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How Did You Love

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When Lace Harding, Scout Lieutenant, returned to the Hill Camp she found the Inquisitor’s party still there. Dorian and Varric were busying themselves by the potion table, but she couldn’t see Lady Pentaghast or the Inquisitor anywhere.

“Scout Harding, is there something wrong?” she looked up at Dorian, a bit surprised to be addressed by the mage.

“No, I’m just surprised to see you still at the camp. I thought you’ve already moved on.”

“Me too, but our Inquisitor needs his beauty sleep” Varric commented as he was tinkering something on his crossbow next to Dorian.

“That’s not nice, Varric. He was injured and regeneration potions work best while you sleep” Dorian scolded the dwarf, but Varric only shrugged.

“Is he alright?” Lace couldn’t stop the worried question, looking up at the mage. Dorian glanced at her then he turned his attention back to whatever he was doing by the table.

“It didn’t look good at the time” Varric looked up at him too, his eyebrows raising and they shared a look that Lace couldn’t interpret.

Varric shook his head slowly. “There was a lot of blood. So he’s resting.”

Lace frowned at the dwarf; that wasn’t reassuring at all.

“He should be up by now, would you mind checking on him, Scout Harding?”

“Me?” she asked, stunned. “I don’t think I should--”

“I’d do it myself, but I need to replenish our potions…”

“I can’t leave Bianca like this, in pieces. And Cassandra is somewhere patrolling.” Lace frowned at Varric again, because he didn’t look busy at all.

“Please, Scout Harding.”

Lace’s attention snapped back to Dorian at those words and she knew she lost the moment she saw him smile at her. Why was he so pretty?

“Alright.”

“Ask him when we could move on, would you? We have a schedule to keep” Varric motioned toward one of the tents without even looking up from his crossbow.

Lace nodded and headed toward the tent with long strides, before she could think better of it. At the moment she turned away from them, Dorian and Varric exchanged a meaningful look, making Dorian smirk and Varric shook his head with a sigh.

The tent was silent and when she called out to the Inquisitor there was no answer, so she moved the tent flap and stepped in. She was greeted by darkness. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the dim light coming from the few candles that burned in the tent.

“Inquisitor?”

At her voice a dark form moved in the corner of the tent on a mattress and a faint green light joined the candle light. The Inquisitor turned in his sleep, his left hand dropping to the ground.

Lace couldn’t help herself, she stepped closer and lowered herself to her knees, sitting on her haunches. She allowed herself a few moments to study the elf’s features in the green light.

The face that she got accustomed to in the last few months, maybe even came to like it. There was a little frown between his brows and Lace had to wonder if that meant he wasn’t able to relax even in his sleep. Or maybe it was because of the mark on his hand.

The Anchor, as she heard some call it. Did it always shine like this? Or maybe she just didn’t notice it, because of the glove the Inquisitor usually wears?

Her hand moved on her own, but she stopped just before her fingers touched his. Her hand hovered over the mark for a few moments before she brought it back and pressed her fist to her knee. This was beyond foolish. She decided to leave; trying to think of something to say to Dorian when she looked up and met with pale eyes. Staring right at her.

“Inquisitor” her throat was suddenly dry as a wave of heat washed over her.

“Scout Harding.”

Silence fell upon them and Lace felt the heat climbing up her face again.

“I was told you were injured, I just wanted to know if…” but she trailed off as she realised that even that didn’t explain her watching him sleep.

“Oh, this?” he lifted his shirt, revealing bandages under it. Bandages and skin. A lot more skin than she usually saw of him. And she was staring. She snapped her eyes back to his face, but she knew she was caught when he smirked at her.

“What do you think, Scout Harding,” he turned on his side, which made his shirt open up even more; propped up on his left elbow, his head resting on his fist he looked at her with half-closed eyes. “Do I look alright to you?”

Lace’s breath stuck in her throat. That was a dare, if she ever saw one, and she wasn’t one to boggle at a challenge. So she took the opportunity before her brain would catch up with the situation. She slowly traced her eyes over him, from his face to his collarbones, down over one exposed nipple to his abdomen.

She marvelled at how the candle light flickered on his skin, knowing all too well, that she would remember it later on. The dark trousers were low on his hips, revealing his hip bones and covering muscular legs. He was barefoot, she noted before she moved her attention back up, just as slowly, until she reached his eyes again. The smirk was gone, but there was something else in his eyes, that she didn’t dare to analyse.

“You seem unharmed, Your Worship” she congratulated herself for how calm her voice sounded, even if she could feel her heartbeat in her throat. They stared at each other for long moments, and at the end, it was the Inquisitor who looked away. He cleared his throat and sat up, trying to hide a smile behind his hand. If she didn’t know any better she’d said he looked embarrassed for a second.

“It wasn’t anything serious. I’m fine” he looked back at her, now amused. Lace let out a breath slowly she hadn’t realised she was holding and felt her lips stretching into a smile.

“I’m glad. Your companions wanted to know when you will move out” Lace slowly stood up before her legs would have totally fallen asleep. The Inquisitor rubbed his face with his right hand, wincing slightly and his left hand balled into a fist.

“Tell them, I’ll be with them shortly.”

Lace hesitated a bit before asking. “Does it hurt?”

He seemed to know what she meant as he relaxed his hand and he looked away.

“It’s more… annoying near open rifts, but it’s nothing I can’t handle” he sounded defensive and Lace had a feeling that was more about not showing weakness, than an actual answer to her question.

“I never said you couldn’t, I just wanted to know if you were alright. I’ll let the others know you’re awake” she turned to leave.

“Scout Harding.”

Lace stopped by the entrance at the Inquisitor’s voice and she looked back at him.

“I am alright. Thank you” he smiled at her, a small, but honest smile. Lace returned the smile with a small nod before she left the tent.

Chapter Text

Lace was wandering around in the courtyard in Skyhold, checking her mental list for the last time before moving out. Walking around helped her to think, and right now she needed that. She had to make sure her team had everything they needed, so they wouldn’t have to return to Skyhold for a time. Which was a pity in some aspects.

She liked it here and also she had more chance to run into the Inquisitor here than out on the field. She sighed and shook her head, wishing she could shake these foolish thoughts out of her head.

As she neared the stables she noticed a lone figure in the shadow of the wall. She moved closer and her pulse jumped when she recognised the Inquisitor standing there motionless, in a simple shirt and vest, with his bow in his hand.

She stopped some distance away, wondering if she should go there and at least greet him. Before she could decide the Inquisitor took a deep breath, raised his bow and drew an arrow with a fluid motion. After a heartbeat he released it and drew another one, releasing it in the next moment and another one.

Lace stood there amazed at the precision and flawlessness of his movements. The last arrow hit the straw filled dummy with such force that it practically exploded, raining straw everywhere.

Fenedhis” he grunted out and that was the point Lace realised she moved a lot closer than she intended to.

“I’m sure that dummy had it coming” Lace said and the Inquisitor turned toward her with a sharp movement, but the frown disappeared from his face when he laid eyes on her.

“Scout Harding, I didn’t hear you coming” his body relaxed from the tight stance he was in a moment ago. He sounded… tired.

“As a scout, I take it as a compliment.” That earned her a faint smile, but nothing else. “Is there something wrong?”

“There is always something wrong. With the nobles, missing supplies, bandits, demons, the venatori…” he took a deep breath, visibly pushing back the anger in him. “I’m sorry, I’m just frustrated.”

“Everyone needs to let out some steam from time to time” she said with a shrug and that earned her a real smile.

“Cullen and Cassandra won’t be too pleased if I’d destroy all the training dummies” he moved toward a few crates by the wall, inviting her too with a gesture. She followed him and hopped up on a larger crate.

The Inquisitor sat down in the grass, propped his bow up next to himself and leaned his back to a crate. That put him just below Lace’s eye level, which was a nice novelty, not to have to look up at everyone. He rested his hands in his lap and Lace noticed he was barefoot, like Solas and other elves.

“I’m just not used to all… this” he tossed his hand out, indicating everything around them. “A few months ago I was just a hunter. A good one, but still just one among the people. And now…” he looked at his gloved left hand and clenched his fingers into a fist.

“A few months ago I was tending to our neighbour’s sheep in the Hinterlands, only dreaming about traveling the world one day” Lace said after a few moments of silence. The Inquisitor looked up at her with a curious expression on his face.

“Is that why you joined the Inquisition?”

“Well, yes, partly. I also wanted to help and I knew I could.”

“So I’ve heard” he propped his elbow on his knee and rested his chin on his fist, looking up at her with smiling eyes. “I know for a fact, that you’re our best scout and more than capable with the bow.”

“You have to earn your pay” she said flustered and had to look away from his eyes. It reminded her too much of that time in the tent she did her best not to think about. Looking for a distraction her eyes landed on the Inquisitor’s bow.

“That’s a fine weapon.”

“Ah yes, one of the upsides of the Inquisition: fine craftsmanship” he picked it up and laid it across his lap, looking it over, then he squinted at her. “You want to try it out?”

“It’s longer than what I usually use” she tried to deflect, but the elf didn’t let her.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t give it a shot.”

“I really shouldn’t…”

“Come” he stood up with a fluid motion and nodded toward the destroyed dummy. Lace hesitated for a moment, but then she hopped off the crate before she could think about it more. She followed the Inquisitor and he handed her his bow along with an arrow. She took the bow carefully, feeling its weight and trying to find the right grip on it.

“Yes, this is definitely not what I’m used to” she took the arrow too and placed it on the string.

“Here, let me…” the Inquisitor went down to a half kneeling position at her back; his left hand went up checking her grip on the bow. His right hand helped her steady the arrow, not that she needed it, but it put him in a position where he was practically embracing her, and it didn’t even occur to her to tell him to stop. His hands hovered over hers as she drew the string with a deep breath. She could feel his breath on her face as she let the air out of her lungs and released the arrow. It embedded itself deep into the post that kept the remains of the dummy up. She almost hit the spot she was aiming at. She felt the usual warm wave of accomplishment wash over her and she turned toward the Inquisitor with a triumphant smile. She didn’t expect him to be still there half kneeling behind her and her turning around put them only a few inches apart.

“I knew you could handle it” he said with a smile that almost looked like a smirk.

“I never said I can’t handle something bigger.”

The Inquisitor raised his eyebrows and Lace felt heat climb up her face when she realised what she said. Surely he didn’t--

“I need to go” she stepped back hurriedly, shoved the bow into the elf’s hands and turned away from him.

“Be careful out there, Scout Harding.”

She could hear the smirk in his voice.

“You too, Your Worship” she said without looking at him and marched away.

Chapter Text

“Your Worship, I got more maps of the--” Lace’s voice got stuck in her throat when she stepped into the tent.

“Scout Harding, thank the Creators! Could you give me a hand here?” The Inquisitor was standing in the middle with his arms over his head hung up on his own vest.

“I think I’m stuck.”

“How did you managed to…” she bit her tongue and fell silent when the Inquisitor glared at her. She did her best to stop from laughing when she saw the elf’s almost pleading eyes.

“Of course” she stepped closer to inspect the problem.

He had his vest on halfway, but his undershirt was twisted around the leather straps under his shoulder blades. How did that even happen? As she looked over the mess of clothing her eyes wandered lower, down along the Inquisitor’s spine; as he tugged on his gear, his muscles moved under his skin, his trousers were low on his hips…

“There should be another buckle, because I can’t find it on the front” his voice brought Lace out of wherever her mind wandered off and she cleared her throat that suddenly become dry. She was glad, that he was facing away from her.

“I think I can loosen these straps if you could just…” he sank to his knees without a word and Lace started to test the leather and clothing, tugging carefully, if it would give.

After some time, she found the missing buckle and after another few moments of trying she managed to trip it. She did her best to concentrate on what she was doing and not on how the Inquisitor’s shoulders rose and fell with every breath. And on how she occasionally brushed her fingers over his bare skin. It all became harder when she had to move over, because two straps were twisted over each other on the man’s chest.

Their eyes met briefly before Lace dropped her eyes to what she was doing again, but she felt his eyes on herself. What’s with all these buckles anyway?

“I think that should do it” she announced and helped him to get out of the vest, but stepped back when her hands went for his shirt to tug it down. She clasped her hands together in front of herself and watched as the Inquisitor stood up and straightened his undershirt.

“I shall forever remain grateful!” He bowed his head with a smile that Lace returned. “You mentioned some maps?”

“What? Yes! That’s right” she flustered as she fished out the papers from her pouch. “Got more reports back from the area, I marked the passages we found. I heard you had some… difficulties in the Forbidden Oasis” she was blabbing so she closed her mouth as she handed the maps to the Inquisitor, before she could say anything else.

“Let me guess, Vivienne complained that we’ve got lost. Which is not true, might I add...”

Lace had to bite her lip to stop the smile form on her face from the undignified tone in the elf’s voice.

“It’s nothing like that, I just thought you could use those.” As a matter of fact, it was Sera who told her all about their “adventures” in the desert when the elf joined her during her night watch.

“Forgive me, I didn’t want to sound ungrateful” he stepped closer and kneeled in front of her. Before Lace could react he took her hand, raised it to his lips and placed a light kiss on her knuckles.

“Thank you, for all you’ve done for us. For me.”

She could only blink, it took her a moment to find her voice.

“It’s nothing compared what you’re doing for us” she stepped back, pulling her hand back. The Inquisitor let her go, but he stayed down as he watched her intently.

“Have a safe journey, Your Worship” she basically fled from the tent, but she stopped on her tracks when she noticed Sera and Dorian sitting by the campfire.

Whatever the elf saw on her face made her grin and she raised her fist to Dorian, who bumped his to hers without looking up from his book. Lace felt a wave of heat hit her face so she marched away and tried not to think about why Sera was giggling.

Chapter Text

It was no use. She should have been concentrating on her task, but whenever she got a glimpse of the Inquisitor moving around in Skyhold and talking to people, she just stopped whatever she was doing and stared at him, like she never saw him before. This needed to stop. Most likely she was imagining things, taking them too seriously. And it was foolish.

She needed to clear things up, but she didn’t quite find the courage to seek out the elf yet. She will, when she figured out what to tell him. But the next time the Inquisitor was walking over the courtyard their eyes met and his face brightened up as he walked over to her with a smile.

“Oh. Hey. Hello. Good that you’re here, because I need to talk to you.”

He listened to her with a curious tilt of his head, his gaze warm and Lace found it difficult not to hope.

 “You know that thing we do, when we meet out there? The playful banter?” And the looks and that kiss... “That— that’s just for fun, right?” she could feel her heartbeat in her throat and she had to fight to keep eye contact as she waited for his response. The few moments he looked at her before answering seemed longer that they should have been.

“It is fun, and I would like it to continue.”

There it was again, that look and that hint of a smile on his face.

“Really?” she shook her head, hardly believing what was happening. “Wow. I’m… stunned. And flattered. And a little bit afraid. I often spend time at the tavern. Maybe you could join me sometime?”

“I’d like that, Scout Harding” he was still smiling at her. This was real.

“You can call me Lace” she said and watched the Inquisitor’s eyebrows rise. Here we go again.

“Wait. Your name is Lace Harding?”

She actually liked the way her name sounded from him, but the defence mechanisms still kicked in in her.

“My mother was a seamstress! Blame her! And stop looking at me like that. And don’t tell anyone” she got a grin and a salute before he walked away, leaving her with her racing heart.

Chapter Text

The Herald’s Rest was just as busy as it was on most nights. People drinking, playing cards or dice, forming temporary friendships that usually lasted as longs as the drinks did. Lace listened to the noise around her, sometimes she could recognise the Iron Bull’s shouts from the constant cacophony of voices. The Chargers were at it again.

They invited her among them when she walked in the tavern earlier, but she declined, showing them the papers and inkwell she had with her. Right now she didn’t want company.

Some other time they’d make up for it. She took another sip of her ale and stared at the rolled up letter and the inkwell in front of her. Then she drank again and noted that the ale was gone and she didn’t even touch the pen.

She thought about getting another drink, but that would require her to leave her corner and go down among the others. She wasn’t sure if her resolve would be strong enough for a second invite, but then she heard a voice that made her smile even before she looked at the owner of the voice.

“Mind if I join you?”

She looked up and the Inquisitor was standing next to her table with two tankards in his hands.

“If one of those is for me, then no, not at all.” That earned her a small laugh. He put down the drinks and moved a chair so he could sit next to her instead of on the opposite side of the small table. He pushed one of the tankards her way and after she grabbed it they clinked them together and drank.

“How did you know?” she indicated to her drink, because the ale was spiced just as she liked it and you can’t get it done unless you’re on really good terms with Cabot.

“I could say I know a lot of things, but it’s actually the bartender who knows a lot. I just asked.”

“And he made it for you, just like that?”

“The Inquisitor can get whatever drink he wants” he shrugged, nonchalant, but his eyes shined with humour. They shared a laugh, then drank in silence for a while. Lace could see him eyeing the papers on the table, but he didn’t ask right away. He looked around on the second floor, maybe looking for someone or maybe just thinking and Lace could finally take a good look at him.

He seemed tense, like everything else in Skyhold. Something was in the air, everyone could feel it. His eyes returned to hers and he smiled when he found her still staring at him. Lace looked away a bit flustered and took another sip of her drink to hide it. The Inquisitor rested his elbows on the table, his tankard in his hands and leaned a bit closer to her.

“Is this why you’re sitting here by yourself?” he asked indicating the things in front of her.

“A letter from my mother” she picked up the rolled up paper and turned it around a few times in her hands before placing it down again. “I wanted to write her back before I leave again, but I just can’t find the words” for a few seconds the Inquisitor just looked at her.

“You miss her” it wasn’t a question and she nodded.

“I do. It’s funny how you want to leave home and when you do, you’ll get homesick” she looked at the elf again, a sad smile tugging at her lips.

“Tell me about it. Your home” he asked and Lace thought for a long moment.

“You know I grew up outside of Redcliffe; my parents are simple people, just trying to make a living and raise a family. Sometimes I miss that simple life, when my biggest concern was not to get my clothes too dirty while exploring” she drank again, smiling to herself from the memories.

“Exploring, huh? What did your mother think of that?”

“For the first few times she was furious” she grinned. “I didn’t exactly turn out as she wanted me to, but we came to an understanding. I had to learn sewing and embroidery in the evenings, but during the day I could go out with Contessa.”

“Contessa?”

“Our mabari.”

The look on the Inquisitor’s face made her grin again, but it disappeared when she looked back at the letter. “She didn’t want me to join the Inquisition. My parents didn’t believe in the Herald of Andraste. They said that—” she fell silent, realising what she was about to say. Her eyes snapped up to the Inquisitor who was looking at her eyebrows raised, expectantly. She knew that look, he won’t let it go. She cleared her throat.

“They said a Dalish claiming to be the Herald of Andraste can only be a fraud” she did her best to sound apologetic. To her surprise the Inquisitor only nodded.

“I don’t blame them. That’s what I said right at the beginning,” he huffed out a humourless laugh “and Cassandra asked me if there was room for one more god in our Pantheon” the sarcasm was bitter in his voice as he shook his head and took a sip of his drink, looking away.

Lace knew well his distaste for that title, even now. She shouldn’t have brought it up at all.

“I did” she said in a quiet voice. “I believed in you. And I made sure they admit they were wrong when you sealed the Breach.”

The Inquisitor stared at her for a long moment then a little smile appeared on his face, gentle and grateful and Lace felt warmth wash over her.

“Do you have family out there?” she asked trying to redirect the conversation.

“The last I heard, my clan was still in the Free Marches” the Inquisitor shrugged, his voice was guarded, like he didn’t want to let whatever feeling he had out.

“Your clan?” she asked confused and the thought that she stumbled upon yet another sensitive subject clenched her insides. A knowing little smile appeared on the Inquisitor’s face.

“They are my family. Dalish children are raised together, cared for by the whole clan and taught by the hahren. Some of us don’t even know their parents, that’s just the way it is” he shrugged again, nonchalant and Lace felt herself relax. Then came the realisation that she knew so little about the Dalish.

“Tell me more” she asked him. “It’s your turn to share” she added when he looked at her with a questioning look. He huffed out a laugh.

They talked. About anything and everything that came to their minds. They laughed and drank. The ale left a nice buzzing feeling in Lace’s head and silenced the quiet voice wondering where all the tankards on their table came from. At one point the Inquisitor started to play with her hand while they talked. He drew all kind of patterns all over her fingers and palm, it felt nice.

“And you left him there, hanging from a tree?” Lace asked, already chuckling and the Inquisitor grinned at her.

“We knew the hunters were gonna pass that path when they returned… at the end of the day. They said when they found him, he was asleep” they both laughed and Lace couldn’t remember when was the last time she laughed so much.

“Inquisitor, Scout Harding.”

