What Dreams May Come
"I've never seen such a beautiful place," Elle marveled, trying to absorb the splendor of the scenery around her. The forest here was green, almost unbelievably so. Every color stood out like a brilliant gem, so vivid that each one overwhelmed her senses. Her mind tried to understand how it was possible that all of this seemed so real. The cool breeze made her shiver. The sun-kissed boulder beneath her dug into her palms and left red marks behind. When she inhaled, Elle breathed in air that was thick with the smell of wet earth, moist and soggy from fresh rain. The water pitter-pattered all around her, droplets diving between leaves to finally fall to meet the ground. Yet none of it touched her skin. She was dry as though she was immune to the effects of the weather.
That's how Elle knew that she was in a dream. None of this could possibly be real. Unless she had somehow walked straight into a Hollywood nature documentary. Everything, even the ground, had a blurred quality to it, almost as though the cameraman filming this dramatic scenery had forgotten to wipe down his lens. No. This couldn't be real. Life wasn't this…blissful and perfect. There was no forest that surrounded her university, and she could have sworn that she had just been working in her lab. She'd probably dozed off waiting for her colleagues to return with her data from the afternoon.
A noise caught her attention. Before her, just there, past a certain cluster of trees that seemed familiar, she saw a figure dressed in odd clothing. From the set of his broad shoulders and slender long-legged frame, Elle could see that it was a man. She stood up from her perch on the comfortably flat boulder and walked towards him. It wasn't until he turned around and caught her emerald gaze that she recognized who it was.
"Professor?" she called. "Is that you?"
"Ellara," he answered, stepping towards her. Only the Professor ever used her full name. Everyone else, including her other teachers, always called her by her nickname. Strange, but she'd never minded. When he said it, it sounded beautiful, though she'd always thought it sounded too frivolous when others tried to do the same.
Her mentor wore a light colored tunic and dark green pants, clothes that reminded her of pictures of hermits that she'd seen in her studies of ancient cultures. The staff in his hand didn't help diffuse the image. She wondered if she'd conjured the style of his clothing from a catalog of random memories. She'd certainly looked at enough of such pictures over the years. Normally, though, hermits had grey hair and long beards, at least in illustrations.
The Professor had neither. In fact, she couldn't recall ever seeing even a stubble on his chin, and his head was always perfectly shaved. The material of his tunic was worn and somewhat ragged, but it suited him somehow. Truth be told, he looked rather handsome in this outfit. Something about it really fit him, a fact that irked her a little. Elle hated how dashing he looked no matter what he wore. If she dared to wear something like that, she'd probably be the subject of many a rude comment among her classmates.
"Where are we, Professor?" Her eyes fell to a bundle of plants in his arms - a cluster of what looked like wildflowers and herbs. She raised her brow at that.
"You tell me, Ellara," he replied, tilting his head and looking around as if he, too, was wondering the same thing. "This is your dream, after all." When he looked back at her, his light blue eyes snagged at her heart, forcing it to lose its pace for a moment. It wasn't just the scenery that was exquisite, she thought as he moved closer and offered the bundle of flowers to her. She took them, hardly daring to breathe.
Honestly, it wouldn't have mattered where they were. They could have been in some moldy cave or a filthy trench on a dig, and she still would have been happy. Just being beside her teacher and her mentor would have been enough. It wasn't just the fact that he was her official program advisor at the academy. It also wasn't the point that his letter of recommendation was responsible for her admittance to the university. No.
It was simpler - and maybe stupider - than that.
Elle was completely and impossibly in love with him, and it had all started from the moment that she attended his first lecture. He was very handsome, yes, but that wasn't what drew her to him like a moth to a flame. Everything about him fascinated her.
The way he moved, the way he walked, the way he spoke of history, and the way his nose wrinkled when he sipped on the tea she brought him every morning. He was a brilliant man, full of knowledge and wisdom - full of seemingly never-ending tales and stories that he'd picked up over years of study. He spoke of ancient ruins as though he'd visited them when they were still in their prime. He spoke of magic as though it was real and tangible. In short, he made the world seem much fuller and more interesting - much bigger and filled to the brim with wonder.
