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Here, Here I Quake

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“Fen’harel.”

It’s his own fault, really.

Years of caution and tiptoeing through life in carefully crafted obscurity and he throws it all away with a sharp turn of his head toward the sound of someone calling him by a name he’s forsaken for decades.

The smell of incense and old vinyl permeates the shop into which he’s drifted. Sudden awareness of his surroundings steals over him as he looks down into eyes the color of fresh spring leaves, framed by thick eyelashes and lines of blackest kohl.

His mouth dries in horror as he realizes his mistake. Blinking, he forces a word out past stiff lips, “Sorry?”

She blinks back, confused. Looking him up and down, taking in his humble, plain attire, she offers a crooked grin of apology. “No, I’m sorry. For a sec, I, um …. Anyway, it’s not important. Are you finding everything alright?”

Then he sees the name-tag. She works here, this young lady who thought she misidentified him. Clearing his throat of the anxiety-inspired lump lodged there, he said, “I am.” Then, confusion sparks through him as he clarifies, “I think.”

“You think?” she echoes, with a widening of her smile. She taps the LP in his hands with one black-lacquered nail. “Classic. Are you a collector? Or just a fan?”

Attention drawn back to the garishly out of date cover art of the record he held, he ponders how it even made its way there for a moment. How did I even get here? I was walking past and …. A sour taste fills his mouth as he contemplates her question. “Neither. I’m … just looking.”

“That’s a shame. I love Evanuris.” She winks at him and he notes for the first time her vallaslin. A dusting of shimmering black over one eye in the shape of Sylaise’s twisting fire. “They’re my jam.”

A … fan. Fanatic. Zealot, for that more aptly described the frothing hordes under Evanuris’s banner. He winces internally at the idea. So many elves of today taking on the markings without even realizing the extent of their meaning. Or the unworthiness of those they represent.

Then the heavy strains of music pouring out of the store’s speakers reminds him of how he ended up here. It had drawn him in, beats and refrains as familiar to him as his own heartbeat, yet …. And yet …. He tilts his head and nods toward the closest speaker as he says, “Is that why it’s playing?”

“Hmm. Possibly,” she says, tone light and teasing. One of her hands comes up to twist at the fire-red curls at her shoulder, giving them a brief yank before throwing them back out of the way.

“But this is not the original recording. Someone has … resampled it.” He put the comment out there as nonchalantly as he could, mustering the blankest expression forth to combat the roil of unease in his belly.

Her teeth, white and even, flash at him between plump lips painted dark, dark red. Almost black. “Ah, so you are a fan.”

He sighs and concedes, “Once, perhaps. I’m surprised someone as young as you even bothers with so old a band.”

“As I said, I love them. They were revolutionary. In more ways than one. And then they just fell of the face of the Earth one day …. And anyway, well, you’re right. This track’s been … tampered with.” She leans toward him with a conspiratorial smirk. “Some would call that … blasphemy.”

From the playful and secretive glint in her eye, he draws a surprising conclusion. “You resampled it?”

“I did. Don’t get me wrong. I loved it how it was, but I always felt it lacked a certain ….” She paused, hand twirling on the end of one slim bangle-bedecked wrist. “Something. Grit. Honesty.”

He could hear it, the added drive embedded in the chorus, the plaintive wail beneath the bridge. Refreshing. Entrancing. It gives the whole song a new and mournful depth. Turning to look at the surprising girl before him, he smiles a genuine smile. “I like it.”

She flushes, pink tinting her pale, freckled cheeks, and looks away. “Thanks.”

“Are you a music major?” he asks, hoping it won’t sound too intrusive.

Her laughter puts him at ease. “Look that young, do I? I suppose I should take that as a compliment. No. I never went to college. I am a musician, though. Self-taught.”

“Oh?”

“It’s not that impressive. All these kids working around here are musicians. Kirkwall is the place to be, after all. And every single one is looking for that big break.” She gives a wave to indicate the other shuffling youths, with their wild haircuts and exotic piercings, stocking and organizing records.

“Well, with talent like that,” he says, indicating the song just now winding to conclusion. “You can’t be that far from your big break.”

With a shy, elated smile, she retorts, “Sweet talker. Hey, if you’re interested, there’s a show at the Hanged Man tomorrow night.”

He shouldn’t be, but he is. “Is your band playing?”

“Yeah, if you want to call it that. We’re opening for the Grey Wardens.”

Barely keeping the sneer off his face, he says, “Metalcore tripe.”

Her brows climb with interest. “Oh, my. Are we a touch of a music snob?” Her open and engaging smile defuses any ill feeling that might engender within him.

“There are better ways of spending my time than listening to four minutes and thirty-eight seconds of pig noises.” He sniffs and clasps hand over wrist behind his back, the vinyl record’s edge tapping the bottom of his shoulderblades. Looking at her with a hint of worry, he says, “I suppose that might sound a tad offensive to you if your band is of the same bent-”

She waves the fumbling non-apology off with a chuckle. “No, no. We aren’t, I mean, I certainly can’t do the pig squeal, so it’s, uh, safe, I guess?”

“You sing?” he asks, the idea pulling at him for some reason. He tries not to imagine her cradling a mic in her slim hands. What might she sound like on stage with her pleasant, liltingly smooth voice? Hard to envision, though temptation whispers that he need only show up to the aforementioned show to find out.

“I do,” she says, with no false modesty. He takes a moment to appreciate it, head lifting, skin flushing at the back of his neck.

They stand there staring at one another for a long moment. Clearing his throat and looking away, he draws the LP in his hands up in front of his chest as a sort of shield and is mildly surprised that it works, sort of. He certainly feels a little less … exposed.

“That seems to have become awfully attached to you. Do you want me to ring that up so you can take it home?” she asks, pointing.

“Um, yes.” He follows her to the cash register and pays the seventeen dollars and thirty cents that appears in the tiny digital display facing him. Trying not to think of the other six or so copies he already owns that only serve to gather dust somewhere in his storage, given to him the day the record went platinum, he smiles at her. “When does your band hit the stage, if it’s not too forward of me to ask?”

His formality amuses her, he sees. She bags the LP and hands it to him. “Sometime between eight and ten? Schedules are a thing for other venues, apparently.”

“That’s hardly professional,” he chastises, with a frown.

Leaning over the counter, she rests on her elbows as she peers up at him. “Needs must when the devil drives. So does that mean you’re going to come?”

Again, her eagerness and candor surprises him. He tilts his head. “I might, though ….”

“It feels weird to be invited by a total stranger? And you totally don't wanna look like a creep?” she finishes for him. At his nod, she grins and sticks her left hand out. “Ellana Lavellan.”

Taking her hand in his, a shock coasts up his spine. A tad flustered, he says, pointing to her name-tag, “I know.”

Then she looks down with chagrin, cheeks dimpling. “Oh, right. Ha.”

“I am Solas,” he says, with a nod. Then he realizes he’s held her hand for quite a bit longer than necessary and lets go. Solas takes a step back and turns, thinking to retreat from this awkward and unintended situation.

“Nice to meet you, Solas. I’ll be watching for you at the show.” She gives him a wave from the counter. He returns it a tad stiffly.

The door chime jingles at him as he leaves, and he lets the breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding out as he walks out onto the crowded sidewalk in Lowtown. As he makes his way home, he can’t help but keep glancing back at the curious shop, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious girl who’d spoken to him like an old friend. Not that he had many.

Strange. His palm still tingles with warmth.

But perhaps she spoke to all her customers like that, inviting them to her band’s shows and gigs. It’s only prudent. After a bit, he convinces himself that her friendly and likable mien is just that, a facade she puts on to cater to an audience. Void knew he’d done similar, once upon a yesteryear.

Still ….

Later, he cannot resist listening to the album, and hears the missing something. And remembers that year.

The year it all went wrong.

Chapter Text

He came. He actually came.

The thought fills her with awe.

From behind the one-way mirror that separates bar from Varric’s ‘office,’ Ellana spots him moving through the restless crowd of regulars toward the bar. The colored light from the cans above the small stage cast his sharp features in a severe light, emphasizing the brooding brow and full lips. His bald head turns this way and that as he searches for a free table in this dirty dive.

Seeing him again, in context this time, very nearly confirms her suspicion, no matter how dowdy and old-fashioned he might dress. The mob of restive youths in their uniform-like black jeans, band tees and tattoos parts to let this strange bird of a different feather pass.

Here he stands, this ‘Solas,’ a very adult tourist in a pit of angry teens and twenty-somethings. She wonders if he feels out of place, in his pressed slacks and loose creme button-up. A long-fingered hand rises to push spectacles back up his nose as he settles back in a wooden chair in the back corner of the bar, furthest from the stage.

“Whatcha starin’ at, Rosy?” calls the dwarf behind her from his massive desk. She leans back from the mirror to look at Varric.

Biting her lip to keep from spilling that there may be a bonafide heavy metal god in his bar, she smiles and says, “Nothing. Pretty good crowd tonight.”

The look he shoots back at her tells her she sucks at lying, but he’s not going to push. He looks back down at the endless paperwork clearly hounding him and replies, “Of course. You’re getting pretty popular.”

“I wish. You know they’re all probably here to see the Wardens.”

The dwarf snorts. “When are you going to admit you got a pretty good thing going? Someday, you’re going to call me from some big town, like Halamshiral or Denerim, and after the normal, boring, trite pleasantries, you’re gonna say, ‘Know what, Varric? The show’s sold out. Eighty thousand seats. You were right. I guess we finally made it.’”

He looks a little sad at this.

The warmth pricking her heart makes her step over to him and give him a hug. “Aw, Varric. I couldn’t and wouldn’t go anywhere without you. You’re coming with us if we go.”

“And leave Kirkwall?” he asks, feigning horror.

“It’s not like we can’t come back whenever we want,” she reasons, holding him a little tighter.

“Kid, you’re choking me,” he rasps, then laughs as she lets him go. “Maybe, just maybe. I could use a vacation after that whole Meredith/Orsino debacle.”

“Still dealing with ‘conflict of interest’ bullshit?”

“It would have helped if they weren’t both such divas. And if Anders hadn’t been there to instigate.” Varric affixes a sour eye on her and says, “Don’t ever let success go to your head, Rosy.”

“I’ll start worrying about that if we ever get successful.”

“Hey, boss,” calls a voice at the door. She turns to see Bull there, in his low-slung jeans and leather vest covered in patches from every band he’s ever crewed for. He grins, one eye glittering, and says, “Everything’s set.”

Ellana fairly leaps over to him and kisses him on the cheek. “Best roadie ever.”

Bull grins even wider, pleased. “Best band ever.”

“I bet you say that to all the bands,” she teases.

Varric says, “Wardens here yet?”

The giant horned man’s expression sours. “No.”

The dwarf sighs. “Never here for soundcheck. Never here for load-in.”

She waves at Varric and heads backstage to get ready. Her bandmates look up as she enters the green room.

Cassandra sets aside her guitar and stands. “Are we on?”

“Soon.” Then the pre-show jitters hit and she bounces a little in place. Not to mention a certain … person was out there, she remembers suddenly. She bites her lip.

“What’s the matter?” asks Blackwall from where he lounges on the stained, yellowish couch. His shirt loudly proclaims, ‘Beard. Bass. Balls.

Again, she has to fight the urge to just blab it all out, but the look on Solas’s face the other day stops her. Spooked. Haunted. No, if he chose to remain incognito, then she wouldn’t out him. Especially not when she still harbors so much uncertainty.

“Doubt. Disquiet. Distress. We have to shine. It’s important.” The fourth member of the band slowly looks away from the knot on the wood wall toward her, drumsticks never ceasing their meditative twirl between his fingers.

Blackwall and Cassandra stare at the wan boy, then back at Ellana. She colors and says, “Pre-show shakes, that’s all.”

Cassandra’s brow rises. “That is clearly ‘not all.’”

“Yeah, you’re even more twitchy than usual.” Blackwall hums and strokes his prodigious ‘stache.

“I just … I want it to be good. Tonight I want it to be really, really good.” She looks down at her spiky heels then back up when Cassandra’s hand drops onto her shoulder.

“You say that every time and you know what? We make it good. Every time,” the Nevarran states, leaving no room for doubt.

Her confidence skyrockets.

Ellana chuckles as she bounces a little in place, again. “Where’s Sera?”

Blackwall laughs. “Where else? Front of the house, padding the band tab.”

Ellana groans. “She knows that comes out of our cut, right?”

“I don’t think she cares overmuch.”

“Well, let’s get out there before she’s too sloshed to play.”

As the band files out before her, Ellana reaches up to the chain around her neck. Warm from being lodged in her cleavage, she draws forth the triangular pendant with a reverent sigh. Her fingers trace the edges of the shining treasure within, drawing confidence from its presence. Plucking it free, she wraps it tight in one fist.

Following her bandmates out onto the stage, she slings her own instrument over one bare shoulder, checking the cable running from jack to amp. Blackwall and Cassandra give a nod once they’re situated. She doesn’t check on Cole. The spirit never fails to be ready, no matter how out of it he seems.

The mixing engineer, one of Bull’s crew, gives her the thumb’s up.

A belching blond elf saunters over and takes her own place with a saucy grin on her flushed face. The violin she then picks up rests easily under chin, bow already arcing over strings. “Finally come out to join the party, eh, Quizzy?”

“If there’s more than fifty bucks on our tab already, it’s coming out of your share, Sera.”

That earns her a shrug of supreme indifference. “Fine. Wha’eva.”

Ellana looks out over the sea of mohawks and leather and spots him, still sitting in the far back corner. Shielding her eyes, she smiles, giving a little wave.

He straightens and gives her a shy nod. Then a timid wave of his own.

She finds it terribly cute.

Far cuter than it has any right to be, considering. And makes her more nervous than if he’d been all imperious and aloof.

She shakes her head and laughs at herself, giving her own cue of readiness.

Then she leans toward the mic and takes a deep breath.

Chapter Text

The beverage can only be called beer by the most general of definitions. He wonders if more than a few rag squeezings have found their way into it.

Surrounded by all these youths in their dyed and brutal glory, his skin starts to tingle and tighten. Smells of sweat and stale booze trigger memories of bygone days. His body wants to relax into an insolent sprawl. He wants to meet the eyes around him with that old predatory menace and arrogance.

But he can’t. He won’t let himself. Too easy to get lost in that past. It’s why he never comes to places like this any more. That old life still has its claws in him, all the way down into his soul.

Just as he starts to wonder if this is all a big mistake and maybe he should just go, she appears. A swaggering petite frame housed in tight leather pants and simple black tank-top. In the wake of the rest of her band, she steps onto the small stage as though she owns it. Owns all of them.

And in a way, she does. Every eye finds her. Oh, but she has presence.

Her lips, stained dark with makeup, widen as she looks over the crowd and spots him. A hand comes up to shield her eyes from the bright lights above the raised platform, then she waves.

A jolt runs up his spine as he nods acknowledgement and returns it with one of his own. Her crooked grin is all for him and how that seems to just roll right through him in a warm rush.

The milling crowd gives a cheer, then hushes as she leans toward the mic. Her throaty contralto rolls out over the mass as she says, “Quite a turnout tonight. To everyone who keeps coming back weekend after weekend, I wanna say thanks! To all the new faces, welcome. And the dark ritual starts at midnight. Hope you brought your goat.”

The crowd gives a boisterous laugh. A few raunchy and ribald remarks fly out of grinning mouths. Ellana tosses back her own, striking with surprising alacrity and wit as the pale boy on the drum kit behind her starts a slow and heavy beat.

A black-bearded, haggard human to her left plucks at the deepest strings of his bass, head rolling back and forth. The beat builds, faster and faster. With a screaming peal, the lead guitarist, another human, joins in, her fingers running hot and messy over neon orange strings. Ellana herself drops in to add rhythmic chords on her guitar, playing, of all things, upside down and backwards.

Something glows green in her strumming left hand, something like a burning emerald pinched tight between fore-knuckle and thumb. His breath leaves him as he recognizes it. How had …?

And then Ellana opens her mouth and the rest of it seems to just … drop away. Her voice rises to amazing heights and falls to primal growls, entrancing the mob with perfectly modulated pitch at just the right intervals. Solas finds himself swaying a little along with her as she sings with such passion and fury. The song throbs through him, filling him with an aching desire to jump into the midst of those flailing before their altar and dance in the violent whirlwind of the pit.

He can’t even classify it. It sounds like nothing he’s ever heard before. Yes, influences from many different genres, but all recombining into something … new. But with an old soul.

Stark. Savage.

It’s beautiful.

Before he realizes it, their set is over. A dozen different melodies had swept by, each unique and wonderful and totally mesmerizing.

His trance breaks with a snap as the crowd screams their approval, howling and stamping their feet.

Solas blinks as he closes the mouth that had dropped open at some point during their performance.

Up on stage, Ellana smiles and accepts their accolades with earthy grace and yells into the mic, “That’s it for us, friends. Up next, the Grey Wardens. They got your fix for the rest of the night. Til next time. We are … Inquisition!”

She moves away from the mic, but then lunges back to say, in a hurried rush, “Oh, and there’s merch at the table by the bar. And some swag.”

Then the house lights brighten as the stage lights dim. Roadies file onto stage to start Inquisition’s load-out and ready the stage for the next band.

Ellana leaps off the three-foot high stage and ambles through the audience, taking praise and photos with fans in stride. Then she gets near to his table and her steps hurry to almost a jog, her eyes glittering with warmth as they fasten onto him.

Standing without really meaning to, Solas swallows to try to find words of greeting.

She slides to a halt before him, brows dipping as though she’d reconsidered some other action. It occurs to him that she’d meant to hug him, but stopped herself.

The way his chest cavity swells at the idea gives him an inkling that he might not have been so put out by that. How strange. He usually eschewed physical contact of any sort, other than brief handshakes.

After her gaze slides away from him for a second as she says, “Well, what did you think?”

Flustered and at a loss for words, he could only blink.

“That bad, huh?” she says, tone flippant though her eyes flash a touch of disappointment.

He pushes the right words past an uncooperative tongue, “No. No. It was actually quite good.”

Giving him a shy smile, she looks back up at him. “Good?”

Solas gestures to the seat next to him, inviting her to sit as he replies, “More than. I am … impressed.”

She plops into the chair and leans toward him, grinning. “Worth the cover?”

“Many times over,” he says. Then he notices her tightly closed fist leaking green light and holds his own out, palm flat. “May I?”

The back of her hand rests on his palm, and her fingers uncurl to display a pick. Solas leans closer to look at the little marvel, a magical construct that appears to be made of glass or crystal, but whose edge could flex and bend as easily as any plastic counterpart.

He does not need to touch it to know it for what it is. Wetting his lips, he says, “Where did you find this?”

A strange sort of guilt pulls her face to one side, eyes shifting from one side to another. “Would it be terrible to say it might be, uuuuh, stolen?”

His brows jump, and he cannot resist a huffing laugh. “Really?”

“You don’t sound all that shocked,” she notes, with a grin.

“Well, such a thing might be rare outside of a certain type of museum, but not unheard of. Usually in someone’s private collection of memorabilia. And, forgive me, you do not seem to have the means to have acquired it through legitimate trade.” He peers at her close to see if she takes offense.

She doesn’t, just presses forward with eagerness. “So you know what this is?”

“Of course. It’s a foci. A toy for foolishly rich musicians with a flair for magic. They were once very popular.” Then he did touch it, just the pad of one finger brushing over its point. It sang at him a litany of past misdeeds.

“Okay, but I mean, do you know what specific foci this is? Or rather, who it belonged to?” she coaxes, expectant as she stares at him.

Solas does not meet her gaze, but sees her expression in his periphery. Feels the burn of her regard on his cheek. He closes her fingers over the pick. “Does it matter? You own it now. And, it seems, you are putting it to good use. Which is arguably better than letting it rot on some millionaire’s shelf.”

Deflating, she leans back and pulls a curious pendant free of her decolletage. With a snap, the foci is encased within. The necklace falls back out of sight, gleam dimming to nothing.

Solas shakes his head as he realizes he’s been staring at her cleavage. She smiles in understanding as he shoots her an abashed glance. A long awkward moment passes as he tries to think of something to say. Finally he says, “So, you are left-handed.”

What a great conversationalist he’s turning out to be. He stifles the wince with effort.

“Yep. Since forever.” She raises that hand to signal the barman. Belatedly, he realizes he should have offered to get her a drink.

He chastises himself again for being an idiot. “Quite interesting to see. Playing upside down and backward. Why not get a left-handed guitar?”

“Too poor, for starters. Used to it, for seconds. It’s the way I learned. I’m comfortable with it and the music doesn’t suffer for it, so why change?”

“Good point.” Her drink arrives and he pulls out his wallet. “Please, allow me.”

Ellana laughs and, at the questioning look the waitress throws her, waves in acquiescence.

Debt settled, he turns back to her. “I’m sorry. It’s been some time since I’ve been out in company. I’m afraid I’m out of … practice.”

“Implying you used to get plenty,” she teases. “Of practice, I mean.”

He chuckles and shrugs. “I was young once.”

“Y’know who says shite like that?” says a loud voice just to his right. He looks up to see the blond violinist swaying on her feet at the edge of their table. She pours herself onto one of the empty chairs as she continues, “Ooold people. Like stupid old. Are you stupid old, mister elfy-elf face? Iz he stupid old, El?” This last, she addressed to Ellana, whose face darkened with annoyance.

She growls a warning, “Sera.”

“No, seriously. Izzat why he shaves? So’s we can’t see the grey?” Sera peers at him, face inches away. Solas holds fast to his position, no matter that he wants to lean away from her alcohol-doused breath.

Ellana’s hand darts across the table and flicks the blond right on the end of the nose. Sera recoils as her hands come up to clap over it, and she yells, “Hey!”

Solas throws a grateful glance over to Ellana.

“Rosy, got your pay,” calls a new voice. Solas turns his head to see a beardless dwarf sauntering their way. The short fellow stops and smiles a friendly greeting. “Oh? Who’s this?”

With a glance toward him, she says, “A … friend.”

“A ‘significant pause’ friend, hmm?” says the dwarf. “Well, any ‘significant pause’ friend of yours is a ‘significant pause’ friend of mine. Varric Tethras is the name. This is my bar.”

“‘E means this’s his town,” says the drunken blond, patting the last empty chair, into which Varric sank with a sigh.

“Sh, sh, Sera. Don’t say that so loud,” he teases, before turning a disarming grin across the way. “It’s the best worst-kept secret in the Marches.”

“Solas,” the elf greets, shaking the hand extended his way. Then he chuckles. “Is this where my tax dollars end up?” 

He makes a little show of looking around at the decrepitude.

“What? Think I’m mishandling the funds? I’m a lot of things, but embezzler I am not. No, my mayoral post is the, um, unofficial sort.” Varric pats Ellana’s hand in a paternal way. “Little Rosy here and her troupe are my latest project.”

“Are you their agent?” he asks, curious.

“Ugh, old people talk. Boooring,” moans Sera, standing with a belch. “I’ma go find a fan with big tits.”

“You do that, Sera,” snaps Ellana, crossing her arms. “I’ll give your share to Blackwall.”

Varric answers his question with a question, “Depends. You in the biz?”

“Ha, ha. Not as such. I am merely curious.”

“Really?” The dwarf shoots Ellana an unreadable look. Or rather, unreadable to him, for she seems to pick up on its meaning well enough. She blushes as Varric continues, “So how did you two crazy kids meet then?”

Kids? Solas thinks with amusement. He estimates himself to be around this dwarf’s age, if not a tad older. But then again, elves tend to weather the ravages of time a little better than most races. “She works in a record shop near my home. I happened to go by there this last Thursday.”

“Huh,” says the dwarf, still looking at Ellana. She fidgets in her seat.

Solas coughs and says, “I’m sorry. Am I missing something?”

“Oh, it’s not you, Chuckles. Old Rosy here doesn’t usually bring people around for introductions unless she’s prospecting.” Varric takes in his shock with a crooked grin. “Tell me. Are you a singer? A baritone, perchance?”

“What?” Solas looks from him to her and sees the guilt there, plain as day. She knows. She knows.

Do they all know?

Get up. Leave.

“I-I apologize. It seems I have elsewhere to be,” he stammers, standing abruptly. His chair squeaks along the floor.

“Whoa, hey, Chuckles. What did I say?” asks Varric, genuine worry in his face.

“Nothing. Thank you for the evening’s entertainment. Good night.” Solas swallows and spins on one heel, reaching for the door.

The outside air is bracing and helps greatly to restore his equilibrium as he ducks through and out. Just as he takes the first step toward his apartment, a hand grabs his elbow. He swings around to confront … Ellana.

She stares at him with such remorse that the angry shout dies in his throat. She says, “I’m so sorry. And-and they don’t know. I won’t tell them.”

The muscles in his jaw twitch. “Good.” Then he turns once more.

“Wait. Please,” she whispers.

Against his better judgement, he stops and looks at her. “You lured me here under false pretenses.”

“I know. That’s the part I’m sorry about.” Her hands rub her arms. Then her eyes come up to gaze into his, steadfast. “But I’m not sorry you came. To see the show. Have a good time. Or that you smiled and laughed and talked with me and my friends, like people do.”

“What makes you think I need or want anything like that?” His lip curls, though her declaration causes a hollow thump in his breast.

“I don’t know. A feeling, I guess,” she says, looking down and away again. Then her shoulders hunch. “You know what? Maybe this was a bad idea. Sorry. Goodbye, Solas.”

When she turns to head back inside, he fights the urge to catch her shoulder. His fist clenches at his side as he stares at the closed door for a long, long time.

With a sigh, Solas turns and heads up the streets of Lowtown. Alone, again.

As it should be.

Chapter Text

“Way to screw the proverbial pooch, Varric,” she says, plopping back into her vacated chair. Her weary tone takes most of the sting out of it though.

“What? Even I could tell he wasn’t going to be interested.” Varric tips back his pint and takes a deep draw. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“This is why I’m the closer and you’re the money.”

“It’s not my fault you didn’t tell him before he ever came here. They usually have some clue.” Varric hums and pats her hand again. “I really am, though.”

“I know. I screwed up, too. Pushed too fast. Scared him off. Which is really sad,” she mutters, leaning back to rub her eyes, careful of her mascara. “He woulda been perfect.”

“Who woulda been perfect?” says Blackwall, turning a chair backwards to straddle it.

“This guy she was reeling in,” replies Varric, pushing over two stacks of money. “You and Buttercup.”

With a grim nod, Blackwall pockets their cuts. Then he jerks a thumb toward the stage. “So, who’s the ringers?”

They all turn to look. Varric heaves a great sigh. “Last minute replacements. The Wardens didn’t bother to show. Bugged out, from what I hear.”

“What? Why?”

“Flakes flake. That’s how it goes.”

“We could have done another set, Varric,” admonishes Ellana, with a frown.

“No. You gotta build up a hunger in these kids for your sound. You don’t want them to get tired of it. So you just give them a taste, at first.”

“Sounds like you’re slinging dope,” says Blackwall, with a judicious sniff.

Varric laughs. “Principle is the same. Only this is a less destructive addiction we’re trying to build.”

“Tell that to the Darkspawn, or the damn El’Vhen.” Blackwall snorts.

Ellana just keeps herself from touching the vallaslin over her one eye. They note her sudden stillness though.

Blackwall reaches out to touch her shoulder. “Sorry, El.”

“It’s fine. You can’t choose your parents, right?” If her laughter is a little brittle, they don’t comment.

“Right,” says Varric. “If you could, I’d have picked a pair with less … beardy-ness.”

“What’s wrong with beards?” asks Blackwall, giving his a stroke.

“My mistake. Beards are great. I should have said ‘dwarfy-ness.’ Mine suffered from extreme traditionalism. Sometimes, I think dad still believes he’s going to fall up into the sky. It’s embarrassing.” Varric sighs. “But then again, that’s what parents are for. To be embarrassing. Forever.”

“Where’s Cass?” asks Ellana.

“Babysitting Cole, as per usual.” Blackwall shook his head. “That kid …. If he weren’t such a great drummer ….”

“Aw, Cole’s great. He gives us that proper mystical vibe.” She wiggles her fingers over the table.

“He’s not human.”

“Neither am I,” she reminds him.

Blackwall snorts. “You know what I mean. It could be trouble if the government ever figured him out.”

“The Magical Possession Prohibition Act doesn’t apply to him. He’s not possessing anyone.” She put her hand over the grumbling human’s forearm. “Look, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. ‘Kay?”

He shrugs. “You’re the boss. I’m going to go see a man about a horse.”

Then he gets up and leaves Varric and Ellana looking after him. The dwarf laughs and says, “Where do you find all these characters, Ellana? Blackwall, who should be off somewhere wrangling cattle or leaning on wooden posts looking all rustic. Cassandra, a sharp woman with an even sharper tongue, babying a spirit. Sera. Cole!”

“I know right? They’re my band, though. I love’em. I’d kill for them, if they asked.”

“Remind me never to get on any of their bad sides. Anyway, here’s you, Cass and Cole,” Varric says as he shoves three piles of wrinkly bills at her.

She picks them up and pauses. “Huh, Cass’s seems a little light.”

“She owes me,” said Varric, lemon-sour. “She knows for what.”

Well, if Cassandra has a problem with it, she can take it up with Varric. Ellana shrugs and stands. “I’m gonna go talk to these fuggin’ new guys.”

“Just can’t help making friends, can you.”

“Nope. It’s how I do.”

“Don’t ever change, Rosy.”

Chapter Text

The piano stares back at him with disapproval.

He sighs as he sips from the wineglass dangling from one hand. It’s early for a libation, but he needs it. Checking his watch, Solas sees that an hour has elapsed and still his legs refuse to stand and take him away from this folly plaguing him.

Even sleep escaped him last night as the slow spark of inspiration took hold and blew into a conflagration.

So now he sits, willing it to pass but failing. He’s so very good at failing, after all.

Miserable, he sighs and sets fingers to keys. A simple run warms up his hands, then he truly begins. As melody takes shape under his fingers, he can’t help but picture … her. That strange and compelling muse with the flame-colored hair and crooked grin.

Gyrating hips and blinding, youthful power.

His right hand retrieves the pen from behind his ear at regular intervals to make notations on the sheet music before his eyes. Key changes, accidentals and dynamics fall into place where it feels most natural.

Time flies by, and a knock on his door shatters his concentration just as the last phrase comes together.

Irritated, Solas straightens, popping his back, all the while staring at the song he just created. The final measure pokes at him and he writes as he mutters, “Tremolo e diminuendo. Fine.”

The knock comes again and he shouts, “Yes, yes! I’ll be right there.”

Shuffling the papers into order, he stands and strides toward the door. Yanking it open, he says, “Yes? Ah, Miss Cordelia. Come in.”

The waifish human adolescent drifts in at his impatient gesture. Her eyes are huge in terror behind her porcelain half-mask. She clutches her cello case in front of her like a shield, making him regret his sharp tone.

Solas softens his gaze as he waves her to her customary seat, the seat all his students occupy when here. “On time today, I see. Did you practice this week as I requested?”

“Yes, Messere,” she whispers, timid as a mouse.

He frowns. The term grates on his nerves more than usual.  “I thought we agreed that you would call me Solas. I do not require an honorific.”

“Mama says everyone is ‘Messere’ or ‘Madame,’ even those that don’t deserve it, like the poor and even elves.”

Keeping his face blank takes supreme effort, but he manages. It’s not this girl’s fault she was born into privilege, or that her parents are fatuous, bourgeois pigs. “Noblesse oblige aside, respect isn’t in a word. It’s in the act. You show me respect by doing as I instruct, by being a good student. I show you respect by giving you the best instruction I can. Is this not true?”

She nods, though doubt dances in her eyes. Her precious Mama couldn’t be wrong, after all.

“Let us begin the lesson. Tune your instrument and show me.” As he sits through the tortured squealing of bow on string, manipulated by untalented hands, he takes in her worrying her lip to near bloody, her shifting gaze sliding all over the room. He himself tries so very hard to remain interested and engaged.

His foot, however, makes no such promises and bounces in agitation. Counter to the beat, it throws the student off and she halts with a grimace. “I’m sorry, Mess-”

“Tell me, Cordelia. Do you even like the cello?” he interrupts, keeping his voice even and mild.

Her face, what he could see of it, wrinkles in confusion. It clearly states, What does liking have to do with anything? “I … like it well enough, I guess?”

“Or rather, if you had the choice of anything you could be doing right now, would it be learning the cello?” He sets elbows onto knees and leans forward, rubbing his palms together lightly. “Is there something you’re passionate about? What brings you joy, Cordelia?”

She flushes and looks away, demurely. “I … I like to dance, Messere.”

“Oh? Ballet?”

“N-no.” The bow in her hands gives a little wiggle in the air as she looks up at him with trepidation. He gives her an encouraging nod. A tiny measure of confidence flickers in her countenance. “Hip hop and jazz.”

Surprised, but delightedly so, he smiles.

Cordelia’s flush pales as her gaze goes distant. She bites her lip. “Oh, but mama says proper ladies don’t dance like that. They sew, or paint, or play. I’m to become accomplished, she says.”

Solas shakes his head. “So many things in the world bring us sorrow. So few, joy. Is it so wrong to desire a measure of happiness? I would say not. I would also say that … while accomplishment is a worthy goal, it’s ever more gratifying to become accomplished in something you love doing.”

He reaches out and takes the bow from her hand, motioning that she should put her cello back in its case. Then he hands her the bow so she can lay it alongside the instrument.

Solas says, “The cello is a passionate instrument. You can learn it, but if you don’t love it, it will never be more than a source of bitter frustration. The music will never fly from your fingers as you will always be aware it should. And you may end up hating it, or your parents, or even yourself someday, and what a pity that would be. Because you are a person, and every person is worthy of love and respect.”

The fire of rebellion grows in her gaze, and he finds that very gratifying. For people shouldn’t be bent or hammered into shapes that poorly fit.

Brave little Cordelia says, haltingly, “What if I already hate my parents?”

He can’t help but laugh. “I would say that’s perfectly normal. At your age, the collar starts to chafe. They hold the reins to every decision about your life and your goals. You may have already started to wonder what it might feel like to take those reins in your own hand. Doing so is what adulthood is all about. As is living with the consequences.”

Her shoulders pull back as her spine straightens. The thoughtful look in her eye tells him his suggestion took root. Latching the clasps on her case, she stands and heads for his door. Turning, she gives him a shy smile. “I … might not be back.”

“If that makes you happy, then I am well pleased. Adieu, Cordelia.” When the door shuts behind her, he goes to the window and watches his student slide into the waiting car. A long black number that bespoke highly of the wealth of her parents. With a sigh for the loss of their patronage, Solas nevertheless feels lighter than he has for a long time.

Then he wonders how many times this same scenario will play out with his other students. How many angry phone calls is he likely to get? Solas laughs at himself.

I am also so very good at sabotaging myself.

With shaking head, Solas wanders back over to his piano and rifles through the sheet music still waiting patiently there for one last perusal for flaws. He hums the tune as he sips wine through smiling lips. Yes, it’s quite good.

Raw and honest in a way he hasn’t felt in himself in a long, long time.

“What brings you joy?” His earlier words come back to haunt him as he realizes he’s looking at it.

He reaches into a pocket and fishes out his cell phone. Rarely used, it blinks at him beseechingly, begging to be put to purpose.

Pecking out four letters to the only number in its directory, he sends the text, “Busy?”

Swift comes the reply, “No. Not really.”

Solas then presses the little handset icon and puts the device to his ear. It rings an … interesting four times before it’s picked up. He pictures shock on that other’s face as he hears a timid, “Hello?”

“Hello indeed,” he replies, with a smirk.

A long pause at the other end presaged a hushed, “You still sound the same.”

“Is that such a surprise?”

“Considering our … discussions have never ventured out of the realm of the weekly email in years, yes.” There is an accusation in the man’s tone. A pang flares through Solas’s heart for just a second, the briefest whisper of shame as the man continues, “I’ve spent the last few frenzied seconds trying to determine just what kind of emergency could provoke an actual verbal interaction.”

“Not an emergency.”

“Now I really am worried.”

Solas laughs.

“And a laugh. I am aghast!

“Listen, let us skip all that and go have lunch today. I have something that may … interest you.”

“All this sudden, unprecedented friendliness has my heart all a-flutter, Solas. Give a girl a minute to process.” Solas hears the man lean away and shout at someone to clear his schedule, probably that Harding girl, his longtime assistant. Then, loud and demanding in his ear, “Where?”

“Prendere en Giro?”

“Excellent. Hmm. 11:30-ish? No being fashionably late. For either of us.”

“That suits. See you then, Dorian.”

Chapter Text

“Don’t look now, Quizzy, but your beau is back,” says Sera, in her ear. Ellana barely hears it above the song’s roar, but something in the blond’s tone pulls her head sharply about to look in the direction of Sera’s nod.

What.

He came back.

He came back?

Ellana almost stumbles over the lyrics as her gaze finds him, seated at the far end of the bar next to another man, a human dressed in an expensive suit of foreign cut. That other twirls the end of his waxed mustache as he stares, fingers drumming on the bar with the beat.

Heart pounding, she throws a smile that way, but Solas merely looks back, expression blank. It stings a bit, she admits, but excitement rushes through her and she channels it through the mic, whipping her audience into a frenzy.

She cannot wait for the set to end, but pride won’t let her do anything less than her best. However, pride doesn’t utter a peep when she jumps from the stage as the last note trails off into silence.

Stopping to talk to fans who beckon, and laugh with the new faces, Ellana itches to just make a beeline to the bar. But maybe the delay is a good thing. It’ll help her collect her thoughts.

Futile, for they scatter the second she nears the pair perched like hawks among ravens. Stopping within a few feet, her mouth opens but words fail to manifest as she stares at Solas.

“You didn’t say she was beautiful, Solas,” says the other man, smirk on his dark, handsome face. She’s not at all sure if she likes the way he looks her up and down, assessing, calculating.

“It’s hardly an important detail in regards to talent,” Solas replies, mild and emotionless.

“True, but it helps.”

A spark of irritation finds her. “I am right here, you know.”

Solas’s … friend gives her a wicked grin and reaches to take her hand, bringing it up to his lips. “Excuse our rudeness, my dear. I am Dorian Pavus, an … associate of Solas’s. That is a very short skirt.”

He points and she looks down at the pleated, plaid garment. And the long stretch of thigh below it encased in torn, stripy thigh-high stockings. She notes how one of the garters has popped loose with chagrin.

A flush creeps up her neck as she shrugs and looks this Dorian in the eye. “Did you expect a Chantry hall? With sisters swaddled all the way down to the ankle? I don’t know any hymns, but if you hum a few bars, I can fake it.”

Dorian leans over to Solas and says, “Oooh. I like her.”

Solas nods, but with a careful sort of nonchalance.

“So, other than sing and flash your panties to post-pubescent boys, what can you do?” Dorian asks, insolence incarnate.

I can kick your ass. With a frown for Solas, who brought this … gentleman to the show, she says, “I can walk away.”

With that, she spins on her booted heel, only to stop when a warm hand encircles her wrist. Her gaze finds that hand and follows it up past arm and shoulder to Solas’s face. He lets go, hands up in apology, pained smile on his face.

She says, angry, “Is this why you came back? To bring a friend so you can both be snide and laugh at me and my band?”

“I’m sorry,” he says. “For Dorian. He’s not used to dealing with … people.”

“What? I deal with people all the time. It’s my job and I’m good at it.”

Solas shoots him a look of annoyance. “No, you deal with sharks in people-suits. The grabby and opportunistic. Well-dressed vultures. You’ve always been at a loss when confronted with … candor and sincere ambition.”

The man has the grace to look away. “I suppose you’re right.”

Solas turns back to her. “Will you … sit with us? There are things Dorian would like to discuss with you.”

“Alright, but no talking about my panties. That’s weird and a little creepy,” she says, shooting a dark look at Dorian.

Her pulse hikes as Solas holds out a hand to her, gesturing with the other to a nearby empty table. Unbidden, her hand lifts. His palm is soft and dry, and as warm as when it had grabbed her wrist. She bites her lip as he leads her to a chair and pulls it out for her. Such old-fashioned courtesy brings a smile to her face.

So she sits. Varric silently asks her if she needs him to intervene with a rolling shoulder and a look. She shakes her head, waving him off. Then she says to Dorian, “By the way, ‘excuse our rudeness’ doesn’t mean keep being rude.”

“Really? Is there an exchange rate? One apology per five incivilities? Please don’t say it’s one for one. I’ll be at it all day.” With insouciant smile, Dorian clears his throat and continues, “Well, our … man here is quite taken with your little troupe. Honestly, I can see why.”

“Uh, thanks, I guess?” she says, crossing her arms over her chest. “But something tells me this isn’t about Inquisition gaining a new fan.”

“No, it isn’t. I’m on the job, so to speak. And that job is to scout out new talent.”

Shock clouds her senses for a second, before she manages to reply, “But we ….”

Dorian says when she falters, “You have something here. I can see it. So will all the major labels. Who is your representation at the moment?”

“We don’t have ….”

“You don’t have an agent?” His hands fly up in consternation. “Have you even trademarked the name? The songs? Okay, I can see by the look on your face you haven’t. We’ll get that handled. The sooner the better. Or else, you could have everything stolen out from under you and you won’t have a legal leg to stand on.”

It’s all so overwhelming. She can’t think past the idea that a talent scout had come to one of their shows.

And liked it.

Solas’s warm hand (Honestly, is he some sort of elf-shaped space heater?) covers hers again and he says, slow and measured, “Are you alright? If you’re worried, I can tell you Dorian’s a good man. Insufferable at times, but fair.”

“Hey!” protests Dorian, then he grins. “Alright, it’s true. I can be an ass. Happy?”

Solas chuckles. “To hear you admit it? Finally? Yes.”

“Show her the thing,” says Dorian, with a snap toward the messenger bag at Solas’s hip.

The elf looks reluctant for a moment before his expressions hardens to determination. Ellana watches as he pulls forth a sheaf of paper, holding it flat against its natural curl so she can see the lines and dots and notations of sheet music.

Her fingers twitch as she barely refrains from snatching the music from the table. Solas sees her eagerness and smiles, pushing the short stack toward her.

Eyes following fluid harmonic movements, she begins to hum the melody of the wonder in her hands. In her periphery, she sees Solas’s finger tapping out the tempo. Already she can picture it, performing this piece for the crowd. Oh, but they’d love it. As much as she already loves it. Ellana gets to the key-change and smiles. “Oooh, that’s dark and heartbreaking.”

At the end, she sets it down with a sigh and starts to push it back toward Solas. “It’s beautiful.”

“It’s yours,” says he, halting her. At her blatant incredulity, he gives an abashed smile. “It wouldn’t exist without you. You … inspired me.”

How her heart soars as she all but crushes the creation against her chest. “Is this what you do now? Write music?”

Dorian chuckles. “When I can get him to.”

Solas ducks his head. “Even I must make a living.”

“But surely …,” she starts, then stops as that haunted look comes back into his face.

He looks around and says, low so no one else can hear, “I own nothing from then. Nor would I want to.”

She lets it go for now, though she wants to pry.

After a long pause, Dorian stands. “Here’s my card. I’ll most definitely be in touch. Solas, I’ll go wave down a cab.”

Alone with Solas, she can hardly believe this strange turn of events. Breathing in the smell of the paper in her hands, she whispers, “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome, Ellana.” His smile is soft and genuine. It sparks an answering warmth in her chest. “I wish you the best.”

Then he stands, too, and she snags his sleeve. “That sounded an awful lot like ‘goodbye forever.’ I haven’t even had a chance to talk you into joining the band yet.”

He starts as he stares back down at her. His hands come up in a warding gesture. “I can’t.”

“Can’t? Or won’t? Or are too afraid to give it a shot?” she challenges, rising to meet him eye to still higher eye. Damn his tallness.

Solas scowls, but she can read the flicker there, in those frosty blues. Intrigue. Despite himself. He says, “All three?”

His honesty charms her. 

She tosses him a crooked grin. “Well, whatever happens, I’m going to need help with this gift of yours. Some of the dynamics changes are really complex. They might need to be altered.”

Oh, he doesn’t like that. His eyes flash as he says, “Altered?”

“To work on stage. Cass might have suggestions. You won’t mind, will you?” she says, terribly sweet and guileless, bait on a dangling hook. Her fingernail taps on a particularly tricky passage.

“No, it’s yours, as I said. To do with as you please,” he replies, but he leans over to look at the offending finger and the difficult measure it indicates. “But, perhaps you might benefit from someone with a more experienced eye being present while these ‘alterations’ are made? Just to see you don’t lose the impact of the whole?”

“So now you’re offering to be the ‘help’ I need?”

Sighing, he gives in. She sees it in the slumping of his shoulders. “I am reluctant to trust anyone else to do it justice. So, yes.”

She gives him a little bump with her elbow. “Awesome. Got a phone?”

As they exchange cell numbers, she drinks deep of the victory flowing through her spirit. Her joy jumps another strata in magnitude when he gives her his address and they set up a meeting. Ellana looks at it and back at him, surprised. “You live in Lowtown.”

“Is that a crime?” he asks, a little flustered.

She laughs. “Depends on who you ask. I think it’s cool. That you’re down here with us, regular as you please. Even if you dress like someone’s moldy grand-dad.”

Speaking of pleased, her words seem to do something of the sort to him, for he laughs. “Normalcy is relative.”

“So many things are,” she retorts. “See you Tuesday?”

“Yes. I … look forward to it,” he says, and that surprises him from the look on his face.

They exchange awkward farewells and she watches him leave. Really, it’s a shame to cover up that frame in such frumpy, shapeless attire.

She sighs and says, “Me, too.”

Chapter Text

He is so distracted that he forgets about the kettle until the smoke alarm blares.

Then there’s fire and coughing and scrambling for the small extinguisher under his sink.

When a knock comes at his door, then another louder, why doesn’t even register as he yells a furious, “It’s unlocked. Just come in!”

“What the-?”

Broom in his hands, Solas turns on the too short ladder to see her standing in the doorway to his small kitchen. The alarm’s shrill clarion still shrieks throughout his apartment.

He freezes, embarrassment filling him to the brim.

Then she giggles and reaches down to snag one of her high heels. Taking careful aim, she lets fly. Solas turns as it darts past his cheek and strikes the alarm dead center. The blasted thing gives one last warbling scream as it falls, breaking into pieces as it smashes onto the tile floor.

His brow lifts. “That was ….”

“Helpful?” she asks, picking up her discarded shoe and putting it back on.

“Actually, I was going to say ‘amazing.’”

She blushes. “Well, thanks. I’ve always had a pretty good arm. Was always picked to be pitcher in the neighborhood stickball league.” She mimes a wind-up and throw, tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth.

It’s … adorable.

Depressed at his own mind’s betrayal, Solas dismounts his ladder and looks back up to where the alarm’s mounting bracket hangs from the ceiling by one stripped screw. He sighs. “Of course I would pick the one apartment in all of Lowtown with vaulted ceilings.”

“Probably helps with the airflow on those particularly smoggy summer days,” she comments, at his side. Then she looks around, curious. “Nice digs, Solas.”

“Thank you.”

Her hands touch the scorched wood handle of the kettle where it lay half-submerged in his sink. The char marks give away more details than he’d like, obvious as she says, “Did you really burn water?”

The flush arrives unbidden. He can feel it in his cheeks and, more mortifying, in his ear tips. “I thought to make you some tea.”

She is laughing at him, he can see it in the small tremor in her shoulders, though she will not look at him. Clearing her throat, she says, “We can just nuke some …?” Her head swivels as she looks for an appliance clearly missing from his countertops.

“I don’t own a microwave.”

“Well,” she says, at a loss.

With a sigh, he reaches past her to pull a mug from where a neat row of them hang near the pot-rack. Filling it with water, he dips a finger in and within seconds, steam starts to rise from the rim. “Don’t worry, my hands are clean.”

Ellana watches with a little smile on her lips. Solas turns to fish out a teabag from the pantry. He pauses when she asks, “What about you?”

“I never acquired a taste for it, though I try to extend the courtesy to guests. Not that I have many.” Or any, really. None of an age where he’d feel comfortable offering them tea, anyway. His students had enough difficulty concentrating, but add caffeine to the mix-

“… -ut a gentleman never lets a lady drink alone,” she is saying, pulling his attention back to her. Ellana dumps the hot water out in the sink and continues, “What else you got?”

“I … . Not much, I’m afraid. Tap water? Milk? Wine?”

“That. Let’s have a glass of that,” she says, looking him straight in the eye.

“It’s not yet three in the afternoon-”

“We’re both adults. That means cake for dinner, meatloaf for breakfast and wine whenever the hell we feel like it.” Her smile is infectious and he finds himself grinning along with her.

With a chuckle, he pours two glasses of red, pulling out the good stemware.

“I brought the sheet music,” she says as she takes the wine from him. That reminds him she isn’t just here for a social call.

“Well, let me clean this up and I’ll meet you in the den?” He points out toward the room she traveled through to get to his kitchen. “Make yourself comfortable.”

Making a note to pick up a new one, Solas sweeps the broken smoke alarm into the bin. When he goes out to the den, he sees she’s made herself at home on the bench before his piano. He pauses at the door before saying, “Do you play?”

“Ha. No. I can pick things out one-handed, but I never learned the knack of doing both.” She scoots over and pats the bench. He sets his drink on top of the instrument and sits, back straightening in instinctual readiness.  Elbows in, but relaxed. His fingers rest atop the keys, spreading into position.

Looking at the music she’d propped up on the rack, he notes that already some changes are there. “You … you added lyrics.”

She waves as though it is no great thing, yet he can see how they suit the music perfectly. “I guess inspiration can run in circles.”

“So it can,” he agrees, then starts to play.

After a bit, she starts to sing along, winding her sweetly warm voice throughout the song, lyrics fitting in like missing jigsaw puzzle pieces. A line of tension in his shoulders he hadn’t realized was there relaxes and of course, his fingers fly true, with even greater deftness than he’d gotten used to expecting from himself. He starts to make some changes himself, to better suit the lyrical cadences.

And here again, that feeling of deja vu, the not so terrible parts of his past rising to try to ensnare him. It hadn’t all been bad. A low rumble exits his throat as he starts to harmonize with her melody. Soon, he is singing in full voice, weaving a foundation for her to soar over in descant. They trade the treading of the main melody so the other can play around it. So entrancing that they reach the trill at the end short of breath and shaky.

They look at each other, mouths open and almost panting.

Ellana breaks the silence first. “Wow. That was … wow.”

He nods with her, speechless, and sets the music back to rights. He’s not sure if he can forget how absolute the sense of completion was. How tailored the fit of their harmony together.

“You have got to join the band.”

Solas freezes. “I told you. I can’t.”

“You’ve no idea the urge I’m having to wheedle and simper,” she says, fingers tapping along the top of the fall. Her features twist comically as she utters, “Must … resist … pestering.”

A chuckle rolls out of him before he can stop it. “It would be ridiculous. Out of touch as I am.”

“So, you’re going with the ‘I’m too old’ excuse, hmm? Blackwall’s got you beat there and he’s in the band.” When he reaches for the darker reason she might be insisting so vehemently, she frowns and cuts whatever he might say off with a swipe of her hand through the air between them. She says, “No! I’m not trying to ride your coat-tails, nor make you ferry Inquisition to stardom on your reputation or past fame.”

Fears mollified for the moment, Solas sighs. “I don’t want to repeat that part of my life. It was painful and I am too old to want to make those same mistakes again.”

His frank admission draws her up short and he can see she wants to ask, but won’t. A coaxing smile lifts her lips as she says, “Surely there’s still time to make all new ones?”

Again, he can’t help but laugh. This strange creature with her wild hair and wilder grin engaging him, daring him to do something … insane. And lighting in him a wicked desire to tempt fate once more. Yet, the adult him fears and cautions and exhorts the need for self-preservation.

He almost hates that part of himself as much as the sly devil that would bid him be free. Chewing on his lip, he says, slow and careful, “I can never be Fen’harel again.”

“I’m not asking you to. Be you. Only you. And this,” she says, gesturing around to his obsessively neat and ordered sham of a life. “Is not you.”

“You know me so well after only meeting three or four times?” he says, eyeing her.

Her hand settles over his, cool and dry, painted nails glittering in the flourescent lights. “Call it my superpower. I can always spot people who are hiding.”

“Perhaps I am hiding for good reason.”

“It’s never good to hide from the things that make you happy. Writing, singing, performing makes you happy. Makes us happy.”

“You seem so certain in your estimation of me.”

“Tell me I’m wrong,” she challenges.

He cannot.

Eyes close without his really meaning them to as he tries to quell the terror shaking his guts.

Ellana’s hand retreats and he misses its anchoring weight. She clears her throat and says, “At least come jam with us. No more pressure to join. Just … be there, be involved. Get out of this … bland crypt, and live a little. With us. I promise you won’t regret it.”

Solas cannot make himself stand with her, or watch her gather her things; music, purse, jacket. But he can hear her shuffle and settle her belongings into place.

His door squeaks as it opens and her voice drifts to him, “I’ll text you the schedule, as well as the jam-spot’s address. It’s not far from here actually. Over by the docks. See you, Solas.”

The door closes before he can muster a farewell.

Shaking hands pull fall over keyboard and his head drops onto crossed arms. A deep breath steadies him.

Not even the heroin had held such temptation for him.

That should’ve been the first clue. That he’d already decided.

I am such a fool.

Chapter Text

“Ha! Sweater vest!” shouts Sera, pointing with her bow as a tall shape enters the warehouse.

Solas looks down at his clothing and then back up with a glint in his eye.

Ellana sucks in a huge breath to admonish the blond when Solas interrupts her, “Not all of us shop at the All Soul’s Day store year-round. What are you supposed to be, a … harlequin of some sort?”

The rest of the band, minus Cole, takes up a collective ‘Ooooh!’ intermingled with laughter. The ringing noise just makes the spirit look around in confusion.

Fury sparks on Sera’s face and Ellana steps in before it can go in any further. “Enough, Sera. Tit for tat, you’re even. Them’s the rules. We all agreed; no grudges, no drama.”

“I gotcher drama, Quizzy,” grumbles the blond, grabbing at her crotch lewdly. “Danglin’.”

Cassandra gives a coarse bark of laughter. “That does not even make sense, Sera.”

“Don’ hafta.”

“And look! Jeans. He’s trying, you guys.” Ellana bounds over to Solas and sweeps a hand downward, indicating the denim articles in question. Very present, even if it looks as though he’s ironed them.

With a few more laughs, the others go back to whatever warmups they’d stopped when Solas arrived.

She turns back toward the sigh of relief at her side and smiles up at Solas. “Sorry about that. You’re not the only one with rude friends.”

He clears his throat and speaks, “I’m sorry I answered rudeness in kind.”

“Oh, naw. It happens. She doesn’t mean anything by it anyway. It’s a sort of reflex. Part of her ‘down with the establishment’ thing.” Then her gaze dips from his steady blue-grey stare to the collar of the white button up under the argyle sweater vest. Her grin widens. “Wow. Left the top button undone? You really are trying.”

“It’s gratifying to see my efforts have not gone unnoticed,” he replies, dry.

She looks around him. “Where’s your stuff?”

He colors, making his freckles stand out. A hand lifts to swipe over his bald pate. “Ah, I, uh, wasn’t able to get into my storage. Apparently, I can’t until Monday.”

Ellana takes in his embarrassment and the excuse building in his eyes. He’s about to beg off. He just didn’t want to leave you hanging.

As endearing as that is, she will not let him escape on so flimsy an evasion. “Oh, Cass has a loaner!”

Then she snags him by the hand and drags him over to where the dark-haired woman sits on her amp. “Cass! Hey, can Solas use one of your spares?”

The severe lines of the human’s face softens as she looks up at Ellana. “You know you don’t have to ask. You’re welcome to anything here …. Solas, was it?”

“It is. Pleased to meet you, um,” he says, taking her extended hand in his with a firm shake.

“Cassandra.”

“Cassandra,” he repeats, giving a small smile.

“By your accent, are you from Starkhaven?” she asks, handing him a guitar from the rack behind her. Ellana doesn’t deny the thrill that lances up her spine the moment his long-fingered hand closes around the neck.

“Thereabouts, I suppose,” he says, eyes going a little wide.

Ellana decides to intercede before Cass can interrogate the man. The woman can make rock spill its guts. Ellana turns Solas by the shoulders and says, “And this is Blackwall. Formerly of the Grey Wardens. But I stole him. I’m starting to realize I steal a lot of things.”

Blackwall touches hand to forelock and greets, “Hullo. I think I seen you in the bar the other night with some other chap what looked like a Vint.”

“Yes, that was my friend, Dorian. I brought him to see your band play. He’s always looking for new talent.”

That ushers in a clamor of questions from Blackwall, Cass and Sera. Solas satisfies them as best he can, though from the glazed tint to his eyes, he found it all a little overwhelming.

Finally, Ellana shoos their endless questions off, admonishing them to be pleased that a scout had come to their show and liked it. Whatever might happen will never take that away. Then she turns to the last member of their troupe and says, with warm fondness, “Cole. I’d like you to meet Solas.”

Jaw slackening, Solas’s brows shoot up at the pale boy’s drifting approach.

“This newness a fresh breeze in a stagnant room. He wonders if it will turn into a hurricane and destroy him.” Blue eyes peer from between shaggy blond locks and find her guest. “We’re us. Not them. It’s safe.”

Solas’s breath hitches in her ear. Ellana glances over to see his mouth drop open in awe. He whispers, “A spirit.”

“Got it in one. That’s pretty amazing. Most don’t. They just write him off as one of us Lowtown weirdoes.” Elation fills her at the utter absence of fear in Solas’s stare.

“Fascinating,” the elf says. Then, addressing Cole, he offers, “Greetings, Cole. I am glad to meet you and look forward to getting to know you.”

A shy, yet deeply pleased smile lit the young being’s features. “Knowing and being known is also new.”

“Now you’ve met everyone, I’ll show you where to set up,” Ellana says, leading him to one of the unused amps.

For a moment, he seems at a loss, then she hands him the RCA jack and, with a practiced glide, everything falls into place. Strap over shoulder, adjustment of the weight and heft follows. Solas sits on the amp to tune, which he does with an economy of movement and, most impressive of all, perfect pitch.

Ear alone.

She’s good, but she’s not that good. She uses the tuner so she doesn’t have to keep checking and rechecking, sure she’s off by a fraction every time.

Then, Solas shoots her an abashed sidelong look. “It’s … been awhile. I am not at all sure I can keep up ….”

Elanna holds her hands up. “No pressure. Just listen. Join in only if you’re comfortable.”

Then she turns from his flustered smile and strides over to her mic stand. Her own guitar slides into her hands. An old friend with a sweet, mellow tone that croons out of its flamed maple body. She looks to her band. “Alright, going over the setlist, like usual, and if you’re really good, there might be a little treat at the end. Something new.”

Sera gives a sour, “Yes, mum.”

Yet, an eagerness flames to life in their eyes and warms her whole being. She loves them, her misfits. Then her pick strikes the opening chord and the minutes fly by and turn into hours. The music fills her up, a mortar in all her cracks and broken places. A balm.

Then a new sound is added and suddenly the whole is greater than the sum. An added complexity that she hadn’t known they’d been lacking. But now she knows, and how that makes them feel … limitless.

The energy feeds in a big circle among them, growing fiercer and wilder with every revolution.

The last note of the last song dies away on the electric air and all that can be heard is the heaving exhalations of six bodies in that warehouse.

Into that tense moment, Blackwall says, “Anyone else got a hard on?”

A chuckle breaches her closed throat, followed by a laugh. Then Sera’s wailing whoop of mirth, into which everyone else joins until the rafters ring with it. Her eye is drawn over to Solas, who is bent over the guitar, covering his mouth. But she can see from his rounded cheeks and puffy lower lids that even he had succumbed.

When she finally has the breath to do so, she says, “Okay, okay, you guys are awesome. But you already knew that. Now, for the treat. Solas wrote a song for us. It’s pretty good.”

“Oh?” says Cass, with an inquisitive eye toward that personage. “If you like it, then I’m sure we will.”

“Solas.”

He turns his head at her call, but doesn’t shift.

“Don’t be shy. C’mon up here.” Ellana beckons with one hand and giggles as, with pained reluctance, he stands and draws near to her side. “Sing with me?”

He looks down at her, the flash of some past remembrance clouding those remarkable eyes for split second, then he sighs and nods. “If you wish.”

“I wish.” Then she gives him a bump with her hip and grins at him. “Okay, everybody, so the chord progression goes like-”

And she outlines the song for them. The tempo, the style, everything she’s memorized. Then they jump right in like it’s the most natural thing ever, stopping to go over hard parts until it’s all hammered out into some semblance of continuity.

It’s perfect.

He’s perfect.

Just like she thought he’d be. And the band-no, they finally feel complete.

The others leave after practice with a bounce in their step that makes her smile. Yes. This is going to be so good.

She heads back toward the rear of the warehouse, but stops as someone clears their throat behind her. Turning, she sees Solas, standing a little awkwardly near the big, roll-up doors.

He says, “I can stay to walk you out, if you like.”

“Ha, well, that would be nice-I mean, that is nice of you, but I’m not leaving.”

The frown on his face speaks volumes, yet his lips only utter, “Not leaving?” 

With goodnatured smile, Ellana rolls her eyes, then gestures for him to follow her to the door along the far end. “It’ll be easier to show you.”

Chapter Text

Opening the door, she waves him through it.

“You … live here?” Solas says, astonished.

The small, cramped office with its tiny bathroom and murphy bed greet him with the sour smell of old, slightly damp furnishings. A little kitchenette inhabits one corner, rusty folding table near it for dining.

She sets her bag on an old task chair and says, “It’s not much, but it’s home.”

“But,” he starts, then stops.

“I know what you’re thinking. One woman, living alone, on the docks. All sorts of villains or rapscallions might find an opportunity in that. One hard to pass up.” Her lips curl into an almost evil grin.

A reaction wildly counter to typical. One that clues him into the truth of it. “Your friend. Varric.”

She turns a wide, pleased smile in his direction, obviously surprised. “It’s scary how smart you are, Solas. Anyone ever tell you that?”

“If they have, not where I can hear. It’s not that great a leap in logic. After Sera’s comment that first night at your show, all it took was a simple internet inquiry to satisfy my curiosity.” Solas eyes her with doubt. “Though, one might then question how safe it is to trust a man with ties to the Carta.”

“He was the first one, the only one to give us a shot. You know he doesn’t even like our type of music? Or he didn’t anyway.” She laughs, the musical sound rippling through him in a pleasant thrum. “He had this, like, thing for country. And not even the halfway decent stuff. He liked that maudlin, really really sad shit. And while I enjoy a good tearjerker myself on occasion, you can only play so much of that on the jukebox before people start complaining about salty beer.”

Solas chuckles, picturing a bar full of cartoonishly sobbing patrons, eyes gushing like water fountains. Then he looks at her again. “So, you took it upon yourself to shift his tastes to something less … prosaic.”

“That’s probably the most tactful way I’ve heard it put. I still catch him once in awhile sitting alone in his office with that stuff playing on his little B&O, bourbon in hand. But for the most part, hell yeah. I won that war.” Her shoulders draw back in pride. “It helps that he sees how packed Saturday night gets. Drink?”

She waves a bottle of some cheap malt-liquor at him, something dark and sticky-looking. He almost waves a denial, but stops himself and nods. “A small one can’t hurt, I suppose.”

Laughing again, she plops down at her tiny card/kitchen table and gestures at the one other chair. He sits and accepts the sloshing plastic tumbler she hands him. It’s sweet, and vaguely cherry-flavored. But it burns nevertheless as it goes down his throat into his stomach. A warm trail that soon spreads out to his limbs with each subsequent sip.

It soothes the nerves that had tingled with elation and frayed with anxiety during practice. He sighs and relaxes into the creaking wooden chair.

With her elbows on the table, Ellana looks at him, the fingers of both hands holding her cup aloft. She licks her lips and says, “Y’know, it’s the prevailing opinion that you’re dead.”

Solas fights not to choke on his drink, setting it down before him. “Odd. I do not feel dead.”

“Well, I mean, obviously they’re exaggerated. It’s been, what? Twenty years since the last interview? Nearly that since that last show?”

He doesn’t mean to wince, but she’s poking at wounds that never really healed. Looking away, he says, “Something like that.”

Reaching over, Ellana puts her hand on his arm. The touching familiarity of it pulls his gaze back to hers. Looking close, he only sees sympathy there. Any curiosity is heavily overlaid with a simple wish to understand. But she shakes her head and says, “Whatever happened, I won’t pry if you don’t want me to. I will not.”

At the adamant resolve in her eyes, he can only swallow and nod. After a moment of tense silence, he says, “I have to admit that I did enjoy playing in a band again. I … missed it.”

She grins, all flashing teeth and joy. “I knew you woul-”

“But I can’t gig with your Inquisition.”

That joy flees. He laments its sudden absence. Ellana says, “I’m assuming since you brought it up, I’m allowed to break the ‘not going to talk you into joining the band’ rule and rebut?”

He nods, albeit reluctantly.

Ellana takes a deep breath. “Then why not? The past can just go rot for all I care.”

“As much as I agree, I will be recognized eventually. Someone will find out, and then it will all come ‘round again.” Solas took a deep draught of the malt liquor to quell the tremor in his hands. “And that, I cannot abide.”

A sly shift comes over her face. “I’ve been thinking about that actually, if you came down with a case of the bashfuls.”

“Even if I wore a gorilla costume, there is nothing I can do about my voice. Will it not be heard? Is that not … counter-productive in either instance?”

Her smile slides into a half-smirk. “I don’t know if you know this, but you don’t sound much like you did back in the day. It’s deeper, rounder, richer. Your voice grew up. I don’t think you could hit that high A any more.”

“Not without straining something, no.” Fighting the rising flush, Solas clears his throat and says, “And while that may be true, it’s the unguarded moments between that will betray me. Beyond the pageantry of the stage, there will still be scrutiny.”

Ellana laughs. “You’re making this a lot more complicated than it needs to be. We don’t have paparazzi or news crews stalking us-”

“Not yet.”

Her grin dazzles him then. “I’m trying so hard to ignore how sweet that certainty of yours is, but hey, even if we did get famous, nothing is compelling you to stay. It gets dangerous, then you can just take off. Much as I’d hate that, I’d understand.”

Solas considers, running his thumb over the cleft in his chin.

“In the meantime, you could play the withdrawn artist card. The private person who disdains the trappings of fame. Actually, the crowd would eat that up and the best part is it’s not even a lie,” she reasons, giving his arm another pat. Then she rolls her eyes with good nature and says, “And give me a little credit. I am really good at keeping the focus on me. I’m the super-awesome-elite-best-and-greatest at ‘making a spectacle of myself.’ Sera did a whole show once without pants and no one else noticed.”

This pulls a laugh out of him unbidden. “It seems I cannot defeat your logic.”

“That’s right, so give in.” She rubs her hands together in sinister fashion. Her mouth opens to emit a spooky, “Join uuuuuus.”

He huffs. “That is not ominous at all.”

“Or don’t join us. Just keep jamming with us and hanging out. Solas, come on. You’ve been shut away long enough. You deserve better than boring. No, I get it. You fought hard for that boredom and it’s really hard to let it go. But it’s time. And I’m not just saying that because I want you in my band either.”

Her sincerity is compelling, so very compelling. He cannot look away from her lambent green eyes as he says, soft, “Then why are you?”

She swallows. “Because I do know you. Because you made a difference. Even when it went to shit, you kept trying. And then there was nothing left, not even you. You got lost in the noise. But I see that man there. You didn’t lose him. You just buried him. And that man deserves so much more than a single friend he never sees, a sterile apartment he can’t stand. He deserves the world. And the world deserves him in it. Not distant, or disconnected as he has been. But a part of it.”

She hits so close to the mark it smites him in the chest, hard, obliterating what small measure of defense is left around his aching, tattered heart. Solas feels the truth of it, even if his mind still tries to deny it. He longs to be … present, again.

No, he isn’t dead, as rumor would have it, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a ghost. All this time, just holding onto the margins. Not really living.

His hands clench and unclench as fears and worries cloud his mind. The endless ‘what-ifs’ tear at him, until, with an inner wrench, he silences them all.

Taking a deep breath, he whispers, “Alright.”

The blinding jubilance in her expression stuns him. His heart gives a hollow thud in his chest, but he can’t tell if it’s terror or joy.

Maybe it’s both.

Chapter Text

The first gig goes off without a hitch, then the second, then the third.

She breathes a sigh of relief after every single one. That they haven’t made a liar of her yet.

A warmth builds in her as she watches the tight coil he’s made of himself slowly loosen. He laughs more easily, even if she doubts he’ll ever relax that taut posture that holds him straight as an arrow.

But she thinks maybe she likes that about him; broad shoulders square, head lifted, jaw jutting not with obstinance, but with certainty. He’s a one-man barricade. Proud as his name suggests.

With good reason.

He knows things about music that she’d never conceived. How simple reordering can heighten the impact of a song, how the same for the setlist can build their audience to a fever pitch before letting them down soft as a feather on the breeze.

How the show as a whole should tell a story.

“You’re doing it again,” accused a voice to her left. Ellana’s head whips around to see Cassandra looking back at her with thinly veiled amusement. And maybe, she feels a blush rise. After all, she’s just been thinking about how elegant Solas’s wrists are as he gesticulates some point about beats to Blackwall. The two men nodding together like sages over some profound esoteric wisdom feeds the growing bubble of light in her chest.

“Doing what, Cass?” she asks, as innocent as she can manage.

“Do not be coy. I saw you, staring at our newest addition.” Cassandra’s expression shifts toward what she probably thought of as devious. Sadly, Cassandra is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. “You like him.”

“Pfft. I like all of you.”

“No. You like him.” Cassandra is immovable when she wants to be.

Flippant, Ellana resorts to the ridiculous. “Unf, yeah, sweater vests. They make me so hot. My undies are drenched. It’s like a fuckin’ rainforest down there.” Then she gave a low and throaty theatrical moan while biting her lip and rolling her eyes up into the back of her head.

“Ellana!”

Really, it’s too easy to fluster the woman. With a certain amount of satisfaction, Ellana watches Cassandra color to almost to a deep maroon, splotches high on her cheeks. The elf may or may not have added a little salacious hip rolling action then just to see Cassandra’s eyes widen even further.

When the woman starts to turn purple, Ellana stops her teasing and reaches out to squeeze her shoulder. “Breathe, Cass.”

Cassandra nods and sucks in a huge breath.

“Seriously, it’s cute how you can still be so … virginal surrounded by all this … crudery? Is that a word?” Ellana gestures around the Hanged Man, mostly empty this early. Just a couple of sad old fuckers at the end of the bar nursing their bourbons after a hard day’s work. “Bad language, bad manners. Bad men. You’d think some of it would have rubbed off on you by now. But no, my Cass stays pure as the driven snow. Thank goodness for that, ‘cause someone has to.”

Cassandra colors again for a different reason. But she won’t be swayed. “It doesn’t change the fact that I’m right.”

She sighs and runs a hand through her hair. “I won’t deny a certain … fascination. But that’s why we have the other rule; don’t shit where you eat. It complicates things, and I can’t imagine anything with Solas being anything but complicated. Complicated squared.”

The human gives her a dubious sidelong look. “If you say so.”

“I say so.” Ellana lets her gaze slide over to Solas again, regretting for the first time perhaps that damn rule. Especially given the way those pants clung to those thighs. She’d never thought of a man’s legs as a huge point of attraction before, but-  Is it weird to want to run one’s tongue up someone’s inner knee?

Now she gets to be the one who flushes. With a little shiver, she thinks, Oh, well. C’est la vie and all that crap.

A voice to her left draws her attention back to Cassandra. “Some say complicated can be interesting. Sometimes.”

“You need to stop reading that pulp romance garbage.” Ellana sighs again, then looks around. “Where’s Sera?”

“I think I saw her duck out back with the new stage tech. Dagna, I think her name is.” Cassandra sets her instrument aside and stands. “I will go get her.”

“Might want to call out before rounding any suspicious corners. No telling what might get burnt onto your retinas.”

“Ellana,” calls Solas at her back.

Unf, even the way he says her name.

“Solas,” she replies, turning toward him with a smile. She copies his stance, hands clasping behind backs.

His mouth opens, then shuts. Then opens again and says, “Would you like to go over that bridge again?”

She drags her stare away from his lips to meet his gaze. She wonders what it is he might have said then before thinking better of it. “Sure. Get those harmonies meshed and whatnot for the sound guy.”

He smiles below his ornate Orlesian half-mask. She remembers his soft chuckle when he’d first seen it-

It’s lupine flair and ruby adornments (not real. Costume jewelry, of course. Her pocketbook could barely afford it as it is.) glitters in the wan lamplight of her cramped accommodations.

In memory, he says, “A wolf. Really?”

“I know, right?”

“Is that not a little … obvious?” He turns it over in his graceful hands then and nods. “Actually, it will probably work. It’s just ostentatious enough to get dismissed.”

“Hiding things out in plain sight is a time honored strategy.” Perhaps more than the satisfaction of a job well done warms her cheeks. Maybe-

Ellana shakes herself out of the recollection, and load in becomes gig, again going stunningly, gorgeously, wonderfully awesome, then lastly comes the load out. After, she eels through the crowded bar (standing room only!) and snags her standing order from the bartender just as it lands on its cocktail napkin.

It soothes her tired throat as it glides down into her stomach.

“Well that certainly seems to have gone well,” says a deep male voice just to her right. She turns to smile at Dorian, who must have just slid into the empty barstool there, but manages to seem as though he’d sat there for hours. She has to give it to him, he knows how to conquer space.

On the other side of him, Bull speaks up, “Oh, it went better than well. Look at all these kids, grinning like idiots. They’re gonna be talking about nothin’ but for the next few days probably.”

She can’t help but grin herself and give her hair a tousle. “‘Draste’s tits, that was fun. I could do that every night, if someone let me.”

“Very soon to become the reality, if what I hear from my friend is truth,” says Dorian, sipping his martini.

“Here’s to hoping,” she says, tipping back the rest of her drink. Then she faces the Vint once more. “I can’t thank you enough for hooking us up with Josie.”

“I thought she’d be a good fit. I’m glad it’s working out,” says he, giving her a warm and genuine smile.

Given their rocky beginnings, she finds herself liking him. But then, she’s never had trouble finding something to like about just about anybody. He’s funny and so completely non-judgemental that he’santi-judgemental. To an almost militant degree. Anything besides is just teasing.

She gets why Solas keeps him around.

What she doesn’t get is why Dorian isn’t angling for them to sign with the specific record company he works for.

A mystery that will have to wait as the rest of her band appears in a tangle of raucous noise and demands for alcoholic reprieve. Despite herself, her eye gets drawn to the back, where Solas and Cole hold a semi-private conversation between themselves. Not apart from everyone else precisely, but loose and comfortable.

It fits. It all fits together somehow, rough edges to rough edges.

And she grins even wider as she orders a round.

Chapter Text

She’s very … physical.

Always reaching out to touch or hug her bandmates, her friends, sometimes even random acquaintances off the street. Her hands fly through the air, gesticulating every point she makes when she speaks. Ebullient to an extreme. She’s loud, but not in a way that grates. More that her personality expands to fill every room to the brim.

Not that he’s really watching. Or interested, for that matter.

Or so he tells himself.

Firmly.

Every time she draws near.

And yet ….

“You’re doing it again,” comments the swarthy-skinned male seated next to him.

“Hm?” he replies, the sound as carefully neutral as he can manage.

“‘Hm,’ indeed. What will she think, with you staring like that? Tsk tsk tsk.” Dorian ticks an admonishing finger before his gaze. His grey eyes catch Solas’s just as the elf’s flick away from Ellana in chagrin. Dorian’s smirk warms to sincere caring. “I know what I’d think. And it’s just possible there might be similar thoughts on that side of the fence.”

Solas shifts in his chair, hiding the sudden rush of heat at that silly imagining. “Don’t be ridiculous, Dorian.”

“What’s wrong with ridiculous? It’s good for the soul to escape to ridiculousness occasionally. I myself bought a summer cottage there.”

Solas snorts. “Not all of us can afford such largesse.”

“You mean, not all of us dare take the risk.” Dorian sips his martini and hums, resting his chin in one languid hand. “What’s the real harm in asking her, I say. And none of that ‘Oh, I’m too old and she’s too young’ drivel. You’re both adults. And I can tell she can handle herself. Ellana’s the type of person who knows what she wants.”

“I doubt that has anything to do with me. I’ve been where she is. The music comes first. There’s no space for anything else.”

“Perhaps that was how it was for you,” coaxes his friend, but then Dorian’s upstretched hand drops in the face of Solas’s frown.

The rest of the band and roadies and everyone else who got invited to the afterparty cheer as Ellana and Sera compete to see who can balance the most empty cans of beer on their foreheads end to end. Their ringing jubilation bounces around the warehouse, their jamspot. The stomping of feet and clapping of hands rise to near deafening as the pair mount their stools to increase the difficulty.

They get to a prodigious five before Ellana loses her balance and tumbles, cans scattering in a clatter. Solas lets out a pained ‘oof’ as she lands in his lap. His arms come up automatically to catch her before she can slide off onto the floor. They both gasp in unison.

As the rest cheer the winner, Solas stares into a face growing redder by the second. And not justbecause of the drink, he thinks.

Flustered Ellana twists in his hold and looks back, big green eyes darting all over his face. Her lips thin as she mutters a mortified, “Sorry.”

He convinces his arms to drop, since she’s not in danger of falling any more. “Perhaps a less dangerous distraction would be better?”

“What did you have in mind, Solas?” she asks, one brow raising. A warm spark flies through his chest at his name on her lips, (and the not so subtle innuendo entailed.)

It startles a laugh out of him. “Nothi- I didn’t mean- I mean, I meant-”

“Relax,” she says, standing and looking down at him with a half-smirk. “Besides, if there’s not a little danger, what’s the fun?”

Then she bounces away to give Sera a huge hug and kiss on the cheek. “Kiss for the winner!”

“See?” asks Dorian, giving him a nudge with his elbow. It shakes him out of his thoughts, thoughts of his arms full of warm and willing flesh, of heat and pressure and closeness. “She likes you. Heaven knows why.”

Realizing he’s been staring again, Solas tears his gaze away and turns to Dorian. “She ‘likes’ everybody.”

Dorian sighs and slumps. “Fine. Be blind then. If you’re so set on it. Still, you should at least take her to dinner. As thanks.”

“Thanks for what?” says he.

“Look at you. Out in the company of the boisterous and loud and not a single complaint. You aren’t even doing that face. The one that makes you look constipated. She got you out of your hole. She’s got you socializing, “ he says it like it’s a scandal. Maybe it is. “My friend was not a happy hermit, and it’s, well, heartwarming to see him come out of his shell a little. So, yes, the woman is a saint, for managing it.”

Solas gives him a sidelong stare. He has a point, though Solas has always been loathe to admit it. Mostly out of stubbornness. “Perhaps you should take her to dinner then.”

Dorian laughs. “I probably will sometime. But getting you to take her out is me being grateful. Thinking of you two idiots blushing over wine and breadsticks is a bonus. It’s a win-win.”

With a sour frown, Solas stays silent. Though in the back of his mind, wheels begin to turn and he can’t help imagining things could be that simple.

Can it ever really be that simple?

Chapter Text

“-so then she raised her finger and said, ‘Deal. With. It.’ Hahaha, I never saw Bull backpedal so fast!” she finishes, taking a moment to enjoy watching Solas laugh. Really laugh. Little lines appear around his eyes, crows’ feet born of mirth. She can’t seem to help but look for them. Do her best to summon them like some kind of mystic conjurer armed with tasteless jokes and absurd stories.

“Cassandra is quite formidable. Though I suppose one can readily expect that of a Pentaghast,” he says, hand swiping down his face as though to manually wipe the smile away. It doesn’t work. There is still … crinkling.

Ellana gasps. “How did-?” Then she looks at him askance and ventures, “Another ‘internet inquiry?’”

“I suffer from a terrible overabundance of curiosity.”

“Oh? How tragic.” That earns her a chuckle. A shiver rolls up her spine. Damn the man for being so attractive. Or … bless him? The confusion within swells. She looks down at her plate and takes a bite of the dinner she’s been too distracted to eat.

On the other side of the table, she hears Solas do the same, fork clinking on porcelain. After an extended pause, Solas clears his throat. “How is your entree?”

“Oh, it’s-it’s good. I mean, it’s delicious. Not my usual fare of greasy cheeseburgers and stale fries. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything with … what are these little green, pickle-y things?”

“Capers.”

“And this crunchy, lettuce-y taco-shell thing?”

“Endive.”

“And these shrimp-flavored shrimpy whatnots?”

He laughs. “Those would be shrimp.”

She laughs with him. The flush of another small victory warms her face, even if she has to ignore how their loudness has attracted stares from the other diners. Some less than friendly. “Well, it’s all excellent, whatever it is. Or at least, I think so. I don’t really know how it stacks up fancy-wise. The view’s nice, too.”

Solas’s face turns to follow her line of sight. The large windows look out over the rooftops of Hightown, lit up at night like a birthday cake. The clocktower boomed an announcement of the hour, muffled to a pleasant bass thrum through the thick glass.

He sighs. “Honestly, this is the first time I’ve been here as well. Dorian recommended it. I, too, have grown used to more … humble surroundings.”

Ellana eyes his profile and sees the twitch of the muscles at his jaw. He’s uneasy. Deeply. And not just for the company. Being out in public must make him feel so exposed. A sour stab of guilt touches her then for accepting his invitation to this ‘thank you’ dinner. She’d had her own reservations, hadn’t she?

Yet, she’d said yes.

She reaches over and clasps his wrist. The skin there jumps under her hand. Smiling, she says, “Hey, let’s get out of here.”

He looks at her and then down to their mostly full plates and sighs again, disappointment in himself flashing in his eyes that he is quick to hide. But not quick enough. She sees it and feels guilty again. Solas says, as he signals the waiter, “I imagine it’s all a little much, isn’t it. I apologize. I should have taken you somewhere less … ostentatious. And more friendly to elves.”

“It’s not that. I … I wanna show you something. Something I haven’t even shown the others yet.”

Intrigue fills his expression as he drops a few large bills on the check. Paying in cash? Maybe to hide a paper trail? Still paranoid after all this time.

They stand and make their way to the exit. She fights the urge to take his hand as they walk down the street. An urge she would have cheerfully indulged in with Sera, or Cass, or whoever. But not him. Not Solas.

The hot, tight clench of her gut at the bare thought of holding his hand did not bode well for remaining objective.

So many impulses she checked and rethought around him. Biting her lip, she put her hands behind her back to keep from reaching out to touch him. “Sooo, how’s the teaching going?”

His lips twist into a rueful smile and he replies, “Not well, I’m afraid. Most of my students have decided to discontinue my services.”

“That sucks.”

“Not really. I’m the one that convinced them to do so.” He hums in amusement as she whips her head around in shock. Then, with a flip of one hand, he explains, “They did not want to be there. It was more for their parents’ sake than the fulfillment of their own ambition. I still have one or two that genuinely want to learn, that have the drive and passion for music. But the rest, well, it might have been suggested that they’d be happier finding something to be passionate about, even should it anger dear old mother and father. Perhaps better if it especially does.”

Ellana takes in the spark of mischief in Solas’s eyes with a laugh. “Holy shit, that’s so … punk.”

He chuckles. “By that, I take it you approve?”

“Yes! Who wouldn’t love arming the disenfranchised youth in the eternal war against the ‘man?’ Or in this case, the dreaded parents.” Her hand does find his then and gives it a warm squeeze. “You rebel, you.”

Solas squeezes back and it’s like instead of her hand, it’s her heart being pressed. She lets go before it can do more than push her equilibrium a little askew. Then she crosses her arms and tucks her traitorous hands tight against her sides along the slick material of her one good dress.

Her companion clears his throat and says, “Is it far? Should we procure a taxi?”

Giving herself a stern shake, Ellana says, “Oh, damn. Yes. It’s pretty far. But the cab probably won’t drop us off right there. We’ll have to leg it the last block or so.”

His brow creases in puzzlement, but he nods and flags down a taxi. As they sit in the rear, Ellana leans forward and says to the driver, “We’re going to Darktown.”

“Look, lady-” growls the greasy looking human behind the wheel.

She peers down at the driver’s ID, and gives him her most engaging grin. “Samson, is it? Couple blocks out will be fine. If you like, you don’t even have to stop, we’ll just tuck and roll.”

The human laughs, though in her periphery, Solas looks more or less horrified. The driver says, “I can stop, at least. There’s a couple brightly lit intersections out there still.”