They both looked up, surprised to see Sister Leliana approaching them. The Inquisitor straightened in his chair, but didn’t let go of Lace’s hand.

“Cole mentioned you being here.”

The frown on Leliana’s face made Lace giggle which probably meant that she was drunk.

“And you came to check up on me?” the Inquisitor grinned at her, and he might have been drunk too, because he looked like he found that really funny.

“He was also talking about laughing eyes and shining hearts, so I wasn’t sure” Leliana said with a careful tone. “I’m also surprised to see you up already.” In here was highly implicated.

“Already?” the Inquisitor looked at her confused, then out on the window and that was when Lace noticed too. It was dawn.

“I think the correct term would be: we’re still up” he grinned at Lace and they were definitely drunk, because they both found that statement hilarious. Leliana just stared at them with her arms crossed over her chest while they giggled.

“I need to ask, both of you to get some sleep. Sera Hawke and his friend have returned. They found them.” That sobered them up. They went silent and the Inquisitor looked up at the spymaster. They found the Wardens at Adamant Fortress.

“I see” he rubbed his face. “Give me a few hours.”

“Of course. Scout Harding, I’d like to speak with you too later.”

Lace nodded and Leliana left taking the light mood with her. The Inquisitor looked at Lace and they stared at each other. Lace was searching for something to say, but nothing came to her mind. The Inquisitor squeezed her hand gently, then stood up.

“Get some rest” his voice was quiet and so warm it made something in Lace’s chest hurt.

“You too. Stay safe” she said in almost a whisper and with another smile the Inquisitor walked away. Lace watched him leave, still looking for words. They were going to lay siege to the fortress and most likely they won’t meet again before that and Lace felt like she should have said something. But then she realised the way he held her hand and the looks they shared said it all. That’s why her head was empty. There was nothing else to say for now.

Chapter Text

Lace dragged her feet up the stairs, as if giving herself more time to change her mind. But she didn’t and then she reached the top of the stairs anyway. She looked around, but the Inquisitor’s quarters were empty. She let out a breath she hadn’t realised she was holding. She walked in, slowly taking in the room. The balcony doors were closed thankfully, shutting out the cold of the night. She didn’t see many personal items, still the place felt like the Inquisitor.

There was fire in the hearth, giving a nice glow to the furniture. She moved toward the bookcase in the corner. It was stuffed with books. Even the table in front of it was full of papers, maps and books. But before she could examine any of it she heard the door open and close and steps on the stone stairs. She stepped to the fireplace and waited.

“Lace” the Inquisitor squared his shoulders when he noticed her, but even the diplomatic expression could not hide how exhausted he looked. Haunted even. Exactly the reason Lace was there.

“Is there something wrong?” he asked. Lace shook her head with a sad smile.

“I wanted to see you.” At that his shoulders dropped and he let his body show some of the tiredness he must have felt. She resisted the urge to ask him if he was alright, because obviously he was not.

“But if you don’t want company, I shall leave.”

“No” he said after a heartbeat. “Stay. Please.”

He opened the buckle on his jacket and slipped out of it, tossing it to the couch. After a moment of thought he took off his glove, but only the right one and threw it on his jacket. He walked to her and stood in front of the fireplace, leaning his right arm on the mantelpiece and staring into the fire. Lace leaned her shoulder on the wall on the other side, also looking at the flames.

“What’s the word out there?”

Lace looked up at the Inquisitor and studied his face for a few moments before answering.

“The story of the Inquisitor walking out of the Fade for the second time spreads like wildfire.” She expected the grimace and her chest ached as the haunted look returned to his face.

“I guess it does. I wonder what would remain of the truth of what truly happened at the end.”

“Does it matter?” Lace asked and the Inquisitor just shrugged.

“Maybe not. I’ve been fighting against what people tell ever since they named me the Herald of Andraste” he shook his head. “At least I found some answers there. Even if I’m not sure it was worth it” he fell silent and Lace was willing to give him time, but after a while she couldn’t resist the question in her.

“What was it like?”

The Inquisitor was silent for another few heartbeats, still staring into the fire. He clenched and relaxed his left fist rhythmically, making the leather of his glove creak softly. Lace wasn’t sure he was even aware he was doing it.

“They say you see part of the Fade when you dream, but it was nothing I’ve seen in my dreams before. Not even in nightmares.”

“I wouldn’t know” she said with a sad smile; the Inquisitor looked at her confused, so she explained. “Dwarfs don’t dream.”

“Oh, right. It’s like you see the world around you with your eyes, and you believe it; yet your mind knows that it’s not real, something just feels wrong.”

“Sounds disturbing.”

“It is. It’s more than that… it’s haunting. I wish it never happened, we shouldn’t have been there, I… I shouldn’t have made that choice. It wasn’t my place, if we had more time, we could have figured out something!” he grabbed the mantelpiece with both hands and bowed his head down between his arm. It took a few moments for Lace to figure out he was talking about Warden Stroud. “Hawke offered to seek his friend out to help me. Because I asked him to. And I got him killed for it” his anger flashed from under the lid he usually kept on his emotions.

“But you saved everyone else. If you hadn’t stopped that demon, a lot more would have suffered. We all know what we’re signing up here. I’m sure Ser Stroud knew it too. It wasn’t your fault.”

The Inquisitor shook his head before raising it and looking at her.

“It was my decision” he said in a quiet voice and Lace didn’t know what to say to that. The Inquisitor turned away, his eyes roaming in the room. “Who am I to decide over people lives like that? Just because they hung a title on me…” his hands balled into fists again and he started pacing in the room. But after a few strides he walked to the couch, dropping down on it with a heavy thud.  He rubbed his face, quietly swearing in elven. Lace had a good guess about the demons he was facing right now, the worst enemy one in his position can have: self-doubt.

“Sometimes our scouts go missing” Lace started as she slowly walked toward the elf and stopped in front of him. “We might find some clues that they got into a fight or got attacked, we might even find their bodies. Other times they just vanish. And we… I have to live with the thought that it was me who sent them there. That’s a burden a leader must carry.”

“How do you do it?” the Inquisitor looked up at her and Lace’s heart ached from all that she saw in his eyes. Sorrow, pain, guilt.

“I can only tell you what my superior told me: you move forward, do better next time” she reached down and took his gloved hand. “That’s the only thing you can do” they stared at each other in silence.

“Our Keeper used to say the same. I thought I knew how to do it” he took her hands in both of his, squeezing it gently. His fingers were cold.

“It’s learning on the job. A lot of us do the same” that earned her a small smile. He raised her hand to his lips. His breath was warm on her skin and he never took his eyes from hers.

“I was scared” Lace admitted when he lowered her hand, but didn’t let it go. “When the reports came in about the appearance of that dragon and you falling into a rift with the others…” she couldn’t finish it.

He didn’t need to know that she begged her superior that she could remain in Skyhold, because that was the first place the reports of the siege reached. He didn’t need to know how she sat by the window for hours scanning the sky for the next messenger bird, unable to do anything else.

“I was scared, too” the Inquisitor said quietly. “That demon surely knew where to stab to make it hurt the most. I was afraid, I missed my chance” he fell silent looking at their hands.

“What chance?” Lace asked searching his eyes with her own until he looked up.

“To do this” he pulled her closer and leaned in to place a soft kiss on her lips. He wanted to move back, but Lace freed her hands, grabbed his clothes and pressed their mouths together. That was all the encouragement the elf needed. Lace stepped in between his legs as his arms went around her waist and he licked her mouth open. She obliged happily, tasting him and placing her hands on his neck, pulling him even closer. When they parted, both were breathing heavy as they stared at each other.

“You should get some rest” Lace said, her voice coming out rough. The inquisitor looked at her for a long moment.

“I don’t think I can, even if I feel like I haven’t slept for days” he looked away and he seemed to hesitate. “Will you stay with me tonight?”

“I will” she answered without even thinking about it and pressed another kiss on his lips.

“Are you planning on sleeping on the couch?” she asked when he didn’t make any move.

“It’s not an altogether bad idea” he said with a hint of a smile in his voice.

“Well I’m not sleeping on the couch” she stated and freed herself from the Inquisitor’s embrace. She quickly got rid of her armour, piling everything next to the elf. After a bit of thought she took off the rest too, leaving on her shirt and leggings; she was more than aware the Inquisitor’s eyes on her.

Then she walked to the bed and slipped under the covers like it were her own. She turned on her side and leaning on her elbow watched as the Inquisitor stripped to his underclothes, dropping everything next to her things.

Lace lied down as the elf walked to the bed and got under the covers too. He moved slow, maybe even hesitant, as if giving her the chance to move away and it was Lace who moved closer to him until he embraced her from behind.

“Can I call you by your name?” Lace asked as the sudden thought crossed her mind. There was movement behind her and when she looked back the elf was frowning down at her.

“How do you even know my name?” he asked, leaning on his elbow.

“I know a lot of things” she grinned and turned toward him as the elf huffed out a laugh. Then his face became serious and he lied back on his back, staring up at the ceiling.

“To be honest, sometimes I feel like that name belongs to someone else” he lifted his left hand, staring at the mark with a thoughtful expression. “Ever since the Temple I rarely felt like a Lavellan. It’s been all prisoner then Herald and now Inquisitor” he dropped his hand. “And maybe it should stay that way, so when this is all over there would be something to go back to.”

It made sense in a way and also raised a question in Lace she hadn’t really thought about before.

“Do you have plans for after the Inquisition?” she asked.

“First I have to live long enough to see it” he sounded so calm, but his words felt like thorns in her heart. A grim reminder of how many times he risked his life already and surely he would have to do it yet again.

“You will” she said, putting every bit of hope she had in her voice, because she needed him to have that hope too. “If anyone can make it happen, it’s you.”

He looked at her, eyes reflecting the firelight, making it impossible for Lace to read his emotions. But then a small smile appeared on his lips and he leaned closer to kiss her.

“Good to know some have faith in me, even if I’m not one of them” he said, muttering the last part under his breath, but his tone was light and Lace shook her head.

“Just go to sleep” she said as she turned and brought the elf’s arm around herself again.

“Good night, Inquisitor” Lace said fighting a grin and the he huffed out a laugh behind her.

“Good night, Lace” he said as he wrapped his left hand into the covers to hide the mark’s light.

“Thank you” it was nothing more than a whisper as the Inquisitor nuzzled her neck before setting his head down on the pillows. Lace smiled and listened as his breathing evened out. Now she could finally relax, even if for just one night.

 

Lace woke up not long after dawn, a bit disoriented and cold, because most of the covers were bundled up around the Inquisitor. She tugged on the pile next to her until she freed some of the covers and found an opening to slide in. She found the elf facing away from her so she moved as close as she could and put an arm over his abdomen. His shirt moved up while he slept so Lace used the chance to spread her fingers on his skin.

She moved her hand over his chest under his shirt and rubbed her face to his back, holding him close. She breathed in deep, trying to memorise his scent. He was so warm. A shudder run through the Inquisitor, but he didn’t seem to wake up.

She might have dozed off again, but her inner clock said she should move. With a hint of regret, she moved back and got out from under the covers. The hearth was cold and there was a faint smell of smoke in the room. Lace dressed quickly and after a moment of thought went for the balcony door, opened it and stepped out.

She took a deep breath from the morning air, chilly and refreshing. She walked to the railing and looked at the sight under her.

She could see most of the castle from here; people were already moving in the courtyard. Life started early in Skyhold. She could see the tavern and the area she usually moved around while waiting for something.

Now at least she knew to whom this particular balcony belonged to. She always wondered about that. She heard the rustling of fabric and muffled words from the room. With a smile she walked back inside, shutting the door behind herself. She must have left a way in for the cold air when she got out of the bed, because the Inquisitor was doing everything to wrap all the blankets around himself. She really needed to leave. But she just stood there and watched. With a sigh she stepped to the bed and climbed up on it. That finally seemed to wake the elf enough to actually open his eyes. He blinked up at her, she could still see the veil of sleep in his eyes. He frowned at her.

“Are you leaving?” his voice was rough from sleep too.

“I have a mission to take care of.”

“Who gave you the order?”

“You did” she chuckled.

“Damn me” he freed his right arm from the blankets and rubbed his face. “Take care of yourself” he touched her face. She leaned into his touch.

“Always.” Lace leaned down to place a kiss on his lips then moved back, climbing off the bed. At the top of the stairs she looked back. Is it always going to be like this? Short encounters and stolen moments between missions? Most likely yes, she really couldn’t hope for more. And still… The Inquisitor was looking at her, propped up on his elbow, his hair messed up from sleep, but with a soft smile on his face she might have never seen before. She wanted it. She wanted him.

“Be careful out there, Inquisitor.”

He gave her a two fingered salute then placed his hand over his heart. Lace left with a smile on her face and a warm feeling in her heart.

Chapter Text

Being indispensable was sometimes annoying, sometimes outright tiresome. Lace was working on a map, an urgent request, when she got the message. The messenger seemed troubled, that was never a good sign. She opened it up, and scanned the writing, but it only said that she was needed elsewhere, urgently and a location.

She frowned at the message; that area should be clear, what happened this time? Bandits? Venatori? Maker save them if it’s demons.

She sighed and put away the paper, she wouldn’t know until she got there. She folded the map with her notes and packed them away too. She would find the opportunity to finish it. She had to. Because of occasions like this she always had a bag packed with everything she might need on a short mission. She grabbed her bag along with her bow and headed out of the camp.

She knew that place; as she neared her destination, memories filled her mind. Everything was peaceful around her and with every moment her dread grew, it felt like the quiet before the storm. When she reached the top of the hill she saw something she was not expecting: the Inquisitor was sitting alone on a rock and he was playing with an arrow.

“Took your time” he said with a smile when he noticed her.

“Inquisitor” she greeted him. “What’s going on?”

His smile turned into a smirk and he put the arrow back into his quiver that was on the ground next to him. He grabbed it with his bow and stood up.

“As it seems that a mission can get you out of my bed, I figured I just have to give you one that gets you back to me” he walked to her and ushered her forward with a hand placed on her back. She was about to ask him what that meant when she noticed the blanket on the grass. “I had to pack lightly, but I’ve got some snacks, the Dalish ones too, that you were curious about, fruits, your favourite cheese and wine. I know you prefer ale, but Dorian assured me that this one is liked by even those who’re not fond of wine” Lace stopped before they reached the blanket and stared up at the Inquisitor.

“You sent a messenger... You used the Inquisition to get me on a picnic?” she blinked at him dumbfounded as he took the last few steps, dropped his bow and quiver on the ground and sat down on the blanket. There were already smaller packets in the middle and a dark bottle.

“Indeed, I did” he smiled at her; he was having fun, she could tell.

“What if Sister Leliana finds out, I’m sure she’s going to be angry…” keeping them from their duties, abusing Inquisition resources… but the Inquisitor just huffed out a laugh.

“I’m sure she already knows” he waved at something and when Lace looked that way two of the Spymaster’s crows flew away from a tree. “It’s a little price to pay” he didn’t quite meet her eyes as she was still staring at him, amazed. This was irresponsible, ridiculous and the funniest thing she ever heard of. She shook her head with a small laugh and finally walked to him. She took the little tankard he offered her as she sat down.

“I could use a break. How did you even manage this?”

“It took some organising, but since I haven’t seen you for almost a week... Drastic times call for drastic measures” he poured her some wine, then to himself and they raised their cups for a silent toast. Well, Dorian was right, she did like the wine. She put down the cup and leaning on her arm she moved forward and placed a kiss on the Inquisitor’s lips. He kept her there for a few moments with a touch to her face and Lace smiled into the kiss, he tasted like the wine.

“Thank you” she said when they parted. “Let’s see what we’ve got” she sat back and picked up one of the packets suddenly excited. This day turned out to be much better than she hoped.

Chapter Text

Lace took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. As she exhaled slowly she stared at her target, aligning her shot as the man rummaged through a sack on the ground. She released the arrow and the man fell forward silently with the arrow through his head.

She signed to Folke to follow her. The officer stayed two steps behind as they crept closer, with senses on high alert. They scanned the surroundings even if they saw the others leave a while ago, only one man staying behind to search the little camp site. Lace turned the corpse over with her foot and frowned down on the body.

Bandits. Of course. As if demons and Corypheus wasn’t enough; there were men always making things even worse. They could be responsible for the missing villagers and also for her two missing scouts.

“There’s nothing here” Folke stated and Lace looked up at the man. She could see the same anger and frustration on his face that she too felt. This was the scout’s camp, she was sure of it and the bandits were already leaving when Lace and Folke got here. She could tell that her scouts used this camp for days before they were discovered; something must have happened.

Maybe they could follow the bandits trail, but that didn’t guarantee they’d find their hideout fast enough. The scouts might not have the time for them to follow bandits around in the Hinterlands. If only they left something… her eyes swept the place and the burnt out fire place caught her attention. The rocks around it formed a lousy circle, one would think scouts knew how to build a decent fire and there was something about the charred wood and stones that seemed off. She stepped closer, circling it until she saw it.

“Folke, what does this look like to you?” She asked without looking away. The man stepped next to her.

“Ash and dirt” he said and Lace resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

“Look again” she scolded and saw his companion’s frown, then his eyes went wide.

“Andraste's flaming knicker weasels!”

Lace grinned despite the situation as they looked at the disguised map on the ground that showed them exactly where they needed to go.

Lace sent back a raven to the camp with the location; in case they run into some trouble the Inquisition would at least know where to look for them. The officer wasn’t happy with the idea of the two of them going into so many unknown, so Lace told him he could go back and wait for her in the camp. He glared at her, but followed her with only a little complaining mumbling.

It took them longer to reach their destination as there were more and more bandits in the area, mostly look outs and they wanted to avoid any confrontation as long as they could.

The mark on the scout’s map turned out to be a cave in a hillside, surrounded by a forest, only one entrance, easily defendable and crawling with bandits. Lace left Folke a bit behind to take a better look at the entrance. She found a path leading to a cliff, from where she could check the mouth of the cave without being seen. Five men were sitting by the rocks playing dice, but their weapons were all within reach. She could see two more in the cave so there surely were even more of them.

There was no way of sneaking inside. And if this really was a hideout, even if she could get in, who knows what would be inside. Maybe with a disguise, after all, she did saw a few dwarfs among them and most humans couldn’t tell one dwarf from another.

“I hope you’re not thinking about going in alone” the quiet voice was close to her ear and her surprised gasp was muffled by the hand placed over her mouth. The hand dropped from her mouth almost instantly and she whipped around, hand going for her dagger only to lock eyes with the Inquisitor kneeling behind her.

“Don’t you ever do that again!” Lace hissed, her heart beating in her throat. There was a little smirk on the elf’s face, but he gave her an apologetic bow. Lace took a deep breath. “I didn’t even hear you. How in the Maker’s name did you get here?”

“I’m a hunter, remember?” Now he grinned at her, before his face became serious. “Your message arrived at the camp just as we did; it was sheer luck. Sounded like you could use some help” he moved next to her, looking down at the bandits.

“Certainly” she smiled and got a warm smile back. “I hope you didn’t come alone” she smirked and the Inquisitor shot her a sideway look.

“The others are with your officer. I might have startled him too.”

Lace shook her head imagining the Inquisitor sneaking up on Folke and had to fight not to grin. She told him about the situation and her idea about sneaking in the cave to take a look around. The Inquisitor frowned at her, but she could tell he was thinking.

“We need to draw away those people. Without alerting everyone else inside, if possible” he mused. Lace could see the concern in his eyes, but he didn’t start any overprotective argument. She felt a warm feeling in her chest for him trusting in her abilities to take care of herself.

They were exchanging ideas when a shout rang that sounded way too much like one of the Iron Bull’s battle cries. Both turned toward the noise and a few moments later a man came running to the cave screaming “It’s the Inquisition!”

They exchanged a look.

“So much for stealth, I guess” the Inquisitor said as he stood up and they started to run toward the sounds of battle. They found the Inquisitor’s companions along with Folke engaged with a bunch of bandits. The Inquisitor already had his bow in his hand and he stopped next to Solas, who was casting spells on the side line.

“What happened here?” He asked as he started shooting arrows. Lace also had her bow in her hands, choosing her targets carefully as there was so much movement.

“Two guards spotted us. I could have taken care of them with Cole, but the Iron Bull had a different idea of keeping quiet” he sounded like he was rolling his eyes.

“You were taking too long, boss!” The qunari shouted without even looking away from the fighting. The Inquisitor just shook his head with a grin.

When the last bandit fell they quickly moved to the cave, not giving the rest the chance to get away. The entrance was abandoned and it was quiet as they entered. The Inquisitor took the lead and they all followed, weapons ready. Torches lit their way as they slowly made their way deeper into the caverns. It was suspiciously quiet.

