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A Modest Proposal

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Everyone could tell when the boss was on his way.

The entire environment of the office would change: those chatting with coworkers, hanging around the coffee machine, and even those trying to get to the bathroom would rush to get in place at their desks, to be the very image of a perfectly professional workforce. It was like interrupting a casual potluck with a funeral.

Solas came sweeping down the hall, his eyes an agitated thunderstorm. The office was dead quiet as he stalked into his office and shut the door with a bang.

Varric whistled from his desk. “He is not happy today.”

“Is Ishalé not here today?” Dorian said, peeking over the other side of the cubicle. “That’ll make it worse.” Even so, there was a slight chuckle in his voice, ever the lover of drama.

As if on cue, Solas’s personal assistant, Ishalé Lavellan came flying out of the elevator, a coffee in her hand and the remnants of another splashed across the skirt of her work dress.

“How bad is it?” Ishalé asked in a rush.

“Oh, the usual. He’s grumpy and pouty and looking terribly dull in that grey jacket,” Dorian teased.

Ishalé’s nose wrinkled. “I think the jacket is... dignified.” The edge of her lip quirked up. It was no secret that her boss was quite a bit older than her, but that sweater made him look like he had escaped from a retirement community. “I better get to it before he feels deprived of coffee.” She winked at her friends before heading into Solas’s office.

Solas’s office was beautiful, elaborate paintings adorned the walls. Ishalé recognized the breathtaking scenery of Arlathan in many of them from her undergrad classes. Although she knew very little about her boss, she knew that Solas had come from Arlathan originally before moving to Fereldan. If they were friends instead of coworkers, she would have asked him so many questions. But it was fairly unprofessional to gush about history with her handsome boss when there was work to be done. But she couldn’t lie, the wistful way Solas talked about his home made her heart ache. The stories he must have to tell…

“Good morning, sir,” Ishalé said brightly as she entered.

Solas hummed in response, not even looking up from his computer. He pushed a notepad to the edge of his desk: tasks for Ishalé’s day already outlined, as they were every day. She set down his coffee and picked up the list, turning to leave his office and get to her long list of duties.

“A moment, Miss Lavellan?” Solas called from his desk.

Ishalé turned back and straightened. “Sir?”

Solas was holding the coffee up and scrutinizing the writing on it. “Who is ‘Bull’ and why does he want me to ‘call him?’”

Ishalé felt her stomach drop. Bull, more commonly known by his stage name, The Iron Bull, worked during his daylight hours as a barista and was a massive flirt. “Oh, I… spilled your coffee on the way over. That one was actually mine.”

Solas squinted then took a sip. It was perfect: decaf peppermint mocha, no whipped cream, a bit of foam. It seemed his assistant shared his coffee preferences to the letter. Strange. He had never noticed that before. He looked over and noticed the stains on her skirt. “It seems you got lucky.”

Ishalé tried her best not to scoff before nodding. “Yes, I did.”

“You can go, Miss Lavellan.”

Of course, there it was, the dismissal. Did she really need this job? No, but she couldn’t deny that she loved it. Getting to assist the editor of a travel magazine like Eluvian was a dream come true, and it didn’t waste her double majors in history and journalism that she slaved over. But days like this put her on edge, and sometimes she had to question if it was worth it.

She turned to leave once more before turning back. “By the way, Mr. Teagan is here.”

That gave Solas pause. Teagan was from the immigration office, but Solas’s visa wasn’t anywhere near close to expiring. He brushed off his concern easily, however. It was probably nothing. “You can send him in, Miss Lavellan.”

“Right away.”

*****
“Deported?!”

“Yes, Mr. Revas. You have two weeks to pack your things and leave Fereldan.”

Solas tried desperately to keep his composure. This couldn’t be happening. “I don’t understand, I- my work visa is still good-”

Teagan silenced him by raising his hand. “Unless I am mistaken, you went to Val Royeaux six months ago?”

“Of course I did, there was a major event to cover. I am essential to this company, after all.” Solas pushed up his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. The event in Orlais was a gathering of all the hottest travel and culture magazines across Thedas, Eluvian had to be there.

Teagan hummed. “That’s just it. Under the conditions of your visa, you aren’t supposed to leave Fereldan while the visa is active. You haven’t applied for citizenship, so we have you send you back. I’m afraid there are no other options.”

Solas groaned. The whole process was ridiculous, there was no reason to have to jump through this many hoops. He had been far too busy with his work to begin the process. “What am I supposed to do now? I can’t just leave, I have a company to run-”

“That isn’t our problem.”

“It should be! What a ridiculous rule-”

A soft knock interrupted, and Ishalé entered, carrying a stack of reports. Her first task already finished, very efficient. And her appearance gave Solas a moment to collect himself.

“Here are the sales reports you wanted,” Ishalé said with a smile, setting the stack on his desk.

Solas looked over her for a moment. Ishalé was a diligent worker, eager to succeed, always trying to keep a blithe smile on her face. Despite his professional coldness, Solas had always liked her. She did her work well and had an impressive resume. In a few years, she could become so much more than just a PA. She could be a writer, or an editor even, with enough time.

And then Solas had an idea. It wasn’t a good one, and it was a long shot, but it may be his only chance.

“Ishalé?” Solas called to her, his tone artificially lighter.

Ishalé looked up, confusion written all over her face. Solas never talked to her like that, all… friendly. He definitely never used her first name. “...Yes, sir?”

“It’s alright,” he said quickly to cover her use of moniker, taking a step closer to her. “I suppose we should tell Mr. Teagan the news.”

Ishalé looked back and forth between Teagan and Solas, her brows knit together. He was leading her, she could tell, but to what conclusion?

Until Solas reached out and gently but urgently slipped his hand into hers.

“You see, Mr. Teagan, Ishalé and I are engaged.”

Chapter Text

“Engaged?” Teagan and Ishalé said at the same time.

With a look from Solas, Ishalé got the message and straightened. “Yes… we are getting… married. Solas and I. Yes.”

Teagan raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s wonderful news. Just be sure to get the information put in at the agency.”

“Oh, we were going to this afternoon,” Solas explained, lightly squeezing Ishalé’s hand. “Isn’t that right, dear?”

“Of course… darling,” Ishalé answered right away, cursing how wooden she sounded. If anyone asked, she supposed she could chock it up to being unprepared for the announcement.

Everything else turned to static and Solas and Teagan exchanged pleasantries. Married? To Solas, her boss? That had never been part of her daydreams about him- not that she had that many! He was cold, dismissive, and now it was clear the only way he’d be interested in her, or anyone as it seemed, was to help him get out of his own mess. Ishalé just stared and smiled, stared and smiled until Teagan finally shook Solas’s hand.

“Congratulations, you two. I hope I’ll be able to attend the wedding,” Teagan said with a smile, almost a knowing smile.

“Of course,” Solas said, leading him out of the office and finally letting go of Ishalé’s hand.

When the door mercifully clicked closed, Solas moved in a flash, grabbing his briefcase and jacket. “Come on, we need to go.”

“W-What?” Ishalé stammered, laughing almost hysterically. “We’re not going to talk about this?”

Solas’s eyes flashed like lightning. “Not unless you want to get me fired from this company, which will also cost you your own job.”

Ishalé tried to respond, but the only thing that came out was a strange gawking noise. Solas brushed past her out of his office, towards the elevators, clearly expecting her to follow him. Ishalé stayed silent as they passed the sea of her coworkers, trying to act like they weren’t staring.

Solas marched out of the building with her on his heels, almost jogging to keep up.

“Wait, wait!” Ishalé called after him and he finally stopped, turning to look at her, clearly frustrated.

“What?”

“‘What?’” Ishalé repeated, echoing his frustration. “What the hell do you mean, where are we going?”

“Were you paying attention? The immigration office.”

“Because we’re ‘getting married?’” she scoffed. “Do you even realize that faking a marriage to get citizenship is crazy illegal? We could both go to prison for doing something like this.”

Solas couldn’t help but grit his teeth. “When did you become an expert in Fereldan immigration?”

“You read my resume. I do have a degree in history.” She shrugged. “You end up researching these things.”

Solas took a deep breath. The only way this would work was if they were on the same side, after all, he might as well attempt to be civil. It wasn’t like his assistant was annoying or ignorant, she was incredibly smart and a committed woman. “I don’t want to lose my position here. And I don’t want to be the reason you lost yours. If you help me, I can do everything in my power to make sure you advance in your career.”

That also sounds crazy illegal, Ishalé couldn’t help but think. On the other hand, a shotgun wedding and then a quick divorce, no relationship, and a chance to be more than an assistant with the help of one of the big names in journalism? Not bad. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“I’ll help you,” Ishalé started, “but I have a few conditions.”

Oh, boy, here we go. Solas nodded once, ready to listen.

“I want to be made junior editor after all this is over.”

“Done.”

“And an amazing letter of recommendation to graduate school.”

“Naturally.”

“One more thing,” Ishalé said, crossing her arms and looking very pleased with herself. “I want you to ask me.”

Solas blinked. “I did, and you agreed.”

“No, I mean, ask me to marry you.” Ishalé smirked.

Solas let out a long sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Alright. Will you-”

“Properly,” she interrupted, pointing down at the ground. “And do try to be romantic.” Oh this was rich. All the times he had been cold and dismissive to her, and now he was getting on one knee to pathetically ask her for her hand.

Solas looked up at her, none too pleased about this situation. “Ishalé..”

“Mmhmm?”

“Will you marry me?” he said flatly, trying to ignore the stares of the small crowd of onlookers that had gathered.

Ishalé hmmed, then shook her head. “I didn’t believe that at all.”

Solas held back a groan, then took one of her hands in his. “Ishalé Lavellan… dear, dear Ishalé-”
The smile on her face made it harder.
“Pretty please with a frilly cake on top, will you marry me?”

“Sure,” Ishalé quipped with a satisfied grin, pulling her hand away and continuing to walk so quickly that Solas almost fell forward into the pavement.

Solas quickly stood and gathered himself as the disappointed crowd dispersed. “Immigration office, then?”

“Naturally… fiancé.”

***

“Are you two faking this marriage to get him citizenship?”

Both Ishalé and Solas stared at the agent. Were they caught that easy, really? That is, until the agent laughed.

“I’m kidding. But I do need to emphasize the importance of the law,” he explained. “So, before you get married, you’ll have an interview, both together and separately.” He held out a thick folder. “Every question in this packet, you’ll have to answer perfectly.”

Ishalé took the folder and quickly flipped through it. Damn, that was a lot to learn about him in a few days. His birthday? Easy enough. His hobbies? Erm… His family history? Oh, crap. She was so wrapped in looking through the questions that she didn’t hear what the agent said to her. “Um… yes?”

“Have you met each other’s parents yet?”

Solas jumped in. “I don’t have any family to speak of. And I haven’t met Ishalé’s family yet.”

“That’s a bit strange, given your engagement,” the agent said suspiciously.

“Actually,” Solas said before Ishalé could speak, “her family has a big reunion gathering every year, I was going to meet them there.” Luckily, he had remembered the time she took off work every year around this time.

“Oh, wonderful,” the agent said. “We can schedule your interview for when you get back from…”

“Skyhold,” Ishalé supplied.

“Sky.. hold,” Solas repeated, hesitating slightly. That was so far from Denerin, nested in the Frostbacks. It was a place for avid winter explorers, skiers and snowboarders and campers.

This was going to be a very long trip.

Chapter Text

Solas was in no way dressed for the weather at Skyhold. Suit jackets, finely polished shoes, and slacks instead of appropriate winter wear. It would’ve been hilarious to Ishalé if she wasn’t so wrapped up in the situation. While she was looking through the bible of information she would have to learn, Solas had been asleep most of the flight. Now he was nonchalantly flipping through a book, as if everything were fine. Every so often, Ishalé would look over at him to see if he would even spare her a glance. So far, no luck.

“You worry too much,” Solas finally broke the stalemate, not looking away from his book.

“And I don’t think you’re worried enough,” Ishalé retorted. “You realize we have less than a week to learn all this, while you’re navigating my family and the reunion?” She took a deep breath. “Every night, we’ll have to go through at least some of these if we even hope to finish.”

“See? Nothing to worry about.” He casually sipped his water, not even giving her a sideways glance.

Ishalé rolled her eyes. “If you’re so confident then, care to try a few?”

Solas scoffed but set his book on the tray table and gestured for her to begin.

“I know your birthday is in November. When is my birthday?”

