There had been a time when running came naturally to Solas. When it was all he had. As a boy, and as a young man. Before the Veil, in Arlathan, and now, after. When he would fling himself into oblivion and never look back. Reckless, patience unwilling. In this sense, he was just like Sene. So much like Sene. He never knew.
After Wisdom, he'd run. It took him two weeks to make his way back to Skyhold. This is a story for another day, but for now, just know that, the moment he returned, he found her in the kitchens, sitting on a table, eating cookies with Sera, her red hair braided tightly to her head, and she looked at him from across the room and she said, "Solas." Just Solas. His name, clean and hard, the way it lived on her tongue. Like a sea shell. She hopped off the table, and they took a walk in the garden, to discuss things. She had been very worried. She wanted to understand his pain, but he just wanted to be with her. To see her. Make sure she had been real all along. And so he held her hand, and he put the hair behind her ear, and as they stood in a lovely corner where the vines grew long, he kissed her. Spare, present. And he told her that it would be all right, that he would be all right. And then they parted, to tend to their days individually, as there was much to catch up on for Solas: friends and business. Paperwork with Josephine. His absence had been long, so she, of course, wanted a full report. But the kiss, a revelation, was a little red pebble, still caught in his mouth.
In some ways, it had felt like the end of something.
Now, six hours had gone by. The day had gotten away from them both. He went to find her in her quarters like he had on so many occasions before, only this time, he knew that it was different. That things had changed. Their mouths had touched. It was inarguable and real. It was not the Fade. She'd tasted like baking spices, and the garden smelled of pale roses, water and spring. He opened the door. He went inside. At first, she did not hear him.
Seeing her there: she was reading a book, hunched over on the mat in front of the fire. She liked sitting on the floor. He didn't know why. It was where she felt most comfortable, especially when they talked about things of a serious nature. Her red hair that night was down and curly. Big. Wild, like a nest. A place for birds and lovers. He'd never once seen it down before. She seemed particular about her braids. And so finally, he cleared his throat, made himself known, and she looked up, surprised, and she pressed her hands to the top of her head, deep in her hair, as if embarrassed, and this was endearing. It made her seem more real somehow, more shiny and hard, speckled and crisp, as a piece of an apple. Sene.
“You’re here,” she said, almost like a question.
He went and sat down on the mat next to her. He rested his elbows on his knees and watched her from the corner of his eye. She looked at him for a while, but their bond was complicated, and when he didn’t look away, she became a little awkward. She looked at the fire instead, her back straight, holding the book closed in her lap. The book was on the Andrastian faith in Orlais, a tome he’d given her all the way back in Haven. Her interest in religion ran deep, but she maintained a good order of the mind. She was attentive and level, though she had her moments. He had come to know her well. Her edges were frayed. She was fast. She liked faith. She just didn’t always understand it. Blind worship disturbed her. She was young, and her freckles stood out on her nose as if painted, and this—these painted parts, their harmony, amidst the patchwork and the speed and the unshaking curiosity, had always intrigued him. As they'd kissed in the garden, Chantry sisters held the hands of children and showed them how to light the candles. It was Spring. The season was new.
“I wasn't sure if you were coming,” she said. "I would have done something."
She sort of tugged at her hair, pulled it back behind her ears. "My hair has a mind of its own. It takes a while to tame."
“It is yours,” he said. He looked at her. "It looks good."
"I am here because I've spent all day creating distractions." Solas held out his hands, examined the knuckles. Scar tissue. Old and pink. "But it's been no use. I even went to the Rest to find Blackwall. He taught me to play a game called Diamondback. Do you know it?"
“You played Diamondback with Blackwall?”
“Several times. Though I’m afraid he might have wagered too much.”
“He’s pretty good," said Sene. "I’ve played with him a few times in the stables.”
“Yes, he said so,” said Solas.
“That was nice of you," said Sene. "To spend time with Blackwall. You've been gone but he hasn't been the same since Adamant. Thinking a lot.”
“It is understandable,” he said. “He was glad for the company, as was I.”
“Is that why you're here now?" she said. "For the company?"
“Perhaps,” he said. He looked back to the fire. It was night, dim and warm, with the clean light from the moon clinging to the Frostbacks, reflecting through the glass of the windows, touching everything they touched. There was only her and him and the fire and the light from the mountains. “I had a question,” he said, making conversation, "about your name.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing," he said. "Do you think there's something wrong with your name?"
