“How swiftly the strained honey / of afternoon light / flows into darkness // and the closed bud shrugs off / its special mystery / in order to break into blossom // as if what exists, exists / so that it can be lost / and become precious” (Lisel Mueller, In Passing)
The surface is smooth and hot to the touch. He imagines it must have reddened under the sun. Solas frowns.
How unbecoming for the Inquisition’s resident elven apostate and Fade expert to walk the halls of Skyhold with a sunburnt head. For all that is said about the manageability of long hair, keeping a shaved head requires equal effort. He would happily debate the matter with anyone who wished to argue.
He runs a hand over his scalp again and finds it drier than it ought to be. It smarts beneath his fingers.
Of all the ridiculous fabrications and embellished stories he has heard of himself, he’s never really come across one he hated. Indeed, he hates all of them a little bit. All fake, all results of ignorance, not an ounce of critical thought behind them. But aside from his own personal feelings, they are relatively harmless. Fen’Harel brings you nightmares. Fen’Harel leads you astray. Fen’Harel eats babies. He can live with that. He can. But never let it be said that Fen’Harel enjoys summer. He detests summer. He spits on summer. Even more so now; at least it was easier when he’d had hair . Now there is nothing and he feels very much like a skinned rabbit. One day he will have his hair and he will have his armor and Dorian will eat his words through his nose and choke on them.
Outside his eternal woes of being bald, the castle is silent.
He wanders to and fro, spitefully avoiding all the patches of light that spill in through the windows as if the sun could take personal offense. He hopes it does. The quiet is a blanket that snugly envelops him. He finds he enjoys this small respite from the noise that so often chases him into every nook and cranny.
But the longer he stands, the more he feels irritated by it too. How dare silence be so temperamental as to be his companion in sleep for nearly two-thousand years, only to evade him entirely for a year and a half and come back now? This new world is a fickle little thing he will enjoy squeezing the life out of. (That isn’t true, but it’s easier to let himself think it, so he does and he hates himself.)
He peers out of a window and glares at the sun like it’s the source of all his problems.
If he were aware of the steps that he took, he might not have descended into the kitchens, but he’s caught between the threads of his thoughts and then he looks up and suddenly Lavellan’s hair is cascading down her back.
He stares for a long while, considers leaving.
He decides that she is pretty and he likes her more than he expected to, so he stays. He shouldn’t, but he does. Because he’s Fen’Harel the selfish bastard.
He distantly acknowledges that some part of him sensed her presence before visually authenticating it. He files it away for later review and tries not to think what it could mean that he has become attached.
He finds himself mesmerized by the little strings of sunlight that catch on her hair and make her glow, like an angel, or a heavensend. Something Holy. He knows he’s putting her on the very same pedestal he once spent years knocking out from beneath others. He does, and she can never find out.
If she notices his presence behind her, she gives no indication. She doesn’t startle when he finally says, “Vhenan.” He doesn’t think about how that word feels more like damnation than endearment.
Of course she knew he was there from the start. He comes to stand at the other side of the table, just opposite her, with his back to the door that leads outside. He never could manage to sneak up on her, so he stands content to watch her deft fingers work at whatever it is she’s been doing throughout his melodramatic internal dilemma.
He marvels at the way her brow furrows and her tongue peeks out from the seam of her lips. He imagines chasing the lines on her forehead away with his mouth and then kissing her until the end of time. He promptly dispels the image of Felassan cackling at Fen’Harel’s horrendous and embarrassing fondness for this mortal creature. Then he dispels every other thought in his brain that isn’t Lavellan’s hair or Lavellan’s lips or Lavellan’s hands or Lavellan.
There are certain times where he wants only to think about her, and that is okay. This is one of those times.
He finally turns his attention to what exactly she’s been doing this entire time, the mystery of Why is My Vhenan in the Kitchen and Since When Can She Cook expeditiously solved when he sees she is doing precisely that – cooking.
What else would she be doing in a kitchen? Fen’Harel you daft wallop. Felassan’s grating voice pipes up in his head.
