The Inquisitor woke suddenly, gasping for air. Adrenaline coursed through her body in pulsing waves, making her chest heave and body quake. For a terrifying moment, she could not remember where she was or what had happened to make her so afraid. Her eyes darted around the room, relief washing over her as the walls of her quarters swam into focus. Still Skyhold. She blinked her eyes heavily and took a steadying breath, making a conscious effort to take note of her surroundings: the feel of her soft bedding beneath her, the drape of her Orlesian silk duvet now twisted around her body, the light chill of the breeze through her open window as it lapped at sweat-soaked skin. The sound of her breath in the empty room.

Just a dream, she assured herself.

A nightmare.

More of them every night. Some about battle, others Corypheus, but most about Solas. They were terrible, searing dreams that left her uneasy when she woke. Nightmares were not exactly something she was unfamiliar with, but their sheer number was beginning to overwhelm her.

In one, her and Solas would argue bitterly: she would struggle to hold herself together as he hurled insults and accusations that tore at her chest, shaking loose the deepest insecurities she held about herself, her abilities and her love for him. The anger and hurt would boil inside of her as she watched his face twist and lips curl in his fury. In those moments, within the dream, she wanted nothing more than to hurt him as badly as he had hurt her. In another, he would draw her close only to cast her aside; profess he never cared for her at all and the year of painful flirtation, growing intimacy and stolen kisses were nothing but a game. A toy for him to play with until he grew weary of her entertainment.

No matter the dream, the end was always the same - she would wake in a cold sweat, gasping for breath, tangled in her sheets feeling trapped and frightened. They were becoming more and more intense as time went on; more difficult to wake herself from and the residual feelings harder to shake when she attended to her duties the following day. She was becoming afraid to fall asleep, and the exhaustion and weakness from lack of rest was starting to take a toll on her. Worse still, the toll upon her health had not escaped the notice of her comrades. She was distracted and short-tempered - easy to provoke - and it was becoming a liability. In this state she was vulnerable to manipulation and impulsive action - traits both dangerous and sloppy for a leader. It was not something she could afford to be as the Inquisitor.

Ellana pressed her palm to the bridge of her nose, allowing her eyes to close as she worked to steady her breathing once more. This had to stop. No attempt at meditation had been successful, and no amount of soothing teas or relaxing herbs seemed to make a difference once she succumbed to sleep. If only I could push into the Fade as easily as he could, perhaps this wouldn't be an issue, she thought with a bitter laugh.

The Fade.

A deep chill ran through her as a thought struck. Solas had once explained that demons and spirits were attracted to the dreams of those who entered the Fade heavy with emotions they fed upon. Wisdom, compassion, desire, rage. Despair. It would explain much about the course the dreams had taken, and why she could not seem to shake them. If this was the problem, she did not have the solution.

Unfortunately, she knew who might.

The Inquisitor passed only one or two others on her way there; night staff finishing up the last of their chores, washing down tables or sweeping the halls. Each gave a respectful nod and a quiet, "Herald," as she passed before returning to their tasks. It was late, past midnight, and was politely assumed she was not plodding about the fortress at this hour in search of conversation.

Upon reaching the rotunda's doors she paused, a hand poised to push inside. Ellana pulled her dressing robe tighter around her body, securing the knot and steeling herself with a deep breath. The heavy wooden door opened with a long creak that echoed through the room. She quickly slipped inside and let it close behind her, lingering in the corridor to listen for any shuffling papers or telltale movement. It was silent except for the quiet rustling of the birds on their perches high above. She took a few cautious steps out of the corridor and peered into the room. His desk was empty, there was no sign of him except for the remains of a forgotten candle, the last of the beeswax pooling over the edges of its silver holder. He must already be asleep, she thought as she approached. The mix of relief and disappointment she felt at the idea was... uncomfortable.

His desk was uncharacteristically disorganized, covered in loose papers and a clumsy pile of books. Normally, she would not rifle through his things - especially not now - but the emptiness of the atrium lent a certain boldness. Curiously, she picked up the topmost volume and opened the cover. Tevinter history. She put it down in the center of his desk and picked up the next one. More Tevinter history, this time relating to the lineages of powerful magisters. She cocked a brow as she thumbed through it, he must be trying to find more information about Corypheus she thought. At least he had no trouble remaining focused on their mission. Still, these were not the texts she was hoping to find. She needed something regarding demons and dreamers.

