"I think you might have broken him."
The sudden interruption to the silence gave Ellana a start. She hadn't heard the door — neither a knock, the hinges, nor the sound of anyone climbing the stairs. Yet when she lifted her head from the pillow to find the source her eyes landed upon Dorian, leaning on an elbow against the stone banister.
Standing there lit by the soft, late-afternoon light that filtered through the curtains — with a gentle, reassuring smile — he could have been a spirit sent from beyond to save her. For his presence, and the comforting lilt of his voice in the empty room, her relief was palpable. The sight alone was near enough to tear a sob from her chest; the stifled sound escaping as a sputtering laugh instead.
It appeared to be the invitation he was waiting for.
With arms loosely folded across his middle, he approached the bed. His pace was slow and cautious, weighing her presumed need for comfort against the possible desire to be alone with her thoughts. His steps made no sound, she noted; and a glance at the floor confirmed he had not yet returned to his room to find another pair of shoes. With his spoiled disposition and fussiness about dirty feet, it was a small detail that spoke volumes.
"He's just sitting at his desk," Dorian continued, "Like this." He demonstrated an appropriately glass-eyed stare. "I don't think he's even blinked more than twice in the last twenty minutes."
She drew herself onto her elbows and shimmied upward until she could comfortably lean against the loft of pillows at the head of the bed. Making room for the mage to sit next to her. Frayed nerves and tender stomach had her wringing her hands raw. With considerable effort, she managed to fold them together and rest them upon her lap instead. Careful not to position them high enough to touch her middle. That was… not something she was quite ready for yet.
"At least he's still in Skyhold," she joked. The voice that spoke didn't sound like her own. Not weak anymore but flat, and hollow.
Shattered like a glass on the floor.
"For now," Dorian conceded with a nod. "No telling once he regains his ability to walk."
The comment was intended as levity, she knew, but she could not help the way her face fell in response. She hadn't thought far enough ahead to get to that part. Whether or not she'd be alone or a couple through this. And if the latter, for how long?
He would outlive her — of that there was no question. But would a child inherit a mortal life, or an Elvhen one? Was there a median? Was there even a precedent for this situation?
Didn't he say once before that conception between Elvhen required conscious planning?
The terrifying notion occurred to her that she might have somehow caused this with a stray thought, before the better part of her dismissed that as completely ridiculous and she reminded herself that regardless of what existed in his time, he'd also said he was — for all intents and purposes — mortal save for magical prowess and lifespan.
How had they not ever discussed this?!
Beyond such semantics, this was not taking into account the Venatori, the war, the Veil… whatever other obstacles lay ahead and might impact a possible future together.
There was so much to consider.
Clearly, she couldn't hide the dawning horror on her face, for Dorian gave a wince and audible sigh. Flashed her a sheepish smile as apology for the slight and came to sit down on the edge of the bed. The mattress jostled when he settled next to her; the motion rocking her stomach unpleasantly. "How about you, my dear? How are you holding up?"
"I'm—" she began, but stopped. No easy answer came to her. No jokes, quips or even truths to offer in reply. The uncomfortable, swirling, buzz of thoughts had not yet subsided and while she imagined it would probably leave something in its wake, what that might be was not yet clear.
Maybe at herself. Absolutely at herself.
What else was one supposed to feel at a time like this?
That one gave her pause.
Somehow, she couldn't imagine herself ever feeling excited. And yet, wasn't that what someone was supposed to feel; what all of this would inevitably lead up to? Happy families with happy smiles and happy plans for an idyllic future. Carved wooden cradles and cotton diapers folded in a stack. The kind of future she'd never really put much thought into. At least, not since she was still a little girl playing with dolls. Deep in the woods where no eyes would see she rocked imaginary babes to sleep in her arms, cooing the soft lullabies she heard other women sing to their real children. Songs not meant for the ears of motherless wards.
It was a game she'd put to rest with her childhood.