Three years, she'd been by his side as his one and only research student, spending anywhere between twelve and sixteen hours with him a day in the lab or doing field work. When they weren't engaged in research, he was helping her build her dissertation. They'd worked through more than a few nights straight and had seen the worst of each other in the mornings when their clothes were wrinkled and their eyes swollen from exhaustion. They'd attended formal gatherings together and had spent weeks in foreign countries digging through the dirt to find evidence of how the past took shape.
Three years of seeing his face every single day. Three years of admiration and respect. Three years of feeling her heart quicken when he smiled. Yet in all those months and days, this was the first time that he'd ever appeared in any of her dreams.
She'd never told him about her feelings, of course. Elle knew that what she felt for him was entirely one-sided. Not to mention, entirely forbidden. If anyone found out at the university, they would pull her from the project. Being younger, she wouldn't take the brunt of the blow. The blame would fall on the Professor; even if he didn't return her feelings or do anything to act on them, nobody would listen. She couldn't risk that. Much better to keep her love a secret than to watch the person she cared about be hurt.
So, she adored him from the shadows, worrying for him when he worked too hard and bringing him food when he was so caught up in his research that he forgot to eat. She brought him snacks and even visited his house to talk about work while he painted murals on the walls. The smell of linseed oil, fresh paint, and canvas lingered on his clothes at times, and she adored that, too. They talked for hours about the ancient past and spent more time together than a working adult couple ever could. For Elle, that would have to do. It had always been enough.
Up until this moment.
When he was so close - close enough that she could feel his body heat - she almost forgot all about her promise to not tell him anything. But wait. This was a dream, wasn't it? What harm could come from being honest with herself somewhere where nobody could see or hear her? That, and this all seemed like scene out of one of the Professor's stories. He often spoke of a wilderness untouched by man - of forests that stretched into the horizon and were filled with creatures too magnificent to describe in words. Would she ever have another chance like this? To tell him how she felt in a scene that was more beautiful and romantic than anything she could experience in the real world?
"Professor," she began, wavering between her desires and her fear.
"Hmm?" he stepped even closer, reaching up and pulling a leaf from her hair. How had that gotten there? No doubt it was yet another fantasy of hers. He never got this close; never touched her or looked at her longer than necessary. Even when they spent time together, he made sure to maintain a proper distance, making Elle wonder if he just wanted to avoid misunderstanding or if he truly didn't want to be close to her. He was much older. Maybe he saw her as a child and would never think of her as more than that.
Is that why he was getting so close now? Because he never would in actuality? Because she wanted him to? How pathetic - she thought - to be so desperate that she imagined something like this.
"I…that is…" she stumbled.
"What is it?" he asked, the blue in his eyes melting to a bright azure. How she wished that he would look at her like this. How she yearned for it. With that, she felt her doubts falling away. This was a dream, and no harm had ever come from doing as she liked in dreams.
"I love you, Professor." The words finally broke though the stopper of self-control that she'd clung to for years. "I really love you," she repeated, feeling her skin tingling as excitement and terror of rejection coated it. "I always have, and I always will. I loved you from the first moment that I saw you." Suddenly, that soft look disappeared from his eyes. His delicate brow furrowed.
"I know it's wrong," she rushed to say. "I know, but I…"
Please, don't reject me - a part of her begged.
"You don't have to answer me, Professor. I just…at least here, I wanted to tell you." Something pricked at the corners of her eyes, and she realized with horror that she was about to cry. What the hell? She hadn't cried since gradeschool - not since she'd broken the nose of a local bully and had to go to the hospital to treat her broken hand. She was a strong adult woman now, and she wouldn't give into something so childish. Upset with her own weakness, Elle turned her back to him, afraid that he would notice. But before she could walk away, warm hands settled on her shoulders.
"It's alright," he said.
"Don't be angry," she pleaded.
