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Drink to Me

Chapter Text

‘Humans. Why do humans love going to these things?’

Another order, another cocktail. As the night went on the orders became less extravagant. No need to garnish, no need for mixers; just the hard stuff to keep it simple. Once the taste buds dulled after the first intricate drink, the next order is usually basic. The first drink has three different liquors and two other mixers and their next drink is wine or whiskey. She could read them like a children’s book.

’The man in the dark green suit just finished two Val Royeaux’s before meeting his party. Bet he’s going for red wine next. Or maybe an expensive brandy? Something to show his sophistication. Never trust a man in a colored suit to do anything else.’ she thought.

The air of pretentious money was so thick that Dahlia was having difficultly breathing among the mixes of strong perfumes and cigarettes. Those individuals that wish to stay close to her bar only added the stench of drunken sweat and musk to her already assaulted nose.

“Rabbit!” a thick Orlesian accent drew her attention as a petite woman in a shimmering evening gown and silver mask approached her bar. The sharp smell of alcohol in her perfume managed to overtake the other odors around her making Dahlia’s head hurt.

“Elf! I was just served a blush! I asked for a chilled red!” If she could see under her mask she would bet she could see the rosy cheeks of a lush, desperate to be heard by everyone around her.

“My apologies. May I have your glass? I will have the server bring you your drink immediately.” The woman turned around and left her bar, leaving Dahlia with a bored smile plastered on her face.

The gallery in the adjacent room was lined with people from all walks of life. Young art students, enthusiasts, members of high society that wish to be considered cultured and refined were all in attendance for this unusual art display. Large and incredible paintings lined the walls. ‘Frescos’ they were called, but she would admit she had no sense for fine art.

A small red-headed, elvhen server walked up to the bar with her tray tucked under her arm and an empty wine glass in her hand.

“That lady gave me her glass; said she wanted a chilled red, ” the girl looked absolutely exhausted; desperate to get off her feet for even a moment of rest. Taking note of the empty glass, Dahlia made a personal note to check her tabs and charge the woman for her drink.

Pouring another glass of wine she handed the new drink to her server, “After this you can have your break, Jun.” That put a smile on the girl’s freckled face as she grabbed the stem of the wine glass and carried it out of the bar and into the gallery.

Loud curators could be heard over the chatter in her bar, interpreting each work and punctuating each as with hollow words of praise.

“This marvelous work here...”

“The genius that is...”

“Please direct your attention to the beautiful colors on the...”

Dahlia looked down at her watch, noting that it was only 8 p.m. before letting out a long, languid sigh.

****

9 p.m. finally passes and Dahlia finds her bar a little less occupied than before. For most, the Friday night gallery was only the first stop on their evening out. Jun and some of the other servers made their rounds, collecting tabs and tips before returning to the bar to wait out the evening.

Making note of the few remaining patron’s left she spied an elvhen gentleman sitting alone in the corner, glasses reflecting the dim light of the wall sconce as he continued to read his book in peace.

Looking down at her notes and tabs, she noticed that this person had ordered nothing from the bar. Signaling Jun to come forward, Dahlia whispered, “How long has he been here? Has he ordered anything?”

“He’s been here a while, I think.” Jun pulled her tray up to her mouth as she spoke, “Says he just wanted water.”

Asking Jun to watch the bar as she stepped away, she smoothed the lines in her skirt and looked for any stains on the cuff of her shirt before walking over to the elvhen man.

“How are you doing this evening?” Dahlia tried to be hospitable, but the pain in her feet had caused her to appear more annoyed by his presence than genuinely interested. Taking a small paper scrap from the table he placed it into the books bind in order to preserve his place before taking his glasses off to give her his undivided attention.

He was surprised to see another elf standing before him, but she was different than the other serving staff. She wore a red, button-down shirt and a high waist pencil skirt, which he found to be very flattering. Her hair had slowly began to come undone from the bun on her head, but the loose hairs framed her face and gave her the air of a woman that would not take any nonsense from him or anyone else.

“The gallery was a little more crowded than I anticipated. I came in here rest for a moment. Is there a problem?” he thumbed the arms of his glasses in his hand, letting the springs snap them back to their unused position.