“Stay sharp, people. I’m sure there’s more to come.”

They all nodded in acknowledgement to the elf, eyes scanning for any threat. Sure enough as they reached the next big cavern Lace saw movements, most probably the bandits making their last stand. This could go wrong really quickly, but they didn’t have any other choice, so they walked in, whatever waited for them.

What Lace first noticed was the more than a dozen people sitting in one corner, probably bound and a few men stood over them with weapons in their hands. The missing villagers most likely. Her attention moved to the bunch of bandits walking toward them. They didn’t seem worried which meant either they underestimated them, or they were hiding something far worse. One of them stepped out, swinging a mace in his hand.

“So that should be The Inquisitor. I have to say, I’m not impressed, what about you guys?” A wave of ugly laughter filled the cave and Lace felt anger rise in her, but the Inquisitor didn’t react to the mockery.

“I take those people are not here by choice” he nodded toward the sitting group. “What do you want with them?”

“You see, savage, since your Inquisition’s making life complicated for the likes of us, we constantly need to find new incomes” he swung the mace up one more time and rested it on his shoulder.

“You could try working.”

Another wave of mocking laughter run through the bandits.

“Ain’t you a funny one. But why would we, when we can just sell these people to the Venatori. Word is, they pay nicely” he gestured with his weapon toward the villagers.

“Why would they be willing to pay for people?” the Inquisitor asked.

“Dunno, don’t care” the bandit shrugged.

 “Blood sacrifice?” The Iron Bull suggested.

“Red lyrium can be grown and transported in living things” Solas said and an uneasy shiver run through Lace as she remembered the Red Templars infected with red lyrium. She saw the Inquisitor clench his jaw and his hands balled into a fists.

“I suggest, you let those people go and get away from here as far as possible.”

“And if not, what you’re gonna do? There’s only a few of you against all of us.”

“Let’s see if you’re still so smug when I open a fade rift in your arse!” The Inquisitor raised his left hand for emphasis. Lace chanced a quick look at him, because she never heard him talk like that. He was angry, she could see it on his face and in his whole posture.

“Inquisitor” there was a warning tone in Solas’ quiet voice and he said something else in elven.

“I know, Solas” the Inquisitor answered him in a calmer voice.

“Now that’s something I’d like to see. I never believed a word they say about a knife-ear closing the tear in the sky!”

Without another word the Inquisitor took off his glove with deliberate movements and raised his left hand again, his palm turned toward the bandits. At the sight of the mark some of the men exchanged uneasy looks, but no one moved.

“This is your last warning.”

“Do your worst, Inquisitor” the man grinned at him in challenge and Lace shot another quick look at the Inquisitor. His face was hard. She knew that look, it was the same he wore on executions.

The air become heavy, like moments before a storm hit and a crack echoed throughout the cave. Frightened shouts rung out as the fade rift appeared right beside the bandit spokesman. He turned and stared into the green light, dumbstruck and Lace couldn’t blame him, because she was staring too. She’d never been so close to an actual rift; a chill run down her spine, making her shiver and leaving a cold and soggy feeling on her skin.

“Bull” the single word from the Inquisitor broke the spell on the bandits, but before anyone could make any move the qunari was already charging. With surprising speed he rammed into the bandit, tossing him right into the rift. The man’s scream was cut off as the Inquisitor closed the rift. There was a moment of stunned silence, then a grunt of pain as the guards by the kidnapped people went down, revealing Cole with bloody daggers in his hands.

“We came to help you” he said to the frightened people, but then all hell broke loose.

“Kill them all!” Shouted one of the bandits, just as another one screamed out. “Release the stalkers!”

“Protect the villagers!” The Inquisitor already had his bow ready and the air filled with electricity as Solas called lightning down on the bandits. Lace was faintly aware, that some of the bandits ran for the exit, but no one paid them any mind as the small lizards poured into the cavern. With a shout the Iron Bull threw himself right into battle, swinging his battle axe and cutting everything in his path. Lace moved toward the hostages and shortly the Inquisitor appeared beside her, keeping the deepstalkers away from the scared group. Her heart was racing, she could feel the rush of adrenalin as she released one arrow after another. The Inquisitor was a strong presence beside her, firing relentlessly and sometimes shouting orders for his team. At one point she was forced to move and she switched to her daggers as a bandit got too close.

The hair stood on the back of her neck from the electricity and she noticed Solas casting spells nearby. She lost track of the Inquisitor, but she couldn’t afford distraction right now. The Iron Bull appeared in front of her shouting “Duck!” and she did, rolling out of the way without thinking. In the next moment the qunari chopped a bandit half behind her. She stood up looking for the next treat, but the only sound she heard was the sizzling of Solas’ magic and her own heartbeat in her ears.

The deepstalkers were all dead and so were the bandits, well at least those who did not flee. She was breathing heavily, the blood rushing in her ears as she looked over the battle field. For a few moments they all searched for any other threat, before putting away their weapons.

The Iron Bull started to search the corpses as the Inquisitor was working with Folke on removing the bindings from the villagers, constantly reassuring them that they are safe and they will be alright.

“You are hurt.”

Lace jumped as Cole spoke up next to her. She looked up at the boy then down on herself, and sure enough there was a cut on her upper arm, still slowly bleeding. She wasn’t even sure when she got it.

“It’s nothing serious” she said patting her pockets, there should be something she could put on the wound.

“I can help!” Cole stated and started to tear the end of his shirt, but was stopped as Solas called out to him. The boy looked up and caught the handful of bandages the elf threw his way.

“Use those” the mage said before going back to inspecting the cave.

“Oh” Cole nodded then sat down beside Lace, focusing on wrapping the bandages around her arm.

“Thank you” she said when he finished and stood up. He looked at her a bit confused before nodding and wandering off. He was still weird, Lace thought with a smile on her face.

“Scout Harding!”

She turned toward Solas’ voice. The mage was kneeling beside a slumped form by the wall, his hands alight with magic and another body lying on the ground next to them. Lace’s heartbeat jumped as she recognised the scout uniform. She hurried to them, dropping down to the ground beside them.

“Tamwen” Lace called out, looking him over and her throat closed as she couldn’t even tell where one wound ended and the next started on the elf’s body. Solas’ magic faded and he shook his head.

“The only thing I could do is ease his pain” he said in a quiet voice and stood up when Lace nodded.

“Scout Harding” the scout’s voice was filled with relief. “We… didn’t tell them… a-anything.”

“It’s alright, Tamwen, I know you didn’t” Lace took his hand when he reached out.

“She knew... you’d come, s-she told me… Letta, she… you will… t-they will f-find us.”

“We found your map, you did great.”

Tamwen managed a weak smile before he slipped out of consciousness for the last time. Lace squeezed his hand and stared at him until he drew his last breath. There was a lump in her throat and tears pricked her eyes she couldn’t shed.

“So much pain. You have to believe, Tam. You have to stay strong, they will come for us. They will! Cold. It’s cold. Corinna. Remember your promise. You promised to stay. Remember.”

“Cole” the Inquisitor’s voice was soft, but firm. Cole squatted down in front of her, making her look at him before speaking again.

“They made a mistake, following the bandits too close. They did not blame you.”

“Cole, I don’t think that’s helping. Leave it be.” The boy looked up at the Inquisitor.

“Did I mess it up again?” He asked with a confused expression.

“No, Cole” Lace said before the Inquisitor could answer him. “It’s alright.”

Cole nodded slowly then stood up and walked away. Lace realised she was still holding the elf’s limp hand so she placed it down gently on his chest.

“We should get back to the camp” she stood up. “I’ll have someone take care of the bodies and take anything of value from here. We should place a patrol nearby just in case the bandits decide to come back, but I doubt it” she could feel the Inquisitor’s eyes on herself, but she ignored the feeling, they had things to do. She took a deep breath, putting on her ‘ready for duty’ face and looked at the Inquisitor. He looked like he wanted to say something, but in the end only nodded and Lace nodded back, heading toward the exit. She could still feel the elf’s eyes on her as she walked away.

 

Back at the camp by the time Lace organised the scavenger party and sent out all the necessary orders she felt drained. When she was finally alone she found herself staring out at the sun set on the horizon and decided she needed a break before she could move on.

She let Folke know that she’d be back shortly and walked out of the camp to look for a quiet spot.

She settled down under a crag overhang by a dried out stream. With cliffs behind her she could keep an eye on the other side. The rocks were still warm from the afternoon sun and she sat down, leaning her head back and staring up at the evening sky.

The tiredness crashed upon her and she thought maybe she should have just retired to one of the tents for the night, but she had a feeling that sleep would avoid her. Not after what happened today. She tried her best not to think about the broken bodies and Tam’s laboured breathing.

“It’s not getting any easier” she said to herself with a sigh.

“It shouldn’t.”

Her head jerked toward the voice, hand going for her dagger. She slumped back when she saw the Inquisitor walking toward her.

“You really should stop sneaking up on people.”

“I’m sorry” he offered, his voice quiet and serious. He stopped several steps away.

“How did you find me?” Lace asked not even trying to mask the tiredness she felt.

“I followed you tracks.”

Of course he did.

“And why?”

There was a few moments of silence before he answered.

“I thought you shouldn’t be alone” a simple statement and at first Lace didn’t know what to say to that. Was he right? Did she want to be alone?  Usually that was how she dealt with this, but now… She couldn’t decide. She just felt tired; the events of the day weighting down on her.

Lace looked out toward the horizon, the sun was gone, only a shimmer of purple and orange remained. Some of the brighter stars were already visible.

“Letta, the other scout, had a sister, Corinna” she found herself saying. “They lost their parents to the Blight; the family escaped the darkspawn, but not the taint. After that Corinna wanted to become a Grey Warden, she wanted to fight the Blight, so no one else would lose their parents. She never gave up on that idea over the years, no matter what Letta told her, so as a compromise they joined the Inquisition. And now I have to tell Corinna, that because of the Inquisition she lost her sister too” she wasn’t sure why she told him all that. There was no need to burden the Inquisitor’s conscience with all this. She knew he took every loss to heart, but she couldn’t stop herself. The elf stood there silently for a few moments, then he stepped to her and unfolded a blanket she didn’t even notice he had with him. He draped it over his shoulders and sat down next to her, urging her to move until his back rested on the rock and she sat between his legs, her back to his chest as he embraced her, covering them both with the blanket.

“You can tell me about them if you want.”

For a time she just listened to his breathing, letting his warmth seep into her, but then she started to speak again. She told him about how excited Corinna was when Blackwall joined the Inquisition, almost driving her sister crazy; how Tamwen would sneak out at night to read in the library, because books were such a rarity in the alienage where he grew up. One story led to another as she remembered more and more. She let her tears fall when they came and it was the elf behind her who wiped them away with soft kisses and held her in her grief.

They fell asleep like that.

Lace woke up at dawn, lying on the ground in the elf’s embrace, a bit chilled and her muscles stiff, but her heart felt lighter.

Chapter Text

Night fell on Razikale's Reach, but the forest around it was just a little quieter than during the day. Nature never sleeps. Lace was standing at the inner entrance looking out at the darkness. She should have at least placed out some traps to discourage any beast wandering too close to the camp, but it was too late for that, they’d just had to keep watch.

“Lady Harding.”

She turned toward the voice.

“Professor Kenric. You should get some rest.”

The professor sat down on some rocks next to her.

“Ah yes, but I just can’t. This place is amazing! I’ve never dreamed of what we’ve already found and I can’t wait to see what else we might find in here.”

Lace couldn’t help but smile. He was so excited, like a child at the first snow. They got here around sundown and decided to make camp and explore the place by daylight.

“Although there is one thing that bothers me” the professor leaned his elbows on his knees, wringing his hands.

“What is it?”

“Did I say something to offend the Inquisitor?”

She blinked at him, this wasn’t what she was expecting.

“It happened before” he continued. “Me being excited and saying something others might… interpret in a wrong way. Sometimes I find the Inquisitor looking at me in a… well, disconcerting way.”

Lace frowned at him and unconsciously her eyes sought out the elf in the camp. He was standing by a table and sure enough he was looking their way. His face was half lit by the fire and his eyes eerily glowed in the dark, making his whole demeanour threatening. Like a predator. She couldn’t help, but admire the sight before she forced her attention back at the professor.

“I’m not sure” she admitted. “I don’t recall anything of importance.”

“It’s making things difficult for me, because I don’t want to seem ungrateful. All this, me even being here, it’s all thanks to you. The Inquisition helped a great deal in my studies.”

“I can ask him, if it bothers you so much” she offered.

“Would you, Lady Harding? Oh, thank you, I will be forever grateful!” he clasped his hands over his heart and leaned closer, almost falling to his knees in front of her, relief visible on his face. There was some noise around them and in the next moment an arrow hit the wall next to them. The professor froze for a moment as the arrow’s feathers brushed his nose, then he looked at where the arrow hit the wall. He jumped back with a shriek, landing on his butt. Lace’s dagger was in her hand as she looked around, searching for a threat.

“Careful, Professor” the Inquisitor walked over to them with his bow in his hand. “This is a dangerous place. Make sure you don’t wander to places you’re not wanted” he pulled the arrow out and showed up the still twitching spiderling to him. It was a small one, well, compared to the ones they encountered in the forest, but it was still the size of a bigger cat. Lace frowned at it, she didn’t even notice it among the foliage on the wall.

The professor stared at him, then at the impaled spider. He nodded, his face white as the fresh snow. The Inquisitor tossed the dead insect to the ground, freeing his arrow from it with the same movement.

“I’ll go look around the camp, make sure that no more beasts want to sneak up on us” and he walked away. Lace stared at his back until he disappeared on the stairs leading to the battlement. His shoulders seemed stiff, even more than usual. She put away her dagger and offered her hand to the professor, pulling the man to his feet.

“I think I’ll stay by the fire” he muttered.

“All that fuss about one tiny spider” Blackwall shook his head, poking the campfire with a stick, quite uninterested in the whole commotion.

“They say, beasts fight the most vicious, when they feel their territory threatened. Just like a jealous man” Dorian said looking up from his book at Lace and she felt a frown form on her face.

“That’s a pretty poor comparison” Blackwall snorted while putting another piece of wood in the fire.

“And technically the forest is theirs, it is us who don’t have a place here” Bull said from behind them where he was still sharpening his battle axe. Dorian rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to his book. The professor sat down by the fire and he tried to look like he wasn’t even there.

After some thought, Lace followed the Inquisitor. She found him on the battlement in a corner, leaning on the wall in the dark and looking out at the forest.

“That spiderling would never dared to come close to the fire, was it necessary to scare the professor to death?” Lace asked as she approached the elf. The veilfire burning nearby painted shadows on his face and made his eyes glow in a different colour.

“If it would finally teach him some manners, then yes.”

“What manners?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest and staring at the Inquisitor, who still wouldn’t look at her.

“I don’t like the way he talks about you.”

“What? Wait. You are jealous?” she dropped her arms and took a step closer. The Inquisitor crossed his arms over his chest and worked his jaw before answering.

“I suppose I am” the look on his face killed all the amusement Lace had before.

“I... I didn’t even think you noticed, I found it amusing.”

“Well I didn’t” he snapped, then took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead, turning toward her. “No, I’m sorry, I know it’s not professional. The Inquisitor shouldn’t let his feelings get the better of him” it sounded like he quoted someone. “But I couldn’t help it. I apologise for my behaviour. After all it’s not like you belong to me just because—“

“But I do” she blurted out, surprising even herself. “I mean, I… I want to…” there, it was out. Those words were circulating in her mind ever since he kissed her. Fun was good, but she wanted more. The Inquisitor stared at her, a bit shocked.

“I didn’t dare to… With everything going on, I’m not someone who…” but he fell silent when Lace took the last step between them, grabbed him by his tunic and pulled him down so she could kiss him. There was no gentle touch of lips this time, she smacked their mouths together. She had her other hand on the back of his head to keep him close and the Inquisitor answered her with the same hunger. His tongue seeking out hers, she bit down on his lower lip which made him moan, the sound sent a shiver down on Lace’s spine.

Her back hit the wall and it jolted them apart. The Inquisitor leaned on the wall with his left arm, looming over her and taking in a sharp breath. His other hand was still on her neck, his bowed head was just above her. So Lace turned her face upward and going on tiptoes she licked the elf’s lips. He let out a ragged sigh.

“I’ll let the professor know that I’m flattered, but not interested” she said in a whisper, because she didn’t quite trust her voice.

“I don’t mind you having fun, as long as it is just that: fun” the Inquisitor’s voice was rough and Lace liked the sound of it.

“I don’t mind you flirting with anyone else, as long as I know that everything else is just for me” she countered, making the elf grin.

“It sounds like you claimed me” his fingers tightened on the back of her head.

“Yes, I think I did.”

“Oh, get a room already. Or a tent, in this case.”

“Dorian!” the Inquisitor shot up and took a step back, looking shocked at the mage standing only a few feet away from them.

“I’ll take first watch, just please try to be quiet, yes?”

Lace could feel heat rise in her face from the mage’s smirk, she was thankful for the darkness around them.

“Dorian” now there was a warning in the Inquisitor’s voice, but the mage just looked at him, quite unimpressed and Lace couldn’t help it, she laughed.

“I’ll go get some sleep, it’s been a long day” she sent a smile in the elf’s way and headed for the stairs. When she passed Dorian, he winked at her, making her grin.

Chapter Text

As Lace headed up the stairs toward the Inquisitor’s room she heard voices talking.

“Darling, we’ve been over this.”

She recognised Madame de Fer’s exasperated voice.

“It still doesn’t make any sense” the Inquisitor’s voice sounded strained too.

“It’s the Game.”

“Call however you like it, telling someone one thing to their face, then another behind their back is lying.”

When she could see them, the Inquisitor was sitting at his desk, a quill in his hand, absorbed in whatever was in front of him.

“Never lying; only amateurs and morons do that, and they pay for their mistakes quickly. Hiding the truth and telling half-truths is not the same.” Vivienne was standing by the table, looking at him with a half full glass in her hand.

“In my book it is. I don’t like two-faced people.” The Inquisitor didn’t look up at her as he continued to take notes.

The mage let out a dramatic sigh. “Ah, sometimes I forget how disgustingly young and naïve you are.”

“I’m sorry, that me being raised in the forest is such an inconvenience for you” the elf grunted still not looking up from his work. Maybe it was just the candle light, but Lace could swear the little smile on Madame de Fer’s face was fond. It disappeared quickly when she noticed her.

“Scout Harding” she greeted, turning toward her.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” At her voice the Inquisitor’s eyes snapped up at her.

“No, it’s just…” he said, maybe too quickly and the mage shot him a curious look. He cleared his throat. “Was there something you needed?”

“We were supposed to meet earlier… for dinner.” She saw Vivienne’s eyebrow raise slightly, just as the Inquisitor’s eyes went wide and the quill fell from his hand. The silence stretched on and they both jumped when Vivienne spoke.

“I don’t think I can do any more for you tonight, darling” the mage said, placing her glass on the table. “Finish the book and if you have any sensible questions, we can discuss them on the way” she turned to leave. “Good night, my dears.”

She was already at the stairs when the Inquisitor scrambled to his feet.

“Thank you, Vivienne!” he called after her and she nodded in acknowledgement.

“Good night, Madame de Fer” Lace managed; the mage shot her a quick look and Lace had to fight not to look away. She could almost convince herself she wasn’t embarrassed under the woman’s gaze and a moment later she was gone. Lace looked back at the elf, who sank back into his chair.

“I am so sorry. I never thought this would take so long” he rubbed his face. “Should I ask someone to bring some food?” he offered, but Lace shook her head.

“I ate already. Did you?” she walked closer to him, inspecting the mess that occupied his desk.

“I…” he frowned. “I must have at one point. I’m not hungry.”

Now it was Lace’s turn to frown, the concern rising in her, but she pushed it down. There was no reason to pester him about that, when he was clearly too distracted by his work.

“I’m sorry” he said again looking at her. Lace shook her head again.

“It’s fine. Actually, I met Varric in the kitchen and he kept me entertained, saying a fellow surface-dwarf was always a welcome sight” she said, doing her best to sound nonchalant.

Varric was playing cards with the servants when she got there and she joined them, even if the others fell out soon, one after another, as Varric was on a winning streak. Soon it was just the two of them telling stories and Lace only occasionally glanced toward the door. If the other dwarf noticed it he didn’t comment on it at first.

“Varric?” the Inquisitor asked and narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Did he try to interrogate you too, or was it just my luck?” Lace had to fight a smile.

“What do you mean?” she asked, feigning innocence. She reached his table and leaned on the side. The elf leaned back in his chair, looking at her in a way that almost seemed like annoyed.

“About us.”

Lace couldn’t hold her smile any more. “Interrogate would be a strong word, but we did have a nice hypothetical conversation.”