“We’ll hop out quick before the piranha start swarming.” Then she sat back and pulled out her mobile. Tapping a quick message into it, she hit send. The phone whooshed at her.

The reply came fast, and she lets a breath out in relief.

“You are aware it’s after dark?” asks the elf sitting on her right.

“We’ll be in and out, I swear.”

The driver says, “He’s not wrong. It’s dangerous enough down there during the day. At night, it’s a damn abattoir.”

“Well, that’s why it pays to know people.” She did her best to ooze confidence at them. Samson shrugs and flips on the meter, pulls away from the curb and dives into traffic, tires squealing.

Solas, less than mollified, shifts in his seat and crosses his arms. “I know you enjoy a little danger, but Ellana-”

She put a hand on his forearm. “Trust me?”

After staring at her for a moment, he sighs and nods.

It takes a tense twenty minutes to get there, and they step out into the veritable DMZ surrounding the dirtiest, most menacing part of Kirkwall. They stick out like sore thumbs. Two very well-dressed sore thumbs.

Too many shadows lurk in the streets, staying just out of the circle of any light. Eyes glisten in the corners and alleys, watching, assessing.

Solas says, “Ellana ….”

“It’s this way,” she insists, taking his hand despite her earlier reservations. Even she must admit, Darktown gives her the willies. The freight elevator she leads them to takes them into the bowels of the city, to an area that opens out over the great chains in the harbor. She said they’d be quick and she means it.

The caged impound has seen better days. Her eyes pick over the worn chain-link, the shabby groundskeeping. Ellana points and says, “Look!”

Solas leans on the fence beside her and peers through the gloom at the rusty behemoth stored there. “A … bus.”

Excitement tore through her and she just kept herself from bouncing. “Not just any bus. Our bus. Inquisition’s tourbus.”

“… That?” Doubt colors his tone and stings her a bit.

But she presses on, “I pick up the title and keys tomorrow, then Bull knows some guys who’ll fix her up.”

“Does it even run?” he asks.

A little hurt, she puts hands to hips. “I’ll have you know that’s a piece of history, right there. It used to belong to The Deep Roads. It was their first tourbus.”

“Really?” says he, and if he sounds a little more intrigued and appreciative of the metal beast put to inglorious pasture in Darktown, she barely hears it over the flash of anger that takes her.

“Yes, really! I’ve already taken a look. It’s serviceable, even if it’s a little banged up and ugly.” She’s aware defensive isn’t exactly attractive, but she can’t help it. “Nothing a little elbow grease and fresh coat of paint won’t fix.”

Hands up in the face of her sharpish tone, Solas says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.”

She calms herself with a deep breath. “No, I’m sorry. I drag you all the way down here and then bite your head off. I just wanted ….” Her words trail off as she looks toward the bus, the symbol, the physical evidence that all her-their hard work is finally paying off.

“You just wanted to share it,” Solas finishes for her. A warm hand closes over hers and she looks over to see the understanding in Solas’s eyes. And maybe the glimmer of something else. Nostalgia and … some other-

“And what do we have here?” says a rough and snide voice behind them.

Oh, no.

Chapter Text

Solas spins and puts his arm across her, shielding her from the gang of thugs that have crept up on them.

They circle. One of them, a skinny human comments, “Couple a’toffs, only they’s elfs.”

“Are we lost?” says a rail-thin woman, clearly the leader of this pack of lowlifes. Her scarred face leers at him.

Six of them. Six pacing, grinning threats, all armed with chains and bats. He spots the glitter of the butt of a gun at the leader’s hip.  And here they are; trapped with their backs against a fence.

Shit.

Ellana pushes his arm away and steps forth. “We’re under Carta protection, Del. I told you that last time.”

Their antagonist grins. “That might mean something topside, but Carta remit don’t extend down past the 8th, and you know it.”

“Don’t fuck with us or you’ll be hurting.” Ellana, so fierce. Yet, Solas could see the tremble in her shoulders. “I got friends coming. They’ll be here any second.”

The rest of the gang hiss and laugh, a cold and cruel sound. One thug says, “I think she means those short-arses we stomped into the dirt ten minutes ago.”

Ellana freezes. Solas grits his teeth and draws her back behind him. The icy curl of magic flows up through his core and flickers at his fingertips. The sneers on the gang’s faces turn ugly and dark. Murderous.

Del pulls her gun and points it at them. “We was just gonna rob you, but seeing as you’re a mage and all, well …. I think we’ll take our time having fun with you before dumping the bits left over into the harbor.”

A smite slams into Solas, and he bends double in pain as it suppresses his built-up magic. A booted foot comes out of nowhere and slams into his chest. He flies back into the fence, then lashes out with a fist to crack across the boot-wearer’s face. That thug drops, but another steps in to take his place.

Solas fends off the blows with what little he remembers about scrapping. There had been a lot of it back in the day. But more and more of it comes back as punches are thrown this way and that. He liberates a bat from one of them and swings it to knock a chain aside. At his side, Ellana pulls a knife and slices what flesh comes too close. He can see she’s no stranger to street melee.

Yet, for all their relative capability, he can also see that the gang is just playing with them. They come one at a time instead of one big rush, which would have overpowered the pair easily. The ones that hang back howl and laugh as they push their fellows back into the fray.

Smite after smite breaks over them, until Solas can barely feel a flicker from his inner mystical energies. The continual waves of tingling aches soon sap his strength and his fists feel heavy as lead.

Just as he begins to lose hope, a huge figure dressed in rags slams into the group from the side, laying them low left and right with swipes from a tire iron clutched in one fist.

Del aims, but Solas shoves the obese thug confronting him into her. The shot goes awry. She goes sprawling under the fat man.

Their rescuer, a tall human with blond hair, stomps on her hand. She screams and pulls the shattered appendage to her chest, leaving the firearm in the dirt. The interloper kicks the gun into the harbor then rounds on the rest, squarely between the gang and their prey. “Get the fuck out of here, Del. And take the bodies of those Carta dwarves with you and dump them before your idiocy starts another fucking riot down here.”

“Fuck you, Rutherford. You ain’t one a’us any more.” The woman scrambles to her feet. Three of her men are down, making the odds even. And her without her gun. Solas watches her realize this, her shifty gaze already looking for exits.

“That’s right. I’m not one of you lyrium junkies any more. And after what you Templars took from me when I left, I have no qualms about putting every single one of you in the ground. So. Fuck. Off.” He takes a threatening step and that’s all it takes to set the rest running.

Del sends one last murderous glare at them over her shoulder as the darkness swallows them. Then their unexpected helper turned to face them, standing straight, face neutral.

Still wary, Solas demands, “Who are you?”

“Solas, he saved us,” admonishes Ellana, wiping a trickle of blood from her nose. Her knife goes back in her sensible purse and she bends to put her high heels back on. “Thanks, stranger.”

The tall human nods a cautious acknowledgment. “Are you two alright?”

Solas takes stock. Other than the bruise forming on his cheek, and Ellana’s bloody nose, they seem fine. “No worse for wear, I suppose.”

“You should leave. She’ll be back with more soldiers. Darktown isn’t mage-friendly any more. Or elf-friendly. Or friendly to anyone really.”

The man turns to leave, but Ellana stops him with a word, “Wait. What’s your name?”

“Cullen,” he says, short and simple. “I’m deadly serious. You should go.”

Solas grabs her wrist when she starts after him, mouth open to ask more questions. “He’s right. Let us go.” He flings the bat away into an alley.

She wavers and gives in. “Right.”

At a near run, they depart Darktown. When they slow on safer streets, Ellana turns to him. “You were right. That was a really stupid thing to do. I’m sorry.” Then her eyes dart over to the bruise on his cheek and drop away, guilt stamped all over her flushed face.

Her stark and total contrition compel him to take her chin in his hand and pull her gaze to his. “Is life always going to be this exciting with you around?”

She laughs, chasing those shadows from her eyes. “Probably. Though hopefully not as potentially lethal.”

“It’s a good hope to have. I may have to stay close then. Perhaps with both of us hoping and looking out, trouble will be halved,” he says, wry. But his lips bow into a smile regardless. Perhaps it had something to do with the rush of the fighting; the still pounding cacophony of his heart. Or the way she looks at him then. Like he is something to admire.

And not because of who he once was. But who he is.

Coincidentally, their exit from Darktown’s seedy embrace put them close to the docks. The guard there lets them by with a friendly wave that Ellana returns. Then she says to Solas, “You really knew how to handle yourself down there.”

“Is that so surprising?” he says, giving a shrug. “I grew up in similar circumstance, and in a rougher time. For elves, anyway.”

“I guess I didn’t think about it before, but yeah, I can see that. Huh,” she concedes, running a finger over her lips. “Same here. We lived in an alienage until D-seg went through. Most of us got handy with knives real quick.”

They go to the jamspot’s side door, rather than the big roll-ups. Her keys jingle in her hand as she fumbles at the lock. She seems oddly reticent as the key she needs slides home and the tumblers click open. “Well, I guess that’s enough excitement for one night ….”

She pauses on the threshold.

“Would you like me to walk you to your ‘apartment’ door?” Solas says.

“What? No, no. That won’t be necessary. Besides, if you do, then ….”

How puzzling. “‘Then’ what, Ellana?”

Her words come out in a soft and hard to hear rush, “Then-this-whole-thing-would-feel-kinda-like-a-date, sort-of-thing.”

Stunned, he freezes, wordless.

Her gaze darts up to him and she breaks out in a series of breathy laughs. “Which would be ridiculous, right? So ridiculous.”

Swallowing back the sudden rush of heat that rolls through him, Solas utters, “Would it?”

“Yeah, ‘cause we’re bandmates. It’s silly, right? Nothing breaks up a band faster than relationship drama.”

A pang flares through his chest. He’s been right all along. She doesn’t want a relationship with him beyond the band.

The music comes first.

And rightly so, he admonishes himself. Forcing a smile that he hopes looks at least a little real, he says, “Right. Also, it would be a strange date indeed that includes fisticuffs and gang violence.”

“Right, right. Although, everything up to then was pretty fun. Thanks for dinner, Solas.”

“No, thank you for … everything,” he finishes lamely. “It’s been some time since I had friends. Plural.”

“’Friends,’ right.” She takes in a gusty breath and shoots him a grin. “I’ll see you on Sunday, then?”

Their next scheduled jam day. “Yes.”

“Awesome, ‘cause with the bus comes some more crazy great news.” Her chest puffs, probably unaware of the plunging neckline of her little black dress. And it’s effect on him. But Ellana beams as she says, “We’re going to Wycome.”

Then she waves and disappears into the warehouse. Solas huffs and smiles, closing the outer door after locking the inner handle. He checks it once to make sure it latches, then leaves, walking back to his own apartment with head bowed in thought.

A strange restlessness keeps him from sleep. An eagerness for the trials of road life he hasn’t felt in a long time either. 

Wanderlust.

How odd. How … exciting.

He’s sure she told him first. On the warmth of that thought, he finally drifts into slumber. And into dreams of the early days, when they’d all sailed on the winds like nomads from one welcoming city to the next.

Chapter Text

“Look. The situation down there is always fluid. How was I to know Darktown was under Templar remit at the moment?” Varric shrugs as he shifts around on the bus’s frayed and motheaten benchseat right behind the driver. “Your boyfriend is still mad at me, huh?”

Ellana sighs. “He’s not my boyfriend, Varric.”

“Uh huh. Give it time.” The dwarf scratches his nose and says, “Anyway, it’s not like I run the Carta. I just contract their services on occasion. If it had been me handling the particulars, I would have sent more than just two enforcers. There probably would have been flamethrowers involved. Or maybe a tank.”

He’s angry at himself, she realizes. Leaving a job to others and having them fail is nothing new for him, she knows, but when it puts his friends in danger …. Ellana smiles, wondering just what Varric will do to get retribution.

The tourbus rumbles under her feet as she pulls the beast into the space just outside of the warehouse. The others, alerted by the thundering a diesel engine, no doubt, flood out of the jamspot’s door to gawk in awe. She can hear their loud exclamations just outside the clouded glass windows.

Parking, Ellana opens the bus’s door and leaps out. The grin on her face is starting to make her jaw muscles hurt, but she doesn’t care. “Well, guys, whaddya think?”

And they swarm her. Her band, her roadies. Friends, compatriots and companions alike. Ellana does her best to hug them all back as fiercely. All her loves in her arms. Even Solas and Cole hover at the edge, each with a pleased smile on their face. Though they don’t engage in the actual hugging, they stand as part of the united whole.

She answers the quickfire questions thrown her way-

“Yes, it’s ours. No, you can’t put a stripper pole in there. Yes, we’re going on tour, sort of. Where? Wycome. Because they’re paying us and it’s gonna be fun.” She rolls her eyes at Sera, who asks if they’re headlining. “No, but we’re splitting the billing with the Crows. Equal time, even if we are the opening act.”

The group groans. Then they laugh, elated.

Bull looks over the bus with an appraising eye. “It’s got a little more rust than I usually like, but we can make her glorious again. Get to work, boys. Strip out everything!”

The Chargers, born roadies one and all, fly over the hulking metal monstrosity. Varric steps down from the bus with a frown on his face. As he wanders away toward the beer cooler, he says, “They could at least let me leave before trying to toss me out with my seat.”

Said seat is then indeed thrown out the back door of the bus into a growing pile of trash and scrap. The old Kenworth deck and a half bounces on its suspension as they clean it out. From inside, Bull sticks his head out and shouts, “Ah, this is great! I mean, I gotta kinds scooch through this thing sideways, but the half deck’s already rigged for sleeping, Krem says. No way I can get up there, but everyone else can fit with room to spare.”

She calls back, “We’ll find a way to put a bunk in there for you in the back.”

“You’re the best, boss.”

A limo rolls up beside the bus and a swarthy-skinned woman steps out. Behind the pleasant smile on her face, Ellana can see the ghost of anxiety and shock in her eyes as she looks the vehicle and its industrious workers over. Her mouth opens, “This is what you spent the advance on?”

Ellana laughs. “Yep.”

“The thing must be over fifty years old.”

“Seventy-three years old, actually.” Ellana chuckles as the woman’s eyes glaze over in horror. “C’mon, Josie. Look at her. She’s beautiful under the mess. Clean lines, that 30’s vintage look. She’s got a few battlescars, but she trooped across Thedas for decades. And listen to that rumble. The old girl still has some life in her. Plus, my guys here; they are miracleworkers.”

She drapes her arm over their agent’s shoulders and grins confidence at her. Josie chews her lip and replies, in her Antivan accent, “I feel as though I will get tetanus just staring at it. What color was it, even?”

“Periwinkle, I believe. But that won’t matter. She’ll be sandblasted by the end of the week. Then we get to decide how to tart her up again.” Ellana gives her a little hug. “Stop worrying, Josie. We’ll make good.”

The woman sighs. “I know, I know. I just ….”

“Put your reputation on the line?” finishes Ellana for her. Then she nods in sympathy at Josie’s stricken look.

“There’s going to be a couple big names at the Wycome show. If we impress them, we might be entertaining offers from record companies as soon as Matrinalus, before the fall.”

“One thing at a time, Josie. We needed a way to get there. The old van wasn’t gonna cut it. Not for the whole crew.” When this fails to mollify the Antivan to Ellana’s satisfaction, she says, “We won’t fail you, Josie. I won’t let us.”

At last, that does the job. Josie smiles. “I have faith in you. All of you.”

“And us in you.” Ellana gives her another micro-hug before letting her go. She watches as Josie gets back into her long car and leaves, giving her a wave through the back windshield.

Then her eye drifts over the busy throng again. Varric stood off to one side, cell phone at his ear. Nearly everyone else pitching in to rip out the bus’s interior.

Her gaze stops when it meets a ramrod straight back. Solas. He stands next to the bus, considering the side with far more intent than the rusty panel surely merits.

Ellana wanders over to stand next to him and comments out of the side of her mouth, “Trying to laser the rust away with your superpowers? Psst, it’s not working.”

He snorts and looks at her askance. “I am merely trying to envision the end product.”

So she stands with him and tries the same. For a long time, she stays silent, but then she says, “What do you see?”

A smile curls the corner of his mouth, and she turns fully to look at it. Er, him. Biting her own lip, she leans back on the bus.

Solas looks back at her with warm regard. So warm, her cheeks start to heat. Maybe he does have laser vision after all. He says, “Such a precious relic deserves more than a generic and cliche coat of popping cherry red and chrome fender skirts, don’t you think?”

His mouth does an … interesting thing with ‘popping.’ A terribly distracting thing. She manages, “Mm-hmm.”

Solas swallows and his throat bobs. “Let me know when she’s ready for paint.”

Startled, she finally tears her eyes away from his throat and up to meet his gaze. “What? You want to paint her?”

HIs head tilts. “I’m familiar with an airbrush, yes. We’ll have to find a body shop anyway, correct? They’ll have a clean room, with a compressor, proper ventilation and the means to clearcoat whatever I might do.”

Flustered, she stammers, “I …. I don’t know what to say. You don’t have to-I mean, I can’t pay-”

His hands reach out for hers, hesitating a little just before they close on her. Warm, so warm. Does he just run at a higher temperature or something? He says, “Let me do this for you, Ellana. I want to.”

Wetting her suddenly dry lips, she whispers, “Okay.”

And the joyful smile that breaks over his face shoots lightning through her core. She keeps herself from melting into a puddle by only the barest of margins.

Solas gives her a little nod and moves away to wander inside the bus himself.

Dazed, she looks after him.

“See? Told ya. Like I told the others, give it some time.” Varric appears at her side, and she almost jumps out of her skin. A little notebook in his hands bounces as he jots something down in it.

Looking over his shoulder, she frowns, recognizing the columns and figures for what they are. She snatches it out of his hand and growls over his protests, “Are you … running a pool on whether or not Solas and I, what does this say? ‘Get it on?’”

Varric’s gaze goes flat and shifty over his widening smirk. “Maybe?” Then he jumps higher than she expects and snags his book back.

“Oh, for the love of- Why?!” she just keeps herself from yelling.

“Reasons.”

“Well, stop it.”

“No.”

She warns, “Varric, don’t make me set your chest hair on fire.”

“You can only use that threat so many times before it stops being scary.”

“I mean it this time.”

Varric grins, but rolls his eyes and nods. “Fine. Everybody, bets are off!”

A collective ‘awww’ resounds all around them. Solas sticks his head through an open window and inquires, “What bets?”

Ellana flaps her hands as she bounds over to stand under that window and look up at him, struggling to keep her expression cheerful and totally not hiding anything. “It’s nothing. Nothing important. How’s the interior coming along?”

With a dubious sidelong look, Solas says, “Bull’s crew has all the seating stripped out, now they’re pulling all the rotted wood off. You will probably have to start from scratch in here.”

“Good good. Tabula rasa and all that,” she demurs, then heaves a relieved sigh as he pulls back inside the bus.

“Smooth, Rosy.” Varric saunters away, chased by her glare.

Ellana scrubs her face with one hand and leans on the bus. Maybe having so many friends around to give her a hard time was not the best plan after all. Not the best for her sanity, anyway.

Chapter Text

In the wings at stage-left, Solas peeks out the curtain and swallows back the hard lump in his throat. A tremor of real fear spikes through his veins at the sight of the sea of faces before the stage. Not a familiar one among them.

Strange how quickly he’d gotten used to the Hanged Man’s regular crowd. Even if he didn’t linger after many shows, there had been a comfort in simple consistency.

Is there someone in this new place that could or would recognize the old him? Despite the mask and hood, plainer clothing and colder mien?

Closing his eyes, Solas wonders if it isn’t too late to turn tail and run. A rivulet of cold sweat runs down the back of his neck. He shivers and starts to wipe it awa-

“Balls, look at them all,” says a sudden voice at his elbow.

He jerks upright and looks down at Ellana, whose eyes widen to circles, green irises shifting hue with the colored lights above the stage. Clearing his throat, he manages, “Yes. There are many.”

She takes a deep breath, visibly settling herself. She says, little more than a whisper, “Courage, Ellana. It’s just a proper venue, that’s all. At least here, you won’t have to shout the night’s specialty shot. They’re here for the show. Not the bar.”

Though the pep talk is not meant for him, Solas feels his heart slow to a more manageable rumble. The firm set of her jaw, the growing fire in her eyes calm his jitters and sets a tickle of unexpected anticipation in his blood. 

What a wonder she is. So strong. So fearless.

Ellana sniffs and straightens. Her eyes travel over the band behind Solas. He can feel them draw taller at his back, her confidence lighting theirs like a string of watchtower beacons. And there is gratitude in her gaze, for their support and hard work. A pointed canine flashes from between her painted lips.

She growls, “Let’s blow this fucker out.” Then she turns and saunters out onto the stage. The crowd cheers.

Sera gives a short, delighted bark of laughter as they follow, taking up their own positions and instruments. Ellana looks over the mob and gives them her wickedest grin. Solas ignores how it makes his heart seize in his chest, and settles into a power stance, guitar cradled low.

At the mic, Ellana licks her lips and shouts, “Onetwothreefour-!”

A bright burst of chaos follows. Solas exchanges a look with Cassandra and Blackwall as they guide the clamor into the shrieking intro of their first song of the set. Ellana gyrates to the beat, hips and hands and head rolling. Then her lips part and she howls, “Hear the raaaaaain upon the leeeaaaves, above the sky lies greeeey-”

The energy sizzles through him, drawing him deep within their song’s spell. The drums boom heavy and dark as his own mouth opens to sing harmony at the chorus. Ellana shoots him a saucy wink as she kicks out with one long leg clad in red leather capris. She tilts the micstand as she slides to his side as they roll into the second verse.

Her floral perfume fills his nose, dizzying him. Solas, caught up in the moment, leans close and adds his own deep growl just as they reach the chorus again. Ellana’s eyes pop open a little wider in surprise, but her smirk deepens as she meets him flirt for flirt.

Just before the bridge, they part and Solas leaps over to stand guitar to guitar with Cassandra. He mirrors her feral scowl as they shred what would normally be the solo as a team, fingers flying over strings.

Ellana’s voice breaks over the crowd again to take them to the end of the song with her. Solas spins away from Cassandra and back to his mic to join her for the last chorus. Their two voices climb and dance around each other until he lets his harmony die off to let her high note ring.

And ring, it does.

Silence falls at the end of their song. For a split second, Solas worries. Then, the mob explodes in a deafening riot of noise. Ellana leans toward him to say something, but he can’t hear it over the cheering. He can only grin back at her like a fool.

Cole taps the bass drum twice and they glide into the next song. Then the next, and the next. So lost is he in the music, that the shifts barely register until the beat slows for one melody that shakes him back to the edge of anxiety. His melody.

Ellana takes up her own guitar then and strums the chords beneath Solas’s nimble plucking. Cass settles back to wait for her cue, her expression softening to some gentler emotion he can’t fully place as she watches Ellana. Fondness and something else.

Claret-colored lips part on sweet, soft strains. “I feel sun, through the ashes in the sky ….”

His eyes close as the ballad sweeps through him, past and present merging. The pain, the regret, all of it. Yet even in the stark melancholia of the tune, hope, found in the present, has come to erode the jagged landscape of his spirit. Perhaps even to plant a garden there, in the fallow, wanting places.

Gardenias, maybe, like her perfume.

Then with a snare-roll like thunder, they all slide into play. Sera’s violin wails sorrow over the dark, gothic imagery they’re creating with their heavy, slow strumming.

At the end, every instrument falls silent as Ellana sings alone out into the night, “I am the ooooone, who will … live … on.”

Solas shakes his head to rid his eyes of the tingling. The cheering that happens then shames any that came before and Ellana laughs, abashed, through the mic. “Like that one, did you? A close friend of mine wrote it. And by close, I mean-” Then her head bobs in his direction and he flushes as the mob shouts louder in appreciation.

Ellana turns to him, eyes sparkling and he nods, acknowledging the compliment cast his way. Then, turning back to the audience, she says, “We got one or two more, then we’ll let the Crows take a crack at you fine people.”

Blackwall pulls them into the next song, a savage riot of screaming tumult that catapults the energy level back to frothing and feverish. A whirlwind pit dances before the stage. Some bolder youths try for the stage itself.

He watches a tall, broad-shouldered human standing in the gap between stage and barricade push those children back into the mob, or pull them over and send them around to the back. Effective. He’d never have thought a Darktown thug so versed in crowd-control. At least not without collateral damage.

Solas lets another grin escape as they leap into the last song of the evening, his voice lending weight to Ellana’s velvety runs. And, struck by impulse, he surprises her (and himself) by hitting that high A, core clenched and twitching.

Amid shouts of ‘Encore! Encore!,’ they reprise a faster version of their power ballad before taking their bows at the edge of the stage.

Cullen half-turns and throws them all a thumbs-up as they file off into the wings. Bull and his Chargers flood the stage to start the loadout as the band itself, giddy, almost skips back to the green room.

As soon as the door closes, Ellana gives a huge shout and throws herself at them, one at a time, hugging and laughing. They respond in kind, all relief and joy.

Then she leaps into Solas’s arms, clearly drunk on elation. He didn’t expect it and so, nearly drops her. But as unexpected as a sudden armload of sweaty female is, triply shocked is he when her lips collide with his, throwing his mask askew.

His breath arrests in his chest as his arms clutch tighter. His heart thuds hard, just once, hard enough that he’d wince if not frozen.

She freezes, too, eyes wide mere centimeters from his. Her deep flush fills his field of vision with freckles and rosy skin. Yet, she still doesn’t pull away.

Heat swells in his core, and he thinks his eartips might actually have burst into flame.

Finally, Ellana breaks off. Their lips part with a soft popping noise. Past the roar of his pulse, the room is silent. Framing her still close face, he can see them. Their bandmates, faces stilled in dumbfounded bemusement.

Ellana’s mouth opens and closes as she blinks at him. Her chest heaves and he suddenly remembers that breathing is a-a … thing. A … necessity. He sucks in a huge breath, but it doesn’t relieve the tight sensation of keen suffocation.

“It went that well, did it?” asks a mild voice past the band. Ellana turns her head and Solas follows her line of sight to Varric, seated in an armchair, reading a newspaper.

Ellana struggles in his arms and he lets her down. Running over to the dwarf, she kneels next to the chair and tackles him with a hug. “Holy shit, it was the best!”

He pats her head with paternal fondness while saying, “Oh, I think the best is yet to come, Rosy. But this is a good start.”

Josephine bursts into the room. “That was amazing, everyone!”

Ellana throws her arms around the Antivan. “Josie! Thank you! Did they like it?” ‘They’ meaning the record label people.

The woman grimaces. “They … were late-”

Varric snorts. “Typical.”

Solas agrees, silently. The whole industry believes late to be prevailing fashion.

“-But what they saw, they loved!” Josephine let Ellana dance her around in a circle, a wide smile on her face for the elf’s enthusiasm. “They want to meet all of you. Shall I bring them back after the show?”

A resounding ‘yes’ from Ellana, Cassandra, Varric and Sera rings through the air. Then Josephine scampers back out to schmooze the A&R people and a fresh round of laughing and hugging ensues among the victorious companions.

Ellana skitters to a halt at Solas’s side, giving him a bashful sideways look. “Solas, I-” Then her words trail off.

Heart in his throat, he says into the pause, “It’s quite alright. High spirits and all.”

With a grateful smile, she turns back to her fellows and they begin conspiring over the details of the after-party.

His fingers drift up and touch lips that still burn and feel raw, as though their kiss had exposed every nerve ending there to the air. With a shiver, he rights his mask. There is no sanctuary to run off to here in Wycome.

He must play his part until they depart for home.

Chapter Text

Shit, shit, shit! Why did I do that?

The thought kept playing on endless repeat. All through the awkward meeting with the VIP’s, the after-party, and even now, during the five hour drive back to Kirkwall.

At the wheel, Ellana sighs and blinks away the tiredness. The radio plays some top forty hit at her and she hums along a bit to keep herself occupied and totally not thinking about the press of body to body, the heat of his mouth on hers. A flush that has still to dissipate rolls through her core again.

She glances over her shoulder at the sleeping bodies littering the floorboards and couches in the tourbus. Snores drift down from the bunks above as well. She smiles.

They’d deserved a chance to celebrate, so she’d stayed sober enough to drive them all back. A tall shadow draws her eye as it descends down the stairs at the back. Soft light gleaming off a bald pate made her wrench her eyes back to the road. Her heart starts to race as she hears him moving around back there.

He just came down to use the head, that’s all. Call of nature, sort of thing. Please, please, let that be all-

“Ellana,” he greets, as he sits shotgun to her right. Her spine straightens as she suppresses a shiver.

She swallows the looming panic and nods, giving him a smile with as much cheer in it as she can muster. His bare feet draw up in her periphery to rest on the dash across the narrow stairwell. Yanking her gaze away from his well-formed ankles sticking out of the bottoms of his comfortable sleep attire, she says, “Not tired?”

Solas hums a negative. “I thought perhaps you could use the company. To stay awake.”

Giving a playful scoff, she retorts, “It’s not that long a drive.”

“Hmm. As I recall, you didn’t sleep all that much the night before we left either.”

“How do you know how much sleep I got?” she says. “I could have gotten all the sleep!”

In the corner of her eye, he smiles at her absurdity. “If the constant updates of the travel itinerary to my phone were any indication, no, you did not sleep.”

Abashed, she hunches a little. “Fine. I didn’t get much sleep. Forgive me for being too excited to sleep.”

“And now? Someone else could have driven us home, Ellana,” he chastises with soft tutting noise.

“Still too excited, even if things went a little wonky during the after-party.” They both fall silent. Ellana thought back. For all of Josie’s gushing and clever handling of the label people, once the Crows had joined the post-show festivities, the Inquisition had lost the A&R reps’ attention to the Crow’s lead singer’s … undulating hips. 

She’d never known a male elf to exude such raw and oily sex appeal. And indiscriminately, too. The way he kept disappearing with a different partner or partners all night long disconcerted her. It seemed a little desperate to her.

She thinks of herself as a sexually liberated woman, but anyone who thought that she’d sell her body to get a record deal deserves the punch headed their way. During the party, she’d had to slap away hands on her ass and thighs more times than she could count. Her band started muttering and throwing dark looks. Solas had looked positively murderous in his feral mask.

It didn’t stop until Cullen had a word with the offenders, some of them the very prospectors Josie had brought along for business. That probably didn’t help their chances, but hell, fuck’em.

Solas sighs and says, “It’s not your fault. Setbacks are inevitable.”

“I know. And hey, we still had a great show. The owner of the Hacienda wants us back, like once a month! And we got a couple other venues interested. I’m gonna call that a win.” Ellana sat up straighter, pride flashing through her. “Looks like we’re gonna run the Free Marcher circuit for the next few months at least.”

Her enthusiasm earns her a warm chuckle. Solas says, “I suppose I will have to refer the rest of my students to other tutors then.”

That he’d do that made the glow under her breastbone grow brighter still. She grins and says, “In it for the long haul then?”

There is a long pause and icy fingers of trepidation clutch her heart, stealing her breath.

“I believe so.” His voice seems oddly muted and she risks a glance over at him. Solas stares back at her, unflinching, his long fingers sliding along his jaw. And though his expression stays neutral, something in his gaze sears her to the bone.

Her tongue sticks to the roof of a suddenly dry mouth.

A loud noise under their tires startles her back to awareness. She guides the bus back into the lane and off the rumble strip. She can’t bring herself to look at him again, as she wills the flare of embarrassment back down.

After another long moment, his hand and wrist appear in her peripheral vision and she watches as he turns the radio off. The sappy love song it had been emitting ceases its melodramatic crooning. The long, relieved sigh after clues her in. “Don’t like pop, Solas?”

He shifts and replies, “Normally I can tune out the unpleasant blandness of what seems to make it to the top of the charts nowadays, but I find it much harder to do when I’m to blame for its existence.”

A laugh tries to bubble out of her throat. It escapes as a strangled snort-cough. “You wrote that? Youwrote that?”

Solas allows, “You may laugh.”

So she does, hand to mouth, muffling the noise so it won’t wake the others. Her ribs hurt as she winds down to a wheeze. When she can breathe again, she asks, “Why? Of all things? Why?”

“It’s easy,” he admits. “The world seems to have a bottomless thirst for maudlin and formulaic love songs. I have a recurring need to eat and pay the rent. It’s not a bad bargain, all things considered.”

Another giggle slips out of her. “So, Dorian’s your pop peddler?”

“You make it sound so sordid.”

She looks at him sidelong. “Oh, come on. It is a little sordid.”

He smiles a mischievous smile. “Maybe.”

Humming in amusement, she turns the radio back up. Perhaps a little louder than necessary.

Wincing, he says, “Ellana, please.”

“I agree, turn that shite off!” came a voice from the back. Sera’s boot comes flying forward to hit the windshield. Then the blonde grumbles something about trying to sleep and starts snoring once again.

“Fine, fine.” And she twists the knob again, silencing the tooth-achingly cloying music. At the strained look on Solas’s face, she says, “It’s a little funny, you have to admit.”

“I don’t have to admit anything,” he says, archly. But his smile widens. So does hers.

Her gaze finds the horizon again. The first touches of pre-dawn light set a flame among the dunes of the Wounded Coast.

Biting her lip, she puts her hand out toward him without looking. After a heart-stopping moment of hesitation she might or might not have imagined, a dry and warm palm slides against hers. Fingers entwine.

Letting out the held breath in a sigh, Ellana whispers, “I like you, you know.”

She’s tired of denying it.

The muscles of the hand in her grasp twitch and then squeeze. “You shouldn’t.”

Her face heats and she curses herself for acting so adolescent. “Why not?”

“Reasons too many to count,” he replies, sounding sad and a little breathy. But she won’t look. She won’t.

“What if I said I don’t care?” she says, carefully. “That this ‘liking’ doesn’t seem like the kind that plans on going away any time soon.”

“It doesn’t, does it.” Which means it’s mutual. There’s a fucking butterfly riot going on in her belly, with batons and rubber bullets and everything. Solas’s grip tightens a little more. Then he says, “What about what you said earlier? About relationship drama and bands?”

“What good’s a rule if you can’t break it?” Her guts churn with mixed emotions. “I’m … willing to try, if you are.”

His thumb caresses the tops of her knuckles in silent assent, as though affirming it aloud might shatter this fragile thing they are building.

Ellana keeps her eyes on the westbound road, and together, while the sun climbs behind them, they watch the sky change from deep violet to violent orange, through shades of pink until sweet and clear blue reigns over all.

Chapter Text

Just so you know. With revenue drying up, your savings won’t last very long.’

Solas glares at the e-mail while thinking of the three hundred sovereigns in his wallet. His share from the gig. Not nearly enough to cover his expenses as they are. The keys clack as he replies, ‘How long?’

‘Can’t give you an exact right now. Not until I crunch the numbers. It would help if I knew what changed.’

‘It’s irrelevant to your job.’ His phone rings in his pocket. Fishing it out, he answers, “Hello?”

“Solas, hi. It’s me, Ellana.” She hesitates, then says, “Um, hello.”

The back of his neck warms, tingling, and he chuckles. “You said that already.”

The mail icon on his screen ripples, then flashes a glowing red ‘1’ at him. He clicks on it. It says, ‘Well, it may soon be. If you don’t have the means to pay me, then I can’t justify working for you to You-know-who.’

Anger, bitter but banked, flitters through him at just the mention of them. ‘If it gets that far, I’ll let you know far enough in advance that you can find other means of employment. I owe you that much, at least.’

Ellana muses in his ear, “So I did. Ha. I was just wondering if you’d, uh, like to catch some lunch with me, maybe.”

“Hmm …,” he says, as he reads yet another e-mail.

‘ … After all this time, you can cut me off just like that, hm? I thought we were friends.’ The smiley face at the end of the message belied the sour vitriol of the words.

‘A misconception I never endorsed or encouraged. Who ever befriended their accountant?’

“If it’s not a good time—”

He interrupts, pulled from his distraction, “Hm? Oh, no. I mean, yes. I … would like that. Where shall we go?”

“There’s that new Nevarran shawarma place.”

A new message arrives—‘Void, you’re still a cold bastard. You could at least pretend to beg me to stay on for free. Fine. I’ll have your numbers by week’s end. Don’t be surprised if there’s a letter of resignation attached to them. Shall I inform your lawyer that you’ve decided to cut ties in a fit of pique or mid-life crisis or something? Are you going to fire her, too?’

“What are you doing, anyway? I can hear clicking. Lots of clicking,” she says, playful.

“Just … taking care of some e-mails. I apologize. Shawarma sounds excellent, actually. Pick you up in ten minutes?” Solas types as he speaks. ‘No. I’ll let her know myself should it become necessary. As per usual, no cross-talk, Felassan. My business is my own. To share with whomever I will.’

“I can meet you halfway. We can walk.”

A flush rises at the thought of spending the afternoon with her, doing so mundane a thing as walking. “Yes. I’ll see you in a few.”

‘Sure thing, my super-secretive boss,’  declares Felassan in bold type.

‘I’ll be waiting for the numbers. Good afternoon.’ Then he shuts his laptop and sighs.

Pulling on shoes, Solas stands and gets ready to go out. He looks around his apartment and sighs again. His circumstances, now in flux, may make it impossible to maintain his current standard of living.

So be it.

He never liked the apartment anyway.

_____________________________________________

He loves her laugh.

It reaches inside him and lights a flame at his heart with its spark.

“—but an umbrella? Really?” she says, giving the accoutrement under his arm a poke.

“You never know,” he responds, with a shrug. “Does it not become one to be prepared?”

“Well, I find you very becoming, with or without an umbrella,” she says, grinning as he flushes with heat at the compliment.

“Really, Ellana.” He refuses to look away from her bright green eyes, no matter how the urge to do so out of bashfulness might prod him. “I believe you say such things merely to try to put me out of sorts.”

She pulls closer into his side. “Flustered you is extremely sexy, but I also mean it.”

Looping his one arm around her waist, Solas chuckles. “Then I shall take the compliment, though I can’t really see myself that way. It comes from a trusted source, after all. And a person who possesses that quality tenfold.”

Now she pinks, and how that seems to squeeze that bit of muscle in his chest that pumps blood to all his extremities. Ellana almost skips at his side for a moment, before returning to their more sedate walk. So much energy. It’s a wonder she can contain it at all.

Then her steps slow outside the storefront of a very familiar building and she looks into it. Solas stands at her side and does the same. A few black-clad teens and tattooed youths rummage through bins and bins of vintage vinyl. Disinterested workers fiddle with their phones at the counter.

Ellana whispers, “I can’t believe it’s been six months already since I quit my day job.”

“Time slips quickly when we’re too distracted to note its passing.” He watches her, then ventures, “Do you miss it?”

“This? Oh, hell, no. Well, some of it. Sometimes people would bring in some really awesome stuff and then it’s like you’re holding history in your hands, you know? Like it’s close enough to see, almost.” She smiles, a bit sad and joyous at the same time. “Then they always have a story and, it sorta helps you fill in the pieces. The why’s. The how’s. It helps you start to make sense of it all.”

He nods, even though he wonders why she needed such answers. And yes, there is a very real need in her eyes. “Do you want to go in?”

Like he just gave her a gift, she smiles and darts inside. Smiling himself, he follows and sits back, listening as she gushes—

“Oh, wow! Where did you guys find—?” “Is that signed? Oh, crap, that’s gotta be worth—!” “C’mon, show me the good stuff. I know you got a stash, Michel—!” She flies around the shop in her exuberance, catching up with ex-coworkers and old regulars alike until finally she slips back to his side. Her shining eyes look up at him and she says, “It was right here, wasn’t it?”

Solas looks around and, surprised at himself, nods. “This very spot.”

Breathy, she licks her lips. “Who woulda known, right?”

“You,” he replies, reaching up one hand to touch her cheek. “You change everything.”

She surges up and touches her lips to his, just the softest stroke across his mouth. Then she starts to sink back to her heels.

Giving a little shake of his head, Solas chases her, bending to press full on her open, gasping mouth. A molten fire fills him as she rises again, arms embracing him about the neck. His own hands find her hips and relish their shape. Their tongues dance, speaking their own writhing language of desire and promises.

A few catcalls and cheers resound through the shop and they break apart, each breathless and panting. Much to his chagrin, Ellana turns to their unwitting audience and gives a sarcastic bow and wink. Then she swings back to him. “C’mon, let’s go get us some shawarma! I’m hungry. Aren’t you hungry?”

She drags him by the hand in her wake, at almost a run. His eyes linger on her form. “Oh, yes.”

It isn’t until later, after a few odd looks from their waiter and a surreptitious wipe with his napkin, that he realizes there is lipstick smeared all over his mouth. Ellana giggles as he shows her the red stain on his napkin.

And he cannot even bring himself to care.

Chapter Text

“—so, you see, it’s not a matter of practice or how well you play, my dear.” A shark smile split a dark, otherwise beautiful face. Just a flash of predatory cunning before her expression relaxed into a poised neutral. The human woman in her expensive, tailored suit looks down her nose at Ellana, and continues, “It’s a matter of exposure.”

Ellana tamps down her instinctive dislike of the lady’s manner, glad she’d stuck to her guns and said no to Sera when she’d asked to come along. Sera probably would have shoved her fist through this Madame Vivienne’s face by the second word. I’m tempted myself.

Cassandra reaches over and squeezes Ellana’s forearm. The elf looks at her friend in gratitude for her support, then shoots a hard look at Vivienne. “Isn’t that what you’re offering, though? Isn’t that your job?”

“On a multi-national level, yes, but one cannot build legends from nothing.” Vivienne crosses her long legs and lounges in the coffee shop’s corner armchair. She took a sip of her latte before speaking again. “I agreed to meet with you. Not to offer you a contract, but to let you know we might be interested. I have watched your little troupe play and I do like what I’m seeing, but until you can prove you can catch and hold the public’s attention in the larger arenas of Ferelden or Orlais, I’m afraid we must take a pass.”

Josephine, sitting to Ellana’s right, spoke up, “My clients may not have thousands of loyal followers yet, but they have the drive to get there. The ambition to make it. You must acknowledge that, at least.”

“I’m not denying that they do, darling Josie. You would not waste your time if it were to the contrary, though I am surprised you’ve decided to represent such … small fish.”

The flash of fury in the Antivan’s eyes gratifies Ellana. Yes, they’d chosen wisely. An infuriated Josie could move mountains. Their agent’s painted lips parted to say, “These ‘small fish’ as you call them will one day be leviathan. Whose hands will hold the reins? Your label? Maybe Imperium Records? Or perhaps … DMG.”—Josie’s eyes narrow as she smirks—”I heard you lost one of your biggest artists to them last quarter ….”

Vivienne purses her lips. “You’d truly run to the Doglords Music Group? That is low. And they probably wouldn’t take you either.”

“Do you want to take that risk, Viv?” Josie’s expression turns a little sadistic as she presses on with the coup de grace, “Or explain the huge loss of potential revenue to your boss?”

Vivienne seems taken aback for a moment, before sighing. “You know my hands are tied concerning offering contracts. So what, then, do you want from me?”

“You know me too well, old friend.” Victory flushes Josie’s features.

Ellana feels an echoing curl of it in her own gut. She says, as per the Plan, “Give us a chance. Josie tells me you’re an influential lady, Vivienne. We need an ‘in.’ A way to break through the wall of venue solidarity keeping us out of the south.”

The dark-skinned woman gives a cold laugh. “They do so love their little fraternity. I do have some favors I can call in. However ….”

Josie gestures for her to continue. “‘However?’”

“Surely I deserve compensation. When the time comes to start taking your clients’ band seriously, I want first consideration.”

Ellana flashes her a sweet smile. “Naturally.”

They shake on it and watch as Vivienne and her small entourage of like-dressed assistants leave the coffeeshop. She calls back over her shoulder, “I’ll be in touch.”

Waiting until they left earshot, Ellana says, “There’s something of the snake about that woman.”

“She is pretty like one and a killer negotiator. We’ll have to be on our toes when it gets to that point.” Josie looks at Ellana and must see her doubt.

But Cass is the one to speak it, “Are we sure we want to deal with these people? Is there no other label we can speak with?”

Josie shakes her head. “Think of it as just a beginning. Vivienne being interested will bring others calling, though most are not nearly as genial after the ink dries. Trust me. You can do a lot worse than White Spire.”

“We do trust you, Josie. You haven’t steered us wrong yet!” Ellana wraps her arm around the woman in a hug. Then she says, “How’d I do?”

“Perfectly, Ellana. Honestly, you could not have done better.”

“Well, you coached me and it helped that she did everything you said she would. Even that whole ‘my hands are tied’ line.” Ellana let a boisterous laugh escape her lips as her other arm finds Cass and reels her into a three-way embrace. “Cass did great, too.”

“It’s not difficult when your only instruction is to stay silent and sneer a bit,” says Cass around stiff lips.

Ellana retorts, “Ya, but you got the best sneer in the sneering biz.”

“I’m sure that’s meant to be a compliment,” Cass says, extricating herself from their tangle of limbs.

The bell at the shop’s door rings and they all look over to see Solas holding the door open for Cole, who has a plethora of bright paper bags in his hands. The wan spirit gives her a tremulous smile before lifting his arms away from his body. “Ready.”

With a whoop, Ellana lunges toward him and wraps her arms around his middle with a laughing, “You always know when I wanna hug you, huh?”

“Yes,” replies he, in short. “Touch reassures the real. That the real is really real.”

Ellana grins and stands back and turns to Solas with a bashful, “Hullo.”

“Vhenan,” says he, and she trembles as his arms engulf her. Both the word and his warmth conspire to melt her. Solas murmurs against her ear, “So it went well, I take it?”

“So well. Sorry I made you babysit Cole during the meeting.”

“It was no hardship. I quite like his company. He has an interesting view of Val Royeaux and its people.”

Ellana pulls away with reluctance. “I’m thankful anyway. I wish you’d both been here, but ….”

“You worried for Cole’s safety,” he finishes for her. His hand waves away her apology. “I had no burning desire to be part of the proceedings, so no matter. Shall we get a coffee?”

“Oh, I’ve had my fill, as you can see from my bouncing, but we can get you one.” She ushers them to the counter and they order. As the trio joins Cass and Josie in the corner, she turns to Cole and asks, “What’s in the bags?”

His pale blue eyes find her. “Nothing yet.”

Puzzled, she pokes at one. It’s full of tissue paper and indeed, nothing else.

Solas shrugs and says, “He insisted.”

Why …?” Then she shakes her head. “You know what? Whatever makes you happy, Cole.”

“Yes,” says he, eyes already staring off into something only he could see.

Josie heaves a huge breath and says, “Well, with any luck, we’ll have available dates and places within the week. Then I’ll go handle lining them up personally. You may not see me for a bit, but call me if you need anything.”

Solas shoots Ellana a look before saying, “There are six new songs to copyright in the band’s name.”

Cass and Josie lean back in surprise. Josie says, “Really?”

“Yes,” admits Ellana, with a smile. To Cass’s amazed expression, she says, “What? Why do you think Solas and I have been spending so much time together?”

The woman colors a deep and painful red, and stammers, “I-I did my best not to speculate, but I didn’t think it was for-for work.”

Solas chuckles. “Spending time with Ellana is hardly work.”

“Oh, my shit, Cass. You are so adorable. You didn’t ‘speculate?’ A worse liar there never was.” She laughs and grins at her friend to say she’s just teasing. “Someday, the word ‘sex’ will come flying out of your mouth and everyone will just hit the floor.”

Solas’s hand over hers twitches when she says ‘sex,’ but when she glances at him, he seems fascinated with the contents of his mug. There is a suspicious pink tinge to the ear facing her though.

Josie clears her throat and spread her hands in diplomatic fashion. “Well, I’ll take the paperwork with me and we’ll get it sorted. Send me the files?” At Solas’s nod, she stands and picks up her purse. Giving Ellana a kiss on each cheek, she leaves with a promise to see them all soon.

Cass leaves as well, with muttered comments of perhaps doing a little shopping of her own. Something about a new capo. Their drummer drifts out after her, his bobbing walk a lot like a balloon tethered to a string tied to Cass’s wrist.

Ellana turns her hand to weave Solas’s fingers into her own and leans into him. “I love to tease Cass.”

“So I gathered,” says he, mild.

“It didn’t bother you, did it? What I implied?” She gives him a shy glance out of the corner of her eye. “After all, we’ve never ….”

“No, I was not bothered. Or rather, the reaction was not … a negative one.” He smiles at her. “My imaginings might have run a little rampant for a second before I had them well in hand.”

Chuckling, she then licks her lips and says with slow deliberation, “You know, someday the word ‘sex’ will come flying out of your mouth and then who knows what will hit the floor. My panties, maybe.”

Yup, that’s more than just a suspicious pinking.

She decides teasing him is a lot more fun than teasing Cass.

Chapter Text

It surprises him how comfortable he is here.

In the bus.

With the constant press of bodies all about him.

Even with a deck and a half, there’s precious little ‘personal space’ with thirty-five of them; band, roadies, stage and security, all crammed in between its metal walls. Elbows and knees bump constantly. Cascading choruses of ‘excuse me’ filter down the aisle any time someone moves from back to front, or vice versa. Many’s the morning he wakes to find an arm that’s not his stretched across his chest in the mattress-covered half deck above.

And yet none of it diminishes the glowing bubble of … happiness growing under his breastbone.

Their closeness comforts in a way he’d never even felt with Evanuris. But then, there had been the matter of conflicting egos. His old mates bickered like cats, screaming in each other’s faces.

But no, Inquisition is different.

Perhaps it’s because Evanuris was a product of its time, and all modern groups had a … camaraderie such as this.

Solas thinks it over, then shakes his head. No, Inquisition is different. They have to be.

How he hopes he isn’t deluding himself.

His fingers find the turn signal and flip it up. The right-turn indicator clicks at him from the steering column.

A slim arm slides around his front and Ellana says, “Potty break?”

Solas smiles. “I’m trying to pre-empt Sera’s squalling demand for a restroom bigger than the water closet we have, yes. Also, I remember there was once a diner here. They had the best waffles I’d ever tasted.”

“Waffles, huh?” asks Ellana. “Hmm, well, I’m not a breakfast sort of gal, but I could do with something. Maybe they got burgers.”

“You don’t like breakfast?”

“Why? Is it a deal breaker?”

“Never. I am merely … curious.”

“One, I never get up that early. Two, if I do end up at one of those twenty-four hour greasy spoons, I’m too drunk to taste the food anyway. And three, it’s sort of all the same shit; eggs, sausage, bacon and some sort of bread.”

He turns his head to flash her a little smirk. “Someday, I’d like to challenge that misconception.”

“Oh? How?” Her brow lifts. She says, with a hint of sarcasm and doubt, “You gonna cook for me?”

“Oh, ye of little faith.” He pulls the bus onto the off-ramp and slows to merge with the traffic on the access road. Far up ahead, he sees the neon sign flicker ‘open’ over and over at him and breathes a sigh of relief. It’s not closed in all the time he’s been absent. Good. “Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Have you ever had butter pecan syrup?”

She says, “Uh … nooo? They make different kinds? I thought all syrups were syrup-flavored. Whatever flavor that’s supposed to be.”

“Maple. And no, it’s not the only flavor syrup comes in.” He shakes his head at her woeful lack of education concerning breakfast foodstuffs. His free hand comes up to loop around her wrist and stroke the edge of her pinky. Her embrace tightens for a moment, inciting a warm rush throughout his whole chest cavity. “There are many. I could introduce them to you, if you like.”

Humming a breath over his ear, she says, “So, first, you offer to make me breakfast. Now you want to experiment with syrup. Mmm, Solas, promises, promises.”

His toes curl inside his shoes, as they are wont to do whenever her voice dips low like that. A husky, teasing drawl. But two can play at that game. He brings her hand up and brushes his lips over her knuckles. The way her breath hitches draws his own brow up. He states, “I keep my promises.”

Teeth close over his eartip. He jerks upright, pressing her palm to his mouth to suppress a rising moan. It leaves him as a shaky sigh.

Oh, he wants her.

Over his pounding pulse, he hears her say, “You know, alarm clocks don’t work on me. I sleep right through the bastards. So if you wanna make me breakfast, someone’s going to have to be there to wake me up.”

Heat rushes south. 

Solas shifts in his seat, willing himself calm, and turns the bus into the diner’s parking lot. The old beast rumbles to a halt and hisses as the brake is engaged. He picks up the PA and clears his throat. “Breakfast. Or trips to the bathroom. Whichever you’d prefer.”

Fully half the bus’s occupants disembark, the rest either still asleep or not hungry. Solas waits as they shuffle out before following with Ellana on his arm.

He lets her do the talking when they push to the front. Looking around, he sees all the old staff still where he’d last seen them, as though he’d only stepped out for a few moments, instead of a few decades. Older, certainly, but still the same.

They take over the rear quarter of the diner and order. Solas watches the aged waitress waddle back to the kitchen and argue with the cooks. One, her husband, he knows. The other, their son. He looks on with a fond sort of nostalgia.

“Maker’s ass, this is going to take hours,” says Bull. “What is she, like ninety?”

“Hey, least Solas isn’t the oldest thing in the room,” snarks Sera, with a jagged peal of laughter. “He’s a goddamn spring chicken next to her.”

“If I am a spring chicken, then you are not even a glint in the rooster’s eye,” he retorts. “And I will take the experience that comes with age over callow youth any day.”

Feeling a touch smug, he nods toward the counter and they all look. Already plates of steaming food line up on the steel surface there. The old woman brings them to the tables seven at a time in short order, making only three total trips.

“Her fortitude is impressive,” says Blackwall, knife and fork making a mash of his hashbrowns and runny eggs.

“‘Er fortitude,’” mocks Sera, as she takes a huge bite of jam-slathered toast. She sprays crumbs as she continues, “Who talks like that?”

“People who pick up books on occasion,” says Varric, as he pours syrup on his pancakes.

Sera whips her head around to glare at the dwarf. “I pick up books, short-arse. I got the Chant of fuggin’ Light in my back pocket right now.”

“And read them, is the crucial addendum I should add,” says the dwarf. “And why the hell do you have the Chant in your pocket anyway? The only time I’ve ever heard you call on the Maker is to take his name in vain.”

Sera produces the bent, beat up book bound in thinnest, worn leather. She opens it to fondle a ratty page between her fingers. “S’got nice, thin, soft paper. All this travelin’, a girl never knows what’s gonna be … available-”

“Ugh. Forget I asked.”

“Wot? I read’em, before, you know-”

Cassandra grunts. “That is disgusting. And blasphemous.”

Solas feels a shaking at his side through the arm looped around his and glances over to see Ellana’s shoulders quaking in mirth. It appears she cannot even speak. Her hand is covering her open mouth, hiding the soundless gales of laughter trying to escape.

The corner of Solas’s mouth twitches, and he clears his throat. “Disgusting. And impressively prudent. Tell me, Sera, do you have a favorite verse or verses?”

Catching his mischievous sideways flick, Sera smiles, wide and garish. “Oh, yeah! ‘Potheosis is good. Great big spaces b’tween lines. Sometimes the ink makes it all scratchy, so it’s good when there ain’t too much-”

Bull snorts. “Goes to show you can take the girl out of the gutter ….”

Ellana’s snicker-dam breaks and she lets loose a tremendous guffaw, followed by peals of uninhibited merriment. The rest of the crew joins her, even Sera, whose brows angle under her bangs. Her mouth a gleeful leer.

Concerned when Ellana starts to hunch and wheeze, Solas rubs her back. “Breathe, vhenan.”

Sera shrugs. “I think the Maker’d approve. It’s, like, practically recyclin’.”

That sets Ellana off again. Every other early morning patron of the diner looks around at them, this wild bunch of misfits laughing their heads off.

And even Solas can only shake his head and give in, chuckling right along.

Chapter Text

“—then gather it to just your fingertips, and let it flow into the foci.”

His immense warmth at her back distracts to a terrible degree. She swears she can feel the thump of his heart against her spine. Gnawing on her lip, Ellana tries to focus her will to make the erratic spark of green magic she clutches over the strings obey.

Solas hums in approval as the light steadies and sharpens to the pick’s very edge. No longer a wildfire, but a controlled blaze. “Yes, just so. Now, try a G.”

The fingers of her right hand find the frets as her left ones strum. The chord vibrates through her very bones, picking up nuances of distortion from the pick in her hand. The pick flares and warbles, magic slipping loose of its containment and compression.

She laughs. “It’s like I’m using an overdrive. Like I’m hooked up to a tube-amp.”

The delight almost takes her mind off the calloused fingers stroking her side in absentminded affection; the long legs that frame her as she sits in front of Solas soaking in his vast experience.

Giving a shiver, Ellana twists a little and plants a kiss over his chuckling mouth. He admonishes, “Vhenan, if you do not concentrate—”

With a spurt of sizzling energy, the pick’s power bursts free of her control. It pops and crackles in her hand, rebellious. She imagines it a tad resentful, too, and smiles. “Whoa. It almost feels alive.”

Solas reaches over her shoulder and flattens his palm. With a grin, she puts the foci onto it. Turning it over and back with his nimble fingers, he says, “Enchanted artifacts that pull magic directly from the Fade can sometimes absorb elements of the things that pass through them. They reflect and enhance whatever comes near. Ideas. Thoughts. … Feelings. You imagine it alive and it will do its best imitation. It is a clever mimic. But no, it is not alive. Nor aware.”

She hums, deep in her throat and leans into him. His other arm ceases its torturous titillating tickle, and wraps full around her waist. She watches as he twirls the foci about his knuckles like a circus magician, the emerald light casting off soft streamers. The energy seems different under his yoke. Less … impatient.

With chagrin, she realizes it’s her impatience that makes it quaver so in her hold. “It’s really cool. I wonder why there aren’t any around any more.”

“Fear, mostly,” says Solas with a sad little laugh. “The people who crafted them were … encouraged to cease doing so.”

“What? Why?”

He sighs into her hair. “The MPPA witchhunt.”

Ellana starts as shock coasts through her. “But it’s just a pick. How can it be possessed?”

“Some care not for facts or proof. It acts alive, so it’s deemed demonic and dangerous. And it isdangerous, but only through misunderstanding or malice. The same knife I use to cut bread can be thrust into someone’s heart, can it not?”

Nodding for a moment, she then stops and frowns. “What do you mean ‘through malice?’”

Solas hesitates, hands freezing.

“Solas?” she asks, and turns her head again.

There is a … hurt floating around in his gaze, an old seeping agony like a septic wound. Ellana’s left hand settles over the top of his where it lay still on her stomach.

That seems to wake him from whatever vision haunts him and he looks back at her with a sorrowful smile. Solas transfers the foci to his left hand and hovers over the strings. Amazement fills her as the green light dims and flows like water along the edge to just the point. There it coalesces to a white-hotstar.

His expression changes as he looks at her. Softens. Tension drains from his tall frame all around her as he leans into her more fully. His generous lips curl at the corners as he moves close so their eyes lay only inches apart. A red tint rushes over his cheeks as the heat in his stare intensifies.

He fills her whole field of vision with his naked ardor. Ellana’s belly clenches as her heart gives a riotous thud in her chest. Through the surging blood in her ears, she hears him say, mild, “E minor please.”

Without her really meaning to, her fingers find the chords and wait.

Solas strums. The somber sound breaks over her, through her like a tender tidal wave. It carries with it a trembling, cresting sensation that steals her wind with its heady overtones of joy and desire.

Want.

A sweet rampage of tenuous wonder and hope. And fear.

When it passes, she heaves a shaky breath. “What was that?”

Solas’s eyes flick away from her for a moment, then back, the light in them bolder, as though he meant to leap from some tremendous height into peril. “That is what I feel. When I look at you.”

Breathless, Ellana stares, wide-eyed. Her free hand fists over her heart, as though anything could calm the crushing roar there. She shakes, skin tight and tingly.

Setting the guitar aside, she turns between his knees and leans forward, kneeling. Solas sits up to meet her. Her hands frame his face as she gazes down at him. Thumbs gliding over brow and cheekbones, she looks. 

And sees.

He is beautiful.

Maybe the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.

His arms shift, restless, as though he’s not sure where to put them. Smiling, she whispers, “Do it already.”

And he does. Lunging forward with surprising speed, Solas pulls her body flush to his, open mouths sighing as they collide.

Wits scattered before his onslaught, she careens through sensations. His broad shoulders under her palms. The salt and sunlight flavor of his skin as she nibbles along his throat. The broken sound he makes when her fingernails score his inner thighs over his tight jeans.

Not that his hands don’t roam, but they soon find a welcome roost on her backside. Her back arches when he squeezes. A quick scramble and she straddles his hips, lacy floral skirts puddled around them.

After the kind of grinding and friction that only leaves her more needy than ever, her fingers fly to his … fly. His breaths, fast and frantic, puff in her face as he watches her work. With a growl for buttons, Ellana stops when the open zipper reveals the tiniest peek of blue boxer brief, containing something decidedly not tiny.

Solas stops breathing as he stares at her, wide blue-grey eyes choked with longing.

Hunger flares and fingers inch toward that point of access—

The door to the green room busts open. “Ellana, where are the—Oh, Maker!

Ellana’s head whips around just in time to see Cassandra’s abrupt about-face. The door slams back into its frame with a raucous bang.

“Dammit, Cass!” she shouts. “You were supposed to still be out shopping!”

The human’s voice floats through the wood, “I’m sorry! I should have knocked first!”

Solas is the first to laugh and it breaks the wave of irritation that threatens to sour her mood. A giggle of her own escapes as she glances down and sees how his hands now clamp over his crotch in modesty.

Ellana sighs. “Can’t find a single fucking moment of privacy with my boyfriend.”

He shrugs, even as he smiles, pleased. “It is har—difficult,” he finishes, with haste, in the face of her imminent snark. “Difficult is the word I meant to say.”

Eyeing him askance, she says, “Sure it was.”

The door creaks open again, admitting a small voice with an Nevarran accent, “Are … are you two decent now?”

Ellana groans and stands to plop onto the couch proper. “Well, there goes my lady-boner.”

“Eloquent,” says Solas, sliding up to sit next to her, fingers rezipping the front of his pants. Then his hands sort of hover over that region like a fleshy chastity belt. He mutters, “Wish I could say the same.”

Cassandra enters the room in a wary little sidle. “I do apologize.”

Ellana runs her hands through her hair. “It’s fine, Cass. What did you need?”

“The spare pick-ups. Do you have them?”

“Vhenan,” says Solas, holding out the foci between forefinger and thumb.

She takes it and puts it back in its pendant case. Addressing Cassandra, she says, “I think I gave them to Dagna. She said she’d fix them.”

“Oh,” says Cass, still standing near the door like she wants to flee. Her shoulders square then with enviable courage. “Also, Josephine wants you to meet the owner. And that Tevinter is here for Solas. I can’t find Sera. And Cole broke his drumsticks already.”

Sighing again, Ellana nods and waves her off. Cassandra scoots back out with remarkable haste. She almost expects a cartoonish sound effect. Something like ‘Pyoooo!’

Ellana turns to Solas, propping her head and elbow up on the back of the couch. “Welp, duty calls.”

“As it does,” he replied, bland and a tad wistful. His gaze ticks down to her lips then back up again. “Nothing for it, I suppose.”

“We’ll just have to make time to pick this up later,” she says, leaning forward to place a lingering kiss on his lips. She pulls back to say, “And we are sooo going to pick this up later.”

“My wish on your lips.”

Poetry, mum! He speaks such poetry to me,” she jokes, before diving in for another quick peck. “Later?”

He nods, flush and trying to hide the eagerness.

Then Ellana presses her lips to her fore- and middle-fingers and reaches down to give his fly a little brush. She addresses the goods hidden under that layer of denim, “And I’ll see you later, too.”

She doesn’t need to look to know Solas is blushing an epic blush. She can practically hear the blood rushing to his cheeks.

Standing with a bounce, she saunters out.

There might or might not be an extra little swish in her stride.

Chapter Text

“This is complete and utter bullshit!” drawls his companion, lemon-sour. Booted feet reach out to kick the back of the driver’s seat. Their new chauffeur shoots a nasty glare at the elves from the rear view mirror.   

Solas shrugs, then shakes out his long hair. The toggles at the end of his dreads clink together with a musical sound. “It’s your own fault.”

“I don’t need a goddamn chaperone, Fen’harel.” Arms cross in his periphery.

“Multiple DUI’s and drug charges beg to differ,” says Andruil, dry as dust. She sits behind them in the long van. “Fen’harel’s right. If you didn’t make it a habit to dope yourself into oblivion before a show, then none of us would have to waste our time watching you, Elgar’nan.”

The older elf’s knee bounces. “Just how long do you think you can keep up this little buddy-system of yours?”

Solas sighs. “As long as we can. I know you’re already plotting your escape, and that all the handlers and security are under your thumb. Please at least wait until after the gig?”

With a twitch of his hands, Elgar’nan leans toward him. “C’mon, you know you’re dying for a taste, too. I can call my guy. He’ll meet us whereve-”

“I don’t do that any more,” barks Solas, fury sparking like flint on steel. The power of his glare pushes Elgar’nan back into his seat. “You know it’s been years. Stop it.”

“Void, but sober you is boring.” Elgar’nan shifts and looks out the window. An uneasy silence fills the van. “You know … she’s gonna want some.”

Solas shivers. “Mythal can take care of herself.” The lie tastes of bile and smoke.

“Uh huh.” Sarcasm drips from those lips. The creaking leather of the seat behind Solas told him Andruil has her doubts as well.

To take his mind off it, Solas says, “Where are the twins?”

Andruil says, “With Sylaise and June. They’re meeting some elf rights activists. You know how they love their causes. And with desegregation rolling through legislation like a bullet train….”

They’ll be busy around the clock. All of them. And while Solas feels more a touch of pride for the small role he’s played in bringing it about, he hates the idea of being paraded around like a freakshow attraction. A political puppet. Token minority mascots.

How many scripted commercials and public service announcements would he have to suffer through before they returned to Qarinus for the winter?

Too many.

And not enough stage time to drown the despair in love of his craft. In love of music.

Yet even that has soured now, given the lengths to which Mythal and the others go to keep their hold on their fans. Their rabid followers. He wonders if it plagues them at all. The manipulation. It does him. Shame makes its nest in his heart and he can feel it … breeding.

Bitterness wells in him and fists clench before he can stop himself.

When had it all gotten so complicated?

The memory marches by in his mind’s eye of nine skinny elf brats dicking around in an abandoned shack at the end of the project’s street. Escaping the squalor of their daily lives in dreams bigger than any knife ear was allowed to have. But they’d had them anyway. 

And made them real.

High adventure found them and oh, how they’d soared.

And where had it all led them?

Into hedonism and misery.

A grave and gripping ennui numbs him then and he closes his eyes as he says, “Call your guy.”

“Fen’harel,” warns Andruil, her hand dropping onto his shoulder.

But Elgar’nan is already tap-tapping away at the carphone.

“What’s the point?” asks Fen’harel to no one in particular. “At least if they get enough for their nightly fix now, we won’t have to go back out for it later.”

The hellish glee on Elgar’nan’s face, as he speaks low and urgent into the phone’s receiver, drips ice water down Solas’s back.  Elgar’nan says, “You want any?”

Solas chokes back the reflexive gag and snaps, “No.”

Their junkie guitarist sits back with a hum, grinning like an idiot.

Turning his face toward the window, Solas stares at the passing buildings without really seeing them. Under the roiling disappointment and hopelessness, he finds an urge. A temptation to just step out of the van at the next stop. Walk away and never look back.

So beguiling is this vision, that he starts to really consider it. Finally, after the hour or so ride to the venue, not counting the quick stop they make that Solas doesn’t even pay attention to, he comes to a decision.

This is my last tour, he thinks. The mere idea of it lightens his heart to a startling degree. Relief overwhelms him. He smiles at his reflection and nods.

Later, when the call comes, he listens to the sound of the world ending. Of the ground falling away from beneath his feet, leaving him to plummet into the yawning abyss.

The first thing he does is storm into the E.R. and punch Elgar’nan in the mouth.

The second thing he does is go out to find a fix.


He snaps awake in the dimly lit confined space, breath heavy and thick in his throat. Disoriented, he tries to sit up, but a weight on his arm pins him. The mattress he’s lying on doesn’t quite deaden the rumble below. The … tourbus. That’s right. We’re on our way to … Red Cliffe.

Reaching up, Solas touches his cheek and feels wetness there. His eyes tingle suspiciously. Awareness trickles in and he looks over to see fiery hair wafting to and fro in the breeze from the vent fan set into the wall. One delicate pointed ear extends out of the cloud-like mass.

Banishing the ghosts of yesteryear, Solas rolls and aligns his body with hers. Ellana’s.

She murmurs and wiggles back into him. He sighs and pulls her closer, nuzzling the back of her neck. His nerves calm as she turns a sleepy eye toward him over her shoulder. He whispers, “Who’s driving?”

She smiles. “Varric. You should see him. He has to sit on a phonebook.”

He frowns. “How does he reach the pedals?”

“Oh, Cole’s helping. Varric was so mad when I told him he couldn’t drive. He’s ‘showing me up.’”

“I imagine it’s vexing to find the older models of vehicles don’t make allowances for persons of his stature.” Solas hums, thoughts turning back to his nightmare. One of his darker recollections.

Ellana peers at him closer and rolls so they lie face to face. “What’s up?”

He shakes his head. “Only a bad dream. A bad … memory.”

Her brows draw together in concern. “Anything you want to talk about?”

“Not really.” Solas takes in her glance away, her worrying at her lip. His fingers caress her jaw. “It has nothing to do with you.”

“But it is bothering you,” she retorts. “i don’t like the things that dare to bother you. If this dream had a face, I’d punch it for you.”

He chuckles, warmed by her quick and fierce defense. “I’ve no doubt. But no, if I were to let you face my demons, you’d be at it all week. Your fist would get tired.”

Mouth twisting down at the corners, she says, “So there’s lots of skeletons in the old closet, huh?”

“I’ve lived a complicated life. There are bound to be more than a few mistakes to choose from that pop up to disrupt my sleep on occasion.” He coaxes her closer with an outstretched arm. A tingle rolls through him as she buries her face at his neck. Her presence, her realness comforts him more than anything. He whispers, “You asked me how the foci could be misused? It projects emotion, enhances the connection between bearer and audience. You’ve felt it before, have you not? Even without magical aid, a rapport builds. A gestalt.”

At her nod at his throat, he hums and continues, “Imagine a song about anger. A passion it’s hard to convey without letting it into yourself. Without feeling angry. Now watch the audience pick up on that, watch it whip them into a frothing fury. They’re on the cusp of tearing each other apart or exploding out into the street to find something to destroy or kill. All they need … is a nudge.”

Solas shudders. Ellana’s arm over his chest clutches tighter. She whispers back, horrified, “Did you nudge?”

His eyes clench closed in guilt. “Sometimes.”

Her breath hitches, but she doesn’t pull away like he half expects her to. Instead, she reaches up and strokes his cheek. A soft sound escapes him, something like a whimper as he leans into her touch. She says, in a tone not wholly without judgement, “How can you conscience that sort of manipulation?”

And he is glad, for blanket forgiveness would have felt false. It would have left him cold and hollow. He answers, “With justifications that ultimately made no difference. The guilt has never abated.”

A long tense silence falls. Then she says, “Thank you for telling me.”

“I had to. You needed to know what the foci is capable of. The reach of its power. It’s a wonder in the right hands. They, the young, the outcasts, the ignored, come to feel connected. To you. To each other.” He lifts her chin with a finger so he can look her in the eye. “I’ve watched you. You love the crowd. You’d give them everything to make them happy. Yours are the right hands.”

“You can’t know that.” Doubt in her restraint clouds her eyes and he hates himself for putting it there.

“I do.”

“I should just use a regular pick, then.” Her fingers drop from his cheek to ghost over the pendant around her neck.

“Vhenan, it came to you. By whatever ignoble means, it found you. At the end of the day, it’s just a tool. And a tool is meant to be used. Not feared.”

She sighs. “Guess I’ll just have to be responsible then. I suck at responsible.”

The bald lie makes him smile. “No, you don’t.” He laughs at her sudden pout.

“Let me pretend for a minute, will you? Sera can’t have all the fun.” She turns a little and lifts her pendant up before her eyes. She stares at it with a newfound respect.

More proof that she’ll use it the way it’s intended.

How did he ever meet such a wonder? It tempts the consideration of the intervention of some divine agency. Of providence.

Solas shakes away such fancies and just holds her, warding away dark thoughts with her warmth.

Gratitude closes his throat and quickens his pulse.

He doesn’t deserve such unexpected bounty, but he is glad nonetheless that the universe seems to disagree with him.

Chapter Text

“Can we talk?” said a voice at her shoulder.

Ellana turns her head away from her consideration of the … badass work of art in front of her to see Dorian, standing just out of arms’ reach. The stubborn jut of his chin contrasted weirdly with the worried glint in his eyes.

She frowns. “Of course, Dorian.”

He looks around at all the roadies unloading the bus of all the band’s equipment into the warehouse. Then his gaze swings back. “Somewhere a little more private?”

Her frown deepens, but she nods and leads him to her little living space. Amusement tickles her as she watches him search for a place to perch that isn’t littered with dirty clothes or dust. His expression reflects a mild horror that anyone could live like this. Finally, he sweeps a pair of her pants off one of her two chairs and plops into it, eyeing her with trepidation and other mixed emotions.

She waits, but when he is less than forthcoming, she says, “You wanted to tal— ?”

“What are your intentions with Solas?” he interrupts, voice low.

Blinking, she tilts her head at him. Then she smiles a wicked smile. “Ah, so if I want permission to come a-courtin’, I ask you? I can see it now. I’ll come to the door with the bouquet and corsage. You’ll let me in and shout for him to come down the stairs, then pointedly polish a pistol while telling me to have him home by twelve.”

“I’m serious, Ellana.” Yet the way his mustache twitches at one corner belies a, ah, complete lack of seeing the humor in the situation.

She takes a dirty plate and cup from the other chair and transfers them to the sink before sitting opposite the Vint. “I don’t see how that’s really any of your business.”

Dorian sits back and crosses his arms. “Whether or not he acknowledges it, he’s my friend. I don’t have many. But I look out for the few that I do have.”

The pure and sincere concern in his face moves her. The estimation she holds for the swarthy man grows a few increments. Ellana’s core warms, lifting her heart. She tamps down the sudden urge to hug him. They’re having A Serious Talk, after all.

She decides to go for broke and tell the truth. “I love him.”

Now he blinks, surprised. Then he looks away and sighs.

She can’t tell if it’s relief or not.

His gaze, when it swings back to her, seeks to pierce her very soul. He searches her face hard. An ugly twist takes his mouth as he forges a cynical and disdainful weapon of his voice, “All the little elf maids come running when the great Fen’harel howls. They all want a piece of him; his arrogant sneer, his diamond-studded fingers, his leopard-print covered ass. They all ‘love’ him. He’s had hundreds, you know. All kneeling before him, begging for the chance to suck his dread co—”

Her palm slams down on her little card table, tipping the few dirty glasses atop it. The bang and clatter shocks Dorian to silence, as does the wrath that must surely be stamped on her face. She says, voice little more than a whisper, “So, I’m just another groupie, huh?”

“Aren’t you?” challenges he.

The impulse that nearly takes her then is less huggy and more … chokey. She bites the inside of her cheek until it abates, then heaves a huge calming breath and says, “You’re lucky I know how deeply you care about him. How much he needs people that care about him. Anyone else would be spitting teeth right now.”

The blatant threat of violence causes Dorian to freeze, color rising to his cheeks. His mouth opens, but she isn’t finished—

“You’re right, in a way. But I don’t just want a piece of him. I want all of him. His silly laugh. His random kindnesses. Even that thing he does that drives me insane, with his big toes. Ugh, the popping. It haunts my nightmares. The good and the bad. All of it. Because all of it is him. Beautiful, brilliant him. Just … Solas.” Her tirade leaves her a little breathless. The anger drains away with the last of the words.

Dorian’s silence persists for another few heartbeats, before his face breaks into a beaming smile. Almost a silly grin. Boyish in mien. She wonders at this peek beyond the bitter wall the years built around this sort of unsullied, guileless core. He reaches across the table to put his hand over hers. “I had to be sure. I’m sorry.”

She understands, though it still hurts a bit that he thought that of her. Nodding, she then says, “A good friend would want to be, though most aren’t so damn mean about it.”

“Well, if my father taught me one thing, it’s if you piss people off, they show you who they really are.” He snorts and shakes his head. The look he gives her is all apology as he says, “Forgive me my worry. At first, I saw his interest and cheered. Yes! thought I. That’s just what he needs. A healthy dose of energetic, meaningless sex. Break him out of his depressing listlessness. But that isn’t the way it went, is it?”

Ellana nods, though the question is largely rhetorical. “Nope. Your sinister plan was foiled by …feelings.”

“Curses!” exclaimed Dorian, with a villainous theatrical twirl of his mustache. “Ah, well, the world makes fools of us all, and all that rot. Anyway, there’s more. I just … I don’t want him hurt again. Go gently, Ellana. Some hearts do not mend whole.”

The haunted sheen to his eyes pulls at her and she cannot help but ask, “What do you mean? What happened?”

“I shouldn’t tell you this, but I know he never will. He’d probably never speak to me again if he found out.” A fear of this roils around the man’s eyes, but determination stills it. He hesitates before speaking again, “You know who I work for, don’t you?”

“Yeah. Imperium Records.”

“Well, I say ‘work,’ but honestly, that’s laughable. My career has stalled; my responsibilities handed to other people. But as long as I keep out of trouble, don’t kick up too much fuss, then my paychecks keep arriving.” Dorian sighs. “Though once, I was a young and upcoming star in the scout biz. One indiscretion, my Big Mistake, killed any hope of real accomplishment. They didn’t fire me. I’m a legacy, you see. I’m ‘forgiven.’ And well, they call it a mistake. I call it my biggest triumph. And I will to my dying day.”

“You want something to drink?” she asks, into the uncertain pause. “It’s just, you look like you might need one.”

“Please tell me it’s liquor.”

“It’s liquor.” She stands and leans to retrieve the half empty fifth from behind the microwave. She even blows the dust off it before handing it to him.

“You’re an angel, you know that?” He chokes back the rotgut with hardly a wince for the taste. She takes a swig herself as he gathers himself to continue, “Anyway, it’s hard to keep track of talent. They tend to be a flighty bunch. But most eventually show back up. One didn’t. I got handed a search and recovery when a particular artist disappeared for so long, he was in breach of contract. Instructions were; find him, bring him back. All would be forgiven if he just continued upholding his legal obligations to the label. If not, then he’d get reamed by every bigwig lawyer Imperium had on retainer. All pretty standard stuff.”

Ellana shudders. Maybe signing wasn’t that great a thing then—

Dorian sees her doubt and holds up his hands. “Oh, no. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not touting the evils of big corp to scare you off. You have some amazing people looking out for you. Chiefly, me. We’ll see you right. We know every pitfall and trap.”

Mollified, but still worried, she nods for him to keep going.

He says, “Would that Evanuris had such help in the beginning. Oh, but they got the short end. They made next to nothing on record sales and believe me, those were some of the highest sales on record. They had no creative control. They didn’t even own their stage names. No, Imperium is a ruthless, greedy bunch. They took every advantage.”

She swallows a lump in her throat.

Dorian glowers into the middle distance as he takes another draught of cheap bourbon. Then his features smoothed. “I’d met him once before, when they’d all come in for a meeting with my father and the other execs on the board. They were like … brightly colored peacocks in the midst of all that drab charcoal and grey. Well, a lot of talent is like that, but Evanuris was different. They owned it better maybe. Comfortable in their outrageousness. Suffice it to say, they left an impression.”

“But then Solas disappeared?” she asks, luring him away from the tangent.

“Something … bad happened, and he skipped off the reservation. He was gone for, oh, almost two years before they decided he needed to be found. I thought I got handed an easy assignment. Turns out it nearly pulled me inside out.” His gaze goes distant again. Pain draws his mouth down and tight. “Took me nearly another three years, but I … I found him. In some rat-infested hell hole in Seheron. I puked in the foyer on the way in, the smell was so bad. I stepped over so many sleeping bodies, all thin and barely clothed. Moaning in their drug-fevered dreams. All the way down in the back of the dankest cellar you could imagine, he was on a mattress. Covered in filth and rags. Skeletal. Thin bands of bruises on his arms where the ligatures had been.

“I called his name. He turned onto his back and saw me, but he didn’t know me. He was so addled, he didn’t know anything. Didn’t speak a word the whole time I carried him out. Just shook like a leaf in a storm. Light as one too. I put him in the back of the car and sat in the driver’s seat. I stared at him in the rearview, and he stared back at me, those blue eyes huge in his too-thin face. I think he knew then. Why I was there. Because he sighed the saddest sigh I’d ever heard. The car phone sat in my hand like a brick. The dial tone so loud. And I don’t … I don’t know what possessed me. Instead of calling in my success, I put it back. I drove us to a hotel, paid in cash so they couldn’t trace the corporate card and checked in.”

Her mouth opens before she could stop it, “Compassion. Compassion possessed you.”

Dorian sniffs. “I’d like to think so. Decency, at least. Whatever last little ember I had left of it. So, I got him out, but that was only the beginning. I had no plan beyond that. No real idea what I was doing. Just a hotel room, my travel bag, a thousand royals in cash, and one shivering, filthy junkie who couldn’t even feed himself. I bathed him like a child. He-he cried when I cut off his hair.”

He shoots her a glance and a shrug. ”He’d gotten lice and fleas, you see. It was so sad to see that glorious pile in the trash. After I’d gotten some fluids and soft foods into him, he looked at me and said, ‘Dorian.’ He remembered me. What sort of person makes it a point to learn the names of every single person they meet? I knew then that I’d made the right choice. And no one will ever tell me different.”

“What happened then?”

“Well, there’s no magic ‘fix-it’ button. It took a long time for him to get sober and stay sober. By then, my bosses knew what had happened. They cajoled. They threatened. But I wouldn’t hand him back over to them, no matter what they promised. Especially after he started telling me about them all. About … her.”

The pronoun lies soft on the air, tremors of awe and fear woven into it. A benediction and a curse.

Begging the question that tugs itself free of her lips, “Who?”

“Mythal.”

Chapter Text

A couple hours ago ….

Solas waves as the bus pulls away from the curb. Many hands wave back out of the multitude of windows along its sleek flank. He watches til it rolls around a corner. Smiling, he picks up his guitar case and bag of clothes. Instead of heading into the apartment building at his back, he heads down the street at a sedate amble.

Forty minutes later, he arrives on the doorstep of a tastefully appointed office building situated in the grey area between Lowtown and Hightown, a ‘good’ neighborhood with low rent. He stops for a moment to take in the names emblazoned above the dark granite arch: Sabrae, Adaar, Ghilain, Aeducan & Sabrae LLP and Affiliates.

The clean, bold lettering stands out in brightest white. The doorman smiles, and opens the way for him. With a grateful nod, Solas steps inside. The bustle of the lobby astounds him, but then he hasn’t been here in person in years.

Back then, only two names graced the front of the firm. Now, he can barely move for all the suit-clad people of all races hurrying along on whatever errands beckon. A cacophony of voices crowd him, gifting him snippets of one-sided cellphone conversations—

“—no, she wants the deposition on her desk by Monday or heads will ro—”

“—I can’t. Tell him if he doesn’t make the statement, the he can expect to be slapped with a subpoena tomorr—”

“—how many? Good. That’s a class action right there!”

He slips through the mass to the receptionists’ desk. Both of them, an elf and a dwarf, turn their heads and smile at him. The male’s eyes flash with interest as he gives his beard a stroke and says, “How may we help you?”

Not willing to entertain the strangeness of that look, he says, tone brusque, “I am Solas. I’m here to see my attorney, Ms. Sabrae. Would you tell her I’ve arrived?”

They nod in tandem and he goes to sit on one of the many leather chairs arranged in comfortable grids throughout the lobby. He doesn’t wait long, for a voice pipes up behind him, light and lilting, “Oh, Ser Solas! You’re early!”

The way everyone around them scoots a little faster to their tasks belies the cheery innocence in that voice. Solas hides a smile as he stands to greet his lawyer. “Merrill.”

Forest green eyes, under a short, but sharp hairdo, set in an oval face with a pattern reminiscent of Mythal’s mark writhing over cheekbones, brow and chin. He just keeps himself from wincing. As he does every time. Her soft smile doesn’t falter as she says, “Oh, is there still marinara on my face? I thought I got it all. The spaghetti was altogether too tasty. I might have gotten a little overzealous.”