Having a family was an inevitable — even sacred — part of being Dalish. A promise kept to the bones of their ancestors that the People would live on upon the ruins of their ancient cities. Still, she had not ever truly thought about what the expectation meant to her. Without a partner, at least a male one, she'd never bothered to indulge the idle fantasies her friends did. Of names, ticklish toes, and tiny pointed ears.
Then there was her duties as a hunter, for the clan. Then the conclave. Then the Inquisition.
The two ideas seemed fundamentally incompatible. Try though she might she could not envision herself on the throne, sitting in judgement, with a babe suckling at her breast. Or on horseback with round belly beneath loosely tied armour. Perhaps standing at the war table with her advisors, planning out new routes and diplomatic treaties with a toddler nestled in a sling across her chest.
It was more than simply 'incompatible' — the thought was outright ludicrous!
She did not realize her laughter had been aloud until she caught the curious eye Dorian had turned upon her. One brow lifted, head tilted; all told, he looked unsettled.
Ellana shook her head. "I'm sorry, I'm just…" but her thoughts trailed off into that swirling noise again and took her words with them.
At the very least, he was patient with her poor contribution to the conversation. More so than she was with herself. "I think that's to be expected," he assured, and smiled. It warmed her. "I imagine it'll take at least five more minutes before everything starts to fall into place." He took hold of one of her shoulders and gave it a squeeze. "When it does happen, know that I'm here."
"Thank you," she replied. The sincerity of his promise was enough to lift the corner of her mouth a little. The closest approximation to a smile she'd managed in hours.
A moment later he stood — moving more carefully this time to ensure he did not jostle the bed — and made for the water closet. The sound of splashing in the basin told her he was fetching something to drink, and though the thought still made her stomach turn, truth be told she could use it. She'd not had any food or water since breakfast that morning, and then promptly lost what she'd managed to consume in patches along the mountain pass.
He handed her a teacup full of cool water. Carefully wrapping both his hands around her own to encourage her to grasp it well, lest she ignore the offer and set it aside. She took a few small, slow, sips so not to aggravate the nausea further. It no longer had the choke-hold on her that it did earlier, but had yet to completely disappear.
Inwardly, she wondered if it would… or if she'd feel like this every day from now on.
Gods, I hope not.
The room was quiet again, though this time a comfortable pause rather than the oppressive emptiness that Dorian had so gratefully disturbed. Ellana cast her gaze toward the windows; following the leisurely path of a cloud as it drifted across the sky and disappeared beyond the curtain. There were very few clouds today — the sky was a bright, brilliant blue and an unseasonably warm breeze blew in through the open door that led out onto the terrace. It was beautiful. She might have even enjoyed the walk up the pass, were the circumstances different.
The sound of soldiers training in the courtyard floated up now and again; the clank of metal on metal as old, blunted swords collided. The dull, echoing thunk of a wooden shield hitting a chestplate, and knocking someone off their feet. Swearing, yelling and taunting from the men and women in the ranks, followed by Cullen barking an order to stand up straighter and pay attention. Someone yelled a rude phrase in Tevene, and a chorus of laughter followed.
It was the typical clamour that filled the yard on any other afternoon, yet today felt anything but normal. Familiarity offered only betrayal over comfort: how could everyone just go on living another day as though nothing had changed? How did everything seem the same when the entire world had just fallen to pieces at her feet? Every mundane, ordinary, thought and sound felt traitorous. She almost prayed for a rift to open in her bedroom and swallow up the whole keep. Turn everything upside-down and spit them out inside the Fade surrounded by monsters and nightmares.
Perhaps if that came to pass, things would feel somewhat more balanced.
A pair of birds came to perch upon the railing. They flitted back and forth, bobbing and teasing, calling quietly to each other before taking flight again and disappearing somewhere below.
Ellana scoffed. Murmured, "It figures."
"Hmm?" prompted Dorian.
She took a long sip of water from the cup before she continued. "It'll be spring. Bloomingtide, I think."