“I’m afraid you must order something from the bar if you wish to stay here. Otherwise I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” He noted how she subtly shifted her weight from one leg to the next; clearly her feet were bothering her.

“What would you recommend? I’m afraid I don’t know what you have to offer here.” He brushed his hand over his bald head, as though he were trying to rake hair out of his face.

“That all depends on your destination. You want a buzz or do you want to do some time traveling?” He chuckled at her dry remark.

“How about a glass of wine, if that’s alright?” He flicked open the arms on his glasses in preparation to continue reading his book. Dahlia briefly sized him up. White, button-up shirt, hunter green, long sleeve cardigan; if her brain was set up like a computer she would have filed him in the ‘weird’ folder. “No preference? White? Red? Rose?”

“Red will be fine, thank you.” Placing the glasses back on his face, he opened his book and continued to read.

Returning to the bar, Dahlia fetched a bottle of wine that had previously been uncorked. Pouring the remaining liquid into a glass, she returned to the man and set his wine on the table, trying not to disturb his reading.

Before she could return to the bar, the man called after her. “How is the gallery tonight?” Letting out a silent sigh, she turned around to face him once more. “I wouldn’t know, I just man the bar.”

“Do you not like galleries? Or is there another type of art that intrigues you?” He watched her become mildly unsettled with his attempt to have a conversation with her. “I like it just fine. I suppose frescoes just aren’t my thing.”

“That’s understandable. I’m honestly surprised that so many have attended. Especially for an artist that no one has personally seen in many years.”

“Well someone had to have seen them? How else would they display their work in this gallery?” She was slowly relaxing into their conversation. She walked through this gallery many times before its debut, but never bothered to ask about the artist.

“There are agents, I imagine, that may know him personally. Perhaps the galleries know the agents better than the artist himself. Fen’Harel is notorious for his obscurity, but when an exhibit of his is on display I always try to find the time to see his works.” The man straightened his back, leaving the book open in front of him as he continued. “I suppose the artist’s anonymity is more famous than the pieces themselves.”

“I also imagine it raises the price of his work as well.” Dahlia began to feel envious. An artist who sells paintings such as these and can maintain a normal, albeit lucrative lifestyle? It seemed almost unfair.

The man laughed, “Yes, I imagine you are correct.”

After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Dahlia was starting to feel intrigued with this stranger. “I’ve never seen you here before. Are you new to the area?”

“Yes and no. I have lived here for many years, but I have also just recently purchased an art studio in the area. I teach several art classes at the university and I suppose I was hoping I would find my next class topic here.”

“So you’re here for frescoes?” She cocked an eyebrow; not seeing much appeal for the paintings in the gallery as a subject for study.

“Not particularly.” He admitted, “I was actually thinking of incorporating something more realistic into my syllabus.” His innocent smile put her at ease with their conversation. She looked back to the bar for a brief moment to see it mostly deserted. She spied Jun watching her along with a few other servers. Dahlia could practically hear their snickering.

“I’m sorry. I did not properly introduce myself. My name is Solas.” He gestured to the seat adjacent from his in the corner booth; silently asking her to sit along with him.

“I'm Dahlia.” She thought against sitting with him, especially with her staff watching her every movement. She turned around and locked her gaze on Jun, “I know you crazies have better things to do, right?” she yelled back. At that moment the bar was alive with activity once more. The tables and bar were being cleaned and polished, the glasses were being gathered and the spigots and glassware were being washed.

“I take it you are the manager here?” Solas asked, finding amusement in the sudden commotion.

“When it’s open, yeah.” Dahlia took a seat across from him, she watched as he took a sip from his wine before placing the glass down and closing his book once more.

“I hope this doesn’t seem presumptuous, but I was wondering if you would be a model for one of my classes next week.” Dahlia was taken aback by this sudden request from someone who is essentially a stranger to her.

“You would be paid of course. I’ve just been looking for people who naturally exhibit such spirit and emotion. It makes for an easier subject to cater to my class.” Sitting back in his seat, he folded his hands in his lap while he patiently waited for her response.

Dahlia knew very little about art, but the flattery was not lost upon her. “What? Do I have to take off my clothes or something?” He gave her a laugh in response, but her question still remained.

“No, of course not. You can wear what you like. Even what you have on now would be fine. What I’m mostly looking for is strong body language and character. You walk with confidence and I would like to have my class sketch you.”