The Inquisitor raised his eyebrows. Lace pushed some papers away on the side of the table and using the chair as leverage she hopped on the table on the elf’s right side. In that moment she was glad she left her armour behind.

“He said he was gathering ideas for a book, about a hero, who had a lot of responsibility pushed upon him suddenly and he’d become a leader eventually.”

“Oh?” The Inquisitor slid a bit down in his chair, elbow propped up on the armrest, his chin resting on his right fist. Now he seemed amused.

“He asked my opinion whether I think it possible for him to get… involved with anyone, since it’s not easy to bear everything alone.” In truth Varric was nothing if not subtle, still the looks he shot her gave away much more than his words.

“And? What do you think?” the Inquisitor asked with an amused smile.

“It’s possible, given the right circumstances” she grinned at him, then nudged his knee with her leg. “What did you tell him?”

“Nothing. It’s not like I consider it a secret, but I didn’t know your thoughts on the matter so I told him I could neither confirm nor deny his suspicions.”

Placing the decision in her hand then. She hadn’t thought about it. They kept a professional front, because that was the reasonable thing to do, but beside that it wasn’t anyone else’s business what they did in their limited free time.

“We don’t have to make an announcement, do we?” she asked and she let the smirk stretch her lips.

“No, we do not” the Inquisitor had a similar smile on his face; Lace thought she was particularly fond of that one.

“Varric also asked, whether this… involvement would interfere with his duties. Would he not neglect them, in favour for that person” she watched the guilt return to his eyes. “But I assured him, that would not happen with a great leader.”

“Lace, I’m—“

“I understand” she interrupted him, before he could apologise again. “I do; you’re leaving for the Winter Palace tomorrow, it’s important. Besides, I’m here now, ain’t I? Keeping you from your work” she smirked at him again. She decided to seek him out and demand his attention, no matter what he was doing when it became obvious the elf wouldn’t show up for their dinner.

“I’m thankful for that, actually” the Inquisitor sat up in his chair, gathered his notes and placed them in the book, shutting it and putting it away. Then with a hand on her hip he urged her to move until she sat in front of him on the table. He placed his arms around her waist, looking up at her.

“There is just so much I can read about this nonsense. I don’t understand humans. I’d rather face a horde of Venatori riding on darkspawn than to attend this ball” he shook his head then dropped it on Lace’s lap.

“It can’t be that bad. Although I think the most elegant place I’ve ever been was lady Montilyet’s office” she chuckled and felt the Inquisitor huff out a laugh.

“When we started Vivienne said I wouldn’t survive an hour in court. I said she was exaggerating. I’d have given myself twenty minutes.”

Lace laughed again, shaking her head. The elf raised his head, looking up at her.

“You are coming too, right?”

“I’ll be there only to make sure everyone gets there in one piece, without any trouble. Then we stand around and look pretty when you enter the palace; showing that the Inquisition unites all races and classes. We won’t attend the ball.” And she was thankful for that.

“Still, I’m glad you will be there too” his smile was warm, but it turned into a smirk a moment later. “You know; I could still request your presence at the introductions.”

“Yes, the Dalish Inquisitor walking in with a dwarf commoner on his arm. I’m sure that would make the gossips even worse.”

“So you do know about court life after all” the elf raised his eyebrows at her.

“I just pay attention to the world.”

They shared a grin then the Inquisitor’s face went serious.

“I wouldn’t mind. Let them talk” he said.

Lace stared at him, not sure how to respond. In the end she leaned down to kiss him. She licked his lips open as the Inquisitor moved closer, spreading his hands on her back. Lace had her hands on his face, then slid one to back of his head, fingers burying in his hair. He tasted like something spicy. The kiss broke when the Inquisitor stood up, but he only moved closer, stepping between her legs. He touched her face and kissed her again deep, and Lace’s arms went around him, bringing his body close to hers. When they parted the elf only moved back enough to look at her; his eyes were dark with desire and it sent a shiver down Lace’s spine.

“You stay for the night, right?” Lace could feel his breath on her face.

“That was the plan” she answered.

The Inquisitor brought his hands back to her face and that’s when she noticed the glove he was wearing on his left hand. She hesitated a moment before reaching for it. The elf stilled when she grabbed his wrist and he moved back as she took it in both of hers. She glanced up at him before she started to pull off the glove. The Inquisitor inhaled sharply, but didn’t stop her, so Lace removed the glove and turned his palm up. The mark glowed, bright and green, the light dancing like a candle flame. She moved her fingers toward it.

“Don’t” the protest was almost a whisper, but Lace stopped, looking up at the elf.

“Does it hurt?”

After a heartbeat he shook his head and frowned down at his hand.

“I already got used to it. I just don’t like the idea of it touching anything. Especially you” he looked back at Lace and she wasn’t sure what she saw in his eyes. She looked back at the mark and traced her fingers slowly on his palm toward it. When she touched it she looked up, but didn’t see any change on his face. It was warmer, the skin felt like a scar, not quite healed, but still different in some way. She brushed her fingers along the mark then brought his hand up to place a kiss on it, just a light touch of lips, but she could feel something like a soft buzz around it.

“It’s a part of you” she said, holding his hand and when she looked up again there was too many emotions swirling in the Inquisitor’s eyes. They stared at each other for a few silent moments. She could only guess what was going on in his head. He pressed his thumb into the mark.

“If it bothers you so much…” she looked away to get his glove, cursing inside for ruining the mood between them, but was cut off when the elf lunged forward to claim her lips again, heated, almost desperate. Every other thought flew from her mind, there was only his mouth, his body pressed to her, his hands moving on her back. He pushed her and she lay back, bringing the Inquisitor with her, turning her head to the side when he kissed her neck. Her elbow bumped into something that made something else hit the floor with a thud.

“We shouldn’t be doing this” she managed even if her hands were busy with trying to find an opening in the elf’s clothing. The Inquisitor stilled and slowly looked at her. “I mean on the table” she added with a grin at the sight of the alarmed look on his face.

“Oh, right” came the hoarse replay then he laughed out as he straightened, pulling Lace with him. Just when she wondered about how to proceed, the Inquisitor embraced her again.

“Hold on.” 

Lace let out a surprised gasp as the elf lifted her with no obvious strain and she laughed out as he started to walk toward the bed.

 

Lace woke up slowly and wondered how come it was so warm now when most of the time the barracks were freezing in the morning. Then someone moved next to her and she remembered where she was. The Inquisitor’s shirt she put on last night was twisted around her hips and her hair was a giant mess all-around her. It reminded her why she rarely let it down, not even for sleeping, but when the Inquisitor asked her to do it, she did without a thought. The memory of how he looked at her and his fingers buried in her hair made worth the inconvenience in the morning. Besides, braiding her hair was the last thing on her mind before falling asleep.

She smoothed the shirt out and gathered her hair then moved closer to the elf next to her. He didn’t wake as she pulled the covers down from where it was tucked under his chin and arranged herself under his arm, her head resting on his chest. He was still naked and she couldn’t resist the urge to brush her fingers along his chest and down on his abdomen as far as she could reach. She heard an appreciative huff from the elf, but he still seemed half asleep. Her inner clock told her that she slept more than she usually did and when she looked out of the windows, it looked like it was well after dawn.

“I thought hunters rose early” she pushed herself up to place a kiss on the Inquisitor’s jaw.

“Not me,” came the answer, voice heavy with sleep. “Whatever moves around before dawn, is not worth hunting.”

Lace chuckled as the Inquisitor turned to embrace her.

“And here I thought the Inquisition made you lazy.”

“Not even Andruil herself can make me rise before the Sun.”

“It’s well after dawn” she chuckled again, but the Inquisitor just shushed her, turning on his back and dragging her with until she lay on top of him. She placed her head down on his chest, listening to his heartbeat. He was so warm and pressed close together it was becoming too warm, so she tossed back the blanket covering them and sat up, straddling the elf’s hips. She traced her eyes down on his body, noting old and more recent scars that were visible now in the light. The tattoos, vallaslin, if she remembered the word correctly, on his shoulders were fully visible too and she knew they continued on his back; she remembered kissing her way along them. When her gaze returned to his face he was looking at her with a warm smile.

“Good morning” she said, returning the smile.

“Good morning, Lace” he reached up to pull her down for a kiss. It was a lazy touch of lips, tongues tasting each other unhurriedly. It turned more heated when the Inquisitor’s hands touched her tights and moved up, sliding under the shirt.

“My, I do love when I’m right.”

Lace shot up and their heads snapped toward the voice. Madame de Fer was standing at the stairs leaning on the balustrade with her right hand on her hip. Dressed in white and gold, elegant and slightly threatening even without her hat. Her face was just as impassive as ever. Where did she come from?

“Vivienne” the Inquisitor greeted her cheerfully as he propped himself up on his elbows. “Good morning.”

“It certainly looks like one” the mage remarked with a tilt of her head. Lace felt heat rise in her face, but as she looked back at the Inquisitor he seemed utterly undisturbed. That helped calm her racing heart and she got off the elf with a casual movement that required much more concentration that it should have been. She sat down next to the Inquisitor and did her best to ignore the urge to pull the cover over her head.

“Josephine wanted to know if you need help with packing; I suggest you accept it, so we can be on our way as soon as possible.” The mage’s gaze didn’t wander, she stared right at the Inquisitor, but Lace was sure she was aware of every detail. She seemed just as unmoved by the Inquisitor’s nakedness and the remnant of his erection as the elf himself. Lace was glad for the shirt she was wearing.

“I can pack myself, thank you” the Inquisitor said with a bit of annoyance in his voice then narrowed his eyes at the woman. “You came all the way up yourself to tell me this?”

“I suppose I could let our Ambassador come herself, or alternatively let the Commander scandalise himself, which might have been interesting,” another wave of heat hit Lace’s face at the suggestion “but when he mentioned, that our scouts grow restless due to their inability to locate their lovely Lieutenant…” now she looked at her and Lace’s eyes widened. “I wanted to confirm my suspicion.”

“Oops” Lace muttered as she shared a look with the Inquisitor.

“You would do well to make haste” Vivienne said after a moment of silence and turned to leave.

“Madame de Fer” Lace called after her. The mage stopped and Lace almost regretted speaking up, but she forced herself to continue. “Please don’t tell anyone.”

“I hope you would not mistake me for those nobles gossiping in the halls, my dear” she only turned her head to look at her from the corner of her eye, she sounded insulted. Then she moved on, descending down the steps. “I’ll find much better use of this knowledge.”

Lace caught an uncharacteristic smile on her face, before she disappeared. They heard the door close and a moment later the Inquisitor dropped back on the bed.

“Maker help me” Lace rubbed her face then looked at the elf from between her fingers. “Don’t you smirk at me like that! Have you no shame?”

“I’m sure there was nothing she haven’t seen before.”

“Haven’t—” she gaped at him and dropped her hands, glaring at the elf. “It’s a Dalish thing, isn’t it?”

“Of course, everybody knows we run around in the forest naked in our free time” he shrugged with a grin and Lace hoped that he was joking. She slapped his shoulder, but it only caused him to laugh out. “It’s not a big deal among my people. And Vivienne won’t tell on us, she might want something, but I can deal with that.”

“I hope you’re right.”

He sat up with a frown. “You really are worried about people talking.”

“I grew up in a small community; you don’t want to be the one people gossip about.” Flirting with each other in public was one thing, but this…

“The Scout Lieutenant caught in bed with the Inquisitor. Scandalous!” he said with a mocking tone and Lace glared at him again, but to no avail. He was having too much fun. “Don’t worry about it. Rumours started as soon as they named me Herald. I never cared about them and I don’t intend to start it now.” He moved in front of her. “Besides, it’s not their business how I spend my time with the person I love.”

The world seemed to narrow down to the elf in front of her as Lace stared at him for a long moment.

“Did you just… Say it again” she asked and the Inquisitor cupped her face in his hands.

“I love you.”

A wide smile broke out on her face and she lunged forward, wrapping her arms around his neck. Her momentum caused them both to fall back, the elf hit the mattress with a groan, but he was smiling when Lace looked at him.

“I love you too” the words fell easily from her lips and in that moment she knew they were true.

Chapter Text

Lace was roaming the corridors of the servant quarters. She was too restless to stay in the room provided for the Inquisitor’s entourage. Everyone was tense, they all knew why they really were at the Winter Palace; not everyone knew all the details, but their mission was clear: save Empress Celene. She stopped by a window, looking out to a garden, trying to calm her nerves with the view and listening to the faint music coming from the Ballroom.

The waiting was unnerving, but there was nothing she could do at the moment; they were advised not to leave their quarters during the ball. Their offer to place additional Inquisition soldiers beside the palace guards was turned down politely, but profusely, so most of them were stuck. Unless something bad happened. Lace hoped they wouldn’t be needed even if it meant sitting around all night.

She shook her head with a sigh, stepping away from the window. Walking around hadn’t helped either, so she decided to go back to the others when she heard the screams. That sounded definitely bad. Without really thinking about it she started running.

When she reached the Ballroom she froze for a moment at the unsavoury sight: several bodies lying on the marble in a pool of blood, palace guards and Inquisition soldiers alike and most of the nobles crowded by the windows toward the front garden. She noticed Commander Cullen arguing with a guard by the stairs so she hurried toward him.

“Commander!” She called out.

“Harding, get our soldiers in here. Make them check for survivors and secure all the entrances. Be careful if you encounter any harlequins, they are dangerous, only engage them if you must!” He ordered in a stern voice.

“What happened?” Lace asked and Cullen glanced toward the doors leading outside, hesitating for a moment.

“The Empress is dead, the Inquisitor is fighting the attackers outside. Make sure nobody wanders there. Now go!”

Lace nodded and started running back. She met their people halfway, she gave out the orders and they acted with the same efficiency they always did; even if she saw the same shock on their faces as she felt. Did they fail? Did the Inquisitor fail? She forced those thoughts away, now it wasn’t time for that.

Some of the fallen guards in the Ballroom survived, for now at least. Lace stood by, her brows drawn in a grim frown and watched as the bodies were moved out. She did her best not to look at each face, lest she recognise any of the fallen. She would have to do that anyway later, now she needed to be focused. A low murmur run through the crowd when the Empress’ body was carried out, even Lace couldn’t help, but stare. It wasn’t every day you saw a ruler die, not that your title mattered much after death. Lace was sure there’d be a ceremony, a big funeral or something, but right now she was just another dead woman.

The servants tried to wash up at least some of the blood while the nobles still lingered by the windows. They acted like the dead bodies and the cleaning servants weren’t even there, just talking among themselves in hushed voices. To Lace, they looked more excited than they should have been.

She couldn’t pay much attention to the Grand Duke’s announcement, all she could see was the Inquisitor standing behind him. His shoulders were stiff, there was a tear on his uniform he didn’t even try to hide. His hands were balled into fists as he stared ahead with a hard expression on his face. Lace was itching to go to him, but she knew she couldn’t, not now. So she just watched, wondering how all this happened. All the preparation they made, was it all in vain?

 

Lace spent the next day on damage control. It was always a thankless task, even more so with the strained mood in the palace. The events of the previous night and the change in leadership left its mark on everything. Lace, along with most of the soldiers couldn’t wait to leave the place behind. They all waited for someone to tell them when they would move, but there was no word from the Inquisitor the whole day. Lace wondered from time to time what he was doing. She heard he attended some meeting, but he spent the rest of the day locked up in his quarters. That didn’t sound good.

Lace wanted to see him, but there was just no opportunity for it.

That finally changed when she delivered the last report to the Commander and he asked her to bring them over to the Inquisitor. By that time she was practically aching to see him; still, she found herself hesitating before she knocked on the door. She wasn’t sure what to expect. He must have been upset, even angry and also feeling guilty about what happened. Whatever was on the other side of the door, she had a feeling it was bad. The elf wasn’t one to burden others with his problems, so to the outside he might even seem fine, but with her it was different. They didn’t have to hide their emotions in front of each other.

She took a deep breath and knocked. There were a few moments of silence before she heard the Inquisitor’s voice, permitting entry. Lace closed the door behind herself and she found the elf sitting on top of a low dresser by the window staring out into the evening.

“Lace” he greeted her with a weak smile, but it disappeared as he stood up and walked closer, stopping by the sofa. She took a quick look at all the things piled on the furniture and the little table before it. Clothes, books, papers she even saw some arrows. It was a mess compared to how he usually never left things lying around. “It’s good to see you” he leaned his hip on the sofa.

“You too” Lace said, suddenly hesitant as she walked to him. His shoulders were tense and there was a frown on his face; he looked like he hadn’t slept at all since yesterday.

“Is everything alright?” He asked and there was something in his voice that stopped her before she quite reached him. She opened her mouth to say something, but she found herself lost for words and she just raised her hand with the papers in it.

“The latest casualty report.”

The Inquisitor took the scroll with a nod, he sat on the back of the sofa as he rolled the papers out and his eyes scanned the text quietly.  When he finished he dropped the letters on the top of the mess and rubbed his face with his right hand.

“I can see it’s bothering you” Lace took the last step between them, placing her hand on his. “I’m sure you did everything you could.”

The Inquisitor looked away and shook his head. “Except I didn’t” he pushed himself off the sofa, slipping his hand free and walked away a few steps before turning back toward her. “Everyone is saying I saved Orlais, but I… I let her die, Lace. I could have stopped Florianne.”

Lace blinked in surprise, not quite believing what she was hearing. “But I thought… we came here to…” she shook her head in confusion. “All this was to save the Empress!”

The elf stared at her for a silent moment, then he looked away again.

“I did my reading on these nobles and I couldn’t believe people like them existed” he said the word ‘noble’ like it was an insult. “These arrogant humans play their Game as if it was only chess, they don’t care who dies or whose life gets destroyed as long as they get what they want. They think themselves above others, but they are all just petty and vain; even more than those they look down on” he started to pace not looking at her as he spoke with more and more vehemence.

“Me, even the Inquisition was nothing more to them than an entertainment for the night. If we don’t stop Corypheus the whole world falls, but they’re only willing to support us if it benefits them. They all want something. How can they not see what’s really at stake? I thought I came here to save the Empress, but after seeing all this, seeing them in their masks caring about little else then their own power…” he trailed off, shaking his head.

“When Leliana mentioned that our main goal is to prevent chaos, it got me thinking. I thought I have to save Celene, but that wasn’t the only way to stabilise the situation. I knew exactly when Florianne would strike and I stood by and watched” he didn’t look at her, just stared at the wall without really seeing anything.

“You could have saved her and chose not to?” Lace asked in disbelief. She got a grim nod. “Why?”

“Because of the elves she killed!” He looked at her and Lace took an involuntary step back from the hate she saw in his eyes. “They burned down the slums in Halamshiral on Celene’s order, thousands died and nobody seems to care about that!” His voice was strained as if he had to make effort not to shout. Lace never saw him so angry before.

He let out a humourless laugh. “I hated them for their machinations and now the same blood is on my hands. I don’t know what I expected would happen, maybe if I acted differently I could have avoided the bloodshed. But I would never know. Those who died in the Ballroom are dead because of me. Because I wanted Celene punished. I am no better than these shems” he ran out of words and a heavy silence fell on them. Lace knew the word, but she never heard him refer to humans like that. Her mind was buzzing with all she just heard. She stared at the elf, but he wouldn’t look at her. He walked back to the sofa, leaning his arms on the back glaring into the fire in the hearth.

“At least their civil war is over and Orlais didn’t fall into disarray” he said in a tired voice. “I know Gaspard is even worse than Celene was, but I believe with the Inquisition’s support Briala can keep him in check. With her behind him, I’m sure things will change for the better for the elves. He owes me now and I made sure he would remember that.”

“That sounds like extortion to me” Lace commented with a frown.

“That’s the only way to deal with people like him. Time will tell whether I made a mistake or not.”

“I can’t believe you think that was the best solution” Lace said stunned.

“I don’t know what the best solution would have been!” The Inquisitor snapped, pushing himself off the sofa and turning toward her with a jerk. “You people named me Herald, but your Andraste is not here to tell me what to do, I have only me! I never wanted to have the power to decide over the fate of a nation!” He took a deep breath, looking away to control his emotions. He rubbed his face again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to… You don’t deserve to be on receiving end of my anger” he said in a quiet, sincere voice, but his words already did the damage. Lace felt like something cold stabbed her in the chest. They stared at each other for several silent moments before Lace could speak.

“I still think the Maker guides you,” she said after a deep breath. “I just wish you’d have told me you were too late to save the Empress.”

“I would never lie to you. I feel no remorse for Celene, but I failed our men who died, I am sorry for that and for disappointing you” he took a step toward her, raising his hand to touch her, but Lace stepped back. A hurt expression flashed on the Inquisitor’s face, but he stopped and dropped his hand.

