A/N: Harillen is the elven word for "Opposition." I really hope this was worth the wait. 52 Chapters of wait. I hope it's everything you want it to be.
The fade is dark. Lush emerald greens and shifting shadows play against the hillside where we'd made our camp in the real world.
My eyes open to the strange stars of the dreamworld, the Black City visible only as an absence of stars.
"Solas?" I called, sitting up, sensing him with my feelings and calling him with my memories of him just moments ago before we fell asleep in each other's arms. The tremble in his voice and the crease of his brows when she held him. The shaking of his head. The reluctance and the longing and the sorrow.
"I'm here, vhenan." His voice was warm, but when I turned to him, he wouldn't face me, choosing to stare at the flat dark plains of the fade.
I turned and settled on my knees before him, and stayed quiet.
"Ages ago, in Arlathan," he started, then stopped for breath. "The world was like this." He waved a hand through the air and the magic there rippled like heat waves above hot stone. "Magic in the very air we breathed."
I nodded, but said nothing.
Solas watched his own hand move through the magic-laced air. "I've told you of this, but... you can't imagine it. Magic wasn't feared. It wasn't a tool. You didn't have to strive after it, or spend all your energy just to draw enough of it to you to accomplish anything. It was simply... there. Everywhere."
He drew a shaking breath.
"But there have always been those with more power than the rest."
While one good woman might turn away from the temptation of power, no group has ever done so.
"There were abuses, and fear of worse, so a council was formed." He took another deep breath, weaving his fingers through the grass like he had the air. "A council of nine."
Solas lifted his eyes to mine, a brief flicker to see my reaction. I was so struck by the vulnerability in that look - something I hadn't seen since he removed my vallaslin - that I failed to react to his statement.
"They were to be guardians, gatekeepers of power. Each held a different domain. The idea was to hold each other accountable. Nothing could be decided without a majority voting in its favor, so no true corruption could ever take hold."
He gave a bitter laugh. "It was a noble idea, the Council. Nine of the most powerful magic users out of all of the People. Nine bright, fierce, good men and women who wanted to end corruption and darkness at its root."
As the pieces slotted into place in my mind, Solas spoke the names I knew by heart.
"June, Falon'din, Elgar'nan, Sylaise..." He spoke the names like he was giving a litany of the dead.
I finished for him. "Dirthamen, Andruil, Ghilan'nain, Mythal, and Fen-"
My throat went dry.
Solas continued, speaking quickly now.
"But all of them fell, in the end. They conquered their own people, pitted the rich and powerful against each other, clamoring for their favor in order to gain more power, more riches. They-" He swallowed. "The vallaslin. Blood writing. Do you know why it's called that?"
"Because of the painful process, the blood that runs down your face as the marks are-"
"No." His eyes were fierce, as if he could still see exactly what he was describing. "It was blood magic. It served two purposes – to mark slaves, but also... The spell used during the marking caused the magic power and life energy of that person to flow continuously to whichever council member it was dedicated to."
I touched my face where my marks used to be. "So you're saying... mine were to honor Mythal. Had it been done in Arlathan-"
"You would not be the mage you are today. Not by half. All your power and effort and passion would have poured straight to her. Mythal." He swallowed and made a conscious effort to relax his shoulders and his clenched fists. "Mythal never took slaves, only willing servants. That was a fine line she danced across on a daily basis, but she made some effort." His voice was acid. "There's that at least."
I remembered Mythal's face as she spoke to Morrigan. The choice was always yours. You were never in any danger from me.
And I remembered Abelas. Fen'Harel had nothing to do with her murder.
He held up a hand. "Please." There was agony in that word. "Let me finish."
I bit the inside of my cheek, eyes riveted on his face. Solas.
"It was a nightmare. Layers of corruption on top of our festering core of nine, each using their foci to absorb the energy of all those they had enslaved. Mythal worked to fight it, using her influence and power to reign in the others when they went too far. But she and I never agreed on what too far meant."
She and I.
I took in a quiet gasp.
He didn't seem to notice his slip.
"There was a resistence movement. Underground, secret. Small groups working to help the slaves escape, or help them rewrite their vallaslin, diverting the power from their oppressors, directing it to the foci of the one who wanted to help them. Even members of the rich and powerful who were terrified by the darkness the rest of the council were dabbling in... they'd come and offer their magic, their spirits, their energy."