“May 14th. It’s in your employment file. Not to mention you check your horoscope almost daily,” Solas remarked coolly. “You really shouldn’t do that on company time or company devices, you know. And I can’t imagine someone as smart as you believing in that garbage.”

“Actually, I don’t,” Ishalé said, crossing her arms in frustration. “But god forbid I do things I enjoy.”

“I’m just saying, a mind such as yours? You should focus it on better pursuits.”

Ishalé began to retort, but caught herself and scoffed. “Look at us, arguing like an old married couple already.”

Solas couldn’t help but smirk a tiny bit. “Progress, then.”

Ishalé smiled to herself. “You’re not horrible to be around when you don’t have a stick up your butt.”

“Oh? Is that so?”

“Perish the thought, but you’re almost pleasant.”

“Well, I suppose I will have to remedy that. Can’t have you ruining my image, can I, Miss Lavellan?”

He has a cute smile, Ishalé thought. And he can joke? It was… almost nice being like this. Teasing each other like they were friends. Or maybe, more than friends. Maybe. She blushed a little at the thought and hid it by ducking back into the papers. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so terrible after all.

“Ishalé?”

Ishalé quickly looked up. “Huh?”

“What’s next on the list?” Solas repeated himself, his face back to neutral.

“Oh.” She hadn’t realized that the moment had been lost. It was disappointing… she internally shook herself. This isn't real. He’s not your fiancé, he isn’t even your boyfriend. He’s your boss, and you’re doing this for a promotion. A really, really good one. “Next then. Here’s a tricky one: Do I have any scars?”

“There’s one close to your hairline,” Solas answered. “I’ve seen it when you wear your hair in a bun.”

“Good eye. I fell off a horse when I was little.”

“You ride?”

“It was a merry go round horse. I say that so it doesn’t sound as pathetic.”

“That’s pretty pathetic.”

“Gee, thanks.” Ishalé put a checkmark next to that question.

Solas quirked his brow. “You aren’t going to ask me?”

“Besides that tiny one on your forehead, I know you have a tattoo,” Ishalé said with a smirk. “As hard as that is to picture. I can’t imagine where, though, you’ll have to tell me.”

“That’s not happening.”

“They’re going to ask.”

Solas grumbled, but stopped complaining. “How do you even know about that?”

“You got a call from your dermatologist about a year ago, and they said something about Q lasers. You canceled the appointment, of course, saying you were way too busy but I did look up that type of laser, and it’s used to remove tattoos.”

“Clever,” Solas panned as the announcement system pinged on.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent into Orzammar, please make sure your seatbelts are fastened and your tray tables..”

“Orzammar?” Solas repeated. “I thought we were going to Skyhold.”

“We have to get there first.” Ishalé sat back and closed her eyes for the landing. “You’ll see.”

Solas suddenly had a gut-wrenching feeling that the way there wasn’t going to be a fun one.

***
A crowded bus.

An overcrowded bus with no heaters that only played horrific country music for a 45-minute ride.
Solas would have drowned it out by focusing on his book, but the damned contraption bounced constantly on the unkempt roads. Not to mention the loud cacophony of voices yelling over each other and the music.

Ishalé seemed perfectly content to keep her earbuds in the entire time. At one point, he considered asking her what she was listening to in order to distract him a bit, but he wasn’t ready to abandon his pride just yet.

When the ride finally came to its merciful end, he felt as though he had been on some horrid amusement park attraction, but Ishalé hopped right up and got off the infernal machine. Solas grabbed his bags and stumbled out after her, noticing two women waving frantically to them.
In a flash, Ishalé rushed over and embraced the squealing women. “Kat! Auntie Deshanna!”

The woman she called Kat was a few years older than Ishalé, lean and muscled with white-blonde hair, her arms decorated with tattoos of all sorts. “It’s so good to see you, cousin! You really should come visit for more than these reunions, big city girl. Work isn’t the only part of life, you know-”

“Oh, stop pestering her, Katanya,” the elder woman shooed, embracing Ishalé warmly. “In any case, da’vhenan, I want to see this young man you brought with you.”

As if responding to the cue, Solas stepped forward, only to catch the way Deshanna looked him up and down. Judgingly.

“Oh, I suppose ‘young man’ isn’t exactly… appropriate.” She reached out, offering her hand for a shake with a plastered on smile.

“Solas,” he said in greeting. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Lavellan.”

“Oh, Deshanna, please. I'm Ishalé's great auntie,” she said with a casual wave of her hand. “So, do you prefer ‘Solas’ or ‘Fen’Harel’s buttplug?’ We’ve heard it both ways.”

From his side, Solas heard Ishalé choke and make a strangled noise.

“We’d better head to the house,” Kat said quickly to save the situation. “There are so many people waiting to see the both of you.” She wrapped her arm around Deshanna’s shoulder and helped her walk over to a parked Jeep.

Solas side eyed Ishalé. “‘Fen’harel’s buttplug?’”

“I’m so happy you’re here to meet my family, sweetie,” Ishalé gritted through clenched teeth, perhaps a little too loudly to ensure Kat and Deshanna would hear. She wrapped her arm around Solas’s. Luckily, the little ruse worked, and Kat pointed over at them with a gushing smile to show her auntie.

“Two down,” Solas remarked as they walked over.

“Don’t count that as an accomplishment, trust me.”

“Why?”

Ishalé didn’t answer. She hardly needed to, her face said it all. The both of them climbed into the cramped Jeep, as Deshanna began the rambling laundry list of people that were just so excited to see Ishalé and her mystery paramour.

“...and of course, your cousins did their best to all arrive…”

Solas had tuned out the chatter a few blocks ago, his focus caught by the buildings in the small town. Every other business… Lavellan Autos. Lavellan Homewares. Lavellan Brewing. A few brandishing ‘Mahariel’ were scattered amongst them, but most touted the Lavellan name.
Solas nudged his foot against Ishalé’s but she opted to ignore him. A harder nudge made her just barely conceal a squeak of pain and she glared green fire at him.
“You didn’t tell me about all the family businesses, love.”

From the driver’s seat, Kat laughed brightly. “Oh, that’s just Ishalé, probably being modest.”
Solas was the only one who noticed the way Ishalé shifted in her seat to make herself physically smaller. It was a subtle change in her posture, but enough for him to take notice as the Jeep pulled up to a gated area. “I’d better get to my hotel to check in-” he began, but Kat was already getting their bags out of the trunk.

Deshanna chuckled warmly. “Oh dear, we canceled those. Family stays with family.”

Solas forced a tiny smile, gritting his teeth to make sure no noise of displeasure escaped him as he followed the family past the gate. A hike following this entire mess of a day was just about the worst thing he could think of, but it wasn’t long before he could see through the trees, a spacious and beautiful lodge. Something like that wasn’t cheap, especially not in such a pristine, secluded area. Provided for by the family businesses, maybe? It seemed Ishalé had failed to inform him that she was some sort of mountaineer heiress.

Then he spotted the reason they parked so far from the house. Cars were parked all over the property as far as he could see.

And he realized it was probably time to meet the family. The whole family.

Chapter Text

“... and this is Merrill, she’s a good friend of the family, and her girlfriend.”

“Hi, Solas, it’s a pleasure,” Solas said woodenly, shaking the girls’ hands, ultimately filing them away with the dozens of other nameless faces he had met today. There had already been a mini-party in full swing when they had entered the house, cousins and aunts and grandparents crowding the entire place. “Just a little welcoming party,” Auntie Deshanna had said. ‘Little,’ my ass, Solas thought. It was as if the entirety of the town had shown up.

Ishalé was making a beeline through the house to the kitchen, almost as if she was avoiding something, with Solas on her heels, being stopped every other second. He finally cleared his throat to say what had been on his mind since they got out of the car. “So, why didn’t you tell me you were some kind of elven heiress?”

“I don’t know,” Ishalé deadpanned, “but maybe it’s because we were talking about you for the last few years.”

“You didn’t tell me you were rich.”

“I’m not rich. My family is rich.”

“That’s exactly something a rich person would say.”

“Okay, that’s it,” Ishalé growled under her breath, pulling him into an uncrowded corner of a kitchen. “This whole bickering-bickerson thing has to stop. My family needs to believe that we are in love, so if we’re going to do this, we play by my rules. And that includes letting me decide when and how we tell them we are engaged.”

“I’m fine with that, the problem is whether or not you can hide your detest for me long enough to make it believable,” he grumbled, but fully realized that she was correct. “Okay, okay. I can play the doting fiancé.”

“Thank you,” Ishalé snapped before taking a deep breath. As difficult and catty as she thought he was being, he was only one half of the equation, after all. “Okay, let’s-”

“Ishalé?” A way too high voice cooed at them, dragging them right back into the party atmosphere.

Ishalé looked up and responded brightly, in the way one does when seeing someone they barely remember but must be friendly with. “Mrs. Amell! So good to see you.” She gave the older woman a hug. “This is Solas. Mrs. Amell is a friend of the family, I know her kids.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Mrs. Amell cooed. “So, I’ve always wanted to know, what does a travel writer do?”

“I’ve been wondering that myself.”

An older man stepped up to the conversation, a tight, barely-there smile on his face. The silence that followed was telling, as well as the way Ishalé squared her shoulders and stood taller.

“Dad.”

There was a softness to the word, but it was lost quickly. The two exchanged a tight hug, short and awkward.

As they pulled away, the man’s eyes glanced over Solas, his lips tight. Judging. Features that made it obvious he wasn’t approving of his daughter’s beau. “This must be Solan.”

“Er, Solas, actually.”

“Right. Revasan Lavellan.” He held his hand out for a stiff handshake, which Solas returned as politely as he could manage.

“So, Ishalé, it must be a very exciting job, travel writing,” Mrs. Amell tried again, to save the conversation.

“Oh, she’s not a travel writer, Leandra,” Rey interrupted. “She’s a travel writer’s assistant, and Solan here is the writer.”

“Solas,” he corrected again.

Mrs. Amell cocked her head, her smile wavering slightly. “Oh, so you’re actually… Ishalé’s boss? Isn’t that… something?”

There it was, that discomfort both of them had been expecting. It was only natural, he did have a corporate position over her, which was strange in a relationship. Even problematic, given the circumstances. Which of course, Solas realized this was exactly the given circumstance, and quickly move to spoke.

But Rey got there first, the smile on his face merely a formality at this point. “I’m gonna get a refill,” he said, gesturing to his empty glass and walking away.

The tension, however, had not faded from their little corner of the kitchen. Ishalé had her arms tightly crossed across her chest and her lips were pressed in a tight line.

“Charming,” Solas remarked, staring after Rey with a joking smile, but it seemed Ishalé wasn’t really in the mood for mirth.

“I’ll be right back,” she said over her shoulder, following after her father. “That was a hell of a first impression, Dad.”

“Creators, Ishalé,” Revasan scoffed, looking at her incredulously. “I have to bend over backward to even get you to call or visit, and now you do show up with a boyfriend. A boyfriend that is your boss, who you said you couldn’t stand for the longest time-”

“We just got here, could we have five minutes of peace before throwing down the gauntlet?”

“I just didn’t think my college-educated daughter would go for a man twice her age for him to satisfy some perverted fantasy.”

That was the last straw for Ishalé to go from frustrated to fuming, for both her and Solas’s sakes. “I’ll have you know that that man in there is brilliant, and one of the most respected people in the business-”

“He’s your meal ticket, and you brought him home to meet the family.”

Ishalé coughed out a mirthless laugh. “No, no, Dad, you see, he’s not my meal ticket, he’s my fiancé.”

Without another word or acknowledgment of his stunned expression, she stalked off and grabbed a glass of wine from the kitchen, downing it in one gulp.

***
With Ishalé as a guide, Solas wandered aimlessly around the party, avoiding family members and old friends who were just dying to meet him. He supposed a fresh face was an exciting thing; most of Ishalé’s relatives of similar age had significant others that meshed well in the family dynamic, unlike him.

So lost in thought, he almost bumped into a young man that was clearly another relation, with the matching dark hair. He quickly gave a half-hearted apology.

“Hey, no worries, man!” the boy said. He was holding a tray of what looked like… “Frilly cake, my dude?”

Solas supposed it couldn’t hurt. They were his favorite after all, and he was doing hard work avoiding everyone until he had to forcibly be polite to the next family member.

“Family recipe, dude, green tea frilly cakes!” He had already picked one up, showing it off like a prize.