“I… I’m not sure what to say to that” Lace’s voice came out a bit shaky. She needed something else to focus on, because she could feel the tell-tale lump in her throat that meant the tears weren’t far away. “The troops wanted to know when we would leave.” She watched the elf’s face close off as he shifted back into the role of the Inquisitor, hiding everything behind a neutral expression. Lace realised he never wore that face before when they were alone.

“Let Josephine know I want to leave tomorrow. As soon as we can.”

“Yes, Your Worship” Lace almost winced; she hadn’t called him that since they started… but now he barely felt like the elf who confessed to her only a few days ago. Without any other words she fled the room. She needed time to think, alone.

 

The Inquisition left the Winter Palace with even more fuss than what they received when they arrived. Lace would have been just fine without it, but they were told the Inquisitor, the hero who battled and defeated the treacherous murderer deserved nothing less. Too bad their victory didn’t feel like one.

Lace was sitting by the fire, staring into the flames. She was deep in thought. She did that a lot since they left the Winter Palace. They were on the third day of their journey back to Skyhold, still one and a half to go if they could keep up their pace. The evening was warm, the scouts around her started their second round of Wicked Grace, but Lace was only partially aware of them. After a look at her they left her with her thoughts without a word; even they noticed that something was up and how could they not.

On their way here, she and the Inquisitor took every opportunity to be in each other’s company. He joined the scouts so they could ride together, she sat beside him by the fire with the others as they shared stories in the evenings, she even sneaked in his tent on several occasions. They were happy and didn’t care about anything else.

And now they kept their interactions to the minimum. Lace wasn’t sure how to talk to him, and until she figured it out she’d rather avoid the Inquisitor. But the more time passed, the worse it became; sometimes she thought she was just being stubborn, but that didn’t change the fact, that she looked at the elf differently. She knew he could be harsh, but never thought him capable of letting someone die, when he had the chance to save them.

But she had to ask herself what would have she done in his position? What if it were about her people? She had no idea. It was a reminder that the Inquisitor might be dedicated to do what he must, but he also resented it most of the time. He never wanted be in the position he was in now and Lace promised herself that she would help him bear his responsibilities in whatever way she could. That proved to be harder when he did something she didn’t agree with, but she wasn’t someone to just run away when things got difficult. She just kept her distance until she got her emotions sorted out. A small part in her appreciated that he let her.

What really kept her away from him was the thought of what if he does it again, and again? His every decision weighed on his shoulders, what if it becomes too much? What if his reluctance turns into bitterness? What if he stops caring about people? Lace didn’t think that possible, but she also didn’t think he would let the Empress die.

Her musing was interrupted when someone called out to her.

“Scout Harding.”

She looked up and saw Dorian stopping on the other side of the fire. “Can I have a word with you?”

“Of course” she said as she stood up, a bit surprised. She thought they agreed on the path they would take; they had to make a detour because the scouts saw some giants wandering around in the forest and they didn’t want to risk a confrontation with them. They had enough injured people with them already. Did she forget to leave the maps with them?

“Is there something wrong?” She asked as she followed the mage toward the edge of the camp.

“Just a minor issue.” He didn’t elaborate and Lace frowned but didn’t ask again. Her frown deepened as they left the camp, but Dorian just kept walking. She was about to ask again when she noticed a lone figure leaning on a tree.

“Took your time, I thought you said it was…” the Inquisitor fell silent as he turned toward them and their eyes met. He shot an accusatory look at the mage, but he seemed utterly unaffected.

“My apologies, I had to make a detour” Dorian said, placing a hand on Lace’s shoulder and ushering her even closer. He only let her go when she stood in front of the Inquisitor. Then he took a step back and levelled them with a strict stare.

“Now, I don’t know what all this is about, but I advise you two to work it out, because if I have to look at your moping faces any longer I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

“I’m not—“

“I don’t—“

They spoke up at the same time then fell silent, looking at each other. Lace looked away, but she could see the Inquisitor glaring at Dorian. The mage let out a little laugh, trying to mask it as a cough behind a fist.

“Though I drew the short straw, it was Vivienne’s idea; with Cassandra’s blessing, just so you know. Do take your time” and he turned on his heel and walked back toward the camp. Both watched the mage’s back until he disappeared in the evening light then looked at each other.

“I swear I didn’t know about this” the Inquisitor raised his hands palms open and Lace couldn’t resist the small smile pulling her lips.

“I was meaning to talk to you, I just…” but she fell silent as she suddenly had no idea how to finish that sentence. She looked away and they stood there in silence for a few moments. With a sigh the Inquisitor leaned back on the tree again, pinching the base of his nose between his thumb and middle finger and closing his eyes for a few moments. Lace chanced a look at him and the first thing she noticed was that he wasn’t wearing any boots.

“It seems you’re not the only one not quite happy with me right now, but what’s done is done” he dropped his arms and looked at her. He looked even more tired than the last time they talked. “There’s nothing I can do about that and I’m done explaining myself.” For a moment anger flashed in his eyes or it might have been frustration, but it was gone in the next and his features softened. “But I want you to know that doesn’t change the way I feel about you” his eyes were honest and a bit uncertain as he waited for her response. With a deep sigh Lace gatherer her thoughts.

“I think I’m just surprised you would…” she trailed off, looking for the right expression.

“Let the Empress die” the elf finished.

“Let someone die to get what you want, to act like those shems” she clarified and that seemed to surprise the Inquisitor. “I know it’s complicated and if I’m honest I have no idea what I’d had done. It’s not my place to judge your decisions, I just hope you won’t forget about the people. All people.”

She watched the frustration return to his features.

“It’s not so easy when there isn’t a solution that is good for everybody. I wish it had been otherwise, but I had to choose a side and you can’t fault me for siding with my own people. Gods know they do it all the time” he meant the humans and Lace couldn’t argue with that. She could also understand it. She knew he didn’t make those decisions easily and the deaths that might have been avoided weighed on his conscience. She knew he read through every causality report, he didn’t know every soldier by name, but he cared.

“I understand and I don’t want this to stand between us. I just want you to promise me something: don’t become like those humans. You are better than them, but I know that power can change people. I don’t want that to happen to you.” Lace felt a bit lighter just by saying it out loud and she saw the elf’s face relax.

“Your faith in me means a lot.” He stepped to her and went down on half knee. Taking her hand he brought it up to his lips, kissing her fingers. “It means more than any title they hanged on me. I can’t bear the thought of you looking at me like that again, so that is a promise I can easily make.”

“Don’t give a reason and it won’t happen again” Lace teased and it finally made the elf laugh.

“I’ll do my best” he smirked at her and she felt relief wash over her. She missed that smirk so much. Lace took the last step between them and the elf pulled her into a warm embrace. She buried her face into his neck, taking a deep breath to feel his scent. He smelt like rain and herbs, something sweet.

“I missed you” he said with too much emotion in his voice. She pulled back just enough to look at him and the Inquisitor cupped her face.

“So did I. I’m sorry it took me so long” she placed her hands over his and returned his smile. “I’m with you, whatever happens” as she said the words Lace felt the stress and tension of the last days melt away from her body. She leaned in to kiss him. It felt like coming home.

They parted not long after that, agreeing that they would talk again in the morning. The evening turned into night and with the strain of the last few days gone they were both exhausted. Lace felt like she could sleep for a day. Too bad there was no time for that, as a matter of fact she would have to get up even before sunrise, but even that didn’t seem so dreadful now that the dark clouds were lifted from her mind.

She could feel the scouts’ curious eyes following her, but she ignored them. She entered their tent, trying her best to be quiet as she saw her tent-mates were already asleep. She looked down on her bedroll and a thought stopped her. She remembered that time she found the Inquisitor sleeping in his tent. The little frown between his brows, his face painted green by the light of the anchor. That was the first time she saw another layer of him. The first time she saw the person behind the title. She watched the process as the reluctant Dalish became the dutiful Inquisitor. Then the more they talked the more she felt she knew the man who he truly was, under everything else. The man she fell in love with.

She left the tent and was halfway through the camp before the next thought fully formed in her mind. Her eyes swept the camp, there were only a few people still up, the first shift for night watch, but she didn’t see the face she was looking for.

“He is in his tent.”

Lace jumped at Vivienne’s voice and she turned toward her. She was standing by another campfire, staring into the flames and thankfully not even looking her way.

“I see” was all Lace said and headed that way without another word. She entered the tent and found the elf already lying on the mattress, a single candle burning near him. He looked at her and surprise flashed on his face. He wasn’t even covered, the blanket lying unused beside him and he was only wearing a pair of worn dark trousers.

“Lace?” He asked as he sat up. Instead of answering him she turned around and tied a knot on each string keeping the tent flap shut. That was the closest thing to a lock they had right now. Still silent she turned back to him, stepping closer and started to remove her armour. They kept staring at each other as she continued with her clothes. His eyes glowed in the dark, the longing on his face made a warm wave wash over her. When she was down to her underclothes the elf reached out to her. She took his hand, falling into his arms when he pulled her.

Chapter Text

“I’m telling you, just go and tell him it would only take a few days, then you’re back and ready for duty. And if he still doesn’t want to let you go, tell him I said you can” the Inquisitor flashed a grin before taking a swig from his tankard. Loranil seemed to hesitate before he nodded and stood up. He placed his hand on the Inquisitor’s shoulder giving it a squeeze.

Ma serannas” he said with a smile before he hurried away.

“What was that all about?” Lace asked looking after the elf and slipping up on a chair on the Inquisitor’s side.

She found the two Dalish on the upper floor of the Herald’s Rest. It wasn’t an unusual sight, they always took the opportunity to talk. With so many humans around she was sure they both longed for the familiar company. Maker knows she did the same; chatting with the few dwarfs in the Inquisition whenever she could.

“Sylaise’s Night is coming up and Loranil wanted to go back to his clan for the celebration, but wasn’t sure Cullen would let him. So I helped a bit” the Inquisitor shrugged, taking another sip from his drink and winking at her.

“Sylaise’s night” she mused as she grabbed the Inquisitor’s mug, taking it from his hand and bringing it to her mouth. “You mean the summer solstice?” She asked, then took a drink. She put down the tankard with a frown, staring at the dark liquid. “Is this… tea?” She shot a curious look at the Inquisitor and he grinned at her.

“And here you were with a ‘isn’t it too early to drink?’ on the tip of your tongue.”

Lace rolled her eyes at the elf’s impression of her. “Don’t act so smug. You really want to talk about what is or is not on the tip of my tongue?” She took another slow drink, blinking innocently. The Inquisitor’s ears twitched which meant she caught him off guard. He recovered quickly, even if she saw his ears turn a shade darker as he leaned close to her.

“You’re always welcome in my quarters for discussions such as that.”

She could feel his breath on her ear and it made gooseflesh run down on her arms.

“I’ll make sure to remember that” she said, leaning back and brushing her lips along his jaw until she could look at him. The Inquisitor pressed a quick kiss on her lips before he pulled back, sitting up straight again. He shifted on his seat, trying to cover his lap with a casual movement which Lace pretended not to notice, while doing her best not to smirk.

“Why are you drinking tea from a tankard?” Lace asked after a few silent moments.

“I found that if I already have a drink in my hand people won’t offer to buy me one” he explained, taking back his “drink”.

“Does Cabot know about this?” Lace asked raising her eyebrows in surprise.

“Where do you think the tea comes from?”

“Wow, he actually likes you.”

The Inquisitor flashed her a winning smile and now Lace felt herself blush. “So, Sylaise’s night?”

“I’m sure you have summer solstice celebrations too” he nodded. “It’s a tradition dating back centuries. We thank the Gods what they have given us and seek their favours for the rest of the year. But mostly it’s about singing and dancing all night” he smirked at her and Lace nodded in understanding.

“We have those too, the community where I grew up kept some traditions, like dancing around the maypole or putting flowers under your pillow so you would dream about your future husband” she regretted saying that the moment she saw the elf’s brows raise.

“Have you ever done that?”

“Maybe” was all she said looking away and ignoring his curious look indicating that she would not talk about that. “Are you planning to visit your clan as well?” Lace asked trying to redirect the conversation. Thankfully the Inquisitor let her.

“I thought about it, but there was always something to do and now I won’t make it in time, even if I’d leave now” he tried to hide it, but his voice was rueful and Lace recognised the look in his eyes. He felt homesick. It was yet another reminder that he was cut off from his people for almost a year now.

“I’m sorry” Lace offered, placing her hand on his and giving it a soft squeeze. She received a sincere smile. “Do you think the people will organise something here in Skyhold?” She asked, trying to distract him.

“Yes, I’m afraid they will” the Inquisitor said with a grimace, looking away. Lace almost winced when she realised that having to attend to an Andrastian celebration might not fall under the definition of fun for him.

“You could always say you have urgent business somewhere; Maker knows it wouldn’t even be a lie” Lace suggested and it earned her another smile.

“What about you, do you plan to attend?”

“I haven’t thought about it, I assumed I’d be away” she shrugged, then a thought crossed her mind. “Unless you have a better idea?” She made it a question, but they were interrupted by an excited shout.

“Inquisitor!”

They both looked toward the voice seeing Loranil approach with a huge smile on his face.

“It’s done! I’m leaving tomorrow and you are coming with me” he pointed a finger at the other elf for emphasis. The Inquisitor stared at him, his eyes growing large. “You said, you can’t make it to your clan and it would be such a shame for any Dalish to miss Sylaise’s Night.”

“I would be honoured” said the Inquisitor with a grateful smile on his face, then his eyes shifted to Lace and the smile changed to a grin.

“Do you still want to know more about the Dalish?” He asked her.

“I do” Lace answered confused by the sudden question. The Inquisitor nodded and turned back to Loranil.

“I have a request.”

Loranil shot her a quick curious look before answering. “Anything.”

And that was how Lace found herself in the middle of a Dalish camp braiding flowers into a young elf’s hair.

She felt just as out of place as she thought she would, but remembering how the Inquisitor looked at her when he asked her to come with them… Well, there was no way she could say no. He looked so excited. Even hours later when he was packing, while Lace sat on the couch with some cheese and bread on a plate next to her.

“So these Eluvians create a shortcut between places through another dimension” she broke a piece of the bread, taking a bite and chewing slowly as she worked through what the Inquisitor told her. “And Corypheus is looking for one in the Arbor Wilds?”

“That's what Morrigan claims, yes" the elf answered without looking up from where he was rummaging in his drawer. “Said that place is close to the Fade, making it easier for him to enter it physically” he let out a sigh, shaking his head. “Just when I thought we have the upper hand for once.”

“Your victories put a significant dent in his forces. We have the upper hand” Lace pointed out. The Inquisitor sighed again, looking up at her with a grateful smile.

“I know. You are right” he abandoned the drawer and headed for the door leading to the storage room. Lace offered him a piece of cheese, he stepped to her and took it from her hand with his mouth. His lips barely touched her fingers, but he was staring at her and Lace couldn’t hold back her smirk. He gave her a wink before moving on.

“A tear in the sky pouring demons on us, time traveling spells, Red Templars following a darkspawn magister and now magic mirrors. Makes you wonder what else could come.” Lace heard a soft laugh from the Inquisitor, followed by noises as he still searched through his things.

“If I say I’ve seen enough, you think the weird things cease to happen?” he asked and Lace chuckled.

“I don’t think it works like that.”

“Then I have to pray harder. At one point the Gods must take pity on me.”

He returned with a big sack in his hand. He poured its content on the bed along with all the other things he pulled out from his drawers.

“What is all this?” Lace asked standing from the couch and making her way to him to take a look.

“Something I should have brought out much sooner” he looked at her, then he glanced toward the couch and back at her. He leaned closer opening his mouth. It took Lace a moment to realise he wanted the last piece of cheese she had in her hand. She shook her head with a laugh and gave it to him.

“I did ask whether you wanted some before going to the kitchen" she did her best to maintain a scolding tone, but she was failing.

The Inquisitor shrugged and shot her a grin. “It tastes better this way.”

“I'm sure it does” Lace shook her head again, then she turned her attention to the pile of things the elf was organising on the bed. Now she realised they weren’t just clothes, it was an armour. A Dalish armour.

“Where did you get all this?”

“I made it” Lace stared at him. “Well, with some help. Not as sturdy as my usual one, but I was waiting for an occasion to wear something of ours again.”

Lace looked over the carefully crafted leather work, each piece practical, still holding the unmistakeable touch of the Dalish. Patterns carved into the leather or metal lining that served both as strengthening and as decorations.

“It’s beautiful” she said with a hint of awe in her voice only good craftsmanship could bring out. A thought crossed her mind. “Should I bring a dress too?” The question was out of her mouth before she could stop it.

The Inquisitor looked at her with a curious expression. “You have one?”

“No” she said with finality in her voice.

“A pity" he smirked at her, but it disappeared as he started to gather the pieces from the bed. Lace watched him in silence for a while. He had the same look in his eyes from earlier when he emerged from the war room.

“Are you having second thoughts about this journey?” Lace guessed.

“No” it came out too soon and Lace shot him a look. “Not any more. It’s not like we can do much at the moment. The scouts are out to look for Corypheus’ forces and we are gathering our own. I would be stuck here anyway, might as well have a nice evening, before…” he fell silent and didn’t seem like he would finish that sentence. Lace didn’t like the sound of that.

“You talk like the end is coming.”

The elf looked at her with an unreadable look, then he looked away, staring out the window.

“I just have this sense of dread. Morrigan is right, we made Corypheus desperate. A cornered animal is the most dangerous kind.”

He was right, still that was too much pessimism, even from him.

“Everything will be alright” she said with all the conviction she had in her. He looked at her. He wanted to believe her, she could see it in his eyes.

“How do you know?”

“Because I have faith in you” she stepped to him, taking his hand into hers. He took a deep breath and gave Lace a tentative smile.

“Alright then” he leaned down to kiss her, Lace grabbed his clothes, keeping him there for a few moments longer. His smile was more genuine when they parted and he stepped back. Lace let his hand slip from hers. He picked up Lace’s plate from the couch as he headed for the stairs.

“I have to talk to a few people, not sure when I get back.”

Lace nodded in acknowledgement. “Need I remind you, that we need to get up early?”

He dropped his head with a dramatic sigh and when he looked up he was pouting.

“I’ll wake you, don’t worry” Lace said fighting a giggle.

“Oh joy" the Inquisitor said before he disappeared down the stairs. Lace shook her head fondly. He would get up if needed, but he definitely wasn't an early bird. And Lace loved him for it.

Their journey was blissfully uneventful. Loranil and the Inquisitor were comparing their clan’s traditions most of the time and sharing stories. Lace loved listening to them. The Inquisitor seemed so excited, it was such a rare look for him. Just the spark in his eyes made Lace smile every time he looked at her. Maybe that was what made him look different now. He still carried himself with the same authority, but he looked more at ease wearing that Dalish armour. Lace had a feeling, she was seeing the man he was before the Inquisition. Even his speech changed, the more the two elf talked the more he sounded like the Dalish. Seeing him like this alone made it worth to come along.

As agreed, they stopped at several Inquisition camps to check on messages. They only stayed as long as the Inquisitor wrote a reply and sent the bird right back to Skyhold.

“Something wrong?” Lace asked when the Inquisitor walked up to them with a grim expression on his face. He took his horse’s reins from Loranil and looked at them for a few silent moments.

“We will have to make another stop at the camp closest to the clan” he fell silent and Lace already knew what he would say next. “They found Corypheus. The Inquisition is on their move too. The camp will have your orders. We need to leave right after the celebration” his voice was apologetic as he looked at Loranil. The other elf huffed out a small laugh.

“What’s with the long face? If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be able to attend at all. It’s already more than I could ask for.”

The Inquisitor returned Loranil’s smile with a small one of his own, then he looked at Lace. She only shrugged.

“Don’t look at me, I’m just tagging along.”

That made him laugh and he didn’t seem so grim when they moved on. Still the threat of the upcoming battle lingered around them like dark clouds on the horizon. It was a silent agreement among them that they would ignore it. There was no reason to worry about what would come. For now they had a party to attend to.

It was strange, there were a lot more elves moving around in the camp, than Lace or anyone else from the Inquisition ever saw. Even children of various ages. Where did they all come from? When she asked she got a mysterious smile from the woman who was preparing some paste next to her, but no real answer.

Also, they didn’t look like people preparing for a celebration. It was calm and quiet, everyone working as if it was just another day. They spent most of the day building something that looked like a bonfire. It shouldn’t have took them so long, maybe there was a reason for it. They made food, not so much as humans would, but considering that they might have limited resources it made sense.

The Keeper lit the bonfire with the last light of the sun, right before it disappeared under the horizon. They all gathered around it, bringing out the food, sharing everything among themselves. The air was filled with the crackling of the fire, chatter and laughter. It reminded Lace of that one family gathering her parents took her to when she was little.