He curved his fingers around his palm and lifted it, staring at the empty space his hands created, as if he were holding an invisible ball. "Countless lives in the palm of your hand. The weight of trust. Faith. All that hope. That you will be the one who saves them."
Solas closed his eyes, dark lashes resting on his freckles.
The hand holding the invisible orb turned into a fist.
"But the rest of the council knew. They'd let it go, at first, a minor irritation." He chuckled, shook his head, a bitter snarl on his lips. "They spread rumors to try to discredit me. Wove fear around the truth of what the vallaslin actually were, but claimed I was the one doing it. Claimed I was the only one snatching children from their mothers and sacrificing them for their own power. Claimed I was the one slaughtering the families of the slaves who had escaped, or worked against them. Claimed I was spreading lies about their gods, their Creators, that I was a dark, creeping thing come to pervert the truth, and I-"
He glanced up to see my eyes, wide, my mouth parted.
We stared at each other, each holding our breath.
Solas dropped his eyes to his hands.
"They let it go too long. Let the power of all that opposition – not just me. But the anger and resentment, the truly willing sacrifices of people who had seen their lives burn down around them for being born with less. They let it swell until it became a force to be reckoned with, until it grew far beyond their control."
His hands began to shake.
"They couldn't know for sure which of their marked I had rewritten, which of their prostrating nobility had come to my hall in the dead of night to offer themselves as living sacrifices. So they-" His voice broke.
I placed one of my hands over his, warm against the cold of his knuckles. He looked into my face and I drew a thumb across the back of his hand, saying nothing.
Solas continued, eyes meeting mine.
"They killed them all when they knew what I was planning. Blood in the streets. One enormous ritual, a last grab for power to try and stop me. I wasn't ready. I had to throw everything I had in one final desparate attempt to enact my plan. My own power and that of everyone who had given themselves to the cause becuase I told them I could stop them."
His eyes were filling with tears. "I couldn't stop them, Lahria. Each person who gave themselves to my plan – they died. Their families died. Immortal lives. People who should never have died cut down because they believed I would protect them."
One tear, then another. "I was just as selfish and as power-hungry as the rest. As they died, I was angry at the loss of power, at the draining of energy and magic when I needed it most. I didn't feel sorrow for the loss of life – I was aggravated at the loss of power." His voice was rising, taking a biting edge, tears running freely. "They died believing I could save them, and I spent their last moments hating them for not being stronger." He squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again. Meeting my eyes. Facing me. "In the end, I had to use my own strength – nearly all of it. I pushed myself, drawing on wells of power until I ran dry. But I did it. I accomplished my great plan." He bared his teeth as he said it. "All those lives lost. Arlathan – lost. The magic – lost. But I did it. And it worked. No more Elven gods."
His eyes slipped from mine, resting on our joined hands, the energy leeching out of him.
You didn't do it to be right, Cole had said once. You did it to help them.
Softly, I said. "Did what?"
With his other hand, he waved at the Fade. "This."
"This?" I frowned.
"The veil. Gathering up the magic and putting it elsewhere. Effectively taking magic out of the equation, leaving the People to rely on their own strengths without using magic to entrap others." He looked around at the Fade. "All that magic in one place, separated from reality – it became something else entirely, something I had never expected. In that, the Fade made itself." The spark of the scholar in his eye before he refocused on our conversation. "I thought – if magic was limited in its use, people would no longer be able to use it to destroy each other."
I opened my mouth, but he stopped me.
"I know. I was wrong. Arlathan was destroyed, the People scattered to the wind, overtaken by kingdoms who adapted to the lack of pervasive magic much better than they could. They're still slaves, just to new masters. Tevinter, poverty, oppression, ignorance." He bit off each word. "I was exhausted after what I had done. It took ages to recover. And when I did, when I saw what my actions led to..."
What if you wake up to discover everything was worse than it was before.
In the wake of his passionate explanation, his head was bowing over our hands, sinking into himself. His palm was open on his knee, the other so still under mine.
He stayed like that for several moments, the picture of supplication.
Render your judgment, Inquisitor.
"You are Fen'Harel." I said.
His fingers jerked above his open palm, but stilled again.
I had understood his place in the story as he spoke, but... Fen'Harel.
"All my life, I have been taught to fear you."