"Not really. I don't often think about my name."
"I just realized while I was gone that I’ve never heard it before," said Solas.
“My sal’melin is Isene,” she said. “Sene is a just nickname.”
“Isene,” said Solas.
“My father writes a lot,” she said. “He is the Archivist for our clan. Sort of like a historian. He didn’t much like the 'I' when I was a kid. Said it was too many syllables for yelling across the farm. He shortened it and called me Sene.”
“It means like fire.”
“I know what it means,” she said.
He could see her growing self-conscious the more they talked about it. “I like it. I like Sene, too. Your father is a writer?”
“Not really,” said Sene, scratching at her ear. “I mean, sort of. Mostly, he works with the Keeper now. But he used to write stories when I was a child.”
“You said he's a historian, too,” said Solas. “That is potentially very interesting."
She bristled. "You've never asked me about it before. My clan, or my father, or my name. Not really. Not specifically."
“I know," he said. "I am not criticizing, Sene. I’m just curious. I promise.”
"Yes," he said. "Curious. I am trying to learn."
She smiled down into the floor, nudged him a little with her shoulder. "Learning," she said.
He smirked, put his face into her hair. “Your name, Sene. It is small and sounds red, like a jewel. I like that it is a new word.”
“Well, thank you,” she said. She turned toward him now, sat on her knees. She put one warm hand, softly, on each of his cheeks, and she turned his head to face her. Her touch undid him slowly. He exhaled. “Solas,” she said, her small, red eyebrows puckered. “What does that mean? Pride?”
“Yes,” he said.
“That's an old name," she said. "More like a word. I've never heard it used as a name like that. Do you like it?"
“It is just a name, Sene.”
She took the jaw that hung around his neck, pressed it with her fingers, the teeth, the smooth lines of the bone. She studied it. “It's interesting," she said. "Solas."
“What are you thinking?" he said.
She looked up at him, slow. Unfolding. "I am thinking that you did not come here to talk about names. Is that why you came here?"
“Because I missed you," he said, taking a piece of her hair between his fingers. "I wanted to see you."
She closed her eyes. She kissed him, full but soft. Familiar. He kissed her back. It was very easy. He held her, drew her closer, held onto her tall, hard body. She was strong and lean, but he was tall, too, and he could diminish her with his shape. Deeper now, they kissed, her hands on the back of his neck, on his face. Everywhere. Something changed. She was fast. She gathered his shirt into her fists and pulled with an unseen strength until she was between his legs, her body pressed into his. He engulfed her. It was how she wanted it, he knew, and how he wanted it, too, as she hastened things. And she was asking something of him now, something more. He had to make a choice.
He took her face in his hands, pulled away, only just. With one hand in her hair, the odd red curls that he took in handfuls, he told her the truth. “I don’t want to stop,” he said.
“Then don’t,” she whispered, her mouth at his ear.
She was aggressive. It was good. She gave him very little time to react, let him feel without thinking. She was a little clumsy, her hands moving on instinct alone, inexperienced, but she was driven, prepared. Very brave. He felt her hand, reaching for him, stiff and unyielding. He steadied against her. They'd never made it this far before.
“Be careful, vhenan," he said.
“I don't feel like being careful,” she said. Her voice low. “Isalan ma gara suin em, Solas. Sometimes, elven is easier. But I am ready. We are ready."
“Are we, avise'ain?"
She put her cheek to his, her lips to his ear. This drew a low, low grunt from the back of the throat, full gravel. It excited her.
“Felas, vhenan,” he said. "Go slow." He held her face, took it back in his hands, looked at her hard so that she focused. “Isene. Can I call you that?"
"Yes. You can."
"Listen to me, Isene,” he said.
“I have been listening, Solas,” she said. "It's all I do. It's all I've done for months."
“I know. Just one more time. Please?"
"If we take this path, we cannot go back. Do you understand?”
“Solas,” she said, but he could sense that the elven sounds and glimmers were only wisps now between them now, falling away into the nothing cool of the common language. She was already halfway gone to him. Over time, they'd created a world of their very own, a place to hide from the madness, and this had led them to a kind of freedom. Living felt easier when they were together, and they could rely on one another to pick up the pieces. Their friendship was whole. “I know.”