She began to search the pile in earnest, quickly picking up each book, scanning through the first few pages, then putting it down in the new pile when she found nothing to hold her interest. More Tevinter, more history, more magic, more Inquisition. She was almost embittered by his ability to devote himself so completely to his work while she struggled just to sleep at night. It was so like him to be so unaffected, and it made her seethe.

When she came to a particularly rough-looking volume, she paused. The pages were worn and irregular, and it stood out amidst a pile of clean lines and gilded edges. The binding was old and familiar; leather cording and animal skin. It looked as though it had been hand-crafted by someone who had little experience with book-making. Absently, she flipped through the pages, scanning for any hints on the book's subject. It had no publishing date in the inner cover, nor any information about the author. If anything, it resembled a journal more than any published work. Further in, she came across a large illustration of a dark and foreboding creature with six eyes. The Dread Wolf. With an intrigued hum, she thumbed back a few pages and began to read.

While her proficiency with written language was still evolving, she was able to understand enough to get the idea. The text was written in a mix of old Elvish and Dalish dialects of Common, and seemed to be devoted entirely to tracking the evolution of myths and legends about Fen'Harel. There were records from at least a dozen separate clans. Some were old and their prose unfamiliar, others were similar to her own Keeper's stories. Inside the margins were quick scratches of Elvish, clearly in Solas' hand, though she could not translate it. Notes in Common said something about how the stories changed over time as they spread from clan to clan.

Was he trying to trace the origins of the legends?

It was an odd book to be in the possession of someone who holds so little regard for the Dalish and their beliefs. Solas did not keep to the gods - nor to any other gods as far as she knew - the most she could ever get from him on the subject was a suggestion that the Elvhen pantheon had once lived as warlords and nobles rather than as true deities. A year ago it would have enraged her to hear such blasphemy. She would have been callous, writing him off as a mere flat-ear; someone stripped of his culture and history, left broken and wandering, connected to the People by only by virtue of his shared blood. Blood now thinned by time, distance and a life spent traveling through shem cities. But now? If she was honest with herself, she wasn't sure what she even believed in anymore.

Their experience at the Temple of Mythal had affected her deeply. Abelas, the Well and the sentinels; learning the truth of Mythal's death and standing before ancient Elves - Elvhen - her own ancestors. Those who had truly lived in the time of Arlathan... only to have them dismiss her as an ignorant child. To them she was nothing but a shadow of their race, a quickling grasping at half-remembered words and stories and building them up into tales worthy of grandiose worship. Though still naught but tales.

It was overwhelming, and strange.

Solas had talked with her before of how the Dalish's attempt at preserving their culture and history had done little more than pervert it, but she did not fully comprehend by just how much until they'd left the temple.

Ellana soon forgot about her original purpose for coming to the rotunda as she studied the strange little book. She leaned back against Solas' desk, reading through the collected versions of The Great Betrayal and finding that she regarded the tale with little more than casual curiosity, absently running her fingers over the bare skin where her Vallaslin had once been. Stories that once struck awe and fear into her heart no longer held any significance for her. Now, she could not think on them without wondering what truth was left, if any at all. It left an uncomfortable emptiness in her, and she wondered if she still held even a sliver of fear for the Lord of Tricksters anymore.


Solas' voice tore her from her thoughts. She jumped, startled, and turned to find him standing at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the library. He had several books cradled in one arm, and a candle in the other. His eyes drifted over her, taking in her nightclothes and robe, then settled on the tome she held in her hand. A small crease formed in his brow. "May I help you?"

She stepped away from the desk, rolling her shoulders back as she pulled herself up to her full height in a show of feigned confidence. "Yes," she answered. "I was hoping you could help me find a book." His head tilted just slightly, a nearly imperceptible movement but one she recognized as a former lover. Apprehension. Curiosity. He approached the desk and carefully placed the books he'd been carrying next to the pile she had created when she'd rifled through. Once more his eyes flitted to the tome she held in her hands, his expression a mask of reservation with the sole exception of that small wrinkle in his brow. She followed his gaze.

