Part Ten: Truly
Ellana cannot remember thinking much about bonding as she grew up. She was aware that it was a possibility, of course, and she certainly didn't discount it, but she never imagined it happening simply because she had no one in mind to imagine it with. There were none that she seriously considered bonding with, and thus, it remained just a possibility and not a serious consideration for most of her early life.
Now, she is to bond her heart, her love, her wolf – who is also Fen'Harel of legend, except the Dalish legends were mostly wrong and he is both greater and more fearsome than her people believed. If she had imagined it, she is pretty sure she could never have thought that up.
Still. Even if she could never have imagined this, it is what she wants. She wants him. Oh, how she wants him. At times, it is almost painful how much she wants him.
Solas hasn't stopped kissing her since she said yes. Light kisses against her skin, especially across her face and along the shell of her ears. Every now and then he licks his way into her mouth too, kissing her with a greed that makes her head spin and her breath catch. He's pulled her onto his lap, supporting her back with one hand while the other is caressing her neck.
The first rays of sunlight are starting to filter through the aravel – the faint morning light is still cold, but in his embrace, she feels warm.
"Solas," she whispers, pressing her hand against his heart. "How much do you know of the Dalish bonding ritual?"
"I have learned what I could," he replies, kissing her forehead. "Are you worried I might take offense at parts of it?"
"We do envoke Sylaise in our vows," she points out.
He sighs, looking troubled for a moment. "You would not want her to bless any union. She was not the worst of the Evanuris, but her crimes were many and terrible."
"Then we will not include her in our vows," she says, and he tilts his head slightly.
"I wish to honor you, vhenan," he says, and the sincerity in his voice is undeniable. "As you are – and you are Dalish. I am prepared to do the ritual as it would be done traditionally."
"I am Dalish," she agrees. "But that is not all that I am, and you, you are not Dalish. Solas, I want us to bond, truly bond, but that means it must be true for us both. If there are parts of our ritual that do not feel true to you, I don't want it as a part of our ceremony."
He looks touched, stroking her cheek softly. "As always, your wisdom astounds me, vhenan. It shall be as you wish."
He kisses her softly, lacing his fingers in hers.
"Are there other parts you may be uncomfortable with?" she asks, and she can see him think, taking his time to truly consider how he feels. She kisses his brow as he does, not rushing him. He is used to burying his feelings, after all. Habits take time to change.
"I do not believe so," he says after a while. "I know it is tradition for couples to exchange gifts before the bonding, and I am happy to do so. I truly do not mind your clan being present as your Keeper performs the ritual if you wish it."
"I wish it," she confirms. "They were my home and they are still my family. They matter to me, Solas."
"I know," he says, lifting their entwined hands to kiss the back of her hand. "That means they matter to me too. I will ensure their survival."
There is a slight hint of steel in his voice, as if he's making a sort of vow. It makes her wonder if his gift to her clan might be more than he said. Would it keep them safe even through the Veil being torn down?
"What else is in your vows?" he asks after a moment.
"Lama, ara las mir lath. Bellanaris," she says softly.
"Bellanaris," he repeats. There is a slightly odd tone to his voice. "Forever is easy to promise between mortals. Forever would mean decades, not centuries. Not an age. It is far harder to promise forever when it might mean ages."
"Ah," she says, not sure what else to say. Sometimes, the reminder of just how old he is feels overwhelming. "You can make your own vows, Solas. It is traditionally allowed. You don't have to promise me anything that would not feel true to you."
He closes his eyes, resting his forehead against hers. She cannot quite make out his expression, but she can hear his breath catch.
"What are you thinking?" she asks, lightly brushing her nose against his.
"Of ages," he says slowly. "And you. How an age with you would feel."
"Oh," she says. She swallows. How would that feel, she wonders. An age with Solas. She's enjoyed what time they've had together, but it has been relatively brief, at least by his standards. Time has not been a luxury
"If there was a way to restore Elvhenan without…" he murmurs, trailing off. "Vhenan, I can promise you my love forever. I do not know if I can promise you me forever."
"Solas," she says. She bites her lip, fighting an urge to cry. "I love you. You told me I would have all you can give me in this world, and I ask for no more. I love you."