So he kissed her. And the movements changed—the touching and the games—and as they became something new, something else, Solas began to lose time. It was uncommon for him. But there were only surfaces after that. It's all he could remember: soft and warm, new and dry, hard and wet. Undoing. Quickly.
They got up, and they went to the bed, and she unfolded as a paper crane. Again, it was fast. Sene was fast. Everything she did, she seemed to do without question. She did not carry guilt or regret. She did not care for hindsight. She wore close to nothing that night. A bit of cloth, pajamas. The fire was warm—it was all she needed. Her skin, her wrists and her mouth, all of it ran hot. He was used to her in armors—scales and metals, things that hurt. But tonight, it was all soft. Gray and silk, and a green cotton jacket, the toggles small and shiny like teeth. He took them apart one by one, new in his resolve to end the questioning, and the loneliness, and the fear that he was nobody here, the understanding that everything and everyone he'd ever loved had been lost. Why else had he come to her, day after day, if it wasn't for comfort? He watched her watch him, brave and curious. She slid her arms from the jacket, and he removed it from behind her back, and tossed it to the floor. Her shoulders, freckled as her cheeks, smooth, and he kissed them. This made her close her eyes, and he could tell she wanted to go faster. But he was going slow, did not want to lose this. Not a single breath, or hair, or little green part of her eyes. He pressed her gently to the bed, but he was very serious now as he took down one strap from her blouse, then the other. "Patience, vhenan," he said.
“Okay,” she said, closing her eyes, smiling strangely. She tensed on and off, as a fist opening and closing. Her energies, he could sense them red and wild, little sparks coming off in the shapes of butterflies.
“Are you nervous?" he said into her hair.
“Not really,” she said, still smiling. "I'm just me."
He smiled. It was so true. So he tugged her out of her blouse, which came away easy, showing her to him—everything, parts he’d only imagined, seen in hard, all-consuming wet dreams as they hit him in waves during the past two weeks he'd spent without her. He undid the buttons at her waist, and she opened her eyes when she felt his touch and propped up on her elbows to watch. "Are you going to take them off?" she said.
He almost started laughing. "Yes, vhenan," he said. He smirked and traced his knuckles from her hip bones up the full length of her body. He put them into her hair. "But you should know by now that I do not rush."
He kissed her again. She clutched to him, hungry. She was like eating fruit, or sitting naked in the cold, night grass. So real it cuts your face, makes your teeth tingle and sting, holds you to the earth, ferocious. It was not like magic. Magic was a reality all its own. But it anchored him to nothing but the Fade. And he knew the Fade. He had seen and felt all there was of that gone and whispering place, and while its endless changing shapes and prisms still had their ways of seduction and comfort, none of it was like this. In these moments, he no longer wanted the Fade. It was like a sharp, foreign object in his mouth. Sene made him feel like a man, feet on the hard soil. With Sene, he wanted to use his hands. They were his most prized instruments, and they always had been.
She was as real and red as sunburn. As the huge curly hair that tickled his nose when he put his mouth to her neck, where it smelled of sweat and root and rain and flower.
She sort of shivered against him.
Now, one hand, he set his palm across her stomach. The other, he used to get her out of the cotton slacks. She lifted her hips to guide him. He felt his own breath leave his body, and then she sat up, instinctual, and yanked him out of his shirt. Her breath, shaking now, she said his name.
“Yes?" he said, studying her and how she sat there before him, self-conscious, but in a way that was natural to her and to moments like these. But it would not be forever, and there would come a time, they both knew, when she would no longer be embarrassed to look and feel this way. It all just felt like another layer of their friendship, coming free.
“Is this real?” she said, genuinely curious as she put her ear to his chest. He could sense her, listening to his heartbeat, claiming it for her own. "Are we in the Fade?"
“No, Sene," he said. "I will only ever take you to the Fade if you ask me to.”
"I see," she said, and then she looked up at him, and lowered herself to the bed where she breathed and became used to her own nakedness. She lifted her knees off the bed, smiled, and reached for his hands.
But he just smiled. He set her hands to the side, and he sat back on his knees, and he traced his knuckles to the inside of her bare thigh. "Can I?" he said.
"Yes, you can," she said.