"An interesting choice," she remarked, holding it up. "I would have thought Dalish beliefs were akin to bedtime stories for you. Have you suddenly developed an interest in learning of our nursery rhymes?" It came out icier than she'd intended, but she found she did not truly care if her words offended him.

Solas narrowed his eyes, though his tone remained even. "It is always a good idea to familiarize one's self with lore, even the parts that are deeply biased and flawed. The observation of religious beliefs between clans varies considerably, customs and greetings included. Our dealings as the Inquisition take us to the Dalish from time to time. For diplomacy's sake, I thought it prudent to learn what I can." He extended a hand toward her, palm up, indicating he would like the book returned. Ellana considered him a moment before obeying, watching as he moved the curious tome to the bottom of the pile. "I doubt this was the book you were looking for - what did you need?" He was cool and detached. Professional.

Ellana cleared her throat. "I was hoping to find something on the subject of demons and dreams."


"How they are attracted, how to combat them; how to prevent them from interfering with a dreamer in the Fade."

Solas considered her a moment, thinking, then gestured for her to follow. "Come." He turned and started back up the stairs toward the second level of the rotunda, Ellana following a few steps behind. He explained as he walked, "Demons approach dreamers in the Fade to feed upon them; they are drawn by what they can consume. Desire to lust and need, Rage to anger, and so on. Having a host die would eliminate their food source, so do not seek to consume entirely but rather to posses and extort what they can, usually by creating a setting that works to convince the dreamer that what they experience in the Fade can be real outside of it, or by seducing them into becoming a willing host."

"I know," Ellana interrupted curtly. "You've told me all of this before."

He glanced over his shoulder, his expression softening. "My apologies."

An uncomfortable silence fell over them as Solas led her toward one of the library's many alcoves. When he stopped, she stayed a few steps behind him, watching him stand before a shelf of old tomes, drawing two fingers across the spines, searching. As the silence stretched on she became very aware of how exposed she was standing there in little more than her shift and robe. She pulled one side of her robe tighter around her body and folded her arms across her chest. But if he was put off by her appearance, he did not let it show.

"It would help if I had more information to refine my search," said Solas. He did not turn away from the texts, pulling one from the shelf and scanning through the first few pages before returning it. "Is there a particular demon you're interested in learning about?"

She hesitated, opening her mouth to answer only to stop herself and chew at her bottom lip instead. When no reply came, Solas paused, regarding her patiently.

"Despair," she answered finally.

She watched the emotions play out over his features in subtle twitches and knots as he put the pieces together: confusion, curiosity, understanding, sadness. Pity.


What little confidence she had managed to cultivate before all but disappeared as she saw him avert his gaze. "Ellana-" he began. It was the first time he had used her name in at least a week. "Are you having nightmares?" All the chill had left his voice now, replaced with a softness that made her stomach twist as much as it made her bristle.

She scoffed, a denial ready on her lips, but there was something in the way he looked at her now that made her reconsider. A tenderness she'd desperately craved, as much as she would not dare admit it. She avoided his gaze, choosing to stare at her feet instead. "Yes."

He took a step forward, hand extending as though to touch her, only to pull it away. Instead he tucked it behind his back in a loose fist. The brief flash of tenderness was quickly brushed aside. "If that is truly what plagues you, you must take care not to enter the dream as a target. Despair is the perversion of hope. To combat it, one must arm themselves with its opposite; to work toward shedding what lingers. Harden your heart, and reshape the hurt into your armor."

The shout of bitter laughter that burst from her made him flinch. "So that's it then?" She flicked her wrist in a dismissive gesture. "Just, 'get over it'?"

He was quiet a long time. The crease in his brow grew deeper with each passing second. "I'm sorry I cannot offer more."

She fixed him with a cold glare and her lip twitched, threatening a sneer. "Thanks, Solas. Really. For everything."