"The season of fertility and growth?" he suggested thoughtfully. But when she met his eye, it twinkled with mischief. "Or is it the abundance of animalistic lust that precedes a season of birth thats more apt?"
A single huff of silent laughter gifted her a smile. A real one this time. It stretched over her lips until her teeth showed between them, and her eyes crinkled at the corners. Then the quiet sound grew into a deep, full-throated chuckle. And once it started, she wasn't able to stop it. The tinkling multiplied until she was caught in a fit of giggles the likes of which she hadn't experienced in recent memory. The cup in her hands jiggled and jostled with the convulsions until the water began to slosh out the sides and sink into the duvet. Gently, Dorian plucked it from her fingers and placed it on the nightstand, his own laughter joining with hers.
She laughed until she began to wheeze and cough, and her eyes prickled with unshed tears.
She laughed until she cried.
And then cried until she sobbed.
Heaving, wracking, body-shaking throes that she pressed into cupped hands. Bent and broken, crushed beneath a weight of confusion and fear waiting to be felt since mid-morning. Now a force that hit her like a hurricane. And like the laughter, once the tears began she found she could not make them stop. Could not pick a single thread amid the tangle to find what had been the final straw to overwhelm her. The quiet buzzing of her thoughts had transformed into a deafening roar and yet still she found she could not identify what, exactly, it was screaming.
Through it all, her friend comforted her. Gathered her in his arms and held her tight. Whispered soothing words and gentle assurances she only barely heard, but was grateful for nonetheless. When the worst had passed, he combed his fingers through her hair — as he was apt to do in times like these — and said bright things to make her smile.
"If I recall correctly," he began softly. "The last time I had you like this was when we were wondering if he'd ever work up the nerve to sleep with you." More laughter came. More tears followed. She could not speak through it, so he continued in her place. "That one worked out quite well though, didn't it?" A pause. "Perhaps a bit too well." He smoothed a hand over her hair. "This will work out, too."
He sounded so sure — she could almost believe him.
"Remember my dear, you're the Inquisitor. The Herald of Andraste. You survived the conclave, walked the Fade in the flesh, mended rifts across Ferelden and Orlais, saved houses, prevented assassinations and have overseen countless political gambits. You've even killed dragons! This is far less frightening."
She chuckled weakly, rubbing at her eyes with the heel of her palm. "I'd argue this is far more frightening."
"Less dangerous, at least?" he pondered.
"Than a dragon?" she asked. He tilted his head curiously. "Mildly."
They laughed together; a steadier sound than whatever mania had overtaken her previously. This was brighter. Something that might even begin to chase away the darkness that had gathered. Enough that at the very least, the nausea began to abate for the first time in many hours.
Vulnerability was not a trait she was entirely comfortable with, even here in the arms of a trusted friend. It took considerable effort to shake herself free of the urge to curl up and turn away — to let herself breathe — and pull down enough of the walls to let someone else in to touch that part of herself that was alone and terrified. But, it felt good — if not a bit strange. He was calming influence even when he had nothing to offer but his presence, and she found that she opened to it. She always had, since the first day she met him.
"I was to be bonded, you know."
There was a thoughtful pause, followed by a rather absent hm of thought before he replied. "Bonded? Wait, doesn't that mean married?" She felt him startle, pulling away from her in surprise. "You were married?!"
"No," she assured, laughing. "I wasn't married. More like... promised."
"Betrothed?" he suggested. She could practically feel his curiosity itching beneath his fingertips as he played with a weft of her hair; dying to ask more but just clinging to just enough restraint not to push her past what she might be comfortable revealing.
"Similar," she affirmed. "Some are arranged, particularly for those who have standing or magical affinity. It assures the strength of the lines: magic, where it's needed — none where it isn't. You can only have so many mages in a clan, you see." The explanation sounded far more bitter than she'd intended; more than she thought she felt. The hard edge in her voice surprised her. When had she become so resentful of the Dalish custom? Or maybe she was always bitter… just better at hiding it from herself.