Dahlia considered this proposal for a few moments before Solas pulled a card from his wallet to give to her. “This is my card. I would like to have this lesson next Friday, but if you do not wish to participate I do understand.”

Looking down at the card between his fingers, she spied his name and cellular number embossed on the front. Taking the card she gave it a quick glance as he stood up to gather his book.

Pulling twenty dollars from his wallet, he placed it on the table as payment for his drink. Looking up from her seated position made her feel small in his presence. Standing up to meet him, she realized he was actually much taller than he appeared.

Her embarrassment was noticeable across her cheeks as she tried to keep her composure. Shaking her head, she looked up to meet his gaze, “I’ll think about it.”

Taking her phone from her pocket she typed the number on the card into her screen; a moment later a small chime was heard coming from his pocket.

“If I don’t have an answer for you before Thursday, give me a call. If the pay is good, then I may consider it.”

Chapter Text

Resuming her position back at the bar, Dahlia watched Solas walk from his table to the door before disappearing from sight. Looking back at the card he gave her she ran her thumb over the embossed print of his name and number, enjoying the texture between her fingers while she weighed the quality of the paper.

“Solas?” Dahlia nearly jumped at the sudden presence of Jun, reading the name on the card.

Taking a breath to try and calm her startled heart, she tucked the card into her pocket with her phone. “Yes. Said he wanted me to help model for an art class he teaches.” Jun responded with a deep and mischievous laugh. “You gonna do it?”

Dahlia reached for a stack of notes she had collected over the evening while trying to downplay the exchange, knowing Jun would be meddlesome if she gave her any ammunition to suggest it was anything else. “If the pay is good, I suppose. But I have to manage Spirits that night. It may cut into my prep time before it we open.”

“You could just tell them to hurry up if it gets too late. You should totally do it! I can prep the bar and stuff until you get back!” Dahlia tried to keep Jun at a suitable distance as she continued to gradually invade her personal space.

“We’ll see. It may not even be worth my time.” Dahlia gave a signal to one of the staff closest to the main door to close up for the night before announcing her last call for drinks. Cheap bottled domestics were being ordered for one last round across the bar.

“If anything, you’ll meet some hot, artsy people.” Jun talked as she took the orders from the few dedicated patrons around the bar; each too drunk to bother eavesdropping in on their conversation.

“These are college students, Jun.” Dahlia began removing the caps off the bottles and serving them around the bar as Jun followed behind to collect their tabs. “So? Old people go to college too!”

“Implying that I am old...” Dahlia grabbed a broom and began sweeping up the fallen caps behind the counter, smiling at how she caught Jun in a gaffe.

“I meant that older people can go to college too. It’s not just for teenagers.” Jun felt mildly agitated at having to clarify her previous statement, knowing well that Dahlia was simply teasing her.

“Are you sure you’re not implying that I try and pick up young men? Be some young thing’s sugar momma?” Dahlia gave a lighthearted laugh at Jun to drive home the embarrassment in the fiery red-head.

“Okay.” Jun relented, “How about a teacher then?”

“Like this Solas guy?” Dahlia tried to focus her attention on the register and tabs, but Jun remained determined to keep the topic going.

“Yeah! Or maybe a human...” Jun’s giggle was deep and impish, “Like a really tall one.”

Dahlia closed the register loudly, letting the bell punctuate her silence. “Jun. Please. Go home.”

Taking a quick look around the room, Dahlia took a quick count of the remaining customers and glanced down at her watch; noting how the gallery would be closing soon and she need to clear the bar.

“That was your last call for alcohol, so finish your whiskey and beer! And get the fuck outta here!”

****
Solas walked out of the gallery making his way across the street to the parking garage, dodging cars as carefully as possible. Taking the stairs up to the top floor he spied his car, an old dark green convertible, on the far side of the empty lot.

Taking out his keys, he unlocked the door with a little force needed before entering and starting the noisy engine. He sat inside his car for a brief period before taking out his phone to read his new message. A series of numbers from a phone not in his contacts were displayed across the screen, underneath a small text bubble read, “it’s dahlia,” with nothing to follow.