So, he touched her, the soft and the wet. She made small gasp, as a knife, It emitted from her throat as he entered her. Only just. Drawing her out and into the moment. She closed her eyes, and she was full of motion. He held her arched hips flat, gentle but firm, as she writhed there. Small moans as he went deeper. Quiet, wet. Slowly, she settled. “Would you like to go to the Fade, vhenan?” he said—working her slowly, watching, feeling the need building inside of him as well, but he had found the courage for patience that night. Somehow. He knew it would not last forever.
"No," she said.
“Good," he said. "I like Skyhold."
"Me, too," she breathed.
With this, she reached for him. He lowered himself so that she could kiss him, once. He used the opportunity to build and to open her further, gather only a small bit of speed. She had one hand on his face until he rose out of reach, as he drew out the wet, made her soft, put her past the edge, unstuck and beautiful. Her legs splayed, she had lost all inhibition, her self-consciousness gone. She invited him. He put his mouth to her ear as he finished her. He wanted to be right next to her, right up close to the noises she made as she let go.
Her moans lit the room and filled the ancient halls of Skyhold. He smiled, his own breath ragged, and he wondered if anyone else could hear her. He did not think so. These old walls were thick. Though the idea enticed him. He wasn’t sure why. The thought of them here, together, as others listened through the stone of the walls…that was a new feeling. It was strong. They were so high up, way up here in the heavens. Away from everything—the Inquisition, the advisors who no doubt slept as he unlocked her beneath the light of the Frostbacks. He felt her grasping, eased her through to the end, and then slowly, he withdrew and sat back on his heels, waited. Allowed. She peaked up at him through her fingers.
He steadied one hand on each of her knees after that, her legs wide and wobbling against them, as she came down, her eyes closed once again. For a moment, it was like he wasn’t there at all. Some part of her had lifted up and gone away on her own. That was like the secret of Sene. She could be his, and she could be free all at once. How did she do it? He watched her, intensely, trying to figure it out.
But all at once then, she opened her eyes as planets, her pink mouth parted. She had hair in her face. He pushed it to the side for her, touched the tip of her ear, discovered it there, new.
“Come, vhenan,” he said, and he pulled her into a sit, across from him. She did not speak. He didn’t move, just waited to see what she would do.
It took a moment. But then she reached for him. She removed the jaw, steadily, as if practiced, and set it in a pile on the bedside table. He put his hand on her chest, in the dip, on the breastbone to feel her heartbeat. It was hard and safe and whole. Fascinated, she reached for him—just below the waist. He took her wrist. She softened, went limp but still curious as he guided her to her back once more. He moved between her legs, and then, he let her explore. She found his waistband, the drawstring, loosened and pushed it away. He crawled from his pant legs, one at a time, always looking her in the eyes as she felt him. He made a deep and primal sound at the squeeze and tug of her hand. She was not anxious, but her breath was shaking, and with nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide any longer, she did not look away from him awkwardly this time. She stared back, as intensely as he did. He kissed her, soft.
“Ara avise'ain,” he whispered, his lips touching her right cheekbone. “Are you ready?”
“Yes,” she breathed, with a familiar resolve. Like a window, she had always been wide open to him. All he had to do was go to her. It was a hard truth. And now, he knew.
All it took was one swell, one gentle thrust. They looked at each other, like it was the end of world and the end of time and all the stars gone dark. He was inside her now, a state of being that he could not have fully prepared for, and it flexed him out of his shell and made him feel alive.
He went easy at first, but she brought her hands to his face as she arched her back, lifting them both from the bed, and they looked at each other, and it was a whole lot of good things at once. Their foreheads touched. Then, her unseen strength as she clenched him. He cradled her, his patience, his control, all of it a thing of a former moment now, and everything he had, he put into her that night. He very quickly lost himself, becoming reckless, fast, like her, and then he put his face into her neck. All these little deaths, passing through her and into him together. But he just wanted her.