She pulls a handkerchief from some unseen pocket of her smart blazer and wipes at her mouth. Solas reaches out to pull her hand gently down by the wrist. “No, there is no food on your face.”

“Oh,” says she, gaze going vague for a second. Then it sharpens again and she admonishes herself, “Listen to me yammering away about my lunch when we have a meeting. This way, please.”

She led him to the stairs and up to the third floor. Dozens of other lawyers and assistants hustle by, clutching papers and huffing with effort. Merrill comments, with a hummed laugh, “Marethari doesn’t believe in elevators. She says”—her voice deepens to a husky alto—”’If my old bones can troop all the way up to the seventh every day, then so can all of yours.’ I’ve caught her using it, though, late at night or when the weather’s bitter. Ah, here we are!”

The corner office matches the austere aesthetic of the rest of the building’s interior … except for the riot of daisies in a vase on the corner of her desk. And the stuffed mabari plushy next to it. … And the old, broken standing mirror behind the door. The more he looks, the more little … oddities he finds.

Tiny defiances.

A warmth trickles into his rebel’s heart. Sitting with a sigh, he says, “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice. I hope I have not inconvenienced you?”

Merrill gives a serene flip of one hand before sitting herself. “Oh, none whatsoever. Well, there was this thing with a dragon, but it can wait. You needed something?”

Solas clears his throat, feeling a touch nervous. “My, ah, circumstances have changed—”

She points. “Is it to do with that?”

He looks down at the guitar case lying next to his chair and nods. “Sort of.”

“I knew it! You’re playing again!” She claps, bouncing in her seat with excitement. Her glee is infectious and he finds himself smiling. “I told Felassan!”

A frown drags the corners of his mouth down. “I thought I instructed there to be no cross talk.”

“Oh, Solas. What did you expect? He’s my fiance. You have to see that we can’t help … speculating.” She scoots closer to her desk and steeples her hands together before her smiling face. “So, shall I dig out all the old files? Start the case work to bring you back from the dead?”

His hands come up to forestall her. “No! No, I don’t want that. Fen’harel can rot in his grave of paperwork, for all I care. No, I wanted to say something I never said, but should have a long time ago.”

Her eyes widen even further as she waits.

“Thank you.” When this elicits no reaction, he adds, “For everything.”

Then her gaze flattens. “You’re firing me, aren’t you.” It’s not a question.

Solas leans toward her. “I don’t want to. I can’t afford your retainer next quarter.”

Her hands flap. “Oh, is that all? I thought maybe you were mad at me.” She laughs, clearly relieved.

He frowns. ‘No? Do I have reason to be?”

Merrill giggles, then snorts. Her hand flies up over her nose and mouth as though the sound embarrasses her. “Of course not. Everything is where it should be. But listen …. Solas, you need a lawyer. Just because most of what happened is settled, doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. It doesn’t mean you’re safe.”

“I am aware.” He just stops himself from snapping at her. “What would you have me do? I can’t afford you and I will have no other.”

She fans herself. “Whew, what sweet flattery. You’ll make a girl blush. And since I can’t abide the thought of you out in the world without my services, I suppose I’ll just have to keep you with us. Pro bono.”

Stunned, he can only stare. Finally, he manages, “Why?”

Her hands reach skyward and she spins in her chair, once. “Look around you. None of this would be here if you and others like you hadn’t given us a shot at the very beginning. Those were terrible times, but we made it through. We can stand, proud, equal because of you.”

Then her shining eyes find his and her faith shames him. It silences the roar of self-recrimination and guilt that still eats at his heart. For now anyway. And he cannot even find the words—

Her grin slides into a shrewd smirk. “Now you can thank me.”

Solas wets his lips and says, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome!” says she, all cheer. “It’s not completely altruistic. It is a tax write off, after all. And Felassan will stay on in a limited capacity, too.”

Mystified, he asks, “Really?”

“Yes, because I say so.” He can almost see her little foot being put down. Then she shoots him a conspiratorial wink. “Don’t thank him, though. He works harder when he thinks the boss is a tyrant.”

A laugh is startled out of him at that. She joins with a titter. Then they sit in companionable silence for a few seconds before he ventures, “I see they put your name on the door.”

“I had to push hard for that, I tell you. Marethari thought it would ruin the whole ‘SAGA’ thing, but then I said, ‘So what, now it’ll be ‘SAGAS’ like more than one saga. That’s got to be better.’”

“More artful as well, for you could mirror the letters. It’s very nearly symmetrical. A clever graphic artist could make that unforgettable.”

She bends to scribble on a notepad, saying slow and thoughtful as she writes, “Things to bring up at the partners’ meeting for when Marethari talks about it … again.”

The fierce determination on her face reminds him why he chose her out of all the other lawyers he vetted. One could be fooled by her wide, innocent eyes. Her soft and vague expressions. One could think her vapid. Until you saw her in the courtroom.

There is steel under that fluff.

It’s only to be expected of a person who used to practice blood magic before it became illegal. A hard discipline that weeded out the weak of will early. Her sweetness only serves to make her a better hunter. A better trapper.

Too many underestimate her.

And he realizes he did, too. It was never about the cash. She actually cares. Deeply.

It stings him to see how dismissive he’s been. How many others suffered his ambivalence when they would have befriended him? He blinks and says, strident with sincerity, “I will pay you back, I swear.”

She gives a sheepish grin. “No need.”

“No. When the time comes, I will repay you and more. We’ll resume our arrangement. Also, I may bring a whole band with me.”

Excitement pours color in her cheeks and she bounces again. “You have a new band? Who? Where? How many? Are they represented well? Do they—?”

And on and on. He answers as best he can and by the time he leaves, he can already see the wheels turning behind her eyes. It is complicated business, keeping a new band from making old mistakes.

And he’d do anything to make sure Inquisition didn’t make those old mistakes.

Chapter Text

“Were they …?” She steels herself. “Were they lovers?”

Dorian shrugs and his voice floats out of him as a spooky rasp, a memory of Solas’s voice, “‘She was fire,’ he said to me. ‘Beautiful. Untouchable.’ Out of the blue. Of course, I had been talking his ear off during the weeks I took care of him. I’m not sure what he meant. But after that, it all came pouring out of him. Stories and stories about Mythal, Elgar’nan and the rest. Their virtues. Their flaws. The great and terrible things they’d done. I could see that he hated them as much as he loved them. All except Mythal. Not a single sin of hers left his lips. I suspect he kept her on a bit of a pedestal. And the thing about pedestals, my dear Ellana, is it just makes it that much further to fall.”

Dorian pins her with a pointed look.

Ellana swallows.  She wants to say something, but cannot find any words beyond the lump in her throat.

The Tevinter continues, “I worry. I worry all the time. It’s just what I do. I worry he’s got a hole in his heart he’s trying to fill with you. I worry that he’ll replace one unwilling saint with another. That the expectation for perfection will break you both in the end.”

“I’m not her,” fly the words out of her mouth.

“I know. And he knows, I hope.” Dorian sighs and runs a hand through his immaculate locks. “I went through it all with him, you know. The meetings, the rehabs. As his support. Then through all the litigation after.”

“Litigation?”

“Yes. Once he was deemed competent, they sent a summons. Imperium was going to take it all. Anything and everything. All of Evanuris was going to end up in prison or worse.”

She licks her lips and asked, “What happened?”

“Me,” says Dorian, with a smirk. “I knew all their dirty little secrets. I’m not ashamed to admit I resorted to blackmail. But in the end, Solas and the others were free. Everything got buried under so much paperwork; confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements.  And so Evanuris, the band, died.”                                                

“And Solas became a hermit.”

“Yes. He was happier, even if it didn’t really suit him. But he was determined, so I never said boo.” Dorian shrugs again, then winces. “I never thought he’d want to return to this life. I never thought he’d want to spend time with a fiery young lady such as yourself, no matter how charming. Now I see other things happening and I worry.”

The way he bit his lip then makes her guts flip in anxiety. “What other things?”

He hesitates, then leans toward her. “In AA, they taught those of us who supported addicts to beware of patterns. It only takes walking down a familiar street, or speaking with old junkie buddies; even the flush of post-gig elation could spark the need.”

“Other than booze, no one in my band abuses drugs, Dorian.” She’d been adamant about that, and so far, she’d never caught wind of anyone behaving to the contrary.

“I thought not, but still …. He’s stopped tutoring. He’s not … taking care of other responsibilities.” Dorian chews his lip again. “After I’d heard you were all back, I went by his apartment today … and it was empty.”

Shock courses through her. “He didn’t say anything to me about moving.”

He shakes his head, brows drawing up and together. “I suspected as much, but I’d hoped he’d said something to someone about it. Distancing, erratic behavior, liquidating assets …. I fear he might have relapsed.”

“No,” says she. “I didn’t see anything like that on the road. No signs at all.”

“Addicts can get truly creative at hiding it. You may have missed it—”

She interrupts, “I didn’t. It can’t be that.”

He looks at her for a long moment. “You have a lot of faith in him.”

“And you don’t have enough!”

“Living with an addict erodes faith like water over sand.” To her growing anger, he holds up his hands. “I hope you’re right. For his sake. And yours. But I don’t know where to find him.”

Possibilities flood her mind and she stands. “I’ll find him.” And prove to anyone who says otherwise that Solas is the man she’s come to love. He wouldn’t lie to her. Couldn’t.

Could he?

“How?”

“Don’t worry about that, Mr. Worrier,” she says, mustering a smile. She gathers her things. “I got this.”

Dorian’s expression clouds with doubt, then slowly relaxes into burgeoning hope. “Yes. I believe you do.”

She heads out the door, already sending texts to Varric and other shady contacts around the city. Then she pops her head back inside her home and says, “Do you really think I’m charming?”

“My darling, I’ve only met one other that rivals you.” Dorian’s mouth curls into a smile as he so obviously waits for her to ask who.

Smirking, she says, “You’re going to say you, aren’t you.”

“Charming and a mind-reader. Solas is a lucky man.” He waves her off as she strides toward the outer door.


Tamping down her nerves, Ellana raps on the rolling door. Three loud bangs.

She hears muttering inside and the garage door lifts with a metallic grind.

It reveals …. Well, it reveals a lot. Oh, no. … Shirtless Solas ….

A sizzling warmth shoots through her core as she finally wrenches her stare up from the expanse of well-toned midriff over low-slung jeans to Solas’s face. He blinks at her owlishly, rubbing the back of his head, and says, “Ellana?”

A hysterical giggle threatens to break free. She pushes it back down with a ruthless stomp and clears her throat. “Solas. Uh … hi.”

‘Uh … hi?’ Really, Ellana?

Confusion creases his features while obvious embarrassment reddens his cheeks. “ … Hello.”

They stand in awkward silence for a few seconds until Ellana gives him her brightest smile and says, “I feel a little weird standing out here. Can I … can I come in?”

A flash of some pained emotion runs the gamut across his face as he shuffles back to let her enter.

Sucking her bottom lip, she peers into the interior of the storage building. It’s a good size one. Spacious, though a good half of it is filled with boxes and boxes. Instrument cases peek out of the mass here and there. Newer additions lie close at hand. She recognizes a couch and a lit lamp from the apartment, along with his piano. She says in a tumble of words, “I would have brought a-a housewarming gift, but I didn’t know if there’d be space—I mean, if you’d even need—”

“Why are you here, Ellana?” Solas closes the door behind them, pulling it back down to the ground. “How did you know to even look here?”

“Well,” she starts. “When half the movers in town work for the Carta ….”

He sighs. “And here I’d thought I’d paid for discretion.”

She gives a nervous laugh as he crosses in front of her to a garment rack. His long-fingered hands rifle through the hanging articles, slow and methodical. She watches, entranced by the play of muscles along his shoulderblades and traps. She just starts to wonder what it would be like to run her mouth over the bumps of his spine, when he speaks again, “That answers the second question, but what of the first?”

Swallowing, Ellana says, “Dorian was worried.”

His hands still for a long heartbeat, then they whip a button-up shirt from the rack. A touch of disappointment tickles her as he pulls the shirt on. “Dorian worries. It’s intrinsic to his nature.”

“He went by your apartment and said you’d moved without telling anyone.”

“It’s true. I didn’t think it anyone else’s business.” His tone chilled her, and still, he didn’t turn around.

Guts dropping, she bites her lip and wonders if she’d gone too far coming here. If she should have waited for a better moment.

He says, aloof, “Did Dorian express a worry about anything else?”

Her eyes start to tingle and her hands wring in front of her. With hitching breath, she says, “I … just came to see if you were alright. I’ll-I’ll just go, okay?”

Solas turns, abrupt and captures her hands before she can reach for the door’s handle. Stunned, she can only follow as he pulls her gently toward the couch. They sit and Solas’s hands jump off hers to clasp together in his lap. Her gaze drifts up from those tangling fingers, up past the shirt he has yet to button to his grimacing face. His eyes dart everywhere, avoiding hers.

His mouth opens and shuts a few times before he says, “Doubtless Dorian told you something of what occurred years ago. Did he send you here to look for evidence? A flame, a spoon … a needle?”

The bitterness in his voice scours her spirit. She reaches out to put a hand over his two. “I came to find you because you didn’t tell anyone where you went. Is it that weird that your friends might be concerned about that, previous circumstances aside?”

“‘Previous circumstances aside,’ I suppose not. Still, I’m not a child, as I’ve told Dorian on countless occasions. Nor am I made of glass.” Now Solas’s sorrowful eyes find hers and his lips flatten into a contrite line. “I would have told you, Ellana. And I swear I have not betrayed your trust and broken your rule.”

Relief pours through her. Not because he didn’t do anything, but because he didn’t react with outrage at her intrusion into his private affairs. She would have been hard pressed to hold it against him if he had. After all, she tracked him down when he clearly didn’t want to be found.

She beams at him. “I never doubted.”

Solas searches her face, then smiles himself. “You … really didn’t, did you.” He takes a deep breath, then lets it out in a shaky sigh. Something in his face tells her he would have, in her place. A stunned incredulousness.

“Are you really going to live in a storage unit?” she asks, gesturing to take in their surroundings.

He gives a self-deprecating chuckle. “It’s not all bad. The truck stop across the street has showers and laundry. I have power to run the lamp and charge my phone. And my piano should the muse strike. Everything I need.”

“And a couch,” she says, flippant. “All the comforts of home with none of those pesky annoyances like … neighbors, and windows. And smoke alarms.”

He laughs and she catches herself leaning toward that mouth. “Unfortunately, I do have a couple neighbors. Attracted to the rock-bottom rent, just as I was.”

They laugh for a few moments more before she says, “But why, Solas? Why didn’t you say anything?”

With a wince, his eyes drop to his lap and she knows. She just knows. With a snicker, she tackles him, straddling his hips and wrapping her arms around his neck. His face reflects a pleased sort of shock as his own arms come up to embrace her.

“Oh, you silly man. Pride? Really?” Raining kisses on his face until he is red as red can be, Ellana further admonishes, “It’s not just a name, is it? It’s a damn confession, occupation and title all rolled into one!”

He hums laughter against her mouth before tangling his fingers in her hair. Their situation loses its playfulness as a hot tingle rushes over her skin. His hands glide under the falling edge of her shirt and slide along her sides, eliciting a giggle from her. When his thumbs caress the undersides of her bare breasts, she lets loose a shockingly loud moan.

They both freeze. Solas comments, voice tight as it is wispy, “You’re not wearing a bra.”

“I’m not exactly top-heavy, so I usually go without.” Ellana gulps as she stares into his half-lidded eyes, their steely blue a thin ring around yawning pupil.

With deliberation, his hands cup her breasts and those marvelous thumbs roll over the tightening buds of her nipples. She gives a full body shudder and moans again, head dropping back. A burst of hot air presages his wet mouth at her throat, nibbling and licking its way up behind her sensitive ear.

Helpless to stop herself, she wriggles in his lap. His hips roll up into her and even through her leggings she can feel the shockingly warm length of him. Her hands drop to run under his loose shirt, pushing it back off his shoulders so her fingers can drink their fill of him. Over jumping pecs and down past trim waist, they wander.

His hands fall to her ass, testing the firmness there.  Undoing that pesky button, Ellana watches his face close as her fingers slip past denim and drawers. He gives a sharp gasp as she fills her palm with him. Eyes fluttering shut, his head rolls back to rest on the couch as she grips him and pumps once, then twice.

Lust rolls like thunder up and down her spine to see him so undone. With his sensual mouth open and panting. Wanton.

With a needy noise of her own, she near rips off her shirt and then swallows his pants with a searing kiss. Her other hand flies down to join in the fun downstairs, kneading, rolling. Solas moans so prettily into her mouth. Oh, but she wishes this could last forever.

His fingers grip her tighter, but then he pauses with a gasped, “Ellana, wait … please.”

Stilling, she lifts away and looks down into his flushed face. “Yes, Solas?”

By the twitching snap of his hips, she knows he wants nothing more than to continue. He licks his swollen lips and rasps, “I don’t … I don’t have any condoms.”

Ellana affects a pout, but she can’t hold it when a breathy, joyful laugh rises up out of her throat. Kissing the corner of his mouth, she says, “I guess we’ll just save that for later then. But for now ….”

She licks and kisses her way down his chest as she slides to the floor between his knees. Then she smiles a wicked smile up into his shocked and glazed expression as her hands take hold of jean and boxers. “Lift, please.”

“Ellana ….” He blinks as his hand cups her cheek. “You deserve better than a quick fumble in a storage unit. You deserve so much bett—” A rough gasp breaks off his words.

Lifting her tongue from his exposed tip, Ellana says, “Let me decide what I deserve, Solas. What I want. I’m not a child, either.”

Then her hands smooth over his hips as she continues, “Tell me no. Or better yet, tell me yes. If you want this. You know I’m willing. More than. I’ve been trying to get in your pants for ages now.” She pleads, “Tell me yes.”

His thumb strokes her cheek in the long silence after. Anxiety curls around her guts, makes her bite her lip as the flickering uncertainty in his gaze pokes holes in her confidence. She slowly becomes convinced he’s going to deny her and makes to shift, readying some witticism to laugh it off—

“Yes.”

Her heart thumps against her ribs as blinding elation shoots through her being. Lifting up so her face is close to his, she whispers, “One more time?”

Solas chuckles, warm, sweet puff of air in her face. “Yes, Ellana.”

With a gleeful hum, she reaches again to pull down his pants. He lifts eagerly this time and all it takes is a single tug to do the deed. And what is revealed ….

A salacious hunger stabs her as her fingernails run over the flesh of his thighs. Without further ceremony, she dives.

He fills her well, more so when his flagging erection is revived. She savors the texture of him, the flavor. The bittersweet drops that flow from the tip. More than that, she adores his sounds. The ragged moans intermingled with sighs and sharp intakes of breath are music to her ears. Sweet, sweet music.

The fingers of her left hand creep into her pants to satisfy the craving there. A startling wetness greets her probing and she smiles around him in chagrin at herself. So eager.

Her own moans join his as she works them both toward completion.

His hands still in her hair as he warns, “Ellana, I’m going to—”

What a gentleman, she thinks, as she sucks all the harder, through her own peak and beyond. She has a most interesting view of his twitching abdominals as his hips give a hard buck and warmth floods her mouth. Mmmm, he actually tastes pretty good.

She swallows, then rests her cheek on his thigh and gazes up at him. The slight soreness in her jaw is a small price to pay to be able to see him now. All loose and happy in post-orgasmic bliss. He looks down at her like she’s something strange and wild, and wonderful. Then worry tints his gaze. “What about you?”

The question comes with a blatant offer. Giving him another impish grin, she shows him her glistening fingers. “Oh, I’m well satisfied … for now.”

Then she pops those digits into her mouth to clean them, and takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in the way his breath hitches. The way his cock gives another twitch.

Oh, he’s perfect.

Come home with me, she almost says. She just stops herself. It can wait for another time. Small steps. She doesn’t even know if he’d want to live with her. If he feels the same ways about her as she does him.

She know, too, that pride can only bend so far before breaking. All things in their own time. Rushing just spoils good things.

When he reaches for her, she goes with an eagerness bordering on unseemly. His arms wrap around her as they lie on the couch with him at her back. So comfortable is she that she catches herself starting to doze. Solas’s even breath in her ear tells her he has already succumbed.

Giving in, she closes her eyes again and thinks, A girl could get used to this.

Chapter Text

“Seriously?”

“I am perfectly serious,” says Josephine, her stylus held up in front of her in defense.

Ellana throws her hands up in his periphery. “I can’t even ….”

“I assure you, the offer is genuine. I just want to let you know before I book it,” Josephine says, then tilts her head. “I’m not sure I see what the problem is.”

“The ‘problem’ is it’s ridiculous.”

“This is a great opportunity for Inquisition. It’s the largest amphitheatre in Orlais. There will be thousands of people there!” Josephine’s hand does a little flip at the end of her wrist. “Now I know the type of music they typically showca—”

“There!” Ellana points. “That. The problem.”

“Ellana—”

“Don’t ‘Ellana’ me! Have you ever been booed off a stage? I tell you, it’s not fun.” Ellana turns to him. “Solas.”

He starts, torn from his furtive contemplation of the flex and bow of her lips. Thinking back frantically on the topic of conversation with guilt, Solas flounders. The flash of humor in her eyes tells him she’s noticed and will probably bring it up later. In private. A heat crawls up his neck at that thought.

She says, “Tell Josie she’s being ridiculous.”

Taking in a breath, he pauses, then says, “Is that not what we want? More exposure? It would be ridiculous not to consider it.”

“Traitor,” Ellana grumbles, frown tipping into a half-smile to show him she jests. “It’s a cold call. We have no fan-base there, no one who’s ever heard of us. And I can guarantee you we don’t play the type of music they’ll be expecting. Not opening for her. Her fans are not our fans. It’s a different genre altogether.”

“I agree it is a little strange. We can change the set list, perhaps. More ballads, less thrash.” Solas thinks it over. They might write a few new ones as well, something more—

“Nuh-uh. We’re not going to change just to make some saps happy. We are who we are. And no one, not screaming teeny boppers, nor their ditzy idol, the fucking Empress is going to change that!” The rant leaves Ellana a little breathless and Solas has to scold himself from thinking certain thoughts watching her speak with such passion.

But her strange, vehement reaction does beg the question; why is she so opposed to it?

Josie bites her lip, then blurts, “It’s Hilamshiral.”

“I know. I … I know.” Ellana seems to deflate. “A dream gig, if it was opening foranybody else. Why couldn’t it be Cailan? Or Paragon?”

“Well, the King of Rock is dead. And Paragon broke up … again,” Solas interjects.

“Sadness.”

Solas tries reason. “We are known in the Free Marches. And we are gaining a following in Ferelden as well. Perhaps we can hype up the show with a pre-gig tour.”

A light grows in Ellana’s eyes, crystallizing their emerald hue. It’s breathtaking. He forces himself to listen as she says, “Drag them over the Frostbacks with us? Oh, man! Yeah, I bet we can do that. At least get some of our people there. Maybe enough to drown out the booing.”

Josephine’s slim fingers busy themselves at her phone, jabbing and swiping with stylus. “I can book four cities before the event at the Winter Palace. All venues we’ve done before with favorable crowds.”

“Varric can drop editorials left and right. You know that rag he’s been printing about local music is picking up steam. I can’t go into a bathroom in Kirkwall without seeing a copy next to the toilet.” Ellana fairly bounces in her seat. “I wonder how far it circulates now.”

Solas exchanges a conspiratorial look with Josephine. He gives a wink on the side Ellana can’t see. The Antivan says, “Sooo, interested now?”

“I think it’s gonna be a disaster,” muses Ellana, sweeping her wild, red mane back over her shoulder. “But it might be a … fun disaster? Hey, at least we’ll get to check out Orlais. Book it, Josie.”

He hums in amusement as Josephine grins in excitement, poking her mobile into compliance. The human says, with awe and enthusiasm, “Done. Two months from now you will be on the biggest stage in the entire south. Before the largest audience yet in your career. Opening for Empress, the highest grossing pop artist of the decade.”

Ellana snorts after a long lull of watching Josephine staring off into the middle distance. “Thanks. If I wasn’t nervous before, I sure as hell am now.”

Sheepish, Josephine ducks her head. “Sorry. I got caught up in the moment.”

“The moment is not even here yet to capture you,” says Solas, spreading his hands. “Wait for it. When your two feet touch the boards, when the furor hushes in yawning, ravenous anticipation of what you come to offer as tribute … then,then let it take you.”

Both women shiver.

Ellana’s lips stretch into a crooked grin. “Keep talking like that and there very well might be some taking.”

There is that flush again.

How easily she disarms him. Sends him reeling. Wiping palms on pants to dry them, Solas clears his throat. “Ah.”

“Ah?” she asks, brow lifting.

“Just a … general ‘ah.’” He tries for flippant, but lands somewhere near flustered. Damning himself, Solas keeps his eyes on hers, though they want to drop to her lips.

“It’s just, for a second there, it looked like you were gonna argue about who was going to be doing the taking.” Ellana leans toward him just a hair.

He mirrors her, helplessly drawn into her orbit. “I cannot conceive of either one of us ending up the loser in that case—”

Josephine startles them both with a nervous titter. Solas’s guilty twitch nearly upends his glass of water in his lap. Standing after paying the bill, the Antivan says, rushed and breathy, “I must go get started organizing this whole thing. Good day to you both.” She turns back to say, a touch sly, “Or should I say, good night.”

He looks after the woman as she walks away, surprised at the flash of ribald humor there. So many interesting people and, to think, if he’d stayed in his cave, he’d never have met any of them.

“I was sorta hoping you spilled that drink in your lap,” said the grinning vixen to his left. He turns his head to find her close.

Very close.

His pulse hikes as she whispers in his ear, “I would have helped you clean it up. Used my napkin to blot, then maybe, I don’t know, gone in for a closer look to make sure we got most of it. For a proper, thorough inspection, I might have had to drop to the floor on my hands and knees.”

A touch shocked over the sudden roar of his heart in his ears, he says, “Ellana!”

“What? These tables have those nice long tablecloths for a reason.”

Just picturing it had him stiffening in his pants. “Vhenan, your teasing is going to make it difficult to leave. Or even stand.”

“Oooh, who says we have to leave? I like it here. It’s a sunny day. They have my favorite tea.” Ellana slips her arm around his, giving his hand a fond squeeze. “And I have you here to tease. It’s perfect.”

He chuckles. “Eventually we will have to. After all, we have Hilamshiral to plan for.”

Her lips purse in a little sour moue. “Eh. Maybe I should switch to booze.”

“So quickly does the enthusiasm for the adventure flee. No matter the outcome, at least we’ll have the experience,” he says, tilting his head and looking down at her.

Her teeth worry at her lip. “There’s another concern poking me. It’s gonna be big. There’s going to be cameras. Cameras mean footage. Footage that people will watch over and over again.”

He sees where she is leading him. “You believe this means someone will recognize me, despite the mask.”

Peering at him, Ellana nods. “And vocal protest will just make it all the more likely. They’ll dig if they think there’s a juicy secret.” Her hand clutches his a little tighter.

She expects me to quit her band now. As agreed if things grew dangerous. He shakes his head at her and speaks the bald truth sitting on the tip of his tongue, “I’m not going anywhere, vhenan. You are stuck with me.”

Her gusty sigh shakes him as much as it did her. A milestone passed in the hazy unknown of their relationship. He felt it settle within him like the first stone of a new foundation, and smiles as his feet find purchase thereon. No, he is not going anywhere.

Then he frowns as logic asserts an uncomfortable fact. He shares it, “Eventually, the truth will out, as they say.”

Ellana yanks a hand through her hair and mutters, “What do you wanna do?”

He shrugs.

“It’s your secret,” she admonishes. “Didn’t you plan for being found out?”

“Change my name? Relocate? Neither of which is an option any more,” he says, with a smile. Then he stands and offers her his arm. As they walk out of the restaurant and toward the docks, he ventures, “Regardless, vhenan, we have some time to think it through. Perhaps we can find a gentle way to break it to the others.”

“Ugh. I can hear Cass now.” Her voice deepens and adopts a Nevarran accent. “I can’t believe you lied to me, Ellana! I thought we were friends.”

“It’s only a lie if one directly contradicts reality. If she never asked, then why would you tell her?”

Her features draw into a scowl. “Really? I go with the whole ‘lie of omission’ thing?”

“I suppose that never goes over well. No matter how good one’s intentions.”

”No, it doesn’t. Better if they heard it from us than see it splashed all across the tabloid stands.”

Solas agrees.

They approach the warehouse from the street. The sounds of chatter and instruments warming up filter between the buildings to where they pace. Everyone must have arrived before them. 

As their linked shadows throw themselves across the floor and over four of their bandmates’ faces, they look up, faces breaking into smiles of welcome. Even Cole, though Sera is noticeably absent.

“Hello, everyone!” calls Ellana. They shout back greetings. Stopping before them all, Solas looks over to Ellana, giving her nervous assent, and she looks back before saying, “Hey, uh, so there’s this thing. Well, two things actually. One—”

“I’m gettin’ married!” yelled a high-pitched voice behind them. They spin and Solas just sees a flash of flying blond hair before Sera launches herself at Ellana, giving her a crushing hug and a kiss on the cheek. With a laugh, the shorter violinist spins Ellana around, nearly lifting her off her feet.

Stunned amusement pulls Solas’s features into a smile.

Ellana gasps as they slide to a stop, catching her breath after being squeezed so hard around the ribs. She wheezes, “It’s not to me, is it? I don’t remember proposing.”

“No, you daft twat,” says Sera, somehow fashioning an endearment from that word. “To Widdle!”

“Dagna?” says Blackwall, brows lifting. Then his mouth splits into a wide grin. “Congratulations, Sera.”

“Look!” She holds out her hand, newly donned gold ring flashing in the light streaming in from the big door. Ellana and Cassandra peer close and give twin cries of appreciation. Blackwall also bends over it and gives an approving nod.

Sera shoves the jeweled band under Solas’s nose. He pulls back to look at it proper instead of cross-eyed. Polite, he comments, “Very nice.”

“Bent, she reaches. Arms encircle just the right amount. Perfect both directions.” Cole’s pale, watery eyes peer at them all over the drum kit.

Sera’s expression darkens, before she lights up again. “Wha’eva, weirdie. I’m gettin’ hitched. Quizzy will be my maid of honor, if we don’t just elope.”

Cassandra’s face drops a tad before she and Ellana are assaulted by another violent hug. Another round of laughing and congratulations fill the building to the rafters. Solas let himself be dragged into a quick embrace, uttering his own sincere good wishes.

“What did you want to tell us, Ellana?” asks Cassandra, turning to their lead singer. “Another engagement announcement?”

A sort of mild horror steals over him as they all turn to eye him. His mouth dries as the expectation in their gazes grows.

Ellana rushes to his rescue with flapping hands. “No, no. Nothing like that.”

Their expressions, poised on the precipice of elation, fall to melodramatic disappointment. His stomach flutters at the idea. Chagrin prods him, as well, for the strange lifting and tingling rush that accompanied Cassandra’s words.

“Besides, if it was, you would’ve spoiled the surprise, Cass. I mean, ‘Draste’s sweet, sweet bum, you can’t just put it out there like that. Let a girl choose her moment and shit.” Ellana coughs into her hand, cheeks red as berries. “No, we got a new tour to plan, at the end of which … the biggest gig we’ve ever done! Hilam-fuckin’-shiral!”

Awed gasps fill the silence thereafter. The band all look at each other, mouths gaping. Sera breaks the hush first, with a loud, declared, “Best day ever!”

In the tide of questions and talking after the announcement, they forget to practice. Solas fields a few of the questions to ease the burden on Ellana, and feels excited and a little proud as once the situation is clarified, their eagerness doesn’t flag. Grows, in fact.

As though the challenge invokes a new-found zeal in them. A chance to prove themselves on unfamiliar grounds, deep in unfriendly territory.

At the end, they adjourn to the Hanged Man to share the glad tidings with Varric. The dwarf sits like an aged king among them, listening. At the end, he says, “So Buttercup’s getting married.”

Solas chuckles as Varric lets out a loud ‘oof’ at the sudden tackle from one blond violinist.

Ellana sidles up to him and whispers, “I know you’re still mad at him, but maybe you could call Dorian?”

A lemon-sour prickle shoots through him, stealing his mirth. He huffs in exasperation at her pointed look.

Finally, he gives in, though it pains him to do so. “Fine.”

He earns a kiss for his surrender, so it’s not … all bad.

Chapter Text

The weeks fly by too quickly for her to feel at all prepared for the show at the Winter Palace. Her nerves fray more and more the closer the dreaded date comes.

Ellana pulls at her hair as she looks over the lighting cues … again, letting out a string of curses as frustration mounts to boiling.

“That bad, huh?” says Varric, plopping into the diner booth with her. Everyone else is walking around or resting during this two hour pit-stop.

Staring at the dwarf through the tangled tresses hanging in front of her face, she snorts. “And then some. They won’t let Wid-Dagna into the booth to man the boards during our set. They say they don’t want inexperienced hands fiddling with their million royal equipment. So now I have to translate all our shorthand cues into Orlesian. And I don’t even know that much Orlesian.”

“Why not ask for help? I bet Chuckles could help.” The dwarf nods out the window where Solas stood talking to some of the roadies. At some unheard witticism, they burst into laughter around the elf. Bull’s huge hand swings around to smack into Solas’s shoulder, nearly bowling him over.

Smiling, Ellana sighs. “He already does a lot for us. Writing songs. Showing us where all the best pancake houses are. And where all the most fairly-priced music stores are when we need new cables or amps or whatever else. He even painted our beast of a tourbus.”

Varric makes a noise in his throat, one cast in both doubt and mischief. “I also bet that if you ask him, he’ll jump at it. I don’t think he’ll mind. Or think it’s a burden at all. After all, this is all second nature to him.”

Starting in her seat, Ellana swings a stare the dwarf’s way.

“What?” he begins, with a devious smirk. “You think I can’t tell he’s an old pro? C’mon, Rosy.”

Ellana’s mouth opens and closes a couple of times. Then she manages, “He-he doesn’t want anyone to know. Well, not yet.”

Varric nods in understanding, scrubbing at his stubbly jaw. “Fine, fine. I can keep my trap shut.”

Her brow raises.

The dwarf holds up his hands. “When I want to. Still, I’m dyin’ to know. Who was he?”

Ellana looks around. None of their fellows is in the diner. Except Cole. The spirit pokes at license plate shaped keychains with names on them.

She suspects the prescient spirit already knows some of Solas’s secrets. Just like he knows most of hers.

Glancing back at Varric, she considers. But she trusts him. He’s her oldest friend. The only one who cared when she’d come to Kirkwall, alone, destitute, and searching for answers. Leaning toward Varric, she whispers, “Fen’harel.”

Now the dwarf jumps in surprise, before a grin stretches his lips. “Really?”

He looks out the window and tilts his head, framing the elf out there between the fore-fingers and thumbs of his hands. “Ah. Now I see it. He shaved his head.”

“Not a word to anyone, Varric. It’s Solas’s secret to share when he chooses to,” she warns.

Varric rolls his eyes and snorts. “I got it. I got it. No need to get the thumbscrews out.”

“I’ll do worse. I’ll get Cass,” she says.

“You are a cruel, cruel woman, Ellana Lavellan.” Varric slides out of the booth and makes to amble off, but turns back to ask, “This doesn’t have anything to do with …?” And he points at her eye and the dark, twisting shape of the vallaslin there.

Spreading her hands on the table, she says, after a long pause, “I’m still looking, Varric. That hasn’t changed. Meeting Solas wasn’t part of it. That was an accident.”

The doubtful glimmer in Varric’s eye dims as he stares at her for a long time. “Will he know that?”

The dwarf walks away then, leaving her chewing her lip in worry. Her thoughts turn down a darker path as she stares at the page of notes on the table in front of her without really seeing them.

A sudden knock on the window next to her face nearly makes her jump out of her skin. Looking over, she sees Sera and Wid-Dagna, linked arm in arm (well, arm over shoulder and arm around waist). The blonde elf’s mouth twists into a snide smirk as she jerks a thumb over at Solas, who still stands among the Chargers. Then Sera gives a lewd pumping motion with her fist, mouth open in what would surely be gross squelching noises if Ellana could hear them. Dagna’s mouth opens in a gasping laugh.

Ignoring the surge of heat curling around her guts, Ellana rolls her eyes at the pair and idly flips off the blonde violinist.

Giving a coarse, braying laugh that Ellana can just make out through the glass, Sera wheels them both away to get back on the bus.

In fact, everyone seems ready to get back on the road. Sighing, Ellana stands, leaving some bills on the table for her untouched cup of coffee.

“Ellana?” asks a voice behind her, from the jingling door.

Heart thudding, she turns to meet him. “Solas.”

He strides close and holds an arm out. Smiling down at her, he says, “Ready?”

“Yep,” she replies, taking the proffered arm. Then her hand slides down to entwine their fingers together. “For anything.”

With an appreciative hum for her bold words, Solas leads them out toward the bus. “I passed Varric on the way to get you. He said you needed help …?”

Sheepish, Ellana climbs the steps before him. She pauses and looks over her shoulder at him. “Yeah. Some cues we need to translate for the Orlesians. Do you speak Orlesian?”

“Tu es la fille de mes rêves. Je t’aime.” The way his lip curls after tells her it’s not just some random phrases to show her he could.

Ellana licks her lips and says, “Which means?”

A sly and secretive shadow crosses his features for just a second before he purses his lips and stares back, mild as milk. “Hm?”

“That thing you just said.”

“What thing?”

“The ‘tu es something something something.’” Her hand flips on the end of her wrist.

A loud voice from the back of the bus shouts, “He says you’re the girl of his dreams and that he loves you. Now get on the bus so we can leave.”

Solas’s head ducks under the gale of applause and laughter that follow that pronouncement. Ellana feels blood rush up into her face, filling her cheeks with fire. Grabbing Solas’s hand, she pulls him into the bus and back to an empty section of bench. Turning, she shouts back, “Bull, you speak Orlesian?”

“Yup.” At her incredulous gape, the massive qunari shrugs. “What? The big, muscley guy can’t know stuff?”

One of the Chargers snarks, “Maybe she thought who needs personality or smarts with tits as big as yours, boss!”

“Hey, leave my man-teats out of this, Krem,” rumbles Bull, as the bus takes to the road again, airbrakes hissing underfoot. “You only wish you had this pillowy awesomeness for girls to cuddle with.”

Banter flies back and forth among the companionable crew, until the walls ring with laughter. Ellana squeezes the hand in hers and ventures a shy sideways look at Solas. Two circles of red still sat high on his cheekbones, but he met her gaze steady and solid as the earth.

She asks, quiet so the others can’t hear, “Did you mean it?”

His throat bobs, but his mouth says, “Of course. Though I should have said it to you plainly first.”

Her guts flip-flop in her belly. Pulling him a little closer, she says, “I could maybe stand to hear it again?”

Solas’s smile widens and he leans close, so close his mouth brushes her ear, sending a shiver through her whole body. He says, “I love you. In every language, I love you.”

She turns her face to meet his lips with hers, molten heat pouring into her,through her. Her hand finds his cheek as she draws back to murmur against his mouth, “I love you, too.”

His eyes flutter closed and he trembles under her touch. Ellana captures that moment and locks it away in her heart, a fire-brand to banish the darkness there. To keep against uncertain futures.

Chapter Text

The phone rings and rings. Then it goes to voicemail. Frowning, Solas listens to the bright and cheery recorded greeting—

“Hello! You’ve reached Dorian Pavus at Imperium Records. I’m not in at the moment, or I’m too busy to answer, or you bore me. Please leave a detailed message at the beep and I’ll decide whether or not I want to talk to you. If it’s business, call my secretary.” Then a long tone sounds in his ear.

“Dorian, it’s Solas. Again.” Solas pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. “I’ve been calling. Why haven’t you picked up? Hmph, call me.”

He hit the ‘end’ button with a scowl. Worry tickles at him. Dorian never ignored his calls before. Perhaps he believes I am still angry with him?

True, it had been irritating that Dorian had been speaking to Ellana about … that, but after he’d calmed, he saw a true and deep concern had been foremost in Dorian’s mind. After all, he thought with another sigh, it’s not as though I didn’t give him reason to doubt through all our trials together.

Mind miles away, Solas went about setting up his instruments for the evening’s performance. The shouts of crew doing the same around him fills the bandshell that projects sound throughout the bowl-shaped amphitheatre.

The keyboard he sets on its stand, and the two guitars he owns on theirs. Tuned and ready for Inquisition’s two-hour set before Empress hit the stage.

“Load in’s almost done. You want a beer?” asks Bull, pausing near him, with a bucket under his arm. Long-necks stick out of the ice in it.

“I do! I do!” calls Sera, waving her arm.

“Of course you do. That’s a given,” grumbles Bull, with a tip of his horned head. He tosses one to the blonde, then offers another to Solas.

The elf starts to shake his head, then catches sight of Ellana out of the corner of his eye. Her frenetic pacing. Her twisting hands. And she stops on occasion to glare out at the stone seats fielding the incline into the mouth of this venue, teeth worrying at her lip so hard it’s a wonder they don’t split and bleed.

“Give me … a few, will you, Bull?” asks Solas, gesturing toward the bucket.

The qunari grins a crooked grin, and hands him four. “You got it.”

With a grateful nod, Solas steps toward the still pacing Ellana. She jumps when he touches her arm, turning. Her eyes dart down to the dark brown bottle in his hand. Swallowing, she takes the proffered bottle and quaffs half of it in one go.

Gasping, she wipes her mouth with the back of one hand and says, “Thanks. I needed that.”

His brows lift along with the corners of his mouth. Then he takes a step toward the edge of the stage. “Sit with me?”

Dangling his legs over the edge, he pats the spot next to him.

She shrugs as she joins him, scooting close and taking another drink of brew. Solas sets the spares behind her as he twists the cap off his lager and sips. Cold and crisp, it wets his throat with its fizzle.

He leans back on one hand as he looks out and up over the huge amphitheatre.

Ellana says, “I’m so nervous. It’s like my first show all over again. I couldn’t squeak a note past the wad of terror lodged in my throat.”

Solas chuckles. “I did similar.”

“Oh yeah? Did they boo you? Throw beer bottles at you?” She twitches against him, shoulder flexing forward and back.

“No. It was a basement show. Just a bunch of angry elven youths eager to throw elbows and kicks.” Solas gives her a kind smile and a sideways glance. “I froze all the same, though.”

“How’d you get past it?” she asks. “Took me a month before I tried again.”

“Mythal.” He turns at her surprised jerk. “The set started and Mythal sang, strong and bold as ever. When she noticed my sudden case of muteness, she kicked me. Right in the ass.”

A startled snort flies out of Ellana’s nose, and she covers her mouth with a hand. “Wait. Literally?”

“Very literal. I almost flew out into the crowd.” He breathed deep of the early evening air. “But it shook me out of my paralysis. I was still frightened, but I sang. Loud enough to overwhelm it. Eventually, it went away.”

She laughs, a nervous sound. “So … sing louder, is your advice.” Then she drops back the last of her beer and gives a tiny unapologetic burp.

He shrugs and hands her another. “Whatever works. Look.”

With a gesture, he takes in the framework of lights crouching over the stage. Hundreds of cans. “When it starts, you’ll be blinded by those. The crowd disappears behind a wall of white. You can barely hear them over the monitors. Only in the spaces between songs will you remember they are there. There will only be you and your band. And your music.”

A smile stretches her mouth. “Our music.”

He concedes the point with a little sideways nod. “Our music.”

A comfortable silence falls between them, though the clamor of banter and catcall of the roadies still rings as a backdrop. Then she asks, “How many times did you play here?”

“A couple times a year. We lived in our tourbus, floating across the countries year-round.” He pulls her closer by her hip and smiles at her giggle. “We wintered in Qarinus, near the old forest of Arlathan. But by first thaw, we piled back into the bus and headed back out for foreign lands and ports of call.”

She watches him for a moment before saying, “You must like it. I mean, here you are, doing it all over again.”

“There was much to enjoy during those days. And much to regret. But I will never regret the travelling. Or having seen the things I’ve seen. Met the people I met.”

Shy, she leans closer. Her warm breath washes across his ear. “You’ll have to tell me about it sometime.”

“As you wish,” says he, delighting in the tingle that rushes over his skin as she peppers soft kisses over his jaw and neck. He gestures at the bottle in her hand. “Are you less nervous now?”

“Yes. But it’s less the alcohol my love gave me and more his words, I think. I’m still nervous, buuuut ….” Her thumb comes up to play over the cleft in his chin. The light in her gaze grows mischievous. Dangerous. “I know one surefire way to get rid of the shakes.”

The naked invitation in her eyes stretches his control to the snapping point. He just barely keeps himself from pouncing on her, and says, “Vhenan, much as that would delight me, there is not enough time before the show.”

She leans into him, tempting him with her floral perfume and plush lips. “C’mon. A quick little frolic in some broom closet? Some frantic thrusting to take the edge off?” Then her bold fingers steal down to trace the outline of his stiffening cock through his pants.

A moan climbs up his throat. He strangles it into a cough. The images that flood into his mind very nearly sap every ounce of resistance from him, but somehow he manages to hold onto a single thread. “Ellana, please. I beg you—”

“Mmmm, begging already?” Her mouth is a painted sinful leer. She stalks after his retreat, mantling over him like a raptor.

Gulping, Solas finishes, “—for some restraint.”

She drops back and looks away. Her words come out flippant, but tight, as though sublimating some other emotion, “Someday I’ll convince you to give me the key to your chastity belt.”

Solas sits back upright, catching her chin in his palm. A flash of something like real hurt touches her eyes for a second before she tucks it away. Frowning, he says, “Vhenan, I only want ….”

“Want what?” she asks after his words trail off.

“You.” His sigh is deep and long. “I want you.”

“Then why don’t you—?” She waves between the two of them.

He licks his lips. “I want so badly that I fear embarrassing myself. Especially in the scenario you propose. I’d like … time. For the first. Time to show you how much you’ve come to mean to me. Somewhere we could … indulge in a long …languid … leisurely manner.”

With every emphasized ‘L’ word, her eyes grow a little wider. She sucks her bottom lip between her teeth, then lets it loose with a soft pop. “Hmmm. I think I’d like that, too.”

“Perhaps after the show, we could retreat to a hotel. Just you and I.” Solas grows hot under her stare, so open and frank with desire.

“It’s a date!” she says, breathy. With a giddy laugh, she lunges to her feet and tears off into the wings.

Shaking his head at her mercurial nature, Solas hums in amusement. Eagerness for the planned event lights a fire in his belly, as well. And … other places. 

Giving himself a surreptitious adjustment, he drops off the stage into the pit, walking among the folding chairs and music stands there. It looks as though a full orchestra plans on playing that evening. He wonders at the complexity of the show Empress is putting on.

Already, he’s seen pyrotechnics, magical and mundane, being readied. Lasers. Fog machines. The works. Peering under the stage supports, he sees more surprises that have him raising his brows.

Giving a harrumph for the ostentatious set-up, he straightens and leans on a nearby strut. Sighing, he pulls out his phone. No new notifications.

Solas snorts, then opens his contacts, smiling as he scrolls past the many names he’s added. Finding Dorian’s number, he pecks the green ‘call’ icon.

Listening to it ring, he sighs again, expecting to hear that perky little recordin—

“Hello? Solas?” says a sudden voice on the other end.

An elated surge lifts him. “Dorian! You picked up.”

“Yes, um, I’ve been … busy,” the Tevinter says, sounding harried and unsteady.

“What’s wrong—?”

“Listen, I’m sorr—” they begin, simultaneously.

Chuckling, Solas says, “There is nothing to forgive. I am … glad to hear from you. I confess to a bit of worry.”

“You?!” says Dorian. Loud voices arguing in the background on his end interrupts whatever he might have said then. Dorian leans away from the phone and says something, sharp but unintelligible. Solas imagines a hand muffling the mic.

It goes on for some time before a clear snort fills his ear again, telling him Dorian once more attended the call. Solas says, “What’s going on?”

“Hm?” the distracted Tevinter says, strained. Solas can hear it in the man’s voice, taut as a wire. “Listen. This really isn’t a good time. I’ve got to go.”

“Alri—” The line goes dead with a click. Solas pulls the phone away from his ear and stares down at it in incredulity. A raw tingle of trepidation steals up his spine. 

Fear. 

For his friend. He can’t shake the notion that something has gone terribly wrong and that Dorian might be in trouble. His thumbs jab out a text, ‘When you need to talk, I’m here.’

The phone is a heavy weight in his pocket as he climbs out of the pit and walks backstage.

Chapter Text

“So thees is Inquisition.”

Ellana looks up from her wondering where Solas might have gone to. Her gaze sweeps around to the diffident voice. Three ladies hover just outside of the green room. She only knows they’re ‘ladies’ because their attire, a post-modern pile of baroque ruffles and cage-like bustle and bustier. She wonders how they can even breathe. The masks on their faces proclaim their Orlesianness even had the one’s accent not given it away.

They look impressively silly.

She fights down the laugh threatening to spill. From the look on Cass’s face, she’s having similar issues.

Sera has no such reservation, though and guffaws. Loudly.

One of their visitors looks down her nose at them and says, “How quaint. Why the Empress insisted so that they attend, I have no idea.”

Sera snorts and scratches at her crotch. “We ain’t just attendin,’ bitchface. We’re playin’.”

Taken aback by her crudeness, they flutter their fans. The center one, their leader or so Ellana assumes, steps forward and says, her snide tone just this side of offensive, “We came to see that la petit lapin and her little friends did not dawdle, so our Empress could get ready in peace and comfort.”

Heat rushes into her cheeks as she stands. Her bandmates crowd at her back, forming ranks. She can feel them all bristling at her back, even Cole. Ellana grins, a baring of teeth that isn’t the least bit friendly. “There’s plenty of room, if Celene cares to rub elbows with us lowly plebs.”

They giggle in unison, a sound that might be pleasant if not uttered by these … vacuous creatures. Their spokesperson says, “L'impératrice a des normes, couteau orrielle. Quelque chose que vous ne pouvez pas comprendre sauvages.”

“Savage or not, they are guests here and are due all courtesy,” says a new voice, low and husky. The clack of heels presages the appearance of a tall human woman, dark of hair, with startling golden eyes. Her smart suit of velvety purples with its plunging neckline emphasizes her angular frame and haughty expression. “Now, run along, you sycophants. Your little self-appointed errand is complete. You’ve told the little upstart off.”

Her sarcasm is a blade that cuts deep. The trio of ‘ladies’ departs in a flurry of hissing and fearful reprisals, as though they did not want to voice their sharp words directly at this new arrival.

Who looks over them with cool interest and a faint smile. “I am Morrigan and as much as it galls me, I suppose I will have to apologize for those harpies’ behavior.”

Blackwall sputters, saying, “You’re Morrigan? The Witch of the Wilds?”

Ellana’s brows jump as the name clicked the tumblers of memory. Her mouth drops open as she reassesses the woman. “The Nightmare Queen?”

Cassandra continues, eyes round as dinner plates, “The Raven of Disaster?”

Sera finishes, with a manic, sly grin, “That crazy bint what left Ferelden after some trouble wiv—”

Morrigan interrupts, “Yes, yes. It’s been a while since I heard all the old names. It’s just Morrigan now. I’ve long since retired from the stage. I’m Empress’s image consultant now.”

Ellana bounces a little as she approaches the retired rocker. “Holy shit, but you were brutal! I caught your show six years ago when you played Warehouse Twenty-three in Kirkwall. Took me ages to wash all the fake blood off. Weeks later I was still picking red bits out of my ears.”

The woman grins a savage grin. “Who said it was fake?”

At the quadruple gasp that greets her words, she gives a little roll of her shoulder and smiles. “Just kidding. I remember that show. They rigged the sprinkler system to spray food coloring for ‘Reigning Blood.’”

She waves her hands to quiet their exuberant fangirling. Even Blackwall seems on the edge of swooning. Morrigan’s gaze pierces Ellana. “I’ve come to borrow your singer for a moment. There is someone who’d like to meet her.”

Ellana asks, surprised, “Who?”

“Why, Celene, of course.”

A sick sort of dread roils around her guts as she looks back at her bandmates. From their sullen expressions, she reads her own concern there. What if Celene is like those tittering racists from before? Ellana doesn’t know if she can handle more insults along that vein without resorting to violence.

A pale face behind her bandmates captures her attention. Cole stares at her over their heads. The spirit nods and smiles, kind and open. As if to say, Go on.

Thus encouraged, Ellana turns and follows the taller human woman out into the hall and out the exit. A whole fleet of rv’s surround Inquisition’s one ancient, slightly shabby tourbus. But though sleek and modern, none can compete with the mural emblazoned along back and sides.

Proud, her eye picks out their name ‘INQUISITION,’ splashed in the foreground of an epic scene of high adventure. On the back wrapping around the left side is … herself. Stylized and in armor, sword held aloft and pointing toward the front of the bus. Her mouth hangs open in snarling face, as though sounding a charge. Best of all, her doppleganger rides a griffon, screaming beak and talons and rampant wings. They fly over a battlefield, whereupon the rest of the band, dressed in medieval splendor, ride toward a shapeless black mass of monstrous enemies on the far horizon.

The orange sky and white sun and crescent silvered moons fill the upper portion of the bus in geometric lines and waves, interrupted only by the windows. The whole thing is in muted golden and brown and black tones, made all the more striking by the small notes of chromatic green and blue accents here and there.

The thing fills her with awe every time she has a chance to study it. It drags her eye even as she is led past and away from it.

One of the other vehicles is her destination, she finds out as Morrigan pauses outside of it to wave her in. Ellana pauses when the woman makes no move to accompany her. “Aren’t you coming inside, too?”

Morrigan smirks. “No. I have done the task she bade me. Now I will leave you two to get acquainted. And fend off her minions’ many interferences.”

Swallowing back the trepidation, Ellana mounts the steps and enters the RV. Inside, it’s quiet, seemingly empty. Everything is pastel, padded or pillowed. She feels as though she’s stepped into a doll’s house.

Wincing, she threads her way to the back, where the only closed partition awaits. Lifting her hand, she raps on the door, swallowing to stifle her nerves.

“Come in,” calls a soft voice within.

The door slides open under her palm and she finds herself looking at … a big fucking mess. Wrinkled clothes litter the wide bed, and every horizontal surface is covered in cosmetics or empty fast food wrappers. Stacks of magazines shore up debris against the walls, pouring across the floor in places where they collapsed like broken dikes.

An accented voice intrudes in her shocked musings, “Ah. Forgive the, um …. Let me clear a space.”

A blonde woman stands from where she had been sitting at a small vanity and moves some of the clothes on the bed to the floor. Ellana takes the opportunity to study her.

Dressed in ripped skinny jeans and a long white scoop-neck shirt, the ‘Empress’ looks alarmingly normal. She isn’t even wearing that much makeup on her unmasked face. Behind her, Ellana sees a stack of masks in the corner.

Seeming to realize what Ellana is staring at, the Empress touches her face, her lips forming an ‘O’ of dismay before she spins to dig through that pile and pull an ornate metal half-mask from it. Tying it around her head, she turns back to Ellana with a … sheepish grin. It’s so disarming and weird. The whole situation.

Ellana can’t help it. She laughs.

After a moment, the Empress joins her, gesturing at the space she’s cleared. “Won’t you sit?”

So she does, humming another note of amusement. Ellana holds out her hand and says, “I’m Ellana.”

“Celene,” comes the reply, along with a steady and firm handshake. Celene smiles now with more genuine warmth. “I’ll wager you expected something altogether more ….”

“Snobbish? Uptight? Yeah,” she says, with a grin to take the sting out of the harsh words. “At least a bit more pomp and circumstance. I have to say I’m fuckin’ relieved.”

“Yes. Out there, the pageantry runs thick. But this,” she says, looking around with a sigh. “This is my sanctuary. My safe room. I can act however I please in here.”

By the woman’s shy glance, Ellana knows she’s been shown a great deal of trust in being allowed here. In this comfy, if messy, nest in the heart of the Empress’s gilded cage. She knows what it is to desire a space to call her own. “I can see the appeal. No cameras watching. No expectations.”

“I knew you would understand.”

For a moment, a thrill of fear shoots through her core, that someone found out about her past, her course or her aim, but then she sees the touch of admiration in Celene’s eyes. And the way the woman leans toward her with excitement and eagerness. Wetting her lips at a sudden revelation, Ellana says, “You’re a fan.”

“Yes!” said Celene, almost bouncing. “We were at Denerim together. I was playing at the Colosseum and you were at-”

“The Howling Moon,” she finishes, awe trickling through her nerves.

“I snuck away from my handlers and came to watch you. You were good!” Celene’s hands dart out to take hers. “Really good!”

Blinking, Ellana says, “Thanks? The Moon’s just a dive, though. Why would you even go there?”

“I heard you from the street as I was walking past. I couldn’t resist. No one recognizes me without my masks, so …. That place was so wonderfully dirty. And raw. And honest.” Behind her mask, her eyes shone. “I haven’t had such a good time in forever.”

Nonplussed, Ellana could only stare. After a long moment, she says, “Well, if it’s to come to shameful confessions, I think ‘Echoes’ is one of the most beautiful love songs ever. And the way you sing it makes me cry every time.”

A blush climbs up the woman’s neck and disappears behind the mask. She seems struck dumb, flustered. The two women glance away, awkward. Then Celene squeezes her hands. “I think you and I shall be great friends.”

A sincere wish fills the gaze directed at her. Ellana laughs again and nods. “You know, I think so too.”

“And when you’re even more famous than me, we shall meet for lunches and things when we are in the same city together,” Celene says, with a firm and decisive bob of her head.

“I don’t know about the ‘famous’ part, but a definite ‘yes’ to the rest.”

“Oh, you have it. I know. It won’t be long now.” The wistful look in her eyes now pulls at Ellana. She continues, “It’s all so wonderful. At the beginning.”

Something in her tone, a sorrow, begs the question, “And now? Is it not so wonderful?”

Celene shakes herself loose of some memory and says, “It is. Still wonderful. But there are things that come with the fame that tarnish its glitter. Harassment. Hate-mail.” She pulls a folded note from her back pocket to show Ellana. “I was just reading one hateful letter just before you knocked.”

Ellana reads over the ugly words with a growing sick feeling in her guts. Words like ‘Bitchslut,’ ‘Corporate Fuckdoll,’ and ‘Kill the Whore’ jump out at her from the page. With a grimace, she looks up at Celene. “This isn’t just hate-mail, Celene. These are actual death threats. Have you told the cops?”

Celene shrugs. “After the first hundred or so, no one cares. They say the threats are idle. That few crazies act on their words.”

Chewing her lip, Ellana makes a disgruntled noise in her throat. “Still ….”

The woman across from her laughs and squeezes her hand again. “Your concern for me, someone you just met, is charming, but I have the best security team in all of Orlais.”

Drawn from her worry, Ellana looks around at the thing Celene has just shoved under her nose. One of Inquisition’s crude CD’s. The type of band merch they sell at gigs. Startled all over again, she jerks her head up to see Celene’s wide and shy smile.

The Empress asks, “Can I have your autograph?”

Chapter Text

“—Once we weeeere not afraaaaaid of the niiiiight!” she sings into the mic, cradling it close to her lips. The foci glows like a phosphorescent flame in her palm, sending a wave of wondrous feeling outward up and through the audience.

Solas watches her in deep and meditative admiration as the note quavers at the very end and drifts into silence.

Alive with fervor, her eyes sparkle. Her skin shimmers with sweat. She moves across the stage like a hurricane. And he believes he has never seen anything more beautiful in his whole life.

The huge bowl of spectators erupts in a cheer, not as loud as they could be, Solas knows, for he remembers how the sound could make the stage quake under their feet. But it’s a modest roar, politely enthusiastic. 

Quite an accomplishment. 

Here.

The glorious smile Ellana turns on him then strikes him deep. To the marrow. He can only stare back with everything he’s feeling pouring through his gaze.

They take their bows and move offstage, set complete. Bull gives them all a grin and high-five on their way by.

Once they’re all out of the way of the roadies, Blackwall snorts. “Well, at least they didn’t boo us off.”

Cassandra nods agreement. “I have to admit, I expected a better reception. I hate to think we leave them disappointed.”

“Something new. Hard to understand, but a few heard the echo in their hearts.” Cole scratches his nose and finishes, “They like it. They just haven’t caught fire. Yet.”

Sera says, “We shoulda done that one about ‘Draste’s flaming knickers. If they can’t love ya, make’em so pissed, they scream at ya.”

“Guys, guys,” says Ellana, flinging her arms over the shoulders of Cassandra and Cole. “You’re focused on the wrong thing.”

Blackwall crosses his arms. “So what’s the right thing then?”

“This was our best show ever!” To their frowning faces, she laughs. “I’m not talking about the crowd. Or the venue. Us! We did great! Damn near flawless. We stepped it up. Didn’t you feel it? Cass.”—She pulls the woman close enough to bump foreheads with her—”You didn’t fumble the transition on ‘Rise’ like you always worry you’ll do. Blackwall, you and Cole were so perfectly in sync, you seemed like one person.”

Blackwall looks over at the spirit askance, eyes a little wide as though unable to decide if that horrified him or not. The way his mustache ticks tells Solas that there is at least a tickle of satisfaction in the bassist for their exemplary performance.

Ellana grins at the blonde violinist. “Sera, you finally had room to dance as you played and didn’t have to kick over anything. That was amazing! And I didn’t have to squeak out that last high note in ‘Girl in Red Crossing.’”

Sera demands, through her devious grin, “Yeah? And what did Solas do?”

Solas smiles, takes off his mask, and holds out his hand to show them the weeping blisters there. “I became invested. Wholly and unreservedly.”

Ellana grabs him by the wrist to tut over his fingers. “Solas! Your hand. Cass, would you see if they have any bactine and bandages back there?”

Cassandra bolts for the rooms backstage.

Sera chortles. “‘Bout time you bled for us.”

“Sera!” reprimands Ellana.

“Wot? He’s been holdin’ himself apart. Away from us. Never lets us in. Like, I know who Blackwall’s dad’s dad is. I help Cass with her damn cats. Cole’s just weird. Even you, you got your thing with the El’vhen—”

A sharp stab of surprise catches him mid-breath and his gaze swings up to catch her green eyes, glinting with some pained emotion. She stares back at him, mouth opening and closing as though caught without air.

He says, “What—?” Does she mean?

Her fingers come up over his lips to silence him. “I was going to tell you. I swear it.”

Then she takes a deep breath and says to Sera, and to Blackwall and Cole, “About that. There’s something Solas and I have been meaning to tell you all—”

“Excuse me? Miss Ellana Lavellan, correct?” intrudes a new voice into their little circle. Solas looks up to see a smartly-dressed elven woman in an ornate Orlesian half-mask. Her icy grey eyes cut over all of them, keen and assessing.

Solas watches Ellana turn and itches so badly to take her by the shoulders and demand answers, but now, in uncertain company, how could they speak with candor?

The crowd outside thunders with new cheers as the main act takes the stage. Deafening. He winces until they quiet to listen to the Empress’s softer brand of music.

Helpless, Solas watches Ellana reluctantly follow the beckoning woman away from the rest of them. The singer’s gaze finds him over her shoulder, brows pulled up and together in an expression of apology.

Blackwall and Sera pierce him with a glower while the spirit drifts about, poking at cables and things.

Sera says, “Well?”

Unsure, Solas looks after Ellana. His guts churn with fear. For what she might tell him later. For a lot of things.

Blackwall rolls his shoulders in deep discomfort, and says, “We should wait for Ellana. And maybe until we’re in private.”

Fuck that! I want to know now!” Sera shoves herself into Solas’s personal space, her forefinger inches from his nose. “Wot is it? Somefing wrong wiv you? Somefing wrong wiv her? Is she preggo? Are you a fugitive? Or a felon? A paedophile? Wot?”

Blackwall puts an arm in front of her and hauls her back a step. “Sera! It can wait.”

Cassandra chooses that moment to return, arms laden with a full first-aid kit. Looking between the silent Solas and the furious Sera and disgruntled Blackwall, she comments, “What did I miss?”

Throwing up her hands, Sera stalks off with a sour grumbled, “No! ‘S fine. We’rewaiting … for Ellana.”

With a grimace, Blackwall says, “I’ll go after her. Keep an eye out for her.” Then he scoots off at a fast pace.

Cassandra tilts her head and frowns at Solas. He stares back, mute. Heaving a great sigh, the human nods toward a stack of equipment. “Sit.”

There’s no disobeying that command, so he does. With a snap of her fingers, she gestures for his hand. He lays it in her palm and hisses the second the bactine touches the raw skin there.

She cleans his wounds with short, quick movements before saying, dry as bone, “There is quite a bit of damage here. This isn’t all from one show. Why didn’t you say anything?”

Solas smiles, it feels very weak on his face, clinging by a hair. “To be honest, I didn’t feel it during.”

Giving a dissatisfied grunt, Cassandra applies a salve and some adhesive bandages to his digits. Stepping back, she glares down at him. “Is it a danger to her? Whatever this thing is you two have kept between you?”

Reeling at the incisive question, Solas blinks and says, “No …. Probably.”

Her leonine eyes narrow. Then her severe expression relaxes and she sighs again. “Secrets are never kept forever.”

“I’m aware. Ellana and I have been trying to find a time to tell all of you. But things … just kept coming up.” Flexing his fingers, he gives her a nod of thanks. Then he says, “I’m surprised that you are not interrogating me right this second.”

“Sera said we’re waiting. Ellana must have said she’d tell us later. I trust Ellanato keep her word.” The flick of her brow tells him she has her doubts about him.

A little wounded, Solas says, “I have given you no cause to doubt me.”

“But how would I even know, Solas? Trust given is trust received. You are here, but you don’t trust the rest of us. Only Ellana.” Cassandra shifts from one foot to the other. “I would find it easier to trust if you acted as though you were one of us. And you are. One of us.”

The conviction in the woman’s eyes shames him, just as her words lift his spirit. Solas grimaces. “When Ellana returns, all will be revealed.”

“Wholly? Unreservedly?” she says, but the corners of her mouth lift in humor.

“If that is what you wish. Yes.” His own lips answer her smile with one of his.

“Where is Ellana, anyway?”

“One of Celene’s people came and got her. Though, for what purpose, I don’t know.” He looks around, searching for that shock of red hair he knows so well.

“I will go find her,” says Cassandra, striding away.

About to say the same, Solas turns his head and catches a flash of familiar white. With a sharp and narrowed gaze, Solas searches the area of crowd he can see past the wall of lights.

There!

Third row, second seat from the right.

Dorian.

The Tevinter looks frazzled and worried as he and others file into the empty seats for the main performance.  His eyes are dark circles under lowered brows. He sits at the edge of that group he seems to want to not be a part of, but helplessly is. But the glare of the lights keeps Solas from picking out the details of his fellows. Just a smear of dark suits and cold faces. One silhouette pulls at him with a strange familiarity—

Just then, Dorian spots him looking and gives a subtle wave, leaning away from the others to lend the gesture some subterfuge.

Puzzled, Solas takes a few steps forward, intent on going out there to speak with him.

The Tevinter waves again, a little frantic. This time more a ‘shooing’ motion. He mouths, ‘Not now!’

Set back on his heels, Solas bites his inner cheek. Anxiety is eating him.

Just then, a new sound breaks over the amphitheatre. The warble of an electric guitar. And from the flourishes, he knows who plays. A few quick steps take him to the wings of stage-right and he stares as Ellana’s head is thrown back as she runs her fingers over the strings like a madwoman. The liquid notes pour into his spine, shooting tingles out to his fingertips as her mouth opens to sing harmonies with the woman on the floating platform over the crowd.

Vaguely, he recognizes the tune. Something he created long ago and sold to the highest bidder. A little fumbling in the dark basement of his memory, and the name comes to mind. Echoes ….

Now the crowd is going mad out there. They shriek and holler for their Empress and for Ellana, brave as brave can be, throwing herself out into this unknown. The foci sings along, throwing complex layers of love and sorrow out over the multitude, green light dazzling.

The platform carrying the Empress comes back down to Earth and the blond woman in sparkling white lace steps down to stand next to Ellana, their voices twining as one toward the heavens.

A dark grumbling starts out there, in the crowd, somewhere in the vicinity of Dorian and company. Squinting past the lights, Solas sees a wedge being driven through the crowd, screaming children being shoved to one side or another.

And a new voice. Or rather, a very old one tickles at his outermost hearing. It grows in volume until he can make out some words—

“Get up there! I want it back!”

And he nearly gags as recognition finally sinks into place.

Then … rage.

Red, red rage. Tinting his vision until it looks like someone has spilled blood all over everything. Hands clench at his sides, breath starts to heave. His heart is piping out a deadly thrum.

His awareness starts to dim to just that hated voice—

“Look out!” Ellana screams, terrified.

Snapped out of his frenzy, Solas swings back around just in time to see Ellana throw herself at the Empress, knocking her away from some unseen menace.

Just in time to hear a loud popping noise.

Red blood fountains out of the hole that suddenly appears high in Ellana’s back, spraying across the Empress’s stark white dress. Her stark white face and metal mask.

His breath seizes.

The whole world freezes. For just an instant.

Then in a yawning rush, time and terror flow back into the vacuum. Dragging him forward along with it.

Chapter Text

“My name is Briala. I’m one of Celene’s … friends.”

Ellana resists a nervous laugh, thinking of Varric and his ‘significant pause’ friends. Bold as she can muster, she says, “Hi.”

The sharp-eyed woman looks at her askance, then smiles. “I see why she likes you. You’re both possessed of the same … courage.”

The spark of sincere fondness in Briala’s eyes draws her attention. A suspicion creeps to the fore, but she shakes it off. Grinning with embarrassment, Ellana demurs, “I don’t know about that. It’s not like I’m exactly new to gigging.”

Briala returns her smile with a shake of her head. “Perhaps not, but on thisscale? I can see your hands shaking.”

Ellana thrusts those quaking digits behind her back, wringing them together as they walk closer to where Celene’s stage crew swarm like busy ants, readying the equipment for the next song, the next change of mood or light or scenery. She can see Celene out there, spinning in her sparkling dress, singing and moving to the beat. With amazement, she watches as a whole section of stage separates and lifts, taking the singer into the sky. Two men in the shadows of the wings opposite Ellana raise staffs high, faces grimacing with effort.

Force mages.

Fucking amazing.

“It is brave to push forward, to climb closer to the summit of ambition.” Briala leans closer to Ellana so she does not have to speak overloud to be heard over the Empress’s performance. “From what I’ve seen so far, your band is impressive. You are impressive.”

“If you’re trying to make me blush, it’s working,” says Ellana, bouncing on her heels a little. “So, something tells me you didn’t just call me over here to tell me how impressive I am.”

“Ha, no. Celene sent me to speak to you, and convey a … request.” Briala turns as one of the Empress’s roadies hands her a guitar. Ellana frowns as she recognizes her own instrument. Briala shrugs in apology. “I hope it wasn’t too forward to procure this. Here. Hold it, please.” She hands the guitar to staring, dumbfounded Ellana. The strap goes over her shoulder with practiced ease.

Then the woman turns to the roadie, who waits with a few gadgets in his hands. Ellana’s brows raise. 

Pricey gadgets. 

Briala says, “Fit her with the mic. Make sure the transmitter’s on the right frequency this time. Guitar, too—”

“What the hell is going on, Briala?” blurts Ellana, as the roadie busied himself about her person, readying her. The wireless headset snaps around her head, stinging her eartips. She glares at the roadie. “Ow! Watch it.”

He gives a bashful bob of his head, but doesn’t stop fiddling with her stuff. He plugs a small black box into the RCA jack on the body of her guitar. Ellana hears the distant whine of speaker stacks picking up some noise from her instrument and instinctively muffles the strings with her left hand.

“Seriously, Briala. What the fuck?”

The other elf grins a mischievous grin and holds up both her index fingers. “Wait for iiiiiit—”

The audience screams their approval at the end of the current song. Celene laughs, a clear and joyous sound. Her voice fills the amphitheatre, “Now I think it’s time for a particular favorite of mine. Sing with me! I know you know the words. Sing!”

Ellana looks up and up, spotting the Empress on her floating disc. Celene stares right back at her, lips stretched in invitation. Her finger curls, beckoning as the opening strains of Echoes drips through the PA.

Biting her lip, Ellana gives a nervous nod.

Briala’s hand drops on her shoulder, and she says, “Wait for the fog. You know what to do.”

No, she doesn’t.

But a violent eagerness surges from under the howling anxiety making her sweat and clutch at the guitar before her. The promised fog rolls out of the machines flanking the stage, and suddenly she does know.

Gritting her teeth, Ellana darts forward through the billowing screen, gaining momentum. She throws herself onto her knees to slide the last few feet, bursting from the fogbank with a ringing squeal on her electric guitar.

The wall of sound screaming from the overjoyed crowd slams into her, dizzying her senses. But she hops back onto her feet and wails away at the strings, turning the gentle love song into something feral and full of fury. Still love, but a harder love. A fearsome love that burns the candle at both ends. That shrieks defiant curses at fate or fickle future.

She finds the thread of harmony and follows it, singing a foundation for Celene to soar over. Her heart pounds fit to bursting as the cheering swells even louder. The pick is green fire in her palm, hot and heavy with fierce emotion. She sends it through the crowd in expanding waves of magnitude. They sway in its many wakes.

The floating disc descends back to the ground and Celene steps off it to stand with Ellana. Her eyes behind her mask are wide in ecstasy. Ellana pulls back the howl of the guitar to start the closing measures, lending them longing and hope and bittersweet despair. For the ending is all endings. When love is gone and one can only hope for the sweet torture of shattered echoes.

They stand face to face now, the Empress in white and she in black. A strange mirror.

Beyond the lights at the Empress’s back, Ellana spots a shifty sort of movement. Every fiber of her being screams danger as she picks out a blond Orlesian throwing herself past security. Time slows to a crawl as the woman’s hand reaches into her purse and pulls out black grip leading to blacker barrel. 

The horrid abyssal eye in the end seems to wink at her as it swings up and points straight at Celene’s back.

Gun!

“Look out!” she hears herself scream. The rest of her is already moving. Hands grab Celene by the arms and spins them both while simultaneously trying to push her down out of the deadly thing’s line of sight.

A loud pop fills her ears, along with a strange sudden pressure in the back of her shoulder near the neck. A pressure that tears right through the front. Red splashes across her field of vision, spraying all over Celene’s wonderful dress. The woman herself tries to keep Ellana aloft.

In distant fascination, Ellana wonders why the stage seems to be tilting. If it keeps on, I’m going to—

The impact of the ground feels hollow and far away. Strange. I was so hot a second ago …. Where’s my jacket?

Her awareness dims to a flicker, but her gaze finds a pair of panicked blue eyes staring back down at her. She smiles. Solas.

She wants to tell him the truth, right now, so at least she can explain, in case—

The black nothing steals her away from the light before she can, though, and she sinks deeper until thoughts and wishes dim and sputter to a halt.

Chapter Text

Her hand is cold.

Of all the suffocating terrors and outrages that crowd him, that one thing tears at him the most. Her hand is cold. Limp. He could mistake it for lifeless if not for the steady beeping of the heart monitor.

He pulls her wrist to his lips so he can feel the reassurance of her pulse there for himself, closing his eyes as he wills her to wake up. Please, please. The only word his mind can conjure that feels safe.

The others’ presences press at him, sitting in mute testimony of the insufferable gravity of worry, every face drawn and laboring under the weight of it. Cole seems beside himself with the dilemma of who to comfort first.

A doctor arrives, an older human woman with silver hair and kind eyes. The draft from the sliding door brings with it the heavy sting of antiseptic as the doctor strides forward to pluck the chart off the end of the bed. She offers them all a harried smile before she bends to her task.

Solas waits with barely restrained anxiety, flicking his gaze from Ellana’s milky white face to the doctor’s lined, frowning one. After a long moment of listening to the rustle of paper and the occasional thoughtful hum, Solas could no longer keep the question back. “Is she—? Doctor, will she—?”

The woman blinks and looks up at him, as though remembering they are even present. “Oh! My apologies. She’ll be fine.”

A collective sigh of relief fills the room, and his heart stops hammering its fearful tattoo and slows to something manageable.

“She’s very lucky, in fact. The bullet missed her carotid by centimeters. Just a clean in and out. There wasn’t even much hydrostatic shock. The EMT’s must have provided a little magical aid.” The doctor nods once in satisfaction and puts the chart back in place.

“But there was so much blood,” says Varric, his square face a little green. Next to him, Cassandra’s lips draw further down in tacit agreement. Her scar stands out in sharp relief.

“Oh, as much as you saw, there would have been so much more had the carotid been punctured or severed.”

Solas clears his throat and says, “Then why will she not wake?”

“Shock. The fatigue following the surge in adrenaline combined with the painkillers the EMT’s gave her.” She looks around at every worry-filled face. A confident light shines in her eyes. “Have faith. Her vitals look good. The scans are clean. The bullet didn’t fragment or chip any bones. I suspect she would not even have passed out if not for the stress of the situation. I see no reason why she can’t be discharged as soon as she wakes, provided there are no further complications.”

The police officers standing just outside the glass doors might beg to differ. They peer in, faces drawn into serious expressions of inquiry. Solas looks past the doctor at them. She turns to follow his gaze, then shrugs. “Well, discharged fromour care. The police will take up from there. Every gunshot wound comes with its own follow-up criminal investigation. But it probably won’t take long. They’ll want her statement and things. I heard about what she did. Very brave.”

Very foolish. Solas silences the thought with an inner wrench.

“Solas?” The hand in his squeezes, and his face swings around to see that Ellana’s eyes are open to tired slits.

The lump in his throat chokes any actual words forming, the sound coming out in a gutteral gasp.

The doctor steps forward and takes her other hand. “Hello. I’m Doctor Langwynne. Can you tell me your name?”

His heart’s lips part and rasp, “El … Ellana Lavellan. Where—?”

“You’re at Haven Hospital. You were medevac’d in over the Frostbacks a few hours ago.”

“Haven? Why?” Then her hand jerks from the doctor’s and drifts up toward the bandage over her neck and shoulder. “I … got shot.”

A pleased smile lifts the corners of the doctor’s lips. “Oh. You’re a sharp one. Truth is, your injuries seemed a lot more serious than they were. I’m going to run some simple tests, ask some simple questions. Feel up to it?”

At Ellana’s nod, the doctor shifts around the bed, shining a light in her eyes, checking and double-checking temperature and blood pressure and other things Solas hardly understands. He moves back so the doctor has complete access and just listens to their low voices, the giddy gladness in his chest threatening to spill over the dam of his control.

She’s alive. She’s awake. Even the color is coming back to her cheeks as she answers those questions with more and more wakefulness.

“Feeling any pain?”

“A little. Not much. Got a little nausea though.”

“Hmm. That’s the fentanyl. Don’t be surprised if you feel a little dizzy as well. Any confusion? Or fogginess?”

“Not really.”

The doctor stands straight with a wide smile. “Well, your friends are, no doubt, very relieved. I’ll thank them not to jostle the IV’s if they feel the need to express it, ahem, physically. I’ll send a nurse in to remove them shortly. There’s a couple gentlemen from Hilamshiral PD that would like a word as well. I’ll let them know you’re cogent.”

Ellana’s mouth opens and closes a few times as the doctor spins on a heel and leaves, pausing to talk to the officers that wait outside.

Solas’s breath leaves him as Ellana’s eyes find his, before looking around at the rest with sheepish guilt. “Hullo.”

Sera darts forward first, wrapping her arms around Ellana’s neck. “You idiot! I can’t believe you’re so … so stupid!” The blond lifts away with tears streaming from her furious eyes.

Varric approaches next, taking his embrace with care for Ellana’s injuries. His mouth is screwed shut like he’d like to yell as well, but can’t bring himself to. Blackwall and Cassandra next, the former grumbling a short sentiment of gladness that she’s alive, and the latter merely glares after their hug, and says, “Don’t ever do that again.”

“I won’t. I only have eight more lives left.” Ellana pulls Cole to her as soon as the spirit drifts close enough to grab. She holds him close and says, “I know. I know.”

“It left a hole. Small to start, then bigger and bigger.” The boy’s watery blue eyes roll and wheel over them all, jittering and blinking in rapid, uneven fashion. “Almost person-sized. Almost Ellana-sized.”

Solas’s heart drops, quick and sharp at the reminder of that howling fear. And at memories of old and painful losses.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” murmured Ellana into the distraught spirit’s ear.

“Vhenan.” Is that his voice? That cracked, worn old thing?

Her arms open, freeing the spirit and welcoming him. Solas buries his face at her unwounded shoulder and trembles. She strokes his back and whispers, “Emma lath.”

Swallowing back the wad of dread trapping his tongue, he says, “Cassandra and Sera have it right. Don’t ever do something so stupid again.”

She chuckles at his ear. “I guess I missed our date.”

“There will be others.” He pulls away and places a kiss on her forehead, just above the bridge of her nose.

She grins at him. “Hell yeah, there will. You’re stuck with me.”

“Excuse us. We’re here to collect a statement.” The policemen from the hall intrude into their private moment.

A rare spark of real hate rushes through him. He tempers it to annoyance before standing away from Ellana so these interlopers can do what they came to do, then begone.

A commotion out in the hall presages the door sliding open, allowing entrance to a loud and loathsome proclamation—

“I want my property back!” A cruel-faced man, dressed in suit and tie, swings in through the door. A red-haired human woman walks slightly behind and to the side of him, her face blank and bland. Her every movement screams street cop, yet her plain clothes say she is something more.

That red haze starts to take over his senses as Solas stares at the man with the wintry glare fastened on his beloved. His own lip curls in reaction. Varric, in his periphery, glances from Solas to the man and then to Ellana’s blanching face. The dwarf says, “Who is this asshole?”

“My name is Corypheus,” says the aptly described asshole, drawing himself up to his full height, looming over them all. His hand comes up to point at Ellana, but he addresses the cop next to him, “I demand you arrest this thieving rat—!”

“Now hold on a minute, you can’t just—”

“—show you where to shove your demands. Hint: rhymes with ‘your ass—’”

“—urely there’s been a mistake. Ellana wouldn’t—” clamors the band, each taking a threatening step forward. But Varric and Solas only exchange a grimace.

The other policemen defer to the one in plainclothes as she moves to stand at the foot of the bed. She takes out a little notepad and says, “Ellana Lavellan, I’m Detective Aveline Vallen. Are you, in fact, in possession of one,”—she consults her notes, then continues—” … foci? A triangular magical object that can be used as a guitar pick?”

Ellana’s free hand goes up to her throat, but finds it bare. She looks around and spots it on the bedside table at the same moment Corypheus does. The man lunges forward, as though to snatch it up, but Aveline reaches over and grabs his wrist, saying in a cold, perfunctory voice, “Do not touch the evidence, please.”

“It’s mine! I demand you give it to me.”

“It’s called ‘due process,’ ser. Your ‘demands’ can no sooner speed my investigation than they can make me shoot lightning out of my ass.” The woman picks up the foci and studies it, comparing it to a photo she unfolds from the notepad. Making a few new notes, she says, “Can you tell me how you came into possession of stolen property?”

Ellana’s mouth opens, but Corypheus interrupts her, “I’ll tell you how! She stole it during a public tour of my collection. I recognize her. The upstart knife ear with the red hair.”

The detective gives the man a frigid glare, then says to Ellana, “Is this true? Did you steal the foci from this man?”

“I-I … yes, but,” starts Ellana, but Solas squeezes her hand, drawing her attention.

He speaks, soft to try to stop himself from growling, “As it was stolen from me.”

Every eye swings to him. He resists shifting under their baffled stares. Instead, he latches a hateful stare onto Corypheus, who looks back, confused himself. “Do you not recognize me? ‘Corypheus’ was it? That wasn’t your name when last we spoke.”

The man’s mouth drops open and he utters, “Fen’harel.”

The band gasps at his back. Solas nods and stands, drawing himself up. “Yes. And it’s generally considered bad form to have a man declared dead just so you can seize his assets. If not outright illegal.”

The detective’s eyes tick back and forth between them. Then her pen starts scribbling in her notepad again. Her lips press into a grim line. “This complicates things.”

“You said it, sister,” Varric mutters.

Out comes a little baggie and marker. Detective Vallen writes some numbers on the bag and then drops the pendant into it, fingertips sliding along the container’s edge to seal it. To Corypheus’s outstretched hand and impending protest, she says, “Since the ownership of the item is in question, it’ll be put into evidence. Unfortunately, there’s still the matter of the theft itself. This is now a secure room. Everyone out.”