“Oh,” Solas couldn’t help but hide his disappointment. Tea- he detested the stuff. “No thank you, I’m really not a tea person-”

But the young man was stuffing the cake into Solas’s mouth before he could finish. “I think if you just try one man, it’s great!”

Solas coughed around it but chewed slowly to hide his look of disgust, as he heard a familiar voice from the next room.

“Everyone, I have an important announcement to make. Solas and I are getting married!”

Solas spit up the cake right onto the young man’s shirt. His throat went dry as every pair of eyes in the house turned to fixate on him. He gave a forced smile at the onlookers as the young man wiped himself off.

“Come on down here, honey,” Ishalé called to him, her corny sweetness spilling over. Solas stared at her with wide eyes but she just raised her eyebrows at him, signaling ‘get over here NOW.’ “Here he is, ladies and gentlemen.”

The room burst into applause as Solas joined Ishalé in the center. Cheers of congratulations meet them from the crowd. He vaguely heard someone say “Let’s have some champagne!” followed by a cork popping.

He was definitely first in line to get a glass, right next to Ishalé. “That was really the ‘best time’ to tell everybody?” he hissed.

“Mmhm,” the little devil hummed, clinking her champagne flute with his to make them seem like part of the festivities.

“Yeah, great timing,” Solas grumbled, looking over to see the young man he had just spewed frilly cake on trying to use spot remover on his shirt. “At least you told everybody in one swoop.”

“Hey, I thought swooping was my bit,” a puppy-like young man said as he approached them, a cheery smile on his face. “Hi, Isha.”

Solas had to keep himself from scoffing at the nickname, but Ishalé’s eyes completely lit up, a truly genuine smile breaking across he features. “Alistair? Oh my god!” She launched herself into his arms for a massive hug. “I can’t believe you’re here! Shouldn’t you be in Redcliffe?”

Alistair laughed and squeezed her tight. “Well, when I heard you were coming for the reunion, I realized I had some free time and could sneak off here. And Kat wanted to surprise you so, surprise.”

“It’s a great surprise,” she said as she pulled away.

Alistair turned his head and saw Solas observing. “And we’re being completely rude. This must be Solas,” he greeted, shaking his hand. “I’m Alistair, happy to meet you, sir.”

“He’s an old friend of Katanya’s, and she introduced us almost ten years ago,” Ishalé explained.

“You’re making me look old, Isha,” Alistair joked with a friendly wink.

The nickname. The meet-cute. Their friendly demeanor. It seemed Ishalé had just been reunited with an old flame. An old flame that seemed completely perfect for her. “That’s… a long time to know each other,” Solas finally managed to say.

“In any case, congratulations, you two!” Alistair chirped. “Did I miss the story? Ishalé knows I love a good story.”

Solas and Ishalé exchanged looks, both of them blinking in surprise. “Story?”

“About how he proposed, of course!”

There was a stunned silence for a bit, and Alistair began to ramble. “Unless Ishalé proposed, which would also be incredible, of course, I think women are very capable of proposing as well, it’s just as romantic and lovely-”

A sudden hand touched Solas’s arm, and he turned to see Deshanna at the edge of the couch. “I would love to hear the story, how one proposes says a lot about their character. Would you tell us, Ishalé?”

The friends and family took seats around the living room, giving them a small ‘stage.’ Both of them were exchanging panicked looks; as much as they had to make up to create this charade, they hadn’t exactly gotten that far yet.

Which was why Solas had hoped Ishalé would wait to tell the family until they could get a story straight.

“Well, you know,” Ishalé began, a mischievous twinkle in her voice, “Solas loves to tell this story, so I’ll let him take it away.” With a smirk, she perched herself on the armrest of the couch.

Solas choked and covered it with a chuckle. “Ah, well… where to start, where to start?” No time like the present to remove your foot from your mouth, Solas. “Okay, well, Ishalé and I… were about to celebrate our one year anniversary of dating.”

Good start; the room filled with muffled “awww”s. “And I knew that Ishalé was itching for it to happen. But she was nervous, like a little tiny bird, so I left little hints here and there that I was going to go for it so that she wouldn’t lose her mind over it-”

“Well, that’s not exactly what was happening,” Ishalé interrupted.

“No?” Solas repeated in a strained voice.

“No, you see,” she turned to address the room, “I definitely picked up on all his ‘little hints,’ he’s about as subtle as a barking dog.”

That got a laugh from the room, and Ishalé looked back at him with a satisfied smile. Your move.

Solas jumped right back in and picked up the story. “See, I was worried she would find this tiny little box I hid in my apartment-”

“Oh, the cute little decorative box that he made himself!” Ishalé cooed. “He took the time to cut out tiny little paper hearts from purple construction paper since he knows it’s my favorite color. He’s just so sensitive and romantic like that.”

There were a few scattered coos, but most of them confused and awkward instead of sweet. Now no one knew where the story was going, much less Solas.

“And once all the hearts cleared, I looked down into the box and found the most, gorgeous, big-”

“Fat nothing.” Et tu, Ishalé? Two could play that game, and Solas was playing to win. “There was nothing in the box.”

There was a clear air of disappointment in the room. Solas wondered if they wanted the ring to be inside the imaginary box or if they just wanted this ridiculous story to finally be over.

“What?” Deshanna whispered, as lost as everyone else, and she put her hand on Ishalé’s thigh in sympathy.

“No ring. But instead, in that box underneath all that crap,” he looked right at Ishalé, “there was a handwritten note with directions to an art museum in the city, with a date and time. Really poetic, of course, nothing less for my-”

“I thought he was being unfaithful,” Ishalé said, adding a dramatic teary sound to her voice. That one was a crowd-shocker, of course, just like she wanted. “It was really terrible for me, so I marched right to that museum to demand answers, tears in my eyes. I stormed right in to give him a piece of my mind, but there he was-”

“Standing-”

“Kneeling. And he had rented out the entire museum just for this moment, and he was wearing his nicest suit-”

“I hadn’t realized she would mistake my meaning so much, it was a bit awkward when she showed up to the museum in sweatpants and an ice cream stained shirt-”

“Solas was choking back soft, soft sobs, and when he held back the tears-”

“I said, ‘Ishalé will you marry me?’ and she said yes. That’s the end.” Solas finished the rest of his champagne, already inching away to get more. But luckily the family member with the stained shirt was bringing in more to fill his glass as the rest of the crowd whispered amongst themselves. Solas raised his glass and flashed his best charming smile. “Anyone else hungry? I could use more of this family’s incredible cooking.”

“Wait, wait,” stained shirt said, blocking his path to the kitchen. “I know Auntie Deshanna and she’s going to want to see a kiss from the happy couple before you disappear on us.”

“Oh, Darius, you took the words right out of my mouth!” Deshanna clapped her hands happily. “Go on, Ishalé, give him a kiss!”

Ishalé begrudgingly rose and joined Solas with a hesitant look. Yes, of course an engaged couple would kiss, but she didn’t expect to have to do it this soon. So she planted a sweet kiss on his cheek, just brushing the corner of his lips. “There we go, y'all happy?”

“Oh come on, a real kiss!” Merrill said from the crowd. “Kiss him, kiss him!”

Soon the whole room was in on the chant, and Ishalé raised her hands in defeat. “Okay, okay! Okay…” she looked up at Solas, looking about as ready as he felt.

Solas had never thought about kissing his assistant. Not that she wasn’t a perfectly kissable woman, but that was a wildly inappropriate thought to have about a member of his staff. He was so caught up in the thought that he hardly registered the press of her lips to his.

She has soft lips, was his first thought.

It was a chaste kiss, very simple, but ultimately… enjoyable. More than he would’ve thought. Hoping to not overstep his bounds, he reached up and put a hand on her cheek. To his surprise, she leaned into his touch as they kissed. Even her eyes were closed, so he allowed himself to do the same. The crowd around them cheered and clapped until they pulled away.

They stared at each other for what was probably too long, unbeknownst to each other, both thinking of how that kiss would’ve been if it wasn’t completely fake.

Chapter Text

Most of the houseguests had finally left or retreated to their own rooms, and Solas was lamenting the cancellation of his hotel reservations. The gesture from the family would have been very sweet, not given the circumstances.

Deshanna and Katanya led them to a sprawling guest room that was rustically gorgeous with a giant bed and wood affixtures. Solas’s luggage had already been moved into the room. Thank god, that would make for a quick transition into bed. He couldn’t wait to have a peaceful sleep.

Solas looked over at the family. “Thank you. Where is Ishalé’s room?” He supposed he could make it look good if he walked her there and kissed her goodnight.

“Oh, honey, we’re under no delusions that the two of you don’t sleep in the same bed,” Kat laughed. “You’re adults, we aren’t worried.” She opened a small closet by the door to the bathroom. “There are sheets and towels and such if you need in here.”

“And this,” Deshanna added, pulling out a large, handmade quilt. “It can get chilly at night, so use this if you need.” She suddenly got a twinkle in her eye. “It has special powers.”

“Oh?” Solas half-laughed, taking it from her with no shortage of amusement.

“It’s called the ‘babymaker.’”

“Oh!” Solas set it on the bed as quickly as he could without outright throwing it away from him. “Yes, well-”

A flash of brown darted into the room and Solas jumped back as a giant furry beast ran to his feet and barked at him. “What-what is that?”

“Aww, Fenley!” Ishalé cooed in a way one usually reserves for a baby, getting on her knees to greet the massive dog. “I didn’t know you were bringing him with!”

Solas looked down, grimacing as the dog licked at her face. “Is that… a mabari?”

“Full-fledged!” Kat said proudly, patting the dog’s flank. “This is Fen’lath, but we all call him Fenley. I got him down south, when I was in Ostagar.”

Fenley turned his head to Solas and barked, even growled a bit.

“Fenley, don’t growl at Solas!” Kat pulled Fenley back a bit and he sat, but the dog’s eyes didn’t leave Solas even as he sat still, his tail unwagging.

“I don’t know why he’s acting like this, he’s usually the sweetest,” Deshanna explained.

“Come on, auntie. They’ve had a long day and so have we.” Kat took Deshanna by the arm and waved to them. “Goodnight, you two. We’ll see you in the morning. Come on, Fenley.”

“Bye.” “Night.” Ishalé and Solas mumbled, breaking apart as soon as the door clicked closed. Solas immediately tossed the baby- power blanket from the bed. He wasn’t superstitious, certainly not, but he wasn’t going to tempt some sort of cruel fate. “So, only one bed.”

“I’m sure you’re dreading the thought of sharing with me,” Ishalé threw over her shoulder, grabbing her pjs out of her bag. “Take the bed, I’ll curl up by the fireplace.”

In truth, Solas wouldn’t have minded sharing that badly; they were adults, just as Kat had said. “I can-”

“You don’t have to play the gentleman. I know full well you aren’t one,” she smirked at him as she set up a makeshift bed on the floor. She slipped under the blankets and sighed. “My family will probably wake us up early, so I would get to sleep right away.”

Solas hummed in acknowledgment and went into the bathroom. There was one problem: he usually slept naked. Clothes were too restricting at night for him. It wouldn’t have been a problem, in a hotel room. He stripped down to his boxers and peeked out the door. Ishalé’s eyes were closed, so he assumed she was already sleeping, and tiptoe ran across the floor to the bed as not to disturb her and climbed into it.

“That’s what you chose to wear to sleep in the Frostbacks?”

“Did you feel some kind of compulsion to look at me in my underwear?”

“You were being sneaky about something,” Ishalé defended. “If you remember, you are my boss and I don’t know anything about you. Maybe you were doing speed in the bathroom.” She lifted up a small remote and turned off the lights with a click. “Lucky for me, you’re just wandering naked around my parents’ house.”

“I’m not naked, and it’s not like I’m in the family room in my underclothes. Besides, I was supposed to be in a hotel room. Alone.” Solas grumbled, settling into bed, but his mind grabbed onto something she said. Her parents’ house. Parents, as in plural. But today, he had only been introduced to cousins and other distant relations and had that awkward encounter with her dad. But no meeting her mother?

Solas called out into the dark room. “Why didn’t I meet your mother today?”

Silence was the only thing that greeted him, so he closed his eyes to sleep in response.

***

Buzzing. Why was there buzzing? He wouldn’t have set an alarm, it’s the weekend, so why was there-

Solas darted up from where he was sleeping. On the nightstand, his phone was going off like crazy. He snatched it and answered it. “Hello, hello? Yes? Oh, Abelas, you’re returning my call, great!”