He smiled for a second at the awkward text as he set her name to the number in his phone. Feeling compelled to text her some sort of acknowledgement, he decided against it before tossing his phone to the passenger seat next to him as he put the car in reverse before making an exit from the garage.

The drive wasn’t very far from his new home, but it certainly wasn’t a short walk away from the gallery. In the industrial district of Val Royeaux, what the Orleasians called the Dales sat several empty and decrepit factories and warehouses from a more prosperous and industrial time. Now these places were being taken over as storage units from great businesses and markets or were simply left to rot and collapse.

Solas drove up to a small parking garage and drove up to the second floor, noting how there were still no other cars inside as when he left. Taking the phone from the seat, he walked several feet before standing in front of a large set of doors, covered in graffiti from several competing Dalish gangs. Unlocking the door he entered onto a catwalk, hearing the squeak of old metal as he slowly walked to a narrow staircase before flipping a large switch on the wall.

Electricity buzzed all around, giving those who entered the dark room a greater sense of how large the old factory was. As the lights slowly began to brighten the room, Solas could see large canvases draping old machinery which had been pushed to the edges of the room. The old factory was small compared to the others around, but he felt confident that the ample space would not only serve as an incredible studio, but also a modest apartment as well.

The building was still rather old, and rafters were still in place as the entire building wait for the day it would be completely hospitable once again. Solas felt happy to see his work slowly come together as he spied his bed in the corner before descending the stairs to the ‘production floor.’

Watching for broken nails and large chunks of debris on the floor from his renovations, he made his way to his modified living area and proceeded to get ready for bed.

Brushing his teeth in an old utility sink, he washed his face and turned off the lights before getting into bed. The lights cut off instantly, leaving him with little more than the outside city lamps and moon light peering in through his windows placed high on the walls. Pulling back the thick canvas draped over his bed, he found his mattress cool and clean despite the rest of the building.

Reaching beneath his bed he found the charge cord to his phone, plugged it in and rest it quietly on the floor. He lay there on top of his blankets for a few moments, taking in the smell of old clay bricks and dust; knowing it would be bad to breathe in, but felt there were few other options besides sleeping in his car.

Tomorrow he would have several contractors come in and he would be that much closer to having the perfect art studio he always wanted. For now, he looked back on the days events leading up to this point and was quite happy with the reception of the gallery. He remembered the brief conversation with the bar manager and laughed, ‘She would never know Fen’Harel, and I don’t think she would care much either.’

Chapter Text

It was very late by the time she arrived home.

The bus ran later than usual that night and the temperature quickly dropped; wind chilling her legs as she began to carefully trot the final block up to her apartment building.

It was well pass ten when she finally entered the old building, only to find the lift locked shut with a large ‘Out of Order’ sign taped to the gate. Her haste grew as she took off her shoes, letting the pain in her feet quickly dissipate before jogging up the stairs on the ball of her feet.

Second floor. Third floor. Fourth. Fifth. Until finally she entered the door to the west wing on the sixth floor; careful not to slam the door behind her. The carpet felt brittle and old under her toes, but still she walked with purpose down the hall before making a dead stop as she rounded the corner.

Doors lined each side of the hall, but a whole barrier of boxes and furniture made it difficult to even see her apartment door, let alone those of her neighbors.

Peeking over the tower of boxes she tried to see if there was anyone responsible for this cluster, or to see if anyone could help her, only to find several people trying to sit together on an old couch.

“Excuse me.” Dahlia tried to make her self visible over the stack of boxes by standing on the tips of her toes, waving her arm in the air.

“Oh!” said one of the young men, jumping up from his seat on the couch.

Suddenly there was a commotion as each box was moved to the sides of the hall, making a narrow way for her to pass through.

“Terribly sorry. We were just resting a moment before trying to wedge this sofa inside.” said the young man; exasperation punctuated his words at the sudden activity.

“I just need to get to the other side.” Dahlia was tired, but clearly not as tired at the folks in front of her. A stranger group she had never seen: a dwarf, elves, humans...

“Hey! Let’s get this crap inside! It’s getting late!” A voice came from inside the open apartment.

“Just talking to your new neighbor, Chief!” The young man yelled back.

Dahlia wasn’t sure what to make of the people yelling outside several apartments so late in the evening, but at that moment a large Qunari man with broad horns eased his way into the hall, angling his head so as not to catch them on the door frame.