Blackwall sputters, “Y-you can’t really mean to arrest Ellana.”

The detective tilts her head at the taller bearded human. “I can and I do. There is enough evidence, and her own confession.”

The rest start to argue, voices climbing to a shout. Solas adds his own to the furor, dropping cutting insult after insult in Corypheus’s face, finger inches from his nose.

“Everyone!” yells Ellana. They all turn to look at her. She smiles a nervous smile, and says, “It’s fine. Really. Don’t get arrested, too.”

Only then did Solas see all three cops’ aggressive stances, hands dropped to service pistols or tasers. Cassandra clears her throat and says, “We’ll fix it, Ellana. I swear we’ll find a way.”

The singer nods and waves them off as the cops escort them out. The pair in uniform turn to flank the door. The detective goes back to Ellana’s bedside, talking to her in low tones.

And they can do nothing but leave. How that pains him.

“Fen’harel,” says the hated Corypheus, stopping them all in the parking lot. Solas turns and just refrains from putting his fist through the man’s face. An oily smile lifts the man’s lips as he says, “They did a good job keeping the truth of your survival from me. I didn’t even wonder. Hmm. I have a proposition for you.”

“Have you not done enough?” spits Solas, waving toward the hospital.

The cruel man sneers. “A fraction of what I could do. No, my deal is this: relinquish the foci to me and I will drop the charges against Miss Lavellan. If not, and this goes to trial, I will make certain it is a very public one.”

Then he slides into a long, black car with dark, tinted windows. One rolls down and Corypheus throws one more ugly smile his way. “Think it over. Your soon-to-be unemployed friend, Dorian, knows how to get in touch with me.”

Solas spits onto the pavement as soon as the car is out of sight, but nothing can rid him of the bad taste in his mouth.

Varric steps into his peripheral vision. The dwarf sighs. “Well, that could have gone better. Today is a day of bombshells. They just keep dropping. But the band seems to be taking it well.”

“But you already knew.” Solas affixes a sour look upon the dwarf. “Didn’t you? That’s why you didn’t seem surprised.”

“Yeah. Don’t blame Ellana. I’d already figured most of it out. She just gave me the name.” Varric shrugs and reaches out to pat his shoulder. “I don’t really care about who you were. You’re just Chuckles to me.”

He laughs and shakes his head. “How will we ever untangle this mess?”

Varric hums. “Well, the others are already pooling bail money. The bus is on its way back over the Frostbacks to meet us.”

Solas snaps his fingers. “I know a lawyer. A good one.”

“Good. Between all of us, I think we can figure something out. I’ll call Josie.” The dwarf wanders away to stand with the others, who shoot Solas dark and confused and stunned looks over their shoulders.

He is not looking forward to that conversation, the fallout from revealing his true identity, at all.

Sighing with worry for Ellana, he takes out his phone and goes through his contacts. Pecking the ‘call’ button, he brings it up to his ear and listens to it ring.

“Hello?” greets a lilting, warm voice.

“Merrill. It’s Solas,” he starts, then chews his lip. “I need you. Bring the paperwork to Haven. All of it.”

Chapter Text

Jail’s not as bad as she thought it’d be.

It’s warm, and dry. Relatively clean. The food is not the worst thing she’s had to choke down: Maybe even a couple steps up from the ol’ bread and water schtick. The cot in her cell with its three-inch mattress is hard on her back, but all in all, nothing like she imagined. Nothing like it is in all those cop dramas on the tube.

Sadly, they did make her take out her piercings … all of them. Back when she’d been processed in Haven. And since she’s pretty sure she saw the desk sergeant toss them in the trash, she probably won’t get them back. 

Sighing, she lays back on her bench and stares at the ceiling. Her shoulder barks a complaint. She rubs it in apology, careful of the stitches.

The worst part is the boredom. There are other prisoners, but they’re entertaining themselves in their own cells. None of them seem hostile or even very interested in harassing anyone.

There’s just this intense, crushing … waiting.

Everyone’s just waiting.

That’s probably jail, though. Caught in the limbo before conviction or acquittal. Or so she imagines. Prison is ‘arriving.’ The atmosphere is probably altogether different there. People getting shanked and whatnot. She chews her lip, anxiety clawing at her bowels.

A guard pauses outside her cell and taps on the bars. “Lavellan.”

“Yes, sir?” ‘Sir’ing never hurt, especially in her situation.

“Visitor,” says he, gesturing to persons out of her line of sight. The door buzzes and slides open. Wary, he beckons with a hand that she should precede him. Which she does, glad to be out of that confining cell.

A series of doors open before her, all manned by guards in uniform. The guard behind her points to the left over her shoulder and she pushes open one last door to see a small room with a rectangular table in the middle of it. On the other side, an elven woman sits, young-ish tattooed face smiling at her with openness and cheer.

Ellana frowns and sits opposite of her, turning when the door latches back closed. The guard stands just outside. She can see him through a tiny window in it. Puzzling why he’d leave her alone with the woman, she turns back and says, “Uuum, hello.”

“You have got to be Ellana. Oh, you fit his description to a ‘t.’ You’ve got to tell me how you met. How did you ever get him to—” starts her lilting voice, thick accent throwing her back to another time and place. Firelight and laughter. Prayer circles with a looming figure at the center— 

The woman seems to notice her shock then and trails off. Her large olive green eyes flick over Ellana’s face. Then the woman sticks her hand out. “I’m getting ahead of myself again, aren’t I? I’m Merrill, your lawyer.”

Jolted from her daze, Ellana takes that hand in her own and gives it a single shake. “My … lawyer?”

“Yes, unless you’ve an objection.”

“One: I don’t remember hiring or paying you?”

Her hands flap that notion away. “You and Solas, always following the buck. As though money holds a candle to principle.”

What an odd thing for a lawyer to say. Stunned anew, Ellana can only listen as Merrill outlines what will happen to her and explains what has already happened in the meantime.

“—so then you were extradited. We’re in Minrathous right now, too. Close by in a hotel. Preparing the case. Collecting witnesses and testimony. All sorts of things. The rest of the band travels back and forth from Kirkwall when they can.”

“But you said Corypheus will drop the charges if we give him the foci. Why don’t we just do that?”

A flash of banked anger flares in the back of Merrill’s eyes. “I wouldn’t give that man anything, if I could help it. He’s taken enough. Besides, it’s already too late.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, there was a window between your arrest and extradition where we could have done that, but Solas sort of slammed it shut himself when he filed a claim on the foci, saying it was his rightful property.”

Flat and angry, Ellana says, “What?! But he’d have to—”

“—take up his old identity. Yes. But if he succeeds, then that charge can’t stick. How could it if he never filed a report of the theft? If it never belonged to Corypheus in the first place. And believe me, first-degree felony robbery is not a charge we want to stick. The other ones are not nearly as serious.” Merrill nods, giving a sad smile. “Anyway, Corypheus learned of it and moved to have the Tevinter government extradite you, saying in essence that you stole a national treasure. So now it’s a big tangled ball of a mess. Corypheus is hoping the threat of exposure will keep Solas from pursuing trial.”

The position that leaves Solas in ….

Ellana snorts, then worries at her lip. “He doesn’t know how stubborn Solas can be.”

“Indeed. But don’t worry, Ellana. This process could take months.”

“So … I’m going to be stuck here for months, unless I’m convicted at trial, then it’s off to prison.”

Merrill shakes her head. “The grand jury already met. They are moving forward with prosecution based on what evidence Corypheus and the investigating officer collected. But next is the bail hearing in two days. I’m confident we can persuade them to let you out on bail.”

The copper tang of blood bursts on her tongue from a rent spot on her lip. Her guts writhe and knot like nervous snakes.

A slim hand moves across the gap and closes over her wringing two, giving them a warm squeeze. The contact eases the fear to something less like panic. Ellana pulls one hand free and puts it over Merrill’s so it’s sandwiched between her palms.

“Don’t fret. We’ll get you out of this mess,” says the lawyer. “You have more support than you know. We’ll steer you through these choppy waters.”

Swallowing to wet her throat, she says, “Thank you.”

“No, thank you. I’ve never been the defense on a criminal case before.” Merrill’s grin widens with eagerness. “It’s exciting!”

Ignoring the sudden dropping of her guts, Ellana admonishes herself. What other options does she have anyway? “Glad I could grant you this opportunity.”

Sarcasm, Ellana? Really?

To Merrill, she gives an apologetic shrug. The other elf just smiles, then leans forward to whisper in conspiratorial tones, “Alright, now will you tell me all about you and Solas?”

Ellana looks into her earnest, shining eyes and laughs. “Well, maybe not allabout us. What do you want to know?”

“How did you meet? Where? In Kirkwall? What was he like the moment you met him? Have you two—?”

She holds her hands up to stymie the flood of words. “Whoa. One at a time. I don’t mind telling you, but you gotta do something for me.”

“Of course.”

“Tell Solas to visit me tomorrow. There’s some … things we need to discuss.” Ellana lets a little of her feelings show in the furrowing of her brow and the feral curling of her lip to one side.

Merrill giggles and says, “Certainly. I’ll drive him here myself.”

_________________________________

“So, it’s alright for you to risk yourself, but not me, huh?” She watches him wince on the other side of the glass, phone receiver to his ear. Good. He deserves it. “But even that’s not enough, because you’re not just risking yourself any more. You’ve decided to poke the shark when I’m still flailing in the water.”

“Ellana, I—”

“It would have been nice to be consulted before being thrust in the middle of you and Corypheus’s dick-measuring contest.”

He sinks lower into the folding chair. That brooding brow pulls low over wide eyes. There’s even lip biting going on. She dubs the look ‘kicked puppy’ and tries to harden her heart against it, and fails. But her mouth still does the right thing, “Is it worth it? Is keeping the damn foci, or proving your point, or whatever else you’re doing worth all of this?”

In the long silence after, remorse fills his eyes to the brim and beyond. He passes a hand over his lower face and sits back. Then his hand drops into his lap.

His mouth opens once or twice, then it finally emits a single soft word, “Yes.”

A twist at her soul pulls a bitter laugh out of her throat. But then she looks away and smiles, saying, “It better be. If I go to prison, it’s gonna make jumping your bones a little difficult to do.”

He starts in his chair and peers at her through the glass like she’s gone mad.

Maybe she has. After all, he seems willing enough to sacrifice her on the altar of pride. Lucky then, that she happens to agree with him.

This time.

For this reason, she’s willing to let it slide. “Merrill told me about some of it. The blackmail. The leverage of coin. And blood. Corypheus ransoming artists’ souls. It is worth it. That fucker needs to eat shit and die. Big time.”

His head lifts once more, until he seems his proud self again. A smile flickers on the edges of his mouth, but doesn’t quite manifest when his gaze finds her shoulder and the bandages that peek out from under her blue jumpsuit. “How is your shoulder?”

She shrugs. “The pain comes and goes. The meds in here suck a bit. Make my mouth all cotton-y, but it’s better than letting it go septic.”

Brows furrowing, Solas says, “Are they not giving you painkillers?”

“They do, but I squirrel them away to pay for cigarettes and toilet gin.” The hard scowl on her face doesn’t hold against his incredulous stare, and laughter bursts out of her mouth. “Your face! Ha! Had you going for a sec!”

“You did not,” he retorts, with a huff, but he smiles a real smile, and how that yanks at her heartstrings. “You do not even smoke.”

“No! I saw you! Maker’s crusty undies, Solas, I’ve only been in here a few days. Take me a week, at least to become a hardened criminal.” Ellana hums another laugh and continues, “It was always headed this way. I stole the damn thing. I knew there’d be a price eventually. I just didn’t think it would blow up in my face like an atom bomb. Or that the man I love would have to do what you’re doing going to bat for me. Give up what you’re giving up. And for that, emma lath, I am so sorry.”

His hand twitches on the masonite bit of counter on the other side of the glass. She can feel its intent and grimaces, wishing the glass gone so he could touch her cheek. “I am sorry, as well. When you summoned me, I … resigned myself to the idea that it was over between us. It would not have stopped me from helping you, but it—” hurt.

He didn’t have to say it. She can see it clear as day.

“We are both selfish,” she says. “We’ll just have to be better, from now on.”

“Yes,” he sighs, leaning very close to the glass.

Ellana mirrors him, staring into his eyes. After a bit of maudlin brooding, she grins a wicked grin. “This is the part where I rub my bare nipple on the glass, right?”

This close, it’s hard to miss the flush that rushes up his cheeks to his very eartips.

The guard behind her grumbles, “You better not.”

She ducks in chagrin. “Spoilsport.”

Solas laughs, and a warmth pours into her. Seriously, when is she going to get to ravish this man? He says, “Well, this is one more step on the path to stardom.”

“Hmm?” She quirks a brow at him. “What? Going to jail? Is that one of the milestones?”

His smile broadens to a grin.

“How many times have you been to jail?” she asks, real curiosity tickling at her.

“Many times, and not just for possession.” The mischievous twinkle in his eyes entrances her.

“Sounds like a story to me.”

“One I shall wait until we have some privacy to tell.”

She pouts. “Fine.”

Solas places his hand on the glass with a comic, melodramatic air. With an expression of grave and tragic seriousness, he says, “Don’t eat the green bologna.”

Ellana puts her own hand palm to glass to palm with his, and simpers, “Will you wait for me, baby?”

Fighting mirth, Solas replies, “Forever.”

She laughs all the way back to her tank, until her sides hurt with it.

Chapter Text

As soon as she exits the gate, deafening cacophony splits the air. Along with the shutter-snap of countless cameras.

Solas watches with amusement as Ellana freezes. her eyes growing huge as she takes in the mob clustered around the jail’s exit. The police keep them back with baton and barricade, shouting for order. But the furor only increases when Ellana gives them a shy little wave with the arm not bound in a sling.

Painted signs, thrust up above the crowd, proclaim ‘Free Ellana!’ and ‘Let her go!’ among others less easy to discern from where he stands.

Just under the noise, he hears her laugh as she strides toward him and the long vehicle at his back. The last few steps evolve into a jog and suddenly, her good arm is around his neck. Her spare weight crushes him against the car. Solas laughs in her ear as she peppers his cheek with pecks, ending with one deep and long kiss right on his lips. He clutches at her as heat rushes through him, bending her backward under his zeal.

Ellana breaks away with a gasp, her bee-stung lips parted and smiling.

The car is at the edge of the barricades and people reach over and around to hand her bouquet after bouquet of flowers. She takes as many of them as she can hold in one arm. A fetching blush darkens her cheeks, and she speaks words of thanks and gives nods for their well-wishing.

With a gallant bow, Solas opens the door of the limo and sweeps an arm toward the inside.

Giving the car a quizzical appraisal, she looks back at him, then steps in, scooting further in to make space for him.

Sitting next to her, he hears her blurt a surprised, “What? Oh, holy fuck, you guys!”

All her bandmates sit in the limo and give a cheer for her, laughing and leaning close to hug her.

The dark-skinned woman sitting opposite from him, all the way at the front, taps on the glass separating them from the driver with one elegant, bejeweled hand.

In his peripheral vision, Ellana starts and stares. “Madame Vivienne?”

The haughty woman smiles. “Well done, my dear. You certainly have our attention now.”

Solas hums a laugh as Ellana gapes in astonishment. She says, “What the hellis all that out there?”

Cassandra replies, “Some of Empress’s extremely grateful fans. They have been camped out here since news of what you did hit international TV. Every station played the footage non-stop for two whole days.”

“And when Celene found out you were arrested, she led the public outcry for your release.” Blackwall shakes his head, incredulous. “Honestly, how do you make friends so fast?”

Hands knock at all the windows as the car edges through the crowd. Muffled jubilant shouts shiver over the limo’s long body. Ellana waves at the few who spot her through the tinted glass, her face blazing with embarrassment and shock. She whispers, “It’s a gift, I suppose.”

“Miss fancypants wants us now. Now that you been plastered all over as Celene’s savior.” Sera runs her fingers through her hair, tugging at the many tangles in its platinum fall. “Picked us all up, nice as you please. Bought us food, real uppercrust shite wiv these little ‘caper’ things. Sweet-talked us the entire time.”

The blond’s sour tone brings the good humor in the car back to cold reality. Solas takes Ellana’s hand in his and nods agreement. Holding fast to their wariness would only serve them well. Odd, though, that he finds himself agreeing with Sera, of all people.

“Now, darlings, it’s expected to wine and dine when one begins a courtship,” Vivienne says, pursing her lips. Then she points at Cole, who seems to be trying to shrink and hide behind Blackwall’s bulk. “Although, that might be a problem.”

In his periphery, Ellana frowns. “Why?”

Madame Vivienne rolls her eyes and says, “You think I cannot tell what sits there?”

Sera snorts. “Great. Another bloody mage.”

“He’s not a what. He’s a who,” says Solas, adamant with a touch of spite.

“Yeah,” agrees Ellana, eyes flashing.

“Debatable. There are many fine drummers in the world. I suggest you replace … him.” Her lips curl a tad with that last word, as though acknowledging the spirit that much agency pains her.

“No,” Ellana says, immovable. “He’s one of us. Your label doesn’t want him, thenwe don’t want you. This is not something I’m willing to negotiate.”

Every head belonging to her fellows nods, even Sera, who Solas knows doesn’t get along with Cole all that well. But they’d gotten this far on willpower and the strength of solidarity.

And how it shows.

A flush over the spirit’s pale features tells the tale of how touched Cole is. The spirit ceases cringing and sits straighter, hands folding in his lap serenely.

Vivienne’s gaze ticks from face to stern face until finally, she sighs. “If we must. I will warn you, though. There will be complications. He is not a person, in the eyes of the law. How will we even hold him under contract?”

“Bound and binding bonds. Letters make sounds on paper, sealing a solemn vow.” Cole chews his lips after the short declaration, adding, “But words break. Bindings are made of sterner stuff.”

Solas stills, then takes a sharp breath. “No.”

Ellana looks around at him and asks, “What?”

He keeps the grimace off his face with effort. “He’s suggesting a magical geas to keep him compliant with the terms of the contract.”

Cassandra clears her throat, saying, “Isn’t that sort of thing illegal now?”

Solas and Vivienne nod in unison. He stops and shoots a glare her way for their unintentional conspiracy. “Such a violation of his autonomy is hardly necessary.”

“It might be,” the dark-skinned woman says. Before all their outraged stares, she sighs again. “But not right now. We can discuss it again at a later time, shouldthings become unstable.” By the way she cut her eyes over to Cole, Solas knows well what ‘thing’ she means. And it rankles.

Ellana looks out the window. “Where are we going?”

Cassandra says, “The hotel. Madame Vivienne was kind enough to provide us accommodations there for the weekend.”

“‘Kind’ … right,” mutters Sera.

Rubbing her injured shoulder, Ellana winces. “I wish we could just go home. But I can’t leave Tevinter. At least, not yet. Merrill says she’s trying to get special dispensation for me.”

The car pulls up to the front of the hotel and a valet leaps forward to open their door. Everyone scoots out, heading straight through the sliding doors after collecting some luggage from the trunk. All but a few anyway. Solas stands near the rear, snagging a small shoulder bag, the last item in the trunk.

Ellana bends as she sticks her head back in the car. “Viv, you coming?”

“Your courtesy is appreciated, Miss Lavellan, but no. I’ll be at my palatial townhouse here in Minrathous. Tomorrow, I’ll ring and we can go over the contract with Josie. No doubt you will also want to bring your lawyer, Miss Sabrae.”

Ellana stands straight and shuts the door, brows furrowed. As the limo pulls away from the curb, she says, “She just had to put ‘palatial’ in there.”

Solas laughs. “She is a woman of means, who means to let everyone know it.”

He puts an arm out and she takes it with a coy little grin. They stride into the hotel and see the others checking in. Everyone seems to be collecting their own separate keys. He wonders at the cost. With his spare funds, he can only afford to share a double with Merrill. Oh, she’d offered to get him his own room, but he’d insisted. Of course.

Chagrin tickles him for his damn pride.

Ellana moves to the head and says to the clerk, “Do not put Sera in a room with a mini-bar, please.”

“Aw, c’mon, Quizzy. It’s not like we’re footin’ the bill,” Sera grumps. “I don’t have my Widdle and now you wanna take m’booze? Where’s my comfort? I thought you was my friend.”

“I am your friend, Sera.” In the face of the blond’s pout, Ellana visibly gives in and holds up the hand dangling from her sling. “But … I guess I’m not your mum. Fine. But you get out of hand and I will call your better half and tell her.”

That seems to cow Sera as nothing Solas has so far seen. “Fine, you snitch. I won’t break the hotel, even though that sounds like loads of fun.”

The clerk hands Ellana a keycard with the hotel’s logo emblazoned on it. “You’re in room 612, miss.”

“Thanks,” she says, with winning smile. Then she turns to Solas with a flippant, “Going up?”

His heart stutters, and he coughs behind his hand. “I … I have my own room. On the fourth.”

Ellana takes in his coloring cheeks with a spreading grin. “Not bunking with me? I mean, we finally found a hotel.”

A wave of desire rolls up his spine, leaving him tingling. “I didn’t want to presume—”

“Another key please,” says Ellana, leaning over the desk toward the clerk. She nods toward Solas, then says in a husky drawl, “For my lover.”

The clerk blushes even harder than Solas, giving a tight little ‘ahem’ as he codes another keycard. Then he passes it over to Solas, with a furtive little brow wiggle of appreciation as Ellana forges ahead to stand near the elevators.

Solas tries to keep his gaze fixed at shoulder-height, so his eyes won’t seize the opportunity to take in her … assets. Only to fail spectacularly when she stops right in front of him. Those assets collide with certain interested parts of his anatomy and his hands dart to her hips to steady her.

She giggles as she spins in his arms. “I’m not going to force you to share my room, Solas. Just giving you a key to put it out there. I’ll tell you. Right now, I’m more interested in a long shower where the water is warmer than glacial. And where the soap isn’t pure lye. Mm, mm, mmmm. Oh! And put all these in water.”

She waves the bouquets still in the curl of her one arm.

The elevator opens, and they step in. Solas sighs a brief lament for having to take his hands off her to hit the appropriate buttons. “I should go to my room for the moment. Give you time to relax.” Then he turns to her and offers the bag. “I hope you don’t mind. I had these brought from your home. I assumed you’d want a few changes of clothing and your toothbrush.”

“You are a fucking saint!” she declares, pressing close to plant another kiss to his lips. His denial is swallowed by her wet, welcoming mouth. Dazed, he watches her juggle her many burdens until they sit balanced.

The door dings for the fourth and slides open. His feet drag him out, as though reluctant. As reluctant as the rest of him. He turns to smile and say goodbye.

Ellana waves as the door closes. “Don’t be a stranger.”

“I won’t—” But she’s already gone. Shaking his head at his own absurd eagerness, Solas troops down the hall and knocks before entering the room, just in case Merrill is undressed or similar.

He enters to see her sitting on her bed, her hand atop her laptop, shutting it. Her mouth is an ‘o’ of surprise, then she smiles welcome. “Solas! You’re back.”

“So it seems. Ellana and the rest are here. Madame Vivienne of White Spire Records wants to meet tomorrow to go over the terms of the contract. They’ll want you there.” He starts to gather his things, stuffing them in his plain black dufflebag. “I’m, uh, going to—”

“Stay with Ellana?” finishes Merrill, soft features sharpening to something sly.

Clearing his throat, Solas answers with blunt truth, “Yes.”

“Good! I’m happy for you, Solas.” She bounces in the bed, gleeful. “And now I can Skype with Felassan instead of just sexting! It’s so much hotter when I can see his—”

Freezing with dim horror, Solas can’t help but recall all those nights where he went to sleep to the sound of her fingernails tapping a bright, glowing screen in the dark.

Merrill grimaces. “TMI?”

“Yes. Yes, you could say that.”

Her hands flap at him, as though to banish her hasty words. “Well, nevermind all that. You go on. Ellana’s waiting!”

Solas can not get out of the door fast enough, fleeing the weirdness.

By the time he slides into the shower behind a glorious, soapy, naked Ellana, he’s forgotten all about it.

Chapter Text

A heat at her back is her only warning before hands, delicious long-fingered hands, rush up her sides and cup her breasts.

She starts under the pounding spray of water over her head, then moans as those clever digits play at her peaking nipples. Ellana shoots a glance over her shoulder and grins, relaxing against him.

“Did I startle you?” says Solas at her ear.

She laughs and turns to face him. “Just making sure it was you.”

Her love frowns in mock suspicion and says, “Expecting someone else? I can return later—” Then he moans as she cups him below, trailing her fingernails up and around his stiff length. She takes advantage of the way he throws his head back to run her teeth over his adam’s apple. He swallows, hard, against her mouth. and she drinks in the sight of his face going lax with pleasure.

Mmmm, I could just eat him up.

In fact, she can hardly wait to get her mouth back on him, nibbling down his collarbones to his chest. The smooth plane of his pectorals twitches under her exploration.

She shifts to dip, hands going to the tub’s edges. A pained gasp leaves her mouth as she forgets about her shoulder. A quick look confirms that the stitches have torn a little. A thin trickle of blood rolls down her wet arm.

Solas leans back, brow crinkled in concern. His fingers fly up to just barely touch her shoulder. He pulls her back up by her hands. “Be cautious, Ellana.”

She sighs and settles back on her heels. “Stupid shoulder. I can’t even wash my hair right with this—”

Solas reaches past her to pluck a bottle of hotel shampoo from the little shelf in the corner. He smiles as he looks down at her. “May I?”

Surprised, but pleasantly so, she nods. He gestures for her to turn as he squirts some of the pearlescent liquid into his palm.

Facing the showerhead once more, she groans as he starts to work the shampoo into her sodden strands. The lather threatens to spill over her brow, so she closes her eyes. And also so she can better enjoy the feeling of his fingers at her scalp. Kneading. Invigorating. The scratch of his blunt nails sends shivers up and down her spine.

Her back arches, buttocks grazing his cock. His swift intake of breath is musical and arousing all at once and she rolls into him again, with more deliberation, just to hear it again. When his hands go to her hips, she takes it as a sign that she should rinse.

Leaning forward at the hip, she lets the water do the work and just … feels as his hungry hands roam over her skin as though they can’t get enough of it. The sensations climb and climb until she burns with need. Pressing her thighs together does nothing to alleviate the very … empty feeling below. In fact, it only makes it worse, to her dismay and delight.

With a twist, she shuts off the water and pulls back the curtain, spinning to look him in the face. “Bed. Now.”

Laughing, Solas lifts her into his arms and carries her forth. She wraps her legs around his waist, gasping as his length slides along her slick folds, bumping that bundle of nerves at the apex with startling suddenness.

Solas pauses at bedside and mutters, “Should I get a towel?”

“I swear, by all that’s unholy, that if you let me go just to go get a stupid towel, I’ll —” A suitable threat doesn’t appear in her mind.

His head tilts as he challenges, “You’ll what?”

She bites her lip as she stares back, gaze dropping to his lips. His stupid, sexy, smirking lips. “I dunno, but it’ll be bad. Or good. Or something. There might be spanking involved. A few soggy bedlinens never hurt anyone.”

Chuckling, he dives in for a sweltering kiss, nibbling along her jaw until his breath puffs at her ear. “Agreed.”

With uncommon gentleness, he sets her down on the cream-colored bedspread, settling over her and looking down like she’s some precious thing and he’s not sure what he did to ever deserve ending up here. With her. Her heart pounds as his fingers ghost over her cheek and lips, down the column of her tender throat, over her trembling breasts. Her legs, boneless with sensation, drop further open to cradle his hips between them. And still his hand drifts lower, over the hipbone, contemplating the hollow in its lee with leisurely ardor.

Maddening, the way he avoids the place she so wants him to touch. She wriggles in desperation.

He laughs. “So impatient. We have time.”

A whine leaves her throat as his hand brushes over her mound, then a full-throated moan as finally, his fingers sink past the humid curls guarding her sex.

A tiny yank sends lightning jolting up her spine. Solas freezes, blue eyes going wide over hers. “Is that—?”

“Maybe,” she manages to say. Then he finds it again and gives it a firm, studied tug. Already amped and close, that pulls her right to the teetering edge and she lets out a broken sound, begging him without words to just … just fuck her already.

“I believe this warrants further investigation,” he says, mild tone in vast contrast with the avid light in his gaze. The bed shifts as he crawls down her body, licking and nipping everything along the way. Then his face is at her cunt and she watches him lick his lips as his fingers part her folds. The look that alights on his face then can only be described as … ravenous. “A piercing? Very interesting, vhenan.”

“I-I had a spare in-in my bag.” The words come with difficulty. How’s and why’s are the furthest thing from her mind. “I felt so-so naked without it.”

Then his molten tongue engulfs her clit and the ring in its hood, rolling it this way and that. Thoughts scatter like startled birds. Ellana arches clear off the bed as that clever mouth plays her like one of his musical instruments, deft and sure. When one, then two fingers find their way into her clenching channel, she rockets over that perilous edge, falling, falling.

Dimly, she hears the curses flying out of her mouth, the shameless pleas for mercy as over stimulation makes her writhe in near agony. A mercy he gives as he lifts away to kiss her inner thighs, looking up at her with a languid hunger. His fingers pump her gently, flexing as they press on her inner walls.

The aftershocks never really stop as she comes down in plateauing waves. His other hand slides over her hip to press down over her clit. The shock of reawakened desire has her clawing the bedspread. She shoots an incredulous stare down at him at the apex of her thighs as he rolls her jewelry between thumb and forefinger. The ball on the little ring rubs her clit in just the right way and her eyes roll back. Peak mounting far faster than she’d ever experienced before, she can only moan and twist and hang on for dear fucking life.

His tongue replaces his fingers at her entrance, dipping and lapping far further into her than she expects. Then her breath leaves her in a shout as he licks lower and lower, flicking over the tight ring of muscle there with zeal. The warm, soft probing like nothing she’s ever felt. It sets off landmines at her nerve endings, making her quake and squirm so hard he holds her down.

“S-Solas! No one’s ever-! Void! Gods! I can’t-! Fuck, fuck, fuck!” She’s hanging right over the drop, but can’t quite seem to fall. Torture. Sweet endless torture.

That tongue departs, leaving her bereft and moaning nonsense. She hears the crinkle of a wrapper. Then something blunt and wide presses at her quim and she reaches out with her legs and pulls him to her, sinking to the hilt in one long rush, quenching that slick burn. The terrible need to be filled.

A choked gasp fills her ears as his hands land on the bedspread abreast of her. Solas shakes above her, face pulling in a blissful grimace. She manages to pause to let him recover some control, though all she wants is for him to pound her into next week.

Solas starts to move and it’s all she can do not to sob at the delightful return of friction. As though it had waited just in the wings, her impending climax tears to the fore once more, blasting all thought out of her head. And when he reaches between them to twist her hood ring, it thunders through her, blinding and absolute. She calls his name over and over, a dire plea at first, then sighing it as the flaming sparks of pleasure fade to something easier to endure. Something that doesn’t threaten to shatter her apart.

Sweat beads his brow as he labors above her, lips quaking and open in a pant. His brows angle upward in the center as his eyes start to roll back in his head. His voice, tight and tense, stutters, “Ellana, I’m about to-I can’t hold on—”

Her hands smooth over his shoulderblades, urging and encouraging. She pulls him down to her and revels in the sudden arching of his back, the stutter-stop of his snapping hips. His heaving breath gusts along her ear.

Humming at the wonderful ache of completion, Ellana holds Solas close, arms and legs wrapping. Their heartbeats hammer in the wake of their passions. She can feel them pound through their sternums.

Solas lifts away and collapses at her side, lips pulling back and down, marring an otherwise peaceful expression. He says, after a moment of hesitation, “I’m— I apologize, vhenan. It’s been, hmm, some time. I could not last.”

“As though you didn’t just fuck my brains out.” Laughing, she rolls into him, pillowing her head on his chest. His arm pulls her closer still. The wound in her shoulder stretches and pulls, but she’s still feeling too good to care. “Fine. I guess I forgive you for the multiple orgasms.”

A pleased hum rumbles against her ear. Warms her as she conforms her curves to his angles. She closes her eyes. Contentment stills her limbs, but not her mouth, “That, uh, thing you did. Ahem ….”-She decides to go for broke-”No one’s ever eaten my ass before.” It comes out quiet and awed. She ducks her head further into his side in chagrin.

A soft laugh touches her ear, along with the hot press of his palm on her buttock. “A terrible shame. It is such a delightful ass.”

A thrill of nervous anticipation flutters in her belly as she says, “Maybe … I can return the favor someday.”

His hands still, as though he’s shocked. Then he says, warm and breathy, “Perhaps.”

Now, surprise touches her. That he’s so … open. A hundred scenarios paint themselves on the inside of her eyelids. Licking her lips, she says, “I think I bled on the bedspread.”

His fingers trail over her arm and he shifts under her. Craning his neck, maybe, to look. “Another shower? Then I’ll assist you with redressing the wound. And then dinner, perhaps? And lastly, back here for, hmm, dessert?”

Happy, she sighs. “Oh, I’m keeping you.”

“I am yours to keep.” Cheesy-sounding from anyone else, but when he says it, it’s beautiful. Its simple certainty roars through her, uplifting her soul.

Chapter Text

“Solas, are you listening to me?”

The direct address wrenches him out of his distraction.

And not for the first time. Solas winces and offers, “I apologize. I am … unfocused today.”

His swarthy lunch companion looks at him askance, then says, with a growing smile, “Oh.”

The strange emphasis draws his attention and he repeats, “‘Oh?’”

“Just your standard revelatory ‘oh.’ I can only think of one reason you could be sitting there, staring off into Maker knows what, with that silly smile on your face.”

Frowning, Solas’s fingers fly up to his lips. “I am not smiling.”

Dorian laughs. “Maybe not on the outside, but I can see it, clear as day. Does it have anything to do with a certain fiery elf lass?”

A flush starts to climb as he thinks of the object of his distraction. He beats back the rushing tingles with effort.

Dorian crows. “I’ll take that as a yes. Well done, Ellana! Oh, she and I will have so much to talk about now.”

Solas loses the battle against the blush and feels it fill his cheeks, all the way out to his eartips. Resisting the urge to cover his face with a hand, he instead stares right at Dorian, daring him to continue his mockery. “I doubt she’d appreciate being nattered at by a nosy gossip.”

“Ooooh, such vitriol. Just makes me more determined, you know.” Dorian lifts his hands to fend off Solas’s next sharp rebuke. “Oh, fine. I won’t pry until time or opportunity compels me past restraint.”

Sour, Solas reflects on the likely length of said waiting. Not long at all. Bringing his mind around to their current discussion, Solas says, “You were saying about Corypheus?”

Leaning back in his chair, Dorian sighs. “I don’t know how he did it, but he somehow bought a controlling percent of shares in Imperium Records. He wasn’t supposed to be able to. He’d been ousted, stripped of his chair on the board, you see. By unanimous vote long ago. Just after the ….” The Tevinter’s gaze slides over to Solas for a second before resuming its roaming over the other patrons of the cafe.

“Yes, yes. ‘The.’ Go on.” Solas waves, a circular motion.

“Well, through back room trading and bribery and probably a lot of other even more unsavory things including a name change, he’s back in. And in the big chair, too. CEO.” Dorian’s brows furrow in frustration. “It’s the problem with publicly traded companies. You can’t always control who owns it. He has to have at least half of the board in his pocket, and the others, like my father, have been rendered ineffectual. By the time I found out, I did all I could, Solas. Really. But it was too late. Then the lot of we merry dissenters were tossed out on our toned, shapely asses.”

Solas bites his lip as he considers. “When I revealed my identity to him, I didn’t expect he’d have your employment terminated.”

Dorian waves away the almost apology with a smirk. “How long was I going to sustain that non-job anyway? Forever? I’d held onto the edges for years, all for the silly hope that someday things would change and Imperium became what it was meant to be, what I and many of the junior executives dreamt about. A platform for young artists to be recognized for their brilliance. So their wonderful works would shine and be heard. Not a sacrificial pyre in the name of greed and exploitation.”

A long and unhappy silence falls between the two men, each taking a sip of their drinks. Dorian sighs again and says, “Well, it did change. And not for the better. And I’m partly to blame for waiting and not acting until it had gone too far.”

Solas shakes his head. “Real evils will always surface. You’re a good man, Dorian. When good men err, it just makes it that much more important to stand. To work against those evils. Or try anyway. You tried.”

Dorian laughs and covers his pleased grin with a hand. “Don’t make me sound like some sort of mythic figure. I’m no hero. No dragon-slayer.”

“No. You are a friend.”

The way Dorian’s eyes flick to him in surprise, widening and looking so very touched, pulls at Solas. A mighty bittersweet yank tainted with self-recrimination as he realizes he’s never called the Tevinter that to his face before. And he’s deserved it. So many times over.

An actual tingling starts behind Solas’s eyes and he clears his throat to banish it. “So what will you do now?”

Moment shattered, Dorian runs a hand through his hair and says, “Well, I’ve got some savings. That’ll last me a little while.”

“Where will you stay?” Solas wishes he still had somewhere to accommodate a guest. Perhaps soon he would, if things with White Spire went well. If they start recording and doing shows again. An excitement tickles him as a plan starts to form. That he could be the one to return the favor of friendship for once. Maybe Dorian could find temporary lodgings in Kirkwall, something not too expensive so it won’t drain his stores, then when—

“You’re thinking of ways to house me, aren’t you?” says Dorian, interrupting his thoughts by reaching over to pat his hand. “You’re sweet, darling, but there’s no need. I’ve, ah, already found somewhere to stay.”

Dorian’s expression, wistful and warm, clues Solas in to a startling fact. “You’ve met someone.” Not quite a question.

“Ha! You make it sound unlikely. Am I so unlovable then?”

“No. I just never thought you the type to go for domestic partnership.”

“Neither did I! Types change, apparently. As surprised as I was that he asked, I think I was twice as surprised when I said yes.” Dorian gives a little hum, shaking his head at himself. Then he shoots a glance over at Solas. “See, you’re not the only one doing some wooing. Or was it ‘being wooed?’”

Solas rolls his eyes at the Tevinter’s waggling brows. “You’re prying again.”

“Can’t blame a man for trying.” Dorian chuckles. “Tell me, though. Please. Who was the hunter and who the prey? Who chased whom? Oh, but I know, don’t I. She chased you and you, being a stubborn ass, wouldn’t bend to let her catch you for a long time.”

There is that blush again. How it haunts him. With it comes thoughts of fingers flying over sensitive skin. Moans. Soft cries and bodies entwining on crisp, clean sheets. Of the sighs and embraces and hunger and affectionate caresses he still can’t believe have somehow become his to cherish.

There was some mutual chasing, but he knew how the scales tip to her on that score. Blinking out of his reverie, Solas’s lips stretch into a slow smile. “I am well and truly caught.”

Dorian sits back as though stunned. “Well! I never thought to see the day. The day a real smile finds its way to your face. Where is Ellana anyway? I owe her a hug.”

“She’s resting upstairs in our room.” Solas heads off the impending snark by adding, “Her ordeal over the last two weeks tired her out. And she is still recovering from her injury.”

“Her injury, right ….” Dorian’s smirk implies so much more, some of which … might be justified.

Solas ahems into his cup, the aroma of the sweet apple-ginger toddy rising to tickle his nose. It helps quell the rising swell of male pride. Yes, she’d been a most cunning huntress. And well deserving of reward for her efforts.

It only behooves him to show her the depth of his appreciation and gratitude. On the hour, every hour, if she'll let him.

Chapter Text

“It’s an outrage.”

Ellana sighs as she watches him pace before the bed, admiring the gleam of the morning sun on his lean, well-defined frame even as she laments the shadow anger throws across his fine features. “It’s really not that big a deal.”

“It’s a barbaric practice,” he declares, one hand lifting to gesticulate his fury on the air. “One you should not be subjected to. One no one should be subjected to. It should have died along with the damn Rite of Tranquility.”

She shudders at the thought. Up until mages won their legal status as equals in all the courts of all the lands, that had been capital punishment for anyone with the talent for magic. A fate worse than mere execution.

And that was not all that long ago.

One still sees them on occasion, living their truncated lives, walking along streets with their state-provided caretakers. The sunburst brand on their foreheads screams their misfortune, making all who see it shiver in dread and give them a wide berth.

The government restitution to all those afflicted with Tranquility when it had been deemed criminally cruel amounts to the best quality of life possible. For whatever remains of their tragic lives.

With the thought that it can hardly come close to ‘fixing’ it, Ellana clears her throat to say, “It is not nearly that bad, Solas. And if it means we can tour and record and … go home, then I’m willing to do it.”

Solas sits down beside her and rubs a hand over his pate. “And Merrill can do nothing?”

“She did a lot, believe me. She really fought for the best terms.”  She rests her cheek on his shoulder, enjoying the warmth of him. How is he always the right temperature?

Never too warm to be uncomfortable, she hardly needs a blanket with him in the bed. Just snuggle right up to him and pass the fuck out. Never in her life has she slept so well.

Solas sighs, deep and mournful. “A phylactery ….”

“Yep. Only way they’ll let me leave the country is if they can find me wherever I go.”

He takes a hitching breath. “It’s my fault—”

“No—”

“Yes, it is. If I hadn’t pushed Corypheus, challenged him, then he’d have left you in Haven’s legal system where more than likely they’d have just released you, time served.” He puts his face in his hands. “Why do those I care about always suffer for my idiocy? Because of me, your rights will be violated.”

She pulls his hands away from his face and pushes him by the shoulders until he lies on his back amid their tangled sheets. With a smile for how they got tangled, Ellana leans down and kisses his clenched, closed eyelids. Kisses the freckles dusting his cheeks and the end of his nose, on the deep dimple in his chin. And then, she plants her lips on his, plying in soft, beguiling waves until he stops trying to chew them bloody and kisses her back.

When he finally relaxes a little, she hovers over him and smiles into his eyes. “You’re being a little hard on yourself, love. We got ourselves into this. And what comes of it, we just gotta deal with. One little blood ritual and I’ll be free to come and go again. And let me tell you, I have never missed dirty old Kirkwall more.”

He chuckles, but then his expression darkens again. “And that’s another thing. The hypocrisy of governments. By their own laws, blood magic is banned. One of the sacrifices all who do magic made so they could be free citizens.  That is, until they need it, and then—”

Ellana sighs as the rant continues, nodding in agreement on most points. Yes, it’s unfair. No, no mage should expect big brother to always be looking over their shoulder, keeping tabs on everything they do. Yes, treating innocent people like criminals is wrong.

The debate carries on all through their morning ablutions, as she and Solas shower, brush their teeth side by side, as Solas runs a comb through her hair for her because her shoulder is still stiff and uncooperative. She starts to really enjoy the evident passion in his arguments, poking at them with counters of her own when the opportunities present themselves.

Moreover, she just enjoys listening to him, loves seeing him so animated and engaged with something. She pulls on her jeans with a retort, “You can’t have nooversight for magic use, Solas. That’s just as prone to abuse as too much.”

“Perhaps not, but government overreach pushes people. Sometimes all the way out to the extreme margins, like the Darkspawn or the so-called true El’vh—” He freezes in the act of buttoning his shirt, head jerking a little in her direction.

She feels how stiff her own hands have become, how they clench on the edge of the tank top in her hands. Swallowing the tremor of fear in her guts, she turns to him and says, “Solas, I should tell you—”

“Have you ever blown up a school?” he asks, sudden and sharp.

Taken aback, Ellana says, “No! Never anything like that.”

“Then no,” he interrupts, straightening and looking at her. “There is no need. Whatever you had to do with them, it’s not important. You don’t have to—”

“I-I don’t want—” to keep any secrets from you. Or have you hate me later. She can’t bring herself to say it aloud though. The shirt drops from her hands back onto the bed. Shame rushes over her skin at her cowardice. Her lack of resolve. Because there is a very real chance that this new and wondrous thing she’s somehow found with him may come crashing down around her with every spilled word.

Her silent pleas must have been heard, at least in part, because he steps toward her and wraps those marvelous warm arms around her, murmuring, “Someday. Right now, I don’t care about your past. I only care about you. My heart, here with me. So alive and vibrant and beautiful.”

A full body flush rolls through her, with her face pressed to his collar. “Ar lath ma, vhenan.”

He clutches her to him harder, a reflexive squeeze that makes her wonder what expression might be on his face at that moment. “And I you. Now I’ll call Dorian and Merrill if you phone the Cassandra and the others, and we can go eat lunch somewhere nearby. Then let us go do this damned … thing and leave cursed Minrathous.”

She pulls away with a teasing laugh. “Oooh? You’re actually letting me leave the room today?”

“Believe me, I would love nothing more than to engage in another week’s worth of indolent sprawling in this bed with you, but,” he says, twisting a lock of her hair around one finger, drawing her up. Then he licks his lips, desire flashing in his eyes as he bends to press his mouth to hers. Hot, humid breath rushes into her mouth as she drinks him in with a child’s greed. 

Her hands fist in his shirt, then flatten to fly under its hem and roam over his skin. The defined stretch of muscle leading down to his tailbone leaps and twitches under her touch. The dimples there delight her thumbs.

His hands close on her hips, kneading as though in deep contemplation of their curve. Then they slide over her ass and she can’t help but arch into them.

Ellana hums against his mouth and pulls away to say, “But what?”

“Hmm?” Solas looks genuinely dazed as he blinks at her, then catches himself with a shy and embarrassed smile. “Oh, you know, I’ve quite forgotten.”

A full-throated laugh leaves her throat as she gives him a firm push onto the bed, leaping atop him to undo all his careful buttoning.

Lunch can wait.

Chapter Text

Vivienne’s cool but smug voice filters through the intercom. “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is without a doubt, a hit record. It will be double-platinum by the end of the month. I stake my reputation on it.” Then the line clicks off and they can see her and the mixing engineer talking through the soundproof glass. A lot of smiling and nodding is going on.

A good sign.

Varric mutters, “Not very interesting stakes. If she’s wrong, we should make her do something … amusing.”

Solas asks, “What would you suggest?”

The dwarf shrugs. “I don’t know. Set fire to that awful hat she wears sometimes?”

“She’d just buy another,” says Cass, smiling.

Bull, who sits near on some boxes, grunts. “Hey, I kinda like that hat. Makes her look a little Qunari.”

“Cuz a’ the horns, yeah? Mebbe we should get you one just like it. Then you’ll be twice as horny!” Sera cackles, throwing her head back.

Everyone groans in unison.

The blond scratches her nose and shrugs. “I thought it was funny.”

Ellana exits the booth then, mopping her brow with a loose sleeve. “Whew! Long couple of weeks grinding out perfect tracks. Right, guys?”

A chorus of ‘yes’s respond. Solas looks around. They are all exhausted, but triumphant. He can see it in the way they carry themselves. The long road to success finally feels as though it’s leveled off, perhaps even taken a dip to ease their passage.

Blackwall nudges him with an elbow. “I still can’t believe you’re the Dread Wolf.”

“The masks fall. Exposed, he lingers over their fragments, wondering if he’ll ever need them again.” Cole shakes his head. “Not those ones.”

Solas hides a shiver at the prescient spirit’s words, and turns to address Blackwall, “It was true the first dozen times you said it, doubtless it will be true the next dozen.” He smiles to show he jests. “Though I’d prefer it if I remained ‘Solas’ to all of you.”

The bearded human grins. “I can see why you kept it from us.”

Sera snorts. “Yeah? Well, I don’t. We’re Inquisition. We’re supposed to be better than the other bands’ bullshit and lies. Right, Quizzy?”

Ellana shrugs. “There has to be some room for error, Sera. We’re all just people. People fuck up.”

Varric snaps his fingers. “Oh! I know. We should make Viv and Sera trade clothes for the week.”

A laugh escapes Solas at that, louder than he intends. The others look around at him and he resists the urge to shuffle under their stares.

His heart rescues him, looping her arm around his. She says, “Let’s go find some fucking food and then get our asses home.”

The rest cheer in the couple’s wake as they leave the building, trooping over to the blue shuttle the label provided as transport around Val Royeaux’s streets. Ellana wedges herself into the seat between he and Blackwall. Bull takes up the entire first row by himself. Cole and Cassandra, Sera, and Varric squeeze in the very back. Vivienne comes out of the studio last, long after the rest, taking the passenger seat at the far front.

Solas’s hand finds a roost on Ellana’s legging-clad thigh, even as his arm goes around her shoulder. He follows her line of sight to the dark-skinned woman sitting like a queen up there. Ellana whispers, “So, why would Sera and Viv trade clothes?”

“Ser Tethras believes it a better wager should our music not be received as favorably as she predicts,” Solas answers, keeping his voice low.

With a giggle, Ellana says, “Double-platinum does seem a bit unbelievable. I mean, testing well is fine, but shit, it’s our first real album.”

Sera leans forward and hisses, “Well, I for one, hope she’s right. I’m not giving that bint my clothes. I got them worn in just the way I like. And I’m sure as shit not gonna wear nine-inch stilletos wiv a pants suit—”

“My dear, I assure you it could only be an improvement,” says Madame Vivienne, turning an amused eye over her shoulder. “And as for your wardrobe. Gold is gold, whether it’s in a silk purse, or a canvas sack.”

“Hey, I’m gold! Gold like whole nuggets of the shite.” Sera bounces in her seat a little in agitation.

“No, dear. Whatever you were is unimportant. What you will be, through the alchemy of talent and fame”—a smile draws her lip back to flash white, white teeth at them—”is platinum. Far rarer.”

Ellana reaches back and closes Sera’s mouth before any more foul words can leave it. She says, “It’s a compliment, Sera. Just … accept it for once.”

And she does, much to Solas’s hidden amusement.

“I do so love the fire of artists. The passions which teem just under the surface is quite thrilling to be near,” comments Vivienne, with a wave of a hand. “Everyone has their phones? Fully charged?”

Everyone nods. Vivienne’s eye sticks to something past Solas’s shoulder. “Cole? Is your phone charged?”

“The plug doesn’t want to go in. I turn it. It refuses. When I turn it back, it works. It didn’t like it the first time.The light turns green.”

“I’ll take that as a yes, then. Good. All your travel itineraries will go to your phones. Confirmation numbers for hotels and flights. If there are difficulties, you know to call.” The shuttle pulls up to another building, a larger one housing the corporate offices of White Spire. As she slides out of the vehicle, Vivienne turns back to call, “Good luck, my lovelies. I will see you soon.”

Bull laughs as they drive away from the temple of their employer. “I like her.”

“Dibs!” cry Varric and Sera together, scrambling for the free seat at the front. Interestingly spry, the dwarf snags the chair first, plopping into it and buckling in one lithe movement.

Giving a mutter of displeasure, Sera heads back to the rear, pushing past Cassandra to get back to her window seat. To something Solas couldn’t see, Cassandra makes a disgusted noise. “Sera!”

“Oops. Did my fanny accidentally rub your face?” The apology did not sound like much of one. “Has a mind of its own, I swear.”

“Do it again and I’ll—” Cassandra sputters. Ellana giggles in way that makes Solas think this a common scenario.

“Or wuh?”

The Nevarran’s tone sharpens to a steely edge, “Or you’ll regret it.”

“Ooooh—” comes the sarcastic response.

Varric interrupts, “I wouldn’t mess with Cass, Buttercup. She doesn’t have much of a sense of humor where fannies are concerned. Strike that last. She doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.”

Solas chuckles along with the rest, enjoying their easy camaraderie. The way Ellana nestles further into his side tells him she feels it too. The warmth of this strange … family.

“Quizzy, you gonna have a wicked scar or wot?” asks Sera, leaning forward again.

“Maybe. I dunno. It looks a hell of a lot better though.” Ellana rolls her wide shirt neck back to show them all her healing wound. Solas knows what it looks like, felt the ridge of it under his fingers, but he also can’t help but look.

The skin is shiny and tight over the exit wound near her neck, bruises finally turning a healing greenish after being an angry purple for so long. Small holes dot the skin around the closed fissure itself, the last evidence of the stitches that used to adorn her there.  His thumb brushes over the site of similar lingering trauma on the back of her shoulder.

“You’re gonna scar. I can tell,” Bull says, turning his great horned head to them. “But you know, scars are awesome. Look at me. I’m covered in them. Each one has its own story. Bar fight in Denerim.” He points at one on his forearm, proud. “I got that one in Seheron. Some drunk asshole decided I looked like I needed a good stabbing. Joke’s on him, my knife was bigger.”

“Note how he doesn’t bring up the eye,” says Varric, out of the side of his mouth.

The Qunari’s cheeks turn a shade of purple. “It’s not my story to tell. It’s Krem’s.” Then Bull turns back and lounges at his comfort again.

“Well, I think they’re awesome, too, Quizzy. Just don’t get any more like that, okay?”

“I promise, Sera.”

After a long comfortable silence, Solas ventures, “Why ‘Quizzy,’ Ellana?”

Varric laughs in the background. Solas has a most interesting view of his heart’s face turning red. She clears her throat and says, “When nicknames are involved, there’s only ever one culprit.”

“Varric?” says Solas, looking toward that personage.

“Hey, I helped,” says Sera, demanding her due.

Varric sighs and begins, “It all started when they said they wanted to be called Inquisition. ‘But every Inquisition needs an Inquisitor,’ says I. Thus Inquisitor Ellana was born. It didn’t stick, though, hard as I tried. I made posters and everything. They were glorious. I had Rosy drawn like one of those medieval heroi—”

“Maybe your memory’s going, dwarf,” interrupts Blackwall. “She looked ridiculous. All … exaggerated and bouncy—”

“She had on these boots, I remember, for the modeling. Long and lace up. The rest looked like some sort of shiny bikini,” continues Cassandra, hands gesticulating. “With added flair and metal bits. I thought it looked interesting—”

“Tight, pinching. She burns it when she gets home—” Cole rambles.

“So’s Quizzy’s just short, you see,” finishes Sera, grinning in his periphery like a jester.

Fighting mirth at the frozen expression of mild horror on Ellana’s face, Solas hums, lips twitching. “So, Varric, why do you call her Rosy instead of Inquisitor, or Quizzy, then? Is it the, um, affect certain … emotions, like, oh say, embarrassment, have on her fair skin?”

She grips his knee, hard, promising him punishment when she gets him alone. He smiles into her eyes, unable to quell the mischief.

“Ah, ha, no. You see. It’s a related story. The first time I ever traded nicknames with anybody. It took everything in my charm repertoire to convince her to try the whole Inquisitor thing, so I was understandably attached to the idea. After six hours of modeling for the artist—”

“—I’d been helpin’ her wiv costume changes,” inserts Sera. “So many chains and belts and shite.”

Varric continues, “She comes storming into my office, red hair all wild and on end, eyes flashing like some barbarian empress. And then she throws a wooden axe at my head. I dodge it of course and say, ‘Something wrong, Inquisitor?’ She says, ‘No more. Fuck this idea, Varric. Fuck it sideways!’ ‘But, Inquisitor—’ And that’s all I could get out before she screamed and stomped out.”

“And then I come in after,” Sera adds. To the sour look the dwarf sends her, she waves one hand in a circle. “Well, go on.”

Varric’s nose twitches once in annoyance at the interruption and says, “Yeah, so there went my idea, shouting and yelling its scantily-clad way out of my bar, no doubt leaving a few confused boners in its wake. Then Buttercup slides around the corner, a pile of faux pelts in her arms and says, ‘What’s wrong with ol’ Rosy-nips?’’ The dwarf spread his hands. “And it just … stuck.”

A tingling rush of heat flows through him. He knows, intimately, what the dwarf is talking about.

“Right? Cuz her nips are rosy!” Sera bursts out in gails of laughter, followed by Bull’s guffaws. Solas hears choked gasping from Cassandra and turns to see her stifling mirth behind her hand, unsuccessfully. Blackwall has a suspicious flush just above his beard, but he staunchly looks out a window.

Holding his own chuckles back soon becomes unbearable. He grimaces to keep them from escaping. Ellana shoots him a look from where she’s sunk low in the seat, curled up, face beet red all the way out to the ears. “Are you laughing at my nips, too, vhenan?” she asks, low and dangerous.

Clearing his throat, Solas says, soft into her ear, “If I am, blame Varric’s comic delivery and the oddness of the situations we all find ourselves in. But of the … articles in question. I happen to find their hue most delightful, as I do everything else about you.”

She straightens from her armadillo impression and shoots him a wan smile. “It is a funny story. I just hate it when he tells it to the people I happen to be dating!” She directs that last to the unrepentant dwarf.

“I told you. Families are supposed to be embarrassing. It was in the fine print. Not my fault you didn’t read it.”

“Well, maybe it’s time to review that contract,” she says, eyes narrow.

The dwarf shrugs and says, “Nope. Deal’s for life. That’s what family means.”

The others murmur agreement, turning fond smiles toward each other.

Ellana grins and buries her head in Solas’s side, arms wrapping around his middle. He holds her as close as he can and just basks in all the warm feelings filling the van.

Chapter Text

“—and look! An actual dishwasher! I mean, it’s not like it’ll get used all that much, with all of us being out of town all the time. I said to the real estate lady, ‘Do I need all these luxuries?’ and she looked at me like I was crazy. I was going to turn it down, but.” Ellana pauses her gushing mid-flow to throw open the Orlesian doors that lead out to the deck. “Then I saw the view.”

The wide strand of white sand before the beachhouse beckons her to run over it barefoot. But that doesn’t compare to the heady draw of the rolling blue waves beyond it. The endless expanse of water calls, a siren with foam-flecked bosoms. Welcoming. A few white sails mar an otherwise empty horizon.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watches Solas’s face tilt up to enjoy the salty breeze. Then he sees her watching and turns with a gentle, teasing smile. “I see the murphy bed didn’t survive the transition.”

He nods past her to a pile of broken wood and sad, sunken mattress. She looks that way and laughs. “Yeah. Damn thing fell apart as soon as the moving guys tried to lift it out of the van. I’ll see if anyone can haul it off tomorrow. Guess that means I’ll have to get another bed. Maybe a proper bed this time, now that there’s space.”

Her fingers steal around his, wrapping them warm and tight. She continues, with a cheeky grin, “A big bed.”

Humming amusement, Solas looks up and down the beach. She follows his gaze. Just in sight on each end stands another little beachhouse, the only proof that anyone else exists in the whole world. It cost a pretty penny to buy this kind of solitude. But now that she’s able, she’ll give the trappings that go with wealth a try. 

Solas says, “I’m surprised you want to live so far outside Kirkwall proper.”

“I know! But I figured, it’s only an hour’s drive and it doesn’t really matter anyway. We’ll be touring most of the time when we’re not in Val Royeaux recording.” She sighs and looks out over the water again before nudging him with her hip. “Do … you like it?”

Solas nods. “Very much. It’s … peaceful.” The splinter of longing in his tone jabs her.

Biting her lip, she fights the tide of anxiety threatening to steal her resolve. She fidgets from one foot to the other. Taking a deep breath, she says, “There’s … space here. I … I mean to say, I don’t know if you’d …. Solas, will you—?”

His eyes go a bit wide in his long face, generous mouth dropping open in shock.

The tremor of fear grows louder in her guts and she swallows back those scary words for safer ones. “N-nevermind. Anyway, I was thinking of getting some of those loose, flowy drapes you always see in movi—”

Solas turns to face her fully, taking a step forward so they stand only inches apart. Her words dry up and stall as he brings her hand up to rest over his heart. She can feel the pound of it against her palm. When he speaks, she shivers at how his voice has gone low and raspy, “Vhenan. Ask me.”

It’s almost a question. A plea.

Squaring her shoulders, Ellana says, “Come live with me? I’d really love it if you would.”

A smile splits his face, so bright and open and wonderful that her heart aches at the sight. It’s as though the sun has come out at long last after a harsh winter. She can imagine the warmth of it on the skin of her face. Solas swoops in and steals her breath with a searing kiss. Then he laughs against her mouth and somehow that’s even more amazing.

Dazzled to dizziness, she listens as he breaks off to say, “You know, I was … looking for a way to ask the same. I’d looked at a couple of apartments big enough, but then I heard you had purchased this house. I had assumed the opportunity had escaped me.” A flicker of remembered sadness in his eyes pulls her up on her tiptoes so she can kiss it away. He chuckles under her assault.

“It’s even funnier when you consider the fact that I’d heard you were house shopping, so I rushed to buy a nice one just so I could ask you before you signed anything.” She gives a helpless flip with one hand. They laugh together for a moment. Chagrin pokes her in the ribs and she says, “We’re both idiots.”

“Indeed. So, as to your question. Yes. Yes, I would very much like to live with you.”

Her heart soars as he wraps his arms around her. Her own fly around his neck. Then, unable to stifle the joy any longer, she hops up and wraps her legs around his hips. With nary a stumble, his hands drop to her ass to hold her up. She squeezes her thighs just to hear him gasp at her ear. Giving his ear a lick, she says, “There’s no bed, but the floor looks cozy enough. Or the kitchen counter. Or up against a wall. I don’t know. You choose.”

Solas nibbles her throat and says, husky and hot, “The floor. First.”

Embarrassing how quickly this man can reduce her to a writhing, shaking, moaning mess. They spend a long and decadent afternoon christening every spare surface in the beachhouse, some with great … creativity. As the sun starts to dip below the horizon, lighting watchfires on the peaks of briny sea foam, they lie in a pile of blankets on her—their new deck.

His arm around her waist is a pleasant pressure, his breath on her sweaty neck cool and refreshing. A little sticky, but too sated to care, Ellana’s eyes close and she just listens to the rhythms of the world outside their new home. The soft roar of the ocean. The cry of some far off seabirds. The rustle of the leaves in the small copse of trees nestled at the beachhouse’s back.

Dozing a little, she sighs. Solas’s lips touch her ear and he whispers, “Are you asleep?”

“Hmmm. Nope,” she replies, grinning. “Just … happy.”

“Is there anything I can get you? A drink?” His urge to pamper is adorable, but ….

Gripping his arm tighter, she says, “No. I wouldn’t move for anything. And I don’t want you to, either. Let’s just stay like this till the end of the world … or we need to pee. One of the two.”

He laughs, nuzzling her nape. “Agreed, though I suspect the one will happen before the other.”

“The end of the world? Really? Ah, well. At least I got laid before.” She hums again. Then says, “We definitely need to go bed-shopping tomorrow. And furniture shopping. I’ve never had an endtable that didn’t fold. I think it’s time I found out what all this fancy living is like. Drapes and dishwashers and full-size fridges—”

“A microwave,” he mumbles into her skin.

She smirks. “Convert. I told you they’re convenient.”

Solas says something incomprehensible and sluggish. Then his breathing evens out and she smiles. Waiting ten hearbeats, she turns to face him. He rolls to accommodate, though insensate in slumber. Propping her head up on one hand, Ellana smiles and watches him sleep.

Love, whole and hallowed, rushes through her like lightning, a lingering sting and tingle that is humbling. And she is humbled. By how it fills the empty places. By the awe-inspiring sense of homecoming. If there ever was a Creator, Maker or God, thank you. I will try to be worthy.

Watching his long lashes flicker as he dreams, she leans over and kisses him. Just the barest, featherlight kiss. His nose scrunches most adorably, and his arms pull her tighter to him. Ellana puts her head to his chest just as a light rumble starts from out of his throat. He must truly feel at ease here, for only in his most unguarded sleeping moments does he snore.

Closing her eyes, she joins him, in that timeless space. Her last thought is perhaps she’ll wake him with breakfast and a blowjob.

Sometime later, a ringing touches her ear, pulling her from the vast ocean of unconsciousness. It draws her slow to the surface like a fisherman’s line. Three soft tones, repeating. When she thinks to control her hand, she makes it slide over to his side, wondering where his marvelous heat has gone. She shivers as her eyes crack open to see Solas stepping toward their pile of discarded clothing in the middle of the floor just inside the beachhouse.

With a mutter for his own carelessness, Solas retrieves his phone and plops bare-assed down onto the deck at the edge of their blanket nest, back to her. He glares at the screen for what seems like ages before tapping the green ‘accept’ icon. “Hello?”

His shoulders draw into a taut line even as his back snaps bolt upright. He grips the phone so tight, the casing squeaks in protest. With tone dark and just this side of murderous, he demands, “How did you get this number?”

Blinking at his sudden vehemence, Ellana listens with growing concern.

“No. I will not.” His fingers make claws to dig into his thigh as he reacts to whatever it is that’s being said on the other end of the call. “I told you once, Elgar—No! You will listen for once in your miserable life! I am done with you. I have been for decades. Do not call again.” If one could slam a cell phone back on the receiver, he would have done it then. Instead, he jabs the glass so hard she feels sympathy for the poor thing.

Or she would, if the name he partially dropped hadn’t thrown her whole mind into disarray. Her stomach suddenly feels hard, like a weighty stone. Like it might pull her through the decking, it’s so heavy. Maybe through the sand all the way down to the center of the world, even. She swallows with a tongue that feels swollen twice its normal size.

Solas throws the phone away from him with a disgusted snarl. Then his head drops into both of his hands, back curling over pelvis.

Hesitating, she reaches out and touches his back. He jumps, then half-turns to look at her, the dark clouding his features, but she can read the fearful glint in his eyes by the dim light of the two crescent moons. She licks her lips and says, “Is something wrong, Solas?”

Sliding back under the covers, he curls his long body into hers, gathering and clutching her to him. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I’m sorry, vhenan.”

Wrapped in his embrace, she feels the hard thud of his heart against his ribs. Her arm claims his waist, stroking the muscles at his back with her thumb. She ventures, “Who was it? On the phone?”

“Nobody,” comes the too fast response. He seems to realize he’s being suspect and his body goes lax. Carefully, as though he’s forcing it to. The next string of words comes easier, more natural, “Nobody important.”

A lie.

But is it one he’s telling her? Or himself?

Anxiety eats at her until an uneasy sleep finally finds her near dawn.

She forgets all about the blowjob.

Chapter Text

“And that brings us to the matter of your … complicated circumstances.” Madame Vivienne gestures with the small object in her elegant hand. A silk fan, painted with fantastical birds and splashes of vibrant orange.

And it keeps catching his eye, distracting him. Though that’s only collateral from the thing that is the real distraction. That early morning phone call jarred him. Deeply. And so for the week since, he’s labored under the heavy cloud of unease that he can’t seem to shake.

To Vivienne, he says, “The documents are not far from finalization, or so my lawyer informs me. Soon, I will reclaim my former identity, though I will not use it as my stage name.”

The other human woman at the long conference table speaks for the first time, her accent teeming with soft Orlesian sibilants, “Good. The sooner you can join the rest of Inquisition by signing a formal contract with White Spire, the sooner we can bring our influence to bear on matters in the north. The provisional contract is good enough for now, but it lacks the sheltering aspects that being properly ‘in-house’ provides. Protection, information, legal counsel; all these and more. You will see the benefits of backing from so large an entity as our label.”

“I’ve no doubt,” says he, turning to look at Ellana, sitting so quiet and pensive at his side. Her faraway stare troubles him as he seeks to capture her gaze.

Blinking, she looks up and grins with a touch of shame. “Sorry. Yes. The sooner, the better. Merrill’s awesome, but it’s a lot for her to divide her attention between Solas and my case. Speaking of which, it’s been months. I wonder why it’s taking so long to get to trial.”

“No doubt Corypheus is getting all his ducks in a row. Or trying. I hear his attempt to place his own puppet judge as first on the tribunal failed, thanks to the cunning efforts of Ms. Sabrae.” Vivienne hums amusement, pursing her lips.

Solas smiles, thinking Merrill very cunning indeed. A rush of pride in his lawyer for so artfully gaining the respect of these powerful women fills him. The voice of the marginalized grows louder every day. The idea makes him smile, thinking maybe all those terrible past wrongs might someday lead to something right and good. He sucks in a breath and says, “I … appreciate the label’s discretion on the matter of my old identity.”

“Secrets are only useful if one is discreet with who knows them. Trust that we won’t divulge to the public until it’s to your greatest advantage.”

“Still, I thank you.” By the wheels turning in the backs of both womens’ eyes, he sees they’re already setting plans into motion. He, too, has a few ideas. Tyrants can be brought down with a word, if one but knew it. “Ellana is already under contract. Are you planning to see to her protection, counsel, etc. soon?” His tone says it ought to have been yesterday.

The red-haired human across from him smiles a small smile, clearly pleased by his bold demand. This one likes a challenge. And to be challenged. “Already done. A few colleagues in the legal department are already on their way to Minrathous. I will join them this evening. I understand you’ve had prior dealings with this Corypheus?”

“I have,” says Solas, leading her to continue with a wave of his hand.

“I don’t suppose you can provide … leads. Sources of information that can share in detail his shadier dealings,” she muses, rubbing her forefinger down the center of her bottom lip.

Something else is afoot in her gaze. Something full of sly and almost sinister intentions, toward a particular corrupt CEO specifically. A dark smile curls his own lips as he answers, “Indeed. I can make a long list.”

“Excellent.” The agents of White Spire exchange toothy smiles, hard and full of dire mischiefs.

Vivienne stands. “Very much so. And now, we must part. I must meet with our director and convey the latest news on all fronts.”

“I’m sorry. I never caught your name,” Ellana says, reaching across to shake hands with the other red-head. “Or did I miss that part of the meeting?”

The woman smiles, not unkindly and says, “No, you did not. I prefer to remain unknown at the start so that I might observe before becoming involved. Call me Leliana.”

They’d met with so many in this conference room that one more new face had indeed gone unremarked upon. Solas listens with interest as Ellana goes on to venture, “So, you’re a lawyer?”

“Not as such. I’m a specialist.” Leliana chuckles. “You might call me a … broker. For information.”

“She’s ever so good at finding out what it is that no one wants unearthed.” Vivienne laughs, a polite chortle behind her fan. “She’s invaluable to our organization. That’s why they call her the Left Hand.”

“Whoa …. Sounds like something out of one of those spy novels. You know, the super noir ones where everything is bleak and morally ambiguous.” Ellana grins a cheeky grin at Leliana.

Leliana gives a full-throated laugh at that and waves a dismissive hand. “Far too glamorous a description for what I really do. I just find the loose threads in the snarl and give them a pull.”

“I really must go. Show them out, Leli?” Vivienne leads them out of the room before disappearing down one of the many labyrinthine halls in White Spire’s corporate headquarters.

As they walk toward the main doors, Leliana tilts her head to look at Solas and Ellana, saying, “I look forward to working with you both. And helping bury Corypheus is something I can’t say I won’t take a measure of pleasure in doing.”

“I will have your list by tomorrow,” says Solas, and then he and Ellana wave the mysterious Leliana goodbye as they exit the building. Automatically, his fingers seek out Ellana’s and they spread to let his weave in between, warm and loose. “We have some time before the flight. Would you like to take a walk?”

She nods and flashes him a coy smile. “Mm-hmmm.”

So they stroll along the streets of Val Royeaux, going with the flow of foot traffic. Past varied storefronts, both ultra-modern and ancient brick masonry, they wander. He muses that the capital seems to struggle to hold onto the distant past all the while reaching for the future. A city with two souls.

But most old countries have similar. The present overlays the glories of yesterday. He hums in humor as they pass a proud winery, whose sign proclaims five hundred years of establishment, situated next to a tattoo shop. Loud and angry music blares out of its open doors. Heavy and industrial.

Ellana slows to listen for a moment, her other hand coming up to stroke one finger along her lip. But her gaze is distant. Whatever thoughts occupied her during the meeting seem set on stealing her attention now.

In fact, this … distance has been going on for days. He knows why. A pang jabs his heart. Solas swallows past the lump in his throat as he tilts his head to appreciate the music with her. Chewing at his lip, he fights to find the right words. To bring himself to say something.

That damn phone call, he seethes, head jerking to the side in aggravation. His glare alights on all manner of random innocent people and objects before it decides the toe of his left shoe is a suitable scapegoat. An effigy to burn under his stare.

But then guilt assails him. The phone call prodded at old wounds, but it didn’t make him lie to Ellana. To spurn her comfort.

He did that all on his own.

I don’t deserve her. A weighty drop of despair falls into the well of tumultuous emotion at his core. Not her comfort nor her love.

“Thinking about getting some ink?” she says, her tone playful as ever. It snaps him out of his brooding thoughts.

His head jerks up to see her looking back at him, brow quirked and lips stretched to one side in a crooked grin. Then he notices how they’ve stopped altogether before the door of the tattoo shop. The way she stands half a step ahead of him tells him that he’s the one keeping them from moving on. 

He smiles and wonders if she sees how brittle it is. “No. My body is a temple.” He ignores the irony there.

She shrugs. “But which god is it dedicated to? The Chasind ones are covered in tattoos.”

He laughs. “Point taken. Still, I have never wanted one.”

“Never? Wow. You must have been the only rocker from that era not covered in them then. I mean, even Andruil and Dirtham—” She stops herself, wincing as she shoots him a pained and apologetic look. “Sorry.”

Solas shakes his head, one vehement denial. “No. There is nothing to apologize for. Ellana—” Then he screws up his courage and pulls her to a less occupied section of sidewalk. Dropping his voice to a soft rumble, he continues, “I should be the one to apologize.”

“Solas—”

“Please, vhenan. I …,” he starts, then takes a deep breath. “I know you’ve been … upset the last few days. That night you brought me to your new house on that beautiful beach, I loved watching you take pride in what you had earned. Then you asked me to move in with you and, I swear to you, nothing pleases me more. Every day I get to wake at your side is a day I thank whatever powers in the universe allowed it. And I-I repaid you with a lack of trust.”

The bright sheen over her green eyes stabs him with self-loathing. Her throat bobs as her gaze dips to her boots. He pulls her chin up with gentle insistence, knuckles brushing her jaw. “I don’t know why my first reflex was to lie. I abhor lies. They taste of bitter rot. I never wanted to lie to you. Yet I did. I am so very sorry, vhenan.”

“So … what happened?” she asks.

“The same thing that always happens.” He leans against the brick of the tattoo shop and sighs. “They find me. Or my phone number, at least.”

“‘They’ meaning … people who knew Fen’harel.” She leans next to him, crossing her arms and resting one foot flat on the wall.

“Yes.” He resists the urge to sigh again and slumps, shoulders dropping. “I am to blame after all. The reason Evanuris disbanded.”

Her brows furrow. “And they’re still angry?”

He snorts. “No doubt some are. Most seem content to hate me, but leave me in peace. But there is one that is proving a most … persistent pain in the ass.”

The expletive earns him a giggle. A tiny bubble of lightness grows in his heart. Ellana then hums and says, “Well, it did bother me. I mean, I tried not to let it, because of some of the things you told me about that old life, well, there’s probably a lot of pain there. Emotional baggage. So, it sort of makes sense you’d be a little reluc—”

“It’s no excuse.” He shakes his head, furious with himself.

“Hey, hey.” She lays a soft palm on his cheek and pulls his regard to her. “You’re just dead-set on whipping yourself bloody, aren’t you? You apologized. I accept it. Let’s let that be the end of it.”

His heart’s hollow booming rings in his ears. He really doesn’t deserve her. When she lifts to place a soft kiss at the corner of his mouth, he leans into it, eyes closing. Then he can’t resist rolling so his arms bracket her against the wall, leaning in close for a deeper, longer tangle of tongues.

She sets back on her heels and says, “So does this pain in the ass have a na—?”

“Holy Maker!” says a voice to the side. Their heads whip around to see a heavily tattooed human youth, bright green mohawk standing in proud spikes. The youth points and stutters, “Y-you’re Inquisitor Ellana Lavellan!”

Ellana’s nostrils flare, even as her eyes go wide. “Uhhh. Hi.”

The boy stares for a second, then bolts for the tattoo shop’s door, already shouting.

Now it catches on. Should I kill Varric?” she asks. “I should so kill Varric. Also, it figures we’d run into the one Inquisition fan in Val Royeaux.”

The clatter of various items and utensils being dropped and incredulous shouts rising makes him smile. “I believe there’s going to be many more than just the one.” After the boy’s loud exclamation, many heads on the street are turning in their direction.

“And that’s our cue to leave, maybe?” Looking a tad nervous, she waves at the approaching masses. The first ones accost her for an autograph, asking quick-fire questions to which she can only give abbreviated answers before the next demands her attention.

“I’ll get a cab,” says Solas, taking a step away to flag one down. As the yellow and black checked vehicle swings close to the curb, he calls back, “Ellana!”

She wades through the sea of youths, giving gracious words to them, along with handshakes and high-fives galore.

The mob threatens to swallow her back into its embrace, pushing and pulling around her, not quite daring to touch her yet. But he fears that bubble of protection celebrity offers is growing thinner by the second.

Solas lunges out of the cab and snags her about the waist, falling back into the vehicle with her in his lap. She bounces once with a slightly hysterical laugh, all bent legs and flying red hair. Solas has just enough presence of mind past the terrible distraction of her weight on his crotch to pull the door closed behind them. “Take us to the airport!”

“You got it,” comes the bored reply from the driver. The car pulls away from the curb.

The crowd’s disappointed murmur filters through the glass.

Ellana starts to squirm around. His breath hitches as that has … unintended consequences. She plops into the seat next to him, then just as quickly eels about to kneel on the vinyl, and lean over him to roll down the window. She sticks her head and shoulders out to wave at the cheering fans, treating him to a most … arousing view of her jean-clad rear. It sways to and fro with the force of her waving, almost bumping into his chin.

His cheeks warm as he watches it, mesmerized. The throb of a certain organ grows heavier, to the point of pained aching. Solas bites his lip. His hand comes up unbidden and draws back. A loud smack fills his ears, past the drumming of his pulse.

Ellana stiffens and makes a noise, a sort of surprised yip that shoots straight down into his twitching cock. Her head and shoulders dart back through the window and she affixes him with an incredulous stare, full, rouged lips parted in astonishment.

The harsh sting in his palm, along with the texture of denim against his fingers tells him he still has a handful of her ass. Yet he cannot seem to pull it back. This close, he also can’t help but notice how her pupils dilate as they pick over his features.

Clearing his throat, he manages with a sly little grin, “I couldn’t help myself.”

“Fuck, that was naughty,” she says, hungry and heated. Then her mouth is on him and he moans. Then moans again as she seems to just suck the breath out of his very lungs, leaving him dizzy. She draws his lower lip between her teeth, giving it a sharp nip before her tongue sweeps out to soothe it. Naughty, indeed.

Not to be outdone, he pulls her back into his lap, coaxing hands at hips until she sits once more upon the evidence of his arousal. He gives a little buck and it’s her turn to moan. Her kisses pepper his throat down along his pounding artery and a needy whine climbs out of his throat. The tingle at the base of his spine starts to advance toward his limit, dangerously close to the edge. “Ellana. Vhenan.”

“Ma sa’lath,” she breathes and he almost comes undone at the naked ardor in her voice.

“Please, love,” he begs, hands finally peeling from her waist to grab her wrists before her clever fingers can breach the barrier of his waistband. “You’ll …unravel me.”

“Oh? Can’t have that. Mysterious stains on the front of your pants and all. And with us about to get on a plane.” She relents, leaning away to take in the tense line of his body. An almost smug light shines in her eyes as she smirks. “Mmmm. I’m starting to think you’re a little fixated on a certain part of my anatomy. And spanking it.”

“I believe we’ve already established that I find your ass delectable. I would love to watch it turn red under my hand.” He lets himself revel in the small gasp that flies from her mouth at the word ‘ass.’

“You know, I think I like it.”

Resisting a nervous laugh, he says, “I merely wish to alert you to the fact that we have an audience.”

“I don’t think it’s the weirdest thing to happen in his cab.”

“‘Struth, lady,” says the cabbie, low ferelden accent crass on Solas’s ear. “And normally I’d not mind the free show. But I’m out of air freshener, so please, don’t make me kick you out.”

Ellana shrugs. “I guess we’ll have to wait then. Till home. Or when we’re on the plane. Or maybe we can find a quiet spot at the airport.”

Solas swallows to moisten his arid cavern of a mouth. “Home would be most prudent.”

“Since when has prudent ever been fun?” she asks, in that low and husky drawl that drives him insane.

Licking his lips, he ventures, “Sex in public has its appeal. The threat of being caught is a tantalizing spice. However, actually being caught makes it quickly lose its appeal.”

She leans close enough to make his pulse spike. “You sound awfully sure we will be caught.”

“Many of the … sounds can be muffled, but,” he starts, hand rolling over the curve of her hip to settle on her ass again. By her hiss, he knows she still feels the sting there, through the thin material of her pants. “Not the crack of palm on flesh.”

She shivers against him. “So we have to wait until we get all the way home before we can play?”

“No. We can play a different sort of game. A game of restraint.” Solas rubs a circle over her sore ass with his thumb. “If we can keep our hands off each other until we get home, I promise to make it up to you. Whatever you want, for as long as you can bear.”

Ellana pouts. “No touching?”

“None whatsoever.” Solas pours all his desire and affection for her into his gaze. “If we started, I don’t think I could stop myself from ravishing you, and damn who might be present.”

“That sounds fun, too.” Then she sighs. “But problematic. I see what you mean. Fine, we’ll play your game.” With that, she slides into her own seat, but her smoldering eyes never leave him. They are full of such want that he already feels the strain on his control.

More so, when she almost brushes him as they enter the airport. When she leans close to point out some landmarks outside the large windows, her breath shivering along his sensitive ear. He braces himself for her touch when she reaches out only for her to draw back.

The little minx. Her wicked grin teases him with the knowledge that she knows exactly what she’s doing to him.

And somewhere over the Waking Sea, she leans over him again, shapely assets in the air as she looks out the window. His palm itches as he breathes in the scent of her hair. Now he knows why she insisted he take the window seat.

Not for the first time, in regards to her, he finds himself resorting to prayer.

Chapter Text

“You let him spank you? Ewwww,” says Sera, primping before the mirror.

Ellana’s blush magnifies tenfold, until the skin of her cheeks feels tight with heat. She instantly regrets spilling the truth when they’d demanded an answer as to why the skin of her ass is the color one most associates with cherries. Didn’t even think about it. I mean, slinking into this tight dress in here with them. They’ve seen me bare-assed so many—

Sera’s disdainful voice interrupts her embarrassed musings, “Wot next? Whips and chains? ‘S he gonna make you wear a dog collar and bark? Call’em ‘sir?’ Schewpid bondage shite? Pervy old elfy fucker.”

“It isn’t like that, Sera,” Ellana demurs, fiddling with the pins taming her tempestuous locks into some semblance of civility. “I wanted him to. I mean, Ireaaaally wanted him to. Man’s got magic hands.”

“Ewww. Well, fly that freak flag high, I s’pose.”

Cassandra speaks up, voice cool, “As long as he is not abusing her and they’re using some kind of safety guidelines …. You are, aren’t you, Ellana? You have, what do they call it, a safewor—”

“Holy Andraste’s graffiti-covered ass, I said it’s not like that. He just has a thing for my … butt.” Bad choice of words, she thinks as Sera gives one of her world-famous cackles. But how to explain that Solas is a bit of a, er, sensualist? She resists the urge to further defend, and tries to deflect, “And Cass, how do you even know about safewords and things?”

“Her ratty old books have had a suspicious amount of leather-clad, stern beefy-types on’em lately,” laughs Sera, gloved palm slapping satin-clad thigh.

Cass’s cheeks color and she sets down the eye-liner to glare at Sera. “Some of us don’t choose books based on how well one can wipe one’s ass with them—”

“Oi! It’s better than just choosin’ ones with busty bints swoonin’ against some burke’s muscley man-tits. I seen the covers. Every single one the same.” Sera’s brows waggle in a single up and down motion. “Wha’eva gets you gushin’, eh? Even if it’s some leather-daddy wiv a bulging codpiece.”

Cass looks mortified as she bends back to the task of drawing the perfect cat’s eye swoosh above her eyelashes.

“Sera, I know it’s your day, but enough. Cass has a rich and wonderful inner life. We should all be so blessed with imagination.” Ellana shifts on the stool, ignoring how the silk shift grazes the tender flesh of her rear, reminding her of … certain things. Without her meaning to, her knees press together. In memory, she recalls the hungry look in Solas’s eyes, the wanton desire in every movement of his long, lean body. The worship of his hands upon her.

She shivers and says, “And when Cass finally finds someone worthy, she is gonna rock their fuckin’ world. And vice versa. Just like Widdle and you.”

Sera hums a little happy hum. “She does rock my world, doesn’t she. Oh, she does this thing wiv her—”

Ellana holds up her hands. “I don’t wanna know. Seriously. Now, stand up. Lemme see.”

In a rustle of smooth satin, they all stand. A tingle starts in Ellana’s eyes as she looks at one of her dearest, oldest friends, flushed and waiting for her verdict. Sera looks strangely delicate in her white dress, with its expansive skirt and short train over one arm. Her bare shoulders are dusted with shimmering powder that catches the light, even here in this dim, small prep room. Ellana suspects she will blind all the people out there with her radiance. Her short, golden hair curls slightly at the ends, ethereal and light, as though it’s floating.