He had to practically yell into the phone, the reception was so bad, and with a look out the window he could see that it was barely past dawn. But he had to take this call- Abelas was basically a nomad, a modern Odysseus, but a complete recluse. Getting an interview with him would be the career booster of a lifetime. “Yes, I can hear you, my reception is terrible, give me one second!”

“God, Solas, will you shut up!” Ishalé whisper-hissed from the floor, covering her ears with her pillow. “You’ll wake up the whole house!”

Solas grabbed a plaid robe from the back of the bathroom door and darted out of the room. The reception kept getting stronger as he went outside, but left the door gaping wide open. “Yes, yes, Abelas I hear you, I’m sorry you feel pressured by the… pressure of being published, but we can keep you anonymous in the article-”

As Solas rambled on, Fenley rushed outside the house, barking his head off. Of course that mabari would find him in the middle of a very important call.

“Listen, Abelas, it’s very important to me that you feel comfortable-”

BARK. Suddenly the dog was right at his feet, yapping at him.

“Abelas, Abelas, listen-” BARK BARK “No, I can hear you, stay on the phone-” BARK BARK BARK.

Solas tried to walk away, but the dog wouldn’t give up the chase, so Solas broke into a flat out sprint around the property with the mutt right at his tail.

“Your comfort- is so im-important to us! To me!” he called into the phone, wheezing with every other word. He looked over his shoulder. Fenley was gaining on him. “Abelas, I think- I think it would be a wh-waste of your experiences not to- not to- to-” Fenley was at his heels and jumped at him. “One second, Abelas!”

Fenley jumped, and Solas held out his arm to block it, and the damned thing snatched his phone right out of his hand and hauled ass towards the lake.

“No… no, no, no, no!” Solas cried, racing after the scoundrel. “Abelas, Abelas! Don’t hang up!”

But it was too late, and Fenley had already dropped his phone right into the lake.

“Fenedhis!” Solas cursed and threw his hands up, stomping around and using every creative expression that he could think of.

And the little thief. Fenley trotted right over to his feet, tail wagging and tongue out, going right into a play pose.

“What are you doing?”

Solas whipped around, and there was Ishalé, a very amused grin sprawling her features. He pointed at the dog, desperately trying to form words. “The dog. He-he took my phone!”

“Uh huh?”

“He dropped it in the lake! And that’s my business phone, important business contacts are trying to call me on that phone-”

“Okay,” Ishalé laughed, walking over to the lake’s edge. She reached in and plucked out his soaking wet phone.

“There’s no way that will work anymore.” Solas crossed his arms. How could this get any worse?

“Will you relax? I’ll call our place in town, and we’ll have a new one with the same number by tomorrow.”

An entire day? That could be worse. But if it was his only option, he could live with it.

“Now, go actually get dressed,” Ishalé said. “My family wants to take you out on the town, get to know you, do some shopping.”

“I hate that kind of stuff,” Solas said.

“I know,” Ishalé smiled. “But you’re gonna have a great day with my family so not to raise any suspicion. Now give me a hug, and let’s make it cheesy.”

Solas groaned, but wrapped her in his arms anyway, letting her squeeze around his middle for a long moment. She even rocked them back and forth for a bit. “Are you done yet, Ishalé?”

“Hmm, just about.” Ishalé lifted her chin and gave him a loud kiss on the cheek, complete with an obnoxious ‘mwah!’ “Now I am. Enjoy your day, honey. Don’t have too much fun without me!” she waved over her shoulder as she went back inside to get more sleep.

“Lucky minx,” Solas grumbled under his breath before putting on a smile and walking back inside, the mabari trotting along at his heels.

***
Deshanna, Katanya, and a smattering of other relations had taken Solas to a small lakeside bar. It was nowhere near the places he went when he went drinking (alone), but the bartender had recognized the family members and was giving them discounts. Solas ordered whiskey on the rocks, but the bartender brought out something so wild and colorful that had to have an entire rainbow of different alcohol in it. The bar’s speciality, or so the burly man had said.

Solas was sipping at it to be polite, but good lord, the sugar content was overwhelming. He finally had an excuse to set it aside when the family started talking about old stories, including a very nice one about how they lost Ishalé in the woods for an entire afternoon when she was little, only to find her stuck from ambitiously climbing a too-tall tree. It was equally adorable and amusing, imagining Ishalé with pigtails and mud-stained overalls, sobbing in a tree.

Little Ishalé had finally been saved when her father climbed up, bad back and all, to get her down. It was a sweet ending, but the Revasan in the story didn’t sound at all like the cold, stiff man he had met the day before. What had changed in those years?

Solas was yanked from his thoughts when the lights dimmed and the crowd began cheering. “What’s going on?” he whispered to no one in particular.

“It’s a real treat!” Despite her age, Deshanna was practically bouncing in her seat. “Darius is a great performer, and we convinced him to take his show on the road, so to speak.”

Darius… why was that name familiar? He was certain he had met him the other day, but so many faces flashed through his head as possible answers.

A beat-heavy song about love and craziness came blasting over the speakers, and lights illuminated on a makeshift stage near their table. There was whooping and chanting all around Solas, and he honestly had no idea what to expect.

From the hastily put up curtains emerged a very tall woman, wearing a slinky dress and way too much makeup. Her curves were extreme given her slender form, and her hair added several inches to her height much like the stilettos she was wearing. She lip-synced to the song played, dancing scandalously across the floor.

“So, where is my groom to be?” she called out to the room, and Solas realized.

The woman was a drag queen. There were plenty of drag bars in Denerim, but Solas had never been to one. It seemed strange to show up to one alone- it wasn’t like he really had friends to go with.

Even through the makeup, Solas could recognize who the queen was- the cousin he had spat frilly cake on.

Deshanna and Kat waved their arms, pointing out Solas as Merrill set a hat with a tuxedo pattern on his head. He forced an uncomfortable smile as the queen approached.

“Hello, handsome. I am… Dalish Delish!” she cooed at him, leaning over the table to show off her chest. “And I hear you’re engaged to my dear cousin. Well, sweetie,” she stood and fluffed out her hair, “you have definitely missed your chance to be with the prettiest cousin!”

The crowd laughed and cheered as the song started back up and she began to lip sync and dance once again, collecting bills from the audience, but specifically focusing on Solas.

“Smack it!” Deshanna encouraged him with a big smile. “Smack the butt!”

Solas shook his head, horrified at the thought, but the others cheered him on. He lifted his hand but was very hesitant. She shook her fake butt in front of his face and he gave it a half-hearted tap.

“Ooo, naughty!” Delish purred to the crowd and planted a kiss right on his forehead. Solas was sure he would have a lipstick mark, given all the makeup Delish was wearing. She climbed back up to the stage and continued to dance, absolutely shedding glitter everywhere.

Solas had to get out of here.

Once he found a window to escape, he rushed out a door to a little porch that overlooked the lake. He mumbled a quick sorry to the marine life and tossed what was left of his drink into the water. The tux hat came right off, and he wished he had a mirror to see where the lipstick was.

“A little much for you, eh?”

Solas turned and saw Alistair, approaching him with a kind smile. Alistair leaned against the railing and set down his drink. “Yeah, the family can be a little overwhelming. But they’re really happy for you and Isha.”

There was that nickname again. Solas cleared his throat. “So, you and Ishalé-”

Alistair laughed, big and warm. “Yeah, we used to date. You don’t need to worry, I’m happy for you too- she’s really special. But of course you know that already.”

Solas hummed in response. “How did things… end for you? If I may ask.”

Alistair let out a breath, but his smile didn’t fade. “I grew up near here, in Redcliffe. Ishalé and I dated all through high school. The night we graduated, she asked me to move to Denerim with her, where we would get married and she would go to school.”

“You said no?” Solas asked, stunned.

“I did. I wanted to stay away from Denerim, stay in the west and discover what I wanted to do,” Alistair explained, staring down into the water with an unreadable expression. “I… was expected to be in politics because of my family. If I went to Denerim, I would’ve been stuck in that life. So I decided not to, and Ishalé went alone.” Within a moment, he perked back up again. “But I can tell she’s happy. That’s what important. I’m glad she has you.”

Alistair clapped Solas on the shoulder, like an old friend. “I’m heading back in. I’m glad I got to meet you, friend.” He walked back through the door and awkwardly danced his way back to a table, cheering as the show wrapped up.

Solas stared over the lake, his gut twisting in a way he wasn’t familiar with. The family, Alistair, this town, everyone it seemed- they all loved Ishalé so much. And Solas was blackmailing her for his gain.

He shook it off. They would have a quickie divorce after the required time and her life would continue. Maybe reconnect with Alistair. As a full writer, she could completely support him, though the idea of them back together gave him a strange itching in his throat.

No matter. Soon, this would all be over.

Chapter Text

After Solas had left for his fun-filled day, Ishalé got ready for a real vacation day. Her family was so enamored with her ‘finace’ that she had a day all to herself. That meant a whole day of curling up and reading a book, taking a relaxing bath, and… whatever the hell she wanted, really.

Until Revasan asked to speak with her, outside by the lake.

“Talking by the lake” was a great family euphemism for “arguing with a family member that’s convinced you’re wrong.”

Ishalé tossed aside her book and stood, giving Fenley a pat on the head for luck before heading outside. Her dad was standing at the edge of the water, looking over the vast area.

“It’s an amazing place, here,” Rey said as his daughter approached. “You probably don’t get many views like this in a crowded city like Denerim.”

“You wanted to talk,” Ishalé said bluntly; she wasn’t going to get guilt-tripped into hours of conversation about how every adult decision she ever made was somehow wrong. “Let’s just talk, Dad.”

“Deshanna is very peeved with me. Apparently, I was not the most gracious of hosts yesterday,” Rey grumbled. “It was a bit of a shock finding out you were getting married, especially since no one actually knew you were dating anybody, but the point is… I do owe you and Solas an apology.”

Ishalé didn’t quite know what to expect from this conversation, but it certainly wasn’t that. “Oh, well… that’s okay. I know it was a big surprise-”

“I’ve been looking at my retirement fund again.” Now he just jumped right into it. No beating around the bush now. “I’ve done many things in my life, built our family a foundation-”

“Oh, no, Dad, I’m not having this conversation with you again. ‘It all means nothing without someone to leave it to, blah blah blah. Me running the family businesses was your dream, not mine.”

“Well, we’re going to have it again,” Rey pushed. “You have a responsibility to your family. This is where you belong, not brownnosing bigwig assholes in some damn city. I have been more than understanding about you ‘discovering yourself’ in Denerim-”

“That’s what you think that was?” Ishalé scoffed, beginning to see red. “You think I was just wasting my time with some hobby? You have no idea how hard and how long I have worked for this, for my career! And you want me to throw that away? Take what I do seriously for once.”

“I will when you start acting seriously, Ishalé!”

“You know what, Dad?” Her anger had boiled over to a point where she was completely even-voiced, and her face was blank and numb. “I feel sorry for you. I’m sorry you don’t have another kid, one that wanted your life. I’m sorry you didn’t get to experience more out of living. You’ll never understand my life in Denerim, sitting in an office reading articles and organizing picture displays, but it makes me happy, which is another thing you’re never going to understand.”

“Ishalé!”

“I’m sorry about Mom being gone, because I know that’s the root of all this.” There it was- the real way to hurt him back. “You’re lonely and you have no idea what to do with yourself, but you will not trap me here because of her.”

“In that case, we have nothing to say to each other,” Rey answered without even looking at her, once again staring over the water.

“Fine, okay, apology not accepted.” Ishalé stormed back towards the house, fists clenched at her side. So much for a relaxing free day.

***

Deshanna and the girls were still joking and laughing when the group arrived back at the house. Mostly at Solas’s expense, but he didn’t feel like they were making fun of him. It was more like they had pulled him into their pack and he was witness to the making of inside jokes.

It was really… strange. Nice strange, but strange.

“You should go and find Ishalé,” Kat told him when they parked the Jeep. “We won’t keep you from your blushing bride any longer, promise.”

“Oh, no,” Deshanna said, pointing out a large tree in the front yard.

A half-finished tree house perched in the branches, complete with a place for a swing and rope ladder; every child’s fever dream, really. At the bottom on the tree, Ishalé was sawing into a piece of wood on a stand with plenty more stacked beside her, sweat running down her clenched jaw.

“Ishalé!” Kat and Deshanna called out to her, but her earbuds were in and she didn’t even look their way.

