“Are you alright?" Solas asked when he finally found Lyssa. The question was a simple one and asked very calmly but when she looked up, she could see a mix or worry and relief around his eyes. He was always so well-composed that some thought him nearly cold but Lyssa could see there was so much more to him - just like now. To most he would seem calm but she could see in the way let out his breath and how the strain around his mouth eased how worried he had actually been. She gave him a guilty smile and with a conscious effort loosened the grip of her fingers where she had hugged herself. “Yes, I am.”
Solas raised an eyebrow at her words and stepped closer. “There is no need to lie to me, lethallan," he said softly.
Lyssa took a deep breath and looked down, his remark unsettling her more than she would’ve liked to admit. She should’ve known that it wouldn’t work on him. Though she was surprised how many people were deceived by her lies - or just didn’t call her out - Solas never had been one of them. It still wasn’t often that someone cared enough to actually check how she was. And the truth was, she wasn’t alright, hadn’t been since Haven, and not because of her injuries which healed just fine. The only thing that still seriously bothered her was her broken arm and that would take another few weeks to heal completely. They had been underway for nearly two weeks now and the strains and bruises were mostly gone, just leaving yellowing patches on most of her body. But Lyssa had stopped counting how many nights she had lain awake, not daring to sleep for fear of nightmares. Nightmares in which she saw the Elder One again, this time coming for her through the snowstorm to finish the job. Or in which she watched her fingers break off from the cold because she hadn’t been able to find her way to the camp or in which the Breach reopened, this time to swallow her whole.
It were lonely nights, despite the many people around her.
She had barely had time to realize that she had survived the avalanche and the way towards the camp. It had taken her two days of sleep and many, many potions additionally to the healer’s attentions before she was able to get up again and when she finally did, people had started worshipping her. The moment when they had knelt before her was still one of those she had trouble wrapping her head around. She had been dumbstruck, overwhelmed, still exhausted to the bones but nobody had seemed to notice. Nobody but Solas, who had quietly led her away.
She still didn’t know how to react to people kneeling down before her or to those telling her their innermost fears along with the plea to talk to Andraste on their behalf. There was no moment in the day where she didn’t have eyes on her. And while Solas directed her discreetly towards the stronghold he knew, it wasn’t him they looked to for direction. Lyssa knew they didn’t really mean her but what she represented in their eyes but that knowledge didn’t really make it better. It just made her feel less than a person.
This night, she had no longer been able to stomach it. After laying awake again for too long, she had just taken off, ignoring the questions by the guards, searching for a place to be at peace, to be alone, to breathe. But they were so high in the mountains that there were no trees, no plants to collect, no deer to watch - nothing she normally would do to calm down. She had nearly stumbled over the edge of a cliff and taken this as a sign to stop, sitting down to watch the stars, trying to somehow find some calmness. She should have known that the guards would alert Cullen who in turn had probably raised the whole camp. The thought of going back to questions and worries and whispers and looks horrified her and suddenly she regretted leaving at all. It had been a spur of the moment but it would have consequences… like everything she did at the moment, it seemed.
Solas sat down next to her when she didn’t answer him. Unconsciously, she realized how careful he positioned himself - close, but not too close to impose on her.
“Did Cullen send you?” she asked tonelessly but Solas shook his head.
“Not directly. He was worried but when I told him I’d bring you back, he seemed calm enough.”
Lyssa breathed a sigh of relief. So there weren’t half a dozen guards searching the mountains for her.
“Lyssa, what is it?" Solas asked after another moment of silence and she was surprised by the warmth in the question. She looked over the valley that opened up directly before them like a gap in the mountainside, a clear sky full of stars stretching above them.
“I don’t think I can do this for much longer, Solas," she finally admitted in a voice barely louder than whisper. Her fingers gripped into her sides painfully as she hugged herself closer and suddenly, the words she had avoided just came. “How can I be Andraste’s Chosen and the one leading them to safety? Just because I am the one who survived Corypheus’ attack and an avalanche and the snow? How can they think it’s a sign from their god when all it has been is coincidence and not something I did? First, the Mark of which I still don’t know how it came to be on my hand, then a stupid mistake Corypheus made and pure luck, now it’s actually you who knows the way, not me. And still they look at me, ask me, me of all people to bless them!” She shook her head, looking at the sky where The White Wolf constellation twinkled directly above them. The velvety blackness seemed endless up here, so far away from every part of civilisation, the stars silver and blue and golden sparkles that were brighter than she had ever seen before. But tonight it seemed ready to swallow her. “They look at me but they don’t see me. They see a symbol, their herald, their saviour, but not me. I am embodied hope and somehow they forget I am a person…” Her throat was tight and the silence next to her was deafening. But still she kept going, fearing she would stop if she looked at him and saw only incomprehension. The moon hid behind the dark clouds that had started to climb over the mountain tops, deepening the shadows all around them. “And I know they need that right now. They need someone to project their hopes on. But how can I be all that when I can barely sleep or cope with the cold? How can I be what they need me to be when I’m hurting all the time and short-tempered and lonely and don’t know where I’m going?”