It would have been better to turn and leave. To drop it there; take the anger he had given her and use it as a shield against her sorrow and her nightmares. To try and take his advice and pray it worked. But there was something in his face that anchored her. A hint of sympathy and sadness she could now see had been hiding somewhere underneath all the cold apathy he had offered her over the past few weeks. It drove her to remain - to push - out of spite. He had tipped his hand, revealing his guilt in that moment of tenderness, and she wanted nothing more than to hurt him with it.

"I suppose it's easy for you, isn't it?" Bitterness and anger bled from every word. She was needling him and they both knew it. "Just turn away and continue on as though nothing happened? Attracting the attention of a Despair demon would never be a risk for you, would it?" A brief, pained expression flickered across his face. For a moment she wondered if her words had actually hit their mark.

"Practiced does not mean painless," he answered softly.

She scoffed. "You'll forgive me if I find that difficult to accept. Tell me, Solas," she spit, her eyes narrowing. "Does any part of you feel remorse or regret? Not for leaving, obviously, but perhaps just for throwing me away as readily as you did?" A nostril stung - a hint at what was to come - and she clenched her jaw against the pain, determined not to let him see her break. "You could have just as easily kept me strung along for much longer, you know. I truly had no idea I mattered so little to you - you fooled me far too well. Did you ever love me?"

The answer came with more warmth than she'd expected. "Ar tel'dian."

No. No, no, no, I will not let you do this to me.

Rage surged in her chest, rushing into her limbs, pushing her forward until she found she'd closed the distance between them and stood mere inches away. "Ma'harel!" she screamed, and her voice echoed through the empty hall. Her hands were balled into fists so tight at her sides that her nails left deep crescents in her skin. Fevered and furious breaths made her chest heave and nostrils flare. All attempts to remain calm had been abandoned; now she stoked her ire and let the anger course through her veins like fire.

He did not so much as flinch at her curse, but his eyes held hers for a long moment before falling to the floor. And his hands hung loose at his sides. He looked defeated, and the furious part of her wondered if it wasn't just an act. Some twisted, back-handed ploy to ease her shameful pining with an illusion that he was hurting, too. But then he spoke, and his voice was taut and pained. "Ir abelas, vhenan."

If he'd thought the endearment would soften her fury, he was sorely mistaken. If anything, it ignited it. The thundering of her pulse in her ears made her head spin. And her hands were shaking, clawing at the air as her mind struggled to find purchase on something - anything - some piece of this that she could tear off and throw back at him. To make his heart clench the way hers did when he called her vhenan after all he'd done. The word was spoken with a quiet honesty that made her temper falter, and she struggled to push the pain aside as she spit curses through clenched teeth. "Tel'abelas, harellan."

This time, he did react - a wince - visible through the cracks in his mask. Except there was more than just little cracks now: it was slipping away. The longer they stood in the darkened library trading anger and hurt the more she could see hints of what he hid beneath weeks of cold, embittered distance. For all his poise and polite arrogance there was a sea of unspent emotion toiling somewhere inside him. She could see it in the way his shoulders slumped with each long exhale. The way his hands hung limp at his sides and his fingers rubbed across his thumb as he spoke. He stood silent and still beneath a mountain of her rage, his eyes searching her face for... something. She could not possibly know what. Some answer to a question she'd never hear him ask.

Then, it hit her. It was not pain for himself that welled in his eyes, but for her. He looked at her mournfully. Piteously. As though she were a small and pathetic thing. The thing he'd cast aside and now felt sorry for because she could not stop loving him as much as she hated him. The thing to which he now offered quiet lies and comforting pats, like she were a heartsick puppy that followed him home. How big of him to try and soothe her weary heart.

The thought disgusted her.

Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes and the knowledge that she was that close to breaking down only made the pain of their confrontation worse. He pitied her. This was not love, this was a disease - and his spurious oaths and endearments were poison in her ears. You do not walk away from your heart so easily.

Weeks of anger, confusion and hurt she had been holding back began to well inside her. It boiled up from a deep and dark place in the pit of her stomach and spread white-hot through her body, exploding, twisting her face into a feral snarl even as her eyes grew wet. It was overwhelming.

The act began before she'd even had the thought to perform it.

