out to her then they would all be fine. She was whole now, suddenly unafraid of feeling too light with those memories sitting in the back of her mind - holding her down.

That was, until she was standing in front of Solas’ tombstone, stomach dropping while that deep, captivating voice spoke to her. Just as it had with everyone else, the demon easily told her about the nightmares she’d had. Her body froze, caught between wanting to move on before she could hear more, and listening silently. It mentioned her clan, brought up her brother so easily, yet made it clear that he was gone and there was nothing she could do about it. In the end, her curiosity won out - just as she knew it would - and she found herself gripping her staff until her knuckles were white.

Putting away her weapon to walk towards one of the broken mirrors, Athesa felt her neck grow hot at the realization that the others had to hear this. As much as she tried to fill the role of the Inquisitor, they’d see exactly how much all of this was eating away at her. The longer it went on, the more she could feel the blood in her veins turn to ice, freezing her solid.

“There aren’t any books that can teach you how to be happy, Inquisitor,” it reminded her coldly. She grinded her teeth, picking up the pace by a considerate amount. “You’ve destroyed any chance at retrieving what satisfaction you once had, along with Clan Lavellan.”

Eventually, the voice died down until all she heard was the occasional splash of her boots walking through another puddle, or the creak of Blackwall’s metal armour grinding. It was easier to breathe once she was left alone with her own thoughts; even if those thoughts were just as critical. She remembered Solas’ words, told herself It isn’t real over and over while her staff drove spell after spell into the waves of spiders that dropped.

It was when the Inquisitor was stumbling out of the Fade, desperate for solid ground and a sky that wasn’t green, that she could finally gasp for air. Her lungs burned, and her feet nearly tripped over themselves before she reached for Solas’ arm to keep from falling on the hard stone, but it was okay - she was okay. She had visited the Fade physically twice, yet somehow made it out alive. Her head buzzed with the idea, and continued to through the evening, when she announced that the Inquisition would be extending the offer of an alliance to the Wardens.

* * *

“Inquisitor, it has been an honour.”

With Stroud’s voice still ringing in her ears, Athesa brought her knees up to her chest and folded her arms over them. It had been three hours since returning to camp, and she had spent two of those sitting in her tent while Solas laid next to her. He’d been unusually quiet the entire time, but - then again - so had she. There had been the initial Are you okay, and I’m fine but aside from that they both seemed to be content with the silence.

Everyone looked terribly grim during the trek back, regardless of the fact that they had actually managed to save what was left of the Grey Wardens. She had seen Blackwall and Varric’s faces in front of the campfire, staring at it while lost in thought. The former seemed to be especially troubled, although he shrugged off any attempt to let someone look after him.

She let out a shaky breath, taking the elastic out of her hair before laying back on her bedroll. Solas briefly glanced up at her over his book, but silently returned to it when she failed to speak. Her eyes were fixated on the ceiling of her tent - watching the breeze blow against it softly. The knot in her gut from learning that she wasn’t the Herald was nearly gone now, replaced by the Nightmare’s words. Her throat felt too tight while she thought about what it had said, as if she was about to cry - but somehow tears never came. The Inquisitor waited and waited, but for the first time her eyes were completely dry.

There wasn’t the real need to cry, either. It was wrong, she felt too at peace with what had happened. Her head still hurt, and her fingers fidgeted with the hem of her tunic, but somehow the Inquisitor completely accepted the events that had happened that day. She let out another sigh, a softer one this time, before finally speaking up.

“The Nightmare was right,” she said quietly.

There was a soft snap when Solas closed his book, followed by the shuffling of him setting it aside. “I’m sorry?”

His eyes were on her, she could feel it now. “It was right. About my brother, about my clan-- About all of it.” Finally, she rolled over onto her side to face him. His brows were drawn together, and she felt that knot tighten just a bit. Without thinking, she shifted closer to hold the side of his face. “I was so much happier before the Conclave, before the Anchor.”

“I think that can be said for most, unfortunately,” he said. Slowly, he placed one of his hands over hers, lowering it so that he could hold it. “Would you change what happened, assuming you could?”