"I'm not angry, Ellara." He tugged on her shoulder and she gave in to his momentum, allowing him to turn her back around. The worry had faded from his face.
"Then…Professor...how do you feel about me?" Damn it. Hadn't she just told herself that she would be fine if he didn't answer her?
"That is the question, isn't it?" he replied. An awkward silence hung between them before he sighed and smoothed his hand against her own. Her chest constricted when their fingers entwined. "Come. Let us find a place to talk."
He led her from the forest down a worn path through a field of grass. Elle once again marveled at the beauty of this dream. Above them, the sky was clear and cloudless. An eagle cried out as he flew through the air, a shrill cry of bliss and freedom. Not far from where they'd left, a herd of what looked like white deer with curled long antlers grazed serenely. She and the Professor walked until they reached a cluster of ruins, sprawled out and hidden in overgrown vines and gnarled trees. The only part of them still whole was an enormous statue of a wolf, a figure that seemed to be guarding the dead stone and age-old courtyard.
"What an interesting statue," she said. "Almost like an angry sentinel."
"He is harmless," the Professor told her.
"It reminds me of the statues of Anubis that we surveyed in Egypt. What is this wolf guarding, I wonder?"
"Nothing," the Professor said. "Not anymore."
"He must be tired," Elle reasoned. "Or sad."
"Perhaps both," her teacher offered cryptically. "Perhaps he has no burdens, and thus no purpose."
Though Elle prided herself on her knowledge of archaeology and identifying areas all over the world just from photographs, she had no idea where she was. The ruins around her gave no clues and were so mysterious that she almost believed that she'd conjured them from pure obscurity. The Professor said nothing more, though he shifted his weight between his feet restlessly. The ground was covered nettles and loose stones, but his boots provided no protection from them. His toes and heels peeked out from the worn leather, yet he gave no sign of discomfort. In fact, he curled them a bit as though enjoying the feel of the earth against his bare skin.
"Professor," she ventured. "Where are we?" No harm in asking, right? This was a dream anyhow, and Elle wanted to know how he would explain this baffling area she'd never seen before.
"You wouldn't remember it, da'len," he said with a small smile. "Indeed, no one would. It is a place lost to time and memory."
"Da'len?" she echoed, tasting the unfamiliar word. "What does that mean?" He didn't answer her for a long while. Together, they climbed a set of steps that led to a large building whose roof looked like it had collapsed from an explosion. Odd symbols decorated what was left of beautiful stained glass. "It looks like a center of worship," Elle reasoned. "By the architecture, I would guess that it used to be a temple. But, I don't recognize the civilization." She stepped towards the building and placed her hand upon the stones. The Professor stayed behind, leaning on his staff and watching her with a sharp gaze. "These ruins feel…old. Older than anything I've seen before…"
"That is because they are older than anything else that now exists in this world," her teacher replied.
"It might help if I knew where we were geographically," she pouted.
"Perhaps," he agreed. Elle gasped. His voice was right beside her ear, and she jumped a little when she felt his breath displace a whorl of hair resting on her cheek. She turned and found him standing beside her, his pale eyes unusually warm. How had he gotten so close without her noticing? She tried to keep her mind on the task at hand.
"There don't seem to be any markings that I recognize..."
"You don't remember, then..." he sighed.
"Remember what?" she asked, swallowing back a lump in her throat. Having him this close wasn't a good idea, especially since she couldn't seem to take her eyes off his lips when he talked. Good lord. What had gotten into her all of a sudden? She was acting like a silly girl with a crush. Then again, she was a silly girl with a crush, so maybe that let her off the hook.
"None of this is familiar to you?" the Professor gestured to the ruins.
Elle frowned and shook her head. "Is this something I should know? Is this material that we've reviewed before?" He was always testing her, always keeping her on her toes. Even in her dreams, apparently. She knew that look he was giving her and felt her heart sink in disappointment. The last thing she wanted was to look like a fool right now. "I'm sorry, Professor. I'll look at my notes again after…"
"No," he cut in with a shake of his head. "It's alright. It matters not if you recall it."