She wanted on top now. He let her, easily. Arms folded around his neck, she pulled until he held her in his lap, both of them sitting, eyes locked. Gray, green. As she went, she gained confidence, began to trust herself, to find a speed and a rhythm. This put him over, the ability to let go, just for the inside flash of a moment, as she took control. She would hold still, tease him. He found himself on his back as she pushed upward, and she looked up, up at the ceiling. He saw the hollow of her chin and neck, a strange place to live. How he wanted to live there. But soon, she was back with her mouth on his again, then on his ear, then his cheekbone, his eyes. She was losing control. Sensing this, he took it back, like he was wont to do, flipped them over, and pushed her knees into her chest, an instinct to bring himself deeper. Her eyes wide, but then she closed them, moaned, his name on her tongue, in the air between them. He felt his own eyes roll back into his head, clutching her arched hips, driving harder, reading her every breath, her every reaction to measure that it was not too much, and then her sounds unfolded, grew severe. He felt her, churning, the wet and the spill of it, sending him over the edge. He sped up, faster until the end. As he came, he let go, buried his face into her neck, pulsed, released, living there for just a moment, until the tide lowered, and the waves ceased, and he was overcome with such clarity, such purity of mind, he thought that if he opened his eyes, he would be able to see the future.
But it was not the future. Not yet. She was tense beneath him, shivering, then limp. Surfacing quickly, he rolled over, pulled her on top of him right away, still inside of her. This was important. He wanted to see her from this angle now, and to give her power in this moment of utter newness and the strange after-terror. Even if it was not fear, he knew her, and in those first moments after it was done, she would blush, self-conscious, worried, embarrassed, afraid she had done something wrong. But if she was above him—if she could look down on him now, she would see him and all of his nakedness, too, and she would not feel so vulnerable or alone.
Still coming back to full consciousness, she buried her face into his chest, clutched to him like a small animal, like she was afraid he would disappear.
“Vhenan,” he said, finally, to break the silence.
She sat up quickly to the sound of his voice. She looked around, covered her bare chest instinctively with her long arms. “Is this real?” she said.
This made him laugh. Such a creature, here, on top of him. So unexpected. He reached up, tucked a red ringlet behind her ear. She was so mild and so beautiful. The Arlathan sky of ancient days come and gone. But she was not a ruin or a tomb. She was not a city or a goddess. She was new. Their sounds, he could still hear them, just as he'd thought, imprinting the Skyhold masonry. Etchings there in the stone. Whatever happened between them, he could come back here as long as the fortress stood, touch the walls, relive Sene and all of her glory and freckles and the red pieces of her hair. Both a wonder and a sin. A comfort and a despair. He chose not to think of it, because he had fallen in love with her. And because he had a choice. She had shown him that.
“It’s real, Sene,” he said. “Ar dirtha’var’en. Avise'ain.”
She smiled. Gently now, sensing that she was comfortable, he removed her, set her beside him on the bed and sat up to meet her eye to eye. But this time, he looked upon her delicately, not probing. Just with care. He held her small hands inside of his own, gathered them all together in a bundle to his chest. Touching foreheads. He closed his eyes. “Next time,” he said. “Wear your hair up, in your braids. All wrapped around your head as you do in battle.”
“What?” she said, not expecting humor, he supposed.
“I want to take them apart myself,” he said, taking a strand of her hair between his fingers, now looking her in the eye. “One by one. Will you let me be the one to free it for you? Your hair."
“Sure,” she said, smiling, entertained by the notion, and she melted into him, her cheek resting on his shoulder. “Next time,” she said.
He looked around now. How much time had passed? The night was still dark, but unless he went to look at the stars, there was no way to know. “We should sleep, vhenan,” he said. “Tomorrow morning, we ride for the Hissing Wastes. It will be a very long trip.”
“Fine,” she said. “I just—let me just—” She quickly gathered a sheet around herself, stood from the bed. Pushing little tangled balls of red hair out of her face, she smiled at him. “I have to pee. I'll be right back."
“Take your time,” he said. “I’ll be here.”
In the washroom, she went pee, and then she found a mirror. She sat on a stone bench and looked at herself, the pale, green vallaslin arching across her cheekbones, and the freckles. The only thing truly new was the flush in her cheeks, and she smiled, laughed, covering her mouth in embarrassment as if someone might see or hear her self-satisfaction. She did not wash herself that night. She left it there, all of him. She would ride to the Hissing Wastes in the morning still smelling of their sex, knowing everything while no one else did. She wondered if they would notice, her friends, like Sera and Cole and Dorian, if they’d sense the change in her, in the two of them. Together.
That night, she dreamed she went to a fountain. It was green and tall and and full of coins. A white wolf came to her with a live fox in its mouth, and it looked at her with pale, sweet eyes. She asked where it was from, but the wolf only watched her. She asked if it would eat that fox, and it dropped the fox at her feet, and the fox ran away. She pet the wolf once. Then, she woke up.