And Solas caught her by the wrist a second before her hand connected with his cheek.

The shock of it made her gasp. Both the realization that she had tried to hit him, and the speed of his deflection. His fingers held her wrist firmly, and though he loosened his grip when it was clear she was not going to fight him, he did not release her entirely. He stared at her, unflinching. And the pitying look that had prompted her rage just a moment before had slipped into something far more vulnerable now. The last remains of his mask had been torn away by her attempt at violence and it laid him bare in a way she had never seen before. There was guilt and sadness and so much pain in his eyes it was a wonder he could ever hide it away.

Her heart pounded relentlessly. Chest tight and breath hitching - her body betraying her the last shreds of defiance she'd so wished to show him. She could not turn away. Instead, she stared back, knowing he would see her eyes well with tears and hating how small she felt. A deep and heavy breath shook her chest - then another, and another - and then she was choking back a sob that would release a torrent if she dared let it past her lips. She was trapped in this moment, and the worst of it was the part of her that did not want to be freed. Her skin burned like a brand where his fingers touched her, and she craved it. His closeness. Him. She did not want him to let her go.

With that realization came a storm. Hurt, desperation and of the pain of love lost welled within her and she let her eyes slip closed - surrendering - lips parting to feed the sob she could no longer contain.

Only to feel the press of his mouth instead.

She stilled, confused, though she did not pull away. The kiss was delicate - but impulsive - desperate to convey a message that words could not. It was an offering, and an apology.

I did not wish to hurt you.

It did not ask for anything more than her willingness to accept it, and even in this moment there was nothing she could summon to stop herself from returning it. The tears caught in her lashes slid down her cheeks as she melted into his embrace. She was helpless. The taste of his kiss was a balm on her broken heart though she knew it would kill her when he pulled away.

Slowly, his fingers released her wrist and slid along her arm. At her elbow, he curled his fingers just slightly, pulling her in. When she pressed into him, his hands moved to her hips, holding her in place. Tender, loving, just as before. His kiss held her bottom lip between his own with a tentative sort of gentleness she had not felt from him when they were lovers; even in their first, questioning touches.

It hurt terribly to need it this much.

It hurt far worse to need more.

The kiss broke with a soft sigh against her skin and a delicate brush of his lips. But he did not let her go. Instead, he leaned back just enough for her to meet his gaze, and she found his eyes brimming with something desperate he would not dare give voice to. And in that moment, she believed what he'd said.

Ar dian'tel.


She could not hold onto her anger here.

Slowly, carefully, Ellana ran her hands up over his chest and around his shoulders. Then lightly, squeezed them. An invitation. He tensed, breath hitching, but did not move away. Inside him a war was raging: desire and duty, sense and need. She could feel it in the way his fingers gripped her hips, pushing and pulling all at once. But his eyes found her mouth, throat bobbing with a hard swallow, and then he wet his lips. And when he slated his mouth against hers for a second time she could not stop the whine that bubbled up from her throat. This time his kiss was not a gentle, quiet apology. This kiss was dangerous: laced with a question neither dared to ask.

Once her hands found his body her touch became frantic. Fingers raked across his scalp, played at the edges of his ears, ran down his jaw, neck, and curled around his collar. She was starved for his skin, and if his choked moans and hissing breaths were any indication, he was just as hungry for hers. Trembling hands fisted the front of his jacket and held tight, terrified that if she let go for even a second he would disappear.

The kiss deepened as tongues pressed for entry - she could not be sure whose was first - but hungry mouths answered without a moment's hesitation. She pulled at his lip with her teeth, biting gently, and the deep rumble of his moan made her stomach flip. A deep flush spread across her chest and cheeks as tongues and lips played; sucking, licking, exploring. The burn between them slowly building, pain and anger feeding into desperation and hunger. What began as slow and tentative was quickly tumbling into something neither could have anticipated; a surge of passion driving them both to madness. She did not understand, could not understand, and she both hated and loved him so madly in this moment that she couldn't tear herself away even as it threatened to rend her apart.