He kills Felassan again before turning his attention to the contents of the table – on a wooden cutting board lie a cluster of fat little triangular shapes. Items of food made with some kind of thin leaf, he thinks. For all intents and purposes, Solas is knowledgeable in a great variety of subjects. Food, however, was never something he felt himself inclined to learn more about.
So instead of admitting he has no clue what the hell she’s doing, he says, “You are cooking.” and decides that he is indeed, a daft wallop.
“What spirit must I admonish for giving it away?”
He snorts, not a thing he’s in the habit of, but it escapes him quickly and with very little struggle, as many things are wont to do around the Inquisitor. There is something to be said about his complete lack of caution around her that he files away for later review. “I would not betray my friends so easily. Though it is entirely possible they wanted someone around with experience putting out fires.”
He dodges the fistful of flour she throws at him. It dissipates in the air before it touches the ground.
And now the joke has gone on long enough, and he really wants to know what she’s making. But he must ask in a way that makes it seem like he already knows, because if there are two things he has in abundance, they are knowledge and pride, and he is living proof they don’t mix well.
Which is probably the reason why, when he asks, “What are you making.” it sounds more like a stiffly conjured statement than a question deserving of an answer.
Lavellan drips milk on the cutting board. “Strange, that your spirit would warn you of a fire, but not what might cause it.”
“You are very messy.”
He looks at her sideways. If she were any younger he might have taken her scarcity in meeting his eyes for bitterness. Something deep and dark in him rejoices, undeserving is he to be gazed upon by such a fine creature. But the other parts – the raucous parts that scream and take up space – cry out for her attention. He hears the soldiers’ endless training outside carried in through the open door, and beneath that, the whistle and whisper of wind, autumn trees shuffling, crisp crack of dead leaves underfoot. Something inside him settles. For a moment he looks at the woman across from him and breathes.
And he startles promptly, when she looks up suddenly and her eyes widen, and she hisses “ Solas! ”
And for the life of him, he can’t imagine what he could’ve done to draw such a reaction from her. Did he stare at her cleavage long enough to cross the line of propriety? She reaches out and smacks a milky floury hand onto the middle of his head, and says, “You’re burnt. ”
His eyes mirror hers in their bewilderment. There isn’t a thing he can say to defend himself. He let his head burn and now there’s milk dripping down the back of his neck, and he expected her touch to hurt but it’s soothing instead. He doesn’t know how to explain himself.
“I… was careless.” He blurts.
She blinks at him. He can see the war on her face: leave the hand or retract the hand? To leave it would maintain that she intended to slap his head all along. To retract it would mean admitting she acted on impulse, and come at the great cost of her pride. He realizes, staggeringly, that they’re similar.
She bites her lip. She removes her hand.
It steals his breath. There are no walls, nothing to conceal her from him. She moved her hand, and with him she doesn’t do the things she does with everyone else. She sacrificed pride for truth. The weight of it sits warm and heavy in him. It makes him smile.
“You should heal that,” she says softly, averting his eyes again.
“Yes,” he makes no move to, content to let his scalp feel like a bag of wood chips for just a little longer.
“It’s Dalish,” she says suddenly, jerking her chin to the table.
He recognizes it on closer inspection. An echo of the little baked foods eaten with spiced wine at feasts and gatherings, served by people always marked in the same way she is. He’s swept away by another emotion, clawing at the shore with broken nails. It’s too much for him this time. Condemnation comes first, always, before love. You fool, you fool.
He knows the feeling of terror on his face, so he moderates himself quickly, grasping at the first thing that will do as an anchor. The wetness on his head, it turns out, and the hand that put it there. She’s still working, all delicate folding and focused fingers. But it’s stilted now, like she felt the shift in the air that was his stomach dropping, ripples from a stone in the pond. She doesn’t know what to do. Neither does he.
When she opens her mouth she brings back the morning, “The truth is, I felt homesick. I wanted… familiarity.”
Her voice winds down to a whisper. Behind it is a shame he knows well. It’s his shame, his alone, and somehow she has come to carry it. It shouldn’t be his instinct to dispel it immediately. It shouldn’t.