She didn’t even notice when they brought out the instruments, only when the music started. Drums in various sizes and other instruments she never saw before. Some of them looked a bit like bows. The people cheered and started to sing. All the while they slowly cleared the plates and everything away and formed a circle around the bonfire.

The Inquisitor took her hand and they settled themselves among the elves, sitting down on the grass. He moved behind her so Lace could lean on him. They sang songs about their gods and everyday life, not unlike the ones other folks singed on any celebrations. Lace tried to pay attention to the songs up until she realised the Inquisitor was also quietly singing behind her. She was so preoccupied with listening to his voice that she missed the two elves entering the circle. A cheer went up and Lace’s eyes snapped to the figures in the middle locked in what looked like a mix of a friendly spar and dancing. From time to time they switched, someone joining or leaving the dance so that there were always two or three in the circle. Lace watched fascinated, it was like nothing she’s ever seen. It felt just as magical as her first Beltime.

The drums stopped suddenly and the dancers hugged each other laughing, before they left; a cheer followed them as they melded into the crowd. Loranil appeared in a decorated vest and walked through the circle. He had a strange smile on his face and the Inquisitor stiffened behind Lace. She was about to turn and ask when Loranil stopped not far from them and spoke up.

Inquisitor Lavellan, do you remember how to do this or have you forgotten our ways among the shemlen?”

Lace’s brows drew together in a frown and she was about to open her mouth to question him when the Inquisitor laughed.

“I was afraid this would happen” he said in a quiet voice, but the grin on his face said otherwise. “Are you talking to me or is just the wind fluttering through your lips?” he called out to Loranil who grinned and walked a few steps away.

“Nesiren, do you still wear that necklace because you weren’t able to catch anything else ever since?” The woman he addressed said something in elvish, sticking out her tongue at Loranil, but she stood up with a grin. Lace looked back at the Inquisitor with raised eyebrows.

“Seriously? Trash talking?”

The Inquisitor’s grin only widened as he extracted himself from behind her.

“It’s a dare.”

“What if someone says something truly hurtful?” Lace asked still not seeing why this should be funny.

“Then they will be taken by the Dread Wolf before dawn” that didn’t explain much to her, but he was already moving toward the drummers. She wondered what was about to happen as some others joined the Inquisitor and they all disappeared from her sight. The drums started up again in a slow pace along with the singing and clapping. Lace didn’t understand the words, but she found herself humming along, letting the excitement hanging in the air wash over her.

The Inquisitor appeared again, wearing a similar vest Lace saw on Loranil and carrying a long staff. Loranil wasn’t far behind him. They stood facing each other with a smirk. They raised their staves in unison, slowly stepping sideways, spinning the staff in their hands and around themselves, lashing out toward each other from time to time. They dodged each strike with easy grace. When they reached the bonfire they turned around with a wide swing, lighting up the staff’s ends. Lace let out an excited gasp as they moved back toward the centre of the circle.

Fire dancing!

Lace watched mesmerised as they challenged each other with every move, graceful and strong. The Inquisitor tossed the staff into the air, catching it after a spin and the crowd cheered, Lace among them. She could feel the pulsing rhythm of the drums in her chest or maybe it was her own heartbeat. She was unable to look away even for a moment from the form of the Inquisitor. Sweat glistered on his skin, concentration visible on his face, but Lace could see the small smile on his lips. He was enjoying himself.

The fire went out on the staves almost at the same time. The drumming changed again, bringing a chased rhythm. The clapping intensified and Lace felt something was about to happen, but she had no idea what. Loranil tossed his staff to one of the elves standing at the side. He grinned at the Inquisitor, then took a running start toward the bonfire. He stepped on the rock placed in front of it, diving over the fire.

Lace’s hands flew to her mouth, a small scream escaped from her throat when Loranil disappeared on the other side. She heard the Inquisitor’s laugh even through the crowd and her eyes snapped back to him. He was looking at her, he winked when their eyes met and to her astonishment he dashed towards the fire too. He jumped from the rock, making a spin on his side and vanished from her eyes.

Lace was on her feet and made her way among the cheering crowd toward the other side of the bonfire. She found the Inquisitor and Loranil in an embrace, laughing and congratulating each other. They slapped the other’s shoulder when letting go. When the Inquisitor noticed her his smile widened even further, which didn’t even seem possible. He jogged her way as Lace walked closer. When they met he picked her up, making Lace squeal in surprise and spinning around. She laughed out, his excitement affecting her too; she grabbed his shoulders, as his arms kept her up at her thighs.

“Gods, I haven’t done this in ages!” He laughed looking up at her.

“I can’t believe you just did that! It was all amazing!” Lace laughed too.

His eyes glowed in the firelight and he wore the most beautiful smile on his face. Lace returned the smile, then leaned forward to kiss him. She was slightly aware of the next round of cheer that went up on the other side of the fire, but that seemed distant and unimportant at that moment. The kiss was heated, she could feel the elf’s pulse beating fast under her fingers and his fingers dug into her flesh, making her moan. They stared at each other for a few moments after she pulled back, both breathing heavy.

“Come” the Inquisitor said, his voice hoarse. “Let’s watch the rest too.”

It was nothing quite like Lace’d ever seen, not from the Dalish anyway. Singing and dancing, they seemed so different from the cautious people she saw before. During the day she received some suspicious or even hostile looks, but it was all gone now. When the Inquisitor dragged her into the dance they treated her like anyone else. It was truly heart-warming.

The celebration went on all night, even if the crowd was thinning as the time went on. The Inquisitor explained to her that they kept the fire alive all night, only let it die at daybreak so it could give back its light to the sun. They were now at the edge of the camp, sitting on a fallen tree and looking out into the night.

“How come I haven’t seen you dance before?”

The Inquisitor only shrugged dismissively. “You missed the ball at the Winter Palace. Although I wouldn’t call that dancing. All the movements look like everyone swallowed a pole” he raised his arms stretched out and moved them like two sticks to demonstrate his meaning. Lace chuckled.

“Wait, you can obviously dance, so what was that I heard about you being a whiny student on the dance lessons?” Her hands flew to her mouth when the elf shot her an indignant look.

“Where did you…” his right hand rose in that unconscious gesture he made when trying to explain something. “I was not…” but he fell silent closing his fingers in a fist as he looked away. “I’m going to kill Dorian.”

Lace’s hand was still on her mouth, but now she was giggling. The Inquisitor shot her another scornful look, then waited in sullen silence until Lace’s chuckles died down.

“Anyhow, how come I never saw you dance?” The elf asked looking at her with raised brows and it was Lace’s turn to shrug.

“A girl needs her secrets.”

“Right. And you intended to keep it by putting out a notice about offering dance lessons?” Now he was looking at her sideways, amusement shining in his eyes.

“I never managed to actually have one, so as far as you know it could be all just talk.”

“You are not the kind to just talk in the air.”

“You mean talk to the wind” Lace grinned at him.

“I didn’t know dwarves also communicate with nature” there was that teasing tone in his voice again, the smirk playing on his lips. Those things were rare gifts in the last weeks. Lace let out a little laugh and leaned on the elf’s side. She listened to his breathing as they sat in silence for a while.

“Thank you for bringing me along” she said eventually. “This might have been one of the best celebrations I’ve ever attended” she felt the elf take in a deep breath. Lace moved back and looked up at him. She found him looking at her with a strange smile on his face. “What is it?”

The Inquisitor raised his hand, touching her face lightly.

“I was thinking that despite all the terrible things happened in the last year, I am lucky” he dropped his hand, taking Lace’s hand and interlacing their fingers. “There were times I wish none of it had happened. I wish I stayed silent and let our Keeper send her First to the Conclave. But if that’s what it took to have you here in this moment with me, I would volunteer again.”

Lace found herself lost for words. Her heartbeat was in her throat and she had to swallow back tears from the sudden wash of emotions. She tightened her hold on his hand.

“I love you” she said pouring every drop of her feelings into that three words. He leaned in, capturing her lips in a soft kiss.

“I love you” he breathed before kissing her again.

Chapter Text

Lace fell for the feint, seeing the blade too late. She managed to dodge the first strike by a hair, but not the next one coming from below. The voice came unbidden in her mind, sounding a lot like her mother, just as the Red Templar’s sword cut into her flesh.

“You promised him you’ll be careful.”

The sword hit her chest plate with a clang, stopping it and for a moment everything slowed down. Lace twisted away when the Templar pushed his sword forward, trying to impale her. His momentum carried him onward and Lace used it to thrust her dagger under the helmet, twisting it with her last strength. Blood gashed out, making her grip slip from the hilt as the Templar fell. Lace stepped back, looking down on her fallen enemy. What were these Templars doing out here so far from the main forces? Scouts or back up? She tried to bend down to retrieve her dagger, but pain shot through her midsection. She stared at the blood staining her clothes. Right, she got cut. When she looked up she saw Inquisition soldiers running toward her. Then the world faded in front of her eyes.

The way back to the forward camp was blurry, the pain and adrenaline made some details sharper and dulled others. The colours were vibrant and a part of her brain marvelled on how beautiful this place was. She hoped it would survive Corypheus’ army.

She wondered where the Inquisitor might be right now. They split up a day earlier as Lace had to join her scouts keeping an eye on enemy movements.

She promised they would meet at the camp if they could, but it looked like she won’t be able to keep that promise.

Her vision got dark and she stumbled. Faintly she heard the soldier by her side talk to her, felt his fingers digging in her skin as he tried to keep her in a standing position.

When she next came to, she was lying, staring at the greenish fabric of a tent and there was a commotion around her. Slowly the words started to make sense.

“…stabbed by a Red Templar, still bleeding.”

“Was the blade infected with red lyrium?”

She remembered the reddish glint of the sword, the blood shot eyes staring at her through the helmet’s slit.

“It was” Lace managed, but her voice sounded strange. She recognized the healer, but her name wouldn’t come to her. She looked down at her with a grim face.

“Then we need to hurry.”

A man entered her field of vision, his hands alight with magic. The stinging smell of it was new. She knew it would be better if she could slip back to unconsciousness, but when they touched the wound the pain flared up, making her vision dim and blurry.

“Breathe, you’ll get through this.”

Even the sounds seemed dulled, she wondered if it was because of the blood loss or something else. She will get through this. She had to. But it hurt so much.

It was long before she lost consciousness again.

She woke to voices talking. Her eyelids felt heavy, but she forced her eyes open. She was still in the tent; she moved her head to look around and a wave of nausea rolled through her at the slightest movement. She squeezed her eyes shut, keeping her head motionless and trying to breathe through it. She focused on the voices instead to distract herself, but they were distant and her brain felt slow.

“We need to send them back to Skyhold. The fighting is moving on, now that the Inquisitor is here, this is the chance we were waiting for.”

The Inquisitor is here? She promised to meet him...

“They might not survive the journey.”

“Some of them will die if they stay here much longer. For the rest I can’t do more here and we need the space.”

Lace wondered shortly in which group she belonged before the darkness swallowed her again.

Blissfully she was unconscious a lot during their journey; when she was awake the only thing she was aware was the pain in her abdomen. Hot and pulsing, making breathing hard. The herbalist accompanying them gave her something that kept the pain at bay, but it messed with her head.

She felt like she saw her parents, but they couldn't have been there. She also saw the Inquisitor, he looked at her with sleep ridden eyes and a warm smile on his face as they lay in bed together. There was a bump as the wagon’s wheel hit something and he was gone and left Lace with the pain. She remembered times like that, when they were back in Skyhold. Sitting on the couch, the Inquisitor with a book in his hands, Lace’s legs draped over the elf’s lap listening to his commentary on whatever he was reading. From time to time she could hear his voice, like he was right beside her.

Lace wondered if this was what dreaming felt like. It was kind of nice.

She also saw the Red Templar again, sometimes there were more than one, swords raised, red lyrium growing on their skin. Sometimes she managed to dodge, sometimes not and not even stabbing them stopped their strike. A nightmare. The word echoed in her mind every time she saw them. She wished she never knew how that felt like.

Lace wasn’t sure when the fever started. It made her thoughts even more chaotic.

She was lost in her memories. It was better than being awake where there was the constant pain and the tart taste of medicine in her mouth.

She thought a lot about the Inquisitor’s confession in the Dalish camp. They made love under the moons in the outskirt of the camp hidden from the world, even if only for a few hours.

She wished they could have met at the camp. She didn't remember whether she told him that she loved him when they parted. Maker, just let her see him at least one more time.

She did see him, another cruel trick of her feverish mind. He looked scared, open worry on his face as he held her hand.

“Lace” his voice trembled. He looked up and his features went out of her focus as he talked to someone, then he leaned close again. “You're going to be fine.”

She knew she couldn’t trust what she saw and heard any more, still a small part of her mind wanted to believe him. Even if he wasn't real.

 

When she woke up she felt warm. Like that summer in Redcliff she spent with the twins, swimming in the lake and stealing fruits from the nearby farms. She didn't think about that time in years. Her thoughts were slow and her limbs felt heavy, everything was so sluggish. She frowned at the familiar ceiling, trying to keep her eyes open as her brain did its best to figure out how did she get into the Inquisitor's bed.

“You said it yourself, Inquisitor, Corypheus won’t hide, time is of essence.”

That sounded like Leliana’s voice. Lace turned her head to look around and saw two figures by the top of the stairs. She squinted, but her vision stayed stubbornly blurry.

“I know, but I can’t leave her like this.” The Inquisitor.

“We would take care—“

“I almost lost her, Leliana” his voice sounded pleading. “I almost lost the woman I love. Even if I go, I can’t leave my worry behind. That and these voices, I… I would only put everyone at risk in this state. Just... just give me until she wakes up. The healer said it could happen any time now. Please.”

There were a few moments of silence.

“Very well, Inquisitor.” Leliana left and Lace saw the Inquisitor lean his arms on the balustrade, hanging his head low. Lace wanted to move, to say something, but she lost the battle and slipped back to sleep, even if that was the last thing she wanted to do at that moment.

 

When she woke up again it was quiet. She turned her head to look around, but she seemed to be alone.

The balcony doors were open, letting the cool evening air in. Lace took a deep breath and tossed the blankets off herself, sitting up slowly and leaning on the headboard. Her limbs still felt heavy, but at least she could move. She noted the long shirt she was wearing and tried again to remember how she got here, but her last solid memory was when she was brought to the healer in the forward camp. After that it was pain, then came the fever on the way to Skyhold and now she was here.

She heard a noise and looked toward the balcony to see the Inquisitor walk in, closing the doors behind himself. He stopped in his tracks when their eyes met.

“You're awake” he said in a quiet voice and hurried to her, dropping down on his knees next to the bed. His eyes darted over her features and he raised his hand, hovering over her as if unsure whether he was allowed to touch or not. Lace had to take his hand and that finally made him meet her eyes.

“Hey, I’m here” her voice almost broke, her throat felt dry. The elf touched her face warily, pulling her close and leaning his forehead to hers.

“Thank the Creators” it was only a whisper, but held so much relief that a lump formed in Lace’s throat. He pulled back, looking away to take a glass from the nightstand and offered it to her. Lace took it, drinking the water carefully. It felt wonderful. She looked at the elf and a hint of a memory crossed her mind.

“I heard your voice” Lace said after drinking the last of the water and the Inquisitor took the glass from her, placing it back on the nightstand. “But I thought my mind was making you up. You were praying for me.”

The Inquisitor nodded. “They said that was the only thing I could do. It was the longest day of my life.” He closed his eyes for a moment, shaking his head, maybe shaking off the memories.

“How long was I out?” Lace asked, needing to change the subject, because the lump in her throat was still there, holding the promise of tears too.

“A bit more than a day after you got to Skyhold. Before that, no one could tell for sure” he took her hands into his again, squeezing them lightly.

“The fever was bad and you were… sick, from the medicines. The wound opened up, the healer said all injuries left by Red Templars heal slowly. Said something about the red lyrium leaving a taint behind.” He looked down, lifting her hands and pressing a kiss on them. When he looked up again Lace saw tears in his eyes. Now she noticed that his eyes were rimmed red and there were dark shadows under them. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days. She pulled him to herself, wrapping her arms around his neck. He held her carefully, mindful of her injuries and Lace felt the tears of relief roll down on her cheeks.

“I’m here” she wasn't sure what else to say, but it seemed enough. The elf let out a shaky breath and turned his head, placing a kiss on her temple before pulling back. He wiped her tears from her face, but ignored his own.

“How are you feeling?”

The lump was still in her throat, but Lace swallowed it and thought about her answer for a moment.

“Tired, sweaty and a bit hungry.”

That cast a little smile on the elf’s face.

“You are on bed arrest anyway, but let me see what I can do about the other two.”

He waited for Lace to nod, then stood up and hurried away, leaving Lace to herself. She slid down on the bed, looking up at the ceiling and trying not to think about anything else, but the fact that she survived.

She must have dozed off again, because when she opened her eyes again, there were movements in the room. The Inquisitor stood with his back to her, leaning in something that looked like a…

“You actually had a bathtub brought up?”

It was a smaller, wooden one they used at the camps, but still a bathtub.

“You are in no condition to make it to the barracks” he said in a matter-of-fact voice and Lace found she couldn’t argue with that.

She got out of the bed, swaying, as her legs almost gave out under her, but the Inquisitor was there, steadying her.

“Careful” the elf murmured as he helped her walk.

“This is the worst” she grunted out.

“You’ll get through this” his voice was soft, placating. Lace let out an unamused huff.

“You sound like the healer at the camp. I’m not sure I believed her either.”

“And yet, here you are. Let me help.”

Lace let him. It was frustrating that she wasn't able to do even something as trivial as taking off the few clothes she was wearing. But she tried her best not to think about it as the Inquisitor helped her get in the tub. The warm water made her tired body relax in no time. The elf was still there, silent, handing her a washcloth and soap and pouring water over her head to wash her hair. It was a bit strange, letting him do this, but it became evident she wouldn't be able to do this on her own as pain bloomed in her abdomen when she tried to raise her arms. So she just sat there getting lost in the feeling of the elf’s fingers in her hair. Whatever he was using it smelled familiar and it took Lace some time to place it: that was what she could smell on him most of the time.

She chanced a look at her wound: it started under her ribs and ended on her hip. The area around the fresh scab was still an angry red, but it was healing. That would scar for sure. She looked away, swallowing. She needed something else to focus on for now.

She asked the Inquisitor about the battle and whether he found what he was looking for. But he was silent for a few moments before dodging the question with a promise to tell her everything later. There was something in his voice that made her look at him, but his face was closed off.

Unfortunately she couldn't stay long in the warm water even if she felt like she could fall asleep in there.

The servants changed the bed sheets and brought her food by the time she got out of the bathtub.

The Inquisitor spent a ridiculous amount of time drying and brushing her hair, but Lace didn’t say anything as he was making that face again, like she would disappear the moment he looked away. After spending days alone in a state where she wasn’t sure if she would wake after falling asleep... she was just glad he was there.

With fresh bandages on her side and the warm stew in her stomach she felt sleepy again. She hated it. She was back in the bed, the elf next to her, sitting on the edge. He seemed intent on continuing his vigil.

“I can sleep without you keeping an eye on me all the time” she did her best to keep her tone light. Even if his presence was a welcomed feeling, she could see the conflict on his face.

“The Inquisition won’t fall apart just because I’m with you for a few hours. You are no less important.” His words sent a warm wave through her, but still she knew there was something else.

“But you need to go. You promised Leliana.”

The Inquisitor grimaced. “You heard that?” She only nodded. “Yes, it’s… it’s a long way. I need to summon Mythal.”

Lace blinked at him for a few times, suddenly she felt very much awake. “You need what?”

The elf huffed out a humourless laugh. “That’s how the others looked at me too, like I’ve finally gone mad.”

“You have to explain that to me” Lace said, but he shook his head.

“You need rest, I don't want to bother you with all this.” He stood from the bed and looked away.

“And you expect me sleep after this?” With some effort Lace sat up in the bed. “You promised to tell me everything.”

The Inquisitor looked back at her and Lace didn’t like what she saw on his face. She patted the bed next to herself and after a few heartbeats the elf yielded, sitting down. He pulled his left leg on the bed and rested his back on the headboard, leaning his head back and staring at the ceiling.

“Please talk to me” Lace asked again in a soft voice.

He seemed to think it through before he told her all about his run in with Corypheus and his dragon at the gate of the Temple. What they found inside, the Sentinels and Abelas. She could hear frustration and awe mixing in his voice as he talked about the Temple and the elves there. No wonder. He continued to stare out at nowhere when he spoke of the Well of Sorrows and his decision to use it himself, consequences be damned. When he was done he turned away from her, sitting on the edge of the bed and leaning his elbows on his knees.