“Is everything alright?” Solas ventured.

“She’s working through something,” Deshanna sighed, gently touching his arm. “Best to let her get through it on her own, come on inside.”

As soon as they walked inside, Deshanna made a beeline for the living room where Rey was sitting. He was watching some sort of boat show, until Deshanna turned off the TV and stood in front of it, her arms crossed and her eyes accusatory. “Why is your daughter out there trying to finish that treehouse again?”

“I was watching that! And maybe she’s decided she’ll sleep in it instead of the house as rebellion.” Rey reached for the remote again, but Deshanna snatched it from him.

Solas hovered by the doorway and cleared his throat. “Well, I am beat. I think I’m going to wash off all the glitter.”

Deshanna turned to him with a loving smile. “Of course.”

“I had… a great day today.” Huh, that was one of the first things he had said here that wasn’t a lie. He turned to head to the guest room, but his curiousity got the better of him, and he continued to listen just out of sight. Maybe he would get an explanation of the tense dynamic between Ishalé and her father.

“What did you do?” Deshanna whisper-shouted at her nephew.

Rey scoffed loudly. “What did I do? I just had a frank conversation with her about the future.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a good idea! Now you’ve guaranteed that she will never come back here again! We only get to see her every couple of years because of you.” Deshanna’s voice sounded like it was going to crack. “I’ve had enough, Revasan. Creators forbid, they have a child that none of us ever get to meet!” Her voice went low, dark and dangerous. You are going to fix this-”

Solas turned his head to hear more, but Fenley trotted into the room and started yapping at him, thinking it was time for more play. “Shh, shush!”

The dog wouldn’t shush, and Solas skimpered away from him all the way back to the room just as Ishalé came in from the yard. Music was still blasting from her headphones and she lazily made her way to the room.

***

Solas had gotten in for a short shower, getting the glitter and makeup and bar smell off his skin. More than once, he caught himself singing softly: “Love got me looking so crazy… your touch so crazy right now…” He moved to get out, but on the little rack there wasn’t a towel. Shoot, that meant getting one from the closet and leaving a wet mark on the floor. Ah, well, nothing a little clean up wouldn’t fix.

Ishalé had gone out onto the balcony, letting the cool air help her get back to a normal body temp as the music cleared her mind. She was absolutely covered in sweat, from anger and exertion. A shower would help fix that, a nice quick one, so she shucked off her shirt so she was in a sports bra and pants before going back inside the room.

Solas opened the door a crack and checked for anyone in the room. He had found a tiny washcloth and was using it to cover his genitals as he went towards the closet. It looked ridiculous, but thank god he had the room all to himself.

Ishalé shimmied out of her pants and underwear and had to practically peel off her sports bra as she walked to the bathroom. Gross. Thank god she had the room all to herself.

SMACK.

They fell on the floor in a heap, stacked right on top of each other.

Naked.

It took everything to keep Ishalé from screaming as they scurried away from each other in a tangled, wet mess. “What on earth are you doing?!” she whisper-screeched at him. “Why are you naked?!” She grabbed one of the blankets from her floor bed, wrapping it around herself.

“I needed a towel!” Solas swore, keeping his crotch hidden. “What about you?!”

“I was outside!”

“And you didn’t hear me in here?!”

“I was listening to music!” Ishalé scooched behind the bed as Solas finally grabbed a towel to wrap around his waist. “Why did you decide to jump me out of nowhere, Solas, huh?!”

“I did not, I was grabbing a- look, whatever, go shower!” he cried, going over to the bed and flopping down on it as Ishalé jogged to the bathroom.

“Nice tattoo, by the way!” She mocked over her shoulder.

Oh, great. She saw the tattoo.

Chapter Text

Both Solas and Ishalé had curled up in bed, the crackling fire the only source of noise in the room as they both replayed the naked horror over and over in their minds.

“So… so naked,” Ishalé finally mused to the ceiling, as if processing some traumatic memory.

“Can we not discuss that?” Solas groaned. It would be a disaster if anyone found out about that. It didn’t help that Solas now had a picture implanted in his memory forever of Ishalé nude and on top of him; worse, he was faced with the conclusion that Ishalé completely naked… was actually a wonderful sight to behold. He had always thought she was a very attractive woman, but now he couldn’t help it going further.

Ishalé Lavellan, his assistant and fake fiancee, was a very beautiful woman.

He wondered idly if she was having similar thoughts, but pushed them from his mind. Why would she be thinking the same of a man almost twice her age, bald and boring and completely rude to her?

“I’m just saying,” Ishalé teased, a smile in her voice, before they fell back into the uncomfortable silence.

“So,” Solas decided to try his luck now that she seemed to be in a better mood, “what’s going on with you and your father?”

“Oh, sorry, that question is not in the interview binder.”

“I thought you were the one who was so insistent about us learning all this about each other-”

“Not about that, I didn’t.”

“Just thought I’d ask-”

“Not about that, Solas, good night.” Finality pierced her tone. A rustle of blankets. She must have turned away from the bed. For a split second, Solas swore he heard a sniffle, maybe a hiccup.

For as much as she didn’t want to talk, Solas felt like he needed to say something, anything. He was really getting to the point where he felt like they could pull this off, that they had fabricated a relationship enough believable to make it work.

But one question gnawed at him: how much of this was actually fabrication at this point?

“I like painting.”

Another rustle of blankets. “Huh?”

“I like to paint,” Solas repeated. “Those murals in my office that you always admire during meetings? I painted those. I have much more at home. Hm…” he tried to think of more he could share with her. “As a boy, I was taught ballroom dancing. My favorite song when I was a teenager was ‘Oo-oh Child’ by Five Stairsteps. I don’t like Satinalia, it reminds me of the past. I always spend it alone, anyhow… I’ve never played a video game. At least once a year, I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s probably my favorite book. I’ve been single for… almost four years now. And, that day when Teagan came to the office and said I was getting deported? When I got home that night, I cried trying to fall asleep because I felt that all my work was going to be for nothing. And the tattoo on my chest- it’s a wolf. I got it when I was 18, when I broke off from my family. It was pretty stupid. You wouldn’t think I was the same person: back then, I was cocky and always itching to start a fight.”

Silence.

“I’m sure there are many other things, but that’s all I can think of right now.” He finally ended his monologue, taking a deep breath. No answer. “Ishalé?”

“Yeah, I’m here. Just processing.”

Solas let her do so, staring up at the ceiling, getting a strange sense of anxiety that he had shared way too much, until she spoke again.

“You’ve really been single for that long?”

“Out of all that, that’s what you take away?” he scoffed, but his heart wasn’t in it. He’d been single for longer than he’d known her, longer than she’d worked for him. He didn’t like to dwell on it. “I’ve… been a little busy.”

“Who’s the Five... Stairsteps?”

Solas felt old all of a sudden. “You know, they sing that song…” he was already vulnerable enough, but he started to softly sing. “‘Oo-ooh child, things are gonna get easier… oo-ooh child, things are gonna get brighter…” he trailed off. He couldn’t do it anymore. A singer, he was not.

“Solas?”

“Yeah?”

“I know who they are. I just wanted to see if you would sing it,” she broke out into soft laughter.

Solas surprisingly found himself smiling, endeared by her little joke. Not to mention that she had a nice laugh; he felt disappointed that he had never been able to hear it before. From now on, he would strive to hear it more.

And the knot in his chest tightened further.

“My mom loved that song.”

It was barely a whisper into the darkness, but loud enough for Solas to hear. He didn’t respond, not wanting to push any further than she was comfortable going.

“Solas… would you like to meet my mom?” Ishalé breathed softly, almost shyly. It seemed like it was her turn to be vulnerable.

“I would.”

“Okay,” came her voice, almost a sigh of relief. “Solas?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but… you are a very, very handsome man.” The smile had returned to her voice.
A weight in Solas’s gut lifted and he felt like he could breathe a little easier. What was this woman doing to him?

There was a peaceful silence where he processed it all before Solas heard, “Oh-oh child, things are gonna get easier… oh-oh, child, things’ll get brighter…”

Solas couldn’t help but smile to himself and close his eyes at the sound of her singing. “‘Someday, we’ll put it together and we’ll get it all done…’”

“‘Someday when your head is much lighter…’”

They joined together then. “‘Someday, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun, someday when the world is much brighter.’”

Ishalé dissolved into laughter once again, and Solas couldn’t help himself from joining her with soft chuckles as they wound down. He felt his eyelids droop and her voice lulled him into restful sleep.

***

Solas lazed in his art room, painting as a violin piece played through the speakers. The piece he was working on was almost finished, almost perfect. Of course, it could never do justice to its subject, but he was going to try his damndest.

It was a rainy Sunday morning in Denerim, but he enjoyed the weather. It meant staying inside and getting cozy.

“I brought cocoa,” a lilting voice called. Its owner stepped inside the room and Solas moved to conceal the painting. “I made it just the way you like it.”

He took it with a small smile. “You are too good to me, Ishalé.”

Ishalé smiled brightly, her emerald eyes positively glowing. Which reminded him, he really needed to get the perfect green paint mixture started. “What are you painting?”

“It’s a surprise, ma vhenan. You’ll see it when it’s finished.” He sat in the comfy armchair close to the window and looked out to the rain as he sipped his drink.

Per usual, his heart walked right over and curled up in his lap. It was then he realized: she was wearing one of his button ups. Of course, it was way too big on her, it was practically a dress, but, “I love seeing you in my clothes.”

“Good, because I like wearing them,” Ishalé teased, moving to straddle his legs and set his mug aside. “About as much as I like… not wearing them.”

Hmm, she wanted to flirt. Solas leaned forward for a kiss, but his lips met her finger. “Tell me what you’re painting and you can have a kiss.”

Ah, she wanted to play, the minx. Solas reached up and started gently popping the buttons on the shirt, revealing more of her skin. “What part of ‘it’s a surprise’ don’t you understand? Curiosity killed the proverbial cat.”

“Satisfaction brought it back.” Ishalé had leaned forward, her perfect lips just inches from his. “Won’t you tell me, vhenan’ara?”

He couldn’t resist. He turned and pulled the easel closer to reveal a portrait of Ishalé, looking like an ethereal goddess in soft purple silks.

“Solas,” she cooed when she saw it, gaping at him. “It’s beautiful… I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t, my heart,” he breathed, lifting his chin to brush his lips against hers. She wrapped her arms around his neck and his hands enveloped her, pulling her flush towards him as the kiss deepened. The smell, the taste, the feel of her in his arms was enough to have his heart racing.

Ishalé finally broke away for air, leaning her forehead to his. Their noses rubbed and she began to speak.

“Breakfast, you two!”

***

Solas was yanked out of his dream by the call of an eager voice and he sat straight up in bed.

“Room service, for the happy couple!”

He recognized that voice. It was Deshanna, calling from the other side of the door. Waiting to come in.

Oh, shit.

He leaned over the bed to see Ishalé’s sleeping form. “Ishalé, wake up! Ishalé!” he tried whispering to her, but she just rolled over with a soft ‘hmmph.’

Good thing there were so many decorative throw pillows on this bed. He snatched one and tossed it at her, waking her up immediately. “Solas, what the hell-”

“Get up here!” he hissed, pointing at the door. “Your aunt is outside with breakfast?”

Ishalé’s eyes lit up with recognition and she scrambled up from the floor. She made sure to chuck the pillow right back at him - even getting a nice headshot- before climbing up and under the covers to snuggle up with him until she felt something hard poke at her hip. “What is that?”

Well, there wasn’t exactly a good reasoning for that. Other than the admittedly lovely dream Solas had been having, but there was no way he would tell her that. “It’s… morning, what am I supposed to do?”

“Oh, gross,” Ishalé grumbled, wiggling to find a position they were both comfortable in, but failed. She ended up tucked into his side with his arm around her shoulders as if they were two buddies on a dirty couch watching the game.

Solas noticed somehow that that quilt - the “babymaker”- had ended up back on the bed, and he flung it off with more than a little disgust.

“Everything okay?” Deshanna called from the hallway.

“Yep, yes, fine! One second!” Ishalé yelled, arranging the blankets around them before calling back, “Okay, uh, come in!”

Deshanna came in with a huge smile and a tray full of breakfast goodies: cinnamon rolls and bacon and coffee.

“Smells wonderful,” Solas said politely, but it was the truth. His mouth was already watering at the coffee and cinnamon smells. “You didn’t need to go to all the trouble.”