Clearly, the sharp tone of her comments was hard to miss. There was no humour in the comment Dorian offered following it. "Perhaps we're not that different, you and I. Bound to the promises of good breeding?"
The chuckle she gave lacked any true mirth. "I suppose not."
"What happened to him?"
She shrugged. "I've no idea. It wasn't something that would have happened right away. Only if I'd remained unbonded until… well, until a year ago. I suppose it would have already happened, then." That was an uncomfortable thought. One she hadn't entertained before. "I suppose he was promised to someone else when I failed to return from the conclave. Maybe he found someone else instead, and fell in love."
Dorian hesitated a moment on the next question, considering his words carefully. She knew what was coming before he spoke it aloud. "Did you care for him?"
Her answer was firm and immediate, "No," she said, then winced at the finality of it. Amended, "As a friend, yes. Not as a lover. I suppose I might have been comfortable with him."
"A means to an end, then?"
"Something like that," she conceded. "I think most of the arrangements were. You were exceptionally lucky if you'd been matched with someone you already had a spark with. Though I think my Keeper would have gone out of her way to ensure we were kept apart, if we'd had one." To his credit, Dorian did not pull on that thread, though she was sure the hollow laugh she added made it tantalizing. "If things had been different, I suppose I would already have a child. Or two. A little aravel and a straw bed for all of us to sleep on. Who knows, maybe I would have even liked it, if I'd not known any other life."
He tucked a loc of hair behind her ear, and pinched the tip playfully to catch her eye. "And now?" he prompted.
She took a breath. Repeated, "And now," then swallowed. "Now I'm the Inquisitor."
A single brow raised. "And?" When she didn't provide the answer he was looking for, he tried again. "And you're…" the word hung in the air, unsaid.
It clicked, and at once she understood what he was trying to do.
She loosed a sharp curse and made to move away, but he took hold of her arm and pulled her back before she could get to her feet. "You will have to come to terms with this eventually," he pressed. "If you keep waiting for the right time to say it, it will never come."
The logic was sound, but she still didn't care for it. "Please, don't."
"Say it and I'll stop," he countered.
A pause, as she pretended to consider the offer. "No."
He frowned. "My, you're stubborn when you mean to be." This was a tactic only employed with only the utmost love and care, of course, but that didn't mean a part of her couldn't hate him for it. If only because she knew he was right. She'd managed to go the entire day without hearing the word and would be content to continue on as long as she could that way. Saying it aloud would make it real in a way she couldn't take back. There really wasn't enough time to feel ready for that. She feared she never would be.
In fact, that was rather the point of this exercise of his.
It took every ounce of strength she had to finally force it out of her throat. All the while every instinct screaming at her to deny it. But inevitably, "I'm pregnant," she whispered.
The lopsided smile that lit his face was at once delightfully charming and terribly infuriating. "There we go," he sighed in return.
The moment was interrupted by the sound of rusty hinges as the door to her bedroom swung open. The visitor had not bothered to knock. Of course, she knew who it was before he appeared at the top of the stairwell. Still, it made her anxious: she wasn't sure what would come next in all of this, and the anticipation had her tensing. Worried to see him, as much as she was relieved of his return.
Dorian caught her odd expression and turned around in time to see Solas climb the last stair and come to a stop just beyond the banister. A steaming cup of tea was balanced on a saucer he held in both hands.
The room felt oppressively quiet as he glanced between them. His face an unreadable mask, as always — though the way his gaze lingered on Dorian before he met her eyes told her it was clear he hadn't expected the man to be there when he entered.
"I can return later, if you are busy," he said quietly.
Dorian saved her the attempt at coming up with an answer, speaking to both as he rose from the bed. "Actually, I was just leaving." He bent to press a soft kiss to the top of Ellana's head, whispering, "All will work out, my dear," and flashed another smile before he turned to leave.