“Hey neighbor!” he said, working his way around the sofa and boxes to stand before Dahlia. The beast of a man towered over her in such a way to make Dahlia feel no bigger than a mouse.

“Iron Bull!” the Qunari declared. “This here is Krem.” At that point the young man began apologizing once more for the mess in the hall as his friend continued to name each person on the couch, each gave nothing more than either a grunt or wave in acknowledgment to their name.

“So! You’re my new neighbor, eh?” The horned man was apparently a stranger to the concept of keeping quiet at late hours.

“Yes. I’m Dahlia. I live in 623; down there.” She pointed with her nose, hoping he would save the introduction for another day and let her pass.

“Hey! I’m in 621! We’re next door neighbors then!” Iron Bull laughed loudly as Dahlia spied Krem giving her an apologetic expression; ‘I’m so sorry’ clearly splayed across his face.

“You getting off work? Come have a drink with us!” The sudden invite was almost too much for Dahlia to handle at that moment. “I’m sorry. Maybe another time. I just want to go home and rest.” She said, holding up her shoes to accentuate that she was too tired to even wear them, let alone party with strangers.

“Maybe later then.” The Iron Bull finally relented. “Hey! Make a path! Tired lady passing through!” He bellowed to his friends.

“Tired lady passing through!” the men and women echoed as Dahlia was escorted through the boxes and furniture to her apartment door. ‘Don’t quite know what to make of this.’ she thought as she placed her key in the door. She looked back to see everyone waving at her before finally unlocking the door and bolting it behind her.

She let out a short sigh of relief as she flipped on the light switch and threw her keys onto a small table next to the door. The old apartment wasn’t much to look at. The walls were covered in old wallpaper which seemed to be a popular style from a few decades ago, and were left bare in an ugly display of muted orange patterns coupled with old wood paneling. Everything in her apartment spoke of practicality over form and beauty; even the walls remained barren of any pictures to give a welcoming vibe to the home, but instead spoke of someone who could put all their important belongings into one box and leave the rest without remorse.

Dahlia fell into her couch and fished the remote control to her television from the floor and turned the T.V. on with a loud click and listened as the fading static finally gave way to the image on the screen. Flipping through her short catalog of channels, she finally came to her destination: a late night elvhen soap opera flickered across her screen. She was disgruntled in having caught the episode so late, but with the constant shifting of the channel’s picture, she was almost in set into a panicked frenzy. Hopping off the couch she began fumbling with the antenna on her set, trying to clear the picture while listening to the story play out. After about of minute of fussing, and no better quality to her picture, she relented to watch the remainder of her show in crackling fuzz.

Plopping back onto the couch she let out a sigh as she un-tucked her shirt from her skirt in a small attempt at relaxation.

‘Another soap commercial. Why do they always show soap commercials during a soap opera? Do they think they're being funny? Do they think we smell?’ Dahlia pondered this question until a loud knock was heard at her front door, jarring her mind and sending her heart into a panic.

Leaving her couch, she went up to her door and peeked through the hole only to see a large chest clothed in a stretched tank top; clearly her new neighbor.

She quietly unlatched the door and peeked around corner to see Iron Bull, sweating from exertion and grinning happily down at her mousy figure between the crack in her door.

“Hey! Just figured if you didn’t want to drink with us yet, how about I just give you one for the road?” He held up a sweating bottle of some Orlesian, skunk beer.

She opened the door and stood up straight, taking the bottle with feigned interest, “Oh? Thank you.”

“It ain’t the best, but it’s better than the dwarven stuff,” he laughed as she studied the label. ‘He ain’t wrong,’ she thought.

“It’s also my way of saying, ‘sorry for all the noise.’” Dahlia stared up at him, “What? Are you all going to party all hours of the day?”

“Naw! Nothing like that. Plus, the guys don’t live here so it’s just me,” Dahlia held onto the chilly, wet bottle by the neck, feeling the contents inside slowly warm from the heat in her hands.

“Great,” she didn’t know what more to say, “Thanks for the drink. I’m going to try and get my T.V. going again and I will see you later!” Shooting him an awkward grin, Dahlia slowly retreated back into her home, ready to get back to her show.