“Trust me, it was no trouble,” she said, setting the tray on the nightstand.

“Room for one more?” a cheery voice asked as Revasan stepped into the guest room. Solas felt Ishalé tense beside him.

Ishalé cleared her throat. “Oh, wow, are we doing a Brady Bunch family goodtimes thing right now? We just… got up, if you guys don’t mind.” Solas yawned and stretched to make her case seem more plausible until she subtly elbowed him in the ribs.

“Well, Ishalé, your aunt and I were talking, and she had an idea, one that I think is a terrific one, by the way-”

“We want you to get married here tomorrow!” Deshanna announced, her smile overwhelmingly dazzling.

Both Solas and Ishalé sat shell-shocked, neither able to answer. Even if they were a real couple, wouldn’t it still be too early? And then given the fact that they were not at all a real couple, that made the situation even more awkward.

“Wh-what?” Ishalé finally sputtered. “Here?”

“I thought, you’re going to get married anyway, why not have it here with the whole family?” Deshanna explained.

Ishalé sounded out random vowels, looking for the right word. “I-I couldn’t, we couldn’t, it’s the big family reunion, we couldn’t overshadow that!”

“We have these reunions every few years, anyway, sweetie. It would be a dream come true to see you get married here, none of your cousins kept up that tradition.”

“Oh- well- I-” Ishalé was running out of ways to make an excuse, and Solas hardly had any way to come to her rescue in this situation.

“Not to mention, I’m getting up in years, da’vhenan, there’s not much more traveling I can do. So will you do it?” she said pointedly with an ominous air. Ishalé was shocked back into silence, her eyes darting between her father and Solas in a way that clearly screamed ‘HELP ME’ before settling back on her auntie. “Before I’m dead?”

“I think that sounds lovely,” Solas jumped in, smiling at the elderly woman. Ishalé couldn’t do anything but give a smile and a thumbs up as Deshanna cheered, joined by a bunch of family members that had apparently been listening in outside their door.

It was really happening. Her wedding day, the one she always dreamed about.

And it was all a lie.

“Don’t worry,” Deshanna said, wiping away the last of her happy tears. “We’ll take care of everything for you! Oh, you can ever get married in the barn like Revasan and your mother!”

Ishalé could only manage a frantic nod that was meant to seem excited, but couldn’t find it in her to speak, so Solas saved the conversation again. “Wow, I have… always wanted to get married in a- in a barn!”

Deshanna gasped and more tears swarmed in her eyes. “Then it’s a sign! A sign from the universe that you’re meant to be together! Come, come, we must give thanks to the Creators!” she cried as she and Revasan hurried out the room.

When the door mercifully clicked close, Ishalé slumped into the bed. “Oh. My. God. I can’t do this.”

“What?” Solas asked incredulously as she lept from the bed and began to pace.

“They’re going to figure out that this whole thing, all this is a lie! And christ, Auntie is gonna find out and it’s gonna break her heart,” Ishalé rambled, completely losing herself to panic. “Oh god, she’s gonna have a heart attack and-”

Solas hurried over and put his hands on her shoulders, steady and supportive. “Relax. No one is going to find out.” His thumbs began to trace smoothing circles over her shoulders. “It’s not like we’re getting married forever, anyway. We’ll be happily divorced before you know it.”

Ishalé nodded and took a deep breath, her muscles relaxing under his fingertips. Solas squeezed her shoulders lightly before she shot him a confused look and he pulled away. Whoops- maybe that dream was still too fresh in his mind.

“You’re right,” Ishalé said suddenly. “A quickie divorce, and we’ll be fine.” She smiled and walked over to the breakfast tray. “Would you like a decaf peppermint mocha?” she teased, as if they were right back in the office, and grabbed a plate with a cinnamon roll for him. “I suppose eventually I should learn to cook, keep my man happy,” she joked as he handed him the plate. “Wouldn’t want you leaving me for another woman.”

“I haven’t left you just yet, Ishalé,” Solas joked back taking a bit of cinnamon roll and popping it into his mouth. It was delicious, yet the feeling of joy couldn’t quite reach his mind. “Actually, I’m uh… I’m going to go outside for a bit.”

“Uh… okay,” Ishalé shrugged, sitting back on the bed and devouring her own cinnamon roll.

Solas quickly dressed and walked through the door, only to hear Ishalé call to him.

“Uh, that’s the bathroom.”

“Right. Yes,” he called back, backstepping and hurrying out the other door, desperate to breathe fresh air.

What in Thedas was getting into him?

Before he could think about it too hard, his feet were carrying him right into the forest area behind the house.

Chapter Text

Where the hell am I?

The trees had all begun to look the same to Solas, and he hadn’t seen the water’s edge in a great while. Oh, fenedhis, he was lost, very lost. And thirsty. He leaned against a tree only to trip over the gnarled roots at the bottom and bang his head against the bark. In a mixture of pain and frustration, he groaned out, “I just wanted some air!” as if the trees could hear his anguish.

With the pain subsided into a dull ache, Solas began walking again until he came to a little path. A path that had been cleared, and purposefully looking! Thank god, this had to be the way back. Or so he thought right up to when the path led him into a small clearing. This place was clearly the end point of the path, not the starting line. He was about to turn back when he noticed a small circle of flowers and knickknacks and he decided to explore.

In the center of the circle, there was a small plaque:

Emma’halani Lavellan. May Dirthamen guide your steps, beloved daughter, wife, and mother.

Oh. Oh.

Many things were suddenly making sense. Solas knelt before the display and noticed a framed picture of a woman that was the spitting image of Ishalé- he had noticed the clear similarities between Revasan and his daughter, but to see her mother was something else entirely.

Emma’halani. He wondered if she went by Emma, or maybe Lani? Would she have liked him, like Deshanna, or turned her nose up at him like Revasan? Looking at her picture, Solas couldn’t imagine her be able to say a bad thing about anyone.

And here he was, sitting at her grave, actively blackmailing this dead woman’s daughter. The uncomfortable twinge in his stomach was back.

Solas stood quickly, making the slight nausea worse, but he did his best to ignore it as he hurried back down the path. The ache in his head was pounding, like the beat of drums… no, wait. He was actually hearing drums in an even rhythm, just faintly down the path. As he came closer, the beat got louder and he began to hear a voice chanting, and he came upon a little clear area. A small fire was lit in the center, and he could see a figure by it.

“Solas of Denerim!” the figure suddenly called, making him jump.

The person turned around with a large smile. “It is I, Aunt Deshanna! Come, dance with me and thank the spirits!”

“Uh…” Solas droned, not moving a muscle. “I think I’ll thank them from over here, if that’s okay.”

“The Creators have provided everything around us, just as they brought you and Ishalé together! We must give thanks and ask that your loins will be abundantly fertile!”

What was with this lady and the baby magic? “I… think they can hear me over here.”

“I insist!” Deshanna cried, tossing something into the fire to make it spark suddenly.

“Okay, okay, got it,” Solas said quickly, hurrying down into the clearing.

“Follow, and learn.” Deshanna had began a strange dance using her arms. “Come now, chant with me and give thanks!”

“I… I don’t know any chants.” Awkwardly, he followed her moves, crossing his arms and uncrossing them like he was doing a terrible version of the macarena.

“Use your vowels, whatever comes to you! Ee, ah, ee, ah!” she demonstrated, gesturing for him to join.

Solas started making noise along with her, feeling like a crazy person. “Ooh, eh, ah, oh-” he began swinging his arms back and forth, moving in circles.

“Sing it to the trees, to the earth-”

“To the earth, and trees- and-”

“To the universe!”

“Uh, to the universe!” Solas cried out, moving to the beat. “To- to-” he was suddenly reminded of a song and he started to sing it under his breath as a “chant.” “To the windows… to the walls…”

That worked. It went along with the beat surprisingly well. “To the windows, to the walls.. till sweat drips down my balls, and all these bitches crawl-” it wasn’t exactly the most appropriate of songs, but he was lightheaded, thirsty, and getting lost in the beat.

“Louder!” Deshanna cried joyously.

Solas obliged. “To the windows, to the walls! Till sweat drips down my balls and all these bitches crawl!”

Deshanna paused for a moment, but Solas was suddenly so into it he just kept on going, half delirious.

“Aw, skeet skeet, mother- aw, skeet skeet, goddamn!” his dance moves were getting wilder, his hips gyrating and his arms flailing. He found himself face to face with Deshanna, who was grinning from ear to ear at his joy. He started moving up and down. “Let me see you get low, you scared, you scared, drop that ass to the floor, you scared you scared!”

Unbeknownst to either of them, Ishalé was coming right down the path, having finally decided to go looking for Solas, only to come upon this scene of her boss practically twerking in the woods with her great-aunt.

“Now, stop! Wiggle it!” Solas cried, shaking to the beat. “Now stop, jiggle it!”

As horrifying and hilarious as it was, Deshanna was still dancing along with him, smiling and laughing brightly.

“Solas?”

Solas whipped around, seeing Ishalé’s very amused expression. She looked very much like the cat who had caught the canary.

“What are you doing?” Ishalé called in a lilting tone.

“Oh, well- I-” Solas stammered, gesturing around. “I found Aunt Deshanna, and um… we were chanting. It just… came to me.”

“Balls? That’s what came to you?”

“It… went with the beat.”

“Well, if you’re done, your phone arrived. I thought we’d go into town and get it.”

Solas straightened and fixed his clothes. “Oh. Great, yes.” He turned to Deshanna. “Am I okay to go?”

“Whatever you choose will come to be,” Deshanna said, bowing her head.

“But… you’re okay if I go?”

Deshanna laughed heartily and shooed him after Ishalé.

They walked in silence most of the way back to the house until Ishalé couldn’t contain a snort.

“What?”

She laughed out loud, bright and musical. “You are a freak.”

“Will you stop it?” he groaned, but found himself laughing right along with her until he stopped and noticed that Ishalé was gazing at him. “What?”

“You just… have a nice laugh.” With that, she turned her gaze forward and made the rest of the walk in silence.

So do you. But Solas couldn’t bring himself to say it.

***

Lavellan General Store. One of the several businesses named for the family Solas had seen the previous days. In a way, it reminded him of his “family”- not that he called them family anymore. It was refreshing to meet a big, rich family that wasn’t made up of power-hungry maniacs.

Ishalé went up to the counter and spoke to the attendant, who went into the back.

“Hey!” a voice from behind Solas said.

Solas turned and saw frilly cake shirt- no, drag queen cousin- Darius. Yes that was his name. “Oh, hello.”

“Nice to see you again,” Darius said with a handsome smile and a playful wink before turning to his cousin. “I bagged up all your favorites.”

“Oh, thanks!” Ishalé took the bag and quickly looked through it. “Alright, a few more things about me,” she pulled out a bag of tortilla chips. “Chips and salsa is my favorite snack. I don’t drink Coke or Pepsi, I prefer cream or orange soda. And every morning,” she pulled out a box, “I eat a strawberry Poptart.”

“What are you, a middle schooler?” he teased, making her roll her eyes.

“Real middle schoolers don’t like the unfrosted ones. They’re the only ones I eat.” She tossed it back in the bag as the attendant came back. “Alright, and here’s your new phone.”

“Oh, thank god,” Solas said as he grabbed it, tapping it awake immediately. “Oh, shit. 37 messages. I need a computer, is there anywhere with internet access around here?”

The smile that burst across Ishalé’s features was horrifying. She pointed at a building just down the road.

Skyhold Internet Cafe. Ten cents a minute.

Solas grabbed the first computer he saw (which wouldn’t have made a difference- they were the only ones there) while Ishalé got change.

“Alright, just feed more dimes into the machine when you need it,” Ishalé explained, but she seemed distracted by something outside. “I’m… gonna go check on something.”

Solas was barely paying attention as she dashed out of the store, too absorbed in all the work he had missed. Even the antiquated internet system didn’t bother him that much, given how stressed he already was.

Until he glanced out the window.

There stood Ishalé, happily chatting with Alistair. She kept smiling, laughing at the things he said.

The scene didn’t sit right with Solas. It was just two friends talking, why was it affecting him? He swallowed, noticing his throat had gone very dry suddenly.

He needed to get over this, and soon. Hopefully going back to Denerim would stop this.

***

“It must be nice to see Alistair.”

He wasn’t over it. Solas couldn’t help but mention the meeting to Ishalé once they were walking back to the car.

“It is,” Ishalé said simply, still smiling.

“...Especially after so long.”