Something seemed to strike him as he passed Solas, and he stopped. Turned, and stood just behind him. Waiting until the elf turned to look at him curiously. Then, in an unusual show of tenderness for a man who he'd nearly always been at odds with, Dorian reached out and took hold of Solas' shoulder. Gave it a reassuring squeeze, and him a meaningful look that communicated something neither could possibly have spoken aloud. Then descended the stairs and let the door click shut behind him.
What followed was painfully awkward, and for a good minute Solas did nothing to improve the situation. Standing stock still at the top of the stairs, eyes holding hers, but seemingly too lost to properly greet her. Holding the damned teacup as far away from his body as he could, as though he had no earthly idea what to do with it.
Finally, "Is that for me?" Ellana asked lamely.
He blinked. "The—ah, the tea. Yes," he replied. And after a few jerky, aborted attempts to take a step he finally found his feet and moved to join her. Sat, carefully, upon the bed next to her and offered the cup.
She took it with a grateful nod, and brought it to her lips. Then, thinking better of it, smelled it first to ensure the flavour wouldn't inspire more nausea. It had only just subsided, and she had no want to tempt it again. It was a familiar scent: sharp, and a little sweet. "Is this ginger?"
"Yes," he answered. "For your… stomach."And then it was quiet again.
Well, this is awful, Ellana thought.
Neither had any idea how to broach the subject and no matter how she framed it, the idea of diving into conversation about it seemed absurd.
So, do you want to buy the cradle, or shall I?
That's absurd. This was absurd!
They'd never even come close to discussing the subject before, and were woefully unequipped to do so now. There'd never been a reason to bring it up. No opportunity to leisurely plan for a future together. Neither held any assumptions about what the years ahead held for them beyond the defeat of Corypheus and his Venatori. And, in all honesty, she'd not once spared even a fleeting thought of creating a family with him.
Or preventing it, she realized with a wince.
When it happened, consummating their affair had been such a sudden and unexpected thing. It was not a natural progression of a typical relationship; a slow exploration of boundaries and permissions that would have ultimately led to her anticipating the event and visiting the healers to ask for doses of witherstalk. Even after, everything was so clouded by confessions and truths and arguments that it had never occurred to her. She had all the time in the world, and yet…
How was it that she could be so irresponsible? So unbelievably reckless? How many times had she been here, in this bed, gathered in his arms as he called her name into the fall of her hair and yet not even once considered the inherent risks of taking pleasure in each other?
This is your fault.
"This is my fault."
She was so lost in her own thoughts that it wasn't immediately apparent that Solas had said it aloud, not her.
"Your fault?" she repeated, incredulous. What in the world could he have done, other than not sleep with her at all? And, to his credit, he did put in a considerable effort on that front.
Well, reminded a distant part of her mind…
Babes aren't made in the dirt beneath you.
But ultimately, no, she had not exactly encouraged that. Or mentioned it. He no doubt would have obliged, had she had the forethought to ask it of him. Even once.
"I did not think—" Solas was saying, "I had not considered the, ah, the—" It was almost charming, she thought, the way he stuttered and stammered as he tried to think of something appropriate to say. Some sort of apology; an admission of sole guilt in a mistake made by both of them.
There are no mistakes — only surprises.
"—anticipated that we, that I, should not have— should have been more careful…" He was still talking. Trying to, anyway. He'd not gotten much further. "It was not something one considered, in Elvhenan, and it was remiss of me not to—" he stopped again, hesitated, chewing on the words for a moment before finally muttering a quiet, 'fenedhis' under his breath. Apparently, he'd hit a wall.
She caught his eye, and tried her best to give a reassuring smile. In return, the corner of his lips twitched, just a little. That was promising. Quietly, she admitted. "I didn't think about it, either."
He was visibly relieved by that; the tension that held his shoulders tight eased a little. He nodded, but said nothing more. There was nothing more to say. This silence, at least, felt less oppressive than the ones that had come before. Though it still felt short of comfortable.