Solas' wove his fingers deep into her hair and pulled, drawing a sudden cry from her that made his hands jump to cradle her neck instead. He was rough - frayed and frenzied in a way she'd never thought him capable. This was a side of him he had carefully restrained and it was only now in their frenzied embrace that she was seeing how much he desired.

Desired her.

The thought sent a wave of molten pleasure through her body, and it drove her to distraction. All she could feel was his hands on her, nails digging into her skin, tearing at her like a starving wolf greedy for her taste and she loved every horrible second of it. She could not think of how this could keep going, how it could end, how it even began and yet she could not care enough to stop it. Somewhere at the back of her mind a voice warned her this was wrong - that they should stop - but then his hips were pushing against her, urging, and suddenly she walking backward with quick, clumsy steps until he had her thrown against a shelf. And any thought she might have had after that simply flew away. The impact knocked several books to the floor but neither seemed to notice nor care. Not when his hands were on her body and she could taste his need in the deft movements of his tongue. Soft groans and hitched breaths filled the air, and she writhed beneath the press of his body. Blood singing and body clenching with need. And oh, how she needed him.

She lifted her foot to run a toe up the the back of his calf. It was a tease, a subtle ploy to urge him closer, but his response was so sudden and intense it was near involuntary: he wrapped a hand around her thigh and yanked it hard, bracing it high against his hip. The movement angled her hips down, shifting her center of gravity, and she would have lost her balance if not for the push of his thigh between her legs. Before she could even begin to process the new position he was rubbing his thigh against her groin in a slow aching rock that had her gasping. When her hips gave an involuntary jerk against his next press his chest rumbled with a deep, satisfied moan. The soft whimpers she gave seemed to embolden him. There was no trace of that careful reserve in the deft fingers that ran up the underside of her thigh, probed beneath her robe without thought or question, and then raked across the curve of her ass when he found her bare. A deep, guttural groan followed, the sound was full of unrestrained pleasure it took everything in her not to tear off his clothes then and there. There was no mask left; no paltry excuses to keep her at a chaste distance. This was the raw passion he'd been hiding just under the surface throughout their relationship. A deep well of touch-starved desperation that she'd only seen hinted at in the cracks of his veneer when they were lost in their most intimate moments.

But even those most passionate had been nothing like this. And it made her want to see more.

She tested a roll of her hip into his groin, finding him painfully hard and delighting in the shuddering moan he gave in response. He wasn't just simply in need of her touch, he was desperately aroused by it. The feel of his erection pressed against her body sent a jolt of heat straight to her core. It twisted and curled within her, and she found herself aching in a way she hadn't in years. He'd never been so bold even when they were lovers; had never given into the desire to touch her this way even as she pleaded for it. Though she knew he wanted to, he never gave in - and no amount of urging had ever seen him crack. This was different. This was driven by a heady and bewildering mix of pain, anger, desire, loneliness and desperation that urged them forward even as they knew it wasn't right. It should stop. It should never have started at all. This was over, he had made that clear.

Hadn't he?

It didn't matter now. Nothing seemed to matter. The thoughts banished to the void as Ellana snaked a hand down his body, flipping open the latch of his belt and pulling at his jacket. She needed to feel his skin, to touch him as he did her. Eager fingers dug beneath the layers of clothes, pushing up his thin tunic and finally finding the bare skin she sought. His muscles twitched and fluttered under her touch, breath hitching as she explored every line and plane of his chiseled form. He was broad and tall for an elf; more so than any other Elven man she'd seen or been with. Exploring him was a wonder, and so her touch was anxious and eager. It made her feel like a bumbling virgin, clumsy in her impatience and hungry for everything at once. But the brief embarrassment passed when she felt his body flush with heat, gooseflesh rising wherever her nails drew over his skin. He did not resist even as she tugged at his breeches, fingertips peeking beneath the hem at his backside. Questioning and curious. She had never touched him this way, either - though she had longed to - and her heart was hammering against her ribs in anticipation. He shuddered when her nails raked against the curve of taut muscle, and a distant part of her wondered how long it had been since he'd had a lover. He was sensitive and starved like a man who had forgotten what love felt like.