“Your T.V. buzzy? We’re pretty good at fixing all sorts of things! We can fix that right up for you; no charge.” Before Dahlia could even oppose Iron Bull had called to Rocky, yelling down the hall into his open doorway.

The dwarf she remembered seeing relaxed on the couch came walking out of the apartment, and after much jovial yelling between the two he retreated back into the apartment and returned with a tool box.

“Rocky can fix anything! In fact that’s what we do! We’re like handy men for hire,” before Dahlia could even protest the Dwarf excused his way into her apartment, eager to get to work.

“Don’t worry we’re good people,” Iron Bull tried to assure her, but Dahlia was becoming progressively more agitated by the moment. All the commotion in the halls had triggered her neighbor’s curiosity and one by one they began filtering into the hall to complain about the noise.

The hall filled with about a dozen people, each adding to the noise in the hall until it became too difficult to hear. Feeling her anxiety swell, Dahlia tried to balance all the activities happening at once.

Suddenly the lights flickered in the hall, accompanied by a loud bang which knocked out the lights entirely. It felt as though she stood there for more than a minute, listening to her neighbors gasp in fright at the sudden darkness. One by one rectangular lights flicked on all around her, appearing like little floating lights from her neighbor’s cell phone screens. Dahlia stood in a daze until she realized the sound they heard came from inside her apartment.

Rushing back inside she tried to feel around for the small table where she kept her cell phone. After nearly tripping on the shoes she flung to the floor, she let the dim light of her cell phone guide her and Iron Bull into her living room.

At that moment the lights came back on for Dahlia to only see her T.V. and Rocky, looking just as surprised as they were. Noting the slight smell of hot plastic and the small black stain behind her television, Dahlia didn’t know what to say in that moment.

She stood there with the warm bottle of beer in her hand, mouth agape as she studied the scene before. Slowly her astonishment at the situation simply had her perplexed, ‘How the fuck...’

Iron Bull could feel the tension mount as she studied the scene before them, watching as the look of surprise slowly began to turn to curiosity until it finally settled on dead annoyance. Before he could even try to spin this in another direction, Rocky interrupted the silence in the room, “So I’m a little rusty with fixin’ these old cancer boxes!”

“Shut up, Rocky.” Iron Bull looked to Dahlia for a reaction, but it had seemed she was emotionally numb to the whole situation.

“Now I’ll never know what happened on my show.”

****
Dahlia sat slouched on the old couch as Iron Bull’s friends continued to bring in his furniture around her. The television before her was one of the newer flat screen models, which played her show in gorgeous colors which she had never seen before.

‘Were those curtains always so red on this show? This is incredible!’ she thought.

Next to her was on of the other elves, also engrossed in the same show, clutching a pillow to her chest as she watched it with her in relative silence. The tattoos on her face told Dahlia she is, or was, once a part of one of the Dalish gangs in the neighborhood. In fact, that’s just what everyone called her.

“Oh, now isn’t he a gorgeous one.” Dalish whispered as the camera settled on one of the characters on the show.

Still fuming from the destruction of her television and a corner of her wall; she had to relent that watching her show on something so grand was perhaps the highlight of her evening. Even though Iron Bull said he would make it up to her, she was momentarily content to just watch her show on his television, even if Dalish continued to ask her questions about it; clearly engrossed as a budding new fan.

Chapter Text

The next morning was hardly memorable.

Aside from the black stain now burned into the wall behind her destroyed television, Dahlia found this morning to be no different than any other.

Standing before her T.V. she sipped her coffee quietly; her robe open, revealing her faded silk night gown and hair mussed into a large knot of tangles.

‘The only thing worth a damn in this whole apartment,’ she reflected.

A heavy knock was heard at her front door, startling her tired mind from lamenting the loss of her nightly entertainment. Deciding against opening the door, she sat down at her small table and waited for the visitor to leave while she continued to drink her coffee; resigned to be grumpy for the rest of the day.

****
Before the sun could barely illuminate the sky, Solas was up and ready to tackle the day.

Locking the doors behind him, he turned to walk to his car before the image of someone sitting in the corner of the garage caught his eye, stopping him in his tracks.

“Excuse me,” the figure was a mass of blankets and clothes with a large brim hat seated on his head, obscuring the face of the stranger.

Solas called out to him again, “Do you need assistance?” The mass of cloth just bundled up, ignoring the person calling to him.