Her desperate and exhausted words seemed to hang in the cold air between the tiny snowflakes that had started to fall. An icy wind picked them up and carried them away and Lyssa took a deep breath, filling her lungs with cold against the threatening tears before she finally looked at Solas who had become very still next to her. He seemed stricken. And at the same time there was an unconditional understanding in his eyes. It was so complete that Lyssa was baffled and wondered just for a second where he had experienced something like that himself - because she couldn’t think of anything else that would make him understand that well.
“I wish I had advice for you," he eventually said, nearly as quietly as she. “But I fear that only you yourself can find a way how to deal with the expectations they put on you. However, I think you underestimate yourself. You will be able to bear it. How can you not? You made it through already.”
“Barely,” Lyssa interrupted but he shook his head.
“Maybe so but you still made it. You have all the strength you need. It might not be something you chose but you were marked for it nonetheless.”
Lyssa looked down on her left hand, making a fist over the Anchor. “Marked indeed," she murmured and Solas surprised her with a short laugh. Somehow, the sound cheered her up.
“Indeed," he repeated and the amusement resonated in his voice. When she looked at him again, he openly smiled at her. “By coincidence or fate, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you can do it. You already did what nobody else could and I’m not talking about surviving Haven. It started much earlier - when you survived receiving the Anchor. And this is something you did on your own. It was your will and strength that pulled you through. Nobody else.”
Lyssa stared at him for a few moments, stunned not only by what he had said but how he had said it. He had already been warm and friendly with her but there was a passion and understanding in his voice that touched her more than she had anticipated. “Thank you," she finally murmured and he nodded, still smiling.
“You can make this work, I know it. If anyone can, it is you," he said, his voice dropping ever so slightly and Lyssa felt herself blushing, despite everything that still clung to her.
“And about the rest - we can work on that," Solas added with a certainty she wish she could feel herself. “If you have difficulties sleeping, I can help you.”
Lyssa hesitated for a second. “It’s not that I can’t fall asleep, it’s the dreams," she finally admitted.
“I see.” Solas was quiet for a few moments. He seemed to battle with something and then came to a conclusion. “If you wish," he started, somewhat hesitantly, “I could keep watch.”
Lyssa blinked, unsure whether she understood him correctly. “Keep watch… over my dreams?”
Solas nodded, becoming professional despite or maybe because of the delicate matter. “As you know I’ve made the Fade my primary subject of study. I am familiar with directing dreams. And if not that, at least keep demons at bay.”
She sat up a little bit more upright. The thought of demons catching a ride on her dreams towards her actually hadn’t occurred to her - maybe that was the reason the Elder One came closer each night. Still, the thought of someone watching her dreams, no matter the reason, was somewhat unnerving. “Would you be in my dreams then?" she asked, suddenly remembering that he had featured in her dreams already once or twice. While the thought to have him appear again wasn’t something to be avoided, she figured it might be embarrassing for both of them if he saw her unconscious, uncensored image of himself.
Solas cocked his head ever so slightly and a slow smile spread over his lips. “Only if you wished me to be.”
There it was again, the spark and the connection and Lyssa smiled back at him, the first honest smile in days, her cheeks warm. To her delight she saw colour creep into the tips of his ears and suddenly, the night no longer seemed as cold. He cleared his throat and looked over the valley again before he added, “They still are your dreams. I wouldn’t invade your privacy.”
For a moment she just looked at him, noticing his elegant, nearly timeless features and how the starlight touched his skin, the snowflakes falling around it. With a soft voice she said, “Thank you, Solas. I will consider it.”
He looked back at her and nodded slightly, then he got up and offered her a hand. She accepted and he helped her up, carefully aware of not touching her injured arm. But he didn’t let go when she stood before him like she anticipated and kept her hand tenderly between his fingers. His voice was warm as he said: “I did not want to impose on you, especially since you seem to barely be alone. But if you ever need an open ear, I am here for you. There is no need to be lonely, Lyssa.”
His words hit home and suddenly, the tears that had threatened before were back, shimmering in her eyes and she swallowed hard to keep them from falling. For a second, the grip of his hand around hers tightened and his eyes were soft with understanding and Lyssa knew that he actually did understand. She took a deep breath, blinking the tears away, squeezing his hand back and nodded. Then she let his hand go.
“We should get back before Cullen launches search parties after all," she said and if her voice was somehow strained, he didn’t seem to notice. They went back to the camp in silence. No words were necessary and Lyssa felt better than she had in days.