Somewhere in the haze of desire she became aware of his hand wandering toward the knot on her dressing robe. He tugged hard, loosening it somewhat but failing to undo it completely. Impatient fingers abandoned a second try, instead probing beneath the layers, reaching in to palm her breast through her shift. When his thumb rolled across her nipple, pinching it lightly through the rough linen, she was moaning into his mouth. Heat coiled in her belly and she writhed with the sensation, hips wantonly rutting against his own and reveling in the hitched, stuttering breaths he gave after each rolling pass of his arousal. The press of his erection was like steel, only the thin layers of his breeches and smalls between it and her core, and it made her clench with need. She wondered if he could feel her heat. He must, she decided, because he held his hips so still against her rolls and with her hands on his ass she could feel the ripples of tension in his muscles each time he struggled not to buck into the movements. He was hanging onto a thread of self-restraint and they both knew it.

He wants this. He wants me, and I want him desperately.

The hand gripping her rear began to sneak lower, his palm dragging down under the curve of her ass, fingers curving inward so they brushed against sensitive skin. She shuddered, pulse drumming in her ears as his little finger crept over just enough to feel her wetness spreading down her thighs; and she knew he felt it too when his nails curled into her skin. A needy whine escaped her lips. He swallowed audibly, and his hips stuttered against the next roll.

Gods and creators, please...

A loud slam of a door downstairs echoed across the rotunda, and abruptly, they parted. A servant passing through what they believed was an empty office, continuing on toward the kitchens as they finished their nightly chores.

The second the weight of his body left her own she felt empty. It was as though he tore her heart from her chest as he took a panicked step back. Her curled fingers were left hanging in the air, silently pleading for his return. She blinked in confusion, brows knit, searching his face for some sort of explanation for what had just happened. What was happening now. His cheeks and ears were flushed a deep red, a colour she'd never seen on him, but rather than arousal his face only reflected a sort of horrified embarrassment. His eyes darted nervously from side to side, back to her, then away again. He shook his head, both hands rubbing roughly up his face. Ellana watched him curiously, struggling to slow her heaving breaths and awkwardly tugging at her shift. "Solas?" she tested. Her voice was rough and hoarse. She took a step forward.

And immediately he took a step back, breathing hard. "I-I'm sorry," he stammered. Flustered. She'd never seen him flustered. He averted his gaze, repeating the apology a little louder, "I'm sorry, Ellana. I should- I should not have-"

"Solas, what-?" She stepped towards him, hand extended, but stilled when he threw both of his up in defense.

"No," he said sharply, then looked to her uneasily as though surprised by the force of his own voice. He shook his head again, closing his eyes, then turned and walked briskly toward the staircase.

Her confusion quickly turned to pained desperation. "Solas!" she cried again, his name catching on a sob. But he did not stop or turn around. The wave she'd held back broke over her with a feeble cry and she watched, helpless, as he disappeared down the stairs and out of sight.

He had to get away from her. Somewhere. Anywhere. Confident strides quickened to panicked stumbling down flights of stairs, through hallways, past the confused expressions of the lingering night staff as he shakily smoothed his uneven clothes and struggled to tuck in the loose corner of his tunic. He pushed his way through Skyhold's corridors, out into the night air, until finally finding his quarters. The moment the door closed behind him he was overtaken. The weight of it all pressing so hard against his chest that his body was wracked with silent sobs. It was so intense and so powerful he thought he'd drown beneath the tide. Hurt, guilt, desire, lust, anger, self-loathing swirled within him; powerful and unbridled. His back pressed against the door, and slowly his body slid down until he was seated on the floor. Resting his head in his palms and shuddering.

How could he have been so foolish? So incorrigibly selfish? How could he let his desire wrest away his self-control so easily? It shamed him to know how far the moment would have taken them had he not been startled to his senses by the slamming of a door.

Why did you kiss her, you damnable fool?

But he knew the answer. He loved, he wanted, he needed - it was so easy to fall into her. He could not tear himself away when he saw the pain in her eyes, knowing he had caused it.