“I feel… different at times. I’m not sure what use it will prove or what the price will be. But even if it changes me, I couldn’t let some shemlen apostate take all that knowledge with her. That's no better than letting Abelas destroy the Well.”

Lace wanted to reach out to him, but her hand wouldn't move. It was a reckless decision. How can he not care about the consequences?

“Morrigan still thinks that glaring at me would gain her anything, but my annoyance. Her arrogance is truly astonishing. She claimed to study elven lore, but when I asked her whether she could lend me some she refused. She is acting like a petulant child, because she didn't get what she wanted.” Again there was frustration in his voice as he hung his head.

“I hope you didn't tell her that” Lace’s voice came out small, trying to sound light, but failing.

“Actually I did. She didn't like that either, but I couldn't care less at this point. I don't know her, she claims she wants history preserved, but in what form, to what end? What good does her knowledge of elven history do us?” He turned back to her, sitting up on the bed again, his face dark like a thundercloud.

“But it’s ancient magic, you should have left it to the mages” Lace knew her voice was pleading, but she couldn’t stop it. How could he be so selfish and irresponsible?! The Inquisitor clenched his jaw glaring at her.

“It belongs to us!” There was a hint of desperation in his voice, she recognised for what that was: he wanted so bad for her to understand, still Lace had to push away the urge to shout at him. She took a deep breath.

“I understand” Lace said in a quiet voice, because she did. “I’m just worried about you. And please don’t try to lie to me.”

Some of the tension left the Inquisitor’s body and the stern look melted away from his face giving way to a lost expression that made a lump form in Lace’s throat again.

“I wish I could give you some reassurance, but this…” he shook his head. “Even I don’t understand it and it’s so hard to explain. These… voices talk to me, not always with words, I just… know where I should go, what I should do. It feels like memories of places I’ve never been.”  He looked down on his hands, rubbing the Anchor with his thumb. It was shining with a moderate, but continuous light. The silence stretched on and his shoulders started to stiffen again.

“I have to wonder what will remain of me when all this is over” the resignation in his voice made Lace’s heart ache. She didn’t even dare to think about that.

The elf let out a humourless huff, lifting his head and staring out at the room. “Look at me, I was supposed to take care of you, instead I burden you with my own misery and give you more to worry about.”

Lace reached out this time, touching his face to make him look at her.

“Hey, there is no such thing. We help each other, always. When the pain was at the worst it was your memory that kept me sane. The wish to see the people I love, to see you again kept me from giving in. Whatever comes, we deal with it. Together.”

He looked at her, his eyes wide and shining with tears again. He covered her hand with his own.

“Thank you” he fell silent, a desperate look crossing his face. “Gods, to think that I almost lost you...”

Lace shook her head, shifting her hand and placing her fingers to his lips to silence him.

“I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere. Now go and do your duty.” That earned her a small, but sincere smile. He leaned in to place a kiss on her lips.

“I will be back as soon as I can.”

Lace nodded with a smile. A new wave of tiredness crashed over her, so she moved to lay back down, the Inquisitor helping her get under the blankets. The elf took her hand, pressing a kiss on her skin. Lace shot him a smile, then closed her eyes finally and sleep claimed her almost immediately. All the while she could feel the Inquisitor holding her hand.

Chapter Text

The following days went by slowly. Lace felt weak; the healer said it was to be expected considering what she went through. Still it was frustrating. She was spending so much time in bed like never before, she was restless. Also as she spent more and more time awake, her memories started to sort themselves out. She almost wished they didn’t. To think that the Inquisitor saw her in such a pitiful state wasn’t a nice thought. But then she remembered his face when he saw her awake, remembered that he was with her the whole time and he cared for her. There was room for only one thought in her mind: she loved him so much.

During the day, someone always came by to check on her from time to time. One of the healers or in most cases the servants. A few times, to Lace’s astonishment, even Vivienne came by. On the first occasion the mage dismissed her stunned reaction with a comment about owning the Inquisitor a personal favour. After checking her general state, she left her some tincture that tasted like burned elfroot and rusty nails. When Lace complained about the taste Vivienne said it would help her gain her strength back in an exasperated voice. She still came back and examined her again, so Lace refrained from further complaining. Besides the concoction did help her.

She had a lot of time to think as she counted the days for the Inquisitor’s return. Almost dying put things in perspective and she found there were times she appreciated the quiet. She missed being out on the field, doing what she was best at, but now she understood how her parents could be fine with a simple life.

She wondered about her future. The Inquisition beat Corypheus yet again. She felt their victory was closer than ever. What would be after that? Surly there would be more work for the Inquisition, there were always people in need they could aid. She still wanted to help. Would the Inquisitor be willing to do it? Could she persuade him if he didn’t? Should she? She knew he didn’t have plans, as if he didn’t believe he would survive it all, but maybe that changed. Maybe it was time for another talk about their future.

 

Lace woke to the sensation of the bed shifting under her. Her first thought was a little curse, because she didn’t plan to fall asleep at all. Then a small noise reminded her that she wasn’t alone. She opened her eyes and she got the sight she was hoping for: the Inquisitor was sitting next to her with a book in hand. She let out a relieved sigh as she moved closer to him, placing her head on his lap.

“Good morning” he greeted her in a quiet voice, putting the book aside. Lace looked up at him then took a pointed look at the darkness outside.

“Doesn’t seem like morning to me.”

The Inquisitor shrugged. “Technically morning is when you wake up.”

Lace turned on her back to be able to look at him, raising her eyebrows in amusement. “Dalish wisdom?”

“Common practical approach” a smile played on his lips as he touched her cheek, stroking lightly. Lace let out a small laugh.

“How are you feeling?”

“Better.” Lace placed her hand over his. He took her hand, raising to his mouth and pressed a kiss on her fingers. He didn’t let go after he lowered their hands.

“When did you get back?”

“A few hours ago, I didn’t want to wake you.”

“You should have. I sleep way too much these days.”

That made the elf huff out a small laugh. “That doesn’t sound like a bad thing.”

“I’m not used to so much inactivity. I feel useless.”

“Is this why you took upon yourself to organise all the requests the Inquisition receives every day?” There was a lopsided smile on his face.

“I needed to do something while I was confined to your quarters,” Lace didn’t mean to sound so defensive.

“Confined, huh?” The Inquisitor let out another amused huff.

“How was your trip?” Lace asked to change the subject as she felt a blush colour her cheeks and the elf’s face lost all his previous mirth. He looked away.

“Successful, I guess.”

The way he said it made Lace frown and she sat up, moving next to him and leaning on his side. She noted the stiffness in his muscles and she frowned. He seemed at ease at first glance, but now she could feel that he was more like a taunt bow, ready to snap.

“Did you manage to summon Mythal?” She prodded when the Inquisitor didn’t elaborate. He was silent for a time and Lace had to push down her impatience.

“I did the ritual as the voices told me and… and something appeared. I don’t even know what I was expecting, but definitely not that. Have you ever heard about Flemeth?”

The question surprised Lace, she moved again to be able to look at the Inquisitor.

“The Witch of the Wilds?” She asked confused. The elf nodded with a frown around his mouth.

“Apparently Mythal came to her, centuries ago. She was among us, for ages.” He shook his head as if in disbelief. “Flemeth claimed to seek justice that was denied of her, but justice for whom? Because not for us that’s for sure.” He moved then, getting up from the bed and started pacing.

“You see Andruil’s work as she sends the prey your way on a hunt. You pray to Falon’Din to ease the suffering of the dying. You thank Sylaise for the fire, but you can’t actually meet the Gods, not like… not like this.” He threw out his hands, anger and frustration radiating from his every word. “If Mythal was truly among us all this time, what if others were too? Did she not hear our prayers or did she just not care? What good does praying to Gods who are deaf to our pleas?” He buried his hands in his hair, grabbing a handful of it. Lace was up from the bed in a moment and went to the elf, grabbing his wrists.

“Please stop” she pulled his hands down to get his attention. He looked at her with such desperation that Lace’s chest felt too tight and she had to remind herself to breathe.

“You cannot know that” she searched her mind furiously on any bit of information he told her before. “You said Abelas claimed Mythal was slain, maybe that is why she’s here. Maybe--”

“I don’t know what to believe anymore” his voice cut through hers. “It is real. The voices tell me that it’s the truth. She summoned a dragon, the guardian of the altar. She told me to master it and I did. I just… knew what to do. I never thought something like that possible, yet it is. The dragon will come when I summon it. I’ve never heard of anyone with such power, beside…” he shook his head. “It’s all real,” his voice cracked and he looked away. Lace stepped forward, embracing him tightly. His whole body was still rigid and it took some time for him to put his arms around her, giving in to her touch. She didn’t know what to say. After all what could you say to someone who was about to lose his faith?

“I’m sorry” her voice came out so small she wasn’t even sure he heard it, but she pressed her head harder to him. Her whole soul was aching for him, but this was something he had to sort out for himself. She could only offer comfort.

“You have every right to be angry. Let it out, shout if you need, I’m here to listen.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think I have the strength for that any more. Did all the fuming on our way back. I still owe the others an apology for my short temper.”

“I’m sure they understand.”

They fell into silence, neither moved away and Lace tried to keep her attention on the elf playing with her hair so her mind won’t circle around how helpless she felt.

“The thought of being bound to Mythal’s will wasn’t so frightening before, after all we’re all bound to the God’s will from the moment we take our first breath. But this…” The Inquisitor shook his head again and let go of Lace stepping away. He let out a humourless laugh. “Not that she seemed to care either way.” He took a deep breath and Lace could see on his face he pushed it all to the back of his mind for now.

“At least Morrigan stopped giving me her glares and promised to give me some of her books.”

Lace pursed her lips, weighing whether she should press him a bit more, but in the end she decided to let it go. If this was what he wanted for now.

“Why the change of heart?” She asked in a light tone that felt only slightly forced.

“Flemeth is her mother.”

Lace blinked at him waiting for the admission that he was joking. It didn’t come. “That’s… awkward.”

“Indeed. I try to cheer myself with the image of her reaction of seeing Flemeth, would I had let her drink from the Well,” he said in a cheerful tone that felt way too forced, but Lace would take it. Anything was better that the utter desperation from earlier.

“I’m sure it would have been a slap in the face.” That made the elf smile, even if only for a little.

“Yes” he said, voice going quiet. He looked not just tired, but worn out. He walked back to the bed, sitting down and inviting Lace back with a gesture. “Tell me about your days,” he asked and Lace gave him a small smile, going to him. She took his hand and let him pull her into a tight embrace. If this was what he needed, she could do that.

 

 

Lace was sitting by the Inquisitor’s desk, going through the last requisition note. Her mind was already wandering toward what she should do next. Should she wait for the Inquisitor or go and take a walk, maybe go by the training area, get some exercise with her bow before the elf caught her. She still wasn’t deemed to be healed enough to go back to do her work, but that she wasn’t even allowed to practice was a bit ridiculous. The Inquisitor being overprotective was endearing at first, but now it was getting annoying. They would need to talk about that. Again.

She forced her attention back to the paper when she heard the thunder-like crack and green light poured in the windows from behind. She froze for a few seconds, then her head whipped around and she stared in disbelief at the Breach on the sky. Opened once more.

“No” she whispered, standing from the desk and hurrying to the balcony. She threw the doors open and stepped out. “This can’t be happening.”

But it was. The Breach, open again, bigger than it ever was, the sickly green light swirling on the sky. She wasn’t sure how long she stood there; she startled as she heard running footsteps on the stairs behind her. She turned to see the Inquisitor barge in, breathing heavily. He must have run all the way from the war room. She hurried to him.

“What is happening?” She demanded as she watched him put on his armour.

“It’s Corypheus” was all he said, but that was enough. Lace took a look at his hand, the Anchor shined with a bright light, pulsing in rhythm with the Breach. Lace pressed her lips together and walked to the chest she kept her belongings in.

“What are you doing?”

She didn’t look at the Inquisitor as she took out her armour.

“I’m coming with you.”

“No, you are not.”

“Yes, I am.” From the corner of her eye she saw the elf still.

“Lace” his voice was strained, but Lace turned to give him a hard look.

“You are not leaving me behind” she said with finality in her voice. He clenched his jaw as they stared at each other for a few seconds.

“Don’t leave my side” he sprang back in action, putting the rest of his armour on with hurried movements and grabbing his bow. Lace only nodded.

They left Skyhold side by side, with the Inquisitor’s companions and whatever forces they could spear.

It ends today. Lace thought and she could see the same determination on the Inquisitor’s face.

They followed the Breach back to the Temple of Sacred Ashes, the place all of this began. Lace thought it fitting that it would also end here. They left their mounts behind and walked up to the ruins in a tense silence.

And there he was, Corypheus. It was the first time Lace saw him in person. No description prepared her for that sight. She sought out the Inquisitor’s hand by instinct, unable to take her eyes from the darkspawn magister.

“Finish this” she said in a quiet, but firm voice. “And come back to me.” The elf squeezed her hand then he turned to her. Lace looked up at him. Determination turned his face hard, but his eyes were soft as he looked at her.

“Stay by my side” he leaned down to press a quick kiss on her lips before turning toward their enemy. Lace pushed her sudden flare of fear down, there was no time for that. The Inquisitor marched forward, following his companions, who were already slashing up the demons emerging from the ruins.

Corypheus’ voice sent a horrible chill down Lace’s spine, but she pressed down the shivers and marched on.

The earth shook under their feet, making them stumble. Lace heard a loud crack and looking down she saw a gap in the stone under her feet. In the next moment the stone broke and the ruins started to rise. Lace was right at the threshold and she stumbled back as she lost her footing. She hit the rocks and it pushed all the air out of her lungs. She looked up just in time to see the Inquisitor’s frightened look before they disappeared in the sky.

“Scout Harding, are you alright?” It was Blackwall who stepped to her, offering his hand, but Lace just stared at the raising rocks.

“Please tell me the Inquisitor is not alone up there!” There was a desperate edge in her voice, but she didn’t care at the moment.

Varric stepped up to her, his crossbow still pointed upward. “The Seeker was at the front.”

“Vivienne was ahead of me for a change” Dorian said from somewhere behind her.

“And I don’t see the Kid anywhere, so most likely he’s there too.”

“Harding, are you alright?” The soft question made her look at Blackwall who was still there, extending his hand toward her.

“Yes, I think so.” She grabbed his hand and let him pull her to her feet.

“What now?” Sera asked, looking around them with her bow ready in her hand.

“We wait and kill any demon that appears” Lace said without really thinking, then shut her mouth as she realised what she just did. These weren’t her scout, these were the Inquisitor’s companions, his friends, who was she to order them around?

“Sounds like a plan” Dorian said showing no indication that he minded that Lace took charge like that.

“We should spread out, but make sure not to lose sight of each other.” Varric nodded at her and Lace felt herself relax.

It was as good as a plan as any. Lace’s hands balled into fists. She felt useless again. If only she lunged forward instead of stumbling back… she shook her head, there was no use of thoughts like that now. Now she had to have faith in the Inquisitor.

Still, watching the sky and only be able to guess what was going on was tortuous. They saw bursts of magic from time to time, but that was all.

It was the first time she saw the dragon too; her breath stuck in her throat as the two dragons clashed, she couldn’t help but stare any time they were visible. Watching them battle made her feel small.

She had no idea how long it took until a great tunnel of green light shot up at the Breach, shutting it close. A cheer went up around her at the sight and she found she could breathe a bit easier. The rocks started to fall back and it took some time, but finally the main ruins also descended. She was at the stairs again, watching the Inquisitor’s companions emerge. Fear clenched her insides and it only eased when the unmistakable form of the Inquisitor appeared on the stairs. He moved slow and careful, but he was there. Lace couldn’t hold herself back any longer. She run towards him. He sank to half knee at the base of the stairs and worry flared up again in Lace until he opened his arms to her. She clashed into him, almost tackling both of them to the ground. He managed to keep them up, wrapping his arms around her. Lace held him, relief closing her throat, so she just pressed herself to him not even caring about the world around them.

“Then it’s over? How lovely.” That sounded like Vivienne and Lace forced herself to let go of the elf. He stood up and they turned towards the others gathering around them.

“And the sky is healed... whole. There’s just that left to remember.” Cole stared at the sky with such delight Lace wasn’t sure she ever saw on his face.

“Looks that way” the Inquisitor said with a smile.

“What do we do now?” Cassandra asked and the elf turned back toward the top of the stairs as if for looking something. Lace followed his eyes, but saw nothing. Something flashed on the Inquisitor’s face, but it was gone when he spoke up next.

“We go back to Skyhold.”

 

 

A few days later the mood in Skyhold was still just as euphoric as when they’ve returned from the battle. Everything was buzzing with the preparations for the celebration dinner, but now it felt like a healthy beehive, finally not laced with fear.

Even the dinner was livelier than usual. The nobles re-telling the tale of the final battle as if they were there themselves. Everyone was truly impressed and proud of the Inquisition. Lace couldn’t help but wonder how long that would last. As the night progressed Lace camped down at the end of the table, listening to the chatter around her.

The Inquisitor was in a small circle of people, some nobles. Lace saw them lounge in the halls a lot. They listened intently as he told them how he got the scars on his face in a duel with a hunter of a rival clan. Lace couldn’t stop the grin form on her face even if she wanted to. He made it sound really heroic and impressive. After finishing his tale he excused himself and moved on to the next group of people. He was barely out of earshot when one of the nobles, a red faced woman gloated over her male counterpart.

“I told you that wasn’t true! Rabid nugs, what an utter nonsense. You shouldn’t believe every gossip you hear.”

Lace tried to mask her laughter as coughing.

“Well, it wasn’t a tavern fight either, now was it, even if that would have been more believable.”

“You heard him tell it himself, do you accuse the Inquisitor of lying? Obviously someone is trying to undermine his reputation. You shouldn’t let yourself led on so easily.”

Lace had to turn away and busied herself with grabbing another cup of wine from the table, trying to get her giggling under control. If they only knew…

The night went on in a calm mood and Lace felt herself truly relax for the first time in weeks. She found she could simply enjoy the drinks and idle conversations with whoever approached her. The Inquisitor himself seemed more at ease even if he usually detested such gatherings. Lace caught herself following him around the room with her eyes as he moved among the people. From time to time their eyes met and he always had a smile for her.

It was getting late and the crowd was thinning, and at one point Lace noticed the Inquisitor edging toward the door to his chambers, so she abandoned her spot by the table. She said good-bye to those around her and moved to intercept the elf just as he left the last group between himself and the door.

“A duel, huh?”

He turned toward her with raised eyebrows. Lace smirked at him.

“I personally always liked the poisonous bee attack the best.”

The Inquisitor shrugged with a grin. “I like to keep them on their toes.”

“Ah yes. I’m sure everyone would be disappointed to know that you fell face first into a blackthorn bush when you were twelve.”

“Hush, you spoil the game.” The grin on his face ruined his attempt to stay serious. Lace huffed out a laugh.

“You had enough of this celebration?” She nodded toward the door leading away.

“By the gods, yes.”

“Then let’s get out of here.” Lace grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the door. He didn’t resist one bit.

 

When they were finally alone the Inquisitor threw himself down on the couch with a satisfied sigh. Lace chuckled as the first thing he did was get rid of his boots. She sat down beside him, snuggling herself under his arm.

“I can’t believe it’s over” he said after a while. “I still half expect Corypheus to just jump out of nowhere with his dragon and laugh at us for thinking it was over.”

“I think that’s normal. It was a long fight. But we won.”

The Inquisitor let out a thoughtful hum. “That was what Hawke thought when he killed Corypheus. Let’s hope he stays dead this time.”

Lace chuckled and looked up at the elf. “Have a little faith in yourself.”

“I don’t need to. I have you for that” he said with a smile and it made Lace laugh, even if she slapped his thigh, for speaking nonsense. They fell into a comfortable silence, but soon Lace found herself dozing off. Instead of giving in to the need to sleep, she pushed herself away, sitting up and turning towards the elf. He looked like he could fall asleep right there too, but her moving stirred him. He looked at her, blinking the sleep away.

“There’s something I wanted to ask and I think now it’s even more relevant than before.”

The elf raised his eyebrows, looking at her with curiosity. “What is it?”

“Simply said: what now?”

The Inquisitor blinked again.

“And please don’t tell me you didn’t think about it.”

He looked away at that, staring ahead of himself. “It’s not that I didn’t, but this, the last few days still don’t feel real. Up until the last moment I wasn’t sure I’d live to see the end of this war. But here we are and I...” he trailed off, then took a deep breath. “What do you want us to do?”

“Us?” Lace blinked in surprise.

“Yes.” A soft chuckle left him at Lace’s look. “It should be obvious by now that the only definite wish I have is to be by your side. Everything else is… negotiable.”