"I know," he says, his smile sad as he lifts his head to look at her. He cradles her head in his hands, kissing the edges of her eyes. Tears, she guesses. His expression is thoughtful and just a touch wistful. What he might long for, she doesn't know, but it might the same she longs for – a way to restore his world and keeps hers, a world they can be together in. "I wish loving me was simpler, vhenan, but I do not question that you do love me."
She smiles faintly. "I was never one for easy."
"I can believe that," he says, his voice fond. "I know I have given you cause to question my love for you in the past."
He puts a finger to her lips. "I have. I had my reasons, but that does not change how I made you feel. I am sorry for that, my love."
"I know," she says. She can see the regret and grief in his eyes, after all. "I have forgiven you."
"I have not," he says, and she wonders how it's possible to love and despair at how hard he is on himself at the same time. "I will endeavor not to give you cause again."
It is a promise to himself as much as her, she suspects. He will not give up on his cause, and it will come into conflict with his love for her. It already has countless times. It will cause them both pain, but she has faith they can endure it.
"Var lath vir suledin," she whispers. His eyes soften as he looks at her, and she knows how much he wants to believe it. Tenderly, he kisses her, lacing his fingers into her hair.
"I love you," he whispers against her lips; it feels like a promise.
The sun has long risen by the time they emerge from the aravel, having shared breakfast (and made a meal out of each other along the way). The camp is emptier than yesterday, with many off to hunt or off to Wycombe to trade, but they still attract more than a few glances as they walk together, hand in hand. Many still seem a touch wary, but there are also those who regard Solas with curiosity, even respect. He is noticing that, she is pretty sure, even if he does not outwardly react.
How would he feel about the Dalish if he spent years with her clan, she wonders. How would they feel about him?
Keeper Deshanna is talking to her First, Vahra, as they approach. It sounds as if they are discussing the Wycombe city council, though why, she can't quite tell.
"Hahren," Ellana says formally.
"Da'len," Deshanna replies to her, then turns to Solas. For a moment, she seems to consider how to address him. "Hahren."
He looks pleased by that, Ellana notes. He always reacted well when she acknowledged his skill and knowledge – he might not care much for flattery for flattery's sake, but he does take pride in what he knows and what he can do.
"Solas and I wish to bond," Ellana says, and Deshanna looks at her, eyes soft. "Soon, if possible. We cannot linger here too long without putting you all in danger."
"I can perform the ritual tomorrow," Deshanna replies. "But regardless of danger, we are your clan. You will always have a place here, Ellana – and Solas with you."
Ellana swallows the lump in her throat. Even if she has changed, and grown apart from her clan, it still matters to her to know she will be welcome – and not only her.
"Ma serannas, Keeper," Solas says politely, but he sounds sincere as well. He exchanges a glance with Deshanna that Ellana can't quite make out. "Tomorrow will be fine. The day after, I will be happy to deliver the gift we discussed earlier."
Deshanna nods. "Agreed. There is another matter we need to discuss. The Wycombe city council has received a request from the Chantry, asking if the clan is willing to receive an emissary from them. I assume they intend to ask about you, Ellana."
"Undoubtedly," Ellana says. She glances up at Solas, who returns her gaze and inclines his head slightly, indicating it is her decision. He always accepted her leadership within the Inquisition, but now that it is just the two of them, a sort of partnership, it feels good that he is willing to let her make decisions too. "Can you keep our visit here secret, and instead 'accidentally' let them discover you expect my presence in the near future?"
"Of course," Deshanna says. Her smile is almost predatory. "I will instruct the clan and play my part. I shall let the emissary take great delight in believing she has tricked an aging, addled Dalish elf to reveal a great secret."
Solas lets out a short, barking laugh. "Addled? You?"
Deshanna changes her pose, huddling, adopting a confused expression, clutching her fingers. Vahra immediately steps up to support her by the elbow, looking oh so sincerely concerned. Ellana has seen this particular act a few times before, but it still amuses her how quickly her Keeper can go from seeming as sharp as an arrow to as dull as a leaf.
"Impressive," Solas compliments, tilting his head. "Using prejudice towards age and towards elves to your advantage."
