“The drunken slur of a man once confused for a god for a father, bellowing for what he no longer has: belief and worship, the fat and the bone, the flower-wreathed daughter tossed at his feet.” (Renunciations, Donika Kelly)
The man is dying in a chair.
There’s rot growing out of a wound in his leg; infected for weeks, in a hazard guess.
Inara stands perfectly still.
Solas blinks. He looks between them and finds, under the thick beard and grime darkening the man’s face: resemblance.
He waits a fortnight to find her in the dark.
The blackened pile beside her must have been a fire. Blush embers still cling to life in between the branches, and one by one, begin slowly to wither.
Here is his heart -– her hair, her pink cheeks, her wrists. When she breathes, he breathes.
He sits beside her. She keeps her eyes to the stars, but he can see the paths on her face where she still buckles under her ache. It collects beneath her chin and waters the earth, just the single drop, and none more thereafter.
Here is the anxiety of choosing the right words where emotions run heavy enough to make all else ring hollow.
He says: “You are not him.”
He says: “What happened to you was not your fault.”
Inara doesn’t turn her head, but she places her hand softly atop his.
“No, not mine,” and she breathes again. "His."
Solas is silent. Everything is silent. She lies back down in the snow.
He gives a wheezing cough. He doesn’t stand. He can’t.
He says, “Are you Death come to claim me?”
“Not Death,” says Inara. Her voice shakes. Her skin pulls white over her knuckles. “Your daughter.”
She isn’t supposed to apologize, least of all to him. She doesn’t even sound sorry. She doesn’t sound anything. He suspects she must have tried to inject sincerity into her tone and failed.
She’s always been slight, but where she sits tucked inside herself, she looks like a child.
And that’s the funny thing about knowing people; they always seem to get smaller with each new thing you discover about them.
Solas looks at her. He knows she means it. The moon is sheathed in clouds again and he goes back to throwing twigs on the fire.
“You have nothing to be sorry for.”
She opens her mouth. Her tongue touches her teeth.
She closes it. She stares at him for a long while.
“You mean to trick me, Fen’Harel. My daughter is dead.” His laugh is sour, rasping and wet.
Inara’s face crumples, what composure she had now carried off on the song of the first bird to wake. Her dagger finds his neck. The chair nearly topples.
“Then her blood is on your hands!”
She breathes heavily. The man leans forward, not half a mind to her blade. His eyes scour every inch of her face, and then he crumbles, too.
She wakes Solas and can’t admit what she needs from him.
There’s flint in her eyes and a tremble to her fingers. He sees it. He understands.
They set off before dawn.
The Exalted Plains are ugly at this hour, just another wasteland cast in shadow. Half the trees are scorched, but they stand dead on their feet, pretending they’re alive in the absence of everything that once made them beautiful. The black bark peels away in curls.
When they are far enough from camp, Solas turns to her with a question in his eyes. She quietly shakes her head.
“I had Cole stay behind. I can’t have him here, if…” She trails off. She swallows. “He’ll know everything, anyway.”
She looks more than nervous; she looks afraid, this here creature who stared down a man bewitched by godhood and his Blighted dragon. Solas doesn’t fully understand. All he knows is the distant urge to protect, and that it feels like homecoming, and homecoming feels like putting her behind his ribs until the danger is passed.
Only a thin sliver of sun adorns the horizon when they arrive at the broken house.
“You aren’t with the clan?”
He can’t meet her eyes, “Yes.”
She looks down her nose at him.
“We always step on grass,” Cole murmurs once, and then says nothing more until the first white star appears in the dusk.
He looks at Inara. He looks East. He looks at Inara again.
“Is there a nug on my head, Cole?”
“A full moon.”
She squints up at the periwinkle sky, “No, not yet.”
“But it was. It was so bright when you lost hope. Papae, Papae. He looked through you. He couldn’t look at you. He didn’t want to.”
She stops dead in her tracks. She closes her eyes.
Solas looks at Dorian. Dorian looks at Solas.
“Stop,” she whispers. She raises two fingers to the side of her throat.
“All those hands taught you how to hate. Pulling you everywhere. He thought about finding you. Now you found him.”
Her head snaps up so quickly Solas fears for her neck. She stares at Cole in horror. Cole looks East.
“Is it really you, then? My sweet girl, where have you been?”
She stumbles back like she’s been struck. Then she laughs, dark and bitter. “You can’t be serious. You can’t be.”
“I watched them take you-–”
“You let them take me.”
He forgets sometimes that they’re both hiding. Later on, he will look back to that half-hour they spent in the worm-eaten shack, and he will think: if there was ever a time where he saw her without her skin, that was it.
That was it.
She’s crying, now. She’s crying, and Solas hates the man in front of him more than he’s ever hated anyone.
He realizes they have the same tendency to look small, this man and his love, when confronted with an ugly truth. But where Inara is familiar with the weight of accountability, her begetter shrinks back and shakes his head. He blinks hard.
“I would tell you all that transpired in the wake of your betrayal, Papae, but I don’t have it in me.” She spits the moniker like it burns her tongue, “and I wish you could know! Because you loved me once, and I want you to hurt, if I could only bear to speak the words!”
The man is crying now, too. His shoulders shake and, now and again, he lets out heavy broken sounds. “You’re my daughter, ‘Nara. I love you still, I do, I do…”
Very quietly, he says, "I only thought they'd kill you."
She spends a minute breathing. Her tears fall through the holes in the floorboards. When her voice comes, it comes hoarse, like eggshells stuck in her throat.
She says, “I know. I know you did.”
The hope in his eyes when he looks up is met only with Inara’s back.
She turns out of the house without another word.
Solas thought she might kill him –- he wanted her to. She deserved to.
But he was already dead, it would’ve been futile. He’s full of hollow bones, and dying mind. Rotting soul. Tomorrow's sun will rise on the spirit leaving him, slowly, to curl into the air like smoke.
When the sun is three-quarters risen, Solas stops Inara at a tree. He draws her into his arms. He makes her remember warmth. He makes her remember what it is to be soft, and what it feels like when people are gentle. Why it matters.
Once, Inara read a letter Master Dennet had written to his daughter.
In the rotunda that night, she cried. Solas didn’t know why.