“There is no disgrace in yearning for home, vhenan. Endure with patience. You shall see your people once more.” The words sour in his mouth.
“You’re right, thank you. Do you want to…?” She bounces her knees slightly. Is she nervous? Around Fen’Harel with the shaking hands? Felassan pipes up again. Fen’Harel with the shaking hands grits his teeth. He is confused at first, and afraid he’s been dropped again into the harrowing position of having to ask what she means. Then he sees her looking between him and the cutting board, and he lets out a breath.
“Yes, although I…”
He opens and closes his mouth. Finding words is like clutching at water. Lavellan’s eyebrow quirks, and then he watches all the small twitches in the muscles of her face that eventually settle into an expression of realization.
“Oh. You’ve never done this before. That’s alright. Can you cook?”
He sticks out his lips for a moment. He huffs, “No.”
Her lips curl wickedly, open-mouthed and foolish. For all that she is making fun of him, he laughs too.
“How the tables turn! I finally get to be hahren for once.” She says as she tugs him around to her side of the table. Her face is half-turned toward him. They’re both dappled in afternoon light.
“Would you have me address you as such?”
And because he is so close he has the pleasure of hearing her breath hitch in her throat, something pulled taut and hanging by a spider-silk thread. She peers at him through thick lashes. “Of course, as is customary for a student to address his teacher.”
She comes up close. Her hand snakes past him. He is the one holding his breath now, wanting, waiting.
She grabs a fresh leaf from the stack behind him. She pulls back. Solas blinks hard, feeling very much like he stared too long at the sun.
“Come, da’len. Let me show you how it’s done.”
To be the Dread Wolf hearing himself referred to as da’len nearly gives him whiplash. He turns his stunned wide eyes to the table, unable to do much else.
She spoons a ball of stuffing onto one end of the leaf. She folds diagonally up, up, and up. She splashes her finger into the milk bowl and seals it by folding the top down. Suddenly there in her hand is a perfectly triangular shape. “Now, you.”
He does try. He does. He mimics her steps and aims to recreate the small art that she performed only seconds ago. He folds up and up, and he seals it like he watched her do, but the damn fragile leaf won’t stop tearing and his stuffing spills out through the cracks. He can’t imagine why anyone would do this for pleasure.
He ends up with a lumpy ball that looks like one of Sera’s poo doodles. He glares at the thing and drops it onto the cutting board with a wet splap .
“It’s… not terrible,” She rolls her eyes when he turns his glare on her. “Oh, none of that. You can’t expect perfection on your first try.”
“It has never been a problem for me before.” He grumbles and allows himself, this once, to be petulant.
Lavellan smiles softly. “For all your talents, you are still just a man, my love. Give yourself a break.”
She means well, and he hears it, acknowledges that fact. He does. He can’t help that it feels like betrayal. He can’t curb the ugly thing inside him that plunges its finger into all his open wounds. It calls him futile. It calls him inadequate. He presses his teeth together and tries to remember this woman who loves him is not his enemy. There are so many things she doesn’t know.
She must sense his disquiet, because she places her hand over his and they have both got food stuck to them. He looks down at her eyes, and just for a minute allows his soul to bask in the love he finds there. If he were someone else he would live like this.
She permeates the circle around him that marks how close he’s comfortable allowing people; it never really applied to her. If he thinks back, he always wanted her closer, and now he’s nervous, maybe. Concerned, definitely. He tries to find something to liken the redness of her lips to that would make recalling this moment easier, when everything leaves him inevitably. A cardinal singing its sweet song. Varric’s coat.
It’s with certainty that she kisses him. A simple, isolated message that translates to: no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, I will love you always. When he opens his mouth to her, he’s full of affection even if he’s devoid of something else. He’s sad for him but he’s bright for her, little specks of life and his heart enveloping him. It burrows deeper inside when they break apart. It makes him warm.
“Solas,” she murmurs.
“I think I got milk on your head.”
When Fen’Harel laughs, his heart soars.