"Yes," Deshanna says, straightening again. Vahra steps back. "As Dalish, we need every advantage we can get in this world."
"This is not how it should be," Solas says. He looks genuinely grieved for a moment. "You should not have to resort to this. You should not have to live as shadows of what once was."
Deshanna looks straight at him. "Better this than slavery. The Dalish chose to be free, to pay the price of freedom in hardship and struggle. Will you fault us for that, Fen'Harel, as you fault us for misjudging the past?"
He meets her gaze, holds it. Ellana can feel her shoulders tense. There is a challenge in Deshanna's words, but sometimes, Solas does need to be challenged. She has challenged him, and he has accepted it, even admired her for it. Will he accept this?
"No," he finally says. "I will not fault you for desiring freedom above all else. Ir abelas, da'len. This is my fault. I failed the People."
"We are what remains of the Elvhen," Deshanna says. "The Dalish, the city elves, the slaves. We have endured. We are here. Do not fail us, hahren."
Solas closes his eyes. Ellana knows how hard it is for him to see the Elvhen in the elves of today, but she knows he has to if she is to have any chance of convincing him that his duty is not to a world long gone, but to the world today.
"Ir abelas," he says again, opening his eyes. The sorrow in them nearly staggers Ellana, but he quickly masks it. "I shall endeavor not to."
"Clan Lavellan shall endeavor to correct misjudgments of the past," Deshanna says, and the two nod at each other as if they have promised each other something. "I will perform the bonding ritual tomorrow. Today will be yours."
"Ellana," Solas says softly, turning his attention to her. His gaze is loving, caressing her and making her long for his touch. "There is a place nearby I would like to take you today."
"I will be happy to go with you," she tells him, fighting an urge to kiss him here and now, no matter their audience. "I need a moment first."
He nods, pressing his forehead against hers for a moment. "I shall wait for you by the aravel, vhenan."
He strides away, and Ellana watches him go. Behind her, she can hear Deshanna send Vahra off to make arrangements for the ritual tomorrow, leaving just her and the Keeper.
"How did you know how to speak to him?" she asks after a moment. "I overheard you yesterday and now today. I think you have impressed him."
"I didn't know," Deshanna says. "He is Fen'harel, a terrifying legend to all Dalish. How would anyone know how to speak to him? I merely realized that if he loves you, my impossible child, he would not be someone who enjoyed being spoken to with mindless devotion and groveling. Nor would he enjoy needless insults and pettiness. I spoke to him as I taught you to speak."
"He likes questions," Ellana says after a moment, and Deshanna chuckles.
"You were always good at questions."
Ellana can only nod at that. She would annoy so many with her seemingly endless questions, she remembers, but not Solas. She suspects he might even enjoy her questions for an eternity.
"Thank you," Ellana says, and Deshanna smiles at her. "For everything."
"You, as you are, is thanks enough," Deshanna says, cupping her cheek. "My child."
"Yes," Ellana says, feeling tears prick at her eyes. Not by blood, no, but Deshanna has been the only mother she has ever known. Softly, Deshanna kisses her brow, then steps away and walks in the direction Vahra headed.
Ellana takes a deep breath before heading to find Solas. He is leaning against the aravel, watching a nearby halla, but shifts his gaze to her the moment he notices her.
"Vhenan," he says, embracing her. She must not be as composed as she hoped to be. "Is something the matter?"
"No," she tells him. "Nothing is wrong. I am merely feeling… Feelings. Keeper Deshanna is the closest to a mother I have ever known. My actual mother died when I was very young. I don't even remember her."
"Ah," he says. He kisses her temple. "Your Keeper is admirable. I always wondered how the Dalish could raise someone with a spirit like yours. I am beginning to see how now."
"Truly?" she asks. Her heart is pounding slightly in her chest as she awaits his answer.
"Truly," he says sincerely, and she pulls him down for a fierce kiss, not caring how many of her clan will see. He is surprised at first, but is soon kissing her back with equal fervor, lifting her up and pressing her against him.
This matters, she thinks as she clings to him. Solas has seen the Dalish as a concept he disagrees with, and her as an exception for so long. If he can see something more than that, if he can see beyond his grief… That matters. That truly matters a great deal.
It may make the difference between the end of the world or not.