Looking at his watch to gauge the time, Solas left the poor, destitute individual to find solace inside the walls of this garage. Reaching inside his pack he pulled out a ripe, green apple he was saving for later and walked over to the stranger.

The person did not move to acknowledge his presence. Solas figured they were probably still asleep and placed the apple on the ground in front of the being.

Walking back to his car he heard the voice of a meek and frail young man, “Thank you.”

Stopping to glance back at this stranger, Solas was unsure as what to say. “You’re welcome,” was all he could manage, finding the words to be awkward and insufficient. Even still, he continued his short trek back to his car.

****
“Dolly,” Jun whined, her shoulders drooping forward as if to accentuate her displeasure. “Dolly, my feet hurt. These shoes are so uncomfortable.” Dahlia continued serving the bar, catching a glimpse of Jun hopping on her feet out of the corner of her eye.

“Hey rabbit! We’ve been waiting for ten minutes!” a voice yelled over the enthusiastic sports crowd circling around the televisions. Some huge ball game displayed across the screens, each with distracting subtitles scrolling across the bottom too slow to keep up with the actions of the game.

“And you will continue to wait if you keep calling me rabbit!” Dahlia’s voice managed to cut through the crowd, but was hardly considered a distraction from the entranced sports viewers.

“Bitch then!” laughter began emanating from the corner. Dahlia glanced at her watch impatiently, hoping that somehow nine hours managed to fly by without her notice.

No such luck.

“Hey bitch! We’ve been waiting over ten minutes! Are you going to take our order or what?” Jun began making her way over to the corner, but Dahlia held her back by the shoulder. A silent gesture saying, ‘I take no guff from swine.’ Jun looked around for more friendly patrons and began making her way to the opposite side of the pub.

Dahlia could hear the rabble groan at the clear realization that they would be left dry for the evening.

“Hey! What’s going on out here?” The large green door behind the bar opened, flooding the dimly lit pub with a bright light. “Dahlia! What’s with the yelling?” A bald dwarf with a black tattoo etched across his face walked up to the bar; clearly not enthusiastic about why there was angry yelling, or even how to solve the problem.

“You mean the whining?“ Dahlia continued to pop the caps of the bottles and serve them to those seated at the bar as they watched their game on one of the televisions behind her.

“Oh,” the owner realized the problem instantly. “Is it going to be one of those days?” The dwarf asked sarcastically; implying more from Dahlia than the general mood of the crowd.

“That depends, Cabot,” she started, “on whether you feel like acting like a manager for once.” She peered down at him with one hand resting on the bar while the other sat on her hip.

“Giving me the attitude, eh? And this early? Must be a special day.” She let out a sigh and shook her head. “Hire a bouncer, ” now both her hands were resting on her hips. She felt as though she were lecturing a child.

“You would be throwing people out left and right. Just get a tougher skin,” the dwarf waved her off before retreating to his back office.

“You’re a son of a bitch,” she shook her head in defeat before reaching under the bar to fetch another bottle and a pack of cigarettes, “I’m going on break!”

“The hell you are!” Cabot came back out of his office, ready to chase after Dahlia into the back alley. He called to Jun to watch the bar until they got back.

Before she even got to the door she lit a cigarette from her pack, listening to the hard footsteps growing louder behind her. By the time she made it into the back alley Cabot was right behind her, nearly breathless as he tried to persuade her from going back inside.

“Can’t cigarette’s already lit,” she brought the back to her lips as she pulled a bottle opener from her pocket and popped the cap off what ever bottle she grabbed without looking.

“Get back in there,” Cabot groaned, trying to keep the extent of his exhaustion hidden under even breaths.

“It actually is my scheduled break,” Dahlia offered him a glance at her wrist watch as she balanced the bottle and cigarette between the fingers on her free hand. Cabot looked at her watch and turned to his to match the time, conceding that she was right. He gave a heavy sigh as he pulled a cigarette tin from his back pocket, pulled out a rolled cigarette as he joined her on her break.

“You still smoke those unfiltered things?” Dahlia asked, talking through the smoke on her breath.

“Old dwarven thing. You wouldn’t understand,” he put the cigarette in his mouth, snapping his fingers at Dahlia before she reached into her pocket and pulled out a lighter for him.