“Well, whaddya think, bitch?” Nervousness touches Sera’s voice, though she grins at Ellana with touching fondness. The expletive so endearing that Ellana grins back with all the love she holds for the blond, her heart giving a pained thud.

“There’s my Sera.” Ellana reaches out and pulls the veil over Sera’s face. Then she embraces the bride and says, soft and fierce, “I think Widdle is one lucky lady.”

Cass takes the train from Sera, securing it over one forearm before claiming her own hug. “You are so beautiful.”

Sera snorts and picks up her bouquet from the vanity. “Well, the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get to the week-long drunkfest.”

“As though you haven’t spent months planning the ceremony,” Ellana teases, signalling out the door that the bride is ready.

Arm in arm with Krem (the best man), she walks up the aisle to stand in her spot as Maid of Honor. Ellana looks over the crowd, spotting many of their friends in attendance on both sides. There are a lot of dwarves she doesn’t know on Dagna’s side, family presumably. Their faces are solemn and serious. But then everything dwarves do tends to be solemn and serious. Handfasting is a big deal to the more traditional ones. Varric is an aberration there. He never takes anything seriously. Thus the lounging and joking with all the attendees, easing tensions and making people smile.

She loves that about him.

Then her eyes catch on blue-grey and stick there. Solas is staring at her from his seat on the bride’s side with such intensity that her palms start to sweat. She shifts just to feel the hot, tight warmth of the pink bridesmaid’s dress on her backside. She cracks the tiniest sly smile, and joy rushes through her at the sight of his throat bobbing.

He’s looking absolutely delicious in his bespoke suit, surely Dorian’s contribution, seeing as the Tevinter is looking between them with the proudest little smirk on his tawny face. All ‘I know, right? I know how to make your man look good. Not as good as me, but still quite nice.’

She starts thinking of gifts to send Dorian in thanks when the wedding march begins, drawing her eye to the other end of the aisle. Blackwall appears, holding his arm out for the bride to catch as she swings around the corner. Sera’s wide and infectious grin flashes, just for a second before the blond schools her features to something approaching serious.

A low murmur sounds through the dwarven contingent while everyone else sighs at Sera’s splendor. Ellana can tell they’re enchanted with this lovely, fae apparition in white come to take one of their daughters in matrimony.

Blackwall might as well be her father, Ellana thinks, taking in the paternal pride stamped on his bearded face as he walks her toward the altar.

A flash of black catches her eye and she can’t help a tiny snort as she sees the heavy, black boots peeking out from under Sera’s dress. Impish, irrepressible Sera. Bold and not to be contained. Ever.

Or so Ellana hopes.

Something is the matter with her vision. It blurs and she keeps blinking to see.

The ceremony itself goes quick and easy. Declarations on both sides ardent and strong. Then Sera gives a whoop and kisses Dagna like a woman starved, wrapping her whole body around her spouse. The chantry hall fills with cheers and no few thrown programs and hats. Then the happy couple races down the aisle. Ellana takes up the edge of her skirt to follow, laughing and cheering with the rest.

Flower petals shower the sidewalk as they all flood out into the sunshine. Sera jumps up onto the first step of the waiting tourbus, waving her bouquet as all the ladies jockey for position. Ellana can’t help but join the fray, jumping with all the rest.

The bouquet flies into the mass of women and all is confusion and grasping hands for a breathless moment. When the crowds part, there stands Cass, dazed, hair a little mussed, but triumphant with flowers in hand.

Sera hangs out one of the windows, cackling her head off as the bus leaves the curb, cans clattering in its wake.

Biting her lip at all the joy that wants to break free, Ellana watches as the bus rumbles down the street and disappears around the corner.

A hand catches hers and she turns to see Solas, looking back at her with glowing eyes and a soft smile. His other hand cups her cheek, thumb wiping something away. Moisture. A lot of it, she notices with chagrin. 

He says, wistful and strange, “Do you always cry at weddings?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know. This is the first real wedding I’ve ever been to.” Even she can hear the odd note in her tone, though she clamps down on surging memories better left unremembered. She’d cried then too, but not for this …  overwhelming happiness.

Quite the opposite.

By the downward pull at the corners of his mouth, he heard. But he doesn’t ask. And she is so grateful. Instead his arm comes around her waist and draws her near. Her cheek finds his shoulder, resting there as she says, “They are going to be so happy together.”

Solas hums agreement into her hair.

She continues, “The world can’t be all bad if something so honest, so true exists. Right?”

He holds her as the tears quicken and fall like rain.

Chapter Text

The cool Kirkwall evening wind dances over his flushed face and he closes his eyes to fully enjoy the buzz of alcohol in his blood, the heady fullness of Ellana in the circle of his arms. The party spins on inside the reception hall at his back, but they’d come out onto the balcony for some air.

Solas turns her to face him and hums in pleasure as her arms come up around his neck. She sways in time to the music filtering out through the half-open doors and he follows, hands at her hips. He imagines a silly grin is on his face and can’t bring himself to care. Not with her so close, not with the slow, heavy pound of his heart moving his feet to its beat.

Ellana laughs as he starts to dance in earnest, leading her in a simple boxstep. She accuses, “You’re drunk.”

“I suspect so. I also suspect you might share my condition.”

She gasps, and buries her face at his neck, licking a wicked line across his adam’s apple. He shivers at the sensation. She says, “The power of your deductive reasoning makes me weak in the knees. I’m so hot for you right now.” Then she moves even closer, front pressed tight to front.

His belly clenches as she brushes hipbone against his groin, shooting sparks of lust throughout his body. Solas nudges one thigh between hers, and lifts. The volcanic heat of her core draws a moan from his throat, deepening when she starts to rock her hips, riding his leg in earnest. The drag of her over his pant leg is driving him insane.

The shock of bare skin under his fingers stops him for a second before he realizes he’s pulled the edge of her skirt up to get at her delightful curves. Her ass feels tight and hot against his palms, a stimulating reminder of their … activities the night before.

A gasping whimper leaves her mouth, his name is a sinful sigh onto the night wind. “Solas. Please.”

He chuckles, knowing what she wants. Calling forth a trickle of frost magic, he starts to draw designs in her tender, heated skin with his cold fingers. Her incredible heat enthralls him as well, burning against his icy palms. A sensation that is magnified tenfold in his nerve endings, a beguiling wealth of contrasts. Every brush indescribably arousing. She shakes against him, limp before his magical ministrations.

Suddenly, she shoves him. He gives an involuntary ‘oof’ as his back collides with the plaster of the building. Then her mouth is on him and all he can do is try to hold onto some semblance of wit before she kisses it away completely.

The jingle of his belt is his only warning before she pulls his pants, boxers and all, down around his knees. Stunned, he looks down at her kneeling form, her wide and lascivious grin in the moonlight. His cock gives a twitch at the look upon her face.

At the first touch of her hand, a full body shudder rolls through him, culminating in a choked groan flying out into the night. His eyes roll back as he says, begs, “Vhenaaan.”

She pumps him once, tip to base. “Solas?”

His eyelids flicker open to look down at her. “You would have me against a wall?”

Then, she … she nuzzles him, gliding the head of his cock over cheeks and full lips. “I would have you everywhere. Anywhere.”

Even when he’d been young and … adventurous, most of his experiences tended to be in beds, or on couches or similar. Private and behind closed doors. But this

A short, sharp grunt exits his mouth as she engulfs him down to the root, slick and hot and hungry. The muscles at the back of her throat close on him like a vise and she starts to suck, bobbing with vigor. It is all he can do to keep from fucking her mouth with abandon, hands deep in the soft cloud of her hair. He pulls the last of the hairpins free so he can comb the wild locks through shaking fingers.

With an encouraging hum, Ellana pulls back to lave at just the tip and how that nearly pulls him over the edge right then. Her open and welcoming mouth. Her pink tongue flicking over his glans and weeping slit. Her busy hands scraping nails over his sensitive inner thighs.

Maddening.

With a growl, he seizes her by the upper arms and lifts her up. An awkward shuffle and now it’s herback against the wall. Her legs draw up around his waist and he reaches between them to pull her thong to the side.

His fingers find her so indecently slick and swollen. Moaning, he says, “Mmmm …. Vhenan, you’re so wet.”

She hums an incoherent affirmative against his neck. A spot she seems to favor, much to his everlasting delight.  He bucks against her folds, rubbing though it just drives him further into the lust-addled fog.

He breathes, “For me?”

“All for you.”

The throb in his chest expands to close his throat.

Then she tilts her hips and catches him at her entrance, head sliding in before he can even comprehend the shift. The stretch of her around him goes on and on until he’s buried to the hilt in her tight little quim. Head spinning, Solas drops his forehead onto her shoulder, trying to catch his breath.

Ellana whines, head back on the wall. “Fuck. You’re thick.”

Huffing a chuckle, Solas pulls the bodice of her bridesmaid’s gown down to free a breast. Her nipple pebbles in his mouth. She wiggles between him and the wall, trying to bounce and get some friction, but he pins her until she stills, lest he spill right then and there.

“Solas …. Please,” she whispers.

A thought penetrates his drunken mind. An alarming thought. He pulls back to blink at her, and his words come out slow and slurred, “I’m not wearing a condom.”

Her dazed eyes find his. “Shit.”

Groaning, he starts to retreat, but her heels keep him from exiting completely. He asks, “Ellana?”

Her teeth worry at her lip. “Can’t we …? I mean, what if we—? Just for a bit.”

His foggy mind bugles warnings, but his hips disagree, pushing back into her as a breathy gasp leaves his lips. She clenches around him and he’s lost. He pounds into her over and over, doing his best to fuck her through the damn wall. Dancing toward that precarious edge of ecstasy, Solas struggles to keep a single thought at the forefront, Pull out. Pull out. Pull out.

The tightening throb at the base of his cock warns him of fast-approaching climax and he starts to pull away when her hands grab his ass and pulls him to her with surprising strength. He looks up to find her eyes screwed shut and her mouth hanging open in a blissful and savage grimace.

Then he feels it. The walls of her cunt flex and undulate on his rigid length. That combined with the pure rapture on her face and he flies over that precipice, eyes snapping shut as surge after surge rolls up and out of his cock in blinding waves of white-hot pleasure.

It seems to go on forever, but eventually, his vision clears and he looks down to see that he’s somehow managed to pull free and point away, his hand wrapped around his length. Ropes of white festoon the stone between his feet. He watches another fat dribble leave the tip to splatter into that puddle.

Ellana pants in his ear as she, too, looks down at the mess. “Oh, shit, that was stupid.”

He can only nod and heave his own deep breaths. “Dangerous. Is there any—?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

A moment of breathless dread as they stare at one another, then Ellana starts to laugh. A giggle, then a snorting chuckle, then a full-throated guffaw. He can’t help but join, though he’s not sure what he’s laughing at. Himself. Them.

Perhaps it’s just to dispel some of the fear. The unnamed tension that they’d felt all day.

“Varric says bad decisions make the best stories,” she says, after the mirth dies off. “But I don’t think we’ll be telling this one to anybody but each other.”

“Indeed.” And he steps away to right his clothing somewhat, trying to ignore the way the world spins about him.

“Shit, I still can’t tell.” Ellana’s fingers dip at the apex of her thighs and then pull away, rubbing together in the moonlight as she examines them. Then she says, “I am so getting on the pill tomorrow.”

Solas leans back in to kiss her. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”

“Done what we both wanted?” She laughs again, light and teasing. “It’s totally your fault. Standing there, looking all kinds of edible in that suit. It’s unnatural how many times a day I just wanna jump on you and ride you into next week.”

The flush and buzz that fills him has nothing to do with the alcohol in his veins. “I confess to having … similar urges.”

She takes his hand and moves to the low bench by the balcony railing. They sit. Solas pulls her back to his chest as he leans on the stone and there they perch, her between his legs with his arms about her belly. And hers over his. A vast wave of tiredness threatens to drown him in slumber.

A thought strikes as a muffled bell within his pounding head, and he speaks it, careful and slow, “Would …. Would it be terrible, though?”

Ellana stiffens, then goes lax with a soft chuckle. “Kids? Honestly, I never thought about it before.”

“Neither have I.” But now that he has, there’s a small, but deep pull of longing in his heart. In his mind’s eye, he sees a tiny, fierce shape, running and laughing. Perhaps with her flaming hair and heart-shaped face. Try as he might, he cannot picture any of his own features on that ungendered child’s face, though. His hands, maybe. Or … his love of music perhaps. Yes.

“You’ve gone awfully quiet, love,” she whispers.

He holds her closer and sighs. “Just daydreaming, vhenan.”

“I think when it’s at night, it’s just called dreaming,” she laughs. “Let’s get you home, drinky. I’m all for a shower then bed.”

He agrees with a hum and lets her lead him back through the still raging party and out to the curb, where a car waits to take them home.

Drifting in and out of consciousness the whole way back, Solas jerks to awareness at her soft call to wake. Lifting his head out of her lap, he follows her down the worn, sandy paths and onto their deck.

He loses track of things after that, ending up undressed and under the covers with Ellana pressed firmly into the hollow at his belly. Breathing deep in contentment and comfort, he brushes his lips over the nape of her neck. He mumbles, “It’s a terrible idea, I suppose. You, at the beginning of your career. Me, at the end of mine. Children would only complicate things. And how would we give them the attention they deserve?”

“‘Them?’” She hums, half asleep already. “Don’t dare me, Solas. I have a habit of doin’ stuff just ‘cause people say I can’t.”

“I think you’d make a wonderful mother.”

She snorts. “Loads of practice. Someone had to watch the kiddies when the adults were off in the woods, doing whatever. I must’ve changed a thousand diapers by the time I was ten. Cleaned a thousand more besides. Still, I can see the appeal past all the screaming and whining and shitting. Someday … maybe. Right now? Definitely no.”

The smooth cadence of her voice lulls him even further into sleep, though the small peek into her past piques his interest. He wants to pry, but the boozy haze steals his ability to talk or even think in intelligent strings of sounds.

Just before the black swallows him, he hears—

“I think you’d make a good dad, too.”

Chapter Text

Widdle’s so mad at you,” remarks the blond sitting to her left.

Her mouth says, “Why?” Even though she knows the answer. It’s sitting in her hands, staring back at her in bold print from the front of every sensationalist magazine in the whole Ferelden. And beyond, no doubt.

“She says you ruined the wedding, but I told her it wasn’t the wedding. Just the afterparty.” Sera sucks at her teeth as she picks up one of the discarded newspapers. “Damn. They got pictures. Not very clear, though. And nuffin’ but his naked butt ‘tween your knees. Ew.”

“Sera!” Ellana finds the word, fishing past the dull roar of mortification.

Cass speaks up from where she leans against her stacks, “I hear there is a video.”

“Cass!”

The human shrugs. “Yelling at us won’t make it go away.”

A groan leaves Ellana’s lips as her head sinks into her hands. She pleads, “Then what will?”

“You make it sound like a bad thing,” says a new voice, from the door of the green room. Ellana looks up to see Vivienne there, fully bedecked in clothes too ‘runway’ for the heavy metal show about to begin. Vivienne says, “Think of it as free publicity. It’s not exactly the most dignified of positions to find oneself, but scandals have as much or even more pull than a hundred official interviews or photos.”

“But ….” Ellana doesn’t even know how to end that sentence. The embarrassment seems to know no limits as she fans out the magazines, her and Solas’s moonlight tryst on every cover under headlines like: ‘Inquisition leads sing saucy ‘duet’ on balcony.’ ‘Singer flashes more than panties at party: Exclusive pics inside!’ And ‘Caught! Ellana and her unmasked mystery man share intimate moment at friend’s wedding.’

She groans again, wondering if Solas has seen them yet. “Just how many damn paparazzi were on that balcony?”

Vivienne shrugs. “Probably no more than one or two. Judging from the length of the video, you gave them ample time to take as many photographs as their black, twisted little hearts could ever wish for. Then they sold widely, as is generally the way these things go.”

Miserable, Ellana wonders again if Solas has seen them and maybe that’s why he’s running lat—

“However, seeing as you are, among others, the public face of our label, we cannot have you just saturate the tabloids with nudes and pictures of your vagina, so,” says Vivienne, sharp as needles. “We’ve hired you an image consultant. The best.”

As if on cue, a tall, lanky woman swings around through the door frame. Ellana’s jaw drops as she recognizes her, though what the woman wears (vinyl mini, tight haltertop, spiky tall stilettos that make her feet cringe in sympathy) is far and away from the sharp suit she’d last seen her in. Ellana says, “Morrigan.”

“The one and only,” says she, with a smirk pulling her dark purple painted lips to one side. “Tsk tsk tsk. Someone’s been naughty.”

Ellana flushes as Sera grumbles, “Were you just waiting out in the hall? Like, for your big entrance?”

“My dear Sera,” Morrigan begins, with bared teeth. “Everything in the world is about timing. Speaking of which—”

Sera grumbles on, an undercurrent to Morrigan’s velvety voice, “Anyone else think that’s just kinda schewpid? I mean, she was just lurkin’ out there, all like, ‘Wait for it … Now? No. Now? Yus. Time to turn on the swagger—’”

Morrigan speaks over her, “Speaking of which, it’s far too early in the game for indiscretions like these”—she gives the stack of newspapers a little poke—”to be useful. Indulging the public’s need for sordid gossip should be metered. It should be choked down to a bare trickle to string them along, ravenous for more—”

Ellana gasps. “No. I don’t want anything like that. It was a private moment between Solas and me. I’m never going to do something like this on purpose like some whore on displa—”

“Too late for that, my darling,” Vivienne says, fingers tapping at her elbow where her arms are crossed over her chest. “You’ve already exposed yourself to the public once. And if the quite impressive newsstand sales are anything to go by, you have your audience’s attention. What further harm is there in giving it a little bump when it starts to flag?”

She shudders under a wave of unease. But Cass is the one to respond first, adamant in her checked fury, “Our bodies are not for sale. It’s only ever been about the music.”

Vivienne’s mouth opens, but before whatever poisonous thing she’d been about to say meets the air, Morrigan says, “If that is what you want, then we shall …. accommodate.”

Again, Vivienne looks as though she might argue, but a sharp look from the Witch of the Wilds silences her. Morrigan continues, “As your image consultant, I will see to it, to the best of my ability, that this never happens again. But you’ll have to trust me and listen to my suggestions. Deal?”

The three women of the band look at one another, and Ellana says, “Barring conditions our other members may bring up. Deal.” She feels confident that Solas, Blackwall and Cole will have no problem with that. One more layer of protection can’t hurt.

Morrigan smiles. “Good. Now, my job can extend beyond punking the paparazzi, if you want it to. I think it’s time to start thinking about the bigger picture. About Inquisition, as a whole. What are you? What is your message? How can we best deliver that message so that it cannot be misconstrued or mistaken for anything other than what it is?”

The woman’s apparent fervor surprises and intrigues Ellana. She clearly knows something of what she’s talking about. But …. “So, this sounds like a long conversation, and we’re missing half the band. And our set’s about to start. Soooooo ….”

Morrigan blinks, snapping back into the present. “Yes, indeed. I’ll make arrangements to meet you at this, er, Hanged Man, is it?”

Sera snorts while Ellana says, “Yes. We got one more show before we all head back across the Waking Sea.”

“Am I to figure in driving time? Are you still all packed in that old bus? It must be quite crowded by now, considering … recent additions to your crew.”

“Indeed it is. And what few cubic centimeters is not crammed with bodies, is full to the brim with B.O., aquanet and cheap tobacco smoke.” Vivienne sniffs in mild disdain. “Surely they’re exceeding capacity in that boorishly retro thing. If nothing else, it’s an insurance liabili—”

“Hey, no one shit talks the Tourbeast,” says Sera, with pointed glower.

“Yeah!” agrees Cass. Then her two bandmates exchange a rare nod of accord.

Ellana crosses her arms, the spearhead of their defensive wedge.

Morrigan huffs a chuckle. “I meant no offense. The … ‘Tourbeast’ is quite charming. I’m merely pointing out the fact that you are outgrowing it.”

Just then, three male faces pop up behind Vivienne and Morrigan in the open doorway of the green room. Blackwall says, looking between the clearly divided groups, “Problem?”

Vivienne paints a diplomat’s smile onto her dark face. “Nothing that cannot be addressed later with cooler heads.”

Blackwall and Solas look at each other, then at Ellana, who gives them an easy and defusing nod. Cole wanders by Vivienne and Morrigan to stand near Ellana, looking up at the ceiling tiles with vague interest. The other two men follow and they slot into the group neatly. A united front. 

Cole says, “Almost. The songs are dimmer now, the thrashing through but thorough. Soon, they’ll scream for more.”

Which means, in Cole-speak, the call to the stage is imminent. The opening act must be winding down.

Ellana claps, “You heard him, people. Slap on your gear!”

The next few moments are a flurry of activity as they throw on their stage clothes and make up. Solas picks up his mask and appears to consider it for a long, long time.

With a mischievous grin, Ellana says, “Just leave it off. If you want to.”

“Will that not upstage the article in Varric’s magazine? The exposé that will come out in the next publication?” Solas asks, but his hand drops the mask back on the pile of their belongings.

“Give them a tease. They can’t suspect much.” Ellana gives him a peck on the cheek, leaving a little smudge of rouge there. “Yet.”

He laughs and draws her close by her waist. “It would be nice to have peripheral vision on stage for once. Just in case Sera’s twirling gets out of hand again.”

“Oi!” Under the band’s combined stares, Sera grows almost sheepish. She mumbles, “I only kicked you the once.”

Ellana looks around to see that Vivienne must have departed, but Morrigan remains.

And she’s staring right at Solas with a bemused sort of smile. Solas shifts to follow Ellana’s line of sight and tilts his head in question.

Blinking, Morrigan says, “I caught your show once or twice in Ostagar. Or rather, Evanuris’s show. Long ago, when I was still a teenager.”

“As did many. I wish I could return the sentiment, but during your reign, I was, hmm, indisposed,” he replies, dry and not unkind. He smiles. “I think I would have very much liked it. Your music was uniquely compelling.”

Under her astonished eyes, Morrigan’s cheeks grow suspiciously pinker. Just the tiniest flush. “High praise coming from the Dread Wolf.”

“I think you’ll find my praise only goes to the deserving, Witch of the Wilds,” he retorts with a nod.

Eyes ticking back and forth between the two musical titans, Ellana tamps down the rare surge of fan-girlish excitement and glee. Behind her, Blackwall makes a choked sort of sound. He says in a whispered aside to Sera, “He just made Morrigan, the Morrigan, blush!”

Sera snorts a laugh and of course, Ellana can’t help but join in. They all do. Even Morrigan, who shakes her head and gives them a wider, more genuine smile. “Whatever happened to that delicious bassist of Evanuris’s? Falon’din?”

Solas’s brows jump up as he replies, “I haven’t spoken with the twins in years. I can’t imagine either would be less than flattered at your high regard, though.”

Morrigan flashes another grin, this one a little hungrier. “Well, pass along my number if the opportunity presents, will you?”

“In the event of that very large ‘if,’ it would cost me nothing to do so.” And he shrugs with utmost eloquence.

“I can see I’ll have to keep a close eye on you. All of you. Ta.” And with that, Morrigan sweeps out the door.

Blackwall claps Solas on the shoulder and says, “You’re my bloody hero, you know that?”

“Did you see her do that double-take?” says Cass, smile almost silly. “They areall just people, aren’t they?”

“And so are we.” Ellana laughs as Solas ducks his head.

Krem comes sliding around the doorframe and shouts, “Two minutes, boss!”

“Got it!” she calls back, then she reaches over to hug Cole, who’d been prepared with arms slightly akimbo. “Best drummer alive and better than a damn alarm clock! All right! Time to flash some sass at the good people of Lothering. Let’s go rock our faces off!”

They clamber out the door, ready to storm the stage. Solas troops along at her side and she can’t help but ask, “Are you really gonna pass along her digits to your old bandmates?”

He throws back his head and laughs. “Well, they are not speaking to me. But it’s a promise I can keep. Though it will no doubt leave her sorely disappointed.”

“Why?”

Shrugging as they climb the last bit of stair before the wings, he says, “Falon’din and Dirthamen are … inseparable. Joined at the hip … and other places.”

Ellana gasps. “But I thought they were brothers.”

“No, they are not.”

“But you call them ‘the twins,’” she points out.

“Not because they’re related, but because I’ve never met two people so in sync with each other. They speak without words. They often complete each other’s sentences, when they do deign to speak to anyone outside of their circle of two.” Solas holds out his hand to help her hop up onto the risers. “In all matters of consideration, it was best to think of them as one person. For one would not go anywhere without the other.”

Still a little shell-shocked at that revelation, Ellana says, “Wow. And here I thought the weirdest, most awkward thing today was gonna be those magazines.”

“What magazines?” he asks.

Shit.

Chapter Text

“Honestly, I’m surprised it took as long as it did for them to hire a handler.”

“‘Handler?’ She likes to be called an ‘image consultant.”

He hums amusement. “If her primary concern is maintaining our image, then she’s ‘handling’ us. Protecting us from ourselves.”

She sighs from where she’s draped across his chest, soft breath ghosting along his sweat-slicked skin. “Ugh. Well, she and Josie do not get along. At all. Earlier, I thought she was gonna start throwing punches.”

“Which one?”

“Both. Either. I dunno.” Her cheek works against his pec and he glances down to see her anxiously chewing at her lip. “And when Josie looked to me for support, I couldn’t say anything. ‘Cause I sort of agreed with Morrigan about regulating the show schedule. And I sort of said so. And then the look Josie threw at me was so … betrayed.”

Solas reaches down and frees her lip from ravaging teeth, brushing his thumb over it to soothe the redness there. “It’s a hard truth that one cannot please all the people all of the time. But remember, Josie works for you while Morrigan will always have White Spire’s interests in the forefront of her mind.”

“I guess that’s true. I should have backed Josie up and then brought it up later in confidence or something.”

“That’s … one solution.”

She lifts her head to peer at him. “Oh? And what else could I have done, Mr. Smartypants?”

Shrugging, he pulls her closer into his side, relishing the slide of her along his body. “Josephine would forgive you many things. This little thing? Probably already forgotten. But, in supporting Morrigan now, at the beginning of her working relationship with you, you’ve perhaps earned a little trust by giving trust. For one such as her, a little trust goes a long way. If one were … persistent enough, then the bonds between her and Inquisition could one day be much stronger than the ones between the label and her.”

In the pursing of Ellana’s lips, Solas sees his point wax into understanding. She drops her head back to nestle at his collarbone as she says, “Hmm. So draw her close enough and she’ll be working for us and not them? No matter where her paychecks come from? Oh, that’s sneaky as fuck.”

“It’s not a malicious manipulation. Just a prudent one. There is a great deal of difference between professional investiture and personal investiture. And I’ve found that, in the long run, the emotional ties always win out over the colder, dispassionate ones.” Solas flips a hand idly in the air. “Or, we can let the dice fall where they may and hope for the best.”

“Yeah, ‘cause that’s not what landed a lot of artists in prison or worse.”

A stab of old regret tries to gut him then, but he nods anyway. “Indeed. A little forethought would have prevented a lot of what happened to Evanuris.”

She winces against his ribs. “I didn’t mean to …. Alright, maybe I did.”

“We were very young and very, very stupid. That we were taken advantage of … well, it may not have been our doing at the beginning. Victims of circumstance, as we’d found ourselves. But we did nothing but let it keep happening after we did finally figure it out.” He presses his lips to her crown of flaming hair as he tries to not get sucked back into the yawning despair of those days. “Even the pittance they allowed us was, by far, more than any of us had ever possessed. Plus the many distractions were an effective opiate. Not to mention the actual opiates so readily available.”

“Stoned out of your gourds all the time? Makes it kinda hard to say ‘no.’”

There is that pain again, like rusted fishhooks in his belly. He clears his throat of the taste of bile. Oh, vhenan, if only you knew ….

“Mythal,” says she, and he hopes she does not feel the cold shiver that rolls through him. Or perhaps his reaction lends seconds more to the hesitance with which she adds, “She must have been something, huh.”

He closes his eyes. “Like no one before or since.”

Ellana’s fingers tighten over his heart as she asks, “Did you and her—? I mean to say, were you two …?”

“Were we what, vhenan?” The clamor of the past is so hard to hear beyond. To think beyond.

“Did you love her?”

The question startles a laugh out of him. He plants another kiss on her forehead, stroking a line down her arm and squeezing her hand in his. “I think all of us were a little in love with her. But she was leagues above us. Untouchable. Did you know she studied at the Conservatory in Val Royeaux?”

“Really?”

“Yes. One of the first elves to be admitted, and only because she was sponsored by … a friend. A very wealthy and powerful human friend.” Solas smiles. Those memories are safer by far. “Opera.”

Ellana says, low and awed, “Wow. But I can totally see it.”

“Indeed. She could have gone on to great fame all on her own. A diva. Or prima donna, as the Vints say.” Solas opens his eyes to catch hers. “But instead she came back. Back to our filthy, rat-infested little collection of projects in Qarinus to take the rest of us with her. She said, ‘I will not go where you cannot follow, friends, but I aim to be famous, so that’s what we’ll be.’” He laughs. “She did love her little melodramas.”

“She sounds amazing.”

“She was.” And that’s where his heart stutters anew. Laced with a raw burn in the back of his throat. “She-she was. But she’s gone now. Years gone.”

Ellana’s head lifts again and his innards quake at the depth of empathy in her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“As are we all.” Solas lets himself take the offered comfort in her embrace, sighing deep and long as he pulls her fully on top of him. “She’s gone and the world is poorer for it. But it got to have her in it, even for so short a time. There’s something to be grateful about there. And she was not the only light in the world to keep the dark at bay. I’m holding one such light.”

“There you go again. Sweet-talking me. You already got me in bed, I can’t imagine what else you might want.” She sits up, straddling him, creamy thighs squeezing his flanks.

“I can think of a few things,” he teases back, letting his hands wander. She gives a soft pleased hum, throwing her head back. The long pale line of her throat calls to him. “It’s perhaps an hour till dawn. Should we relocate to the beach to watch the waves catch fire in the rising su—”

His phone rings. They both look over at it in surprise.

Reaching over, he picks it up and sighs when he recognizes the number as the one a certain someone keeps calling him from. Looking up at Ellana, whose brows pinch worriedly in the center of her forehead, he winces.

“Who is it? Is it Dorian? Merrill?” she asks, soft and concerned.

He shakes his head as he hits ‘accept.’ Leaving off any sort of greeting, he starts, “I thought I said never call again.”

“I know.” Solas goes to hit ‘end’ when the jackass on the other end pleads, loud and rushed, “Please. Don’t hang up on me, kid. I just … I just want to talk.”

“It’s never ‘just’ with you, Elgar’nan,” he says, unsure why he’s indulging the old bastard. Perhaps it’s the way Ellana’s stroking soothing shapes into the skin of his sides and belly, or the sincere caring radiating from her every pore, but something is keeping the wealth of bitterness away.

“You’re right. You were always right, Fen’harel,” says the voice in his ear, soft and resigned.

Solas snorts. “A concession too late to be of much consequence.”

Elgar’nan laughs. “Keep it to a few syllables, will you? Or I’ll get lost. We didn’t all get to go back to school after the shit storm.”

“You could have, if you’d wanted to.”

A sigh, then, “You’re right again. Okay, here goes. I want to meet.”

“No,” comes the reflexive and adamant answer.  Ellana’s brows go up and he drops a palm to her thigh, rubbing to show her everything’s alright. “If you want money—”

Elgar’nan interrupts, weary but with a touch of hardness, “I don’t want your money, for fuck’s sa—”

“Drugs? A place to sta—”

“No, nothing lik—”

“Well, you can readily guess the answer to all of those—”

Solas.”

And his words stall in the back of his throat, piling up on top of one another. Elgar’nan had never called him by his real name before. The only one in Evanuris that did was Mytha—

“Just listen, okay? I just want to meet, talk about stuff. I know I was a real asshole to you and well, everybody. There’s things I want to get off my chest, things I need to say, if you’ll listen to me for just an hour. Please.”

Mouth dry, Solas can only croak, “I will never forgive you.”

In the long silence after, he thinks he can hear Elgar’nan’s strained and hitching breaths. Finally the man says, “I know. But-but maybe it would help you forgive yourself.”

He doesn’t know what to do with that. Or the heavy, hollow thud in his center. A little dazed, he wets his lips and looks to his vhenan, who stares back with such compassion that it makes him swallow hard. He bares his teeth to grind out the next string of words as they prove difficult. So damn difficult. “I’ll … think about it.”

A long, windy sigh touches his ear, and Elgar’nan replies, “That’s … wonderful. Thank you.” And he sounds so fucking sincere that Solas wishes he could reach through the phone to throttle him.

“Do not call me again. If I wish to meet, I’ll call you.”

“Understood.”

And Solas hangs up with a tap of his thumb. His eye follows the phone as hand drifts down to comforter. Ellana plucks it from his palm and puts it back on the nightstand after plugging it in. He smiles at the courtesy, but can’t seem to stop staring at the device’s black screen.

Only when his vhenan’s hand cups his chin does he finally tear his gaze away and around to her. She grins as she slumps over to lay on him, kissing that spot behind his ear that she loves. She says, “Well, that went alot smoother than last time. Less yelling and throwing.”

He nods, chin touching her shoulder with every dip. Somewhere in his dazed mind, a thought occurs and he latches onto it. “It has to be a trick.”

“Does it?” she asks, then pulls his arms up and around her.

Solas clasps both hands around her waist and holds her closer. “I wouldn’t put it past him. Elgar’nan has always had a measure of skill wheedling his wants out of people.”

She hums at his throat. “It didn’t sound very much like wheedling. More like pleading. Or begging.”

Unable to refute that, Solas instead huffs an aggravated sigh. “I’d be mad to meet him. Nothing he can say or do will change the past.” Then he rakes a hand over his pate. “So why is there a tiny piece of me that wants to? Tell me, Ellana, am I insane?”

Laughing, she slides off him to once more nestle at his hip, bare leg thrown over him. “Maybe. Or you’ve developed a sudden streak of optimism.”

“Amounts to the same thing. No one’s accused me of optimism in at least a decade.”

“But I’ve seen you hope. I’ve felt it. Through the foci.” Her fingertips play at his skin, a distracting tingle. “That’s similar.”

“Similar, but not the same.”

Ellana snorts. “Tomato, to-mah-to. Anyway, if it can change nothing, then why not? What’s the worry then? He’s irredeemable, or so you seem to think.” Then her palm flattens over his heart. “Or maybe something he says can change things and maybe, maybe that scares you.”

He shivers, knowing the mark truly stricken. Bullseye.

“You know how old people are with change. Frightens the crap outta’em.” He can just see the curve of her smirk in his periphery.

Rolling his eyes, Solas chuckles. “Is ageism the new racism?”

She retorts, fast as a whip, “Just like classism is the new fascism.”

A quick and easy grin pulls at his lips at her clever rejoinder.

The conversation wanders into safer waters, where fewer sharks wait to snap at unwary ankles. All the while, Solas thinks hard about whether or not he should meet with his old bandmate.

A large part of him says let it rot, but there’s that niggling voice of hope in the back of his mind that will not be silenced.

Ah, well. At the very least, he may be afforded another opportunity to punch Elgar’nan in the mouth.

Chapter Text

The guilt eats at her.

Every time he brings it up over the following months. Every time soft, lie-some encouragements spill from her lips in answer.

And no matter how many times she screws her courage up to finally say something, it drains away the second her mouth opens, mute and unheard by any but her own damning self-recriminations.

She can’t help herself. Because the desire to know, deep and bowel-churning, has sat with her longer than she can recall. Since a smaller her sat at mother’s hip and listened to loud, full, adult voices talk over her head about her.

And so she stares.

And stares.

He’d sounded so different through Solas’s phone than all the countless vids and interviews she’s watched over the years. Coarser, life-roughened. And defeated. Nothing at all like the proselytizing of her once-betters.

Straight hair the color of ash pours down to midback on the elf that sits at the other end of the Hanged Man. The sounds of the bar translate through the one-way mirror before her, a humming vibration of others’ good spirits.

The draping, colorful vest shifts over his broad shoulders as a hand lifts to signal the bartender. Another pint lands on the napkin before him. Details jump out at her to soak in like a starving woman. The ropy sinew of his forearms. The gnarled knuckles that close over frosted glass. The easy slouch of a long-time dive boozer. Torn denim and white shirt.

His head ticks to the side as a familiar tall shape slides onto the stool next to him. With hitching breath, she watches as Solas rests his elbows on the bar, back ramrod straight. Everything in his posture screams hostility, from the taut line of his shoulders to the way he refuses to look at the man who sits next to him.

Elgar’nan turns to face him and she sees that famous profile. Hooked nose, strong jaw, thin lips. Lips that part around a greeting before stretching to one side in a friendly, crooked, all too familiar grin. Her stomach roils and vertigo steals her wits for a moment.

A beeping from her pocket pulls her back to reality. Without tearing her gaze away from the pair conversing in what she will always think of as her bar, she fishes the phone out and answers it. “Hello?”

“Ellana,” comes the cajoling reply in Merrill’s rolling, lilting tones. “So glad I got hold of you first try. How are you?”

Her mouth opens to stutter a harmless answer, “I-I’m good. What’s up?”

“Well, the day has come. They’ve finally settled on the date of the trial. So I need you to come to Minrathous on Monday.”

So soon?

Solas flings his hands into the air, aggressively denying something Elgar’nan’s said. Before her eyes, Solas whips his head around to glare at his old bandmate, teeth bared in a savage, cold expression bordering on hate.

“Hello? Still there?” asks Merrill. “Ellana?”

“Y-yes. I heard you. Monday. What time?”

“Oh, any time. The proceedings won’t start till Friday, but we need to prepare your testimony. And the testimony of all our witnesses and such.” Merrill sighs in her ear. “And I tried to keep the press out, but Corypheus managed to make good his threat. I’m afraid it really will be a very public trial.”

Now her roiling innards seem to want to drop out the bottom of her shoes. Her free hand comes up to press the glass, framing Solas in the arch of her thumb and forefinger. That means the secret will be out. In a big way. Regret crashes through her for putting him in this position. Both with Corypheus and here, with someone he clearly detests. For her own selfish ends.

Her hand fists as she thinks, I am such a piece of crap.

To Merrill she says, “Thanks, Merrill. I’ll see you then.”

“Stay safe, lethallan.” The line goes dead and she puts her phone away just as Solas stands in one strident movement, both palms flat on the bar. Elgar’nan grips the back of his stool with one hand and pales as Solas says something she wonders if she wants to hear. For the way Elgar’nan’s flinches with each punctuated word as though being struck with stinging blows warns her of their vitriolic nature. But he takes it with grace and humility, nodding at the end.

Solas stands straight and turns on a heel, striding away and out the door. A flash of harsh sunlight blinds her for a moment, but she looks back at Elgar’nan and sees those shoulders raise and fall with a heavy sigh, fingers lifting to order another beer.

She chews her lip near bloody as she shifts from one foot to the other and back.

Then she turns and walks out of Varric’s empty office and down into the bar’s common room. She waves at the few regulars that haunt the bar this early as she makes her way across the wooden planks. Anxiety throws caltrops in her path though, and she stumbles the last few feet, heels clattering.

When she looks up, green eyes like chips of emerald ice stare back at her, mystified and a touch mocking of her clumsiness. Then Elgar’nan’s mouth slides to one side in amusement. “One too many, love?”

She moistens her lips to say, “More like twenty shy.” Heat rushes into her cheeks as she clambers onto a stool two removed from Elgar’nan.

The bartender brings her a tumbler of her standing order and she sips it gratefully, looking into its amber depths trying to find some measure of steadiness. She risks a peek to the side and sees that Elgar’nan is doing much the same, hands clasped around his drink. No, more like wringing his hands but with the beer hiding the action from casual observers.

She swallows and ventures, “Soooo …. You’re Elgar’nan.”

With a shrug, he replies, “Yeah. What’s left of him anyway.” And he takes a long pull of his drink. Then his gaze sweeps over her, catching on the vallaslin twisting over her eye. His next words come out with more than a hint of dismay, “You’re … not one of the crazy ones, are you?”

He seems on the edge of flight, so she shakes her head, heart leaping in her chest. “No.”

“Ah. Good.”

‘Good.’ Like he and his didn’t foster the rise of the ‘crazy ones’ or encourage their zealotry to the point of violence—

She takes a deep, steadying breath and blinks away the stinging. “Solas and I. We’re ….”—together. But the word sticks in her throat in the treacle of howling uncertainty. “Bandmates,” she finishes. 

Lamely.

Elgar’nan sinks further down in his seat, looking even more crestfallen. “Ah.”

“I’m,” she starts, then falters. With a vicious shake of her head, she summons up dregs of confidence. What is the matter with me? He’s just a man, for fuck’s sake. “I’m Ellana.”

He nods politely.

So she adds, “Ellana Lavellan.”

If he hears the strange, strangled emphasis, he gives no sign, going back to stare into his booze.

Disappointment tears at her spirit, and she just stops herself lunging across to shake him by the lapels and scream in his face, ‘Did you know? Did you ever stop and wonder about her? About us? About what happened to the pathetic, pregnant groupie you left in the care of madmen? Did you know how hard, how fucking hard it was being Daughter of the Sun-?’

“Lavellan,” he muses, head lifting as he stares off into the middle distance.

A burble of tense, terror-filled apprehension seizes her lungs.

“I know that name,” he continues, running a be-ringed hand through his long hair. “Where the hell do I know that name from?”

She waits, not daring to breathe, steeling herself to give nothing away as his brows furrowed in furious contemplation.

With a frustrated growl, Elgar’nan slaps his palm on the bar. “Shit. I swear. Memory’s first to go when you do as much blow as I did back in the day. Let that be a lesson to you. Leave that shit alone.” And the smile he turns on her is so sheepish and full of regret that the words disintegrate on her tongue. And the open friendliness of the advice yanks at her guts.

Instead, she says, “ … I will.”

With a sigh, Elgar’nan turns his face towards the dim light of the TV over the bar. “There’s more I’d warn you off of, but Fen’h—I mean, Solas probably has that covered.” He hums, a sad sound. Then he says, more to himself than her, she realizes, “So many fuck ups. And not near enough left of me to fix them all. I’m feeling pretty … thin these days, like a sail in the wind about to tear. But it’s my fault. All of it. So I’m trying to do something about the worst of them anyway. If only I had a second chance …. But it’s too late. It’ll always be too late.”

His soft, sorrowful words trail off into silence. A silence filled with the roar of her pulse in her ears. Without her really meaning to, she reaches across and puts her hand over his wrist and squeezes. He jumps at her touch and turns a puzzled expression in her direction.

“Don’t give up,” she says, then chagrin flushes through her veins. “Fuck, I sound like one of those after-school specials.”

Elgar’nan chuckles and drops his other hand over hers. “Yeah, you do.”

“Solas, he ….” She looks around, suddenly worried that they’ll be overheard. Like she’s sharing Solas’s secrets with his worst enemy. And how shame ghosts its icy fingers over her nape at the idea that she might be. “Everyone deserves a second chance. And a third. And a fourth. However many times as it takes to get it right.”

His eyes, so similar in hue to her own, crinkle at the corners with tension. “That’s touching, but a little naive, if you’ll forgive me saying so. Solas won’t hear me.”

“But he needs to. At least as much as you need to be heard.” And then she sees it in his face. The harrowing need scraping this man hollow. Along with something else, something she hadn’t expected at all.

He’s sick.

It’s in the sallow, sagging skin, the yellowing scleras and nails. The cold flop-sweat in his palm covering the back of her hand. The gnawing desperation in his stare.

“You’re dying—”

“You love him—” they both say at the same time, identical shock in their voices.

Ellana yanks her hand back as he leans away from her. She knows her eyes must be just as wide as his. Forcing herself to blink, she breaks off her frozen stare and looks around the bar. When she finds her tongue, she says, “Yes.”

Elgar’nan snorts. “Never thought I’d see the day.”

A spark of anger pokes her. “He’s a good man.”

“No denying that. Still ….” He shrugs, then laughs. “I’m glad.”

Elation replaces anger, a flying rush of it. Odd how some tiny piece of her is happy to have the approval of the absent father. Even if he doesn’t know she’s his bastard by-blow. The urge to tell him nearly overcomes her and she closes her eyes to ask, “Are you really dying?”

“Not to wax poetical, but aren’t we all? I’m just doing it a little faster. Got a rot in my bones eating me alive.”

The hammerblow of sorrow to her heart surprises her with how keen it hurts and her eyes open to affix on him with silent lamentation.

“Oh, got years yet. No need to cry over me,” he laughs. Giving a roguish wink, Elgar’nan says, “I deserve worse, believe me.”

She stands, unable to sit with him any more without either spilling everything or sobbing like a child. Or both. Fuck. “I … have to go.”

“Aw, but we were just getting acquainted. I haven’t told any embarrassing stories about Solas yet.”

“His tab’s on me,” she says to the barkeep before turning back to Elgar’nan. “Well, if all goes well in Minrathous, then I’ll see you around. Keep trying with Solas. Please.”

He raises his glass in salute. “Nice meeting you, Ellana Lavellan.”

“And you,”—dad. She swallows the word whole, shoving it past the lump in her throat. Then she turns before he can see the tear slipping the yoke of her tight restraint to score a hot trail down her cheek.

Answers. She’d wanted answers. Or maybe someone to blame for all the fucked up shit in her life. But could she really add another burden to the mountain Elgar’nan already bore on his aging shoulders? One more sliver of heartbreak to add to the collection before he exits this life?

No, she’d just have to hold it herself. And find a way to live without the answers she so wanted. She’s not without her own burdens, but she’s young, healthy and relatively whole.

She can carry this one, too.

Chapter Text

Slim, familiar arms slide around his waist as a warm body presses at his back. Remarkable how her mere touch soothes his frayed nerves. He closes his eyes to savor it as he teases, “And where have you been all day?”

Ellana squeezes his middle. “Around. Went to the post office to pick up the fan mail. Did some shopping. Did some visiting. Cass has another cat.”

At mention of ‘shopping,’ the small box in his pocket of his apron seems to grow heavier. He gives the salad greens in the bowl before him another toss to banish anxiousness. “Doesn’t that make four? Is she planning to start her own shelter?”

His heart shrugs and asks, “How’d the thing go?”

“Cathartic, actually. I didn’t strike him, as I thought I might. But I said some things I’m not proud of. Elgar’nan always brings out the worst in me, I’m afraid. There isn’t much about him that I don’t detest.”

Ellana nuzzles deeper into his shoulderblades. Only then does he feel how tense she holds her body, how her hands shake where they clutch at him. He tries to look over his shoulder to see her face, but she’s buried it well at his back. He can only see her mane of wild hair. “What’s the matter, vhenan?”

After a pregnant pause, she says, “Merrill called. Trial starts next week.”

The wooden forks in his hands clatter into the bowl and he sets palms to countertop to steady himself. Taking a deep breath, he turns in the circle of her arms and sweeps her into a crushing embrace. Her body trembles against his like a vibrating wire. “Shh, shh. It’s going to be alright.”

She gives a weak laugh against his chest. Her voice, when it comes, sounds reedy and somber, “No, I don’t think it is.” It sounds far more final and certain than it should, considering they had a pretty decent plan in place for the trial.

“What do you mean?” Wetness at his neck and the sharp sting of saltwater in his nostrils sounds an alarm in his head. Solas pulls back to look at her face. Tears draw dark lines through her mascara and down her red cheeks from bloodshot green eyes. Suddenly their hue pokes at him. His memory. The exact same green color somewhere else, somewhere recent, that he cannot pla—

In her features, he sees pain, terror, remorse. A tremor at his own heart for whatever it is she’s endured in the last few hours, or perhaps even longer. Something she’s afraid to tell him. “Vhenan, you can tell me anything.”

“Emma lath, I’m—”

Their doorbell rings, shattering their intense communion. Ellana jumps as though electrocuted, and both their heads whip around to the door. She looks back at him and says, “Expecting someone?”

He shakes his head and frowns.

The bell rings again, this time followed by a measured, heavy knock. Wary, he steps toward an end table by the couch, pulling out the drawer and putting the deadly item revealed inside the pocket of his apron. In the meantime, Ellana’s gone to the door to look through the peephole. Her expression, when she turns back to him, is shock and fear combined.

“What do you want?” she calls through the door.

“Simply to talk,” comes the reply. A jolt runs through him as he recognizes it. In a few quick strides, Solas is there. He hands Ellana the dish towel from over his shoulder to dry her face and, with a deep breath, reaches for the deadbolt.

Opening the door a crack, Solas peers out and locks his glare onto Corypheus’s icy blue eyes. “So talk.”

Those thin, cruel lips tip into a smirk. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

“Entry into this house is barred to all but friends. And you are most certainly no friend. Any words you might have, you can say to our lawyer.” Solas sneers.

As he moves to shut the door, something on the other side prevents him from closing it fully. He puts a shoulder to it but finds it immovable. His whole weight and it doesn’t budge an inch.

Corypheus rumbles an amused chuckle. “I’m afraid I must insist.”

Then that something starts to push back, until he’s driven backward and the door hits the wall with a soft thud. Stunned, he looks and sees a dark hand pressing the wood. The hand leads to slim arm and on up to an elven face topped in white locks.  Tattoos with a pearly sheen adorn every inch of skin exposed to the air. Not that there’s much. The elf stands abreast of Corypheus in tactical armor, an assault rifle strapped over his chest. What manner of creature is he? To have such supernatural strength?

Another elf slouches at Corypheus’s other flank, blond with facial tattoos. Solas fishes the man’s name from memory. Zevran, lead singer of the Crows. From his slack, blank features and blown pupils, Solas can tell the elf is high. Very high.

Behind him, Solas hears Ellana scramble, probably for her phone.

Their intruder warns, “Ah, ah, I wouldn’t do that, my dear. My associate gets a little … trigger happy when he thinks law enforcement might become involved. Also, no need to be dramatic, I really only wish a word with you both. Come along, Zev.”

With that, Corypheus sweeps into their beachhouse with Zevran close at heel like a silent ghost. The Imperium CEO looks around with a vaguely interested air. Concluding his examination with a disdainful sniff, the blasted man turns and enters the kitchen. “In the middle of dinner preparations, I see.”

Solas follows him, taking Ellana by the hand when Corypheus’s frost-haired enforcer gestures that they should walk ahead of him. In the bright overhead lights of the kitchen, Corypheus looks even more ghoulish. He’d always been cadaverous, but time has not aged him well.

Solas’s lip curls in revulsion as the man’s fingers dip into their salad to scoop out a sliced strawberry. Oily with dressing, those fingers then sweep toward Zevran. “Open.”

Zevran’s lips part in baffled obedience and Corypheus pops the fruit past his teeth. As the elf chews, Corypheus asks, “Is it good, my pet?”

The drugged singer nods, slow as though it takes great effort to do so. Ellana makes a noise in her throat, an aborted retch of disgust and anger.

“So, the old ways are come again, are they?” Solas asks, sharp and furious. “String them out on junk, and they’ll do anything.”

“I’m merely reinstating the … natural order of the world. Look at Zevran, here. And dear Fenris out there. How quickly your kind bends to leash and collar.”

A strangled hiss is his only warning before Ellana tries to lunge past him to tackle Corypheus. Solas holds her back with both arms around her waist. Both her thrown punches are short of the mark by a hair. “Ellana, don’t.”

“Never again shall we submit!”

Oh, she’s one of those,” says Corypheus with mild intrigue.

She struggles in Solas’s arms. “Fucking fuck! Let me zap him! Just one good, bone-charring zap!”

“Look!” And he turns them both toward Fenris, whose tattoos glow with an eerie light. Activated, they sing to his magical senses. Lyrium.

“What the fuck? What is he?”

“I don’t know, but I suspect he can stop us if we try to use magic.”

“Like those thugs, the Templars?” She stills with dread.

He unwinds his arms from around her, but keeps hold of her hand. For mutual comfort. “Possibly.”

“Shall we retire to your living room?” Corypheus says, with a grandiose wave. As though this were his house instead of theirs.

The gall of the man.

Solas tamps down the blinding rage in his breast and edges around the Tevinter, Ellana tucked tight into his side. Then they stalk into the living room and sit on the sofa. He looks at Ellana and sees the terror she is so valiantly hiding behind a blank mask. Only the muscle twitching at her jaw gives it away.

Corypheus and Zevran sit across from them in the loveseat while Fenris stands near the fireplace, a silent sentinel. The blond’s vague and uncertain stare focuses on them for a moment. From his throat comes a garbled and slurred, “I … remember you! Where was it again? Somewhere in the … March-”

“Hush, pet.” Corypheus gives the elf’s hair a sharp tug. With a pained grunt, Zevran subsides and curls into the Tevinter’s side. Corypheus’s lip curls a fraction, exposing the man’s sadistic pleasure. Then he addresses Solas and Ellana, “You’ve been quite a nuisance. Both of you. Quite creative confounding my maneuvering in the courts up north. More creative than I expected of two knife-eared thieves.”

“That you underestimated us is your failing.” Solas sniffs in derision.

“No. Elves should know their place and leave all the creative thinking to their betters.” Corypheus flicks imaginary dust off his suit’s pant leg. “Anyway, the problem you two present is over now. I will have what is mine despite your interferences. No matter the means.”

A quiver of fear slides through him. “So you plan to murder us in our home over a guitar pick?”

Corypheus laughs. “Murder you? My dear Fen’harel, I don’t have to murder people to get what I want. It’s so … inelegant. No. I come to offer you a choice.”

Solas and Ellana look at one another with unease. Then she says, “What choice?”

Petting Zevran’s hair in a gross imitation of affection, Corypheus hums in satisfaction, then says, “It occurs to me your defense is a three-legged stool. Take one leg away and it cannot stand. The very … pert Ms. Sabrae is one leg and each of you are the remaining two. Now, I could have Ms. Sabrae removed, but you now have a veritable fleet of lawyers waiting in the wings. They multiply like plague rats, do they not? So I’d be at it for eternity.”

He chuckles at his own joke before continuing, “So, that leaves you two. Which shall it be, hm? The defendant, who, if she fails to appear before the court at the appointed time, will be hunted like the criminal she is, and will, no doubt, be caught, adding more charges to the list. Or … the linchpin, whose testimony is key to proving the provenance of the foci?”

Solas frowns and glares at the man across from him. “Without my testimony, Ellana will be found guilty of the most damning charge laid against her and could spend years in prison.”

Corypheus lifts a finger and wags it back and forth. “As she should. That’s justice.” Then before the angry retort can fly from Solas’s mouth, he interrupts to say, “However, if you don’t testify, or if she isn’t present for the trial, I have a feeling a plea bargain will suddenly arrive on Ms. Sabrae’s desk. One that will amount to a slap on the wrist in comparison.”

Gnawing at his inner cheek. Solas takes a deep breath. “Since any agreement we make will dissolve the second your piggish self is out the door and we phone the police, I assume you have some means to ensure our compliance?”

Corypheus’s lips stretch in a death’s head grin. “I do. One of you will be my guest for the interim. You’ll be treated well and returned at the sentencing.”

Ellana shifts next to him. A flash of premonition draws Solas forward to say, “I’ll go with you.”

“Solas, no!” yells Ellana in dismay.

“I don’t think we have much of a choice,” he replies. “And I will not have you at this man’s mercy for any length of time.” And he shoots a venomous glare at Corypheus, who spreads his hands as though wounded by Solas’s estimation of him. Though the wicked smirk did not quell those fears.

Ellana’s elbow jabs him hard in the ribs, and she says, low and angry, “Enough of this stupid, chivalrous bullshit! It should be me. I stole the damn thing, Solas.”

“Ellana, I’m going with him,” he says, with finality. Solas stands and turns to Corypheus. “Shall we?”

“We can just refuse, can’t we? Go deadweight on the carpet,” pleads Ellana, pulling at his elbow. “What’s he going to do?”

Solas closes his eyes as Corypheus answers, “I do abhor violence, but it is effective. Fenris is … adept, shall we say, at making things appear to be other things. This could just as easily turn into a home invasion gone wrong. I’m afraid we’d have to … do things to you both while you still breathed to sell that, though.”

Ellana’s hand clenches on his sleeve in horror.

Solas takes that hand and draws her up to her feet before opening his eyes and looking into her blanched and frightened face. Leaning down, he gives her a soft kiss to her unresisting, unresponsive mouth. “It will be alright, vhenan. This is my fault. I didn’t think even he would go this far. Not over a trifle.”

Then he turns to Corypheus. “Let’s go.”

And he leaves her there, standing awkwardly by their couch in the middle of the home they’d made together. Corypheus and Zevran trail in his wake. Fenris, however, does not move with them. “What about him?”

Corypheus grins again. “Oh, didn’t I say? How silly of me. He stays with the other party, to make sure our little bargain stays just between us. Can’t have baseless accusations of kidnapping flying around. Don’t worry. He won’t harm her if everyone cooperates.”

Hollow dread settles in his belly. But what is done is done. He forces his head to remain high, though all it wants to do is sink between his shoulders in defeat. But he will not let Corypheus see his weakness. Not ever.

At the door, Corypheus turns and says, “Be kind to Fenris, dear. I borrowed him from a friend, and I like to return his things to him intact.”

At the top of the dune, a limo waits. Solas slides into the back as Corypheus and Zevran take the rear-facing seats across. Crossing his arms, he glares at the Tevinter’s smug countenance.

“Come. Let us talk, Fen’harel. It’s been ages.”

“I have nothing to say to you, monster.”

“Oooh. That brings back memories. Wasn’t that what you shouted at me in that board meeting all those years ago?”

Refusing to be baited, Solas resolves to remain silent.

“I’d like to be able to say it hurt my feelings, but let’s face it, the opinions of the lowly never really amounted to much, am I right?” Corypheus continues, “However, there is something you could clarify for me. Enlighten me about.”

Solas tilts his head and waits.

Corypheus pushes Zevran off him and leans forward. “Who created the foci?”

And he can’t help himself.

Solas laughs. Long and loud.

Chapter Text

A loud knock on their bedroom door wakes her out of fitful slumber. The kitchen knife is in her hand before she’s fully aware of her surroundings. She blinks the fog out of her eyes to see it pointed at the door.

Then memory intrudes and a fresh wave of tears starts to flow down her cheeks. She feels betrayed by her body for daring to sleep with Solas out there somewhere, being subjected to who knows what. The knock comes again and she scoots further into the corner of the room, carpet burning the skin on the back of her legs. Her neck and back ache from huddling in the corner all night like a trapped animal.

When that damn puppet of Corypheus’s tries the knob, she growls. “Go away!”

It only takes a single kick to open it and suddenly terror swamps her again as her unwelcome guest strides into the room, looking utterly unruffled as he peers around her and Solas’s bedroom.

Fenris’s gaze drops down to take in the knife she’s brandishing in his direction, then his eyes roll in derision. In a voice surprisingly deep and almost velvety, he says, “Time to go, Miss Lavellan.”

He takes another few steps her way and she swings the knife through the air, a snarl on her lips. “Don’t touch me!”

His lips curl in an answering sneer. “Believe me, that’s the last thing I want to do.”

The disgust on his face spurs her to lunge to her feet. “Then back the fuck off! I’ll gut you.”

In answer, he takes a defiant step forward.

When she raises her hand to strike, Fenris steps inside the arc of her swing and pins her against the wall. His hand closes around her wrist and squeezes, grinding her bones together. Sharp pain lances up her arm and she cries out. The knife goes thump-thumping to the carpet.

Fenris steps away and kicks it to the far side of the room before addressing her again, “Stop resisting and things will go much easier for you.”

Rubbing her hurt limb, she glares with all the blazing hate she can muster. In her mind’s eye, she sees him catch fire and burn, burn, burn. “Just lie back and enjoy it, huh? Fuck you.”

The skin around his eyes tightens before he looks away from her, scanning the room with perfunctory aloofness. “Our plane leaves in a few hours, or so your itinerary says. Pack.”

She stares at him, disbelieving. “You’re actually gonna let me out of this house.”

He shrugs. “Why not? My employer has your … lover? Husband? Should you sound an alarm in public, I assure you word will get back to him and what he will do then, well, let’s just say it probably won’t be pleasant. That should be enough to ensure your good behavior.”

Damn him, he’s right.

She swallows back the fear that arises again at the thought of Solas. Panicking would do neither of them any favors.

Feeling ashamed and helpless, she starts to pack, dragging her suitcases to the bed and filling them with ill grace. Then she looks around, searching. “Where’s my phone?”

“Destroyed.”

She rounds on him, furious. “Are you fucking serious? How am I supposed to … fucking function without a phone? My friends are gonna find it a little … suspicious if they suddenly can’t get a hold of me! How am I going to explain away Solas being missing and I didn’t call anybody?”

He stares at her like she’s a child throwing a tantrum before saying one word, “Lie.”

Throwing her hands up in frustration and fury, she plops onto the foot of the bed. The tears that threaten this time, she wills away with the razor edge of that white-hot anger. This man and his … employer come into their house, violating their sanctuary like bandits and taking—

No.

No more weeping. She won’t give them the satisfaction.

After a moment, she calms enough to stand once more and continue packing. Then she plucks at the edge of her nightshirt, worrying at her lip before saying, “I need to change. Get out of our room.”

Then she looks around at him, spearing him with an adamant stare.

Fenris’s brow rises and he turns to the door, pausing at the threshold to say over his shoulder, “There are to be no more locked doors between us. Until this … situation is resolved, you will stay within earshot.”

“What if I need to use the bathroom?”

“Then you will leave the door open. I will respect your privacy as far as my contract with Ser Corypheus allows.” With that, he disappears around the side of the doorframe.

She notes that he doesn’t bother to pick up the knife on the way out. Her threat must be laughably negligible to him.

Later on, at the airport, she turns to her white-haired shadow, eyeing his dufflebag. “Hope you didn’t bring that gun with you. Wouldn’t it just suck if you were detained by airport security?” Her tone says she’d relish the look on his face as he’s carted away.

A wry smile lifts the corner of his dour mouth. “I did not. But rest assured, I would not need a gun to kill every single person on that plane if I had to.”

She shivers at the bald promise of carnage, knowing somehow in her heart its truth. She mutters, “Just what the fuck are you?”

“Tired of inane questions,” he retorts.

Then he waves her on ahead of him through the umbilicus after they pass over their tickets to be scanned. Fenris doesn’t sit next to her on the plane. His is behind her. No, that window seat remains Solas’s and she stares at the cushion of the empty seat and bites the inside of her cheek to tamp down the surge of despair. In memory, flashing images keep surfacing. Her leaning over him to look out the window, breathing deep to take in his clean, woodsy aftershave as his voice whispers in her ear about the lands they’re flying over. Places he’s been. Things he’s seen.

The plane lifts into the air with these thoughts parading around in her mind, taunting her for her cowardice.

Her arms wrap around her middle as she shivers, suddenly cold.

A tap on her elbow makes her jump. She turns to see a folded bit of grey flannel in a dark hand with white tattoos rolling over wrist and disappearing under sleeve.

Fenris gives the blanket a little bob. “Take it. Try to get some sleep.” Somehow, it doesn’t sound patronizing.

Wondering at why he’d even care, she plucks it from his hand and unfolds it in her lap, draping it over herself. Her eyes close, then shoot back open. She leans around the back of her seat to look at Fenris. The Skymall catalog in his hands drops a little as he meets her gaze over the top of it. One black brow lifts in question.

“Just what the hell am I supposed to tell people about you?” She snorts. “Lie again? Like they’re going to believe you’re just some stray I picked up.”

Fenris smiles, a crooked smirk that in other instances might almost be charming. “Then lie well.”

She huffs and settles back into her chair. With a certain, vindictive pleasure, she reclines her seat as far back as it will go. Fenris gives a little ‘harrumph’ that makes her grin a savage grin. Then the stress and exhaustion of the last day steal her away to a place in the Fade where fragments of nightmares try to peel her apart. Solas dead. Solas tortured. A litany of truly awful things.

Jolting awake as the plane touches down, Ellana sits up. Somehow, while she slept, her seat had been returned to its upright position. She spares a venomous glance for Fenris as she stands with the other passengers, reaching for her carry-on. Joining the slow shuffle to the exit, she blinks in the harsh dusklight streaming in through the terminal windows.

The familiar Minrathous skyline greets her gaze as she looks out toward the city.

“Baggage claim is this way,” says Fenris, at her ear. His hand closes on her elbow, a reminder of her dire circumstances. The strength in those fingers frightens her into compliance.

Outside, someone rushes right into her, arms going around her in a crushing hug. “Ellana!”

In her periphery, Fenris tenses, then relaxes.

“Sera!” she calls back, weakly. Embracing her back, she notes the heavy chlorine smell wafting off the blond. “Someone’s been at the pool.” And then she sees the black van beyond her. Familiar, welcoming faces peer out at her from within the open door. Biting her lip to keep from breaking down, she smiles as brightly as she can.

“Where’s Sol-arse?” Sera says, looking around her.

Josie and Merrill step out of the waiting chartered van next. Merrill says, “Yes, where is Solas?”

“He … had some things to take care of so he’s taking a later flight.”

To Josie’s incredulous stare, Ellana says, “What? We’re not joined at the hip, you know.”

“Coulda fooled us!” Sera cajoles, giving her a hard nudge in the ribs.

Merrill looks at her silent stalking shadow. “Who’s this then?”

Pushing down the panic, she says, “Oh, this is Fenris. Fenris, this is Sera, Merrill and Josie.” Their puzzled faces have her stammering, then inspiration strikes. “H-he’s my new bodyguard. S-solas insisted.” Solas is right. Lies taste rotten. And this one’s a whopper. A white whale of mistruth.

Fenris touches his forelock in an almost reflexive soldier’s salute. How odd. Even he seems a little taken aback by the gesture, brow pinched as he stares at his hand. She files it away to think about later.

Sera frowns. “Why do you need your own personal, special bodyguard?”

As Josie ushers them all into the van after tucking their luggage away in the back, Ellana thinks of an answer. Something occurs that’s a little too close to the truth for comfort, but what the hell. “While we were in Kirkwall, Corypheus contacted us.”

Fenris’s warning look heats the side of her face.

Merrill pounces on the information like a mabari with a favorite toy. “Did he make any threats? Anything direct? Anything actionable?”

‘Actionable?’ Ellana reads what she means through context and the hungry look in the elf’s wide, moss-green eyes. The hunger to sue the pants off a certain CEO. “Nothing I can prove. Honestly, it was all so vague I’m not sure if he was threatening us or propositioning us ‘Indecent Proposal’ style. Just a bunch of garbled euphemisms.”

Fenris snorts a chuckle before relaxing into the vinyl seats.

“So then your beau hires tall, dark and spooky here to watch your arse while he goes and does what, exactly?” says Sera, pointed and tenacious.

“Sera,” she warns, with disapproving frown.

“I mean, he just disappears without a word on wot he’s doin’? If Widdle did that, I’d be steamin’—”

“Solas isn’t Wid-Dagna. He said it was important, so it was.” Ellana twitches under the strain of lying so blatantly to her friends. “Maybe the difference between us is that I trust Solas.”

Clearly hurt, Sera leans back into her seat. “Fine. Wha’eva.”

Shame throws a dagger right through her heart, a burning empty agony.

The rest of the ride elapses in awkward silence. The blessed, cool air of the hotel’s lobby washes over her face. The others go to check her in.

“Ellana!” calls a male voice from her right. Varric saunters up to her, wide grin on his face. She leans over to hug him and to give his topknot a little tug. He frowns in mock anger as he flaps her hands away. “I’ve been trying to call. But it just goes to voicemail.”

Too aware of Fenris’s stare on the back of her neck, she shifts on her feet. “Yeah …. My phone broke. Like completely. And the replacement’s in the mail. I won’t get it till next week, or so they say.”

Void, the lies are spilling out of her so easily now.

She grimaces.

“Well, shit. You can use mine whenever,” Varric offers, running a consoling hand over her arm. “Where’s your other half?”

“Seriously, you too? We are two independent units, Varric. Fully capable of being apart for significant amounts of time.”

Varric looks at her askance for a moment. “What? You two kids have a fight?”

“No!” she says, a bit sullen. “He’s taking a later flight, is all. He had things to take care of.”

Another person approaches and Varric is thankfully distracted. “Oh! You’ll never guess who I found wandering around downtown Minrathous.”

She turns to the newcomer, a tall, rather burly human with choppy black hair under a cowboy hat. A acoustic guitar rests across his back. Wearing a loud, red flannel shirt over tight jeans over dirty boots, he grins at her with disarming friendliness. “Ma’am.” He even tips his hat with the greeting, bright blue eyes twinkling.

“This is Hawke. You remember? I told you about him.” Varric’s hand waves at her in expectation.

“Oh! Country music, right?” She sticks her hand out and he shakes it, warm.

“Country-western, if we’re gonna be exact.” Then Hawke looks past her to the elf in her wake. “And who is this?

“Fenris. He’s my new, er, bodyguard,” she manages to stammer, taking a step to the side as Hawke extends his hand to the elf.

“An ‘er’ bodyguard, hmm? Seems like a waste of a perfectly handsome elf. All those dangerous situation where good looks can get ruined. Here I was hoping he was another of Varric’s ‘shining young talents.’” The human waggles his brows in more than just friendly interest. “Unattached?”

A sputtering coughing laugh draws her eye to Fenris, who stares at Hawke with wide, green eyes. He licks his lips and says, “Yes. But uninterested.”

Something in his tone, a quaver perhaps, makes her brows jump high on her forehead.

Hawke turns his body to sidle toward the elf in a nonthreatening manner. “With the voice of an angel, no less. Maybe I’ll see you around?”

Then Varric draws the human away, the beginning of a new story on his laughing lips and Ellana watches Fenris stare after Hawke. The creeping redness stealing into his dark cheeks makes the corners of her mouth twitch. The first real mirth she’s felt in days.

And the spark of inspiration plants another wild idea in her head.

Chapter Text

“May I ask what is so funny?”

Solas’s ribs hurt as he wheezes to a stop. “You may.”

His flippant remark causes a dangerous light to grow in the empty eyes of the gaunt man sitting across from him in the car.

Zevran’s sympathetic giggling dies down, too. The blond blinks and sits up straighter, as though confused as to why they’d been laughing. A wave of pity washes over Solas as he watches Zevran’s lost expression.

With the pity comes memory. A memory of someone else playing the pet at this monster’s side. Only then rage had tainted pity. Impotent fury.

“I will have answers, Fen’harel,” says Corypheus, with a growl. “You think it’s an accident you are here with me and not that insipid elven whore of yours? I knew well you’d never let her near me. Not after—”

Solas bares his teeth and interrupts, “Insult her, insult either of them again and this conversation is through.”

“The conversation is through when I say it is through!”

Solas very pointedly closes his mouth. Crossing his arms, he turns a disinterested eye out the window. Kirkwall’s buildings pass in a blur. His heart pounds with worry for Ellana, trapped in their home with a violent stranger. So help him if any harm comes to her—

“One would think since I have the fate of your ladylove in my hands, you’d be more … accommodating,” says Corypheus, the sly old snake.

His head whips back around to pin the old bastard with a glare. The knowing look on Corypheus’s face makes his fists clench and a hateful pressure build beneath his breastbone.

“Shall I give Fenris a little call? Tell him you’re being less than cooperative?”

Solas forces words out of his stiff lips, “That won’t be necessary.”

The man across from him chuckles, dark and gloating. “Then tell me what I wish to know.”

That again. The mirth from earlier bubbles up, but he keeps it in check. “I’m not in the habit of betraying those who I call friends.”

“No, just everyone from your former life. The label who gave you dirty streetrats a shot. The fans who gave you their hearts. What was it you did with them? Ah, that’s right. You made them enemies of the state. All the states. You know, there is no surer path to the death penalty than domestic terrorism—”

“Perhaps if the boot holding us down had lifted of its own accord, then things wouldn’t have been pushed to such extremes—”

“Really? You would justify all that was done in your name? The name of your old band? Shall I pull up the numbers?” Corypheus leans forward, menacing and smug in equal parts. “How many died at Gwaren again?”

The stench of smoke from that awful day fills his nostrils, smoke and burning flesh—

Orange light reflects off the bottoms of the thunderheads through the Warehouse’s skylights. Packed panicking bodies rushing for exits as more hollow booming sounds in his ringing ears. Along with the pop-popping of firearms firing somewhere nearby. Security hustles them along inside the wall they made of their bodies. The ground under his feet should be hard, but it’s not. It’s soft, squishy and yielding. He looks down to see the trampled body under his heels, the battered adolescent face turned to the firelit sky with its open, unseeing eyes.

Horror steals his wits as he’s shoved along to safety. The only thought left runs round and round in his head, condemning him with every pass. ‘We’ve gone too far. We’ve gone too far.’

‘We’ve gone too far.’

In the present, he thinks, We always went too far.

“Not to mention the betrayal of Evanuris. I believe not a one holds you with less than pure contempt.”

Elgar’nan’s voice sounds in his mind, ‘We never blamed you, just so you know. Oh, there was anger, but it was a petty breed of anger. I was petulant because you interrupted my supply chain. Just for doing that, I cannot thank you enough.’

And his pulse slows to something less hectic. Odd how the words of a man he hated (hated?) brings him some measure of calm now. A surprising bulwark against Corypheus’s poisonous words.

“I mean, the drugs might’ve killed Mythal, but you murdered her memory.”

What should have been a fatal stab only cuts him. Deeply. Bleeding, but not vanquished. Solas draws a deep breath, settling the guilt back into its place within him. No, he will not be broken by this monster’s guile.

Corypheus peers at him, a displeased glitter in his icy stare. “She should have been forever mourned by the whole world and you let her die in obscurity, forgotten. With the damn gag orders and confidentiality agreements.”

As though, to save their reputation, Imperium hadn’t signed so quickly Solas had been surprised the paper hadn’t caught fire from the friction.

Solas breathes in through his nose and out his mouth. “She is missed. By those who know and love her, she is mourned. And that is enough. You’ll not pull what you want to know from me through my shame. Such tactics no longer work on me.”

The blasted man settles back in his seat with a ‘harumph’ of thwarted desire. Then a smirk tugs at Corypheus’s lips once more. “You will tell me who created the foci. We’ve days to talk, you and I. Days and days. I will find something that works.”

He cannot deny a slinking dread creeping into his belly. For if Corypheus is anything, he is devious. And ruthless.

Ellana springs to mind once more and he knows that if pushed, there is all the leverage Corypheus will ever need. Solas shows none of this on his face as he says, pondering, “Hmm. You had the thing in your possession for at least a decade. Could you not discern a means to recreate the magic?” His tone says it all. Disdain. Ridicule.

Corypheus smirk sours into a bitter scowl. “You know I did not.”

Solas laughs, scornful and contemptuous. “And you have no idea why not, do you.” Not a question.

“Just tell me!”

He stares at the man for a long time before stating, calm and mild, “I can’t believe you’d do all this for a mere bauble, no matter how intriguing. Honestly, it’s a very unhealthy fixation you’ve developed.”

“If it’s just a bauble, then where’s the harm in telling me?” Corypheus reasons with a practiced sneer.

“Perhaps I just want to vex my kidnapper. Perhaps in my outrage, I don’t care to give in to your wants.” Solas leans back into the cushion of the carseat, body language rife with mockery. “I’m just trying to imagine what in the world could possess you so. What ambition? Is it some sad, moronic delusion of world domination you dream of? Do you seek to dominate your competitors through magical manipulation? Wait ….

He takes in Corypheus’s wide, almost manic eyes and flared nostrils with fascination. But whatever it is, it’s not anger. It’s too devoid of emotion to be called anger. And an insight strikes, hard and true. “You never got it to work! Now that is funny.” He huffs a dry chuckle. For the sheer satisfaction of doing so, he goads, “That’s probably the most pathetic thing I’ve heard in my life.”

Corypheus jerks in his seat, the only warning Solas has before the human lunges across the space between them and starts choking Solas with both hands. A ringing slap dizzies the elf, throwing sparks against the insides of his eyelids. A bony fist smashes into his ribs and all his air whooshes out, splattering Corypheus’s face with blood. Most terrifying is the horrible blankness of his features, the crazed glow of his wide, unblinking eyes.

Solas’s hand works between them into his apron pocket as the monster continues to brutalize him with slaps and punches. Fury makes it easy to ignore the pain.  A sharp click sounds in the sudden stillness of the car. Corypheus freezes above him as Solas presses the barrel of the small revolver further into the man’s belly. 

Through split and bloody lips, Solas hisses, “Get. The. Fuck. Off.”

Sitting back on his heels, Corypheus stares at the gun pointed steadily at him as he slides back into his seat. Solas spits a bloody wad of phlegm onto the floorboard, and says, “It would be so easy to end you right now. But I’ll play your stupid game, monster, because I’m sure you have all sorts of clever contingencies in place in the event of your untimely death or if I jump from this car and start running. And I can’t abide anyone”—Ellana—”suffering because I couldn’t control my urge to murder you. And I do so want to murder you.”

“Fen’harel, you’re no killer—” The man’s voice is a cajoling, sickly sweet offense on his ears.

“Do not speak.” Solas touches his sore and tender lip. “That is the last time you will ever touch me.” His eye falls to the prone, baffled face of Zevran. “Or him. Zevran, come sit over here.”

The blond looks toward Corypheus, whose lips now curl with contempt for Solas’s ‘sentiment.’ Then, hesitant, Zevran moves to his side and sits as far from Solas as he can, eyes on the gun.

“Zevran, do you have a cell phone?” asks Solas, keeping the gun’s deadly end trained on Corypheus.

“Fen’harel, if you warn anyone, your prec—”

“Yes, yes. More tiresome threats. I’m all too aware of the stakes.” With a demanding wave, Solas puts his hand out to the other elf, who gingerly places a phone in his palm. Then to Corypheus, he says, cold inside and out, “Where are we going?”

Corypheus just smiles and spreads his hands.

“Minrathous,” says the shaky voice of Zevran. 

Solas shoots him a grateful look before asking, “How are we getting there?”

With a glare for Zevran, promising pain, Corypheus says, “Private jet. You remember?”

Sneering, Solas says, “You never change, do you.” With his free hand, he types in a number, then holds the phone up to his ear.

It rings a few times before being picked up. “Hello?”

“Dorian.”

“Solas? What’s wrong? Why aren’t you calling from your own number?”

“Nevermind all that. Are you in Kirkwall?”

“Yes? I was actually about to come see you two at the beachhouse before you both head off tomorrow—”

He interrupts, trying to keep his tone flat and bland, “Don’t. There’s been a change in plans. Come meet me at the private airstrip east of town. There’s someone I need you to take care of for me.”

“What do you mean take care of?”

“Like after Seheron. Remember?”

A hush on the other end as Dorian probably needed to gather his wits. “Well, I hope they’re not as filthy as you were.”

“He’s not.” He chuckles for the benefit of his friend before adding, “Thank you, Dorian.”

A dubious snort in his ear before Dorian replies, “You better be grateful. I don’t run a rehab, I’ll have you know. See you soon.” The line closes with a beep.

Corypheus’s lip curls in a cruel mockery of a smile. “How sweetly touching. Are you going to save poor little Zev from me and from his sorry vices? Whatever will you do when he comes crawling back?”

“Did I?” With a foul taste in his mouth, Solas addresses the man, “Did it really never occur to you why the foci spurned you?”

Driven back to the topic of his obsession, Corypheus’s eyes sharpened anew in a piercing glower.

“The answer is so obvious. There is no key. No magic word. If the foci does not respond, it is because there is nothing recognizable to respond to.” Solas jabs his gun in the air between them to drive his point home as he says, “Empathy, you sad sack of shit. Empathy. You have to have feelings in order to project them.”

The veneer of civility falls from the man’s face, showing Solas the flat, alien horror that had always lurked just beneath. “You’re lying.”

“You only wish I do, because that lack in your self is revealed for all to see the second you hold one. It turned black as pitch, didn’t it? How many do you have in your collection? Were you convinced they only worked for whom they were crafted?”

He snorts before continuing, “But that didn’t mean you could not feel what others projected, did it? How new it must have been. How enthralling. The white-hot burst of joy. The hearth-warmth of happiness. Even the satisfying thunder of rage in your breast. It must have been life-changing others take these things for granted.” Solas sees the man give a shiver, and feels pity despite himself. “It takes an addict to know an addict. And you, you were not content to bask in secondhand bliss, were you? But you don’t need a fix, Corypheus. You need therapy.” The more he speaks, the more convinced he is of the truth of his words.

Hollow Corypheus sinks into himself, only his empty burning eyes seem alive in his face. “You have to be lying. I will have it. It will be mine. It will all be mine.”

Solas wonders if the man knows how mad he sounds and shakes his head. Fear touches him, for the ball is set in motion and he is trapped here with the insane old bastard, as long as Corypheus holds the leash of the killer in Ellana’s company.

Later, as he passes Zevran off to a very concerned Dorian whose questions cannot be answered in full, Solas contents himself with the notion that at least one friend is out of the line of fire. A few words of caution and explanation, and he knows Dorian will disappear, at least for now.

“Here,” he says, to the still muggy Zevran as he hands him a business card with ‘S.A.G.A.S.’ printed on it in big, bold letters. “For if or when you have need.”

The blond nods in thanks as Solas turns and enters the small jet. Dorian looks at him one last time, worry drawing deep lines in his handsome face. Solas wants to tell him it will be alright, but the platitude would brim with falsity.

For even he didn’t know if anything could turn out alright. 

So he waves instead, and hopes it’s not goodbye.

Chapter Text

Step One: Get to Know Your Captor.

Or rather, she amends, get him to see you as a person and not a payday.

Though that last, she’s … not sure of. She’s known a few Carta hitmen and enforcers in her time, and Fenris, while obviously a consummate killer, doesn’t really feel like a gun for hire. Oh, he has all the earmarks of a soldier of fortune; the preternatural alertness, the light sleeping, the ability to size anyone up with a mere glance. But it only takes a day or so for her to lose her abject fright of him. As long as she remains non-threatening, he’s almost … docile.

And there are moments of … hesitation.

Of faltering when presented with perfectly normal behavior. Like hugging. Inquisition is a huggy bunch. The huggiest. And while they never approach him with their zeal for physical contact, Ellana cannot help but notice how Fenris’s whole body seizes into a tight line whenever it starts happening, and stays that way until it ends.

What’s so threatening about hugging anyway?

She puzzles it over as she watches the elf stare at the bowl of cereal she places before him. For a moment, he looks very … lost, like he’s not sure what he’s looking at. Or like he’s on the verge of thinking something and it’s just out of his reach.

Then he takes the spoon she’s offering and tucks in. With a slight frown, he pauses his chewing to say, “Is this pure sugar?”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing. Besides,” she says, “it’s all we got, seeing as someone tore all the phonejacks out of the wall. Can’t call room service. Can’t even order a pizza. So, it’s gotta be whatever I can steal from the lobby. Which meeeeans … continental breakfast for lunch. And dinner. And probably breakfast.”

Fenris grunts, but hunches over the bowl anyway.

The soft chatter of the TV from his rooms across the suites’ dividing door reaches her ear, and she sighs. Somehow, he got the adjoining room, much to her surprise and displeasure. Then he’d trooped around her room, removing anything she might use to thwart his employer’s designs. 

It’s disgustingly impressive how thorough this weird bastard is.

With a heavy sigh, Ellana settles across from him to dig into her own bowl of cereal. In almost companionable silence, they eat.

Finally, she says, “So where you from?”

“Far away,” comes the short answer in clipped tones.

“Wow, just making conversation.” She stomps down the wave of irritation. It would only spoil her aim here. “Soooo, Fenris. Er, is that a last name or a first name? Middle name? Nickname?”

“It’s a name,” he says, sharp. She shuts her mouth with a snap and looks away, then back at him. Fenris peers at her, uncertain. Some other emotion flickers in his gaze as well. Something like wistful layered with suspicion. She gets the idea that he didn’t really mean to shut down their conversation. 

He asks, “Why would I need more than one?”

That seems like a sincere query, like he really doesn’t know.

Taken aback, she chews her current mouthful of food and swallows. “Well, most people who want my attention call me Ellana, but I’m also a Lavellan. Ellana Lavellan.”

“I knew this already. But why have a second name if you rarely use it?” No guile taints his wide, mossy gaze.

Again, that puzzling ignorance pokes at her. So she decides to answer it as though he really means it, hoping he’s just not being a facetious prick. “Couple of reasons. Lavellan is my surname. Most surnames are regional. They, uh, show where you’re from. Or, well, where your people are from.”