Another twitch of his hand.
I rested my other hand on his open hand. His fingers flexed to hold mine, but laid still. I traced the lines of his palm with my middle fingertip.
"I'm going to need time to process everything," I said quietly.
He nodded. "Of course." His voice was calm resolve, stripped of emotion.
"Solas." Mine was not.
He lifted his head, blue-grey eyes catching mine, earnest and worried.
"It's a lot to take in, and I'm going to have a hundred questions, but-" His truth. His horrible, beautiful truth. In my hands. Laid at my feet. All that sorrow finally had a name. My chest tightened, throat thick as I said, "Ma serannas, ma'lath. For telling me. For trusting me. For letting me see and know you. Finally, you." I slid my hands up his arms, leaning forward. "Solas. Ma'arlath, Solas."
Widening eyes in the space of a breath and then he was pulling me to him, into his lap, hands on my face. "Then...?"
"It's a lot," I acknowledged, nodding. "But it's yours. And you're mine."
His grip on my body strengthened, hand sliding into my hair as he brought me to his mouth in a kiss that shook with the sound of the cry ripping through his chest – loud and plaintive and breaking through him, then through me. He kissed me hard, mouth hot against mine, hand fisting in the back of my shirt. Nails on my scalp as he deepened the kiss, shoulders shaking.
I pulled back, gasping for air. "Solas."
"Apologies." He pressed his lips to my neck instead. "You should take it back." Hot breath on my jaw. "I don't deserve you. Your touch. Your gaze. Your trust. Your love." Each spoken in a kiss on my skin. "Take it back." He roughly tugged my shirt aside so he could rake his lips along the line of my shoulder. "Take it back before I take you at your word. Before I believe you."
I shoved him hard, fists on his chest, working my hips to straddle him as I pushed him to the grass. "Solas." My voice was strong. "Wake up."
I leaned my full weight on him, pinning him to the ground, my arms clutching at his. I threw myself into consciousness, dragging him with me back into reality. We crashed through the veil, this world-changing spellwork of his creation, and slammed into our bodies back in reality – spirit and body reunited.
Solas woke gasping. "Vhenan, what-"
I had fallen asleep with my head on his shoulder, hand on his heart.
I was groggy with sleep, with the disconnect between the Fade and the waking world, but my heart was pounding just as loud here as it had been there.
With the same speed and determination transferring to my waking self, I fit one hand in his above his head, the other sliding down his chest as I kissed his jaw, imitating his actions in the Fade.
"Let me love you," I whispered against the skin of his throat. "I won't take it back." I curled around him, arm over his stomach, hips pressed to his side. "My touch. My trust. My love. I'm giving it to you. Have given it." I nuzzled him with my nose, letting my breath wash over the sensitive shell of his ear. "I'm in love with you, Solas. Deeply, truly in love with you."
I felt the muscles beneath my lips as he swallows. Felt the trembling of his breath beneath my hand.
"Let me love you," I said again.
"Vhenan," his voice was rough. "I've been trying to let myself be loved by you since the day you kissed me in the fade."
A kiss, just below his ear. "And now?"
Deep breaths that shook his entire frame.
"Vhenan, please." His voice cracked, high and plaintive. "Please." I felt one cold tear slide down his temple to brush the tip of my nose. A hoarse whisper. "All I want is for you to love me."
I wonder if I'm pushing too hard, and soften my advance, tilting his face toward me for a soft, gentle kiss. "Ar lath ma, Solas. I do love you."
I've never seen him look so shattered, eyes so blue. "Please."
Another lingering kiss. He has to stop flinching away like a startled halla, afraid I'll suddenly snatch all my affection away. I pull back to see his face.
"Ar lath ma, Solas." I kiss his freckled cheek, beneath his eye, gritty with salt and tears.
His hand flexes against my hip.
I move to his other cheek, another kiss beneath his other eye. "Ar lath ma, Fennec."
A little gasp, his lips parting.
I drop to his ear, where I was before, and press a warm, slow kiss to the corner of his jaw. "Ar lath ma, Fen."
Solas groans soft, short, his hand a fest against me, body straining under me as I lean over him, let my cheek brush against his.
And I kiss him, eyes closed, pouring meaning into the press of lips to his jaw, then breathe.
"Ar lath ma, Fen'Harel."