"Professor," Elle began, "are you teasing me?" She folded her arms across her chest, feeling her breath catch when the corner of his mouth turned up into a mischievous smile. She'd never seen that expression on his face before. How could it be that he was so changed here, almost like a different person? Was this the Professor of her fantasies? If so, then her mind really knew what it was doing.
"Teasing?" he repeated.
"Yes. You like to do that sometimes. I think you enjoy seeing me wriggle and feel like a moron. But you don't smile. Not much, anyway, and not like this. I guess I really am dreaming." He laughed this time, and Elle felt heat creeping into her cheeks. That sound was rare, and she was ever so proud when he laughed because of something that she said.
"I would never tease you, da'len."
This time, it was her turn to frown. "What does that word mean?"
The smile lingered on his face - a crooked, one sided twist that accented the fullness of his lips. He reached up and tucked a stray bit of hair behind her ear. "An endearment, of sorts," he answered. Elle's breath caught in her throat. If those blue eyes were a lake, she might have drowned in it. Gladly, though. So very very gladly.
"What language is it?" she asked a little breathlessly. "I don't recognize it." Unusual, for one of the focuses of her PhD was linguistics. That included dead languages.
"It, too, is regrettably lost to memory, ma sa'lath." Elle's breath quickened. The corner of his mouth fluttered, widening his unfamiliar smile. "Do you not like it?"
"I…it's beautiful. I just wish I knew what it meant. Can you…say something else?"
"Sahlin, ma emma vhenan'ara," he obliged. More heat suffused her face until she thought that her cheeks might explode. The way he spoke those words. She might not know their meaning, but she could sense that they were words of love. Or was she just deluding herself? Was she that despondent?
"You wanted an answer, da'len. There you have it."
"An answer to what?"
"Your earlier confession." His eyes twinkled. "Or has the beauty of this place already made you forget it?"
"Of course not! But, I don't know what you said…"
"Do you not?" He closed the distance between them. Or tried to. Surprised by his actions and the way his voice dipped lower until it was a husky purr, Elle stepped back. And back. Farther and farther. He was never far behind, chasing her in a slow and almost predatory pace until her back was pressed against a stone column. When she would have twisted to escape him, he set his hands upon her hips and held her still.
"Your mind may not remember the words, but your heart must." Something about the way he said that sounded uncertain - even a little hopeful. "It must…" One of his hands slid up her side, brushing over her breast to settle on the nape of her neck.
"Professor, what are you…" she breathed, gasping when he pressed a finger against her lips.
"Hush," he whispered, wrapping his other arm around her back and pulling her against him. Standing this way, with the cradle of her hip enveloping his thigh and her chest crushed against his surprisingly muscular torso, Elle thought she might faint from sensation. Using his other hand, he tilted up her chin until she could feel the heat of his breath fanning against her cheeks. Oh God. This was not good.
"Professor," she tried again, her voice weaker than before. "I didn't know that you…that is…we shouldn't…"
"Don't," he stopped her. "If you ponder on it, you will wake," was his warning. No more softness - not in his voice or on his face. Something feral lingered on his features now - a hunger that haunted the depths of his eyes. "Is that what you desire, ma sal'ath? To wake?"
"No, but I…" He shook his head to interrupt her.
"Then stay here. With me. In this moment, there are no words. No thoughts. No memories. Just us, da'len. Just this…" Before she could say - or mumble - anything else, his lips folded against hers, pliant yet firm skin melting against her own. Time stopped. A thousand different stars exploded in her vision. She was frozen at first, too shocked to move, but soon his lips coaxed the warmth and life back into her body. His mouth was warm, his hands fiery hot against her back. Those same hands ghosted upwards, one palm stopping against her chest and trailing a thumb against her - oh lord...