He blinks at her for a moment before asking, “And where are your people from?”

A wrenching in her ribcage surprises her and she almost chokes on some cereal. Ellana ventures a glance at Fenris’s face, looking for a hidden agenda there under his oddly open countenance. Seeing nothing, she mentally backpedals, not wanting to discuss her personal history with her jailer.

His expression starts to close in the face of her reticence. A door that she can almost see, titanium and immovable once sealed. Sensing her opportunity slipping away, she blurts, “The Brecilian Forest. Or thereabouts anyway. Really, you’ll find Lavellans all over eastern Ferelden.”

In the next second, she’s glad she went with honest, because his steady, unnerving stare searches her face for lies. She has a feeling he can see right through her. A tense moment later, he relaxes. Frowning, Fenris comments, “But you have a home in Kirkwall?”

She shrugs. “I settled there after a long, nomadic childhood.”

His mouth opens and closes a couple times before he sits back on his stool with a frustrated scowl. It’s another moment of strangeness, like there’s something that wants sharing, but refuses to be fished free of the depths of his mind.

Deciding to prod, she asks, “So you’re from far away. That mean you travel a lot?”

He nods, thoughtful.

Smiling, she says, “Well? Where have you been?”

Fenris blinks and looks into the middle distance. “Well, most recently, Kirkwall. I don’t believe I’ve been there before, but there was something familiar about the chains in the harbor. The flavor of the air.”

Nodding in encouragement, Ellana coaxes, “No place like Kirkwall on the whole continent.”

“Truly,” he agrees, mirroring her nod even though he seems unsettled. Discomfited in some deep way.

“You’d definitely know if you’d been there before.”

Odd how that seems to spook him even more.

The mystery deepens.

“And before that?” She questions him about other places he’s been and finds much the same sort of vagueness. In fact, the direct line of ‘before thats’ leads right into a wall, about five years back. He could shut her down with silence, but he keeps answering, a veiled sort of longing in his body language.

At her repeated, increasingly aggressive prying past that wall, he grows crabby, frustration showing in his demeanor. “What is your game? What will your incessant badgering accomplish?”

“I’m just trying to understand why you do what you do,” she answers, with utmost honesty. When her words tumble out, they fly faster and faster, gaining a cutting edge, “I mean, how does someone get to the point where it doesn’t offend every sensibility to work for someone like Corypheus? Kidnapping. Extortion. Blackmail. Is the money just that good? Was this what you dreamed about becoming when you were a kid? Did little Fenris stand up in class and declare that he wanted to kill people for a living when all his little friends wanted to be firemen and astronauts—?”

“I don’t—” he starts, clenching his fist around the spoon’s plastic handle until it creaks with strain. Then his mouth snaps shut and twists into a tight grimace.

“‘You don’t—?’” She urges, then it dawns on her. “Know? You don’t know?”

Fenris chews his lip, as though debating whether or not to answer. Finally, he says, “I don’t remember.”

At her incredulous stare, he slumps, sullen. He mutters, “It hardly matters—”

“Of course it matters! What do you mean you don’t remember? How much don’t you remember?” She leans forward, eager to get to the bottom of it.

He scowls. “How can I quantify it if I don’t remember?”

“Good point. Let’s see. Parents?”

He shakes his head.

“Siblings? Hometown? High school?” At each, he shakes his head. She continues, “First girlfriend? Or boyfriend?” She holds her hands up in the face of his piercing glare. “Hey, I’m not judging.”

Thus mollified, his gaze turns inward, expression screwing into one of fierce concentration. Then he huffs, an exasperated sound. “Same as always. Nothing.”

Ellana taps her fingers on the formica of the hotel room’s kitchenette. “What the hell happened to you then? Bump on the head? Get blown up in some country’s service?”

At the word ‘service,’ he jolts in his seat. “How did you know I was in the service?”

Rolling her eyes, she states, “Please. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. You might as well have the word ‘soldier’ written all over your face. Didn’t forgetthat, though, did you? Hmmm. That’s interesting. What’s the first thing you remember then?”

“Pain,” he says, candid as anything. His lips draw back in not so fond remembrance. “Then waking up, convinced I’d been torn apart by a mortar. But nothing was missing when I checked.” His gaze drops to his hands, the fingers of one hand tracing the curling white lines of the other. “These were what hurt. Only it was like someone dug channels all over my whole body and poured molten steel in them. Every edge burned and raised. Then there were … men, some in uniform, some in white coats. They talked to me, but I didn’t understand what they were saying.” He turns a sardonic eye on her as he concludes, “I’d forgotten every language I might have known before then, you see.”

“Holy shit,” she says, blinking.

“I had to learn again. Not everything was gone, just all of my episodic and most of my semantic memory. Only my muscle memory remained intact. My past locked behind the red tape of ‘classified.’ Or so they told me before deeming me a useless asset and shunting me into an auxiliary role. I was a failed experiment.” He colors at this, as though deeply ashamed. “You can’t be expected to remain loyal to a country you can’t even remember, after all. My patriotism was in question and I couldn’t be trusted out in the field to not slaughter my comrades, enhanced as I’d been by whatever they did to me.”

Pity rolls through her and she reaches across to put her hand on his wrist. Just a light touch. The muscles there jump, twitching in anxiety.

Fenris winces and plucks her hand off with surprising gentleness. He puts it back on the counter then gives it a little pat.

With raised brows, she intuits, “They still hurt?”

He nods, solemn. “Then a man came to see me on the day of my dishonorable discharge. He called himself Denarius and he offered me a place. A job.”

Ellana recognizes the name from the IR board roster. “Why’d you get discharged?”

Fenris shifts, uncomfortable. “There was an … accident. My CO died. We’d been arguing for months. I hated feeling like a forgotten tool left to rust. I pushed him.” He takes a deep breath. “I pushed him too hard. He flew into a wall and broke his neck.” Guilt haunts the elf’s fine features. “I believe taking me to trial for his murder would have exposed too many of their deep, dark secrets. So they just booted me out.”

Chewing on the inside of her cheek, Ellana says, “So you went to work for Imperium. Doesn’t it seem like a super weird coincidence that this Denarius shows up on the very day you were discharged?”

Frowning, Fenris appears to mull it over.

She gives a light harrumph. “But you didn’t have to keep working for them. It can’t have taken long to discover what bastards they are. I mean, do they make you take many helpless women hostage?” She almost cringes at ‘helpless,’ but it helps her cause to make him doubt, to be helpless in this instance.

He sighs. “It’s been mostly security, this whole time. Denarius has a lot of enemies. I suppose I just never wondered why until now. But no, this is the first time I’ve been asked to do something so extreme.”

“I can see it bothers you. So why keep doing it? Why agree to be complicit?” she pleads with upraised hand, letting her fear show. “Solas is my heart, beating outside of my chest. If anything happened to him, it would kill me. Why are you doing this to us? Can’t you see how wrong this is?”

An answering flicker of fear writhes in his eyes as he stares back at her over the forgotten bowls of cereal. “I … I don’t know how to do anything else.”

“Imagine if you were me. Just for a moment. I love Solas. And he’s in danger. It sickens me to my core that Corypheus has him. I’m terrified what that asshole will do to him—”

“He said no harm would come to Fen’harel as long as you both cooper—”

Her voice raises, breathy with dread and a touch of hysteria, “Nothing about what I’ve heard of Corypheus has convinced me that he’d keep his word. Nothing! Tell me otherwise. Is he someone you’d trust? Can you say without a doubt that he’ll let Solas go after he gets what he wants? Or will the next step be getting rid of witnesses?”

Bile rises in her throat to choke off her words, and despite her vow, a single tear slips free and slides down her cheek.

Fenris has the grace to look away, guilt stamped on his face.

Ellana calms herself after a moment, then says, “Haven’t you ever cared about someone? Even before there must have been someone you loved, who loved you—”

She realizes her mistake the second it leaves her mouth, because a flash of profound grief fills his green eyes for a moment before being shuttered away under the blankest mask imaginable.

Fenris stands, abrupt enough to make his stool squeak along the floor. His voice rolls out of him, cold as winter, “If so, then why has no one claimed me? Why has no one come forward who is missing their son? Or their brother? Or even their friend?”

The mask cracks for a second and she spies that lost boy in the man standing across from her. He continues, “I know why. There isn’t anyone, and this … this is all I have. This is all I am.”

With that, he spins on one heel and stalks into his rooms. As always, he leaves the door open, no doubt listening in case she tries any sort of mischief.

Copper blossoms on her tongue as she watches him disappear around the bend. Tonguing the cut in her lip where her teeth have worried it to shreds, she heaves a deep, anxious sigh. Her edges are unraveling, spiraling out into mad oblivion.

Four days until the trial. Four days with only hope as her tether to reason. A huge part of her wants to run screaming down to Cass’s room, spill the beans and try to rescue Solas with the help of the police and everybody.

But will that force Corypheus’s hand? It surely would. And Ellana knows Solas could be dead and disposed of before the cops ever got around to knocking on that bastard’s door.

Willing her heart to stop hammering its dirge, she lays her head down on her arm and thinks.

On one hand, she got Fenris to open up. She’s learned alot through their conversation. His past is heartbreaking. And anger spikes through her for all who’ve used him like he’s just a weapon and not a person. She’s also a little pissed at him for allowing it to continue. But she can’t help but empathize. Who knows what her choices would be in those circumstances? Anyone might do the same.

Focusing on her breathing, she breathes in, then out, slow and steady.

Okay, I think I got through to him, but I pushed too hard, too fast. Just gotta keep chipping away at that wall and maybe, maybe ….

And her thoughts stall there. She doesn’t have a clear picture of what might come to be. There’s just too much to account for.

She grounds herself in her even breaths and thinks, Step One: Mostly Successful? Fenris isn’t an unfeeling machine. He has wants. He’s damaged and wants someone to care about him. Which also means, he wants to care about someone.

So ….

Step Two: Getting Fenris To Care

Chapter Text

He should have kept Zevran’s phone.

All through the following four days, the thought keeps occurring to him. Should have kept it and hidden it from Corypheus and the dozen or so armed men the Vint has patrolling the villa as security.

Two of them stand outside of his warded door. Locked, both mechanically and magically, of course. It didn’t surprise him at all the first time he tried it. Though, strangely, he’s a bit grateful.

For flashes from the past keep snagging him at the oddest moments. When they’d first come through the vestibule, he’d stuttered to a stop, staring around at all the furnishings and things.

Because not a damn thing changed.

Not in twenty-eight years.

Corypheus’s upscale multi-million sovereign home feels less lived in than a mausoleum.

Shivers roll up his spine as he imagines being interred here with all the other trophies and trifles. Just another museum piece. So, yes, at least being locked up in a guest room keeps him from wandering. From seeing the shades of yesterday march by in all their faded finery, young and godlike, and so very naive as those early years stretched on and on like one endless party.

He should have kept the damned phone.

And found a way to get ahold of Ellana, just to hear her voice. Just to know if she’s alright. He swallows back bitterest dread as he thumbs the hammer of his revolver. Six bullets. If it comes down to it, he can take out Corypheus and perhaps one or two others before they have him. But that with only the luckiest of strokes.

That Corypheus let him retain his weapon bodes very ill for any hostile intentions Solas might decide to act upon. He can’t even call on his magic with the blazing runes at every exit suppressing his mana.

Raucous laughing draws his attention to the window, where another pair of bruisers stroll under his window as they walk the courtyard. The honeyed sunlight tells Solas the sun is setting.

Soon his host will call him to dinner, and badger him with endless and repeating questions. Always the same.

Solas smiles, grim and mirthless, thinking of the best way to vex the man to blinding rage. He’s managed it twice during his captivity, as his broken nose will attest. Despite his vow to never let Corypheus touch him again, he’s deliberately put himself in harm’s way too often to escape unscathed.

And yet Solas claims it as a victory.

For even though he cannot shoot the bastard dead, he can end the conversation on his own terms.

He jumps at the knock on his door, the tumblers clicking telling him the master of the house has come calling. Not that anyone else does.

“Ah. Up and dressed for dinner, I see,” says Corypheus, striding into the room past his guards. His thin lips curl into a sly smirk.

“As though you do not drop by at the same time every day,” Solas shoots back, with open contempt.

Smiling as though this is friendly banter, Corypheus gestures for Solas to precede him out the door and into the hall.

With a deep sigh, Solas complies, clasping his hands behind his back.

Corypheus looms over his right like a ghastly specter. “I do hope you’re hungry. For our last supper together, I have something … special in store.”

“Why go to the trouble? I’m not your guest. I’m your prisoner,” he says, monotone.

“Oh, come now, Fen’harel,” cajoles Corypheus. “Is there really that much of a difference? I shouldn’t like there to be. After all, this is a civil arrangement, is it not? Better than cages and cuffs?” The subtle threat writhes under the man’s deep tones like a serpent at the bottom of a stagnant well.

Seething inside, Solas says nothing. The point is not worth arguing.

He lets himself be led to the formal dining room, frowning at its ostentatious splendor. Four humans, three men and one woman, stand up as they enter, bright shock on all of their faces.

“So it’s true!” says one man, surprise breaking into a face-wide leer. He’s the first to recover, while the others sit once more, their expressions now carefully blank.

“My dear Erimond, when have you known me to fib when it comes to business?” retorts Corypheus, with a satisfied hum.

Sliding into the seat Corypheus indicates to him, Solas looks around. He recognizes none of them. But he stares hard at each face, pleased when two of the others shift with discomfort under his steady glare.

The woman is the only one to return his regard with her own forthright scrutiny, gaze lingering over his nose and split lip. She addresses their host without looking away from Solas, “Why is he damaged?” Her painted lips drag over the gap in her front teeth as she speaks. Solas’s guts knot at the complete lack of human warmth in her voice.

“Well, Calpernia. Our old friend, Fen’harel, knows something I’d like to know. And thus far, he’s rudely declined to share despite having taken of my generous hospitality for nearly a week. I’m afraid he’s a stubborn old wolf.” Corypheus glances at Solas sidelong over Calpernia’s head. “Even his cheek is stubborn. I believe I cracked a knuckle on it.”

One of the other men at the table waves a dismissive hand. “Why not hire a professional? That’s what I do. That’s what they’re for. It’s better than getting your own hands dirty.” He shudders as he says this, taking a deep draught of wine. “Speaking of which, I hope my Fenris will be returned to me soon. I still can’t believe you left him out there, alone, planted in their midst. If he’s found out —”

“Stop worrying. You’ll have him back after the trial. He’s doing splendidly. Not a one suspects him.” Corypheus laughs, and looks down the table at Solas. “Your lady-love is quite the talented liar.”

Solas’s stomach twists, and bile floods his mouth, but he manages to keep a stoic front. He takes a draught of wine to wash the acrid tang away.

“I can’t believe I’m sitting here listening to this … madness! Are we really going to just … eat dinner, as though Corypheus hasn’t kidnapped this man, held him hostage for however long, beating him!” blurts the up till now silent fourth member of Corypheus’s dinner party. The others turn mild looks of rebuke his way. Face coloring, he lunges to his feet, chair scraping backward on the wood floor. “I’m leaving. I can’t ab—”

“Sit. Down. Alexius,” Corypheus states, blue stare cold as corpses. When the man, too shocked to comply, stays where he is, Corypheus sighs and snaps his fingers. One of the armed guards lining the hall takes a couple steps forward and presses Alexius back into his seat.

“Get your hands off me!” he shouts, but still that hand shoves and Alexius plops back into his seat, expression distraught. The guard pats his head and steps back into place. Alexius turns to the others. “Can’t you see what he’s doing? Are we to be hostages, too? Why aren’t you doing anything? Danarius? Calpernia?”

The one he calls Danarius says, “It’s far too late, Alex. One ‘no’ does not negate a thousand ‘yesses’. Might as well enjoy the many comforts of the bed we’ve made.”

Yes, it can! thinks Solas, with a violent jerk of his head.

“You disagree?” muses Corypheus.

Solas purses his lips as he says, “There are no insignificant choices. It is never irrelevant. It would not matter if one took a million steps on the wrong path. One can always turn around.”

A wretched laugh flies from Corypheus’s throat, echoed by Erimond in full, and the others in tentative titters. His host shakes his head, condescension dripping from his cruel lips, “Where would the world be without dreamers, eh? Where would we be without such marketable dreams?”

“Poor as Chantry mice,” says Erimond, with the smile of a born sycophant.

Solas clamps his lips shut, knowing he’s given too much of himself away. He has to be cold, hard. These jackals can scent blood miles away.

Danarius gives Alexius a cold, pitying look. “Well, if Alexius is done having his vapors, is there food? I was promised food.”

The first course arrives in front of Solas and he stares at it, debating whether or not it’s worth it to toss the soup at his host’s guests. It’s a similar thought that plagues him every time he’s forced to eat in the hated man’s presence. Floor? Or fatuous face? He decides the situation isn’t the bisque’s fault and dips his spoon in to bring a mouthful to his lips.

The conversation slows to bits and smatters as they all eat. Somewhere between the main entree and palate cleansing sorbet, Solas feels a light touch on his thigh. He refrains from jumping as his gaze cuts to the side.

“What a shame it is to mar so chiseled a face,” comments Calpernia. She leans toward him as though to tempt him with a peek down her plunging decolletage. Beyond her, Corypheus watches, though his attention is divided in two by Erimond, who speaks low and laughing in his ear.

Solas searches the woman’s face, noting the discrepancy between the flirtatious words and the cool, calculating stare. She keeps her expression hidden from Corypheus while daring Solas to play at subterfuge. He says, curious as to where this is going, “A compliment, Miss Calpernia? One might wonder what you’re up to.”

She laughs and it sounds genuine, but again, it doesn’t touch her eyes. Her voice drops to a husky drawl, “No good, of course. But then again, being bad is ever so much more fun.”

“Are you seeking punishment? Shall I take you over my knee?” Solas volleys, shaping his voice into a tool for seduction.

“Oh, but what would your Ellana say?”

“She’s not present to say anything at all.” Thank goodness. It’s a good thing no one but Calpernia can see the sudden clenching of his fists as he forces his words to be dismissive and aloof. She warns him with a slow blink to keep up the charade. He forces himself to calm as he replies, flippant and nonchalant, “But we’re just talking, are we not? Atonement usually comes after sinning. And I did so once love sinning.”

Their host looks on as though this is the greatest entertainment of the decade.

He leans toward her when she beckons, tamping down the urge to wince as her lips touch his earlobe. She whispers, “None at this table, except perhaps that fool, Erimond, are pleased with what Corypheus has done.”

For Corypheus’s benefit, Solas smiles as though she’s said something salacious. He hums into her hair as he whispers back, “And yet here you are. A nest of vipers at his beck and call.”

She giggles as her fingers trail over his inner thigh. “I quite like that image. Beware the ones that bite.” And she nips his jaw, just hard enough to sting and make him jump.

He swallows the disgust at allowing her these freedoms with his person, and whispers, “Yes, you are a venomous lot. There is a point to this performance, I take it?”

Gasping as though delightfully shocked at a ribald remark, Calpernia tosses back, quiet, “There is. Corypheus is breaking us. Our reputation is ruined in the south and we’ve had to import talent from third world countries just to keep from going bankrupt.”

“I’m not surprised in the least. The sort of blatant exploitation he touts just cannot fly any more. Not today.” Solas let his hand drift to her neck, wondering what she’d do if he started to squeeze. Her pulse drums along his sensitive fingers, calm and steady. None of this pageantry is affecting her, but she is so very good at pretending it is. “So what is your aim, exactly? Release from culpability should Corypheus’s more … criminal leanings come to light?”

“Oh, you are a sharp one. Almost wasted on the stage. You should try a hand in production.”

“That’s meant to be flattering, I’m sure. Get to the point.” Then he does squeeze, just a little bit. Turning her face to his, he hovers over her parted lips, close and intimate. His old persona settles on him like a cloak, and he feels his facial muscles tighten into a practiced, predatory leer. A focused stare that bores right through her, singling her out from the herd as next on the menu.

She wants the wolf? 

Here he is.

Her gasp is not feigned this time and a hundred, hungry thoughts flash in her eyes as she whispers, “We’re privy to your secrets, as you are privy to our delicate  … indictable position. I propose that should Corypheus be … taken out of the equation, no one on our end will seek revenge. You and yours would be safe. Provided you show us the same courtesy.”

“And how will he be … taken out?”

“Oh, a clever man, or elf, can find many opportunities. Especially against someone as unconcerned with covering his tracks as our dear host.” Her hand trails further up, dancing over his groin to trace over the revolver in his pocket. “Or there’s the more obvious way.”

“No. Much as it pains me to admit, Corypheus is right about one thing. I’m no murderer.”

“Oh? Pity. That would have been easiest.” Calpernia smiles into his eyes. “Well, I’ll leave the method to you then. But if he stays in play long enough to implode and take our label with him, all bets are off.”

His fingers close on her jaw, biting in with a touch of cruelty. She leans into the hard touch with a soft sound. Solas wrinkles his sore nose, and mocks her with a quiet laugh before releasing her and sitting back in his chair.

“—right, Fen’harel?” says Erimond, calling his attention away from the woman still fingering the gun in his pocket.

“Hmm?” says he, not bothering to pretend he’d heard anything of what the idiot had been saying.

“I said, surely Inquisition will be participating in the Battle of the Bands at Adamant this year, right?” Erimond nods with his words, making Solas wonder why he even bothered to ask, if he already decided the answer.

Solas shrugs. “Why would we?”

The insufferable minion rolls his eyes. “Because you can hardly call yourself metal if you don’t? It will be massive this year. My Grey Wardens will be there. They’ve won three events running.”

“And I’m sure that has nothing to do with Imperium hosting the event. Why is it at remote Adamant?” says Solas, disdain overflowing. “Is it the only venue that would take them? Just how many have banned the Wardens from playing now? Or would it be easier to count the cities they’re welcome in? A small number, I’m sure, seeing as they cannot help starting an actual riot wherever they go.”

Erimond’s brows beetle, low and angry over petulant, twisted mouth. Then it stretches into a sneer. “So bitter. Don’t be jealous, Fen’harel. I know they’re no Evanuris, but if Inquisition’s star rises half as high, it’ll be quite a satisfactory achievement, no?”

“You believe I pine for my old band? How laughably blind of you. Only expected of someone who encourages the worst, attention-whoring behavior from those who are ‘talent’ only in name.” And he does laugh, short and derisive, before ignoring Erimond’s affronted glare.

Corypheus hums in amusement. Of course cruelty would delight the beast.

Erimond’s hateful stare, no doubt the product of being made mockery of in front of his … boss, blazes on Solas’s cheek. He pays it no mind, focusing instead on the room’s lavish appointments

Dessert comes out with a flourish. Some sort of custard with a caramelized sugar crust on top.

“Ah. Evanuris. Now there was something special.” Danarius sighs over his dessert and twirls his spoon in the air. “If we had just one outfit with that sort of starpower, we’d never have had to—” And he stops at a soft sound from under the table, abruptly turning red and reaching down to rub something out of sight under the tablecloth.

Calpernia’s frigid gaze pins the man and he founders for a moment. A glance down reveals to Solas the retraction of one slim ankle leading to one wickedly pointy shoe.

“Never had to what? Bring me back?” says Corypheus, leaning on one bony hand. His superficial smile is passably warm, as though he is a father chiding mischievous children at the dinner table. Then he stands and starts to walk around the table, looming as he pauses behind each guest. “You think I don’t know how you sneak and whisper behind my back? You conspired to give me the big chair, and now you conspire to tip me out of it. But that’s what conspirators do. Conspire. It’s the only thing any of you short-sighted lot know to do.”

Each person freezes and grimaces as Corypheus stands at their back. Solas almost rolls his eyes at the man’s absurd theatricality. He settles for a deep and bored sigh.

Their host shoots him a nasty glare for his disrespect before continuing, “Things have changed. And that makes you nervous. Nervous little nugs in expensive suits, pissing yourselves at every hint of danger. So worried that your mundane little secrets will get out. That’s why I had to bring you here this evening. So you would see. See what I’m willing to do to. There is no limit to how far I will go to make sure I and, by extension, the company stays on top. And now, you’ve witnessed it.”

Corypheus stops behind Calpernia’s chair and sets his bony hands on her shoulders. “And in so witnessing, you’re all culpable.” He leans forward, speaking directly into her ear, though his cold gaze alights on each of his fellows in turn. “Assisting. Aiding….  Abetting.”

Dismay blossoms on their faces, one by one. It might be funny if the situation wasn’t very clearly resting on a knife’s edge.

Alexius’s face, white as death, goes slack in distress. Danarius’s lax with resignation. Calpernia’s frosty expression gains a brittle edge. And even dull Erimond seems to realize in just whose corner he’s chosen to stand.

“A word against me is a word against yourselves. If I sink, I shall not sink alone.” Corypheus takes to his seat in a confident glide, the picture of arrogance and certainty. With smirk well planted, he says, “I invite you all to stay the night. It’s a big day tomorrow, after all. The trial starts in the morning, which will be great fun to attend, then, hmmm, drinks at Hadriana’s?”

Calpernia makes a little noise in her throat, light and without a hint of strain. “I would love to, but I’m afraid there’s a little party I must attend.”

“Are you sure? If it’s distraction you seek, I’m sure Fen’harel can be accommodating. After your little tête-à-tête earlier, he may even crave it. Perhaps he’s already bored of Miss Lavellan’s rather plain charms.”

Solas’s belly clenches in trepidation as she turns a pale eye to him. The skin around his mouth tightens in reflexive dread. But he forces it to spread and settle into a pleasant neutral. Corypheus is watching him close for weakness. For Ellana’s sake, he can’t show attachment.

Let Corypheus believe their relationship a casual one.

He would not put it past the man to order Fenris to harm her while he listened. All for that one piece of knowledge keeping Corypheus from going after someone so blameless, so innocent that only someone completely worthless and honorless would give in.

So he pretends the invitation is welcome with feigned interest in his smile, his cocked head.

After a moment studying him, she smiles and his heart sinks. Calpernia’s head turns back to Corypheus. “As enticing as that is, I’m afraid the company’s best interests lie in my presence at the Archon’s little soiree. Some other day, kind host.”

Wide and lecherous grins all around make Solas believe such a party must be one steeped in hedonism and debauchery. Then Calpernia stands and all the men stand with her, courteous. She speaks her farewells then shoots Solas one last look over her shoulder.

And that cold mask cracks for just one moment and he sees sympathy. Just the barest glimmer of it before she disappears out the door.

“Well, gentlemen, I insist you stay.” Corypheus shuts down any burgeoning refusals with a cold stare all around. The other men settle back into their seats. “Lowen, Keldon, show my fellow board members to their rooms. There are … entertainments within to keep you occupied until the morrow.”

Solas doesn’t even attempt to puzzle out what that means while the three men shuffle from the dining hall. He swirls a mouthful of custard around his mouth as he and his host stare one another down.

The deafening silence fills with their mutual distaste for each other.

Corypheus breaks first. “It’s a shame Calpernia could not stay. I hear she’s quite inventive in the bedroom.”

Solas says nothing. Just spoons another bit of custard into his mouth.

“Perhaps your current paramour could learn a thing or two under her instruction. Shall I have Fenris send her along to the Archon’s little fête?”

All the hate-fueled fury in his gut, he freezes, until he is cold through and through. Detached and emotionless. Solas says, “This is quite good.” He motions at his dessert.

He earns a flash of a thin, frustrated grin for his lack of reaction. Corypheus remarks, “I’ll send the chef your compliment. But first, the customary question: who created the foci?”

Solas sighs, setting his spoon down with a tinkle. He slouches as though everything around him is supremely blasé and uninteresting.

His host’s grin turns razor-sharp, eyes narrowing to slits. He tilts his head in question.

With a lazy wave, Solas says, “You’re trying so hard to impress me. To frighten and appall. Fashioned yourself into a … caricature of villainy, complete with cowering lackeys. But so far, you’ve done nothing but bore me. You bore me.”

Corypheus shoots to his feet and with a vicious yank of the tablecloth, takes all the dishes to the floor. The crashing goes on for some time.

With a look of mild rebuke, Solas mops at the custard in his lap with his napkin.

“I bore you, Fen’harel?” The mad glint is back in the man’s eyes as he stalks around the corner of the table toward Solas. “You’re here, as my guest—”

“Hostage,” corrects Solas. Then his head is wrenched around by the hand suddenly at his throat.

“—At my mercy. And you mock me? Here? In my home?” Corypheus shakes him, once for every sentence fragment. “I could have you killed and disposed of. No one would ever find your body.”

“But you won’t,” asserts Solas, after the ringing leaves his ears. His hand goes to his pocket. Then Corypheus’s other hand wraps over pocket, gun and fingers alike, crushing them in a bruising grip. But that will not silence Solas. He hisses, through the pain, “All thunder, no lightning. Your fellows want you gone. Even nugs will group to take down the badger at their burrow.”

For a moment, manic murder shines in Corypheus’s eyes, clear as day. Bright and imminent. Then it recedes back into whatever pit of seething ugliness this man has instead of a soul. “Since it seems you don’t care for Miss Lavellan beyond being a hole to plow, perhaps I shall just have Fenris put a bullet in her head.”

A large part of him wants to launch himself at his captor, to rend him to pieces with teeth and bare hands. It takes everything to hide this behind simple anger at being manhandled so. “Do as you like.” He does his best to radiate complete and utter apathy. It’s the only defense for her he has at hand. Self-loathing can come later, when he knows she’s safe.

A muscle ticks in Corypheus’s jaw. Breathing becomes difficult as the hand around his throat squeezes, choking him. He leans close to say, spraying spittle in Solas’s face, “I will pry it out of you. If not tonight, then tomorrow. Or the next day. Or a week from now. Know that after tomorrow, my kindnesses will be exhausted and we’ll begin in earnest. I’ll strip away the illusion of choice. Maybe I’ll take a finger for every ‘no?’ Won’t that be delightful.”

Corypheus drops him and Solas slides out of his chair onto the floor, coughing and lightheaded. His captor turns to the guards. “Take him to his room to think it over. Relieve him of his little toy. Send me word when he agrees to be reasonable. After all, what good’s a musician with no fingers?”

Hands close around his arms like bands of iron, lifting him to his feet. Shrugging them off, he rasps, “I can walk there. Get off!”

Dragging his two hulking minders in his wake, he stomps back to his room. At the entrance, the guards pin his arms as they frisk him, taking the gun from his pocket. They close the door after shoving him in. The lock clicks closed with finality.

Thankfully alone in the lightless room, Solas collapses against a wall, sliding down to the floor. He cradles his face in his hands as he thinks.

It’s clear now that Corypheus never meant to release him at all.

And now, even his false sense of security is gone with his revolver. As well as his avenue of final escape should it be needed.

He stares at the cage of his fingers and shivers at a tremor of real fear. What will he be without music? Even if he somehow survives what is to come. His mouth dries as fear trebles into outright terror.

As his hands drop away from his face, he jumps as fingers (not his) clamp over his mouth, muffling the rising scream.

A soft ‘shhh’ reaches his ears and his eyes search the dark to see a shadowy figure kneeling next to him. He never even heard this other approach. His sight adjusts further to the gloom, and now he can pick out the whites of scleras in a face marked with jagged, sooty lines. And something else, but the other’s face turns away before he can really figure out what he’s seeing.

The (man?) breathes, “Do not shout. Or try to run. I’m here to get you out.”

Relief hits his system, painful in its intensity. When the shadow lifts that hand away from his mouth, he whispers, “Who are you?”

The rough silhouette jerks at that and rises to a hunched squat. Moving toward the window with consummate stealth, he beckons Solas to follow. They crouch and peer over the sill into the courtyard. Two pairs of guards patrol the edge, moving counter-clockwise.

With the added light from the slivered moon, Solas studies his rescuer and gasps in recognition. Thin face, scrawling lyrium whorls where they’re not obscured by matte black greasepaint. The peek of frost-colored hair from under the black beanie confirms it. And dread curls around his spine anew.

“Fenris.”

Chapter Text

Ugh, I look like shit.

Two days until the trial and it feels like she’s run a marathon barefoot. Everything just aches. And she can’t sleep for more than a few hours before nightmares wake her, tense and sweat-soaked.

Pulling her towel more securely about herself, Ellana stares into the bathroom mirror and grimaces at the dark shadows circling her eyes, the thin, stretched quality of her skin. The strain is showing, but everyone around her just accepts that it’s all part of the upcoming trial.

So at the end of each day, they leave her alone in this room with her ‘bodyguard’ a few meters away past the open door of the adjoining suite. Nightly, she screams into her pillow until she’s hoarse before falling into an exhausted slumber.

One consolation is the fact that the leash has loosened since she made it clear she wasn’t going to run or tell anyone what’s going on.

Cass wants to take her out somewhere in the city, which means the whole gang will be there.  Through some subtle prodding and encouragement, Varric invited Hawke, too. The country singer seems intent on hanging around. No way it could be because Ellana’s thrown Fenris and Hawke together at every opportunity. Just drawing the white-haired elf into the conversation whenever it seems most natural, though he barely grunts an affirmative or a negative before falling into vigilant silence again.

Hopefully, something will take.

The encounters seem to leave Fenris in doubt. And doubt is exactly where she wants him. It definitely doesn’t hurt that her attempts at normal friendliness cause her bandmates and her friends to include him in their jovial cajoling.

Ellana smiles at the memory of what happened yesterday—

The flash of blond hair as Sera lunges to throw her arms around Fenris in an attack-hug. His whole body goes rigid, while his face reflects total confusion and surprise. Sera’s lucky he doesn’t think it a hostile move. But then again Sera had just finished doing the same thing to everyone within ‘physical-affection’ range. It’s just her nature to be even-handed in all things hug-related ….

A chuckle rises out of her sore throat and, with a heaving sigh, Ellana reaches for her warpaint. Moisturizer, foundation, concealer, and more. All go on with practiced ease. The deep carmine of her painted lips stands out in a face that at least looks a little less like death warmed over. But these trappings are her armor and shield, just as kindness has always been a steady weapon in her hand.

A battle awaits this day. And the next. And every foreseeable day until Solas is back safe in her arms.

Gods, great and small, how she misses him.

Not often does she evoke higher powers. But she does now, praying as a child would pray, earnest and pleading. Mostly for him, lost to her. And a little bit for her, to give her the strength to endure.

And just a teensy little smidge for Fenris, so that hate can find no purchase in her heart.

Later, she sits with her bandmates, trying to laugh at the many jokes that fly through the air around her.

She chugs half a beer in a single gulp, to the applause of the pair she’s wedged between.

“Save some booze for the rest of us, Rosy,” Varric says, giving her a little nudge with his elbow.

“Ger’off, stumpy! Let her cut loose. S’been ages!” Sera whoops as Ellana downs the rest of her drink. The blond bounces up to stand on the booth’s cushion, waving at a passing waitress. “Oi! Bring us shots! ‘N at least, er, seven more pints of the black stuff!”

Cass frowns as she’s jostled to and fro by a rambunctious Sera plopping back down on her ass. “Sera! You’ve made me spill more of my beer than I’ve managed to drink!”

The violinist grins, wide and sly. “S’why I ordered more, Cassy-wassy.”

“Ugh, do not call me that.” Cass turns to Blackwall, who’s looking morose hunched over his pilsner. “What is the matter with you?

The bassist grumbles, “Nothing.”

Varric snorts and throws a bar peanut at him. It bounces off Blackwall’s furrowed brow and lands in his beer. Everyone laughs as the bearded human shoots the dwarf a glare. Not to be put off, Varric says, “I guess that means things aren’t going well on the Josie front?”

Blackwall and Josie? Ellana thinks with more than a little astonishment. When did this happen?“Josie?”

Sera laughs and says, “Yeah! Mega-watt puppy eyes‘n everything. Kinda like that—” And she points, pulling everyone’s attention to the pair at the far end of the long booth.

Hawke’s guitar rests on his crossed, elevated legs as his fingers deftly pluck out some soft, sad riff. He’s looking down at the guitar while talking in low, friendly tones to the lanky, white-haired elf scanning the patrons of the bar. Unbeknownst to the country star, Fenris’s green gaze keep dropping to stare at Hawke, widening with something like … yearning.

When Hawke starts to sing in crooning baritone, Fenris very visibly gulps.

The group busts out in laughter, even Blackwall, though his is chagrin incarnate.

Fenris and Hawke look up at the sudden burst of mirth. Fenris’s eyes narrow in suspicion as they seek Ellana out and pin her. Except badass mad-dogging sort of loses its intimidation factor with cheeks as red as those.

She shakes her head and smiles at him. Hawke says something that thankfully draws his attention away from her. Then she addresses Blackwall, “So Josie, huh? That’s awesome. Dating?”

“No,” he replies, sinking in his seat.

Her brows dip as she asks, “Going to date?”

He shrugs. “Haven’t asked her yet.”

A touch exasperated, Ellana says, “At least tell me you’ve talked to her—”

“Course I talked to her,” snaps the burly bassist. “‘Good morning.’ ‘How are you?’ All the standard shite. But then I get around to other stuff and the words just dry up. I g-gave her flowers, though.” That last is mumbled so soft that she wonders if she heard right.

“Oooh, lookit you, you furry romantic lumberjack! Flowers,” says Sera, with a teasing leer over her beverage. “Posies? Roses? Them ones what look like puss —”

“Did she like them?” interrupts Ellana, her finger going under Sera’s glass to tip it back and shut the blond up. Sera sputters around the sudden mouthful of beer, and half of it goes right down the front of her tunic. Ellana ignores the blond’s outraged ‘Oi!’ as she waves for Blackwall to answer.

Shooting her a grateful look, Blackwall says, “I … think so? She said ‘thank you’ as she bustled by.”

“Well, don’t take it the wrong way, Hero,” says Varric, with an encouraging wave. “She’s a busy lady. At least she made time to thank you.”

Now an abashed dropping of Blackwall’s eyes combined with some serious mustache chewing draws a real smile past Ellana’s own worries. They are all so precious to her.

All of them.

And that makes the rage held captive in her breast thrash and pull, rattling its cage. She throws back her shot and the next beer to drown that fire for now.

“He thinks the box is empty,” says the silent-until-now Cole, looking toward Fenris with his watery blue eyes. “He picks it up, shakes it and puts his ear to it. Hearing nothing, he thinks there is nothing. But it’s only because the box is very, very full.”

The whole table goes quiet. Cole’s words are so rare that all present know to listen. Everyone’s attention is drawn to the drummer. Even Fenris’s gaze swings around to Cole, who looks back with that hallmark eerie, fixed certainty. The spirit continues, “It wasn’t you. It was and it wasn’t. All that red. But you are more. Memory strains to be heard behind weak cardboard seams. And mercy is a wet trickle.” Cole’s nose scrunches under wide eyes that give a slow, mismatched blink.

Mesmerized, Fenris’s jaw drops open. Ellana can see the questions starting to build up in the elf’s mouth. A dam that will soon break.

Cole isn’t finished though and, after another blink, says, in a child’s singsong, “Varania says mum wouldn’t like it, but I wanna be a soldier just like dad.” Cole pauses. When he continues, his ‘voice’ is a little older, but still youthful. “Varania says there’s no such thing as monsters, but I know that’s what killed father.” Then, lastly, in the clipped tones of a young man, “I go to war. Those horned devils in Seheron will finally pay. May the old gods watch over mother and Varania while I’m off to do my duty.”

In a flash, Fenris is at Cole’s side, hands gripping the spirit by the shoulders. “What do you mean? What does all that mean? Can you see my past? Who is Varania? Tell me.” He gives Cole a single shake. “Tell me!”

Inquisition stands as one, protests flying from every mouth. Seeing the many ways the situation could go very very wrong, Ellana bends across the long table, knocking glasses aside in her fervor. She grabs Fenris by one wrist, not hard, but adamant, giving it a light squeeze. He snarls in pain, but it shakes him loose of his mania. He then seems to notice everyone’s hostility, all pointing right at him. Letting go of Cole, he rocks back on his heels with a sharp, shaky breath.

Ellana also lets go, holding her hands up to show she meant no harm. Fenris looks around at all of them, so ready to defend Cole, and damned if a sheepish flush doesn’t creep over the elf’s face. Cole isn’t even ruffled, gaze distant as ever, wandering over booths and patrons with vague interest.

Wetting her lips, Ellana says, “Cole is a spirit. Of compassion. Yes, he can see things that are hidden. But he can’t always articulate the specifics.”

“Riddles and rhymes,” says Sera, with a loud burp.

“And sometimes, some sweet, sweet alliteration,” adds Varric.

“It’s almost poetry,” Cass says, with a nod and wave.

“If poetry could reach into your guts and give’em a yank,” Blackwall concludes, sour. Ellana smiles. As though the bassist hadn’t been the first on his feet.

Varric snorts and rolls his eyes. “Some people would say that’s the whole point of poetry.”

“Those people like poetry.” Blackwall sniffs. “Say it plain. Why bother with all that metaphor and shite when you could just say what you mean?”

“Your soul must be a barren, love-starved place then.” Varric wipes his eyes as though grieving for Blackwall.

Hawke takes his feet off the table and pulls an empty chair near. He says to stricken Fenris, “Wanna sit?”

The elf hesitates. “I-I shouldn’t.”

Varric chuckles. “Pull up a chair. I highly doubt a million zillion ninjas will pop out of the shadows to attack Ellana. At least, not tonight.”

Gingerly, Fenris sits among them, and shakes his head. No doubt at their easy acceptance after he physically manhandled one of them.

“Sooo … is what you said true? Or rather, implied?” Hawke sets aside his guitar to lean toward the white-haired elf. “There’s stuff you don’t remember?”

After a swallow and a nod, Fenris winces and says, “I … I have a sort of amnesia.”

Varric mumbles a snarky, “There are different kinds?”

Ellana stills him with a hand on his shoulder. She doesn’t want to spoil whatever is happening. The rest take her cue and fall into watchful silence, too.

“Did it happen in the service?” asks Hawke, careful as though Fenris is skittish as a cat.

“Yes.”

Hawke touches Fenris on the arm in sympathy, brows furrowing. “I’m sorry.”

“Why? Did you cause it?” the elf shoots back, a little bitter, but also, a little teasing. His lips pull to one side in a smirk.

Giving a laugh, Hawke lifts up his cowboy hat to run a hand through his hair. “Not that I remember, no. I just … . I was in the service, too. Did my six before getting out to chase fame. Ferelden. One hundred and first Airborne Division. The Screaming Eagles. A … lot of my buddies ate it in Seheron. And others came home with PTSD or missing bits. Did you see a lot of action?”

Fenris relaxes as Hawke’s body language starts to reflect his own. Just two soldiers talking about the messed up shit that happened ‘over there.’ The elf says, “I think I must have, but I don’t remember.”

Hawke smacks himself in the forehead. “Oh, right. Amnesia. Anyway, I remember this one time Washburne, or Bunsen, as we called him, he took all the bootlaces—” And Hawke spins story after story of his life in the army. His friends. His comrades.

His brothers.

With Fenris sitting there, soaking it up like a sponge. Every line painted with envy and longing. Eyes big and open as they’d never been in her short acquaintance with the spiky elf. He laughs with sincere mirth at the funny bits, and nods agreement at some of the more esoteric army-isms. She guesses some things are remembered by the soul when the mind fails at recalling.

In a few hours, Fenris almost looks happy.

Especially when Hawke’s arm finds a semi-permanent roost around his shoulders.

Suddenly, it’s all too much for Ellana. The pretense at familiarity is getting too thin a seeming. Some traitorous part of her wants to like Fenris. Probably already does.

Like Fenris?

How could she!

Her breath throttles and comes short. She stands with the mumbled excuse that she needs to pee. She climbs over her bandmates and ambles toward the restroom in a walk that’s just short of a run.

Her head buzzes with alcohol as she nears the door marked ‘unisex.’ Past it, in blazing orange, she sees ‘EXIT’ and before she can even really think about it, her hand finds the handle and pushes. The steamy night air in the alley is less suffocating than that of the bar behind her, and she stands there gulping it in for several minutes. The rough brick scratches at her skin as she slides along it, trying to will away the spots and squigglies from her vision.

Then, the drink and food from the past few hours comes rushing up her throat and out onto the pavement. She heaves everything up, until her gut is empty.

Into her drunken misery, intrudes the sound of approaching footsteps. “Hey, sweetheart. You okay?” An unfamiliar hand touches her shoulder.

Ellana nods, too dizzy to reply, spitting bile into the mess at her feet as she tries to sweep her hair back out of her eyes.

That hand pushes at her, as if testing, and she almost goes face-first into the slop. Pushing back, she manages to grumble, “Hey!”

Then fingers dive into the pockets of her jeans. After a moment of frantic digging, the stranger grumbles, “C’mon, where’s the cash?” Cash? What cash? They get terribly invasive as they are thwarted in their search. But her purse is back in the bar.

She’s being mugged.

The thought strikes her hard, and the rage slips loose its leash with a furious shout. Burning so hot it feels as though it blisters her throat on the way out.

She comes up swinging. Well, flailing. The man curses as her left fist collides with his cheek. Then his nose. A wet, satisfying crunch finds her ears. But then her assailant gets his arms around her, and all her air whooshes out as he crushes her to him.

Oh, you fucking knife ear bitch! You are gonna pay.” He starts dragging her away, into the darker end. His hard hands dig deep and cruel through her thin clothing into her flesh.

Ellana bites the hand trying to muffle her, and stomps everything within reach of her heels. She manages to twist around, but the mugger’s hand twists in her hair. Her play for a quick escape defeated.

Spitting and shrieking, she punches and kicks until finally her toe finds his groin. With a pained grunt, he lets her go and she stumbles into a wall, but the anger gnashing and growling within has her bouncing right back at him, fingers extended like claws. Her remembered magic roars into life, a flaming cocoon around her hands.

She swings, and misses. Her hand swings right through the patch of dark she’d been sure he stood in. Spinning almost full circle with the force of her attack, she pauses, heaving pants in the sudden silence.

Then a soft wet gurgling touches her ear, along with the heavy ‘fwump’ of a body hitting the pavement. The flickering flames go out as anger drains away to be eclipsed by horror at the sight of the other glowing presence in the alley.

Her back hits the brick behind her. The white lines on Fenris’s skin glimmer as they dim, but not before their light illuminates the chunk of bloody … something in his right fist. Then he drops it with a careless flip of his wrist. With a wet splat, it hits the ground. Her eye can’t help but follow.

If her stomach had left anything in it ….

The wave of crippling nausea swamps her senses, and she bends double, dry heaving between too shallow breaths.

Fenris reaches out to her with the bloody hand and she recoils. In the gloom, she sees his handsome face draw into a grimace. His deep voice rolls out of him in a tentative, “Are … are you alright, Ellana? Did he hurt you?”

Something rises. 

She sincerely hopes it isn’t more acidic bile. When it reaches the top of her throat, she realizes with distress that it might be something worse.

Unstoppable, it’s on the cusp of being loosed when she wonders, Is this what going crazy feels like?

But the scream she feels bubbling at the back of her tongue manifests as something else altogether.

A chuckle breaks free, then a giggle, then a full and whooping laugh that shakes her narrow frame as she clings to the brick. Her eyes screw shut as the mirth rolls through her belly, scouring and replete.

“Ellana? Ellana, please. You’re going to draw notice,” Fenris says, his gaze cutting to either end of the alley. With a few, efficient movements, he picks up the mugger’s corpse and tosses it into a nearby dumpster.

Hysteria abates a little, and she finds that a great part of the anxiety has dissipated with the outburst. “I don’t … I don’t know what’s more fucked. The fact that you can rip people’s innards out with your bare hands, or that you actually seem concerned about me.”

Clearly taken aback, Fenris’s eyes drop to his boots, and he slumps like a disobedient child. He looks so forlorn that pity pricks her heart. Killer or no, he might have just save her from robbery and rape. “I’m … sorry.”

She straightens, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand. Tugging on his sleeve, she says, “C’mon. Let’s get you cleaned up before someone screams bloody murder.” 

And she giggles again, and wonders just when she lost her mind. But seriously, it’s not the first killing she’s witnessed, just the most uncanny and eldritch. 

And she is so very good at compartmentalization.

Walking back into the bar, she screens his entry into the gentlemen’s. When Fenris emerges, clean of any trace of blood, she nods toward the sound of their companions’ boisterous boozing. Approaching the table, she climbs over Cass and Sera to plop back into her seat.

Varric looks up from his enthusiastic storytelling and doubletakes, staring at Ellana’s face. “What happened to you?”

The others take notice and she frowns, peering at the mirror over the bar. Her flushed face and mussed hair shout violence, as does the developing bruise at the top of one cheek. Did that bastard land a blow? She can’t remember. To the repeated question, this time in Cass’s no nonsense ‘mom’ voice, she says, “I went out back for some air.”

Sera nudges Cass in the ribs. “See? Told ya she didn’t fall in.”

Ellana clears her throat and continues, “There was an awfully impolite gentleman who decided he wanted whatever cash I had.”

Blackwall growls and makes to stand. “You got mugged? Is he still out there? Did you see which way he might’ve run?”

She resists the urge to shift and stammer as she answers, “He tried, but I didn’t have anything on me. But no, Fenris came out and took care of it.” Ellana looks Fenris dead in the eye and says, with sincerity, “Thank you, Fenris.”

All eyes find the white-haired elf, who stares back with trepidation. Then Sera cackles and says, “Good on you, spiky!”

And a round of applause and backslapping enthusiastic enough to fluster Fenris happens. Hawke gives him a half-hug that sends the poor man near swooning.

The night concludes with them staggering back to the hotel, arm in arm. A long chain of revelers singing silly songs in the dead of night. Hawke and Fenris walk behind, still talking in low tones.

Entering her hotel room, she listens as Hawke and her ‘bodyguard’ talk at the door to his room.

“Rescuing damsels in distress kind of your thing?” asks the human.

“Would it be strange to say it was my first time?”

“Oh? Well, you seem good at it, if Ellana’s gushing is any indication.”

“It-it was nothing,” says demure Fenris, a shy note in his voice.

“Humble, too.” There is a pregnant pause and a light scuffling in the hallway. Hawke clears his throat, just a soft, nervous sound. He asks, “May I … kiss you?”

A swift intake on Fenris’s behalf reaches her ear. He stutters, “I’m not … I mean, I don’t remember if …. I don’t know if I’d be any good at it.” That last comes out in a pained rush.

With a teasing chuckle, Hawke says, “Only one way to find out.”

The unmistakable sound of lips meeting, wet and open pants, filters through the walls and doors. Ellana smiles as she moves away from her eavesdropping to the bedroom. Laying her drunken head on the pillow, her hand caresses the other half of the bed, heart wrenching with the wish that Solas was there.

She misses the sweep of his eyelashes over mischievous blue eyes, the little wrinkles at the corners when she makes him laugh. The way the dusting of freckles over his cheeks stand out when she finds a way to fluster him. Oh, and those ways ….

Sleep overtakes her, and for once the universe shows mercy and no nightmares haunt her.


The hangover is light, considering. But perhaps yacking up so much drink before it could work through her system did her a service after all.

Still, she moves about the room with tender regard for her aching head and stiff muscles. Showering away the night’s excesses, she dresses in clean pj’s as she heads out to the common area of the suite.

The scent of coffee strikes her full in the face and her mouth waters as she moves toward the kitchenette in a zombie-like shamble. She blinks away the hypnosis of coffee’s siren call to see Fenris there, back to her as he tosses something around in a skillet over the stove’s single burner.

Turning, he gives her a tight smile in greeting. Then he sets the spatula down and lifts a cup and saucer. He spins and sets it on the kitchen island before her. Along with cream and sugar packets.

Nonplussed, she pulls up a stool and mixes her coffee how she likes it.

Fenris starts to hum, a deep, velvety rumble. With a shock and a grin, Ellana recognizes it as one of the tunes Hawke played last night. Oh, he is well and truly smitten. She gives a small giggle at that as she sips her coffee.

“What?” asks he, looking over his shoulder at her.

All innocence, she shakes her head. “Nothing. You’re in a good mood. Something happen last night?”

A rosy rush fills the man’s tawny cheek. And the faraway look in his eye tells a far different story from his perfunctory shrug.

A plate lands in front of her and she huffs a laugh as she looks at the breakfast Fenris made for them. Some sort of scramble. Eggs, sausage and potatoes. There’s even bell pepper and onion in it. Which means he left sometime that morning to go shopping at the little market on the corner.

Which also means he trusted her enough to be alone.

The thought comes with a rush of victory. She eats with hearty relish.

Then his phone rings.

Wait. He has a phone?

The spatula clangs on the side of the plate, and Fenris shoots her a look full of apprehension. He reaches up and tucks in an earpiece from the lining of his collar. Straightening, he says, “Yes, sir.”

A long pause as he listens, then, “No, sir.” And again. “Yes, sir. She’s been completely compliant.” Then his face hardens as he turns fully to look at Ellana. Then that person, she can only assume it’s Corypheus, must have said something … unfortunate, because all the color drains from Fenris’s face and he says, “But, sir, she hasn’t—No, sir, I’m not questioning orders …. No,s—Yes, I-I …. Yes, sir.”

She doesn’t like the resignation in that last ‘yes, sir,’ nor the blank, cold expression that settles over his face. His fingers fiddle at his belt, drawing out a slim black cell that he pokes at for a moment. Then he sets it on the island.

Corypheus’s raspy bass floats out of it. “Is it set?”

“Yes, sir. You’re on speakerphone.”

“Begin.”

Ellana’s stool skids back as she retreats from Fenris’s sudden threatening advance. He pushes her the last few feet into a wall. The back of her head strikes the plaster and she squeaks in pain. Pinning her there with left hand around throat, Fenris slams his other fist into the wall next to her head. She whimpers in reaction and confusion.

Leaning close, he whispers, “Cry out.”

“Wh—” she starts.

“Good. Now slap her,” says the voice of the evil bastard holding Solas.

Bracing herself, she cringes when a loud smack fills the air. But there’s no sting. No pain. No throwing of her face to the side.

A bright red spot slowly appears on Fenris’s own cheek.

“Harder. She must be a resilient little thing.”

She watches in fear and horror as Fenris strikes himself again. This time she remembers to cry out.

“Again.” Smack. “Again.” Smack. Over and over, Fenris slaps his own cheek. Blood starts to trickle out of the side of his mouth from his torn lip. He gives no quarter in each strike. And she cries out every time, now in sympathy more than anything.

He doesn’t even need the prompt any more as that hand flies like it’s attached to some mechanical wheel.

Ellana’s vision blurs and, to her shame, she begins to sob watching him hurt himself. Her hand comes out to halt his at the wrist, she pleads, “Stop! Just stop!”

“That’s enough, Fenris dear.” Then Corypheus seems to lean away from the phone on his end, commenting to some other person, “See? I told you not to worry, Danarius. Steady as a rock. Fenris, carry on.”

And the phone clicks, screen going dark.

Fenris takes a deep breath and releases her, giving her an apologetic pat before walking away into his own rooms.

Shaky with reaction, Ellana blinks and wipes her face. She hears water running in the other room and the sound of vigorous scrubbing.

When the shock wears off, that anger starts to brim over the small cup of her restraint. She stomps into the other suite to find Fenris holding a hand-towel full of ice to his cheek. “What the hell was that?!”

Fenris looks at her with distant interest, reminding her very much of when first they met. He pulls the ice away from his face to say, “He demanded I hurt you, but you had done nothing wrong. Is this not preferable to actually hurting you?”

“Some goddamn consistency would be nice. Why, Fenris?” She can make demands, too. “Why?”

She can see it puzzles him, too. His gaze turns inward, and he shrugs. Insufferable little git. “I … could not.”

“What the fu—” She’s interrupted by a loud series of urgent knocks on her door. Giving him a look that promises she’ll get her answers from him, she strides back into her room and answers the door. The petite elf there looks at her with wounded appraisal on her vallaslin-covered face.

Ellana manages, “Merrill?”

A phone is thrust in her face. “It’s Dorian. For you. Oh, Ellana, what have you done?”

With hollow dread, she put the proffered device to her ear. “Dorian, it’s Ellana.”

“Thank goodness! I’ve been trying to reach you for a couple of days now. I need to tell you. Corypheus has Solas, and he’s been beaten. Just bruises everywhere on his face. I saw him get on Corypheus’s private jet, headed Dumat knows where. He’s a hostage, Ellana! Are you listening to me?”

At the word ‘beaten,’ she’d almost dropped the phone. A sick feeling wells up in her core, worry intensifying to the point of agony. “Y-yes, I’m listening. I know, Dorian.”

“I figured as much. When Merrill described your ‘bodyguard,’ I figured Corypheus was up to his old tricks again.”

Merrill stares at her, with a combination of judgement and empathy.

Ellana blurts, “But he’s hurt, you said. Beaten?”

“Yes! I saw his face when he foisted some stoned elf named Zevran off on me.”

Thrusting the phone back into Merrill’s hands, she about-faces and storms into Fenris’s room. She glares at the elf, summoning forth all the rage building up in her chest since this whole shitfest began. “He’s been beaten.”

Fenris tilts his head at her. “Who?”

“Solas.” She steps right up in his face and accuses, “Corypheus has been beating him! Did you know he would?”

Guilt swallows his mask whole. “Ellana, I—”

“No!” And her hand flies before she can think twice about it, cracking against his wounded cheek. His whole body winces before her attack. “You don’t get to care. You don’t get to care about what happens to me and hold me hostage!”

Before her fury, he cowers.

“Make a choice, Fenris. And it better be the right one, or you’re going to have to work for assholes like Corypheus for the rest of your life. And there will be no room for anything else. Not friendship. Not family. Not love.” She stares him down and says three more words, punctuating each with her finger jabbing his chest, “Make. A. Choice.”

Her head turns at Merrill’s tentative, “Ellana?”

A breeze pulls her attention back around to the suddenly empty room. The curtains at the open window waft to and fro. Shaking her head at the man’s uncanny exit, she breathes. Just a deep in and out for a moment, before straightening and turning to the very concerned Merrill.

“I suppose I have some explaining to do.”

Chapter Text

“Is this some new sick game of Corypheus’s?” Solas demands, in a loud and furious growl.

Ducking further under the sill, Fenris gestures for silence. The crouching pair tense as a set of guards stroll by the window, throwing shadows across their faces. The carefree banter filtering through the pane reassures the watching elves that no one’s noticed anything amiss.

“Sloppy,” whispers Fenris, with tacit disapproval.

“Answer me,” Solas again demands, softer but no less harsh.

Fenris eyes him askance, lip curling under camouflage. “No.”

Tilting his head, Solas asks, “To the first, or to the second?”

Huffing, the soldier says, “The first. I am not here under any orders but my own.” Moonlight illuminates the twitch of muscles at his jaw, the stubborn set of his shoulders. Then he shoots Solas a narrow-eyed glare. “Now, if you’re satisfied, I need to concentrate. It was hard enough getting in here by myself. With baggage in tow, it still may prove impossible to get back out again.”

Fenris’s stare goes flat and calculating as he looks over the courtyard, counting under his breath.

A little incensed at being called baggage, Solas sits back on his heels in the uneasy silence. He broods, filled with irritation and anxiety. Can I trust a man like this? A kidnapper, killer and mercenary?

“Shit.”

The expletive, so short and percussive, startles Solas out of his reverie.

Fenris makes a noise in his throat after the word, something like an actual growl. Deep and genuinely feral. “There’s just not enough time.”

“Can we not go out the way you came in?”

“No.” It’s obvious no further explanation is forthcoming.

Solas bristles at the way Fenris eyes him up and down, assessing him as worse than useless. The bald elf says, “Do not try my patience for condescension. You’ll find it very lacking. Explain why not and perhaps we can find a way together.”

Fenris blinks at him for a moment, then swings a finger to point out into the center of the courtyard. “I came in through there. A grate under the water fountain leads to the sewers under the mansion. Even Corypheus needs plumbing.”

“And we don’t have time to get that far before the guards spot us?” Solas asks.

“We can get there, and possibly squeeze through the portal into the tunnels below, but there is a … gate at the exit out into the city’s systems. A steel gate that is welded shut. I didn’t bother to pry it open on the way in, and doing so on the way out will take too long. They’ll be onto us the moment you leave this room.”

Solas’s gaze follows Fenris’s fingers as they trace the edge of the sigils around the window’s edge. A quicksilver gleam flows along the magical wards, chasing the touch. Solas says, “The wards will sound an alarm if breached? Then how did you get in here?”

Rolling his eyes, Fenris answers, “Why spend the mana to guard an empty room? They’re not active until they detect the presence of the person they’re meant to keep inside. I watched and waited for an opportunity.”

Biting his lower lip, Solas peers out into the courtyard and looks up. “Over?”

Again, Fenris shakes his head. “The mansion is a set of rings around this courtyard, connected by walkways. That’s a lot of running over open rooftop. Not much cover up there to dodge bullets flying for our backs. And I did not have any guns to bring with me. I left them in Kirkwall.”

A contemplative noise draws out of Solas’s throat as he mulls it over. Then a thought strikes and he says, “You said you didn’t bother prying that gate below open. How did you pass it then?”

Grimacing, Fenris flips one hand on the end of his wrist. “I have … abilities. One of them is to be able to, er, phase through certain things, as long as they aren’t too dense or thick.”

Suddenly eager, Solas says, “There are no magic suppressing wards on that gate?”

Fenris tilts his head, gaze drawing inward to memory. “If there were, I doubt they’d affect me. My abilities don’t operate like normal magic.”

Excitement dashed a bit, Solas hums. “I cannot access my own magics anywhere in the villa, but get me beyond their reach and I, too, have ways to bypass barriers. Tricks I learned as a thieving child.”

“And if the same wards are down there?” asks Fenris, with dubious raised brow. “Are we to risk being trapped down there on the chance that Corypheus or his people forgot about the sewer exit?”

“I have … known Corypheus for a long time, and chiefest among his flaws is a lack of foresight.” A tendril of confidence in those words wraps around his guts and he looks at the other elf with a tight, but hopeful smile on his lips. “We can do it.” He seals the assertion with a hand to Fenris’s shoulder.

The barest of flinches ripples under his palm. And the cynical light drains from Fenris’s eyes as he looks back at Solas with something like surprise, mixed with another emotion less easy to divine. After a moment, Fenris looks away and huffs a soft laugh.

“What?” asks Solas.

Shaking his head, the white-haired elf says, “Nothing of import. I see what she sees in you. Come. Let’s get you back to her.” Then he moves for the window with a predator’s grace, eyes going steely as he once again begins to count.

At mention of Ellana, Solas chokes back the many questions flooding his mouth. He has to let the man work or all this is for naught.

“One hundred and thirteen seconds,” says Fenris, after a long moment of nerve-racking silence. “I will go first, keep tight to my heels. The grate is heavy, leave it to me. You go down, then I’ll follow. Be quick. Be quiet.”

Solas nods, readying himself.

Prying the window open a couple inches with a long crowbar extracted from somewhere on his person, Fenris freezes as a pair of guards pass, then whispers, “The second my fingers go over the threshold, the alarm will sound. We must be out and down before they converge. Ready?”

“Yes.” Even so, he almost loses the moment as Fenris suddenly wrenches the window all the way open and slides out, lithe and liquid in his movements. Solas dives out after him, bracing for the jangle of loud alarms. Yet none sound.

Instead, a vast tingling sensation slams into him as he crosses the wards, and he reels before the magical onslaught on his senses. Much like a Templar’s smite, it saps his strength, physical and magical, and threatens to steal his wits as he stumbles after Fenris.

His sight narrows to a tunnel wreathed in misty darkness, just plunging on after Fenris’s booted heels. He vaguely hears cries behind him, and the thunder of many feet. Shaking the fog from his mind, Solas looks up just in time to see a black square open up in the ground. Hoping beyond hope, he throws himself down, keeping just enough presence of mind to roll with the impact of the unseen ground below.

The stink assails him first as he flails about in inch-deep muck. Then a strong hand wraps on his arm like a steel band and lifts him to his feet. A voice says in his ear, “Move!”

And somehow, he does.

The befuddlement from the smite dissipates slowly, and strength flows back to his limbs in a trickle. It is so dark down here, and Solas suppresses a surge of panic with a deep breath. Then he notices that the dark is … incomplete and looks over to Fenris, who is glowing. All the lyrium brands on his neck and chin and hands light up as the elf moves ahead, forging their path to freedom.

Soon, Solas lopes easily behind as they wind through tunnel after tunnel. The sounds of pursuit chase them, growing louder as they echo down corridors. And sometimes, the flicker of flashlights on brick make his heart stutter in fear that they’d been discovered, but his rescuer just darts down a new passage, moving vaguely in the same direction. Solas wonders how he knows these tunnels so well.

Fenris’s footsteps halt, pulling his attention back to the front. “We’re here. Is it warded?”

Solas examines the huge metal gate, circular in construction. Then, along the edge, he sees something that makes his heart drop into his guts. “Yes.”

“Shit,” comments Fenris, turning back the way they came. “Perhaps there is another gate at the other—”

“Wait,” says Solas, stopping Fenris from running down a side tunnel. “It’s warded, but it’s not the anti-magic variety. It’s not suppressing my mana through proximity. Rather, it’s the kind that keeps any animal from crossing it, likely to keep vermin out of the house above.” Then he mutters a curse. “Only these are strong enough to kill a varterral.”

“What of your trick?” asks Fenris, shifting from foot to foot and shooting glances down toward where the sound of their pursuers grows cacophonous.

Solas shakes his head. Then he crouches and concentrates on gathering the splintered fragments of his mana to him, disrupted all these long days. It pools, slow and sluggish, in his core.

“Whatever you’re doing, you better hurry,” warns Fenris, as the first flickers of light fill the tunnel on the far end.

A dispel, he thinks. But a minor one will do nothing. It has to be a mass dispel. Doubt and fear roil around in his belly. He’s never had cause to use one before. It is another of those spells that was outlawed for fear of robbers breaking into homes, or banks. Or government installations.

Pulling deep, he summons as much as he can, leaving a mote for the trick he needs after. Drawing figures through the air with his long fingers, Solas grunts as his magic scrapes him to the dregs on the way out. The wards resist, as he knows they would, and flare pain back at him, rushing through his nerve endings in an agonizing deluge. His gorge rises as he shudders under the magical attack. His blood is on fire. Copper blooms in his mouth as he near bites his tongue in half.

Dropping to hands and knees, Solas shapes the mass dispel into a scalpel and stabs at the wards’ weakspots. Just as he thinks the attempt a failure, the wards give. With an almost audible crash, they shatter into dust and fading faelight. Drawing in one deep breath after another, Solas wills away the lingering pain and stands just as the first shout goes up behind the pair.

Fenris’s hands push him toward the gate, full of urgency and fear, though his voice is steady and cold as ever, “Go! Do your trick.”

He tries, but not enough mana remains. “A moment.”

Calm breaking, Fenris shouts, “Now or never!” Then the first shots ring out, making them both duck and cringe. The white-haired elf steps somewhere beyond his periphery.

Desperation drags the strength forth at last and Solas watches his skin start to glimmer and become translucent. Right at his back, Fenris grunts and falls into him, cursing. The push throws Solas through the gate, his fade-step successful.

Fenris follows in much the same manner, though Solas can ‘feel’ that the source of his intangibility is slightly different. The method employed different enough to baffle understanding.

More gunshots ring through the tunnels as the two elves race around the bend. Solas’s heart thumps hard and fast in his chest, in equal parts terror and elation. 

Free!

Though not out of danger yet.

He pauses in his all-out sprint when he notices he’s alone. Looking back, he sees Fenris has fallen behind, one hand braced on wall while the other clutches at his side, just below the ribcage. Solas runs back. “You’re hurt.”

Fenris nods and spits a wad of blood into the dirty water at their feet. Then he slumps against the wall and slides down.

“Let me see,” demands Solas, pulling the stubborn elf’s hand away from his side. A hole in Fenris’s flesh presents itself, perfectly round and spilling blood at an alarming pace.

Red flecks pepper Fenris’s lips as the elf looks at him with bitter amusement. “There’s no exit wound and I, I think a piece found my lung.” Indeed, those words came out watery, on a tide of copper-tainted breath.

Such is beyond his meager ability to heal. Perhaps once, in the long ago mythological ages, people could wave a hand and make such a wound just disappear. But here, with his magic depleted to mere whispers?

But he must do something.

“Just go,” says Fenris, giving him a little push. “Stay to the”—he pauses to hack up bloody phlegm—”left and go up the nearest drain.”

Solas shakes his head. “You could have dodged the bullet by becoming intangible. Don’t think for a second that I don’t know what you did.”

With a bitter curl of his lips, Fenris retorts, “Yes. I also invaded your home in Kirkwall and took your precious Ellana hostage. For days. She was quite frightened.” The sour vitriol of the words stab at Solas, seeking to make him hate Fenris for his transgressions. And compel him to leave.

And yet … shame scrunches the skin around the man’s eyes, and makes him look away.

Solas reaches down and pulls forth healing magics.

“What are you doing?” Fenris growls, and shoves Solas again, but the force is so weak that it barely rocks the musician. “You think they’ve stopped chasing us? They’re swarming out of the villa as you waste time with me.”

Ignoring the elf’s rant, Solas dives deeper into the healing trance. Voids in the tissues follow bullet fragments, and indeed, there is a lot of damage. Spleen, liver, lung, but most worrying, a hole through the lower intestine, spilling poisons into Fenris’s body cavity.

Under the waves of wholesome magics, blood trickles to a near stop. Fenris is no longer in danger of simply bleeding out, but there’s so much Solas can do nothing about, and the elf won’t last long without medical attention.

Pulling Fenris up and draping his arm over Solas’s shoulder, the pair start to walk. To the elf’s protests, Solas says, “Hush now. I am not leaving you down here. You need to get to a hospital.”

Clearly woozy, Fenris struggles to simply put one foot in front of the other. “Jus’ leave me here. Get back to … Ellana. She needs … you more.”

“Do you think I can try to be who Ellana needs, deserving of her, if I can just leave a man to die in some sewer?” he asks, incredulous. “No. Clearly she has done something to convince you to come for me, and in so doing, you were injured. I will not turn my back on my rescuer. As you saved me by taking a bullet meant for my back, let me return the favor and get you out of here and to a doctor.”

After a minute’s silent plodding, Fenris gives a weak chuckle. It persists for a long moment. Solas finds himself smiling in echoing mirth. The white-haired elf strips off his beanie and wipes dirt and greasepaint off his face as they turn a corner and see a ladder. He drops the beanie and huffs, “Fine, then. Give us a hand.”

Solas frames the smaller elf’s body as they labor up the ladder, step by step. At the top, they both lift the manhole cover to peer out into the dark and empty streets. The exterior wall of the villa rises on one side while tightly packed condos crowd on the other.

Fenris breathes, “Luck is with us. They’ve either swept this side already or haven’t gotten to it yet.”

“If you have a phone, we can call the police.” He helps the injured elf up out of the hole, grateful to be standing under the open sky again.

“I left it at the hotel. Even so, Corypheus has many policemen in his pocket. We’d just be going from one trap to another.”

Huffing in frustration, Solas then freezes and says, “There was a human woman. A detective. Vallen, I think. Aveline Vallen. She didn’t seem the type to be under anyone’s thumb.”

“I’ve heard of her. Lead investigator on some case or other that had Corypheus terribly vexed. I confess that I didn’t pay attention to the particulars,” wheezes Fenris. “But he complained about her often.”

“Do you know where we can find her?”

“The … ninth? I believe.” Fenris points. “About a mile that way.”

A mile? So close, and yet so far. He turns to Fenris. “Can you make it?”

The elf gulps in a deep, choked breath and says, bitter, “Do I have a choice?”

“Not really.”

They hobble off together, as swift as they can, going from shadow to shadow. A long, dark shape rounds the corner up ahead.

Operating on some deep instinct, Solas yanks Fenris into the cover of some trash cans. The other elf gives a soft cry as Solas shoves him down out of sight just as a bright light floods the area of their hiding place. As it passes, then shuts off, Solas peers over the trash can to see that it’s a police patrol car, headlights oddly off. He whispers, “I think it must be one of Corypheus’s. Their headlights are off.”

“They know to look for men on foot. They’re searching for us and trying to be sneaky about it. It’s a quiet, affluential area. They don’t want to draw too much attention to themselves with flashing blue and red lights.” Fenris clutches at Solas’s shirt. “We need to go, if we’re going to go.”

Staying off the sidewalks, they stagger through yards and alleys and gardens, moving as swift as possible. Fenris goes quiet, clearly concentrating on just pulling in one ragged breath after another.

“Well, that’s convenient,” mumbles Solas, as he peers over the last hedge. There’s the precinct and, further up the road, a hospital looms. And that vertigo takes him again, that feeling that it’s all just out of reach.

For the road before the precinct is swarming with patrol cars. At least six. With cops standing around them, talking in low, firm voices. They seem to be listening to one in particular, one with a flashlight who points toward various roads while looking at a map. Their deliberation doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon either.

Fenris’s breathing is little more than gurgles now, as he sits on the lawn, head bowed with bloody drool flowing from his bottom lip. Yet still he gathers air enough to say, “I’m sorry. For … everything.”

“Save your strength,” Solas says, with an empathetic pat to Fenris’s arm.

“No … Ellana’s … a good person. Far … nicer to me than she had any right to be. Than … I’m sure … I ever deserved.” Fenris reaches out to squeeze his hand. “She … said some things that … made a lot of sense. I wish I had listened … earlier. But I couldn’t … help but hear, at the end. I kept thinking …”—his words start to trail off, so soft Solas has to strain to hear—”What if it happened to Hawke someday … and I was left … in fear, wondering ….”

Nothing else makes it past Fenris’s bloody lips, though they flex and move as though the elf still spoke. Too far gone.

Trying to think of a way to get past those corrupt cops before Fenris expires starts to frustrate Solas, and fill him with quiet despair. Then something catches his eye and he stops, frowning. It couldn’t be that easy.

Could it?

But what are the chances that it still works?

“Fenris, do you have any change?”

Those tattooed hands, looking paler by the moment, fiddle clumsily with pockets. A soft jingle reaches Solas’s ears as a few bright tessaraes are produced. 

Taking them, Solas says, “Wish me luck.”

A soggy, “Good luck,” floats thin on the air as Solas creeps around the hedge and slides into the tall, slim box on the corner. The view into the phone booth is blocked from the waist down, so Solas stays in a crouch as he plucks the receiver free and plops a few coins into the slot. Hitting zero, he waits and listens.

“What city?” says the voice of the operator.

“Minrathous,” says he, hope soaring.

“What listing?”

Chancing a look over at the precinct, he says, “The Ninth Precinct, please.”

“Would you like the number or shall I connect you?”

“Connect me.” Desperation rises to close his throat as it rings. 

Once, twice, thri—

“Fighting Ninth.” The man on the other end sounds gruff and surly.

Solas fights down an exclamation of victory as he says, “Detective Vallen, please.”

“Vallen? Think she left for the day.” His heart again drops to the vicinity of his feet as bleak discouragement claws away at the walls of his psyche. Then the policeman on the other end says, “Call back in the morn—Oh, wait, here she is.”

He holds his breath as the phone hisses and crackles.

“This is Detective Vallen,” says the husky, tired and crabby voice of hope.

“Detective, please just listen,” he says, pouring as much urgent earnestness into his tone as he can. “My name is Solas. I’ve been kept captive at Corypheus’s estate for five or six days. A … friend helped me escape.”

Vallen’s silence is worrying. He wonders if perhaps he’s made a mistake. Fight or flight makes his heart drum like a hummingbird’s wings. Peering over the blocked portion of glass, he stares out toward the police station. Just past the door, he can make out a bright hallway, with a redheaded woman standing at the front desk. She shifts from one hip to the other as she looks around in vague interest.

Finally, she says, tone outwardly friendly and calm, “Why don’t you come down to the station and we’ll talk about it?”

“Believe me, nothing would please me more, except those policemen in the street? They’re on Corypheus’s payroll. And my friend … he’s been shot. He’s dying. Please. Will you help us?”

“Uh-huh. Tell me more,” she says, nonchalant as can be.

“We’re hiding in the bushes across from the station.”

“I’ll be there. See you soon,” she says, bright and open. The line clicks as she hangs up. He watches as she makes small talk with the desk sergeant, body language supremely relaxed as she ambles out onto the sidewalk.

His heart stops as she pauses to speak with one of the cops hanging around outside the precinct. With a wave and a laugh, she moves away toward where, presumably, her car is parked. She slides into an unmarked unit and backs up.

Solas crawls out of the booth and goes back to Fenris, whose drooping head rolls around on his shoulders as Solas shakes him. Unconscious. But still breathing. Albeit in shallow, wet burbles.

A voice hisses at him from the dark, “Get in.”

Lifting Fenris, he drags them to the waiting sedan, keeping low as he opens the back door and piles Fenris onto the seat. He shuffles in after and shuts the door.

He whispers, “He needs a doctor.”

A second voice startles him, coming from the passenger seat, “He’s right, Vallen. Sounds like he can barely breathe.”

Shooting a fearful look at the human man who spoke, Solas husks, “Who’s this?

Detective Vallen hums and says, “This is my partner, Donnic.” Then she seems to notice Solas’s suspicion. “Don’t worry. You can trust us both.”

Hoping that it’s true, Solas jerks in alarm as they shoot by the hospital. “My friend needs medical attention.” He points back at the lights of the emergency room.

Donnic shakes his head. “We can’t go there. Corypheus would know about it in seconds. Man’s like a damn crime octopus. Got his fingers everywhere.”

“We’re going to a clinic in the wards. To someone I trust,” says Vallen, with a brisk nod.

A tense ten minutes go by before they pull up near a nondescript single story building. With Donnic’s help, they lift Fenris and run him into the door being held open by Vallen. A harried-looking man in green scrubs appears, chiseled features adorned with scruffy five o’clock shadow, grey mixed into the dark strands. He takes one look at Fenris and spins on a heel, grabbing a gurney and spitting out a series of terse orders that Solas and the others obey without question.

A couple nurses appear sometime during the hustle and bustle, and Fenris disappears behind a pair of swinging doors at the end of the hall.

Solas slides into a nearby chair, exhausted to the marrow.

“I know you,” says Vallen, who sits next to him. A sympathetic smile softens her otherwise hard face. “You were contending the ownership of the item that young woman, Miss Lavellan, stole. From Corypheus. And the trial’s today, isn’t it? I’m supposed to testify against her.”

“Yes.” He’s too tired to really say anything else.

Seeing this, she pats his shoulder. “Rhys will see your friend right, and I’ll need you both to come into the station after for a formal statement, but why don’t you take a breather, then tell me what you can?”

Taking a few deep intakes of air, Solas centers himself and says, “It’s a long story.”

Detective Vallen gives him a kind, but sardonic smile. “Aren’t they all?”

Chuckling, he begins.

Chapter Text

“Objection, your honors,” says the oily prosecutor, standing from his chair, the curls on his wig bouncing with the violence of his motion. “Irrelevant. I fail to see how past ownership of the foci is pertinent to this case. We’re here to determine only if Miss Lavellan is guilty of theft, a charge she has already confessed to.”

The tribunal turn their heads to look at slim, smartly dressed Merrill, who turns a glittering feral smile her opponent’s way. Her own wig, white and fluffy as wool, wobbles on her head as she bobs her head. She retorts, “Not officially. Officially, she’s pled not guilty. Hence, why you’re here.” Her tone borders on pert, a shard of contempt for the unctuous man. “Why we’re all here. And this has everything to do with this case. As the state wishes to treat the artifact as a historically significant relic, a national treasure, then a chain of legal custody must be established.”

The judges exchange a look before their leader, a dour dwarven woman waves her hand. “We’ll allow it.”

“Thank you, your honors.” Merrill turns back to her witness, giving the dwarf a genuine smile. “Now, Mr. Feddic, as you were saying?”

“Bodahn, please,” he says, clearly a reflex.

Merrill’s smile widens. “Mr. Feddic?”

“Ah, er, I mean. I was there when it were made, you see. Customers commissioned quite a few things from u-er, me, at the time. That was when I had a shop down on Main and Commerce, middle of Minrathous. Proud, I was. Had my own patch on the roof for veggies,” rambles the man, eyes going misty in memory.

“And who commissioned it, Mr. Feddic?” asks Merrill, dragging the questioning back on point.

“Well, it were a group. Young. Elfs, one and all. They wanted a batch of five, if I recall correctly. All keyed to different em-path-i-co-logical spectrums, or so the, er, artisan said.” He nods to himself before continuing, “Outlandish folk, all dyed and bright like the sun. Quick and brash. I thought it was all a bit much, but I don’t judge. They seemed a good lot, full o’mischief like any that age—”

“And who purchased the green one?” interrupts Merrill, with a pointed tap on the stand.

“Well, I never seen it pass hands myself, but the, um, artisan said that the green one, er, claimed Mr. Fen—”

“Objection!” calls the prosecutor again, hands veritably quivering in outrage. Ellana wonders just how much is feigned for theatricality. The lawyer says, spreading those hands, the very picture of reason, “Hearsay, your honors. Unless the defense can produce this ‘artisan’ to testify as to what he himself said, and I can see no such person on the defense’s list of witnesses, then this line of questioning is out of order.”

“Sustained,” the left-hand judge says.

With a sweeter smile for her opponent, Merrill nods acquiescence. “Fine. Mr. Feddic ….”

Ellana turns at a tap on her elbow. Seated behind her, Cass whispers, “Why doesn’t Merrill have this artisan on her witness list?”

Chewing on her lip, Ellana shakes her head. “I don’t know. But I trust her. Either he or she couldn’t be found, or there’s a good reason.”

The snap and whine of all the cameras at the back of the hall remain a jarring undertone to the proceedings. The small hairs on the back of her neck stand on end to have so many eyes upon it. Past the huge doors, the tall windows, she hears a dull roar. The enormous crowd outside shouts for her release, she knows. Waves banners and signs with angry words on them.

And maybe, at the same time, wishes to witness her fall.

The mob is fickle like that.

She cranes her neck to look over the solemn, silent faces of the few who made it inside to fill the judgement hall to the brim. Many are her friends and comrades, others … not so.

A sly, yellow-toothed grin catches her eye, and her guts lurch.

Corypheus.

Sitting just behind the prosecutor among the regular people like he’s not a giant rat in a three-piece suit. With his thin lips stretching in amusement, as though watching the greatest entertainment ever conceived.

Hate, real hate curls in her bowels as she glares at him, wishing him to just … explode before her gaze. Would that the runes that covered the hall allowed even a sprinkle of magic to manifest. She’d make it so if she could.

He sees her hate and his grin widens, if anything.

She detests her powerlessness, and searches for Solas. Perhaps the asshole brought him along. It would definitely fall within cruelty’s purview to do so. Make her love watch as she’s carted off in chains.

Then something else grabs her attention. In the far back, beyond the reporters and their snap-snapping, a small group of tall, lanky shapes lean against the wall near a corner. Hooded elves, all standing eerily still, arms crossed.

Heart stuttering, she gulps as their leader’s gaze pins her, golden irises piercing. No ….

She spins in her chair, facing forward and willing her breaths to normalize, her pulse to stop hammering.

“Ellana, what’s the matter?” asks Merrill, once again seated next to her as her counterpart cross-examines Mr. Feddic.

“N-nothing,” she manages. She glances behind once again and those menacing elven shadows are gone. Maybe I imagined it ….

Merrill’s hand touches hers where it clenches in her lap. “One problem at a time. Honestly, without Solas I don’t know how we can win this. I have a few more witnesses, more … character witnesses than anything. I daren’t put you up there. All he would have to ask is ‘did you do it,’ and you’d be forced to say yes. With Bodahn’s ledger, we can prove Solas bought the foci, but we can’t prove he didn’t then sell it at some later time. This is going to be a very short trial without Solas’s testimony.”

“Has Fenris reappeared at all?” Ellana asks.

Her lawyer shakes her head. “No. So at least that’s a small mercy.”

A weird feeling flutters in Ellana’s chest. It’s a silly hope that she can’t shake. But that … something in his eyes just before he’d scarpered. She rubs the bridge of her nose to try to dispel idiotic musings.

“I wonder where Officer Vallen went after giving evidence. She left in an awful hurry,” muses Merrill.

“—You may step down, Mr. Feddic,” announces the right-most judge after the prosecutor finishes his questions.

“Your next witness, Ms. Sabrae,” states the primary judge from her seat in the middle.

“Yes, thank you. I’d like to call ….”

And Ellana watches their meager defense start to crumble before the prosecutor’s guile and manipulation. Hopelessness starts to shred her to little pieces.