Her eyes turned again to the open terrace. The clouds, the birds, and the sounds of the training yard below. Outside, the world still turned — and soon she'd have to rejoin it. Meet with Josephine and debrief her. Go over a thousand new requests and schedules and try to find a way to go back to her typical day-to-day activities with this secret hanging over her head.
She'd have to try and plan a meeting to tell her.
The room began to tilt, but before it could fly off its axis entirely, she felt a soft touch to her hand. Glancing down, she found that Solas had entwined his fingers with hers. When she reciprocated, he squeezed, and held on tight. As though he needed the assurance she were real. He held her like she was the only thing that anchored him to the world in that moment. What anchored them both.
A familiar memory came to her then: their first night together, the first time. Of stumbling, clumsy, blinded by desire and lost to the moment. The excitement, the want, and the anticipation. Then falling backward onto the bed to land atop each other in a tangle of limbs. The brief moment of shock and surprise that followed — the little spark of fear — to continue meant to change it all. To cross a line that had never been toed, and alter their relationship in a way that could not be undone.
But then he had smiled.
Touched her hip with his thumb, drawing a circle over sensitive skin, and told her he loved her.
Presently, he lifted their clasped hands to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss to her knuckles. Held her there while he drew in a deep, shuddering breath. His hand still trembled, just a little. He did not hesitate to say it this time.
"Ar lath ma, Ellana".
And when her tears began to fall anew, he gathered her in his arms and held her tighter.
They stayed that way an age. Until, at some point within the embrace, when the tears had nearly dried and they'd slipped into silence again, she kissed him. One kiss became two, then more, until they gave themselves over to what was perhaps a wholly inappropriate coping mechanism… but one that worked nonetheless.
There was hesitation. She felt it in the brief seconds before his fingers delved beneath the hem of her breeches, and urged them over her hips. A question on his breath he didn't quite give voice to. Or she silenced it, when she kissed him harder and took him by the wrist to guide his hand between her thighs. It had been weeks, and once the warmth of his magic shrouded them both there was no chance for clearer heads to prevail. Perhaps they needed this, as ill-thought as it was.
Drawn this close, she could feel the ache in his chest. A mirror to her own. The weight of unanswered questions and uncertain futures. But she chased it away, for now, with warm hands and soft mouth. Found a calm port amid the storm with each other and held on as tight as they were able; the one constant that could guide them safely through to the other side.
His grip on her paused, just for a moment, before the end. As though something had almost occurred to him, before sensation swept it away, and he held her tighter. Pushed her harder. Fingers digging into her thigh and one arm wrapped around her back to keep her chest held flush to his through the final throes.
What thought had tried to form then, did not fully register after it was over. Only once they lay entwined beneath the sheets, and reality began to reform as whatever compulsion had driven them faded. The brief respite lost.
"I'm sorry," Solas said suddenly. And he almost sounded confused by his own apology. Ellana lifted her head from his chest and found him looking at her strangely. It made for an endearing scene: his bewildered expression the dust of pink still present on his cheeks and ears. "I should have—" he began, then corrected, "I should not have—" and struggled with the rest.
When it became clear what he was getting at, the laughter that followed surprised her as much as it did him. "I think it's a little too late for that, Solas," she said.
He blinked, and then laughed. A little mad, a little too hard; not quite able to control the way it continued to tumble from him, unbidden. Unending. And the sound had her joining him in spite of herself. "Yes, I suppose it is," he managed.
He laughed like she'd never heard him laugh before. Much the way she had earlier. He tried to stifle it with a tightly closed jaw, then a fist, until his eyes began to water and he brought both hands up to cover his face.
Wiped away tears that were too heavy to have formed from mirth alone.
The laughter died away, and the room descended into silence again.
Later, she would not recall how long they'd stayed that way. Only that they did not speak more of it. He did not reassure her that everything would be alright. And had he tried, she was not so naive to have believed it.
You change everything.