She was still clothed. Or was she? Elle couldn't remember anymore. It didn't really matter, did it? Her world narrowed to the feel of his demanding kiss and the friction of his thumb against the quickly hardening peak of her left breast. She mewled when his tongue slipped against her lower lip, grinding against the flesh there before moving past it to explore the cavern of her mouth. Her thoughts splintered. Decorum be damned. Propriety could rot in hell - she thought. Suddenly, she ached for him in unimaginable ways, and that was all that mattered anymore.
"The taste of you," he murmured against her lips. "How I've missed it. How I've missed you."
"Wait a second," she breathed as he assailed her with kisses, slipping from her mouth to her jaw, then tracing the curve of her neck. And then her ear - breathing against it, licking at her earlobe. Such strained, hot breaths. As though he, too, was losing all of his sense as she was.
"Na ir nuvenin, ma sal'ath," he signed. Elle groaned when the entire left side of her body caught fire, goosebumps marring her skin from her neck to her toes. "I need you."
"Wait, Professor, this is…" Something, something, something, 'no we shouldn't…'. But her arms were already wrapping around his shoulders, her muscles angling her body to press tighter against him despite her confusion. She felt his erection press against her pelvis, bit her lip hard enough to draw blood when he violently squished her against the cold stone of the column. Then he was back at her mouth, stealing her breath, devouring her needy moans with ravenous enthusiasm.
This was…strange. This was…amazing. No one had ever kissed her like this. Nothing this slow and almost wild. Nothing this erotic. Nothing that could make her climax just from - Oh. Sliding back, he suckled on her bottom lip, drawing its softness into his mouth and letting out a low amused chuckle when she whimpered in response. That sound traveled straight through her, pooling as sticky raw desire right at the apex of her thighs. She gulped in a ragged breath when her knees went weak, her whole body going blissfully numb when both of his hands cupped the underside of her breasts. She made a sound of protest when he pulled away, needing him more than she'd needed anything in her life.
"Professor," Elle groaned. "What…are you doing to me? What is this?"
"Just a dream, da'len," he replied, bending down until his nose was buried between her breasts. "You will forget it when you wake."
"Forget?" she worried. "How could I ever...?"
"Hush now. Entrust yourself to me." She couldn't argue with that, not when her entire body throbbed for his touch. He tore at the buttons of her shirt with his teeth, and because this was a dream, they gave and disappeared without a trace. Then, there was no barrier - nothing between his molten tongue and her swelling nipples. A hoarse cry ripped itself from her when he drew her into his mouth - suckling, biting, laving, and circling…ever slowly, with a pace that was torturous and agonizing. Her fingers dug into his shoulders, into the woolen material of his tunic. Strange how she could feel that so vividly. The stone, too. So cold against her back.
"Solas," she said suddenly and felt him freeze. Elle had no idea why she called him by his first name. He had always been her Professor. She'd never thought about his name or about calling him by anything else other than that title. Yet there it was, on the tip of her tongue, as familiar and dear to her as a lover's might be. "Solas," she murmured again. Elle couldn't be sure if she'd offended him or not. Could her fantasy Professor even be offended in a dream like this? "I'm sorry," she apologized when he moved back from her and captured her gaze.
"Do you remember?" he asked, hope vivid and bright in his eyes. "Ma vhenan, you must tell me. Do you remember?"
"Remember?" she whispered in a daze.
"No," he bit out sternly. "It matters not." But it did matter. Something was eating at him, gnawing at him as surely as her unrequited need for him devoured a part of her each and every day. She wanted to ask him what it was, but then he pressed himself against her and she forgot what it was she wanted. That is, everything but him. His expression unreadable, he wrapped his hands under her buttocks and lifted her up until her legs were twisted around his hips. The new angle let her feel him at her core, a sensation that wrested another mewl of desire from her lips.
"Ah…Professor," she gasped.
"Solas," he growled into her ear.
"Solas," she repeated. Then again and again as he ground his hips against her.
