“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. They had been underway for nearly two weeks now and 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 before she had been fighting her way from campfire to campfire up the mountain and through the worsening snowstorm for nearly three days, not daring to sleep for fear of never waking up again in the cold. And when she had finally reached the camp, people had started worshipping her. 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.
She 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. 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 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.
“Lyssa, what is it?”, he asked 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, the one surviving Corypheus and an avalanche and the snow 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. They look at me but they don’t see me. They see a symbol, their herald, their saviour, but not me. It’s too much! 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 couldn’t when she looked at him and saw only incomprehension. “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 hungry all the time and short-tempered and lonely and not knowing 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 pressed her hands against her eyes, filling her lungs with cold against the threatening tears before she finally looked at Solas.
He seemed stricken and somewhat shocked 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 finally said, nearly as quiet as she. “But I fear that only you yourself can find the way how to deal with the expectations they put on you. However, I think you underestimate yourself. 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 she felt like for the first time, they actually connected on a level they both hadn’t anticipated. Something within her changed ever so slightly and a slight tingling started in her belly.
“Thank you”, she said 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. “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 coming 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. “Well, 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 once or twice. While the thought to have him appear again wasn’t something to be avoided, she figured it might be embarrassing for him (or her) 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. If Amara were here, she’d have a teasing answer, she thought, but she wasn’t Amara. But it seemed that her smile was enough because she could swear that this time, she saw colour creep in the tips of his ears. 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 moonlight touched his skin. She smiled slightly and said softly: “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. But he didn’t let go 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 he had come 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 more search parties”, 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.