“Yeah, it definitely is.” No reaction. Solas had to be overthinking this, for no reason whatsoever. Stop it, you fool, stop it!

“Oh, there they are!” a happy voice called after them, accompanied by a bark. Oh, no.

Katanya hurried up to them, Fenley by her side as Deshanna walked a few paces behind. “There you guys are. Sorry, Ishalé, we need to borrow Solas for a bit.”

Solas felt lightheaded. “Oh, no- I, uh-”

Deshanna chuckled, “Don’t worry, no drag queens or chanting in the woods, we promise.” The woman had already taken him by the arm and began pulling him away.

“Not you, honey,” he heard Kat saying to Ishalé. “It’s secret stuff. You’d hate it.”

Solas looked over his shoulder, his eyes begging for help but Ishalé shrugged and smiled before waving goodbye at him.

Deshanna pulled him to a little, tucked away shop. He couldn’t quite see the sign, but once inside, he was greeted by a sea of dresses and suits and sewing equipment.

Merrill waved at him from the counter, already holding a garment bag. “I’m all ready for you!”

Solas was quickly shoved into a dressing area, the garment bag hanging from the little hook by the curtain.

“This is so exciting!” he heard Deshanna say as he was changing. “You know, Solas, getting married in the barn is a family tradition that spans decades. My parents did it, my brother did it, and his son, Ishalé’s father, did too! And now we get to see another generation of the Lavellan clan get married there.”

“Very… exciting.”

“...And we were thinking, maybe if my health holds… we could come visit you two in Denerim for the holidays this year.”

Solas’s chest hurt suddenly. “Or, you know, we could come up here,” he couldn’t stop himself from saying, not stopping to think that there probably wouldn’t be a family holiday. Not one he would be part of.

“Oh. Well… that would be lovely.” Deshanna’s voice wavered, slightly watery.

“Well, either way,” Solas managed to say as he stepped out in a surprisingly well-fitting tux. The women oohed and aahed, and Merrill was looking very satisfied with her work. He had to admit, she was good.

“So handsome!” Deshanna cooed, dabbing moisture away from the corners of her eyes. “There’s just one last thing,” she said, holding up a small box.

“Oh, Auntie,” Katanya sighed dreamily, resting a hand on her chest.

Deshanna opened the box to reveal a set of cufflinks. Not just any cufflinks- ones that had been artfully crafted to show a growing, beautiful tree- a symbol of one of the old Creators- in pure white. Pristine, antique, probably worth a small fortune. “It’s been in our family for almost a century. My great-grandfather crafted these for my grandfather, when he married my grandmother. To bring them fortune, and have the Creators look after them. Back then, them being together was a huge scandal. My grandfather was expected to marry another woman to make a ‘more suitable’ match. It almost broke them up.”

“How… how did they stay together?” Solas asked.

Deshanna smiled. “He was very much like you: determined. Wouldn’t take no for an answer. They were good together, and these,” she began putting the cufflinks on him, “have always brought the family luck. And now, they’re yours.”

Solas was struck, stuttering, trying to find some reason he could give to why he couldn’t take it. Parts of him were screaming to just tell the truth, not subject this family to his schemes anymore.

“Oh, hush, old people love to give things to our children,” Deshanna assured. “It makes us feel like we’ll be part of your lives… even after we’re gone. Take them.”

Solas shook his head but didn’t say more. He cleared his throat a few times, staring at the floor, shame flooding his senses.

“Are you alright, dear?”

He looked up quickly, composing himself. “I just… was wondering if Ishalé would like it,” he gestured to himself in the mirror, making the women laugh.

“Don’t worry, you look very handsome. But we should get you back to her if she’s already consuming your thoughts so much,” Deshanna teased, squeezing his arm.

Solas wasn’t sure if he was going to make the car ride back without vomiting.

***

Ishalé was sitting by the lake when Solas returned, listening to music and looking out over the scenery. It was a peaceful scene, one Solas didn’t want to interrupt.

She noticed him approaching and took out her headphones. “Hey, how was-”

Solas hurried right past her, power walking away with no clear destination. He needed to get away, just away.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Ishalé called after him, standing and following. Given his pace, she was half-jogging after him. “Solas? Hey, slow down! What is going on with you?”

“I forgot, okay?” Solas shouted over his shoulder, making no move to slow.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“I forgot what it’s like to have a family!” he yelled. “One that cares, and gives you gifts, and wants to see you for the holidays.”

Ishalé could barely hear him with how far behind he was. “Will you slow down?!”

“Oh, god, your family is going to find out this is all a sham! And Aunt Deshanna is going to have a heart attack, and your dad will be angry-” he rambled on, going over every worst-case scenario in his head. If he was smart about this, he could get on that terrible bus and buy a plane out of here and get back to Denerim before they could go through with this. Yes, avoid a disaster and just live with it.

Ishalé was practically running an obstacle course, jumping over tree roots and avoiding branches, but she timed one off and ended up catching her foot in a tangle. Her ankle twisted and she tripped and splashed right into the freezing cold lake water.

Solas looked back behind him, expecting Ishalé to be there looking at him like he was a maniac, but she was nowhere. “Ishalé? Ishalé!”

Ishalé surfaced in the lake, freezing and gasping for air. Solas rushed over and knelt.

“Give me your hand!”

Ishalé doggie paddled to him, shivering like crazy as he pulled her onto the shore. He pulled off his jacket and wrapped it around her, holding her close and rubbing warmth back into her limbs.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry,” Solas whispered over and over as he warmed her up.

“Wh-what was all th-that?” Ishalé asked, her teeth chattering horribly.

Solas sighed deeply. He couldn’t tell her now- he couldn’t bring himself to. She was putting in so much for him, and he didn’t want her to lose what she would get out of this bargain. “Don’t worry about it. Just… got nervous.”

Ishalé puffed. “That was a lot of drama for some nerves.”

Solas chuckled and helped her to her feet, steering her towards the house so they can get her a shower and fresh clothes. And maybe some ice for the ankle she wasn’t putting pressure on.

But they were intercepted along the way.

Revasan was leaning against the porch, and his eyes were hard as he regarded Solas, but for the first time during this trip he regarded his daughter with gentle eyes. “I want to talk to both of you,” he said with finality, walking towards the barn. A move which commanded obedience.

Solas helped Ishalé as she limped towards the barn, following her father inside.

Revasan turned around and faced them. “The rest of the family is to never know about this.” He turned to look further into the barn and gestured for someone to come forward.

Teagan stepped out into the area, a very satisfied smile on his face. “Good to see you two again.”

“What are you doing here?” Ishalé asked, on the defensive.

“Your father called me and I informed him of the… situation. He agrees with me that your relationship is very suspicious and thinks you’re faking.” Teagan smiled and pulled out a recorder. “He’s arranged a deal on your behalf, Ishalé. Just tell me the truth in an official statement. Solas will go back to Arlathan and I’ll make sure you can go back to your life without complications.”

Ishalé gaped, looking between the two men. Her eyes finally settled on her father with green fire blazing within them. “You called him?”

“Just take the deal, Ishalé,” Revasan said, not even daring to look at Solas. “You don’t owe him anything, don’t throw everything away for him.”

Solas almost stepped forward, almost admitted the whole thing, he was so close, but Ishalé beat him to it.

“You want a statement? Fine,” she practically growled. “Here’s your statement. I started working for Solas almost three years ago. We started dating a year ago, we fell in love, and six months ago he asked me to marry him. I said yes. We’ll see you at the wedding tomorrow.” She turned on her heel and stormed out of the barn, Solas slowly following after her.

One more day, he told himself. One more day and then I can start marking off the calendar until we can divorce.

It was reasonable, easy. But then why was there an ache resonating in his chest?

Chapter Text

The grounds were bustling with people setting up for the ceremony all morning, which didn’t help how Solas could barely sleep to begin with. He had gotten up early from the guest bedroom in the cold bed- the family had insisted on the old tradition of the couple being separated right before the wedding. The room had been so lifeless as he stared into the night, tossing and turning for hours. It was strange to think that in such a short time, he already grew accustomed to how Ishalé could brighten a room with her presence.

He hadn’t seen sign of any of the women of the family this morning- likely helping Ishalé get ready. He found himself curious and almost excited to think about what she would look like. Lovely, of course, but usually these things took months to plan with dresses and hairdos and whatnot. Not that he had a particular vision in mind, but the idea of Ishalé in a white, flowing ball gown was not an unpleasant one. Spirits, she would look beautiful, lace decorating her body as the skirts pooled around her legs.

He had to stop thinking like that. Today was the first day of their marriage, yes, but also the first day on the path to divorce, where he was sure Ishalé would be perfectly happy to be rid of him and be able to move on and find a partner that made her truly fulfilled.

A stabbing ache met his chest. Why couldn’t I make her happy?

You know why, you fool. You blackmailed her and made her commit a crime for you. How could she ever feel anything towards you besides contempt?

Solas asked around the barn if he could do anything to help- with his own selfish motivations of keeping his mind off Ishalé, of course- but naturally everyone told him to relax for his big day.

So he wandered, feeling suffocated in his tux, even though Merrill had made it a perfect fit. Every so often, he would study the intricate cuff links he had been gifted- which he felt completely undeserving of. The family he was deceiving was so rich in not just material wealth: love and warmth exuded from every one of them. And Solas knew he didn’t belong among them. He set off to look for a restroom, feeling more than a bit sick to his stomach.

“Did you find it?”

Solas looked around the corner and saw Ishalé, sitting in front of the mirror, her hair already curled and pinned perfectly and her makeup almost completed.

She took his breath away. He was completely unable to speak, and his useless tongue suddenly felt too heavy and awkward in his mouth. The discomfort in his stomach had vanished, and he felt as though he were floating.
“Did you hear me, I could really use that other-” Ishale began, turning around and seeing him. “Solas? What are you doing in here?” She smiled at him, the absolute goddess. “You know you’re not supposed to see me before the ceremony. What will people think?”

“I think that’s just for the dress,” Solas finally managed to say. Luckily, his voice didn’t reflect the fog in his mind. “But… you do look lovely.”

“Just wait until I have my other fake eyelash on,” she laughed, covering the eye that didn’t have one yet. “You don’t look half bad, either. But you should probably get out of here before any of my relatives find you.”

That was the best idea, the most sound, but Solas couldn’t bring his feet to move quite yet. They were like useless stumps attached to him at this point. “Your family is… very into the ceremony.”

“Oh, yeah. I’m one of the last grandchildren to get married. Though I never really thought my wedding day would look like this.”

“What were you picturing?”

Ishalé paused. “Promise you won’t laugh?”

How could I ever mock your dreams, you divine creature? “I will not.”

“I always kind of thought it would be fun to get married in historical ruins,” Ishalé shrugged. “Like an old fort or castle. And I would actually get to go to a bridal shop and pick out a dress, and go cake tasting and do all the traditional wedding things.” She laughed a little. “Maybe ride in on a halla or a hart, I don’t know. Nug ring bearer? Honestly, I’ve never thought about it too much, until recently…”

Solas nodded once, unable to speak. He no longer heard about her dream wedding; he faced all the things he had taken away from her. How dare he do that to her, lie to her and rip her heart out and leave her wondering what would happen if they had never met-

“I found it!” A voice rang out from the other side of the door. “We left it in the kitchen!”

“That would be Merrill with the eyelash glue,” Ishalé laughed weakly, sensing his discomfort and attempting to joke. “You should get out of here before my cousins accuse you of doing inappropriate things before the wedding night.”

“Right…” Solas inched out of the room, taking a last lingering look at Ishalé.

She would’ve made a beautiful bride.

***

The barn was perfectly picturesque, an amazing wedding venue right out of a bridal magazine: lights strung up, flowers all around, rustic decor. Absolutely stunning.

But to Solas, it all rang so hollow. It seemed like a fever dream until the hastily assembled band started playing. The song was sweet, soft, lilting strings humming a song he had never heard before, but it felt familiar and warm. The congregation stood, and Solas turned to look down the aisle. He saw Deshanna with a teary smile as she offered her arm to someone outside Solas’s line of sight.

Fenedhis.

Ishalé stepped into view, taking her aunt’s arm with a demure smile. She did not look at all like Solas had imagined: no ball gown or layering skirts, but a simple dress, fitted to her hips and thighs then gently flowing into a short train. Lace adorned the entire thing, from the capped sleeves to the hem.