“Ellana! Psst,” hisses a voice at her elbow. She turns to see Sera’s unruly mop over worried eyes. Then the blonde points. “That burke is tryin’ to catch your eye, mebbe.”

Following the finger, Ellana again twists about to see. Her eyes widen, unbidden, at the sight of an older elf with pale, waist-long tresses waving at her with some urgency. Her jaw drops as she whispers, “Elgar’nan.”

“Wot?” demands Sera, nose wrinkling.

More heads start to turn and Merrill’s voice falters as she, too, notices the tall elf slinking down the center aisle. Then Merrill spins on her heel and says, with haste, “Thank you, Mr. Early. That is all.”

The foremost judge waves her hand. “Mr. Corin?”

He shrugs, contemptuous. “No questions, seeing as this witness has no real facts to add to this case.”

“I agree,” states the right-hand judge. Then, he warns, “Ms. Sabrae, unless you can give evidence directly pertinent to this case and not based in supposition, then I’m afraid we have to move on to closing statements.”

Merrill bows, saying in a rush, “If the court will indulge me, the defense would like to call Marin Ghilain to the stand.”

“Who?” hisses the prosecutor, gaze rounding on the spectators. His eyes narrow as they latch onto the interloper frozen beneath the crowd’s sudden sharp scrutiny.

“My pardon. You may know him better as,” she begins, striding forward and pulling open the swinging half-door separating the mob from the proceedings. With a flair worthy of any showman, she finishes, “Elgar’nan.”

The murmurs rise in volume, peppered with many a gasp.

“Order! Order!” shouts the lead judge, banging her gavel. The crowd hushes as Elgar’nan takes a few steps toward Merrill at her insistent wave.

“Your honors, I object,” the prosecutor says. “This man whose identity is, I say, still in question, is not on the list of witnesses.”

Merrill turns a sharp look his way. “You know as well as I that the purpose of a witness list is to ensure the neutrality of a jury. Do you see a jury here?”

Flabbergasted, the prosecutor turns to the judges. They, as one, shake their heads at him. The lead judge states, “She’s correct. That she provided one is a mere courtesy, not a requirement. Adding witnesses is within her rights. Though, again, I’ll warn you, Ms. Sabrae, this witness had better have something of substance to contribute.”

“I’m sure he will, your honors.” Her sharp grin is for Elgar’nan as much as her opponent across the aisle. Ellana gets the feeling that the petite lawyer might not like the older elf that much.

Nevertheless, she leans forward in her seat, eager to breathe upon the ember of hope.

Her father’s angular frame sits tight and wary on the witness stand, his unease very visible.

“You are Elgar’nan, yes?” asks Merrill, as she paces before him. Her manner is cold, far colder than Ellana thought her capable.

Clearing his throat, the older elf leans forward to speak into the mic, “Yes. That was my stage name.”

“And you were a member of Evanuris?”

He flashes a grin. “Since its founding to its inglorious death.”

“Please, no prose is necessary. Straight forward answers only.” Merrill walks over to the evidence table and picks up the faintly glimmering green foci resting at one end of it. “Do you recognize this item?”

“It’s one shard of the foci. Fen’harel’s.” He frowns. “It’s green. Mine was red. Mythal’s violet. Andrui—”

“Yes, yes. There were five ... shards, correct?” At Elgar’nan’s nod, Merrill continues, “And you yourself witnessed Fen’harel take possession of this artifact from Mr. Feddic—”

“Objection! We’ve already established this part of the relic’s past.” The prosecutor slams a palm down on the table before him.

Waving to concede the point, Merrill again addresses her witness, “In all the time you and Fen’harel were … associates, did he ever sell or convey a wish to sell the foci?”

“No, he wouldn’t.”

Raising a finger to stop the prosecutor’s incoming objection, Merrill says, “Why do you believe he wouldn’t?”

Shifting up on one hip, Elgar’nan reaches into a pocket, producing something he clutches between thumb and forefinger. Red light bleeds from between his fingers. Ellana gasps as he holds it up, revealing the triangular shape so identical to the green one in Merrill’s hand. “Many’s the day I nearly sold this to eat. To live. Sold it like I did everything else. It was a gift. From Mythal. So I didn’t. And if I, bastard that I am, couldn’t, then no way Fen’harel would.”

“Objection. This creative narrative cannot be corroborated without the man himself.” The prosecutor beseeches the tribunal with upraised hands. “One cannot speculate on what another man would or wouldn’t do.”

Relaxing into his seat, Elgar’nan retorts, with a sneer, “I get that, I do. But here’s a real fact. I know Fen’harel didn’t sell his foci to Corypheus.”

The prosecutor, ignoring the stormy looks thrown toward him by the judges, shouts, “I have bills of lading. Receipts! A paper trail a mile long that says otherwise.”

“Fakes. Forgeries,” says Elgar’nan, slouching with the impudent laziness of a tiger. “You want to know how I know?”

Merrill’s pert little face is positively savage with glee as she says, demure, “Yes, please.”

“Because I was the one who sold Fen’harel’s pick to Corypheus. In person. With my own hand.” Elgar’nan shakes his head, explaining, “Kept mine, but stole his when he disappeared off the bloody edge of the world. Thought he’d abandoned it with the rest as a sort of insult. Spitting in Mythal’s face. The woman was already dead, and at the time, I couldn’t let myself see that I was to blame. So I blamed him. Hated him for a long time. And I thought at least her gift would be appreciated by the curious and the fans, of course. Corypheus promised he’d show it, like at a museum. But no, he just kept it close. Vanity’s hostage. Just another thing taken from us by the fat pricks at the top.”

“You have no real proof!” shouts the prosecutor, over the stern reprisals from the judges.

The harsh banging of a gavel hushes them all though, as the left-most judge drawls, “Another outburst and we’ll hold you in contempt, councilor. You’ll have your opportunity to rebut after Ms. Sabrae is through.”

Tight and angry whispering draws Ellana’s eye to Corypheus, who is jabbing the prosecutor with one bony finger as he hisses something low and dark in the man’s face.

“You only wish I didn’t have proof, you old snake,” says Elgar’nan, with a crooked grin for Corypheus. “I can name names. I know where a lot of the old secrets are buried.”

“What sort of old secrets?” asks Merrill, all innocence.

“There’s an accountant, not the one Corypheus puts on all his tax forms, but his real accountant. Mr. Brown of 301 Saffron Road. If I say, for example, to look for a transaction on the fifth of Pluitanis, 9:23 Dragon, in the amount of two million royals. And then I say, look at my bank statements, I think you’ll see something very interesting indeed.”

The hissing whispers rise in volume and the prosecutor is looking very grey in the face.

Hope is a roaring fire in her belly now and her hands tremble as the judges call for order again.

A bang resounds from the end of the hall and all eyes turn to the main doors.

She’s on her feet before she even realizes it, staring open-mouthed at the two figures framed by sunlight. A tall, red-headed human leading a smaller, straight-backed elven man, whose scalp is covered in thick, week-old stubble.

“Solas,” falls the word from her slack lips.

Chapter Text

-excerpt from Wicked Grace Magazine, publication date 12th of Parvulis, 9:36 Dragon-

VT: So, at the end, what were you feeling?

FH: After Officer Vallen hauled Corypheus away in handcuffs? Hmm, a little vindicated, I suppose. Still very angry about the whole mess. And very, very relieved that it’s over and Ellana is safe. That’s probably the prevailing emotion.

VT: It had to feel good, though, right?

FH: ‘Good?’ Not especially.

VT: Oh, come on. You can’t tell me there wasn’t a little piece of you that didn’t jump up and down in glee when Aveline put her knee in Corphy’s back when he started to ‘resist arrest.’

FH: *sighs* Fine. I confess to some small satisfaction. I’m as fallible as any. But I’m no sadist. It is enough that he is being prosecuted for his many, many crimes. Both past and present.

VT: I imagine you never thought your re-emergence into the spotlight would happen so … explosively. And in such a setting.

FH: Truer words, Varric. I thought the last interview we did, the ‘expose’ on my return, would make for better entertainment than the drab bureaucracy of the courtroom. Not that it stayed drab.

VT: Well, it’s a good thing I pushed the release of the article back, or we wouldn’t have coverage of these most recent, most … interesting events.

FH: *laughs* I’d accuse you of augury, if you didn’t possess as much magic as your average kumquat.

VT: Finely-honed instincts, my friend. No hocus-pocus needed when you have guts as keenly attuned to the rhythm of the narrative as mine.

FH: I bow to your intestinal mastery.

VT: Anyway, so tell us what happened after Corypheus’s dramatic exit.

FH: Well, the prosecutor of Ellana’s case pushed for mistrial due to all the unusual bumps and oddness in the proceedings, but the tribunal denied him. Instead, they called for a short recess, during which Ms. Sabrae of S.A.G.A.S. prepared me for my turn on the stand.

VT: Weren’t you exhausted after your ordeal? Being kept prisoner in that house all those days had to take a toll. Mental and physical.

FH: It did. But Ellana’s future was at stake. And I am long done letting men like Corypheus dictate the course of fate, for myself or my ….

VT: ‘Your’ what? Sorry, didn’t quite catch that.

FH: My loved ones.

VT: Aww, didn’t know you cared, Chuckles. I’m all a-quiver.

FH: Varric.

VT: I’m just teasing. I know your heart belongs to another. A certain redheaded parolee with golden pipes and legs for days. *as an aside* None of you can see, but he’s suspiciously pink at the eartips.

FH: Enough.

VT: Fine. So, you strode in and saved the day.

FH: Well, I don’t see it that way. I played my part. The real heroes work at S.A.G.A.S. In their tireless efforts to promote equality for all, they defend the small from the ruthless. I cannot thank them enough for what they did for Ellana. She’s a free woman because of them.

VT: Humble’s a good look on you. Still, with the most serious charge dropped, she must be breathing easier. Time served is one hell of a break. I’m sure celebrity had nothing to do with it. *long pause* Hey, I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking. Gotta stay impartial, even entertainment magazines have standards.

FH: Ha! Then I’ll enjoy watching you backpedal when we get back to the Hanged Man.

VT: *clears throat* No more doom and gloom. Tell me about Inquisition’s plans for next summer.

FH: For that, I should make you ask Madame Vivienne.

VT: Oh, ho! How the Dread Wolf’s teeth shine when you give him a poke. Love Vivienne, but that’s just mean. She’s a very scary lady. Seriously, tell me and Inquisition’s fans when we can catch a show near us. Please?

FH: *chuckles* Since you asked nicely. You may not have to wait till summer. We’re doing a small circuit over Satinalia in the Free Marches. First, we’ll be in—


“Are you really reading your own interview?” asks a sudden voice at his shoulder.

Solas turns his face to capture the carmine lips of his lover. Ellana sighs into his mouth and his heart flutters, a trapped bird in his ribcage. How he missed her.

He pulls back to say, “Just enjoying the wit of Varric’s prose. Though I was not blushing, as he inferred.”

Ellana laughs as she embraces him, slender arms around his waist as she scoots behind him on the bed. “You could demand a correction in the next issue, but then you’d probably have to put up with a follow-up article on what a big, sensitive baby the Dread Wolf is.”

Solas sighs. “You’re right, vhenan. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

“Yup.” Then she pulls at him, and he lets her draw him back and down so they lie side by side, curled into one another. Her head rests on his shoulder as she plucks the magazine from his unresisting fingers.

They lie in comfortable silence for a long moment. He watches the curve of her cheek lift as she reads the long article. She giggles. “‘Intestinal mastery?’”

He hums a laugh, too. “Possessed by a spirit of whimsy, no doubt. Perhaps I am still elated with how things … turned out. No one hurt or … worse.”

She stills against him, and he watches the goosebumps rise on her flesh. HIs thumb drifts over the skin of her arm, soothing little circles, but while the pebbling eases, she only grows more tense and quiet.

Biting his lip at his own foolishness, he says, “I am here, and you are safe.”

The taut line of her body suddenly contracts around him, magazine flung as both her arms try to engulf all of him. At his throat, she heaves a sobbing gasp, and starts to tremble. “I was s-so afraid. For you. For me.” A thread of shame embrittles her timbre on that last.

Tears slick down his collarbone to the sheets below them. His own throat contracts, leaving him just enough air to croak, “As was I.” Then his hands clutch back at her. The echo of desperation leaks into his tone as he repeats in a broken whisper, “As was I.

The fear that haunted his captivity surges anew, and scrapes him hollow. All that could have happened to her, to them, flashes before his gaze. A litany of disastrous ‘what ifs.’ He could have lost her forever.

Then all he can do is hold her in the whipping tempest of their emotions. Full, wracking sobs roll through her frame, so hard they seem to threaten to shake her apart. If a few beads roll down his cheek to mingle with her tears, he takes no notice, murmuring soft comforting words into her hair. For all that, they are children, huddled and hiding from the monsters in the darkness.

It takes an hour for the storm to abate, and from where Ellana’s face stays buried at his neck, he hears a soft, tired laugh. She says, “I got the bedlinens all soggy.”

He shrugs and tries, for brevity, “It’s only your side of the bed.”

She makes a little scoff of mock outrage, pulling back to affix him with a sour look. “Uh huh. I see how it is.”

Kissing the frown from her lips, he cards his fingers through her sleep-matted hair. With thumb caressing her cheek, pouring all the love he can into his gaze, he whispers, “That’s how it is.”

For a moment, it looks as though she may cry again, but she sniffs it back and settles back into the bed at his side. They lie in tempered silence until he says, “I think the most shocking thing was walking into that courtroom and seeing Elgar’nan on the witness stand.”

All at once, she tenses again, but her tone strives for nonchalant, “That Elgar’nan, huh? So weird he showed up right then. And then to testify.”

“Yes,” he replies, tamping down the uncomfortable chaos of mixed emotions. “I told Merrill long ago of our less than friendly dealings, about how Elgar’nan often assisted Corypheus with his less legitimate business matters. But I never expected he’d put himself in the line of fire like that. Expose himself so baldly. Usually he has layers upon layers of lies wrapped around his real self. Justifications to allow him to be the consummate asshole he is.”

Ellana makes a thoughtful noise deep in her throat in the wake of his minor tirade. And her voice comes out small, muffled by some inner dam, “Whatever his reasons, it was clutch; him showing up like that. People do change, Solas. Sometimes.”

“That much? It’s … hard to believe,” he says, as he tries to catch her eyes with his. But she dodges, gaze flitting back and forth around their room. Solas puzzles it over. She’s still holding back. But what? And how to get her to understand that whatever it is, it could never change the way he feels about her?

What is so terrible that she fears sharing it so much? Even after he’d already confessed what he’d had to do to survive?

Biting the frustration back, Solas sighs. “I wish you’d just say it. Whatever it is, you know I’m here to listen.”

She sucks in a deep breath before finally looking at him. Nodding, she lets her lip pop free of chewing teeth before she says, “I-I know, but I just-after everything-I want to …. I want to forget, just for a little while. Just forget it all and be with you.” She stares deep into his eyes as she asks, “Is … that okay?”

He hears the silent question: Are we okay?

“Yes. And of course it is.” He pulls her back to nestle at his ribs. “When you’re ready, I’m here.”

“Thank you, vhenan.” Her heartfelt gratitude pricks him.

As they drift closer to slumber, she murmurs, “Ar lath ma.”

His heart twists fondly as he answers, “And I, you, my heart.”

Then sleep steals them both away on a sigh, drowning fear.

For now.

Chapter Text

“Holy fucking Qun, that guy’s such a throwback,” grumbles Bull from where he’s loading in some scenery.

Ellana laughs, and shoots a look over to the ‘guy.’ Or rather, the mountain of muscle and grouchiness vaguely shaped like a qunari.

In a working stiff’s suit, no less. Pressed shirt, black slacks. Equally black tie; its single windsor knot boring and tiny around a neck even thicker than Bull’s. He has the look of a man eternally strangled by an environment he finds deplorable and horrifying. The thickening crowd of camera crew give him a wide berth, shying away from the disapproval oozing like a miasma into the air around him.

In other words, the perfect babysitter.

She asks, “Why? What did you say? You better not be harassing my P.O.”

He shrugs. “All I did was wander over there to say hi. I didn’t expect to be bombarded with a hundred questions.” He throws his beefy arms up and continues, “‘What do you do here? How long have you known the probationer? When was the last time you went to Temple? Have you ever made the Sacred Pilgrimage to Qunandar?’”

Brows lifting, Ellana says, “He is a pretty nosy one. Solas had to endure a similar badgering when they met earlier.”

“I can’t imagine it didn’t make him any happier when I told him I’m a Reformationist. Dude just muttered something about Tal-Vashoth and turned away from me.” Bull glowers over at that corner for a moment. “Rude. Even for an Arishok.”

“Someday you’ll have to explain all that Qun stuff to me. Like, I thought Arishok was his name, but it’s not?” She gestures. Well, more flails, in her incomprehension.

“Yeah, it’s a ceremonial title nowadays. Just don’t ever leave ‘the’ off there. And don’t call him that directly. Only when you’re talking about him to someone else. Unless—You know, it’s complicated.” Bull shakes his head at what’s probably an expression of complete idiocy on her face. “He probably won’t care, seeing as you’re just bas.”

Sour, she says, “Thanks ….”

Bull is quick to flutter his huge hands in the air. “What he thinks, boss.”

“I know. You love me.” Ellana puts her hand on his shoulder, marveling at how even standing on the raised platform she can do so without stooping an inch. “It’s only four months, Bull. Then he’ll sign off on my paperwork and I’m in the free and clear. Try not to grapple with him in the meantime. I don’t think rickety old Kirkwall could take an earthquake of that magnitude.”

Bull turns back to his work. “Koslun, save us from fundamentalists.”

Chuckling, Ellana lifts her head at movement near the door.

Then her jaw drops.

That’s …. Solas is ….

Fucking hot.

Bright buckled jackboots lead her eye up long, lean, leatherclad legs. She lingers in deep contemplation of those flexing thighs before skittering past criss-crossed belts and chains. His toned midriff peeks out at her from the open vest, which is the only thing adorning his upper half. Its patent leather shine drapes like blackened silk across broad (freckled, dear gods!) shoulders.

At last, she finds his kohl-rimmed blue eyes under fresh-shaved scalp. They twinkle with amusement and a spritz of … embarrassment? Her breath catches at how precious that is. How precious he is to her.

“Need a hanky?” asks a low voice somewhere near her feet. Ellana looks down to see Blackwall giving her a lopsided grin. He offers a square of off-white cloth from his back pocket.

“What?” she manages.

Snickering, the bassist says, “You look as if you might start drooling.” In the background, she can hear others also indulging in some laughter at her expense. Cass. Sera.

Clicking her tongue, she shoos the man away with her toe before turning back to Solas, who stops before her dais. His gaze sweeps down her expansive dress before shooting back up to her face. He licks his lips before saying, “Vhenan.” A rare touch of heat filters into his tone, calling up an answering flush in her skin.

She wonders if her face matches her hair yet. Probably. Clearing her throat, she replies, “Hello, handsome stranger. Have you seen my man around? Partial to sweater vests and reading glasses he doesn’t really need?”

Laughing, he jumps up onto the platform in one lithe leap and kisses her. Her guts flip flop beneath her pounding heart. He pulls back to say, “Seems old world finery suits you. You look beautiful.”

“You look comfortable,” she retorts, grinning. “Took Morrigan nearly an hour to stuff me in this dress. Who knew crinoline and lace could be so temperamental?”

Whimsy turns his smile puckish. “Would you like to switch?”

“What, and have to go through it all again when Morrigan flips her lid? No, thank you.” She shudders. Then her hands steal around his trim waist, relishing the feel of his skin against her palms. Naughty hands. She’d tackle him now if the damn flying harness doesn’t keep her pinned in place like a caught butterfly.

“Alright, kids,” says a feminine voice from the floor. The lovers look down to see the director, a dwarven woman named Bianca, grinning at them. She rubs her palms together. “You ready to make some magic?”

They nod in unison, not that she really waits for their acknowledgement before continuing, “So, here’s what I’m thinking. We went over the storyboards earlier, right? The sort of reverse sleeping beauty fairytale thing? Well, I’m gonna change it up a bit as we go. It’s not sexy enough. So, we’re throwing in a dash of ‘escape from the underworld’.”

She outlines the scene for them. When they again nod in understanding, Bianca frames them between her forefingers and thumbs. “I want very dramatic, very gothic punk. Black and white with bits and bursts of color. In post, of course. Not now. What I need from you, my talented stars, is some serious smolder. Hit your marks, but lots of eye contact between. We want sexy, but savage. You, Fen—I mean, Solas, I want you to eye-fuck the shit out of her. But … romantically.”

Solas makes a sound like a cross between confused and amused. “I am not sure one can ‘eye-fuck’ romantically. It sounds very … beastly. Leering like a sex-crazed maniac.”

The diminutive woman gives him a playful punch to the calf and snorts. “Just think with your cock, man. You got this. Everyone, to your marks!”

His brow creases in the center, expression faintly mortified. But Bianca doesn’t notice, or care to notice, whichever. Ellana chuckles as they watch the director walk to her chair behind the monitors. She dives to give Solas a little peck on his cheek just before he jumps off the platform, and says, “Aaand now we’re both uncomfortable.”

“That’s only fair, I suppose.” Solas hums a little laugh as he takes to his position.

The others arrange themselves all around, each carrying their unamped instruments. She wishes she had her own axe to hide behind. No such luck.

Cole sits at her left, in front of a drumkit far too flash to be functional. He gives her a nervous smile, and she shoots back a reassuring double thumbs-up. She whispers, “Remember, it’s all just pretend.”

“Shadows playing on the wall. Not real. Not real like me. I’m real,” murmurs the spirit, shuddering at who knows what. Perhaps an ill wind from the Fade only he feels. Nevertheless, she can’t quell the tiny tremor of doubt that shivers along her spine.

The snap of the slate-board makes her jump a bit. Sheepish, she just keeps from flinching as sound pours out of the speakers abreast of the ‘stage.’ Music. A song from their newest album, their second album to hit record-breaking sales both here and abroad. 

It’s near the end of the track, though, and she marvels at the strange time-bending nature of film-making. Or music video-making, anyway. Everything’s all back to front. It’s a tangled ball she hopes Bianca at least can make sense of.

Closing her eyes, she breathes and sets herself to motion, singing along with the mournful strains and crescendos. Lifting her head, her eyes snap open and stare hard at the camera, daring it to deny her. Passion rises within as her movements grow bold and reckless. Her bandmates mimic playing their parts. Sera spins in the space before her, graceful as any ballet dancer, slim arms pumping to flex bow to string.

Ellana’s gaze flies toward Solas, just as it’s meant to, and she almost falters as she sees the raw … worship in his eyes. Undeniable want. Need. Yet somehow not base or carnal. He reaches like a man drowning, stepping toward her, slow and with awe bordering on terror.

The flying harness pulls her out of his grasp, lifting and turning her in a gentle spin as the platform she had been standing on descends into the set’s floor with a pneumatic whine. Amid blinding floodlights from above, she drifts upward as the song reaches its peak, but her arms reach down, down. The girdle’s cables invert her to accommodate her futile reaching.

She’s the woman in the story, the sorrowful being that does not wish to leave. Who is at the mercy of powers she cannot hope to defy. She’s being torn away from everything she loves and tears at herself in grief and despair. The last lines of the song leave her in a hateful shout toward the heavens. Solas’s baritone harmony echoes her rage.

Then the lights go out in that breathless second of silence at the end of the final chorus.

She falls.

A helpless scream leaves her throat as she plummets. The tiny bit of rational thought in the crowded room of her panic yells that it’s all going as planned. The wires on her harness vibrate as the motors connected to them work to keep her descending at a controlled rate, slowing her by increments. Still she claws at the air like a madwoman as the loose fabric and lace of her gown flutter in the artificial gale created by the large fans below.

Then strong arms catch her and she’s hugging him so hard her arms ache. Just as tight, he embraces her back, whispering a breathless, “And you wanted to do your own stunts. Tsk.”

Giddy relief pours into her as he pulls back to cup her face, those same worshipful eyes softening with tender regard. The outtro swells as he leans in to kiss her and she sighs into his mouth. 

The lovers remain in hell, but at least they’re in hell together.

She barely notes the music fading to nothing.

“Cut!” shouts Bianca, breaking the spell. “And that’s the money shot.”

Ellana kisses away the tiny frown pulling at the corners of Solas’s mouth. Then she laughs. “Holy shit, that was scary.”

Grimacing, Solas sets her on her feet. “Ellana, I beg you. Use the stuntwoman. It’s an unnecessary risk—”

“Oh, c’mon, I was perfectly safe. And that was hella fun—”

“Nice work!” says Bianca as she bounces up to them. “Very authentic. I felt it all. Probably one of the best first takes in my whole career.”

“Awesome,” Ellana replies, then she gives a cable a tug. “So can someone peel me outta this thing? It’s so pinchy.”

“What? No can do, sweetie.” Bianca again fails to register the intense discontent that must be stamped on Ellana’s face. The dwarf waves her hands as she saunters back over into her little director’s chair. She picks up a microphone and thumps it with her fingers. The hollow ‘thunk’ resounds through the PA system as she clears her throat to shout, “Everyone, back to one! We’re running through it a couple more times.”

Ellana groans as the platform beneath her starts to rise.

A ‘couple’ turns into six more takes. By the end of that day’s shooting, she’s exhausted and irritable. Her ribcage feels as though it will never be the same. As she changes back into her own clothing, she hisses as the material slides over what will surely become bruises later on.

“Excellent work today, Ellana!” shouts the director. “See you all tomorrow, bright and early. And do bring along darling Varric. Nothing like a little man-candy to get the creative juices flowing.”

Ew, Ellana thinks. 

Not that Varric is without his charms, but seeing him getting pawed and groped never fails to disturb. Though, he doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, he and Bianca seem to have a growing … thing going on. Weird.

Waving at her friends and lover to go on out to the car without her, Ellana plops into the seat opposite the imposing figure of her P.O.

Without looking up from his paperwork, the man-mountain rumbles, “Have you ingested any drugs today?”

Sighing, she responds, “You were here the whole time. Did you see me ingest any drugs?”

“A bad attitude will not make this go easier. For either of us.” He peers at her, critically. “Have you ingested any drugs today? Any narcotics or alcohol?”

“No.” She just keeps the edge out of her tone.

He makes a mark on the paperwork lying before him in a modest little black leather folder. “Have you broken curfew any time in the last week?”

Slouching, she says, “I’ve been meaning to speak to you about that. This isn’t a nine to five sort of job. Sometimes work will extend past 10 P.M.”

“Is that a yes then?” says the immovable man, horned head tilting.

Deflating, she mutters, “No.”

“Good.” Clapping his folder closed, the Arishok stands. “Be in my office on Monday for your UA. And a reminder: entering any establishment that serves alcohol is a violation of your probation.”

As he turns to walk away, she blurts, “You realize that like ninety percent of venues serve booze? And without venues, I can’t do my job? And not having a job is a violation of that other condition?”

With a deep hum, he gives her a sidelong look. “You will stay within the restrictions or you will spend the remainder of your sentence in prison. It has always been your choice. As it was your choice to commit a crime.”

His eyes narrow as he continues, “Not that you even felt the full measure of the law. Looking over your documents, I see the most serious charges were dropped, leaving only breaking and entering. A mere Class 1 misdemeanor. Of which you were convicted.”

Ellana gets the feeling that if this man had been her judge, she’d have faced the maximum sentence. No plea bargains. No mercy. She stays silent before his righteous tirade, though he might read her rising anger in her posture. Spine a rigid pole of shaking indignation. No longer slouching, she glares back at him.

Lip curling, the Arishok says, “No doubt you have many excuses, many justifications. Great leniencies have been shown to you. A multitude of concessions and compromises to soften the rule of law that should have been absolute. Unforgiving, despite whatever ‘fame’ you might possess. Gained, surely, through avarice, cunning and blind, grasping, gluttonous ambition.”

Then he turns his back on her and she fights the urge to make faces at it, like a brat.

At the set’s door, he looks back over his shoulder and growls, “You should be grateful.”

Then he’s gone, briefly eclipsing the sunlight streaming in from outside.

“Wow, that guy’s kind of an asshole,” says a most welcome voice from the shadows at her back.

She stands and spins in one motion, rushing over to embrace her best friend. “Varric!”

“Rosy!” he says against her shoulder. Then he pushes at her. “I can’t breathe, kid.”

“Sorry,” she says as she releases him.

“I guess you missed me.”

“Of course I did,” she admonishes, with a light slap to his shoulder. Then she grins, anger banished.

“Well, magazines don’t publish themselves, so I thought I’d take the opportunity of you being stuck in Kirkwall to actually go into the office.”

“Considering how much you were able to accomplish on the road with us, I can’t imagine how much more you could do if you were actually hands on.”

“You know most of those people I hired had never even met me before? Ha! The look on their faces when they realized their boss is a dwarf.” He laughs, then offers his arm to her. “I wish you had been there to see it. Priceless.”

“I bet.” As they walk toward the door, she notices something in his other hand. A small box. “Ooh? What’s that?”

For a moment, Varric tries to hide it behind his back, but then pulls it forward to show her. “Just a … little something.”

“Who for?” she teases, though she knows already. “Not me. Huh. And here I was thinking you’d come to visit me, when it was a certain lady dwarf who really brought you here. Some friend.”

“I did come to see you,” he says, backpedaling. “It’s just … seeing her is a nice bonus. Icing on the cake, if you will.”

With a chuckle at his expense, she says, “So what is it?”

Oddly shy, he passes it over.

She turns the small cube over in her hands and comments, “Too heavy for earrings. Too small for a necklace. A bracelet maybe?”

“Maybe it’s not jewelry at all.”

“Oh, I think you know women better than that. You can’t hand someone like her something this approximate size without certain assumptions being made. Assumptions you never, ever want to disappoint. Not if you don’t want to be friend-zoned.” She opens it and stares. Then she snaps it shut. “Really, Varric?!”

“What?” He shrugs, but there’s a flash of fear in his eyes. “Too soon?”

“I’ll say. You’ve only known her for like a week!”

They pause just outside, and she thrusts the box back in his hands. He hides it in a pocket and digs his toe into the ground. Then he looks up at her and grumbles, “I’m a middle-aged bachelor staring at the coming twilight wondering if this is it. If this is all life has for me. Not all of us have years and years to think about maybe doing something, maybe reaching for something with any kind of deeper meaning. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s a mirage. But I’m willing to find out. I’m willing to let go and fall.”

Something in his tone pokes at her. She says, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know,” he says, spearing her with a knowing glance. “Have you told him yet?”

Her throat closes as she snaps fully upright. “I’m … waiting for the right time.”

He throws his hands up in the air. “There you go again with the waiting. The endless hesitation. Just do it, Rosy. Before he’s gone. Before you’re like me. Before time is an unwelcome guest sleeping on your couch, eating all your snacks. Using all the toilet paper without buying more. Impending mortality is the worst roommate, believe me.”

After a long moment of thought, she nods. “I … I’ll try.”

“Do better than that,” he says. Patting her hand, he finishes, “For me.”

A wrenching twinge in her chest keeps her from answering for a long heartbeat. Then she says, “She’s in the editing room. You can probably distract the interns with a game of ‘fetch me a latte.’”

He bobs his head, tipping an imaginary hat to her. “Wish me luck.”

“Every ounce,” she calls after him as he disappears back inside. Then she walks to the long shuttlebus and slides in next to Solas.

He smiles as she settles into his side. “Was that Varric?”

“Yup. Come to see bossy shortarse prolly,” Sera says, cleaning her nails with a pocketknife. Everyone murmurs in agreement with that, a few smiles scattered throughout. Then the blond says, “S’abit gross the way she, like, pets his chest pelt, innit?”

Cass makes a sound, her patented grunt of disagreement with a touch of disdain. “What does it matter? He clearly likes her, and she seems to reciprocate. Let them be happy.”

Blackwall says, “It’s kinda nice to see him genuinely happy. Plus it’s a pleasant change to have just a bit less gallows-humor in that rag of his.”

Laughing, Solas says, “I’ll admit, that’s the part I enjoy most in that ‘rag.’”

“That’s ‘cause you’re sour as spring grapes,” notes Sera.

And because she can’t help but come to his defense, Ellana shoots back, “Some of us have a wider range of what we consider humorous, Sera. Not just dick and fart jokes.”

Everyone chuckles at that. Sera snorts. “Dicks and farts’re hilarious.”

“No one’s arguing that,” Solas says, with a magnanimous wave. “We just enjoy variety.”

“Wot? A variety of dicks? Didn’t know you was into that. No wonder you and Dori get along so well.” Sera sits back, smug that she ‘scored a hit.’

Solas’s mouth opens, but Ellana reaches up to cover it. “Just let her have it. This time. I know you like to have the last word, but I’m too tired. Can we go home?”

He strokes her arm and she melts, just a bit. “We … can, if you like.”

The strange reticence grabs her attention. “Did you have something else in mind?”

Humming a positive, he bends to say at her ear, “I thought, perhaps, you’d like to come meet a … friend of mine. He’s expressed an interest in meeting you. But, if need be, it can wait.”

The tense eagerness hiding under his polite deference to her obvious exhaustion is what sways her. She says, “Anyone you call friend is definitely worth meeting.”

His smile, so wide and unambiguously pleased, enchants her. He ducks his head and says, “I was hoping you’d say that.”

Infectious, his zeal motivates her to shake off her weariness. And she really does look forward to meeting this mysterious character Solas feels an obvious affection for.

Yet, within, disquiet grows into a haunting, forboding specter.

When will she ever find the moment to tell him the things she needs to?

Chapter Text

Cole stays when all the others depart to their respective abodes. He looks at Solas with solemn determination on his sallow face. The spirit says, “You want me to go, too.”

Ellana looks back and forth between them as Solas nods. He gives the instructions to the driver and off they go.

The older elf sighs and settles back in his seat. Hightown’s tall skyscrapers roll by the windows, all steel and stone and glass. Yet here and there, the dirt and rust of urban decay. Kirkwall. He really has grown a fondness for this city that took him in when he had nowhere else to go.

A place to start again. To do things right this time.

Warm affection waxes to a genuine love as they pass into Lowtown and down toward the ugly bit known as Darktown. Just before the all-consuming squalor swallows the limo, they stop. The trio scoots out onto the sidewalk.

Solas ducks his head back in to say to the driver, “Just head back. We’ll call when we need to be picked up.”

“Sure, sure. Don’t wanna park hereabouts anyway. They’ll nick the tires right out from under me,” cajoles the dwarf, Renner, back.

Chuckling, Solas closes the door and watches the long vehicle pull off, back toward safer Hightown. He looks up to the darkening sky and then turns back to see Ellana rubbing her hands together. Stepping forward, he says, “Cold?”

“A little. Shoulda brought a heavier coat.” She gestures down to the denim bolero hugging the upper part of her form-fitting leather dress. She folds her arms and shivers. “Shoulda brought a damn parka.”

Putting his arm around her, he says, “I’m sorry I didn’t take that into consideration. It’s just a short walk from here.”

She leans into him as they start walking toward the west end of the street. “It’s okay. A little movement will knock the frost off my joints.”

They halt before a modest door whose dimensions suggest the occupants might be of shorter stature. Clearing his throat to push away the stab of nerves, Solas reaches out and knocks. After a long moment of silence, he knocks again a bit louder.

When that produces nothing more than silence as well, he starts to worry, gnawing at his lip. He and Ellana exchange a glance.

They know we’re coming. I did call. What if—?

The door opens before his raised knuckles, sparing it a third hard rapping. Suddenly, Solas is looking down into a smiling, aged dwarvish face. “Ser F— Solas! And Mistress Ellana. And … friend. Come in, come in!”

Their host opens the door wider, gesturing for them to enter. Then he turns about and walks deeper into the abode.

As they troop in after him, Solas hears Ellana ask, “Bodahn? From the trial?”

“Indeed, serah,” calls the dwarf over his shoulder. “Sorry I wasn’t more, er, useful with my testimony. But I’m glad it turned out alright.”

“That you helped is enough.” Solas pulls aside some hanging wire whirligig so the others can pass under it.

Ellana says, “So am I. Glad, that is. Four months of probation is a hell of a sight better than six to twelve years in prison.”

Ducking under a low door frame, Solas comments, “Bodahn, this is Cole. He’s a spirit.”

“Thought he had the look! Well, all types is welcome here. Oh, look out for that! And the spindle. Let me just move these sprockets out the way. Heavens, how did this mess get here?” laments the dwarf as they move through the crowded anteroom. Bodahn keeps up a running stream of commentary mixed with apology.

Solas looks around at what is clearly storage; everything a craftsman could ever need, though dusty and disorganized from disuse. Wonders tucked into random corners grab his attention. A clockwork man. An enchanting crucible. A full forge, dead and cold behind stacks and stacks of various materials, ingots and boxes. Sadness touches him at the thought of all this lying dormant because of misconceptions held by those that uphold the law.

Forced into purposelessness.

He realizes Bodahn’s ramblings have turned toward the inquisitive—

“—made it here alright? No trouble from the local toughs?”

Ellana answers, “The street’s quiet. All the thugs are probably preparing for later mischiefs. You know, polishing their baseball bats. Picking out just the right shade of spraypaint for that giant penis they always dreamt of scrawling on a traincar.”

Bodahn’s laughs, a deep but bright sound. “Oh, you are a delight, miss. I can see why my boy wanted me to help.”

He leads them down a flight of stairs into a space clearly meant for living. Low couches hug the walls of the subterranean home, while pots simmer over the stove in the adjacent kitchen. An offkey humming draws his attention to a figure entering the room from a long hallway to his right.

That figure pauses, wide blue eyes taking in the visitors. They widen further as they spot the woman to Solas’s left. In a couple of quick steps, the new dwarf seizes Ellana’s hand and grins up at her in simple joy. His round and witless face gleams in the low lamplight.

Ellana says, “Um, hello.”

Bodahn steps up. “Yes, er, this is Sandal. My boy. He really wanted to meet you. Big fan, he is.” Then, he walks into the kitchen and stirs one of the big pots. “We don’t really have a, um, dining room, so to speak. So we eat in the living room ‘round the coffee table. Please, make yourselves at home. I’ll bring dinner forthwith.”

Cole drifts over and plops onto a couch, landing with hardly a sound. Solas gestures for Ellana to precede him. She does, with Sandal in tow, since he won’t relinquish her hand. But she doesn’t seem to mind. She sits on the floor at the short table and looks over at Sandal with a smile on her face. Patting his hand, she looks around, saying, “I like your home. Very cozy.”

Sandal declares, “Enchantment!”

“I’m pretty sure that’s ‘thank you,’” Bodahn calls from the kitchen. “A simple lad, my boy. Gifted, but simple. And as far as the place, well, it’s home. Took some getting used to. Had a hell of a time finding room for all our things at the beginning, but it’s pretty homey now.”

Solas says, low so the dwarf in the kitchen can’t hear, “They were once wealthy. Successful. Had a shop in Denerim and Minrathous.”

“What happened?” asks Ellana.

Bodahn answers, terse, “The Magical Possession Prohibition Act. Dozens of official inquiries killed our business. And our reputation. It shouldn’t have gone like that. Not that I miss the money or the prestige, alright, I do … a bit, but my boy deserved better.” He sets bowls before them all from a tray in his one hand. “It’s stew. Nug-free, I promise.” This last, he says to Cole, who is looking into his bowl with uncertainty and trepidation. After a moment of watching him, Bodahn says to Solas, “Does he eat? I should have asked, shouldn’t I? Apologies.”

“No need. Whether or not Cole eats depends on how stable his pattern is that day,” Solas says, letting some of his worry for his friend bleed into his voice. It’s true, lately Cole’s energies have been in flux. A constant and concerning wavering between the real and unreal. Solas worries that one day Cole will unravel completely, either returning to the Fade or becoming … twisted.

Cole puts a spoonful of soup into his mouth, swallowing slow and with deliberation. Then the spirit smiles, and the relief on his wan countenance also trickles through Solas. Then Sandal leans over and gives Cole a hard poke in the belly. A ripple forms and spreads from that point all over Cole’s form. His shape distorts in gut-flipping waves until Solas wrenches his gaze away from the slightly nauseating sight.

Bodahn gasps. “Sandal!”

Before the repudiation, the beardless dwarf flinches, but says, “Had to see.”

“You should say sorry to the nice young man, er, spirit.”

“Sorry,” mumbles a contrite Sandal. “Dunno if it’ll work.”

“What?” asks Bodahn, confused. “If what’ll work?”

“I apologize, Bodahn. Our visit, while meant to satisfy Sandal’s desire to meet Ellana and, at the same time, try to repay you a small measure of all that I owe you both, might have a tiny hint of an ulterior motive,” Solas says, spreading his hands in confession.

“What motive?” asks Bodahn, sharp.

“Cole. He’s my friend, and he’s losing himself. I fear that if he spends any more time on this side of the Veil, then there will be dire consequences.”

Ellana looks around, alarmed. She turns to the spirit and says, “Cole, is this true? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Cole shrugs. “Sharp, shedding shreds. The world scrapes as it passes. Too narrow. Too grainy. Sandpaper shallows with razor reefs. Tiny pieces fall like Harvestmere leaves.”

“If you wanted to commission us, you should have said on the phone. Then I could have told you ‘no’ and you wouldn’t have wasted your time coming all the way down here,” huffs Bodahn, large calloused hands flying to solid, husky hips. Then they swipe down the dwarf’s apron with agitation. He shoots a look at Solas. “We haven’t the means anyway. No workshop. You seen the upstairs. Even the mice have to go single file.”

After taking a few bites of stew, Solas says, “I would not ask if I could trust anybody else. Most would report him to some local authority. And a few might try to keep him for study.”

Real queasiness stamps itself all over Ellana’s face. “That’s not going to happen.” So adamant a statement that Solas feels the weight of it press on him, giving him pause. For a second, he wonders just how long it took Fenris to capitulate to that iron core of tenacity in her soul. Not long, certainly.

When he again finds breath, Solas says, “No, it isn’t.” Then he looks to Bodahn. “I can pay.”

The dwarf chews the ends of his mustache, pensive and fearful. “But they’ll just get on my boy again. You know this time they’ll crucify him. They won’t stop at just ruining our lives if we swim back into those dangerous waters.”

“No. This time we can prepare for the assault.” Solas put conviction in his tone. “We’ll know it’s coming. We can have countermeasures in place to diffuse it before it ever gets that far.”

Solas watches him waffle between resignation and stubbornness.

“I want to.”

All eyes turn to Sandal, who sort of stares off into nothing with a sad smile on his messy, stew-covered face.

Ellana takes her napkin and leans toward him, gently wiping the grease and excess food away from around his mouth. She gives him a bright smile as she finishes. “There you are.”

He beams at her with blithe happiness, then tackles her in a hug. She laughs as she returns it wholeheartedly.

Bodahn sighs, giving a heavy lift and drop off his rounded shoulders. “Fine. If my boy wants to, then who am I to stand in his way?” The dwarf grumbles as he stomps back into the kitchen, “Just his father, is all. Not like I’d know what’s best for my boy or anything.”

Then he sticks his head back out into the living room and grumps, “You will be paying, you said? Good. And we need someplace to set up shop, so you’ll be arranging that as well. I hope your pockets have grown good and deep, because a lot of the equipment needs fixin’ or replacin’.”

Solas nods. “Whatever you need.”

“No guarantees either. You heard my boy. He don’t know if it, whatever it is, will even work.”

Ellana answers for them, “If there’s a chance, then it’s worth a try.”

Sandal leaps to his feet and spins once, twice, thrice in place. “Enchantment!” Then he claps his hands like an overexcited child. It’s not far from the mark and endearing in the extreme. Solas finds himself laughing with the fae dwarf.

Then Sandal runs off, down the hall and into a room. When he comes sprinting back, he plops down on the threadbare carpet next to Ellana and holds out a clenched hand toward her. Blinking, she cups her own under and gasps as he drops a glowing green guitar pick into her palm.

“The foci!” she exclaims, holding it up between forefinger and thumb. “How?”

“Well, when it was released to me from evidence, I brought it to Sandal.” Solas ducks his head under her intense regard. “To be, ah, ‘retuned.’”

“Prickly sour edges. Resonances plucked from everything else in the room. Murders. Mayhems. Monstrosities.” Cole stands, a waifish, attenuated shape in the dimlit room. “Ugly sounds.”

Sandal nods and pats her hand over the pick. “All clean.”

“You’re a bit of a genius, aren’t you?” she asks him, ruffling his short hair.

The boy colors and squirms in acute shyness, though his grin is utterly pleased. Bodahn cleans up the remains of dinner, whistling as he rinses out the bowls and spoons. Afterward, the conversation is easy and pleasant, lacking in the previous strained tension.

Solas thinks, I do believe Bodahn is just as pleased as his son to be getting back to work.

And well they should, for what is a craftsman without a craft?

Warmed by the thought, Solas maneuvers back through the jumble upstairs, leading his companions back out into the cold winter night. The limo waits and they all slide in with echoing sighs of relief to be back in the warm.

Ellana hums and fingers the foci in her hand. With thoughtful frown, she says, “Sandal made these, didn’t he?”

“Yes. He is older than he looks. A savant at the enchanting arts. With the mind of a child. Innocent. Pure.” Solas puts his arm around her and pulls her close. “So you see how I could not just hand him over to Corypheus, no matter what pains he inflicted on me. Such a betrayal would be truly vile.”

“You’d never do something so seriously fucked up. I mean, no one deserves that, but Sandal …. Fuck, can you imagine? He wouldn’t even know what was happening,” she says. By the look in her eye, Sandal may well have won himself another protector. 

“I can too easily imagine. I could not bear that burden on my already bruised conscience. And further, what if Corypheus’s coercion had worked? What other horrors could he have unleashed misusing Sandal’s gifts?”

Nodding, she looks at her phone. “Almost ten. Let’s get home before the clock tower starts chiming. You know how my P.O. just looooves to ‘drop by.’ Maybe he’ll have the whole kit. Jar for piss and a breathalyzer. Little baggie for hair follicles. You know, because he’s all about ‘just doing his job.’ It’s not harassment at all.”

Cloaked under her light and lilting tone, there lies a pebble of bitter anger.

Solas smiles.

He doesn’t envy those who would dare tempt her ire.

Chapter Text

“Dumat’s scales! Can you believe it’s been five years?” says the handsome Tevinter on the stool beside her. Ellana turns, then tilts her head in question. Dorian’s mouth turns up at one corner as he continues, “Since you were lucky enough to meet me.”

She snorts, then stares into her glass of illicit beer. Shock freezes her hands as she realizes he’s right. It has been five years. “Holy fuck ….” 

I met Solas five years ago.

“I know, right?” The man sips his wine with clear enjoyment. “Changed your life forever, I’m sure. I have that effect on people.” He preens.

Dumbfounded, her mind is far away as she nods, yes, everything changed. I never could have imagined how my life would turn out. Fame. Fortune. And the love of someone as wonderful as Solas. Even as undeserved as she feels to have it, it still warms the core of her.

In the fog of her pensive mood, she feels Dorian’s disapproval of her reticence to engage in conversation. Ellana shakes her head and says, clearing her throat, “So where you been keeping yourself lately, Dorian? Haven’t seen you around.”

He sits up a bit taller on his stool. “Oh, I’ve been tremendously busy. My … father passed away last month—”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know—Are you okay?” she begins, guilty, but his hand waves her apology away.

“It’s alright. Well, I mean, it’s as alright as it can be. Our relationship was … complicated, to say the least.” Dorian shrugs, a single elegant lift and drop of his bare shoulders. “He never approved of my personal life, you know. Being extremely traditional himself. How shocking to find out he left everything to me. So that’s what I’ve been busy with, untangling the huge, tangled mess that is my late father’s estate. All his bookkeeping was still written out long-hand, in those old velvet and leather-bound ledgers. Man wouldn’t know modern accounting if it bit him in the ass. I was honestly surprised it wasn’t illuminated.”

“Like holy writ?” At his nod, she laughs. “The religion of money has many an acolyte, seer and priest.”

“I couldn’t have put it more accurately, or poetically,” Dorian says. He slouches a bit, resting his elbow on the back of his stool. Looking around, he sighs. “I’m going to miss this charming place. The dirt has grown on me. It almost feels like home.”

“The Hanged Man does that. Wait,” she says, twisting her stool to face him. “What do you mean you’re going to miss this place?”

Dorian looks back at her, smile sad at the edges. “Well, my father left me his shares in the company and his position on Imperium’s board of directors. I’m their chief financial officer now.”

Wetting her lips, she grimaces. “Do you really want to go back into that nest of vipers? Why don’t you just sell your shares and be free? I’m sure I can get White Spire to hire you.”

He gives her a look of mild reproach. “And how will that change anything? I have a real chance to reform the company my father helped build. If I leave it now, there’s a good chance they’ll crash and burn under the weight of these most recent scandals.”

“Some would say good riddance,” she grumbles.

Clicking his tongue at her, Dorian shakes his head. “No. The people at the top might have been corrupt and power mad, but you never saw the genuine love for music that lay at its heart. The underlings and low-level agents, the idealists and artists that drove the engine of Imperium along. The ones that had no say in its doomed course, but gave their all anyway. Good, talented people. And where will they all go when Imperium dissolves? The ones that avoid becoming unhirable and destitute will no doubt still come away disillusioned. I don’t want that. And I’m sure you don’t really either. What good does it do to breed more bitterness into the world?”

She thinks on his words for a long while before saying, with a smile, “I’m going to miss you, Dorian.”

“Of course you will.”

Cocky bastard. She grins.

“‘Of course she will’ what?” says Solas, who arrives just then. His warm lips skim over her cheek in greeting, setting her heart to thrumming. The bartender sets a new glass of beer before him, and Solas nods in thanks as he picks it up.

Ellana loops her arm around the still standing Solas’s waist as she replies, “Our Dorian is leaving us.”

“Oh?” says her heart, after taking a generous draught of lager.

Dorian smirks. “Didn’t think I’d hang around filthy Kirkwall forever, did you? I’m going home. To take over my father’s seat on Imperium’s board of directors.”

Solas jerks in surprise. “Truly?”

“It’s about time someone raked all the muck out of that sewer. For good or for ill, that someone will be me.” Dorian’s jaw sets in resolution.

“Wear very tall galoshes,” says Solas.

“Are you kidding me? I’m going to wear a hazmat suit. Nothing less will keep the stink off.” They laugh at Dorian’s comical shudder.

Then Solas flashes a small, vicious smile. “Give them hell.”

“Hear, hear,” says Ellana, lifting her glass. They clink their glasses together, sharing in the toast.

“What of Bull?” asks Solas.

Oh, she hadn’t even thought of that. Of the Qunari and Tevinter’s heartwarmingly … strange and unconventional relationship. They’d even been living together.

Dorian sets his wineglass down before looking away. “We’re sort of … taking a break. And he doesn’t want to leave Inquisition. Not now anyway.”

Ellana taps her fingers on the bar. “Best roadie in the world, but if he wants to go, he never needs to doubt he has my blessing.”

“He knows. But like everything in my life recently, it’s complicated.” Dorian stands after quaffing the rest of his wine. “Well, I should go. My poor driver has been sitting outside in the middle of Lowtown for a few hours. No doubt he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown by now.”

Ellana leans forward to embrace the Tevinter. “Be safe.”

Shaking Dorian’s hand, Solas says, “Keep in touch, my friend.”

Color touches the swarthy man’s cheek as he walks away. “Oh, you haven’t gotten rid of me yet, Solas. I will call.” At the door, Dorian turns and winks. “Often.”

Solas plops into the newly vacated stool with a sigh. “Hopefully, he can keep his calls to a maximum of once a day. If not more infrequent.”

She laughs. “As though you’ll fail to pick up if he calls on the hour, every hour instead.”

“In that case, I may have to ‘lose’ my phone.” He frowns as he sips his beer. Then he nods at hers. “Is it really wise to tempt fate?”

“What good are rules if you can’t break them once in awhile?”

Chuckling, he says, “True, true.”

“Besides, the Hanged Man is practically my office. And I told Varric to give me a shout if he sees big, grey and nasty coming up the street on the security feed.”

“Prudent,” he praises. They sit in comfortable silence for a few minutes.

Then she says, “How’d it go?”

“Strange,” he sighs. “But not unpleasant. A few years ago, I would never have believed I could share a meal with Elgar’nan, Andruil and Sylaise, and not explode. Literally and figuratively. I even … enjoyed myself. A bit.” A touch of abhorrence leeches into his tone with that last.

“Horror of horrors!” she teases. “The end of the world is nigh!”

He laughs at her dramatics and puts his hand over hers. “I still do not know why you didn’t want to come with me.”

Tamping down the spike of trepidation, she shrugs. “I didn’t want to get in the way. The important things rarely get said in the company of ‘outsiders.’”

Making a noise of reluctant agreement, he pulls his stool closer to hers, then wraps one long arm about her shoulders. “You are as wise as you are beautiful, vhenan. And for the most part, Elgar’nan resisted spinning tale after fond tale of the old days. It really was … tolerable.”

She pokes him in the ribs. “Just a second ago, you said you enjoyed yourself. Now it’s just ‘tolerable?’”

“Fine. I … had a good time.”

“Wow! And it barely sounded like pulling teeth,” she says, grinning. “Well, I’m happy you’re burying the hatchet with your old bandmates. What about the rest? Still refusing to meet up?”

“Ghila’nain is sure to come by someday soon. June is apparently caught up in some business with Orzammar.” A line appears between Solas’s brows as he continues, “And no one’s heard from the twins in years.”

“Is there reason to worry?” she asks.

“I honestly don’t know. They’ve always been very insular and secretive.” Solas hums. “Andruil is hunting for them, and she is rarely thwarted when she really wants something.” He looks at her. “I wish you’d met. I have a feeling you’d like her. Or hate her. Really, it’s usually one or the other. Never a middle ground with Andruil.”

“I will probably meet them all, if they keep coming around.”

“Probably,” he says, and she smiles at the tiny shard of hope in his voice. And his expression, which is tinted with surprise at himself.

After a bit, she leans toward him and says, “You know, it’s been five whole years since we met?”

His brows cease their pensive furrow and lift. “It has, hasn’t it?” Then wonder sparks in his blue eyes as he looks back at her once again. “Incredible.”

“Mm hmm. Time flies.”

He bends closer until his lips are centimeters from hers. “Perhaps we should celebrate.”

To the happy heated hunger starting to fill his gaze, she licks her lips and says, “What did you have in mind?”

Solas stands and offers her his arm. “An evening of rule breaking? I believe I heard the Chargers speak of a certain blues revue down by the chains this evening.”

She gasps. “Not Ser Barris!”

“Indeed, it is.”

“I always wanted to see the Duke of Soul.”

He smiles as he leads them to the door. “If we hurry, we can be entrenched in the bar before Darktown’s usual afterdark ugliness reaches its peak. Stay off the street until it passes, then sneak home in the wee hours. And then, I’d very much like to make love to you until, hmm, mid-day at the very least.”

With an eager little skip, she walks with him toward the bowels of the city.

Chapter Text

“I just wish I had a … second chance, you know? Not a do-over.” Elgar’nan laughs at himself. “If I had it all to do over again, I’d probably fuck it all up even more. No, what’s done is done. It just never really felt … finished, not to me anyway.”

Solas listens, the words pinging echoes deep within even despite certain reservations. “It is finished, nevertheless. Mythal is gone, and the world will never see her like again.”

“I know.” The older elf sighs, a sound of wrenching sorrow. He slumps in defeat.

A strange sight to see. This man, once bright and blinding as the unconquered sun, now resigned in his slow decline toward horizon. The Elgar’nan of old would have soaked up the new flood of media attention and twisted it to his own ends, but Solas himself witnessed him turning aside reporters and cameras on no less than three occasions. And he’s seen no articles, no interviews.

It might have something to do with the deal Elgar’nan had to make with the Tevinter government as their key witness against Corypheus. A bargain so he would not have to go to prison himself, perhaps?

As much as the bitterest part of him wanted to believe that, Solas can’t help but think, And so Elgar’nan finally finds a shred of decency in his old age.

At ‘old’, Solas jolts in his seat.

Elgar’nan is not that much older than himself. He just always seemed that way to the rest of Evanuris. Their senior by a scant six years. The ‘cool’ older boy that hung out with them. Showed them where the best pickings were. Which human-only restaurants could be conned into a free meal. The near-adult that stole for them their first instruments, from wherever he could, when they decided music was the only way to lift themselves up out of poverty.

Solas swallows back the tainted memory of the love he’d held for the older boy, the brother (he’d grown up wishing for) come to deliver them all with his charisma, his talent for theft and, later on, his old beater of a van.

They’d all idolized him, even Mythal, who left for better things and came back transformed into someone to truly reckon with. The change in the way Elgar’nan looked back at her then, as if seeing her for the first time. Shocked at this grown woman she’d suddenly become. She’d stormed back into their midst, carrying herself like a queen, and stolen all their hearts.

But the only one she ever gave hers to was Elgar’nan.

Hard to remember that Elgar’nan had been worthy of it once.

A sting at Solas’s heart makes him look away. And he can’t lie to himself; he misses that Elgar’nan. The shade sitting next to him in the Hanged Man’s gloomy atmosphere … pains him to look upon. At least Andruil and Sylaise retain some of their vivacity. Strong, hard women who only grow more so with age.

But Elgar’nan is old. Older than his years. Ravaged by time and bad decisions.

A thump on Solas’s arm makes him look around.

With a snort, Elgar’nan says, “Went all quiet. That usually means a mope is nigh.”

Frowning, he retorts, “I do not mope.” Then he smiles a small smile of chagrin. “Brood, maybe.”

Chuckling, Elgar’nan scratches his head, then whips that hand through his long ash-colored hair. “As you like. Another round?” He points at Solas’s empty pilsner.

“You got the last. I’ll get this one,” he replies, signalling the bartender over. He says to the bearded dwarf, “Two more please, and two shots of spiced rum.”

Elgar’nan gives a high whistle, cheering, “There he is! I knew you were in there somewhere behind that scowl.”

They down their shots in short order. Solas gasps as the liquor burns its way down his throat. His companion gestures for two more, and Solas shakes his head. “Wait! I really shouldn’t ….”

“C’mon, Fen. Let’s tie one on, like the good old days.”

An … eagerness rises. A touch of nostalgia hard to shake. “As I recall, those ‘good old days’ often ended with one or the other of us bleeding. Or vomiting.”

“I know! Good times.” Elgar’nan slides another shot toward him with a grin. And in that grin Solas peeks into the past, and the sudden warm glow under his breastbone might be the rum’s fault. Or … it might not.

So he reaches without hesitation and throws back the booze. It slides easier this time, but he really must—”Hold. I do have to get back to Ellana sometime this evening.”

Yet reluctance pulls at him. Things have been tense at home lately. And he tries so hard to be patient, believing love will prevail. Though sometimes, he just wants to demand she tell him, just tell him whatever it is that keeps her up nights. A wall seems to have grown between them, and he doesn’t know how much of it is his own doing. Or how to bring it down.

Her silences … kill him.

Elgar’nan waves his order to the bartender off and says, “Understood. Where is she anyway? I thought this was her haunt. Or that you’d bring her with you.”

“She can’t be out after ten. It’s a condition of her probation.” Solas shrugs. “I was going to beg off coming to meet you, but she insisted I go.”

The older elf clinks his glass of porter with Solas’s. “Well, then. Seems like she wants you to have fun.”

Chuckling, Solas says, “I know all your tricks, Elgar’nan. You can’t manipulate me into partying until dawn as you once could.”

“Then do it of your own choice.” His companion spreads his hands, magnanimous and neutral. “Much as I enjoy our get-togethers, I’ll survive either way.”

Biting his lip, Solas looks into his glass. It’s tempting. So tempting that he reaches for his phone. Thumbing open his messages, he writes, ‘Might be out a bit later than planned. Unless you need me back sooner?’

The reply comes back quickly, ‘No, no. You boys have fun. Be safe, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do! And that’s one hell of a short list, as you well know. ;P’

Smiling at her little emoji, he puts his phone away. Looking at the waiting Elgar’nan, he nods and says, “Seems ‘fun’ is indeed the standing order. You were right.”

Elgar’nan beams at him, and gives him another thump on the arm. An old friendly gesture that Solas returns with widening grin. The older elf leans over the semi-crowded bar to yell, “Bartender! Line us up some shots. We’ve only about”—he looks at the bar clock—”four hours to get utterly annihilated!”

The sour dwarf grumps, “Any preference? Or shall I just combine leftovers with paint thinner?”

Elgar’nan swings around to ask Solas, “Ever had a Tiger Bomb?”

“No.”

“They’re great. Two of those please. Then keep’em coming.” Elgar’nan plops back into his seat with a chortle.

And so the night progresses. Booze quickly fogs his brain. At some point, Elgar’nan invites a group of edgy youths to join them. It’s terribly amusing to see their huge, awestruck eyes swing between Elgar’nan and himself as they talk the night through about the past, about music and how it’s changed over the years—

“—nothin’s like it was, man. I mean, used to be a band really had to work to take off, you know? I’m just sayin’. Now they can hitch their wagons to the nearest corporate label jackass and ride it on into the sunse—”

“It’s nothing at all like that,” Solas slurs. “It still takes hard work—”

“Yeah, it is. And all the lyrics are so fuckin’ watered down now. Nothing meansanything any more—”

“The lament of the old, Elgar’nan. ‘S’not as good as it used to be.’ That’s-that’s the same shit we railed against when we were these people’s age.” Solas gestures around to the group.

Elgar’nan huffs and slides down further onto the couch they’d relocated to. “I’m just sayin’—Shit, what was I sayin’?”

“So it doesn’t speak to you the same way any more. It found new ears to hear it. That’s all that happened. Music’s doing what it has always done. Made connections in the darkness. Right?” Solas lifts a hand to the witnesses of their rant. The tattooed, black-clad youths nod back at him like a field of bouncing sunflowers. Their brightly dyed hair lending a psychotropic feel to the image.

He turns back to Elgar’nan. “And don’t forget when we signed with Imperium, you were so damn glad not to have to lean on ‘investors’ any more for cash for gig expenses—”

“Look, so I did some shady shit to get us started. I did it for the band, Fen.” Elgar’nan pokes Solas in the chest. An emphasizing poke for every word—“For. The. Band. Man.”

Solas nods, a bob of drunken agreement. Then the bitter knot in him lashes out, “Yes. I just wish the ‘shady shit’ had stopped after we got signed. Before it became self-serving.”

Giving a guilty jolt, Elgar’nan sits up straighter, then slumps. His mouth pulls into a rictus of grief. “I know, man. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Tears start to flow down his lined cheeks. A hand comes up to cover his face. “I loved her. I loved her so much and now she’s dead. It’s my fault. All my fault.”

Solas looks around at the awkward, staring twenty-somethings, all just as drunk as he and unsure what to do. One, a mohawk-adorned girl, makes a pointing gesture, as though to say, ‘Should we go?’

He doesn’t know, but he does the only thing he can think of. Something Elgar’nan used to do to him when spirits were low. Lunging to the side, his arm snaps around the older elf’s neck while his other hand closes the circle by latching onto wrist.

Elgar’nan’s hitching sobs still, and after a long second, he growls, “The hell are you doin’, kid?”

“‘Kid’? I haven’t been a kid in decades, old man. And it appears I have you in a headlock.” In his mind, ghosts of their very young selves caper, jeering, ‘Gotcha in a headlock! What’re you gonna do?’ ‘No fair, Mar’n! Get off!’ ‘That’s not my name anymore! And not till you stop blubbering!’ 

Solas says, “So what are you going to do?”

With a shout, Elgar’nan twists in his hold and shoves. Solas lets go as the force of it threatens to pull his arms from their sockets. The older elf launches himself at Solas and they grapple on the stained couch. The youths scatter, retreating out of range of bony, aged elbows and knees.

Pushing up and to the side, Solas rolls them both off the couch and they land with a loud thud on the wooden floor of the bar. The glass coffee table shatters as they kick it aside, spilling drinks everywhere.

The heat in his blood rises as Elgar’nan lands two fairly stout blows to his belly. He returns the favor with an elbow to the older elf’s smug face. Elgar’nan laughs through bloodied teeth as he fights to regain the upper hand. Elation floods Solas as he remembers countless friendly scraps, the catharsis of physical contest.

A rhythmic thumping interrupts their scuffle. Pausing, they look toward the bar to see the barman tapping the top with a wooden bat. The squat man says, “I called the cops. You two should leave.”

The pair rise to their feet. Elgar’nan squares up on the bartender, belligerent now that his blood is up. Solas stops him with a hand to the elbow. “We should go.”

“Listen to your friend, El. Settle up tomorrow when your mind’s right,” the dwarf says, not unkindly. “I’m serious about the cops. I had to, or Varric would have my balls.”

Elgar’nan deflates, suddenly. But his eyes still twinkle in the aftermath of the fight. “Alright. Later, shortstack.”

The two elves stride out into the night air. Solas takes a deep breath as they walk toward the cab stand, strangely sad that the night seems about over.

“Damn, I think I burned off about twenty sov’s worth of booze,” says Elgar’nan, wiping blood off his lip. Then he shoots a sour look Solas’s way. “Your fault. Just wanted a full-on bender, not a fight.”

“As Sera would say, nobody likes a sad sack.” Solas shrugs. They both know why he did it. Anger is far better than despair, when it comes down to it. Anger denotes the power to help what despair cannot. Despair is powerlessness. “Apologies. However, I might be able to make amends.”

“How? All the liquor stores are closed.”

“I have a few hidden bottles at home.”

“You hide your booze from Ellana?” asks Elgar’nan, incredulous.

“No. We hide our booze from her probation officer.”

The older elf laughs. “I think you found a keeper, Fen. I hope you marry that girl.”

The pang in his breast arrests him for a moment, stuttering his shambling steps. The words spill past his lips before his beer-addled brain can check them, “I want to.”

Elgar’nan pauses, then claps him on the shoulder-blade. “Good on you.” Then he sweeps out a hand. “Now, lead on. You owe me a drink.”

And that is how they end up in the attic of the beach house. With the sunrise’s warm light just starting to flow over the sill of the short windows under the eaves. Elgar’nan slumps at one end of the old couch-in-storage while Solas lounges in a sheet-covered recliner, mostly empty wine bottle at his feet. The floor around them is covered with memories Solas had pulled out of boxes once left sealed since his exodus out of Tevinter. And he is saying—

“—mean, what I don’t understand is why it tasted like mint. Tigers aren’t minty. Are they?” The room feels as though it is gently revolving around him, but every time he opens his eyes, everything is where it ought to be. Maybe he’s the one who’s spinning?

“The green is the grass, Fen. That thing tigers like to slink through?” Elgar’nan smacks his lips as his fingers idly strum the acoustic guitar in his lap. “Most green liqueurs are minty. Anyway, I’m surprised you could taste it past the licorice.”

Solas’s lips pull down at the corners. “Detestable stuff. Never again, El. Never. Again.”

A throaty laugh greets that, along with a snide, “Just wait till the hangover hits.”

He groans. “Vomiting or bleeding, that’s what I said.”

“It’s not a proper plotzing without both.” Elgar’nan lifts his head and peers around. “I can’t believe you kept all this stuff.” He picks up an old, holey shirt with Evanuris’s likenesses emblazoned across the front. Then he fans a stack of vinyls across the floor, each a testament to the gaudy, over the top album art that exemplified their era.

“To be honest, I never wanted to,” says Solas. “But it didn’t feel right to sell it or throw it away.”

Elgar’nan leans forward to snag the wine and take a swig. Then he crumples back into a slouch and plucks at the guitar with his fingers, tuning with practiced ease. Then a soft roll down the strings triggers a tingle in Solas’s spine. His eyes crack open to peer at his old bandmate, whose head is bent over the strings. Knobbly-knuckled fingers make shapes and patterns of aching familiarity on the frets.

Out of the soft strumming comes a sad riff, a melody simple and beautiful in its artfulness. As good as Solas is, he knows true artistry when he sees it. When Mythal had only her haunting vocals and Solas had to split his competency a number of different ways, Elgar’nan only had the guitar to concentrate on. To learn to mastery and beyond.

Before he really realizes it, Solas is humming along, already fitting in other pieces to round it out. His feet tap out the beat, giving it a jazzy swing.

The song ends and the two men sigh.

In the long silence after, Elgar’nan mumbles, “That’s nice, kid. She’d like that … if she was here to hear it.” Then there’s the sound of shifting outside of Solas’s closed eyes and another, longer pause. Then softer, a whispered, “I’d do anything to give her a second chance.”

He hums agreement as awareness starts to dim. Shaking off sleep, he turns to Elgar’nan and opens his eyes.

The older elf lies in a sideways sprawl, legs half on and off the couch, and a deep rumbling snore just begins to rise from his open mouth. Standing with a groan, Solas takes the guitar from Elgar’nan’s loose fingers and puts it back on its stand with the rest, then looks around with bleary eyes. 

Ah, quilts. Ellana keeps them up here somewhere. There.

Clumsy as a newborn calf, he unfolds the bulky armful of cloth and drapes it over the passed out Elgar’nan. Then he ambles down the narrow stairs, nearly concussing himself on the lip of the low attic door. The kitchen is bright  on his weary senses and he turns at a touch on his arm.

Ellana looks up at him with a teasing grin. “I thought maybe you’d gotten a room in town, but then I heard you bumping around upstairs.”

Still quite drunk, he embraces her, trying not to fall over as she maneuvers him into a seat at the kitchen bar. “El-Elgar’nan is up in the attic. Asleep on the Awful Tartan Couch.”

“So comfortable. So ugly. It’s almost a cruelty. Drink,” she demands, putting a glass of water in front of him.

Giving her a frown, he says, “Ellana, I’m fine—”

“Hangover you will appreciate it. Now drink.” Her tone is adamant. “And there’s two more after.”

So, with a put upon sigh, he drinks. And drinks. The water does indeed feel refreshing. At first. But it seems she won’t leave him be until he’s sloshing and bloated with the stuff.

She takes him by the hand and leads him to the bedroom. Sitting him on the edge of the bed, she starts removing all his clothes. He watches, bemused. When’s she’s finished, she starts to push him back onto the bed, but playfulness strikes and he pulls her down with him, arm fully wrapped around her middle.

Giving a harrumph, she rearranges herself to comfortably lie draped over him. She lifts up and says, “I gotta go to Cass’s. Apparently one of her cats is having kittens and she needs help.”

Now he harrumphs. “Cats have been having kittens for as long as there’ve been cats. They hardly need people to midwife. Stay with me?”

“You know how Cass gets about her furbabies. She needs the emotional support.” She peels herself out from under his arm and kisses him, a series of fluttery little pecks that make him flush and reach for her again. She dodges and stands. “Sleep, vhenan. I’ll put a bucket next to the bed if you can’t make it to the bathroom. Hmm, should do the same upstairs, now that I’m thinking about it. And a jug of water.”

Solas listens to her get ready, her soft noises and mumbled commentary making him smile. Sleep starts to draw him into the deep, pausing as lips again touch his. Ellana whispers, “I’ll be back, love.”

His hand fumbles for hers, and their fingers weave together. Something … something important-”I’m going to marry you, you know.”

She stills, fingers clenching on his. “Oh, really?”

“Yes.” He nods, head swimming in pillow. “Had the ring, but lost it at Cor-coyph … Corphy—” Stupid tongue.

“Corypheus’s?”

“That. I’ll get another, and then we’ll be married.”

She pats his hand as she sets it atop his chest, pulling away once more. The bedside lamp clicks off, and he hears, just before passing into the Fade—

“We’ll see.”

Chapter Text

‘I’m going to marry you, you know.’

Her hand presses the sweet ache under her sternum at the whispered memory. She frowns as it persists and grows, overlapping the stinging of her conscience.I’ve waited too long. If I tell him now, it’ll be a disaster. He’ll blame Elgar’nan, and all that hate will come roaring back.

And there’s that … other thing. She heaves a huge sigh as she thinks, I am so not wife material.

Cass squirms in the chair next to hers as they both stare into the padded laundry basket in the closet. The small, gravid calico molly within glares up at them. Oddly calm, the cat’s only concession to the appearance of labor is the rhythmic convulsions of her lower body. The fur undulates over contracting belly, while the tail lashes as though more annoyed than anything.

And beneath her, a familiar folded bit of green peeks out. Ellana points. “Is that your favorite shirt? Dang, Cass, your love knows no bounds. Inspiring.”

Sour, the human says, “I was folding laundry when she jumped in and refused to move. What could I do?”

Shrugging, Ellana replies, “Nothin’, I guess. Hey, I thought you had all your cats fixed.”

“The females I usually do. The males never want to go outside, so I didn’t bother. Duchess was too young, I thought. Not even six months old.” Cass looks over her shoulder to scowl at the two toms lounging in the hall. “I suppose we’ll know who the culprit is if they come out either black or grey.”

Ellana chuckles at the toms’ utter lack of concern over Cass’s sharp words. A huffing growl pulls their attention back to the basket, and Ellana sees Duchess is bent nearly in half as she bears down on her burden. Cass reaches into the makeshift nest and runs her hand over the molly’s head and back, trying to comfort her.

The elf puts her own hand on Cass’s forearm, seeing how the human’s face crinkles in even more distress than her cat’s. “She’s got this, Cass.”

Nodding, Cass sighs. “Well, they are all getting fixed as soon as possible. I can’t handle the stress of worrying about them along with everything else.”

Brows lifting, Ellana asks, “Something else going on you want to talk about?”

The human’s lips press into a hard line. “My brother called me this morning. Apparently, the mortalitasi want to take my parents’ remains out of the family crypt.”

“What? Why?”

“Politics, as usual. You know the king of Nevarra died last Tuesday?” Cass glances at her sidelong.

“I might have seen it on the news.” It had flashed on every station that whole day. How could she miss it?

“Well, they do not want my father and mother’s ‘traitorous’ bones rubbing alongside King Markus’s.” Frustration sparks in Cass’s gaze as she idly strokes Duchess’s chin. “As though they can do any more character assassination dead. My brother is very upset.”

Something in her tone begs the question, “Is that not … understandable?”

“I do not want to be involved. Anthony knows this. I cut ties long ago.” Cass snorts. “My life is mine to live. I don’t care about politics or position. And I resent being dragged back into it. Yet my brother insists I cannot say no this time.”

“Ah, the trials of being literal royalty,” Ellana teases, just to lighten the mood. It works after a fashion. At least Cass stops sneering, which is usually a good indicator.

“I don’t want to be royal.” She sighs again, deep and long. “But I suppose showing up does no harm. Unless I’m picked for succession, which is highly unlikely.”

“Wait, wait, wait. You could be queen?!” Ellana almost shouts.

Wincing, Cass turns and scowls at her. “Highly unlikely. I am so far removed from the crown that I won’t even be considered. But I’m supposed to show anyway. We all are. It’s the law. Then the parliament will choose the next monarch. Sometimes it skips one or two down the line of succession, but never to the seventy-eighth, which is me.”

A long silence settles over them, as Cass looks at her with pursed lips and beetled brow. Ellana shakes her head and laughs. “Sorry. It just blows my mind that I know an actual princess. Who sometimes has to go do very princess-y things.”

“Ugh. It’s awful.” Her hands flap in dismissal.

“Hey, but at least maybe, in person, you can convince the mortalitasi to not disturb your parents’ bodies. Just give them the death glare and they’ll back off, I’m sure of it.” Ellana smiles and points into the laundry basket. “You missed the actual birth, by the way.”

“What?” Cass’s head whips around so fast, it’s surprising to Ellana that there’s no accompanying sound effect. They peer into the basket to see the calico purring and grooming the fluffiest little ball of grey fur. It meeps piteously at its mother’s rough handling, being rolled forward and backward before it finds a nipple and latches on.

Cass frowns. “Just one? Is that normal?”

“Can be. She’s a young cat. It’s her first litter. Or maybe three more will appear by morning.” Ellana shrugs. “Cats are unpredictable in every way possible.”

A glorious smile breaks through Cass’s stern countenance as she strokes the tiny kitten. Then she addresses the molly, “Good job, Duchess. But you’re still getting fixed.”

The cat’s ears flatten at Cass’s stern tone. If cats sneered, Cass might have a rival under her roof.

Ellana says, “How long are you gonna be gone, do you think?”

“I leave tomorrow. There’s no real schedule to these things. Just closed-door deliberations by the powerful, and endless parties.” Cass’s shoulders drop in resignation. Dread laces her acerbic words. “Half of them celebrating Markus’s life, and the rest his death. They will, no doubt, be indistinguishable. He was not well liked, as monarchs go. And then a tedious coronation at the end, followed by yet another party. The last time Nevarra had to choose a new monarch, it took three whole months.”

“Woe!” laughs the elf. “Calamity! What bastards they are to subject innocent people to the horror of parties.”

That garners a scoffing chuckle from her friend. “I wish you were coming with me. Can you not get leave from your P.O.?”

“Even if I could leave the Marches, I’m pretty sure ‘endless partying’ will be on the Arishok’s no-no list.”

“Pity. I suppose I shall just suffer alone. Sera already said no. She and Dagna are off to Rivain for their anniversary. And Blackwall is ….” Cass waves her hand in a vague way as she finishes, “Rough. With my luck, he’d probably pass gas at the high point of the coronation and scandalize the whole assembly.”

Ellana grins. “I’m not hearing a downside here.”

A thoughtful look slips into Cass’s expression. “Hmmm.”

“And hey, when you get back, I’ll be off paper, so then we can all go wherever we want! We could take a band vacation, take in some sights, get some sun, or go … go ziplining! Doesn’t that sound awesome?”

Cass smiles. “We’ll certainly need to celebrate somehow. Though I’m not sure I’ll be up to any more parties.”

“No parties then. Just us. Just the band. Doin’ stuff.” Ellana hugs the human tight to her. “I’ll miss you, woman. Be safe.”

“I’ll miss you too.”

_____________________________________

The Hanged Man’s familiar smoky, boozy smell greets her as she threads through the door and between the scattered tables to the bar.

“The usual?” asks the dwarven barman attending the few patrons that always loiter this early. Regulars.

“Nope. Tryin’ to be good. Just something cold and wet.” She plops on a stool and pulls out her phone as an ice tea arrives at her elbow. Ellana nods thanks to the bartender as she sips.

She wonders where Varric is. His messages sounded pretty urgent, full of fiery and enthusiastic language, even if the exact circumstances that caused his furor weren’t expressed. She can tell he’s not in his office because the bar’s atmosphere is always … different when he’s not there. Less charged somehow. Less excited. Like the molecules of air that fill the Hanged Man grow bored and listless without the dwarf’s nigh unbelievable yarns and parables, his charming chatter, to vibrate among them.

She smiles at the conjured image.

Then her phone pings. Opening the new message, she reads, ‘Sorry. Be right there. Had to stop by Bianca’s.’

Rolling her eyes, she sighs and rubs her temple. At least he hasn’t forgotten. She’s happy for him, truly, bu—

“Why, hello there,” says a voice at her shoulder.

She looks up into electric blue eyes in a bearded face topped by beaten old stetson. Grinning, she leans over to embrace her new companion. “Hawke! I didn’t know you were in town.”

“Well, actually, Kirkwall is my adopted hometown. Has been for decades. So ….”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I’ve known Varric, oh, for a long time now. He helped me get started. Well, to be fair, I helped him get started. Then he helped me. And back and forth when the inevitable setbacks happened. The bar burned down once. We rebuilt it. My first agent tried to rob me blind. We, er, fixed it.” He winks. “There was mutual helping.”

“Huh. I heard about the fire, didn’t hear about the other stuff. Which is odd because when has Varric not told a story?”

Hawke shrugs. “When they’re incriminating?”

“Weeeeell ….”

He laughs. “Alright, Varric’s anecdotal impulses are usually tempered by his self-preservation instinct.”

Ellana gives a judicious nod. “I’ll allow it. Anyway, just visiting? Cuz I thought I read in Varric’s rag that you have a house in Minrathous.”

“I’m considering moving back, actually. I miss Kirkwall.” Hawke shifts on his stool, a look of discomfort flitting across his handsome features for just a second. “Certain … things have come up, and I’ve been reevaluating priorities. You know how it is.”

Ellana gives him a sidelong stare for a long heartbeat, taking in his rumpled shirt, his two o’clock tumbler of booze. “I do know how it is.”

They brood together over their beverages in weighty silence.

Until Hawke blurts, “Can I-can I ask you something?”

Noting his nervous twitching, she smiles and makes silly finger-guns at him. “Shoot.”

His answering smile is weak at best as he says, “About … Fenris.” He stops there, mouth stretching as though unsure how to continue. Then his hand covers hers as words pour out in a flood.  “I mean, it must have been a terrible ordeal and I’m so sorry I didn’t notice anything amiss. I can’t believe what he did. It was despicable. The worst. Did he ever—? I’m so, so sorry, Ellana. I should hav—”

Halting him with an upraised hand, she snorts. “No one realized, Hawke. It wasn’t just you. Friends I’ve known for years didn’t doubt, and we met, what, a couple days before? And it was my lie that curbed everyone’s suspicions.”

Hawke’s angry voice rises in protest, “You were under duress! Solas abducted, threatened. And Fenris there to hold it over you, like a hangman’s noose!” He works his tongue over his teeth as though tasting something foul. “And big, dumb me, I kissed him! Made time with the man who was holding you hostage!”

Watching him seethe for a moment, Ellana confesses, “That’s sorta kinda my fault, too. I, um, noted his, er, interest in you, and …. Maker, it sounds so awful to say aloud. I-I manipulated you both.” She winces at the stab of guilt in her guts and looks down. “So I’m sorry, Hawke. I could blame the situation, but I know what I did. And I’m sorry.”

Her eyes tingle and she wishes she’d not worn mascara today.

“You did what you had to do,” Hawke says, sharp and conciliatory all at once. Then he chuckles, short and bitter. “Well, that explains why Varric invited me to virtually every meal and meeting.”

“Yup.”

Another lull falls between them as she ponders the ease with which she can fess up to an acquaintance, but balk every time when she tries with Solas. Love of her life and she can’t speak to him about the gnarled roots of secrets writhing at her heart. And with Elgar’nan at the house, it makes it that much more difficult.

Hawke breaks into her deep, dark deliberation with a soft, “He called me.”

That piques her interest. “Really? From jail?”

He nods. “Used his one phone call to apologize. I told him I wasn’t interested in his apology and he should have called his lawyer. I’d nearly hung up when he said,”—Hawke’s cadence changes to reflect Fenris’s clipped, brusque manner—”’What happens to me is inconsequential. I just wanted to tell you I know I hurt you, and how much I regret doing so. How much I regret everything.’ Then hehung up. The gall.”

Ellana chews her lip. “Alright, so, I know this is going to sound mental, but Fenris is not that bad a guy—”

Hawke makes a noise caught somewhere between disbelief and scorn.

“No. Listen. He never hurt me. Not physically, and the emotional battering I took was at Corphy’s hand, not his. Fenris was just … following orders.”

“A thin excuse.” And yet, something in Hawke’s manner perked up, as though yearning to believe. “How many times has ‘just following orders’ led to history’s worst atrocities?”

She sighs. “I get that, I do. Buuuut, didn’t he seem a bit … off to you? A little, shall we say, traumatized? Brain-washed? Look, he knows what he did was wrong. Why do you think he confessed his involvement in Corphy’s little scheme?”

“Looking for a reduced sentence?” Hawke shrugs and mutters, “Too stupid to not brag about it?”

She shakes her head at him in consternation. His glance away shows her he knows that was unworthy of him. Ellana says, “He wants to make sure Aveline has enough ammo to pin that bastard to the wall. And keep him pinned. His testimony is key to Corypheus’s conviction.”

Then she drops the bombshell, “If Fenris had been rotten to the core, he never would have called. He never would have cared if he hurt you. If Fenris was a lost cause, I never would have gotten through to him and he would never have rescued Solas from Corypheus, never would have taken a bullet to get out of that place. And Solas would be dead now, I’m sure of it.” Just the thought of what could have been still fills her with blood-curdling dread. Her mouth dries at the remembered terror.

Maybe Fenris isn’t the only one a bit traumatized ….

Hawke slumps over the bar, head in his hands. “Everything’s just so fucked up and confusing. I should hate him, for what he helped do to you and Solas. For carrying on with me all the while holding the proverbial, and probably at times literal, gun to your heads. Lying about his intentions. But that Fenris, the Fenris I got to know; the overprotective, shy, ridiculous, oddly sweet yet bitter and spiky as nettles—”

Ellana interjects, adding, “Hot.”