“Do you truly mean that?”

She got a firm nod as an answer.

“So if I tell you that I want to stay with the Inquisition…” Lace trailed off with hope in her words. There was a knowing smile on the elf’s lips.

“There is definitely some more good the Inquisition could do for the world.”

Lace took in a deep breath, not letting her excitement get the better of her. She got up, walking towards the balcony. She opened the doors stepping out in the chilly air and staring at the sunrise. She heard the elf follow her.

“I won’t force you to do something you don’t want,” she said when the Inquisitor stepped up to her.

“You are not.” He wrapped his arms around her and she leaned to him. “You merely give me the push I need from time to time.” Lace could hear the smile in his voice and she felt the same smile spread on her lips as they stared out into a new day.

Chapter Text

Lace was unable to leave the Eluvian. Not with all that was at stake. Not when the Inquisitor left in the state he was in.

He barely slept since they arrived at the Winter Palace and Lace could see he was in constant pain. The Anchor was getting worse in the last few months, reaching its peak at the worst time possible. He barely talked to her, she had to ask the others about what they found out throughout the Crossroads in the last days. It was all bad news, one after another and Lace could see that all that he learned was eating away at the elf. Yet, he kept silent and Lace was dreading the moment it would all blow up. What she was most afraid of was that she won’t be there to help him through it. But there was nothing she could do, so she stayed by the Eluvian. Waiting in helpless rage.

Staring at the whirling colours made her head hurt, still she wandered back all the time. Whatever came out of it, she needed to be there.

She still startled, when someone finally did. She kept her hand on her dagger, staying out of the mirror’s front until Varric emerged from it. He wore a grim expression that got worse when he saw her.

“Harding, get more soldiers here. We need a clear path to the Inquisitor’s quarters. And we need Vivienne there with the healers, quickly, but try to be discreet about it.”

“Why? Is he—” she started to ask, but the other dwarf shook his head.

“You’ll see soon enough,” with that he turned back, disappearing in the mirror. Lace hesitated for a moment, worry rising in her, but she had no choice, but to do as she was asked for now. Movements among the Inquisition’s forces wasn’t going to go unnoticed, but they did their best to keep the onlookers away. The need for discretion became obvious when the Inquisitor was brought through the Eluvian. He was almost unconscious, hanging between Cassandra and Dorian.

Suddenly the world ceased to exist for Lace. The others were arguing around her, but she couldn’t hear them. Her legs brought her forward, hands raising to touch the elf’s face. His lips moved, but his voice was almost too weak to hear.

“He’s muttering in elven again” Dorian noted, worry evident in his voice. Lace listened carefully to his whispering. It felt familiar. She heard him talk like this, years ago when she lay in bed, feverish, hanging between life and death. But it was different and her breath stuck in her throat when she recognised a name.

“It’s a prayer” she said and silence fell on them, but she couldn’t look away. “He is praying to Falon’Din.”

“Isn’t that…”

“‘To ease the pain of the dying and guide them on their final journey.’” It was some time ago, but Lace remembered the words now. Dorian swore in Tevene as Cassandra secured her grip on the Inquisitor.

“He’s bleeding out, we can’t wait any longer, Varric. Rumours be damned, we need to move him,” the warrior’s voice was hard, but the only thing Lace could see was the elf’s broken form. There was blood on his armour, his head hung to his chest, but even in the dim light she could see how pale he looked. His left hand was bundled up in what looked like part of someone’s clothing, soaked in blood. But even like this it was evident: the Anchor’s light was gone. Lace was pulled out of the way and the Inquisitor was carried out of the door. She stared after them, strangely numb, her head empty.

“What in the Maker’s name happened?” She heard herself asking.

“We’re not sure” Varric answered her even if the question wasn’t intended for him. Lace looked at him, she never saw such a grim expression on his face. His hand was still on her arm. He must have been the one who moved her. “The only coherent thing we could get out of him was ‘the Dread Wolf killed the world’. Do you have any idea what that means?” Lace shook her head, staring at the empty doorway again. “You should go with them.” Varric’s voice finally woke her from her daze and she could finally move to follow the Inquisitor.

The healers were already in the Inquisitor’s room, standing around a table, that wasn’t there before, covered by white sheets. Cassandra and Dorian placed the elf on it and stepped back to let Vivienne close. Lace stepped to the end of the table by the elf’s head, her hands gripping the wood.

“What happened?” Vivienne asked in a cool tone, looking over the elf, her touch careful on him.

“The Anchor was out of control in the last fight. After we defeated the Saarath, he disappeared in one of the Eluvians. We found him like this.” Cassandra also lingered near.

“How long since then?” Vivienne started the remove the bandage from the elf’s hand.

“Maybe a little over an hour.”

Lace’s attention was on the mage’s hands as she removed the last of the bloodied fabric and it took her mind a few seconds to comprehend what she was seeing.

“Andraste’s bloody ass.”

Suddenly the room become hot and Lace’s vision blackened for a moment as she stared at the bloody mess that remained of the Inquisitor’s hand. Fingers dug into her shoulders as someone steadied her when she slumped forward. She felt lightheaded and the voices sounded like they came from far away. She had to take a deep breath, but it brought the stench of decay to her and she had to fight a wave of nausea.

“Where is his hand? I’m pretty sure he had it when we found him...”

“I think that’s all that left of it” even Vivienne sounded like she didn’t quite believe what she saw. “His flesh is falling apart without the Anchor’s magic. We need to stop the decay. You need to leave.”

That woke Lace from her trance.

“No, I want to stay with him—” her voice was barely above a whisper. Vivienne shook her head without even looking at her.

“Not now. All of you, out. Let us work.”

Someone grabbed her arm, pulling her away from the table and the elf laying on it. She was too stunned to even protest again. When the door closed she looked up at the owner of the hand on her arm. Cassandra’s face was like it was carved from stone. There was blood smeared on her cheeks too.

“He’s in good hands” she said, releasing her. There was a lump in Lace’s throat, all she could do was nod. The warrior looked like she wanted to say something else, but in the end she stayed silent. Lace looked back at the closed door and after a few moments she heard Cassandra walk away.

With reluctance Lace left the door, walking to a couch from where she could keep an eye on it. She sat down even if she felt restless.

At the first scream she was on her feet again, but a hand on her arm stopped her.

“You cannot help him now, stay away.”

Lace stared at Cole sitting next to her, she didn’t even notice him. He stared at the door too, his brows pulled together in an uncharacteristic frown.

“He is strong. You need to trust them.”

She was faintly aware of the tears on her face, but she let Cole pull her back on the couch. He kept his hand on her arm.

Sometime later Varric pressed a mug in her hands. It was warm and smelled like tea. She drank with automatic movements. There must have been something else in it, because it burned her throat, making her cough. She looked at Varric, but he just shrugged.

“You needed that” was all he said before walking away.

Dorian sat with her for a while. He told her about their findings on the Crossroads that day and their fight with the qunari. He kept everything simple, a part of her mind noted the lack of bragging, but the bigger part was just glad that his soft voice filled the silence.

Lace heard Sera curse from time to time from her spot on one of the window sills. Blackwall, sitting in the armchair near her hushed her every time.

It seemed like an eternity until the door finally opened, revealing the exhausted faces of the two healers. Lace was on her feet in a moment, hurrying to Vivienne. There was blood on her clothes and she held a bundle of bloodied fabrics.

“He is running a fever, but if it breaks in a day, he will be fine.”

“Thank you” Lace managed over the tightness in her throat.

“Stay with him, watch his fever. If you feel it’s getting worse, send for me.”

The mage stepped away from her and Lace stepped into the room. They moved the Inquisitor to the bed. Lace ignored the bloodied table as she walked to him on weak legs. The elf’s face was still pale, but at least he was breathing evenly now. He was covered with a clean blanket. Lace stopped by the bed, reaching out to touch his face. His skin felt warm, too warm; she could feel tears welling up in her eyes again. Then her attention shifted to his left shoulder and she noticed how the blanket dropped where his left arm should have been. Lace’s hand flew to her mouth, silencing the sob that escaped her throat. Now she remembered the blood soaked bundle in Vivienne’s arms.

But he’s alive!

Lace swallowed her tears and climbed on the bed, laying down next to the elf. She said another prayer while watching his chest rise and fall.

He is alive.

 

 

The hardest thing was to bear his silence. When the Inquisitor woke up he greeted her with a weak smile, but he was very tight lipped about what happened to him. Lace found him more than once sitting by the window, staring out at Maker knows what. All his friends came by one after another and he had a tired smile for all of them, but nothing more.

Days went by like this.

Several times Lace heard Josephine and Cullen arguing with the others outside of the Inquisitor’s room. The Council apparently was becoming impatient; the news about the end of the qunari plot was not enough for them. But the Inquisitor was in no shape to appear anywhere public, let alone in front of the Council.

It was hard to stay by his side, but she also couldn’t stay away long.

“Harding, we were looking for you.”

Varric found her on an empty corridor, looking out at the garden. Lace closed her eyes for a moment before turning to the other dwarf.

“Something happened?”

Varric seemed to hesitate. “He keeps… sending everyone away.”

Lace let out a sigh. “Shouting again?”

“Shouting, cursing, throwing things…”

Lace rubbed her forehead with another sigh.

“Look, my heart goes out to the lad, but people are starting to get edgy. The Council demands his presence.” He was wringing his hands; it was such an unfamiliar thing to see him do. These last days were hard on all of them. Still Lace shot him a glare.

“He almost died, Varric.”

“I know, but we can’t exactly tell them that. Those people are just waiting for an excuse. We told them that the qunari threat is gone for now and he was injured, but Josephine and Leliana can stall them only for so long. They need to see the Inquisitor, even if only for a few minutes.”

Lace stared at him, feeling helpless again. She knew Varric was right, still she hated it. She saw the same emotions on his face.

“I’ll try to talk to him.”

The relief was visible on Varric’s face and she felt a bit uncomfortable under his look. When did her role reduce to keep the middle ground between the Inquisitor and the world? After all these years she seemed to be still indispensable, considering she was the only one who the elf didn’t send away immediately. Which didn’t mean he talked to her, or listened to her, but it was something. Wasn’t that a lovely thought…

“The servants left some food at the door, try to get him to eat something too.”

Lace only nodded, silently bracing herself for what was to come.

She found Cassandra pacing at the Inquisitor’s door, looking irritated. When she noticed Lace approach she marched up to her.

“You have to do something! He doesn’t talk to us, he doesn’t eat! I swore an oath to stand by him, but what am I supposed do when he doesn’t let me?!”

Lace blinked in surprise, speechless for a moment. Then she just raised her eyebrows, shooting a look at the warrior until Cassandra looked away, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

“I… I apologise” she said in a quiet voice. “These last few days were… challenging.”

Lace took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “That might be the understatement of this age.”

“Words stuck in his throat, cold and bitter. They sting, like furious wasps. Stubborn and foolish, but there is anger and pain, so much anger. Broken thoughts, cutting into his soul, how do you put it back together when edges of the pieces melted and do not fit anymore?”

Lace startled when Cole spoke up next to them. Again she didn’t notice him standing beside her. Was he getting sneaky again or was it her who was getting sloppy?

“He talked to you?” She asked and the boy nodded staring at the door.

“Some. He asked me to make him forget.”

Lace’s eyes went wide.

“Did you…?” Cassandra’s voice broke, unable to finish the sentence. Cole shook his head.

“No, he knows I cannot do that anymore. He just wanted the pain to stop. He apologised and I tried to make the words flow again. Even if they hurt him and leave scars on his soul.”

“That doesn’t sound like progress to me.” Cassandra frowned at him, disapproval written all over her face. Cole turned his head, looking her straight in the eyes. Lace didn’t know Cole had such a cold glare.

“He won’t drown anymore from them” he said like that would explain everything, then walked away without another word.

Lace closed her eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. It was more than what she could handle at the moment. She had more pressing matters, than wondering about Cole’s cryptic statements.

“Would you help me with this?” Lace asked Cassandra, nodding toward the tray left by the servants at the door.

“Of course.” Seemed like the warrior too was more than eager to concentrate on something else. Lace picked up the tray and stepped through the door held open by the other woman. She heard it close behind her and she braced herself for whatever was to come.

The Inquisitor was sitting on a couch, staring at nothing in particular.

Lace walked to him, placing the tray on the small table in front of him. His eyes flickered to the food, then up at her. He was still pale, the dark shadows under his eyes started to look like permanent additions to his features.

“You promised me you would sleep.”

“I said I would try.” He looked away and Lace pursed her lips together in frustration.

“You can’t keep doing this. You need rest and you need to eat.”

“I can’t.” He turned back to her and his eyes were pleading; the sight made Lace’s heart ache. It was worse than almost dying.

“Then you have to talk to me. The Council demands your presence, the servants talk about the Inquisitor losing his mind along with his arm, but I don’t care about any of that. I only care about you. I only want to know what happened to you and how I can help.”

They stared at each other in silence. Then the elf raised his arm, his hand extended toward her. A well-known and used gesture between them. It wasn’t what Lace was aiming for, but she couldn’t deny him. She rounded the table, sitting beside him close. He took her hand, his thumb lightly brushing her skin.

“I cannot even imagine what you’re going through. The Council was bad enough, then the qunari...” she looked up at him. “What you found out about the ancient elves in those ruins… and Solas reappearing after two years of silence...” she only knew all that, because she made the others tell her everything they found during their trips all over the Crossroads. “But I need to know what you found behind that last Eluvian. How did you stop the qunari?”

He was silent for a time yet again and Lace was afraid he wouldn’t talk at all, but after a deep breath he did.

“I didn’t. They were all turned to stone when I got there.”

“Then who did?”

“Solas. He wasn’t just an agent of Fen’Harel. He himself is the Dread Wolf. What we found at the ruins were true. He created the Veil and destroyed the ancient elves’ world with it. And now he plans to do the same” his voice wavered at the last words.

“What?” Lace sat up, moving away to be able to look at him properly. The elf wasn’t looking at her, he stared at the opposite wall.

“He said he created the Veil to get rid of the self-proclaimed gods. Our gods” his voice broke on the word and he swallowed before continuing. “And now he wants to tear down the Veil. To make the waking and dreaming world one again.”

Lace frowned, trying to make sense of what she heard. “But that would then—”

“Most probably destroy the world we know, yes” now his voice was calm. Too calm.

Lace stared at him. That was far worse than she imagined.

“We can’t let that happen” she stated.

“We?” The elf looked at her with empty eyes.

“Yes. You, me, the Inquisition! That’s what we do, we save the world.”

He shook his head, standing from the couch and walking a few steps away.

“I’m not sure the world even deserves to be saved.”

Lace blinked at him in disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”

“Even so, what am I supposed to do against him? Solas might not be an actual god, but he’s still a mage from ancient times. What good is an army against someone who can turn anyone into stone with a single thought? What can I do like this?” He raised the remains of his left arm, wincing in pain. Lace winced with him.

“We’ll figure something out.”

The Inquisitor shook his head again, turning away.

“I’m tired of being the one who has to save the world. I never asked for any of it, yet I gave everything to do the right thing. And this Council is what I get in return. They want us either disbanded or leashed” his voice grew cold, spitting the last words.

“They are afraid of the Inquisition’s power. I can’t say I blame them” Lace said in a careful tone, trying to calm him. It didn’t work.

“Why?” He turned to her, his eyes burning with ruthless anger. “Have I ever done anything that would make them think the Inquisition is a threat to them? Or is it just them being humans and thinking everyone acts like them? How am I supposed to save the world like this?” he gestured to himself again and Lace felt the prickling of tears in her eyes, but she blinked them away. “Let them burn. I’ll look for a nice place in a forest to watch the show.”

Lace stared at him, stunned. She rose from the couch too, glaring at the elf.

“You want to tell me you’d be able to just sit around and do nothing? We agreed to make a home somewhere. Is this the kind of home you want for us? Just waiting for the inevitable end?” Lace couldn’t help it; her voice rose to match the Inquisitor’s tone. She could no longer hold back the anger and frustration.

“No—” the elf backed down immediately. He covered his eyes, rubbing them shortly. “I’m sorry. You are right, I can’t just sit around. But I have no idea what I should… what I could do. The Qunari is invading because of me, the Inquisition is full of spies and I even lost the Anchor along with my arm...” now his voice wavered, he sounded lost and the ache in Lace’s chest was back. There was nothing she hated more than watch him suffer and not be able to help him.

“I… I don’t know. But I know one thing: you are not alone in this. Now that everyone is back—”

“No! They all have their own problems; I can’t just ask them to put their lives aside to help me again.”

“Let them decide that” Lace insisted. “You need people you can trust. You think they won’t help you? Why do you think they are here? Dorian, Varric, Madame de Fer, The Iron Bull even Sera. You think they are here because of the Council? They came to stand with you.”

That left him speechless. He stared at her for a few moments, then looked away. She walked to him as he rubbed his eyes, smearing the tears away. Lace placed her hands on his chest, feeling his heartbeat and looked up at him.

We are not alone in this” she said watching several emotions cross his face, then it all crumbled. He sank to his knees in front of her, wrapping his arm around her. A shuddering breath left him and Lace’s arms went around him, holding him as he finally let his emotions go. He kept himself together for so long, he deserved a moment of weakness.

Lace held him until his breathing evened out and his death grip loosened on her clothes. She lowered herself to the ground too and they stayed there in each other’s arms for who knows how long.

After some time, Lace was starting to think he fell asleep like that, when the elf raised his head and looked at her. He placed his hand on her face.

“Thank you. I feel like I don’t say that enough to you.”

Lace felt a small smile form on her face. “You don’t need to.”

“Yes, I do.” He remained serious, but his look was not as empty as it was before. “Too often have I the feeling that I have to do everything on my own. But I never really was on my own, was I? In any case it couldn’t hurt to ask them.” The honest smile was a first in so many days that Lace felt tears gather in her eyes from the sight. She couldn’t help it, she leaned in to place her lips on his. To her surprise and relief, he returned the short kiss. That was also a first in some time.

He pulled away, looking at her with clear eyes. “Can I ask you to gather everyone here in an hour? If they are available, of course. I owe them some explanations.”

“Of course” Lace couldn’t hide the relief from her voice. He’d been sending everyone away; this was definitely progress. She stood, moving her limbs to get rid of the numbness settled into them without her realising it.

“Will you be alright until then or do you need anything else?”

He actually thought about it before shaking his head and he too got to his feet.

“No, I’ll be fine.”

For the first time in almost a week Lace believed him. She nodded with a smile. “I’ll be back with the others.”

 

 

The Council was arguing, again. Lace was leaning on the wall by the door not even listening to them. They have been squabbling in circles for a good ten minutes now. It was truly pointless. She had no idea how Josephine managed to keep herself so composed.

The murmurs rose when the Inquisitor marched into the room. She caught his eyes for a moment as he entered. An hour earlier he didn’t look composed at all when Lace helped him dress for the hearing. There was a determined, if tired look in his eyes and his hand shook as he tried to fasten his belt. Lace took it from him, working in silence, but with a soft smile on her lips. Now none of that was visible, at least not for the untrained eye.

Lace’s eyes shifted to the large book in his hand. So that was what he wanted from Cassandra.

Everyone in the room fell silent as the Inquisitor stopped next to Josephine and they exchanged a look.

“You all know what this is” he started, raising the book and turning around to address the whole crowd. “A writ from Divine Justinia authorizing the formation of the Inquisition. We pledged to close the Breech, find those responsible, and restore order. With or without anyone’s approval.” His voice was steady and strong.

Lace caught Cassandra’s small approving nod, she wondered if it would last. Surely she also had to know what was coming. The Inquisitor turned back to the Council.

“It wasn’t a formally authorized treaty that saved Ferelden’s people. It wasn’t careful diplomacy that ended your inane civil war. It was never about the organization. It was about people doing what was necessary.” He raised the book high as if an offering for the people sitting above him. It felt like the whole room held their breath in anticipation. Or maybe it was just her. He would do it. He would really do it. They talked about it a lot, weighting all the options, but the final decision was still his to make. But every single one of his companions assured him, whatever that decision may be, he won’t be alone.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me” he let the book go and the tome hit the floor with a heavy thud, “I have a world to save. Again.” He turned away from the Council, Lace met his eyes and she knew he could see the small smile on her face. She gave him an approving nod. He raised his hand in a dismissive gesture and started toward the door.

“Effective immediately, the Inquisition is disbanded.”

An uproar went through the crowd, but the only thing Lace saw was the satisfaction on the elf’s face. The change was immediate; he squared his shoulders, his head held high and his steps held a vigour she hadn’t seen in months. As if a lot of weight just disappeared from him. She followed him out of the room and fell in step beside him on the corridor. They paid no mind to the voices behind them. They had things to do.