His fantasies could not even hold a candle to the reality of seeing her like this, and his jaw dropped, letting out the faintest sigh. A few family members in the front row noticed and cooed, thinking it a new groom’s adoration for his bride to be, while in reality he felt as though he were sinking in quicksand. And it was at his neck- soon he wouldn’t be able to breathe.

Solas did not even feel himself draw breath until he was face to face with her, still marveling.

“Who gives this woman in marriage?” came a familiar voice, and Solas turned to see good old cousin drag queen- Darius.

“Her family,” Deshanna answered, her voice breaking slightly. She hugged Ishalé close, then pulled away to sit, dabbing at her eyes.

Ishalé stepped up next to Solas, looking at him with an expectant look in her eye, but Solas was so lost in the haze of his mind he didn’t notice until she cleared her throat and raised her hand for him. Solas felt his face burn as he took it, and the crowd tittered good-naturedly at how adorable it seemed. He was sure his hands were clammy, and they were most certainly shaking slightly. But it wasn’t until Ishalé squeezed his hand in comfort, so soft and casually affectionate, his mind was made up.

“Love is the most powerful force in the world,” Darius began. “It brings us together and binds us as family, friends, and loved ones, and it is such powerful love that has brought together Ishalé and-”

Solas raised his hand slightly, his eyes downcast.

Darius leaned in close. “Is something wrong, Solas?”

“Er… yes. Yes it is. Can I… say something?” Solas stumbled.

“...Can it wait until later?” Darius whispered, eyes darting around at the confused congregation.

“Solas, what are you doing?” Ishalé pulled on the hand that was holding hers, urging him to look at her. A look that never came.

 

“No, no… it can’t really wait,” Solas dropped her hand and turned to the congregation, the crowd that radiated such joy and love and had given him both in spades. “I… first want to thank you all for coming. It’s truly a joy to know that so many people care this deeply for Ishalé.” He swallowed thickly, his throat dry as though he had not had water in days. “I have a, uh, bit of an announcement to make about this wedding. A confession, actually, to be precise. I am originally from Arlathan, and I have an expired immigration visa, which means I am about to be deported.”

Ishalé’s father had leaned forward in his seat, and in the back of the room, Teagan had subtly pulled out his cell phone.

“And because I didn’t want to leave the life I had made for myself here,” Solas continued, “I forced Ishalé to marry me.”

“Solas, stop-”

“See, she has always had an amazing work ethic, with such passion behind everything she does.” He looked to Revasan and Deshanna. “Something I think she gets from you. And for three years, she’s worked for me without even so much as a complaint, working harder than anyone else at the company, and I knew that if I threatened to take that away, she would go along with whatever I wanted. So I-” he choked slightly and cleared his throat. “I blackmailed her. I blackmailed her to come here and lie to you all, and to lie to the government, which is a federal crime.”

Teagan nodded from the back, a very satisfied smile breaking across his face.

“I thought it would be easy to watch her do it,” Solas took a deep breath, finding it painful to continue. “But, it seems that it is hard to ruin someone’s life when you find out how wonderful they are.” He turned to Revasan and Deshanna once more. “You have a beautiful family, and a brilliant daughter. Don’t let me destroy that. This is all my fault.”

The silence was deafening, the room dumbstruck- save for Teagan’s confined victory celebration.

“Solas-” Ishalé began, and the way she called to him shattered his heart all over again. How many times could she do that to him before he learned?

“We had a business deal and now it’s over. You held up your end. I will trouble you no further.” He stepped off the altar, walking past the gathering of friends and family without meeting their eyes. “You’re taking me to the airport,” he stiffly barked at Teagan before leaving the barn, knowing he left the scene behind him broken and tainted.

Chapter Text

"How could you do this-" "What were you thinking-" "You could have gone to jail!"

At this point, Ishalé wasn't listening. When Solas had walked out of the barn, she had stood in silence for what felt like an eternity before her legs decided not to work anymore and she sat right in front of the altar, dress and all. Everything was a blur.

The past week… it was all fake. At first. But now? Seeing this side of Solas, the deeply caring artist that liked classic music and had an embarrassing tattoo and had to scoop her out of a freezing cold river, it sparked something real. Something she couldn't deny anymore.

She was in love with Solas.

Ishalé stood quickly, pushing past her family members and running as quickly as she could in her dress towards the house. She lost her heels in the process and just kicked them aside to rush into the house.

"Solas?" She called as she burst into the guest room, but it was already empty. Bed made, luggage gone. Solas's tux laid on the bed, with those beautiful cufflinks on top of it. Next to the suit was a book- a copy of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Ishalé opened it up: a note in Solas's elegant handwriting on the title page.

Ishalé:

This week has been an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. You are a remarkable woman, and you have surprised me in so many ways.

I'm asking the firm to give you my position. You've earned it. You earned it long ago, but I was too stubborn to see it.

I wish you every happiness.

Solas

Ishalé felt like she had been punched in the stomach. Her heart ached, and she felt it in every fibre of her being. Hot tears began to prick at her eyes and she tossed the book down in hurt anger.

"So… that was interesting."

Ishalé spun around, not even having heard Alistair come in. "Um, yeah… definitely." Her gaze returned to the book she had just thrown and heat boiled her blood. "You know what is just so… infuriating about all this?" She pointed at the book. "That man is a pain in my ass! I've worked for him for three years, put my all into everything I did, I put my all into this stupid plan of his, and he just walks out on me!" She scoffed, almost hysterical.

"Isha-"

"We were so close, but noooo, he has to walk away from it all and leave me to deal with the mess-"

"Ishalé?"

"What?!" She rounded on him, tears openly falling down her face.

"Are you going to go after him or…?" A hint of a smirk graced Alistair's features as he stood aside and gestured to the open door.

Ishalé stood stock still, breathing heavily after her rant. "I… I need to get out of here."

Once she was out of the dress, Ishalé rushed outside to grab the Jeep, but the family was already there, ready to bombard her.

"Ishalé!" Ray said, blocking her path. "We need to talk about this."

"Not right now, Dad, I need to fix this."

"Tell me you're not going after him."

"As a matter of fact, I am," Ishalé said, shoving past him to get to the car.

"Revasan-" Aunt Deshanna began to scold.

"For the last time, I'm doing what I think is best for me!" Ishalé cried, poking his chest.

"How could you even think this is a smart move?! That man used you!"

"Stop it!" Deshanna yelled, her pleas falling on deaf ears. "Stop-" she clutched her chest suddenly.

"Auntie!" Kat shrieked, rushing to her side and helping her down. "Ishalé, Uncle, help!"

***

The plane ride to the hospital was dead silent. Ishalé, her father, and Katanya had boarded the small emergency plane with Deshanna as the rest of the family waited back home.

"You two need to stop fighting," Deshanna finally managed to say. "You need each other. Emma wouldn't want you two to be like this." She turned to Revasan. "Promise me you'll accept Ishalé's choices, no matter what."

Revasan swallowed thickly, the mention of his late wife twisting his heart. He looked to his daughter, looked closely at how much she looked like Emma and nodded. "I promise."

"Ishalé…" Deshanna pleaded, "don't disappear on us again. Your family loves you and wants you to be happy."

"I won't," Ishalé agreed with a watery voice. She was right- no more excuses, no more skipping holidays, no blocking her family from her life.

"Good. Now the Creators can take me." Deshanna slowly closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath.

Ishalé buried her face in her father's chest, crying silently. Kat wrapped her arms around both of them, letting the moment settle into them as a family, tied together again.

Until Deshanna sat up. "I guess they're not ready for me yet." She turned to the cockpit. "Lad, I feel much better. Could you take us to the airport instead please? My niece has a plane to stop."

"Auntie!" Ishalé cried. "Are you serious? Don't do that!"

"Well, I had to get you to stop fighting somehow, didn't I?"

Revasan sat back, groaning deeply, looking like he was about ready to have a heart attack himself. "All you Lavellan women are going to be the death of me."

"Um, miss? I can't really stop the plane?" The paramedic said. "I really do need to take you to the hospital-"

"I think we can make an exception just this once," Kat said, climbing up. "I can call your wife and make sure, Dr. Anders?"

He laughed brightly. "Airport it is, Kat."

***

Ishalé practically jumped off the small medical plane as soon as it was situated on the ground, and sprinted across the tarmac. It was extremely unlikely, but maybe this would be a romance novel moment, like the ones her friend Varric loved to write, where the hero and heroine meet at just the right time and rush into each other’s arms. Everyone turns and looks at them with gleaming eyes, reminded of the truth and beauty of love and what it means to be truly, deeply lost in it.

That wasn’t this story, though. Ishalé was still hurt, confused, and even felt a bit lightheaded. Anger was in that cocktail too, mostly at the fact that Solas was too much of a coward to confess to her rather than a room full of her family.

But even with all that, all the raging fire coursing through her veins screaming about how much she wanted to yell and scream and cry the moment she saw Solas again, there was no denying that her heart had settled on him with a death grip and refused to let go.

Ishalé burst through the airport doors and rushed to a help desk. “Excuse me, has the 4:40 to Denerim left yet?”

“One moment, miss-”

“Please, I don’t have one moment-”

“I just need to look it up.”

Oh creators, I’m going to hyperventilate, she thought, her legs shaking from the lingering adrenaline. Maybe she would pass out, right here, and then the story would be even better, more dramatic. Maybe she’d awaken, in Solas’s arms, her knight in shining armor. She could see Varric writing now:

‘I’ll always be there to catch you,’ Solas cooed, his lips brushing her forehead before he planted a delicate kiss.

‘Oh, Solas, I know that. I’ve always known that,’ Ishalé said breathlessly, caught up in his eyes. She had once thought them to be as grey and lifeless as cold, unfeeling steel. Now, she saw that they were a storm, alive and electric, rainclouds of emotion-

She almost laughed out loud at herself, but given the scene she had already displayed surely did enough of a job convincing the airport that she was loony.

“Miss?” the attendant repeated again. “Miss, I’m sorry, but that flight just took off.”

Behind her, Ishalé heard Deshanna moan sadly. “No!”

“...I’m lost, why are we sad?” Revasan asked, looking between his daughter and auntie. “Because he called off the fake wedding?”

“No, because Ishalé missed the chance to tell him she loves him,” Deshanna explained.

“...But he left?”

“He wouldn’t have left if he didn’t love her!” Kat said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“...I’m still lost.”

“Don’t worry about it, Dad,” Ishalé barely whispered as she turned and walked past him out of the airport, her eyes downcast and stormy. Her hands shook enough for her family to see, but she didn’t say another word. Just walked away.

Revasan stared after her, watched how her head hanged. Her body language had completely shifted, as though the light had been extracted from her spirit.

He turned back to the attendant, reaching into his back pocket. “When is the next flight to Denerim?”

“There’s a red-eye tonight, it’ll land at 6 tomorrow morning.”

***

It was difficult work, packing up his office, but Solas was fine doing the work on his own. He definitely didn’t expect any offer of help, given his reputation.

The staff, however, was plenty surprised that he hadn’t barked at someone to assist him, or even hire people to do it for him. When he returned from his trip, Solas had been quiet, drawn into himself. Well,more than usual, anyway. And he wasn’t being an ass about it, which was nice at first, but then it was just sad.

It was as if Solas himself, and by extension, the entire office, had realized: he really had no one and nothing to call his own without his job.

Overall, the office were eerily silent, save for the occasional phone ringing. No matter what personal travesties befell the employees, business demands raged on.

Finally, Solas had carried out the last box. All they needed was an address. He had already found a hotel room in Arlathan, one where he could lay low for a bit, spend a few days wallowing in self-pity before finding an apartment. If he even could, given he was jobless now. One lovely bit of his deportation meant that he couldn’t work for a Fereldan based company, not even remotely. He had plenty of experience, two degrees, and a former executive position, but no major company would see that. They would know him, recognize his ties to what had once been his pseudo-family. Elgar’nan, the twins, June… Andruil, he thought with a shudder. He wondered if he would see them again, then took a moment to pray to whoever might be listening, please don’t make me see them again.

Solas scribbled down the address and handed it off to Dorian. “If you could make sure these packages get to this location. I’ll need a cab to the airport here soon, and if you have the time, I would like-”

He stopped, noticing that Dorian was no longer looking at him. Instead, Dorian’s eyes had wandered to something behind Solas, his jaw hanging open slightly. “What, what is it?” he asked, only looking when Dorian pointed.

Immediately the air was knocked from his lungs.

“Ishalé?”