She shook her head immediately, relaxing when she felt his fingers interlace with hers. “It’s different now.” Her voice shook and she exhaled slowly. That gaze felt like it was burning into her again, even if he waited for her silently to speak. “I was happy, but it was only because I didn’t have any real worries. My biggest problems were dealing with my brother and helping my clan. It wasn’t--”

It wasn’t real, she wanted to tell him. It wasn’t like the happiness she felt when they sealed Breach, or when he’d visit her in the Fade. Her mouth opened and closed, desperately wanting to tell him just that, but not finding the words. This had been happening so often lately, that a part of her wondered if she was being too careful with him.

“I didn’t know any better,” she explained simply, “and I don’t think that I could go back to that if I wanted to.” Her eyes looked up to meet his, only to frown at him almost immediately. “What?”

He wasn’t smiling, but his face had softened enough that she wondered if it was going to melt off. “Nothing. I am simply surprised.”

“It’s not exactly like I have a lot to return to,” she added quietly. That sudden urge to look away came back, but she pushed it aside. He looked pleased, and she wasn’t going to take seeing him like that for granted. “And you seem to be surprised a lot. Do I get to know why?”

This time he smiled. Although it was a small one, she still felt her stomach flip at the sight. “You seemed to be very homesick before. It is surprising that you’ve come to terms with what’s happened so… suddenly.”

“You helped.” It came out abruptly, and much more loudly than he’d spoken to her. Shifting again, Athesa moved to hold his hands so that they were in both of hers. “You listened to me when I was upset. Even before we were…” she paused, unsure exactly what term to use. “-Close.” He held back another smile, clearly amused by her choice of words, but kept quiet while she continued.

“During that night in the Emprise, you didn’t have to ask me about how I became a mage, but you did.”

“You say that as if you could not handle it on your own.” Solas pointed out. It wasn’t until then that she noticed how close he was, that his thumb was running back and forth over the back of her hand like that day in his study.

She inhaled sharply, but didn’t hesitate to respond. “I could have, but that doesn’t mean I want to.”

He considered that for a moment, his eyes growing distant. Athesa nearly spoke again, but bit her tongue - wanting to give him the same time to collect his thoughts that he’d given her. Thankfully, it didn’t take long, though. “So you would not change anything?”

“When we first got to Skyhold, all I wanted to do was go home, but now…” For a moment, he almost looked like he expected her to tell him he was right. That look was quickly wiped off his face, though, when she continued. “I might have been happier, but it wouldn’t be for the right reasons. If I kept going on like that… I don’t know what would have happened to me.”

“So you’re okay, then.”

She nodded. “Are you?”

He went still, frowning in irritation. “I cannot believe the Grey Wardens could even conceive of such a plan. To seek out these Old Gods deliberately, in some bizarre attempt to preempt the Blight...”

She watched as his shook his head in disbelief. “I know. I’m glad we could end this madness before it started.”

“Thank you. I’ve been on my own for so long. It’s difficult to get used to having the support of others.”

Her eyes glanced down to his hand. “... Do you still have the ring?” Her neck grew warm, wondering if he’d lost it in all of the chaos at the fortress when she noticed that it wasn’t on his finger.

“It is in my bag,” he answered simply. When she didn’t respond, he brushed a strand of hair out of her face and continued. “I did not want to risk losing it while we were here.”

Athesa smiled faintly, thinking about hers, which currently hung on a chain around her neck under her shirt. It made sense. After the first few times spent training with it on, even she noticed how distracting it was to have her attention divided between fighting and making sure that the band hadn’t slipped off. “Does it help?”

“Surprisingly, yes.” Solas shook his head again, his voice lowering while he thought over the day’s events again. “Those fools and duty. Responsibility is not expertise. Action is not inherently superior to inaction. Forgive me, the entire idea is… unnerving.”

“And what about the Fear demon?” she pressed. “I know that I’m not fluent in elvish, but I know what harellan means.” It hadn’t bothered him at the time, but she knew how it’s words could get stuck in your head, that low voice echoing in your mind for hours until it was hard to breathe.

He simply pressed a small kiss to her forehead, and reassured her that he was fine - simply tired. She couldn’t help but notice that his hands held her just a bit tighter after that, though.