It would have taken mere moments for their heated groping to devolve into hungry, desperate rutting in a library alcove; aching to soothe her pain and slake his guilt by giving into the need he had worked so hard to suppress. To take it all back. To forget. Everything. To simply lose himself in her body and her love. Those delicate fingers running along his skin leaving fire wherever they touched. The intensity of his desire for her was far more than he'd anticipated, and when the moment found them he was helpless to it's power. He wanted her. Desperately.

Ar lath ma, vhenan. Ir abelas, ir abelas, ar lath ma.

He felt it every time he looked at her. Every time he caught her looking at him, her face drawn with fury and hurt. Hurt he had caused her by allowing their entanglement to continue. He allowed himself to fall for her, encouraged her flirtation and responded in kind. He never should have let it go so far and fallen so deep. It was unacceptable, and she deserved far better than to have been toyed with this way. This was a mistake - another note in a long line of regrets of a selfish and foolish old man.

If he could leave, he would. It would make it far easier for both of them. But they were too close to the end now, and he could not abandon the Inquisition, nor her, in their hour of need. This was his fault; he had to do what he could to fix it. He owed her that much.

He would simply have to redouble his efforts; put more distance between them, and be stronger. Colder. Resist the urge to care for her and respond to her pain with a comforting touch and kind words - it would not help her get through this, and it would not ease his guilt. As weak as he was, he did not think he could stand to even maintain a friendship with her. At least, not until he could push this - all of it - away. Until he could look at her again without feeling...

Without feeling.

The sting he felt at those thoughts surprised him. If he was honest with himself, he knew he would not have the strength to be cruel and distant when he was still so deeply in love. When he knew he would always love her. And when his desire for her could be drawn to the surface with barely a brush of her fingers on his touch-starved skin.

And above all, he dreaded the knowledge that he would have to face her and twist the knife again after this... dalliance.

He should have pushed her away.

You are a selfish, selfish man.

He sat on the floor of his room, face buried in his hands, for what seemed like hours. Breathing, thinking, trying to put himself back together and cool his burning skin. But her body had been soft, and her breasts fit so perfectly in his hands. It was impossible to calm himself when every gasp and moan she'd made echoed in his ears and the smell of her body lingered on his clothes.

Slowly, almost painfully, he forced himself to retreat back into his facade of quiet reserve. The shaking breaths began to deepen and slow. With a final shudder, he pulled at his face with both palms and sighed. Then pinched the bridge of his nose between a thumb and forefinger.

"So much hurt. Twisting, tearing, sick and searing. Sundered apart, but you wish you weren't. Why?" Cole's voice was quiet and pleading.

Solas was not sure how long the spirit had been there - for once, he had not sensed his arrival - but he was certain it was his emotional state that had drawn him. Cole visited him often when he was alone, flitting in and out without warning. At times it was simply to talk, or to seek his aid in understanding their companions. The boy would come to him light, curious and full of questions. Now, he was quiet - reserved - perched on the edge of Solas' bed with his hands clasped between his knees and his face hidden beneath a fringe of messy hair.

Solas took a deep breath in through his nose, steadying himself before replying. "You cannot heal this, Cole."

"I want to. You want to. She wants to. She would understand."

He shook his head. "I cannot take her down this path with me."


"Because I-" he stopped, considering his answer, then began again. "It is too much to put upon her, and it would be selfish and unfair. And I have been terribly selfish already. This is not her battle; she has her own, and I would not add to her already impossible burden. I have done enough to her." After a pause, he whispered, "And she deserves far better than what I can give."

"You don't know," Cole pressed. "She loves, accepts, wants, needs. She needs to understand. Confusion and pain. Why? Why did he press after pulling away? Why deny that he desires? You were so cold before; and your heat soothes her ache. She is hungry for knowledge, for you - as you are for her - she would want to know."

"Stop, Cole." Irritation sharpened his voice. "You cannot heal this."

The spirit fell silent, looking down at the floor. Several moments passed before he spoke again. "But you could."

He sighed, defeated.

"I know."


Ar tel'dian = I never stopped.
Ir abelas = I'm sorry
vhenan = Ya'll know this one by now, c'mon
Ma'harel = You lie
Tel'abelas, harellan = you're not sorry, liar/betrayer
Ar lath ma = I love you