"That's my girl," he chuckled in that dangerously sexy tone. "Shall I take you here? In this sacred place?" he asked. "Or would you prefer a bed of feathers? Shall I take you among pillows made of the finest silks, over and over until your voice has gone? Or perhaps among the very clouds, at the gates of the heavens themselves, where the birds and the winds will hear you cry my name in rapture..." She wanted to say that it didn't matter, but her desire was unbearable. She could hardly understand what he said, shifting in and out of that strange yet beautiful language. No words came to her save for:
"Please, Solas...don't stop, I beg you..."
"I will not give you what you ask until you answer me," he commanded. "Answer me, my heart. Tell me everything that you desire."
"You," she choked out. "All I want is you." The cold stone softened behind her back. The ruins vanished. In the blink of an eye, the scenery changed, transforming in a dizzying swirl of colors and stars until she felt soft wet grass caress her skin. The whirlwind of images was so intense that she squeezed her eyelids shut and hid her face against the Professor's shoulder.
"No. Open your eyes, da'len," he said. "See what I would show you." She obeyed and gasped when she saw that they were now lying a field of sunflowers. Radiant thick green stems stretched upwards, capped by brilliant golden flowers bigger that both of her palms put together. They were so tall that they seemed to reach the sky. Her heart swelled, mind churning with remembrance.
"This place is…"
"When I look at you, this is what I see," he told her. "Do you recall it?" Of course she did. How could she ever forget? This was a place they'd gone to once for field work. Seeing him sitting among these beautiful flowers, Elle had fallen even more in love with him. He'd looked magical, then, as if he belonged in a time that was distant and unreachable. She'd thought back then that this place would forever be special only to her. At the memory, tears stung her eyes once more. Of course in this dream, he would think it was special too.
"You are my sun," he said, and when she looked upon him again, they were both naked. Elle thought that she might feel embarrassed, but there seemed to be no room for such things now. Sunlight bore down upon his skin, illuminating a gentle constellation of freckles on his shoulders. He cupped her face in both of his hands, leaning down on his elbows. "Take me into you. Share your warmth with me, for I am dying, ma vhenan. Without your love, I am as barren as a field of ashes."
All sadness, all doubt, all lamentation that she might have felt shattered as he entered her, his length sliding into her core with a painful fullness. So ethereal. So blurry. Yet the pleasure wasn't dulled by it. Each sensation was as real as it might have been in the waking world. After a moment, he took up a steady rhythm, slipping in and out of her until each snap of his hips wrested a sound of ecstasy from her. He nipped her chin when she tilted back her her head, lost in throes of pleasure.
"For eternity," he groaned when her nails raked chaotic patterns up his forearms. "No matter what form you take. No matter how long I must wait to see you once again. I will always find you and I will always be with you, even if only like this..."
"Solas," she moaned. "You feel…amazing…if only this wasn't just a fantasy…"
"No," he said, his voice hardening. "Do not think it. If you do…"
"But it is," she cried even as he angled her hips and pressed into her until she felt like she might break. "It's…it's…"
"Do not say it," he begged, falling upon her and cradling her head in his palms. Then his arms wrapped around her in a crushing embrace. "Do not," he begged again. And it was strange and horrifying, to see his desperation so plainly written on his face, to feel him tremble with a mix of pleasure and fear.
"It's just a dream," she whispered.
And in that moment, all went dark.
Elle snapped up in her bed, gasping and panting. Sweat drenched her from head to toe, hands shaking and heart racing so quickly that she thought it might rip from her chest. Tears poured down her face in salty rivulets, yet she could not remember why it was that she felt like her soul was shattered. Her Professor's face floated in her memory, debris surfacing from a violent wreckage in a storm. She felt like that ship now - bruised and broken, left to sink to the very bottom of the cold dark ocean.
"Solas," she whispered to the lonely darkness, and wrapped her arms around herself. For who else was there to do it? Who else was there to chase away the raw emotions that raged through her at the memory of the dream he'd sworn that she'd forget? And she never would. Not even to save herself from the pain of understanding that she could never be with him as she truly wanted.
Ma sal'ath - he'd called her, and now she knew what it meant. My one and only love.
For the first time since she was a young girl, Elle collapsed into her pillow and cried in sorrow.