“Hot … er, stupid-hot guy,” he concedes with a sigh. “I really liked that Fenris. It’s not easy for me, you know. For anyone who can make a claim to celebrity. You hold people at arm’s length because it’s hard to tell if they’re being sincere at all. I haven’t really connected with anyone for a long, long time. Not since my brother, Carver, died. Anyway, it’s messed up, isn’t it? It’s wrong that I can’t seem to shake this … fondness away? I mean, how can I even—?” He waves at her. At their situation and his juxtaposed feelings.

Putting her hand on his shoulder, Ellana says, “I can’t tell you whether or not you should still like him. It’s crazy, but … I do. And that’s not an indoctrinated victim talking. Though it could be the unrepentant optimist in me. He’s not irredeemable. Or I don’t think so anyway.”

Hawke hums deep in his throat, brows still furrowed over troubled expression.

“You know what I’d do if I were you?” she begins, giving him a little nudge with her elbow. “I’d go grill him in person. Express some of that anger. That disappointment. Gotta be healthier than just choking on it. And don’t worry for how I’d feel about it. I’ve already forgiven him.”

Watching him mull, she sips her tea.

Hawke stands after a moment, shooting her a grateful look. “I’ll think about it. See you around.”

“Later, Hawke.” Her eyes follow his burly frame until it disappears into one of the back rooms. Where he’s staying, no doubt. And an indicator of just how close a friend to Varric he is. The dwarf doesn’t open his home to just anyone.

Speaking of which ….

She takes out her phone and dials the second number on her favorite contacts list. It rings a couple times before being picked up on the other end—

“Hello?”

Ellana can hear feminine giggling in the background as she chides, “Varric! Where are you? I’ve been waiting forever.”

“Oh! Ellana! Shit. I forgot,” he says, chagrin bleeding through the speaker into her ear.

She snorts. “That’s pretty apparent at this point. So what’s the deal? You still coming oooor ….?”

“I’m a-a little tied up right now—”

That giggler stage-whispers, “Literally—”

“Bianca!” he hisses back through the static of a jostled phone. “Sorry, Rosy. I’m really sorry. There was this thing, then I got all excited—”

“Please stop explaining,” Ellana says, through clenched teeth. “I don’t wanna hear about you and Bianca’s … relations.”

“No, I mean, that’s not what I got excited about, or, it led to-before I got excited-excited—” He takes a deep breath. “Okay, I hear it. I’ll stop. What I mean is, you did it, kid!”

“Just what did I do?”

He laughs. “Eighty-thousand seats! The entire Westover Grand Stadium sold out, filled to the brim! And there’s more. Every show on the entire tour is sold out! I talked to Ruffles this morning. She just finalized all the details with the label and the venues. You made it! The whole world is waiting for you to get off probation.”

Elation bubbles up under her breastbone, and she feels her lips stretch into a wide grin. “Oh, thank goodness. I worried they’d all forgotten about us.”

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or so they say.” Varric hums. “They are hungry-no, starved for Inquisition.”

She laughs. “I guess it’s time to get back to work.”

“Yep. Now, I gotta go. Bianca keeps trying to tickle my feet-Hey! Stop—” The line goes dead.

Pulling the phone away from her ear, she grimaces. “Too. Much. Information.”

She can’t wait to tell Solas and the others the great news.

Chapter Text

He looks out the jet’s small window and watches the fluffy white blanket of clouds roll by below. Every once in awhile, a tiny break in the cottony mass reveals the patchwork quilt of farmland that makes up southern Tevinter. Or sometimes a city. Sometimes a river.

Though he knows the route like the back of his hand, these little peeks snag his attention and curiosity. Not since playing with Evanuris has he seen those smaller towns at ground level. Inquisition, never having played north of the Silent Plain, will make its official debut in the former Empire as soon as Ellana’s probation ceases.

And he wonders how all those venues, all those villages have changed since last he visited. Will he see familiar faces? Or just new ones? Solas suspects a bit of both, just like in the south.

“Imagining dragons?” says Elgar’nan from across the aisle.

“Once, but alas, as they’re nigh extinct, I’d given up long ago,” replies Solas. “Those that aren’t in zoos stay far, far away from civilization.”

“I hear there are still hunts for them east of the Anderfels. I always wanted to go on one,” Andruil says, lips turning up at the corners. It’s not really a smile.

Solas sighs. “A highly illegal enterprise. For the sake of, what, a trophy?”

“There’s a heady thrill in big game hunting.” She shrugs, easy in her skintight dress. Age has gifted her an elegance to soften the animalistic gleam in her cool gaze. Looking at her now, it’s hard to imagine when those passions roiled on the surface for all to see. When Andruil’s frenetic energy sizzled its way through an audience, driving them all before it like whipped dogs.

Shaking his head free from the past, Solas turns back to the window, listening as the others talk.

Elgar’nan says, “I’d just as soon leave a dragon be, thank you. There’s nicer ways to die than being roasted, electrocuted, or, or, colded?”

Andruil chuckles. “‘Iced’ would be a better turn of phrase, I think.”

“Ha! Yeah,” comments Elgar’nan, looking out his own window. Then he says, “I’m surprised you didn’t bring Ghilan’nain with you.”

Humming, Andruil says, “Could have. But you know how she is.” Her one hand flaps, imitating a mouth that never closes.

Solas snorts. “Some things never change.”

“Most times I find it endearing, but not when there’s a point to be made.” Andruil sighs. “Do you think they’ll be happy to see us?” A rare hint of nervousness enters her voice.

Elgar’nan waves a hand. “I haven’t an earthly. Solas?”

He looks down and pinches the bridge of his nose. “By that, you mean neither of you called, or at least sent an email or a letter to let them know we’re coming.”

Elgar’nan’s cheeks grow ruddy with embarrassment while Andruil’s lips twist in what appears to be guilt.

“How did you say you found them again?” Solas asks, peering at Andruil.

“Through a private investigator. She found a cottage in Hossberg under a variation of Dirthamen’s old name. She sent me pictures. Look,” she says, as she pulls out her phone.

Solas and Elgar’nan lean over to see a modest little two-story house with a definite Anderfellian look. High gable roof over tall, thin windows. A hedge blocks most of the bottom floor from view.

Andruil harrumphs. “My PI said she staked out the property for a couple weeks and didn’t see much in the way of occupants. But someone must live there, because food is delivered twice weekly right to the door. And sometimes, pizza. This is the best shot she got of an actual occupant”—She flicks the gallery of photos leftward, spinning through many stills before pausing on a particular one—”and it’s blurry as fuck.”

Solas peers close at the pic, seeing a delivery person’s back. Before them, the open front door. And framed by the house’s lit interior, an indistinct silhouette reaching out with a handful of money. Backlit, the tennant’s face is hopelessly obscured, but there

“I’d know that ear anywhere,” says Elgar’nan, at his shoulder.

Solas nods, for in the photo, the one feature that stands out is the sudden, abbreviated length of the subject-in-question’s left eartip. Clipped in a brawl when they were kids. He remembers the flash of a knife, the hoarse shout of pain, then Falon’din going mad and leaping upon Dirthamen’s attacker.

How they’d all gone after the bastard with sharp knees and elbows, hard boots and fists. Leaving the street tough beat and bleeding in an alley while they ran from police sirens and that fool’s slow friends. Solas never found out whether they beat that human to death or not. It would probably poke at his conscience more if the thugs hadn’t wandered onto their turf to hurt and humiliate some ‘knife ear’ brats.

“Well, it’s definitely Dirthamen,” Elgar’nan says, leaning back into his seat.

“We hope anyway,” Solas reasons. “The coincidences would stretch belief to breaking.”

“Yeah. And if otherwise, this is gonna be super awkward.”

Andruil snorts. “I suspect it will be ‘super awkward’ regardless.”

Sighing, Solas nods, then looks back out the window.

Elgar’nan hums a bit, then says, “Awful nice of Ellana to lend us Inquisition’s private plane.”

“The Skyhold belongs to the label, but yes, it was generous of her to talk them into lending it to us.” Solas thinks about her parting words, ‘Solas, I’ll be fine. Stop fussing and go mend some bridges. Or if they’re too burnt, build some new ones.’ If only she could have come with him. He could definitely use her presence to calm his uncertainty about this venture.

But then again, she may not have wanted to come even if she weren’t tied to Kirkwall by tethers of legality. She seems very reluctant to be in any of their presences. Nervous and twitchy. 

Perhaps she’s still a bit starstruck.

That rings a tad false to his mind. Since when has Ellana not leapt at every opportunity to meet new people? And befriend them easily with the power of her natural charisma?

Certainly a thought to puzzle over.

_________________________________________

There’s not a bit of shock in the face the greets them at the door. Just … resignation.

“Hey, man, er …,” Elgar’nan begins, trembling hand combing through pale hair. “Long time, no see?”

Solas almost groans at the painful exchange. Then he steps a little closer to center. “Dirthamen, may we come in?”

The waifish, slim elf seems to ponder over that for a while. Solas watches his hand on the door’s edge flex and wonders if Dirthamen will just close it in their faces. After an eternity, their old drummer turns without a word and walks back further into the house. But at least he leaves the door open.

Andruil huffs. “We’ll just follow you then?”

Gingerly, they pad into the house.

A dry voice calls from ahead, “Take off your shoes and leave them by the door.”

Doing so, they then follow the sound of the voice into a living room. Well, maybe intended to be a living room, but the current tenants seem to have decided it should be an office. A large office with two mismatched wooden desks in the center, two computers upon them, and stacks and stacks of paperwork all around. Books lay along the perimeter of this workspace in haphazard stacks.

Dirthamen’s back is visible over a half-wall that girdles the kitchen. Ceramic clinks as he putters about in there.

The voice from before belongs to the other elven occupant, who sits at one of the desks peering at the monitor before him. Stockier and darker than Dirthamen, Falon’din spares a moment from whatever he’s doing to glare at the trio of visitors. His fingers never cease picking at the keys. “Who died?”

“What?” says Elgar’nan. “Er, nobody.”

Falon’din snorts and yells over to his counterpart, “You owe me twenty sovs.” He turns back to them and jerks a thumb over at Dirthamen. “Drama queen over there kept saying, ‘A death split us apart. It’ll take another one to bring us together again.’ I mean, writers, am I right? It’s gotta be drippin’ with portent and shit.”

Solas frowns. The … harshness is still there, but Falon’din of old never deigned to speak more than three words at any given time.  Perhaps he’d evolved to become the voice of the duo, since the band split up.

“Elgar’nan, you look like shit,” Falon’din says, as he continues typing once more. Andruil’s lips quirk to one side, a smile with sharp edges.

“Yeah, well, not a lot of time for beauty sleep when partying is the order of business for the day. Er, week. Month.” Elgar’nan runs a hand through his hair again, face pinched a little in nervous apprehension.

“I seem to recall a couple years in there where you drifted from one drug-induced coma to the next,” Andruil says, with a teasing lilt in her voice.

“Do you? I don’t remember much of those years at all. Maybe you’ll tell me about it sometime?” Elgar’nan asks. Then he turns to the twins. “I’m sober now. Well, maybe not sober sober, but I don’t mess about with street narcotics any more.”

Dirthamen steps around the small group to set a mug of some steaming beverage in front of Falon’din, who says, “Thanks, babe. So, why are you here?”

Elgar’nan’s mouth works, but no sound emerges.

Finally, Solas steps in. “We’re just trying to reconnect.”

“Uh huh,” says Falon’din, sour and doubting. He spears Solas with a pointed look. “You buried us like garbage, and now, morbidly curious, you went digging to see just how moldy and worm-ridden we’ve gotten.”

Solas frowns. “No—”

He didn’t go digging. I did,” Elgar’nan interrupts.

Falon’din snorts. “What, is this some sort of twelve-step thing?”

Coloring, the older elf stammers, “Look, we all fucked it up. I might carry quite a bit of the blame, but you got a bit on you too. And … and it’s not right, Fal. It’s not right. We fuckin’ grew up together. We went through so much shit with no one to watch our backs but each other. We were family, dammit! The only family any of us had.”

By the stunned expression on everyone’s faces (and, no doubt, his own), Solas realizes two things. One; they’d never really suspected the strength of Elgar’nan’s ties to the rest of them. Two; how easily Elgar’nan fit into the role of father figure once more.

A thing that only contributed to a deeper hurt and bitterest disappointment later on. Solas reexamines his feelings during the long silence that drops over the group. Just how much of his hate for Elgar’nan stems from the failure of meeting those vaunted expectations? Would anyone have been able to meet them?

Stewing, he only dimly hears Andruil say, “Well, let’s push the deeper issues and old grudges aside for now. We didn’t come to upend the world. We were thinking, er, perhaps, going to lunch would do for now.”

Falon’din stares into his mug, fingers having ceased their endless typing. Dirthamen looks at them, each in turn, lingering on Solas for a long, uncomfortable five heartbeats. Then he bends a little to the side and grasps Falon’din’s wrist between long fingers. A simple, intimate touch.

Solas resists the urge to look elsewhere. Their relationship had always seemed strangely … sacred. What would it be like to know someone so well? So deeply?

Sighing, Falon’din starts typing again. “Alright. But not right now. And not unless it’s everyone. If we’re gonna do this, we might as do it all.”

Andruil shifts, cocking a hip and crossing her arms. “That would have been the next step, Fal, depending on how this went. We’re here now. Let’s get lunch and talk about it.”

Falon’din growls. “Do what you want, but I can’t leave right now.”

Curious, Solas asks, “Why not?”

“I’m running net support for the protests in Wycome, spreading all the footage coming out of there far and wide.” He turns the monitor. On it, Solas sees the header ‘Fear and Deceit. News for the ungovernable.’ And under that, titles of many articles. ‘Burn the banks!’ ‘No borders, no nations!’ ‘Liberate & Organize.’

Solas smiles, heart warming. “You … run an anarchist newsletter.”

“Still fighting the system? Haven’t you bludgeoned yourself bloody running headfirst into that wall yet?” Andruil says, shaking her head, but her lips pucker in a telling sign of interest.

“Yeah, I am. And no amount of head trauma will make me stop.” Falon’din sits back to let them crowd around the scrolling words on the screen. Snippets of video, taken on cellphones, pop up, linked with phrases like, ‘Setting the dogs on us.’ and ‘Tear gas on civilians? War crime!’ He continues, “We just keep on pecking at it and it’ll crumble. Just this year, we’ve gotten three fascist, discriminatory bills in Ferelden struck down. Corrupt police fired when their brutality comes to light. And a certain anti-elf politician is now under investigation after we doxxed her tax returns. Spreading awareness of what’s really happening out there is how we make a difference.”

Even Elgar’nan seems a bit awed. They all turn to look at Falon’din.

Dirthamen reaches out to once again touch Falon’din’s wrist. “I’m very proud of him.”

Every eye swings to Dirthamen, who ducks under their sudden, stunned regard. Elgar’nan says, “Well … shit.”

Solas pulls up a nearby task chair and addresses Falon’din, “Tell me more?”

And they cluster around Falon’din as he talks. The sun drops to the horizon as they regale, ask questions, and … laugh. The old days come again, it seems.

And they all fit together like puzzle pieces, though some of those edges fit differently than before.

Solas wonders what picture will be revealed once they all come together.

Chapter Text

“Ugh, this one is so crude!” Laughingly said, as though the article in question isn’t creepy as fuck.

“I know! Isn’t it?” Ellana plucks the paper from Celene’s limp hand. She looks at it herself, tilting her head. “Well drawn, though.”

“Just because this crazed fan has a measure of skill with pencil doesn’t make it okay that they apparently believe you enjoy pony play,” says the Empress, with a short laugh. “I mean, the mental image they make of us to worship is just silly and outrageous sometimes.”

“At least I’m not the one in the bridle. Though the attached letter stated a ‘generous’ offer to swap if I preferred being the ‘sub.’” Ellana lets the picture and letter drop to pick up another one. After reading it for a bit, she smiles. “Awww, this one is sweet. It’s a young woman who came to the Ostwick show. She says she went as me to All Soul’s Day. Oh, she included a picture!”

Celene peers over her shoulder and they coo together over the actually pretty good recreation of Ellana’s stage attire. So, like, ninety percent leather and chains. Ellana winces a bit, hoping the girl’s costume didn’t pinch as much as hers did. But the shy, yet defiant grin on that young face melts her heart.

She puts that pic in the ‘keep’ pile. A pile that’s growing quite large, to her surprise. After reading the first few, she was sure she’d have to hire someone to slog through all the grossness (with rubber gloves on), but on average, most just want to say how much they love the music. And she loves that. Just loves it.

“Uh oh, looks like another for the ‘weird’ pile,” says Celene, handling the indicated envelope like something dipped in sewage. “No return address. Just some strange, spooky scrawling.”

Ellana takes it and peers at the spidery writing. A deep knell of recognition nearly has her dropping the letter into her lap. Her guts flip-flop as she slowly reads aloud the elvhen phrase, “Asha’lan Vun.”

“What does it mean?”

Swallowing past the dread knotting up her intestines, she says, “Daughter of the Sun.”

“Maker ….” After a tense few seconds, Celene bursts into laughter. “Where do they come up with these things?”

Forcing herself to laugh along, Ellana puts the unopened letter in a spot of its own. “Let’s just make that the ‘ultra-mega-weird’ pile. For the serious space cadets out there.”

Celene laughs until she topples over on her side on the rug next to her. Her mirth echoes off the walls of the beachhouse.  “I think the freakiest thing about it is there’s no postage on it. It means they physically slipped it into your P.O.Box. I’ve had a few scary die-hards do that. Time to have your mail routed through a couple different services.”

Nodding because speaking would betray the creeping fright within, Ellana picks up the next bit of fanmail, hoping for affable and not horrible. But her eye keeps sliding over to that elvhen lettering, squatting over there with smug patience. It’s like it knows she’s gonna have to open it. Taunting her with the knowledge.

Time passes like an anxious eternity alleviated only by spates of pleasant conversation and laughter until finally Celene says, “And that’s the last one, I believe. Oh, mon amie, this has been wonderful. It’s so nice to see I’m not alone in getting the strangest things in the mail. That pair of underwear, oh, trop hilarant! Et bizarre!”

Ellana snorts, then smiles. “I’m just glad you had time to plow through those with me. I’d been stockpiling them, cuz they scared me a bit. Anyway, thanks. It really wasn’t as bad as I thought it was gonna be. After what happened to you, I thought every other one was gonna be death and muuuuurder.”

Celene giggles. “She was my cousine, if you can believe. Little bitch always was jealous.”

“What happened to her?”

Shrugging, the Empress says, “I couldn’t press charges. She’s family. My mother would never forgive me if I did. Also, I hired her the best lawyer in Orlais, so she only got a few months instead of years. I’m sorry, my friend. I know she shot you instead of me, but Florianne was always a little … wrong in the head.”

Ellana stamps out the tiny flare of ill will and lifts a hand. “Hey, I don’t hold grudges. Plus I had a whole slew of my own legal troubles to deal with at the time.”

Celene clasps Ellana’s raised hand in a casual, friendly, yet oddly foreign sort of way. “I know, but I am glad you made it through that tangle, and look! They love you more than ever!” She points at the ‘keep’ pile overflowing in the shoebox Ellana dragged out to contain them.

Nevermind that they only constitute a third of the total mass of fanmail. Ellana smiles as she reaches out to fiddle with their edges. So many wonderful people who like Inquisition’s music.

“Besides, Florianne might not be in prison any more, but she is locked away in the finest and strictest mental health facility in all of the South that money can buy.” Celene grins. Then she stands. “Well, I must go. My plane leaves in two hours. See you in Minrathous?”

Ellana stands with her and grasps both of her hands. “You’re coming to the WGS Show?”

“Of course! I made sure to leave my own show schedule open that week.” They make their way to the foyer. Celene turns to hug her, and say, “Au revoir, Ellana. Tell Morrigan I miss her clever eyes. No one can dress me as well as she did.”

“Will do. Thanks again! And thanks for hanging out with me while everyone’s out of town. I was feeling a little lonely.” Ellana opens the door for her friend and waves as Celene plops into the back of her fancy retro car. The driver tips her hat to Ellana. She nods back.

“Any time!” the Empress calls back, as the car whisks her away to the airport.

Leaning on the porch posts, Ellana turns her face to the ocean, breathing in the salty air. I am lonely. I wish Solas was here.

But he’s still in Hossberg. She’d given her blessing wholeheartedly when he’d called earlier and said he might be gone a while longer. But now a shard of regret jabs her heart. Damn probation.

Her hand reaches into her pocket and pulls out the letter with the elvhen script on it. She’d squirreled it away in there when Celene hadn’t been looking. Opening one end, she pulls out the paper within. The message, once she unfolds it, is as stunted and abbreviated as the address on the envelope. Just two words, in the same thin, familiar, hated handwriting.

‘Come home.’

She reads them again and again, and mulls the implications over in her mind. The … inevitability of it all.

The solitude did grant her one thing, though. A chance to practice what to say to her vhenan.

To try to find a combination of words that would help her finally come clean.

_________________________________

Hands are shaking her awake, cold and strangely spongy.

Her eyes fly open to see Cole bending over her, ghostly and panicked. Ellana sits up and watches, dumbfounded, as the spirit’s form seems to shift and buckle. Expand, contract. Shiver and splinter. His face pulls this way and that in terror.

A contagious fear that has her heart hammering. “What is it, Cole?”

Mouth working with no sound emerging, he crashes all over the room, knocking over her end-table and other knick knacks and things. Like a poltergeist, he pounds the walls with his fists. Then, suddenly, he slides through, insubstantial as fog. Only to tear back into her bedroom. All her pictures fall to smash on the floor.

Alarm spreads, and she stands to grab him in a tight hug. It’s like trying to hold onto a cloud. If clouds could shake like a frightened child. “Calm down! Cole, look at me!”

He does just barely. Pupils like pinpricks find hers from under the floppy edge of his hat. Bony fingers yanking at his wheaten strands, Cole stills in the circle of her arms. The strain on his face tells her he is just holding on by his fingertips.

“Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

With a violent shake of his head, he collapses into her. Under her hands, the panic is palpable, alive, bleeding through his skin into hers. The sizzle of ozone fills her nostrils.

Her phone rings.

Cole lunges to her bedside, grabbing the phone from where it fell onto the floor and thrusting it into her shaking hands.

She puts it to her ear. “Hello?”

“Oh, Ellana, thank goodness. It’s Bodahn. Listen. I just popped out to get some groceries, and when I got back … Sandal was missing.” The raging tension under the dwarf’s too polite tone pulls at that trapped fear in her chest. “Maker knows it’s not the first time. Only I don’t know where he’d go in Kirkwall. All of his usual haunts are in Minrathous. I don’t suppose he found his way to your house?”

The naked hope in his voice makes her swallow, spit like cold treacle. “No. He’s not here.”

She can almost hear the despair growing on the other end of the line. Bodahn, voice tight and skewed, says, “You know I can’t go to the police. What if he’s lost? What if he’s hurt? Or-or—”

“Bodahn. Listen,” she begins, but isn’t quite sure what to say. After all, it was her and Solas who convinced Bodahn to move to Kirkwall. Told them it would be safer. And now his son is missing. “Let me make some … calls.” Even she can hear the uncertainty in her voice, so she forces it to steady and hopes she sounds confident, “We’ll find him, Bodahn. I promise.”

“A-alright.” Bodahn sighs a laugh that lacks any sort of humor. More like he’s grasping at anything, anything at all to lessen the anxiety. “So I’ll just wait by the phone then. And worry. Please call me as soon as you know anything. Please.”

“I will,” she promises, and hopes she will have something to tell him soon.

Hanging up, she thinks. Hard. Carta’s out. Varric’s in Orlais with Bianca. Blackwall's at least in the Marches, but he's three hours out. Fuck! Everyone's off doing their own shit. How am I—?

Just then, Cole throws himself at her again, clutching at her nightshirt. Again, his mouth opens and closes, but distress seems to have stolen his voice.

Holding him close, she whispers, “Do you know where he is?”

A timorous nod at her belly drives a nail of hope into her core. She picks Cole up to look him square in the face. “Did he get lost?”

The shaking of the spirit’s narrow frame crushes the optimistic idea that Sandal merely wandered off. She asks, “Worse?”

Cole nods, and reaches out to touch the pendant around her neck. A flare of light flows from the foci to the spirit’s fingertip.

Suspicion dawns on her like an awful tidal wave. “Taken? Someone took him?”

The nod is heavier and weighted with horror.

Her hand flies to the pick and squeezes it in her fist until the glimmer of green is extinguished. She doesn’t know how, but she’s a thousand percent sure. One word falls from her lips. A name.

“Corypheus.”

Then she looks at the upended clock on the rug. ‘11:53,’ it blinks at her.

Her lips flatten to a hard, determined line.

Chapter Text

“—a wonder they didn’t throw me out! The hostess just stared at my … my exposure, then asked, calm as anything, whether we’d like a table or a booth!” Elgar’nan’s tale finishes with a arm-flailing flourish, and the elves all around burst into raucous laughter. 

Nearly choking on his mouthful of food,  June shakes his head as he points his fork at the old guitarist. Syllaise pats his back, chuckling.

Andruil, wry but smiling, says, “Most of us were there, El.”

“It’s still pretty funny, even the hundredth time he’s told it,” June manages, finally clearing his throat enough to speak.

Falon’din grunts. “It’s the delivery that makes it funny. Otherwise, it’s just El forgetting to wear pants. Again.”

“Well, I hadn’t heard it before,” says the only human at the table. Andruil’s private detective. She turns to Elgar’nan with a wide grin. “So, this happened pretty often, I take it?”

“Too often,” says the rest of the former bandmates in unison.

Elgar’nan sputters his drink and glares all around for a second before capitulating. “Fine! Yes, it happens. What’s wrong with a man enjoying the feel of the wind ‘round his nethers?”

Solas clears his throat. “Nothing at all. In the privacy of his own room. But I believe the old you would not have rested until all of Thedas had a good look at … your business.”

“Indeed. His … little guy was awake for more gigs than he was.” June laughs.

Falon’din contributes, “If I had a sov for every time his pixelated … hardware made the cover of the scandal sheets—”

“Cock!”—every eye in the restaurant swings toward their group—”Just say it,” Andruil growls, exasperated. “I swear, you men can be so squeamish when it comes to talk about dick.”

Ghilan’nain giggles. “As if you have more than a just passing acquaintance with dick, Andi.”

“Hush, darling,” she retorts, kissing Ghilan’nain on the tip of her nose. “One need not want to handle them to have an opinion. Or be an adult about the whole thing. They’re just cocks, you infants.” At this, the rest let out a burst of laughter. Andruil huffs and rolls her eyes. “Really.”

“Excuse me,” says the nervous host as he sidles up to the table. “I ask that you please keep it down. This is an upscale establishment, after all. A family establishment. The crude language and noise—”

A thundercloud gathers in Elgar’nan’s eyes. Solas steps in before it bursts into a deluge with a terse, “Our pardon. Bring us the check, please.”

“All together?” asks the shuffling human. His eyes and wringing hands say he wonders if the group of elves will suddenly disappear the moment his back is turned.

Pushing down the stab of anger in his gut, Solas pulls out his wallet and hands the host a jet-black credit card. White Spire’s jacquard logo glitters in the light of the low-hanging chandeliers over their table. Solas says, cold, “Just put it all on that.”

When the host scuttles off, the others look at Solas. June whistles. “Hear that, guys? Fen’s got it.”

“We could have pitched in,” admonishes Andruil. “It’s got to be at least six hundred sovereigns altogether.” Everyone else mutters similar sentiments.

“What’s an expense account for, if not to use?” asks he. Solas peers at them all, looking for signs of jealousy or bitterness. Then relief warms him as he finds nothing but simple worry that they’re taking advantage. How different this would have gone once upon a time.

Elgar’nan smiles. “I guess you got us there. Things must be going pretty good for Inquisition then?”

“Yes.” He returns the smile with one of his own.

“I’ll say!” Ghilan’nain exclaims, blue eyes glittering. She tosses her gold hair to one side, and leans forward. “They’re all the kids talks about. My store can’t keep the CD’s on the shelf, they move so quickly! Speaking of which, have you looked into streaming services, like Spotify, SoundCloud or Fadio—?”

“I, too, have questions,” June says. “Why now? Why them? How did you meet— ?”

Syllaise joins in, “Yes. Tell us all about your new band, Fen. Are they headed for the top?”

The rest chime in with a chorus of variations of, “Tell us!”

“I—” Solas starts, a little overwhelmed.

“I’ve met them,” Elgar’nan interrupts, puffing up a little under all the sudden attention that swings his way. “They’re good! That Ellana has a great voice, and she’s-she’s, like, grounded, you know?”

As they all turn their questions to Elgar’nan, Solas shoots him a grateful glance. The older elf grins and fields the flocking queries like a master.

“I think he just saved you a fair measure of aggravation,” says Andruil’s private investigator at his elbow.

“No doubt,” he agrees, turning to the human with a tip of his head. Then he asks, “I’m sorry. I never caught your name.”

“Elizabet Cousland. Betty, to my friends,” she says, sticking out her hand. “And you’re the Dread Wolf.” Her sudden lop-sided grin disarms the tickle of mocking razz right out of her tone. Not that her teasing bothers him at all. They’d chosen melodramatic stage names for a reason.

“Call me Solas, please.” He shakes her hand, then pauses. “Any relation to Teyrn Cousland?”

She nods. “To my father’s great chagrin, yeah. I’m his wayward daughter. Bringing shame onto the family is sorta my thing. My jam. My cuppa.”

“Who hasn’t disappointed a parent? But you don’t seem that bad,” Solas reasons. “From your attire, you’re well off. Successful. And Andruil told me many clients keep you on retainer, so you must be good at what you do.”

“Says the one it took the longest to find. Every time, I might add,” she says, as she mimes a playful poke. Pushing her brown hair over one rounded ear, Betty snorts. “I pride myself on being a good fisherman, but you were a very elusive fish. That’s what they should’ve called you. The ‘Elusive Fish.’ What’s that in elvhen?”

“Unflattering,” he shoots back, then chuckles as Betty lets out a single hearty guffaw.

“That’s as may be, but it’s more apt, possibly. And you? You don’t seem all that dread.”

“You didn’t know me before. Everything from my dress sense to my manners. Just dreadful.” He raises an impish brow.

“I don’t know,” she drawls. “Some of those outfits in the vids were … scandalous. Low, low, looow rise pants. Ha! And had they not yet invented the shirt back then?”

He chuckles. “It seemed the thing to do at the time. Sex sells and all that.”

“Yes, it does! A whole ton of records, from what I gather,” Betty cajoles, holding up her drink for a toast. He obliges her with a clink and a nod. Then she waves around and comments, “So what’s this then? Trying to recapture the lightning? Gettin’ the band back together?”

“No!” Solas blurts, taken aback. Others at the table glance towards his outburst and he can’t help but notice some have shifted in their seats to split their attention between regaling Elgar’nan and himself. Chagrin trickles over his nerves as he clears his throat to say in a more reasonable tone, “Not at all. We’re just catching up. I have my obligation to Inquisition, after all.”

“I’m just sayin’. All of you. In one place. Someone’s bound to notice, if they haven’t already. And those someones are gonna draw certain conclusions,” she says, waving a hand. Then she points suddenly, and Solas turns his head just in time to see a flash of light coming from a cell phone half-hidden in another patron’s hands. Betty chortles. “Six, by my reckoning. So far.”

Resisting the urge to slump into his seat, Solas growls, “Wonderful.”

Settling the tip, he stands. “Ladies, gentlemen, I bid you goodnight. I have a long flight in the morning—” He waves his hands in the midst of the chorus of groaning and booing flying his way.

“C’mon, Fen,” Elgar’nan wheedles, reminding Solas of why ‘getting the band back together’ would be folly at best. Insanity, at worst. The older elf continues, “We were gonna go to that club down the street.”

“The one with the neon legs above the door? No, thank you. I’m headed back to the hotel.” Solas turns away as the booing renews, waving one dismissive hand over his shoulder. “I’ll be better entertained diving into the Fade for some much needed rest.”

Another flash catches his attention. “Besides, I think I’ve done enough damage for one evening.”



Sitting in the midst of the stark, white landscape of the huge hotel bed, Solas winces at Madame Vivienne’s response to his text—

‘Get ahead of it, darling? Of course we’ll try, but you know as well as I how these things get blown out of proportion. Already we’ve had phone calls asking if Inquisition’s breaking up, and if we’re going to represent Evanuris for a big comeback. Really, my dear, I wish you would think of the consequences before acting.’

The digital clicking of his keyboard sounds in his ears as he picks out a reply, ‘I’ll own that. I should have insisted on private dining. Enough of blame, Madame. What can be done?’

Three dots flicker over and over next to Vivienne’s avatar, the White Spire logo. Then they disappear. And reappear. This happens a few more times before he types, ‘When you actually have a plan, call me.’

The dots disappear altogether this time. He imagines outrage on the other end and smiles. Then a new message pops up on his screen. This time from Morrigan. The sheer number of expletives deplete her word cap.

Solas feels a bit more guilt in this instance, for the former metal diva works very hard on their behalf. Still, insults are uncalled for. He shoots back a tart rejoinder and refers her to Vivienne.

Then more messages arrive in rapid succession. Leliana with civil, calm questions asking for clarification and his first-hand account. How many photographers did he notice? Were there any outside when he left? What was the name of the restaurant? And so forth.

Josephine texts, ‘Band meeting as soon as Cassandra returns. These issues need to be addressed as a group. Making the label nervous doesn’t do us any favors. We have tour dates lined up and it’s not fair to the fans who’ve already purchased tickets to make them think they’re suddenly going to be cancelled.’

‘I know. I apologize,’ he responds, heart heavy. ‘And I will apologize again when we meet en masse.’

Irascible Varric is the only one to actually call, gifting him with a saucy, “Hey, did you happen to snap one yourself or get the name of one of the guys who did? I’d pay a pretty penny for it! Picture the headline—Evanuris Returns! Three exclamation points. Or is that too many exclamation points?”

“Far too many, I’m sure,” he replies, with a weary hum of humor. Leave it to the dwarf to lift his spirits. Solas sinks into the cloud of blankets. “And not true, in any case. Evanuris is dead. They will never, ever return.”

“Never say never, Chuckles. Still, you got Inquisition. If Evanuris did re-form, they can always do it without you.” Varric’s confidence almost dispels the sudden, tiny pang in Solas’s chest.

Shaking it off, the elf says, “Truer words, Master Varric. I have my hands full.”

Varric laughs. “Speaking of Rosy, I haven’t spoken with her for weeks. How is she doing?”

“Elated to be near the end of her probation. Excited to be back on the road,” Solas answers, ignoring the rush of warmth in his cheeks. “I was about to call her, actually. See how she’s faring on her own.”

“What do you mean ‘on her own’?”

“Well, the band dispersed to take care of private matters before the tour. Out of town, most. Out of country, others. I admit to guilt at leaving her alone, but she insisted. Quipped about a vacation of her own, away from the band drama.” Solas laughs, thinking of the mischievous grin on her face when she’d said that.

“That funny girl of mine, eh? Well, I suppose I should let you call her then. I’m serious about those pics, Chuckles. Well, halfway serious. News is news, and my magazine could use the bump!”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Wouldn’t that just irritate Vivienne to no end?

“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Varric.” Solas smiles as the line clicks closed. Then he opens the Skype app, giving an eager tap on Ellana’s photo. The lyrical ‘bwoops’ cascade as they seek to summon the image of his love over the hundreds of miles separating them.

The call ends, uncompleted.

Frowning, Solas tries again. To no avail.

Four more times and nothing. Uneasiness blossoms into outright nerve-rending apprehension.

He attempts to contact her through social media and reaps nothing but more worry. Solas then tears through his phone directory, searching for someone who might still be in Kirkwall.

Anyone who can go check on Ellana—

“The P.O.,” he mutters, staring at the qunari’s number. Chewing his lip, Solas casts about for another option. Any other choice.

Taking a deep breath to steady shaking hands, he says to himself, harsh and decisive, “No, Ellana’s probably in the bath. Or-or left her phone in the fridge again. Everything’s probably fine. Her P.O. will find her. Safe. At home, during curfew. Like she hasn’t failed to be once.”

Squashing the sense of dread foreboding to make space for hope, Solas pecks at the Arishok’s number.

Chapter Text

Cole leads her through threading alleys and narrow streets, heading toward Darktown. Why’s it always have to be Darktown? 

She thumbs the grip of the gun in her hand, hardening her jumping nerves and listening for scuffling feet, watching for greedy Darktown denizens. The gun is a big no-no. She’s not supposed to have one during her probation, though since the trial Solas made sure she knew where it was and how to use it. Still, it’s a first class ticket to a decade-long stint in prison. Like, prison proper , not the charming, amiable jail whose halls she so recently graced. 

But fuck if she’s heading into danger without some thing. 

Sandal’s out here somewhere, with the worst of the worst. 

It surprises her to see no one at all on the streets of Darktown. Not a single pimp or pusher. It seems even scum know to hide when a real monster shows up in the neighborhood. The air sizzles with some indefinable feeling, and a smell that tickles her magical senses. Wholly unfamiliar in type.

Cole’s sharp tug on her sleeve drags her onto a slim, shadowy stoop, where the streetlights don’t touch the pair. He points at an old factory, seeming abandoned if not for the dim, flickering lights filtering through the greasy glass of multiple floors.

Her ears pop in the wake of a sudden outpouring of fae magics from that imposing, concrete derelict. Cole hangs on her like he fears being swept away like a kite. The mundane world doesn’t even shudder, but she reckons anyone with a hint of magic felt that quake in their bones. “Corypheus has Sandal in there?

Thin, watery with spit, comes the spirit’s reply, “Yes. He’s … sharding.”

“‘Sharding?’ What’s that mean?” she asks.

“Reaching too far, too fast. Stolen fire to fuel fixation.The seams rip, and all the blackest pieces begin to fly, fearing shriveling light. Finding, searching. Dark corners. Safety. Soon, the light. Revealing light. Then he’ll see. ” Cole grasps at her, form shivering in unnatural starts and fits. “He’ll see . Then Sandal will die.”

Ellana grits her teeth. “Fuck that. Fuck all of that.”

She starts toward the building, gun low but ready. Cole’s presence at her back is unnerving and reassuring all at once. A friend of the heart, but a friend who cannot even cast a shadow in his current condition. Or sound footfalls. Just an eerie ghost floating along with her into hell.

The chain-link gate swings open before her shove with a long, drawn out squeal. The sound trickles like frigid water down her spine, and she holds her breath, certain that whatever mercenary army Corypheus has waiting in the wings is going to come flying out to kill the both of them.

Nothing happens in the silence after.

Ellana takes a deep, jittery breath and stalks on, towards the big double doors. Every step comes with another draught of trepidation. Her trembling hand lands on the handle and, with nary a push, it opens inward. A rush of fetid air blasts past her. Her mouth drops open in a shocked gasp at the sight of—

A heavy hand drops on her shoulder.

She emits a strangled half-scream as she’s spun about by that hand. A huge, horned head limned in light from the streetlamps looks down at her with dispassionate disapproval. The gravel-filled boom of the Arishok’s voice hammers her ears, “Breaking and entering? Again , Miss Lavellan? And you’re out after curfew. With a firearm .” He growls and snatches it out of her hand with ease. “There are not enough forms in my entire office to write up all these violations. But that won’t stop me from trying. This will not end well for you … at … all ….”

His words trail off as he looks beyond her. His hand falls off her shoulder, as stunned as the rest of him. Ellana watches those nostrils flare, no doubt far more sensitive to the copper stench than the dainty little apparatus in the middle of her face.

He rumbles, “What ...?”

Another shockwave of magic slams into her, far more potent than the last. Or maybe it’s proximity. It shakes her loose of her shock. To keep herself from stumbling, she grabs one of the Arishok’s thick wrists. “We have to stop him!”

Tearing his gaze away from the pile of fresh corpses in the factory’s interior, he asks, “Stop who?”

“Corypheus! He has my friend.”

Apparently, dead bodies don’t throw the giant man off for long. The Arishok straightens, then snorts. “Ridiculous. Corypheus is under house arrest in Minrathous, awaiting trial.”

“Letting him out of jail was a mistake! A man with that much money and influence? It’d be a piece of cake for him to just scarper when no one’s looking.”

“‘No one?’ So you believe he could slip away from his twelve-man security detail, his attendant state-appointed physician, and his probation officer?” The last he says with utmost confidence in the peers of his profession.

It almost makes her laugh. But other things are on the line. “He has my friend. He’s going to hurt him! I’m going—”

The Arishok’s hand snakes out to clasp her wrist before she can run into the factory. “No, you’re not. You’re going to stay here, where we’ll call the police and when they arrive, they can detain both you and whoever else might be in this building. If there’s a murderer loose, they’ll be found.”

Now she does laugh, a harsh, desperate rasp. “The police? Come to Darktown after sundown? You’re joking. Or you’re an idiot. The only reason some thug doesn’t have a new set of horns to decorate his ride is they’re more scared of what’s going on in there than to come out and play a game of butcher the tourists.”

A muscle twitching at his square jaw tells her she might have pushed too far. “Stay,” he commands. Then he releases her to reach his free hand into a pocket to pull out an oddly delicate-looking cell phone. In his huge hands, it looks like a toy. Pecking out a number, he pulls it up to his ear and listens.

“Yes, I’m calling to check on one of your probationers. First name: Corypheus. Last name: unknown. Yes, I’ll hold.”

While he’s distracted, Ellana whispers, “Cole?”

From behind the Arishok, the spirit’s face slides into view, appearing like a wan moon from under the qunari’s elbow. He gives a weak smile. The Arishok catches her looking and turns, but Cole moves with him, staying out of his line of sight. It’s almost comical.

Another hollow rumble like silent thunder crashes through her and she winces, staring up at the ceiling. She addresses her PO, “You probably can’t feel it, but there’s some awful big, bad juju going on upstairs. And if these poor fools weren’t drained like Capri Suns for some kinda blood-magic ritual, then I’ll eat my shoe.”

The Arishok looks down at her, the ghost of alarm in his stony eyes, but he purses his lips and states, “Silence, please.” Then to the person on the phone, he says, “Yes. I need his location. … Presumably, but I need to be sure. When was the last check-in? Well, check!” That last is almost a roar. Then he nods, listening and humming affirmatives. He pauses to say to Ellana, “The ankle monitor shows him at the residence in Minrathous. Officers on site say they had eyes on him at 9 PM.”

The cold, suspicious shift in his eyes bodes ill for her enterprise. He stares hard, calling her false.

“Then someone’s lying!” she all but pleads.

“Enough!” He goes to grab her wrist again, probably to drag her out of Darktown by force.

Then inspiration strikes. “A-a phylactery!”

He pauses, warily. “What about it?”

“Well, that’s how you found me , right? Standard operating procedure on all mages out on bail?” Her heart thuds in relief at his nod and she continues, “Check his official location against that.”

“Do you know how serious it would have to be in order to—”

She interrupts, “Please! Just check. I swear to you I’m not lying. Corypheus is up there and he’s up to some bad, bad shit.”

With a snort of disdain, he says over the phone, “Pull the blood record. … Yes, I know. I’ll take responsibility. Just do it. Yes, I’ll hold.”

After a few tense minutes where she bites back a growing urge to scream in his face, his whole demeanor changes. His head lifts over taut shoulders, brows furrowed over narrowed eyes. They harden as they flick over to her, then up at the ceiling.

Blood singing in triumph, she holds her hands up. “I’ll do whatever you want. Take a thousand UA’s, pluck every last follicle out of my head, go to prison , but I’ve got to help my friend. He’s up there and he’s in danger. Help me. Please .”

The tiniest flicker of doubt shines in the back of his eyes in the face of her certainty and very real distress.

The Arishok puts away his phone after giving whoever it is on the other end a terse goodbye. The phone goes back in his suit’s pocket. Then, with a curiously practiced gesture, he checks the gun’s slide and flicks off the safety. “Stay behind me. You are still my responsibility, and I should by rights take you into custody and out of this place to safety, but if it’s as you say and there’s another victim up there, alive … then I cannot in good conscience leave them to their fate.”

Ellana nods, relieved to be getting on with it. And to have another person there. Not a friend, by any stretch, but someone on her side at least. Surely not on the side of whatever obscenity is happening above. Plus, having it be someone as large and formidable as the Arishok is an unexpected and welcome boon.

They creep past the bodies and up the stairs, the Arishok’s bulky mass in front of her and Cole’s wispy presence at her back. Funny how the spirit knows just when to ‘disappear’ every time the qunari’s craggy face turns her way.

Two flights up, they encounter more bodies. From their clothes, they look like indigents and squatters. Same as below. Probably holed up in here for warmth. Then Corypheus came calling.

Another magical tidal wave leaves her gasping and nauseous. Ellana retches over the railing while the Arishok pounds her back with one huge palm. Considerate, if ineffectual. From ahead, she can hear shouting. Angry shouting in a deep, hateful voice. She cocks her head to try to make out the words—

“—Red lyrium? There’s no s—... thing! I told y—…. —ry the dragonbone again! Or the veil quartz! Fen’harel’s was made of v-... quartz. … I don’t care! Do it, or so help me, Sandal, I’ll start chopping little bits off you. A toe! An ear!” A long pause then, then a frustrated scream. “Damn you, you thick, bastard, mutant freak! Only one sacrifice left! And if that doesn’t work, I swear by Dumat’s scales, you’re next!”

A weak, fearful voice groans and begs, “ No, please! Don’—” Then it ends in a gargle and gasp, and the spray of some liquid hitting the floor.

Another blast of magical energies flies out through the door ahead of them, nearly driving Ellana to her knees. Her stomach roils.

The Arishok squares his shoulders and tries the knob. “It’s locked.” Then, without hesitation, he pounds on the door with one meaty fist. “Open up in the name of the law, Corypheus!”

The wrathful howl sounds through the wood and metal, belying the idea that the madman might have heard them at all. “ Why does it not work?! Make it work!”

Crashing fills the air. It sounds like Corypheus seeks to tear the whole place down. He just may, she thinks, as all that power tapped from all those deaths simmers and shakes just on the other side of the door. She can feel it pooling, oozing, lending a magnitude of strength to each of Corypheus’s blows and throws.

Far more power than she’s ever felt in one place before.

No wonder blood magic is outlawed.

“Sssandalll ...,” growls Corypheus, murderous intent loud as a siren in that word. In the slow and thunderous footsteps moving to the right.

She pushes past the Arishok to throw her shoulder into the door. Her meager weight doesn’t move it a centimeter. But the Arishok’s, well, that’s another matter. He shoves her out of the way and charges the door. It holds against the assault, but shakes in its frame.

Surely, it cannot hold.

A sound just below hearing catches her attention, vibrating under her skin. A growing, climbing noise like fingernails on chalkboard. She claps her hands over her ears and shouts in pain. All that trapped energy swirls and spins, unstable as an unbalanced top.

The Arishok finally breaks through the door. Just in time for them to witness Corypheus’s magic-bloated form rise up into the air, twisting and writhing into impossible contortions.

Then ... he explodes!

Blood and shards of magical force fly all over the room. The Arishok covers her with his body, grunting as he’s peppered with particles, pith and pulp. All over his nice suit, too.

A hysterical bubble rises up in her throat, but Ellana chokes it back and rushes to Sandal, wrapping her arms around the diminutive wonderworker.

In the crook of her arm, he calmly says, “Boooom.”

Then she watches him tucks a round, white stone hidden in his palm into his pocket. He turns a witless, sweet smile on her.

Incredulous, she can only shake her head and look around Corypheus’s workshop of horrors. More corpses, these better dressed. Armed. Bodyguards? He sacrificed his own men? A forge. An alchemy bench with beakers and crucibles and such. And piles and piles of strange materials. Giant bones, precious gems, stones of strange, shifting hue.

Ellana licks her lips and says, light as she can bring herself to, “Alright, Sandal?”

The savant nods against her and her legs nearly buckle.

“Just what do you think happened here?” asks the Arishok, looking around with horror and disgust.

Sandal lifts his head and says, “ Not enchantment.”

To quell the questions in her PO’s face, Ellana rushes to say, “I’d like to take him home to his father, if that’s alright? No doubt he’s worried sick.”

The huge qunari’s mouth twists and she expects him to deny her, but he nods. “I should not allow ….” His words trail off in a uncharacteristic show of uncertainty. Then he shakes his head and says, “I’m going to alert the police and wait for them, till dawn if need be. No doubt they’ll have … questions.” For her , his flinty stare says. Then his eyes flick to Sandal. And him.

She takes in a sharp breath. “What can I tell them that you can’t? You were with me the whole time. And-and my friend. H-he’s traumatized enough.” She clutches Sandal tighter, hoping the dwarf’s vacant, addled gaze corroborates her story, she looks back up at the Arishok. “He’s not … I mean, he probably won’t be able to answer their questions anyway. He’s a simple soul. Touched.”

Hating herself can come later for using Sandal’s … condition to save him from police scrutiny.

The Arishok pauses and stares at her for a long time, then sighs and looks away. “I’m not comfortable with compromise, as you might have guessed. That I’ve allowed you this many concessions rankles like salt in an open wound. Not to mention the many possible … omissions in your story. I should be carting you off to jail. But. But I also cannot overlook your good, if slightly misguided intentions. Your conduct until now has been exemplary. Do what you must, then go directly home. We will speak on this soon. Very soon. When I’ve had time to think.”

“Thank you,” she says, meaning it. Then she bows her head. “I’ll accept the consequences of my actions. See you soon.”

She spins and hustles Sandal out before her before the Arishok has the chance to change his mind. Cole joins them on the stairs, calmer and deeply pensive as they quick-march their way out of the most dangerous part of Kirkwall.

“What’s the matter, Cole?” she asks, once they’re free of Darktown and a few blocks from Bodahn’s home in Lowtown.

Cole hums, seeming much more solid, though light still sometimes speared through him at intervals. “I didn’t know people could explode.”

Sandal interjects, “Not people.”

Huffing a dry laugh, Ellana agrees, “That’s right. Corypheus is a monster. Was … a monster. Huh. It’s an awful way to go, but I can’t say I’m exactly … sad he’s gone. Does that make me a monster?”

“Monsters never ask.” Cole’s confidence steadies her and she smiles at him.

“Won’t work, I said,” Sandal comments, airy, as if he didn’t spend a terrifying day under threat of death and/or dismemberment. “Red lyrium, I said.”

She shivers and asks, though she’s not sure she wants to know, “Sandal, what’s red lyrium?”

The dwarf whistles off-key through his teeth, and grins at her.

Then they’re at Bodahn’s door and the bearded dwarf rushes out to greet them, pulling his son to him in a tight embrace. Laughing, crying. Ellana joins him for that a bit, then begs off to run home. Cole stays with the dwarves, waving slow and sad as she flags down a cab.

Home, then bed.

She might have received the first order from the Arishok, but the second, she sternly gives herself. Only after a wash and a change does she notice her phone on the nightstand where she left it all this time.

Picking it up, she reels at the number of missed messages and calls, Skype and otherwise. Most, from Solas. Others, people he must have recruited to try and find her. Shame makes her palms prickle as she lays in bed and pokes at Solas’s avatar.

The funny Skype ‘bweeps’ fill her ears as she worries about what to say.

The call picks up almost immediately, but Solas’s face is turned from the camera and glaring at something, or someone off screen. He’s saying-

“I don’t care about your flight regulations. I’m taking this call.” He looks so very cross that she can’t help but giggle. The sound draws his eyes, his remarkable eyes, to her and those deep worry lines around his mouth instantly relax. “Ellana ….”

She licks her lips in nervousness. “Vhenan, I’m so sorry I missed your calls.”

His hand waves her apology away. “No, it’s alright. I probably just overreacted.” He peers around her and smiles. “In bed, I see.”

“Mm hmm.” She yawns, sleepy.

Again, he glares off camera. “Fine! Then get your air marshal. I’ll be done when I’m done.”

“Solas,” she reprimands. “If you get kicked off the flight, it’ll take you that much longer to come home.”

From her vantage point slightly below his long face, she sees his nostrils flare in agitation, but then he visibly calms himself and turns to her. “You’re right, I suppose.”

“I’ll see you when you get here, love. Then have I got a story for you,” she says, finger over the ‘end’ button.

“'Story?' What story? Vhenan, I—”

“Nighty-nite, emma lath.” She hits the button and sets down the phone, smiling into the comforter. Oh, he’s probably going to be a bit angry once he hears what went on. But she’s hoping her unscathed, unruffled condition will help him get over it.

Funny thing about horror. The more one sees of it, the more numb one becomes to it.

Or, she’s just buried it deep with all the others. Fine, fine. Gotta give the inevitable therapist some thing to unearth.

Otherwise, what are you paying them for?

Chapter Text

“Corypheus is … dead.” The sentence rolls out of him with a touch of disbelief. An ugly knot buried somewhere deep within him finally uncoils and he heaves a huge sigh. Shaken, Solas wonders if it’s a bad thing to feel so thoroughly … relieved. In the wake of a death.

Anyone’s death.

But the man can certainly do no more harm now. Exploded to bits, according to Ellana. The paper in his hand shouts the crowded headline—’Infamous Imperium ex-CEO Dead in Darktown! Blood Magic Backfires!’—along with a bold subheader quoting the Arishok stating, ‘No comment.’

Solas can hear the qunari’s gravelly growl clearly in those two words.

“He really is dead,” he repeats.

“No mention of Sandal,” says Ellana, from where she’s looking over his shoulder, cheek against his neck. “Thank goodness.”

“I still cannot believe you went after him alone, vhenan,” he admonishes, soft and taut like wire. A shiver rolls through his bones, along with what he doesn’t want to recognize as anger toward her for being so foolish. So reckless. After all they’d gone through already, what she knew that monster was capable of ….

He tamps down on that thought before it can blossom into another argument.

The last had left him shaking in equal parts fear and fury, biting back things he knows very well cannot be taken back. He wishes he’d never left. That she’d had the … the sense to stay far away from Corypheus. That Sandal’s keeper kept better track of him. That a million things had been different. And more.

Nevermind that he can think of no better alternative. A helpless situation, indeed.

Blame lashes, a whip with no clear target. All the more frustrating.

She shrugs, tightening her hold around his middle. “What was I supposed to do, Solas? He had Sandal. Even though I didn’t do much actual rescuing, seeing as Corphy popped off like an over-ripe zit, that still would have left Sandal wandering around Darktown. Alone. After dark. Who knows what might have happened to him then.”

Too true. Too true and not in the least bit mollifying.

“That … zit imagery will haunt my nightmares. Thank you,” he says, sour. The built-up anger drains out of him with a deep sigh. Then he pauses. “Is it awful to say I’m glad he’s dead?”

Ellana smiles. “If it is, then that makes me awful too. Fuck that guy.”

He agrees, “Yes. May devils hound him for eternity.”

“Yeah!” His heart punches the air. Then she plucks the newspaper from his hands and sets it aside, crawling into his lap. Heat flushes his skin as she presses her lips to his. Gazing up into her half-lidded eyes, he hums a contented hum.

She breaks the kiss first, saying, “I’m so happy you’re home. I hate to admit it, but I was feeling pretty lonely.”

“Same.”

“But you had your old mates for company,” she teases, sly. “You didn’t seem to hate it that much.”

The corners of his mouth turn down for a second, then he says, “No, it wasn’t as awful as I’d thought it was going to be. None of it has been.”

“Gasp!” she exclaims.

He presses his forehead against hers and closes his eyes, suddenly weary. “It may be some time before I'm up to mingling with them again, especially if you feel the need to go traipsing off on any more madcap adventures—”

Her fingers come up to still his lips. Even he can hear the tense note that had threaded its way into his voice. Ellana whispers, “Let’s not start that again. What’s done is done. I can’t change the past and dwelling on it doesn’t help a damn thing.”

“There’s a Ferelden saying about forgetting the past, but …,” he begins, then he kisses her fingertips before concluding, “in this case, it’s probably wisest to try to let it go.”

She says, mirthful, “Good idea. I’d hate to be on the business end of your grudge-cannon. Anyway, we got things to do, like the band meeting, and I got the Arishok situation to deal with and, ugh, just so much.”

Solas huffs. “Can we not just stay here and lock ourselves in for the foreseeable future?”

“Wishful thinking, vhenan. C’mon,” she says, standing and pulling him up to his feet after.

He toys with the idea of gathering her back up in his arms and just falling backward into their bed, but aborts that plan when she starts striding away in a quick march. The play of the muscles of her panty-clad bottom entrances him for a moment before her voice grabs his attention—

“Wanna share a shower?” she says, teasing tone telling him she noticed his distraction. And its cause.

If he then follows her with a smidgen of undue haste, who can blame him?

Later, he finds himself really, really wishing they’d stayed home—

“Will he declare publicly that there’s no intent to split up Inquisition?” demands Vivienne. Her manner is rather more frazzled than Solas can ever remember seeing. In fact, a sharp eye might note how one carefully plucked and drawn eyebrow is a tiny bit higher than the other. The rouge of one cheek not quite as blended as its fellow.

Truly, the woman must be a riot of anxiety to show even this hint of disarray.

“Yeah, he will!” says his most surprising defender. Sera glares with such incandescent wrath that it’s a wonder Madame Vivienne’s expensive blazer doesn’t catch fire. The blond spits, “Evanuris can suck it!”

Solas blinks, strangely warmed.

The meeting had started as most did. Josephine handed out itineraries and the latest sales figures, dancing around the subject of his latest indiscretions until he had cleared his throat and stood before them all.

Laying out what happened, he’d expected censure, at least. But none, not Blackwall or Cassandra, Sera or Ellana or Cole, looked at him with anything but patience and trust.

And he’d just offered his apology before them as tribute when Madame Vivienne stormed in, her whole demeanor demanding a damn good explanation, even if her voice never wavered from its soft and cultured timbre.

“A reassurance White Spire will appreciate better if it came from Solas’s own lips.” The dark-skinned woman turns toward him, haughty as royalty. “We want it in writing. And it’s high time you committed to a full contract, and not a mere provisional.”

Her attitude rankles, along with the tacit implication of mistrust. The skin around his eyes tightens and he can feel his top lip starting to curl.

Ellana stands up and steps between them. “Solas doesn’t have to do a goddamn thing he doesn’t want to.”

“Yeah!” agrees the rest of the band, (minus Cole) standing with her. Cole, as ever, is distant, listening to Fade echoes or some such, withdrawn and silent.

Vivienne scoffs. “We’ve invested a lot of time and money in Inquisition. If you believe we will not hold you to the terms of your contracts—”

“Have they broken any of the terms?” demands Josephine, charging into the fray.

Vivienne’s glare is cold as glaciers. “No, they have not. Yet.”

“Has Solas broken any of the terms of his provisional contract?” Josephine says.

“That is not the point! The provisional contract was only supposed to be in place until he straightened out the legalities of his … situation. Which he long since has.” Vivienne’s finger jabs the air, a visual punctuation for her next sentence, “White Spire wants him to either come into the fold fully, or prepare to be replaced by a studio musician!”

A swarm of protests fly around at that, with Cassandra stomping in to shout them all down, “You cannot! Not legally anyway.”

Vivienne just doesn’t have enough glare to go around, surrounded as she is by so many hostile faces.

Josephine adds, “That’s right! A provisional contract is still a contract, and just as binding on both parties.”

“While true, the provisional has a fast approaching expiration date. Solas would be wise to sign now, rather than later.” Vivienne crosses her arms and settles onto one heel, a faint sneer on her lips. “While we’re feeling generous enough to offer.”

“Ha!” Ellana tosses her hair, a cheeky disregard for the threat. “No. This whole thing stinks of entrapment. You want him so bad you can’t stand it, can you? Maybe you were just waiting for something like this to pop up, just to force him into bed with the label.”

“Ew, that’s fucked,and a bit rapey,” Sera comments, crossing her own arms to mirror Vivienne’s posturing. “When’s our contract up, El? Suddenly, I’m not for caring for signing up wiv these arseholes again—”

“Hasty decisions will cost you dearly, my darlings. Fame is such an easy bubble to … pop,” Vivienne says, though a shift in her gaze teases the notion that a new measure of respect might have been bestowed upon those who have answered her challenge. She flaps a graceful hand. “We expect you all to honor your commitments. That means protecting our investment in your success, and all that entails. As long as you do no lasting harm and meet your obligations, we can forgive much. However, we are serious in what we say. The longer he waits to sign, the less favorable the terms will be.”

Vivienne turns to leave, pausing to say, “And we expect a press release denying the rumors circulating among certain gossipmongers and tabloids.” She throws a pointed look at a nearby issue of Wicked Grace. “After all, it’s not just for White Spire. It’s also in your collective interest to do this. Inquisition’s best interest.”

Then she’s gone and the bandmates give a unanimous sigh of relief. Blackwall grunts. “I’m not ashamed to admit that woman scares me.”

Solas wets his lips to say, “I would have agreed to her demands.”

Josephine shakes her head. “No, it’s a bargaining ploy. Do nothing until you’re ready. There’s a year left on the provisional. That’s plenty of time to negotiate the very best of terms. And time enough to make them truly desperate.”

“They’ll be gaggin’ for it,” Sera says, with a naughty chortle. She claps her hands and pirouettes in place before plopping back into her chair. “Doing backflips to keep ya.”

Following the blond’s lead, they all sit. Ellana snags his pinky with hers, giving him a wild crooked grin, green eyes sparkling.

Solas chuckles, wiping his forehead with one hand. “Thank you all for your confidence in me. I hope to prove worthy of it.”

“You already have,” says Cassandra, smiling.

“Heady praise, Archduchess,” he teases.

The human’s face immediately twists into a sour scowl. “Ugh, don’t remind me.”

They all laugh. Ellana says, “Yeah, tell us again about your brother, the King of Nevarra.”

Cassandra’s disgust is palpable as she retorts, “Once is enough, I think. I didn’t even know Anthony was in the running. Ferdinand was livid. Livid!”

“Like purple-in-the-face livid?” Blackwall asks.

“Yes! Everyone thought, as Heir Apparent, Ferdinand was going to get the crown—”

“And why didn’t he?” asks Ellana, innocence personified.

As though they aren’t all of them drawing the story out of Cassandra yet again. Solas schools his expression to an interested neutral, though his lips keep wanting to stretch into a smile.

They all ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ in the appropriate places, amused and knowing looks flying over Cassandra’s oblivious head.

Such lightness helps dispel the tension of the last few days.

The meeting adjourns and they all go their own separate ways, all except for Solas and Ellana, who walk toward their waiting car, arm in arm. Then her phone rings and she pulls it free of a pocket to peer at a message on the screen. Her lips twist into a grimace. “It’s the Arishok.”

Swallowing, Solas says, “What does he want?”

“Well, no mention of prison in the message, but also no more friendliness than usual. Just a reminder to meet at his office at the usual time. So … who knows?” She rolls her eyes and snorts.

A splinter of irritation stings as it slithers under his skin. “How you can be so flippant at a time like this ….”

“I don’t see how I can do anything about it,” she shoots back, sharp. “Do you?”

His shoulders drop even as his hands tighten into fists in his pockets. “No ... I don’t either.”

“Then why worry?”

“Why, indeed,” he says from between clenched teeth. “Why should I worry for you?”

Sarcasm is a weak shield.

So, of course she slips past it with a laugh and another grin, kissing him. “Ma vhenan, you’re so sweet. But everyone pays the piper, in the end.”

He cannot disagree, though uncertain future pokes holes in his aching heart.

Chapter Text

He asks all the standard questions, has her go down the hall to pee in a cup, (in front of the surliest, no nonsense lady cop she’s ever had the acquaintance of meeting) and now he’s just … staring at her.

Over the thin manilla folder that comprises ‘her file,’ the Arishok stares. And stares. His stony gaze under craggy brow unblinking, unflinching.

It makes her own eyes water in sympathy. Ellana resists the urge to squirm in her chair, though this becomes increasingly harder as the minutes roll by in uncomfortable silence. Finally, she can take no more and draws in a deep breath to spea—

“I am … conflicted,” interrupts the Arishok before she can, setting the file flat before him on his desk.

She jumps at the sudden utterance. After the deafening quiet, it jars loose a silly impulse to bolt. Ellana squishes it with effort. Clearing her throat, she replies, “Conflicted?”

The huge qunari sighs and slouches back into his chair. It squeaks in pained protest. He says, “I have been given a commendation for the events in Darktown.”

“Uhhh, congrats?” she offers.

His only reaction is another minute of stolid, tense, staring silence. Then he shifts and grumbles, “And they’ve offered me a transfer back to hallowed Qunandar under the new provisional government. Not in parole, but in inter-nation prison administration. A … dream job, they said, with a large pay bump.”

“... Awesome?” Ellana tries again, stretching her lips in a grin she hopes doesn’t seem too shaky. After another lengthy pause where she avoids ducking his piercing regard, she lets out a heavy breath. “Or not? Er, I … honestly don’t know what you want me to say.”

The Arishok blinks and straightens. “I’d think it good as well, were it not based on lies. That you were not present. That your ‘friend’ wasn’t there either. That I’d merely stumbled upon Corypheus and his blood magic in Dark Town.”

A gusty huff leaves his lips as he stands. The Arishok turns away from her to look out his office’s tiny window. After a bit, his shoulders bow down the tiniest of fractions. “I hate Kirkwall.”

Brows lifting, Ellana stares at his back.

He continues, “From the muck-coated chains in the harbor to the superficially clean skyscrapers of High Town, I hate every single inch of this cesspool. I detest how every good thing I’ve ever done here has been twisted in on itself for greed’s sake, for vanity’s sake. For the sake of all but the deserving. Not that any here are what I’d call deserving. I’ve never found a single redeeming feature to Kirkwall.”

She bristles. It might be an irredeemable cesspool, but it’s my irredeemable cesspool.

While she might not have been born here, or even spent her childhood here, Kirkwall is home. And has treated her far more kindly and compassionately than … what had come before it.

Good thing Varric isn’t here, he’d have punched this qunari square in the mouth at about the second sentence. No one badmouths his city. Though … the dwarf might need a ladder—

“—et the lie stand? Or reveal all and face the consequences of falsifying reports, and lying to the police. Doubtless, my employers in Intergov will fire me.” The way he says it makes it seem an inevitability. Truth will out, as they say.

What? That would … really suck. She presses, “At the very least.”

His horned head swings toward her worried expression. A crinkling around his eyes shows her the depth of his inner conflict as he reasons, “They could take more drastic measures as well. It’s well within the law.”

“You could get a huge fine,” she insists, leaning forward in sympathy. “Or charged with something. Criminal something.” Not to mention her own situation could be compromised as well. Violating probation would mean a trip straight to prison to sit out the remainder of her sentence. Not a good thing. Definitely not a good thing.

“Hmmm,” says the Arishok, as he rubs his chin. His eyes are fixed on a point somewhere on the horizon.

“Or …,” Ellana coaxes. That horned head doesn’t turn her way, but it does dip to the side a bit. A listening stance if she ever saw one. Taking a deep, silent breath, she thought, Here goes—  ”Or you can let it ride. Take the accolades, the commendations, and the transfer. You deserve them.”

Now his gaze slides back to her, neck twisting ever so slightly so he can peer askance. His brow pulls low and center, creating a landslide of furrows in his forehead. Yet he makes no other movement, no sound. He waits, patient as a mountain.

“You do ,” she asserts again. “I’ve seen how much people respect you. Your coworkers. The cops downstairs. Even your ... other parolees. I see the fear of the Maker in their eyes as we pass in the hall outside your door. Not a salty word about you passes their lips except that you’re tough, but fair. More even-handed than they could ever hope to deserve. Than I know I did.”

“Yet I suspect you still violated probation on occasion. Went to the Hanged Man. Imbibed.” The Arishok’s disdainful tone stings her, and she regrets for an instance her tiny deceptions. It’s the bitter strain of disappointment in his words that affects her most. Like she failed him. Failed his expectations of her. Her teeth worry at her lip.

Lack of trust has always been her most self-sabotaging flaw.

She meets his gaze and raises her head. “I admit it.”

His glare sharpens for just an icy second, sending a chill up her spine. Instead of swinging around on her with pointed finger, the Arishok huffs an arid chuckle.

Her hand come up, beseeching. “Changing the story now won’t do anything but complicate everything. Right now, it’s simple. A bad man died doing bad, bad stuff. Maybe worse if you never came along. You’re the hero. Thedas is grateful.”

Little by little, the Arishok relaxes, turning to look out the window again, accepting, even if it came tainted with a touch of hopelessness. With his change in demeanor, the tension in the room snaps. Ellana slumps back into her chair, strained muscles complaining. Holding oneself ramrod straight really took it out of a girl. Taking a guess, she says, “I … hope you have a safe trip home, Arishok.”

He nods. “I will speak to the judiciary in the morning to have the rest of your probation commuted. You’ve been canny enough to never be caught in a violation till now. No reason you won’t be for what little time is left. There is nothing either of us gains continuing this charade.”

Her hand flies up to grip her pendant. “I didn’t-I mean, it wasn’t my intent to, like, bribe you.” In the spiky silence after her words, she says, “Okay, only maybe … maybe a bit. A smidge.”

Rain-heavy clouds roll by, slow and gravid, casting shadows over the city she loves. Far off thunder rumbles, heralding coming seasonal showers.

In the reflection of the glass, Ellana watches the Arishok close his eyes as he says, “And so Kirkwall sullies me at last.”

When he waves a dismissal, she stands and walks away. Gently, she closes the door behind her and leans on it. Beyond the wood, she can hear the faint tinkle of glass, the trickle of what she assumes is some very strong liquor.

As Ellana makes her way home, she can’t help but ponder how easily the sweet taste of getting what you want can turn sour as vinegar.


“Quizzy!” Sera throws herself at Ellana, jumping up into her arms.

Only to be dropped a second later. “‘Draste, you’re sweaty!”

Catching herself, Sera grabs the edge of Ellana’s shirt and wags it, letting a frigid blast of air infiltrate the soggy patches at her pits. “I’m not the only one.”

Snatching her shirt away, Ellana sticks her tongue out in answer, giddy as her gaze swings back out past the curtain to the audience still cheering out there.

Blackwall grins a crusty leer. “A better first set I’ve never played.”

“Agreed,” says Cass, as she wipes her face and arms with a towel offered by a nearby roadie.

Ellana takes a step to the right to put an arm around their drummer. “Alright, Cole?”

The spirit nods, smiling to himself a secret. “Belonging, befitting, ... becoming.”

“Better?” she says, pulling his eyes to meet hers.

His eyes seem clearer than she can remembers ever seeing them. He seems to search for a moment before agreeing, “Better.” He pats the amulet on his chest as though reassuring himself it’s there. She glances at the curious badge pinned to his shirt. A defiant hand raised in the Horns of Rock, cartoonish and crudely rendered. It’s innocuous cuteness charms her. No one would ever suspect it holds enough magic to blow up a small cow. Power it uses to keep the spirit’s physical form from wiggling and distorting like a jello mold.

“Sandal’s gift appears to be working,” says Solas, tossing his own towel into a bin offstage, there for that exact purpose. Then his head cocks to the side, clearly listening, and he smiles. “They are still going.”

“Damn right they are!” bellows Sera. She leans out to yell, “Cheer! Louder, you fuckers!”

Cass hauls her back into the wings with a yank, though the momentary reappearance of Inquisition’s violinist has already sparked a new round of roaring and stomping. The dark-haired woman sneers and says, “Idiot.”

“You know you love me, Sassy Cassy.” Sera saunters backstage toward the dressing rooms, snagging a full bottle of whiskey on the way from what’s supposed to be the post -gig party cart.

They all look after her, expressions ranging from bemused to disgruntled. Blackwall shakes his head and says, “I’d better go keep her from drowning in that bottle.” He marches on after her, like a good soldier given grave orders.

Ellana chuckles. “By drinking the other half of it, probably. Then they’ll both only be half-drowned. Cass, would you? We’re back on in fifteen minutes.”

“Ugh.” With that disgusted noise, the human woman swings down the short flight of steps and around the corner, hot on their wayward bandmates’ trail.

She’ll  babysit properly,” says Ellana, looping her arm around Solas’s trim waist. Cole drifts past her toward where Bull and the roadies are hauling cable.

Solas nods. “Surely. So, are you enjoying your first sold-out stadium show?”

“Maker, I am! It’s incredible.” She spins them around in her fervor. Solas laughs as she says, “It’s everything I ever dreamed, vhenan. Everything and more. I’m so happy to be part of it.”

“You are more than part of it. You’re the beating heart of it.” Solas kisses her hands. “And tomorrow, another city. Another audience to enthrall.”

An anxious fluttering in her belly quells her enthusiasm. “Three cities in three days. Stuffed to the rafters. How will we ever manage it?”

“One song at a time, my heart. Exist in moments. Suck the marrow from seconds. Savor it.”

“You’re starting to sound like Cole,” she accuses, teasing.

“There are worse things.” He bends to kiss her, and how that seems to light her whole chest cavity with a warm glow. “Though I doubt Cole’s thoughts ventured to the impure when you … licked the microphone during Wolven Storm.”

She giggles. “Impure thoughts, eh? You’ll have to tell me about them after the show. Or maybe ... show me?”

His tongue flicks out, leaving a wet stripe across his bottom lip, and suddenly it’s all she can do to not just tackle him right there. Only a thought stops her. An image of her having him splashed across the covers of every tabloid gracing supermarket stands in all of Thedas.

The paranoid prickle of eyes on her skin intensifies as Solas leans close to brush lips across her cheekbone. He whispers dark promises, “As you wish. For as long as you can take.”

Blood rushes to her face, and … other places. An empty throb that has her thighs squeezing together. She turns her face to capture his mouth with hers. He makes a low noise in his throat, reaching to encircle her in his long ar—

“Not this. Again. It’s time to go back on!” Sera tugs her away, toward stage. A blond hurricane in harlequin tights, yanking Ellana along in her wake. The whole band pours onto the boards alongside her. Sera snorts, picking up her instrument. “I’ma tell the roadies to put a bucket of water just offstage, in case. Worse than strays, I swear.”

Blackwall chuckles, hefting the strap of his huge six-string bass over his head. The bright flush of alcohol lights his cheeks over his salt and pepper beard. “She has a point. You pair can’t even keep your hands off each other for a whole set.”

“I think it is sweet,” Cass defends, fiddling with her pedals to find the right combination.

“If horny leg-humpin’ is your idea of sweet, luv,” Sera retorts. “Don’t no one mention the wet spot on his trousers. It’s uncouth-like to stare. Is it hers or his? Pretend like it ain’t there, chums.”

Mortified, Ellana swallows the tart response that wants to spill and peers sidelong at Solas, who seems overbusy with his guitar and mic stand. The pink smear of color on his cheek below his lowered eyes splashes her with a wave of secondary embarrassment on top of her own. They do act a little like hormone-driven teens.

A thumbs-up from Bull off in the wings, and another from Dagna up and across the way in the mixing booth pulls her back into the present. They have a show to finish.

But if Sera thinks that’s the end of it—

Before all the others can react, Ellana strums the opening chords of a different sort of song. Fast and lilting, she plays alone as the house lights flow over the stage once more, washing over them all. In the background, she hears Sera, Cass and Blackwall scramble and curse. Cole drops the beat in at just the right time, as he always does.

Then a complimentary roll of strings to her right pulls a wild grin out of her. One she shares with Solas, whose clever fingers turn the brightness of the melody thrashy. This song’s not on the setlist. Too punk. Too silly. It’s one conceived out of pure merriment, one sweltering Kirkwall night in a ramshackle dockside warehouse.

The old jamspot.

Ellana leans into the mic, singing, “Sera was never an agreeable girl/ Her tongue tells tales of rebellion ….”

Cass laughs as she joins in, using her oft-neglected mic to sing right along. “But she was so fast.”

Even Blackwall gets in on it, rumbling into Cass’s mic, “And quick with her bow.”

“No one quite knew where she came from,” They sing together. Ellana spares a glance at Sera, who pulls an ugly face. Fury sparks in her grey-green eyes. She hates this song, Ellana knows.

But still, the blond plays, dipping downstage to dance. And dance she does, leaping and pirouetting with abandon. The violin warbles a screaming high descant over the bridge.

Maybe it’s just her imagination, but Ellana swears Sera never leaps higher or dances more engagingly, or plays as beautifully as she does angry. The fiery spirit in the blond’s tiny body propels her across the huge stage, and Ellana watches the audience’s awestricken eyes follow her. The song’s tempo quickens, Cole’s watery, unblinking gaze fastened upon Sera with an almost frightening focus.

And the rest are helpless but to go along. Ellana’s fingertips burn from playing rapidfire arpeggios. Sera spins and spins, faster and faster until, with a last shriek of strings, she stops, feet planted wide in a power stance, bow pointing straight heaven-ward.

The song’s last note drifts off over the crowd. Then the mob explodes with applause, whistles and screams. Sera grins a savage grin, then spins toward the band, flicking her bow like brushing off a bit of dirt. “Hn.”

A sound as dismissive as it is cheeky. All Sera.

Her crassness, her smartmouth, even her abrasiveness. All Sera. Ellana wouldn’t trade that for anything.

“She showed us, I guess,” rumbles Blackwall with a laugh.

With a grin for her brilliant Sera, Ellana says, “Guess she did. Alright, back to business. First song on set two.”

As Inquisition finishes its last set for the evening (complete with standing ovation and encore!) and they all go back to their hotel rooms, Ellana ponders. Sera could carry a band on her own, if she wanted. The blond has presence aplenty. Ellana then wonders how many of them could, should something happen to Inquisition.

Shaking it off, Ellana settles into the heated bath with a sigh. The day’s stress and the show’s last tremors of exultation melt off her, leaving just contentment. Her arms drape over the porcelain to play with the rim of the wine glass on the closed toilet nearby.

The door of the bathroom creaks open and Solas steps in, his eyes taking in her situation with clear enjoyment. “Vhenan,” he greets.

She pulls her knees up and beckons, “There’s room for two.”

“How can I refuse such an invitation?” Dropping his robe, Solas steps into the bath. Her greedy eyes devour the details of his lean frame. The smile that bends the corners of his mouth tells her he has noticed her appreciation. He sits, hissing when sensitive bits meet hot water. But soon he lounges opposite her, hands dipping into the water to run along her calves.

Sighing, he says, “More than enough room. Josephine really outdid herself with these accommodations.”

“Well, when you book more than half a year in advance ….” Ellana waves her hand, then picks up her wine to sip the sweet, semi-dry red therein. It slides down her throat with ease. How different from the acrid rotgut she’s accustomed to. Another perk of wealth.

Solas picks up the scrubby. “Wash your back?”

Humming an affirmative, Ellana turns around in the spacious bath, and scoots back. The rough cloth slides over her skin, soothing and scratching in just the right way. Then his fingers glide over her skin, around her front to pull her back to Solas’s chest.

Then they … wander.

Elanna gasps as his calloused fingertips roll over the pebbled peaks of her breasts. And when his clever digits roam southward to tug at the jewelry piercing her clit, lightning bolts up her spine, making her arch and moan with embarrassing loudness. Her hand flies up to cup his cheek as he continues to work her, inside and out.

He whispers, soft breath at her cheek, “So slick already. I love how your body welcomes me, but I really think we can do with a bit more …”—then his hands dip under her thighs, lifting her a bit so her knees drape over the outside of his. And then he spreads his legs wider until she’s at the limit of her flexibility—”Access.”

Cooler air over her nethers tells her she's breaching the plane of the water.

His words continue to pour into her ear as he really goes to work. “Vhenan, you're positively florid. It’s starting to rival the delightful cherry of your nipples. Is the hot bathwater to blame? Or me?”

A second finger slides home as she chokes out, “You.”

He hums an airy laugh, then pauses. “Beautiful.” Out of the corner of her eye, she can just see how his gaze, lewd and hungry as his hands, cascades down her body to where his fingers play at her very exposed pussy.

“So tightly you grip me, I can barely fit two of my fingers. Yet I wonder ….” And a third finger teases, pressing with insistence until it slithers in alongside its fellows.

Ellana’s jaw drops at the sensation, almost too full. The stretch burns.

Her face must have twitched, because Solas asks, concerned, “Too much?”

She shakes her head and leans back against him. Soft whimpers leave her lips as he starts to pump, in earnest, dextrous digits rolling over that sensitive spongy spot inside that makes sparks shoot across her closed eyelids. She melts into him, just surrendering to whatever he wants to do to her. Even his pinky butts at the rim of her cunt, and she ponders the likelihood of her ending up with his whole fist inside her by night’s end.

How can one dread and crave something so desperately at the same time?

Ridiculous how close she is already. Between his manual ministrations and the pure sex of his voice, she’s cresting so high and fast, she wonders if the coming climax will make her head explode. His cock is a hot iron rod against her ass and she rolls her hips, freeing it to pop up between her legs. Its length flexes up against her pussy, knocking against his fingers.

Solas’s breath shudders out in a gasp. His forearms go rigid, holding her hips down. “Vhenan, be still.”

“Fuck me,” she pleads, trying to wiggle against it, to get the head of it in the proper spot.

He chuckles. “I am.”

Pouting, she retorts, “With your cock.”

The flash of teeth in her periphery presage a renewed attack of his fingers. “Later.” Frustrating man.

Only now, he’s doing something new, something glorious. Each long finger thrusts independently, alternating. And his other hand taps at her clit, a soft slap that sends her soaring back to the brink of orgasm.

And keeps her there. He slows, he quickens. Edging her until her whole core is taut and singing like one of Sera’s bowstrings. Elanna whispers, black spots around the edges of her vision, “Please.”

“What, vhenan? I can’t hear you,” he teases.

Maybe he really can’t, given the unseemly sounds her sodden cunt is making around his fingers. Even more heat rises in her cheeks as she repeats, louder, “Please.”

“Please what, my heart?”

Oh, he wants to hear it, does he? Smug bastard. She gives in, begging, “Please let me cum. I need to cum.”

“As you wish.” His fingers press deep, grinding against her gspot as his other hand’s digits expertly twist her jewelry.

And she pops off like a rocket. Toes curl and she bucks against him, wild and out of control. The sound that leaves her lips something between a sob and a howl. It rings back at her from the tile walls.

When she finally comes down, Elanna falls back into Solas, breath heaving. He straightens his legs, taking hers along with. He kneads her hips and thighs with his strong hands. Gratitude fills her, because the muscles there are more than a bit sore from the awkward position he held her in. Ellana turns her face to kiss him, deep and long.

His lips curl against hers, a smile of deep self satisfaction. She wants to splash water at him, but, boneless in the afterglow, she can’t be bothered. Instead, she breaks off and says, “This was your plan all along. ‘Wash your back’ indeed.”

“Perhaps.” Solas fishes out the abandoned washcloth and wrings it out, setting it on the bath’s edge. “Are you complaining?”

“Not really. Guess I just need to keep an eye on you, you tricky trickster.” She sighs. “Though, I’ve never had a more thorough back washing.”

“Anytime, my love.”

‘Any’ time? Careful what you offer, vhenan.” Her hands roam down to where he still presses up between her thighs, hard and throbbing. A low moan glides past her ear as she pumps his tip, once then twice. His hips flex under her as she says, “My turn to wash your back? In the more figurative sense? More a ‘in bed’ sort of thing?”

After the mad scramble to the bed and … further comprehensive and detailed diversion, Ellana rouses herself from drowsiness to chuckle.

Solas murmurs, “Vhenan?”

“And I thought I was loud.”

She laughs again, as his hand comes up to cover his face. She can just make out the red stain on his cheeks. The taste of him still lingers on her tongue, as well as the memory of his helpless writhing against her mouth lingers in her mind. Drawing a nail over the flesh of his thigh, she teases, “Didn’t quite make it to three though. Wanna try again?”

“Vhenan!” His tone is scandalized, yet his sleepy eyes twinkle. Grabbing her hand, Solas pulls it up to kiss her palm before mashing it against his chest, and closing his eyes. The blush fades slowly as she watches.

Ellana grins. “You know whose room is next to ours?”

His eyes snap open again, staring for a moment at the ceiling before his gaze falls to hers. “Was this your plan all along?”

An echo which prompts her own. “Perhaps.”

Solas’s brows raise, then he laughs, a warm chortle. “She’ll be furious in the morning.”

“No doubt Sera’s furious right now. Just be prepared for an uptick in snark and prankiness.”

“I shall. Now, we should sleep. Our planes leaves in a few hours.”

“Oooor … we could sleep during the flight,” she counteroffers.

The way he suddenly rises over her, eyes full of naughty impishness tells her he approves of her mischief. He asks, “Do you think these headboards are bolted to the wall?”

“I dunno. Worth finding out though.”