They both stood against the large dumpster, smoking and sharing her beer before a loud crash was heard from the far side of the alley. Dahlia snuffed her cigarette against the side of the dumpster as they tried to figure out exactly what caused the noise. The whimper of an animal began to grow louder as a large, grey mabari walked up to them with an desperate expression.

“Ah, this mutt again,” Cabot groaned, “he’s been coming here for the last few days. The people inside have been giving him scraps and now he won’t leave.”

“He’s a huge bastard, ain’t he?” she remarked, noting how the beast’s head nearly came up to her chest. The mabari turned its gaze to her, tilting its head as it had seen her for the very first time. Its pointed ears popped up and its mouth dropped in a happy pant as it kept its eyes focused on her; tiny tail nub trying to wag as hard as it could.

“I don’t give scraps to animals, so you better just find another bar to scavenge,” the mabari just sat down, making its point clear that it would not be moved so easily.

The dog let out a loud, happy bark, clearly excited with the attention she was paying him. Dahlia winced at the loud bark echoing off the walls in the alley. “Go!” she yelled. His response was another happy bark.

“Go figure it would be an animal willing to put up with your bullshit,” Cabot took another drag from his fraying cigarette as he watched the dog get closer to Dahlia; expressionless, but obviously amused at her fuzzy, new tormenter.

“Don’t you have a bar to manage?” she pointed back to the door. Cabot blew plumes of smoke in her direction, watching as it dissipated before reaching her face. “That’s my line,” lifting his foot up, he ran the cigarette across the bottom of his shoe, watching the embers turn black before falling onto the cold pavement.

“Get back to work, Dahlia. And charge those knuckleheads in the corner extra for making me come out here.”

****
She watched him. Or he watched her, it was difficult to say. Dahlia felt distracted by the newfound attention she was receiving.

“He’s watching you! That’s so cute,” Jun laughed. Dahlia continued to stare at the grey mabari watching her through the window; his breath fogging up the window made her new stalker seem more menacing than she originally pictured. Spittle from his panting had accumulated on the pane as she watched it run down the window; but eventually returning her eyes to his.

She tried to return to work, but no matter where she walked she could feel his eyes burrow into her. The uncomfortable feeling that all eyes were now on her was almost suffocating. “Get it out of here Jun,” she felt the need to whisper as she helped her clear a table. “It usually leaves after a while,” Jun whispered back, mimicking her anxious tone.

The only time the hound took its eyes off her was to watch someone enter or leave the tavern, but it would always return its eyes to her. She wondered if the dog would get bored and just leave after a while.

Rearing back, the dog took its huge paws and pressed them against the glass. “Aw! Look!” Jun called after her to watch the dog become more animated by the minute.

Dahlia finally had enough and opened the entrance, letting the cold air filter in. “Get outta here!” she yelled before the dog took the open door as a summon to come inside. Dahlia was no match for the muscled beast as it pushed past her and ran behind the bar.

Jun chased after the dog, trying to calm it down and lead it back outside before Cabot sensed something wrong. Pushing past Jun in the small area, the dog brushed up against the lower shelves as it went, tossing glasses onto the floor with a loud crash.
It wasn’t much longer until Cabot came out of his office and was met by the grey hound and the two disheveled elves trying to pull it out from behind the bar by the back legs.

The dog appeared to be having a great time. The patrons just found the sight amusing, taking their eyes away from the televisions long enough to watch the whole show behind the bar.

Dahlia let go of the dog’s leg in exhaustion, heaving and sweating through her makeup. Glancing at her image in the mirror behind the bar she was frustrated with her appearance, but not as much as she was with the animal sitting before her, eyes pleading with her to play more.

****
As she began boarding the bus home, she found her new grey friend was right behind her, ready and willing to follow her into Hell itself.

“No dogs!” the bus driver yelled. Dahlia imagined she looked like a witch: hair tossed, eyes streaked by her melting mascara, clothes a stained mess; she was in no mood to explain. She looked back at the dog, halfway up the bus stairs, wagging its little tail at his new object of affection.

She looked back at the bus driver, “You tell him that.”

The driver looked back at the dog and as soon as their eyes met, the dog closed its mouth and stared right through him. It was late and he did not want any confrontation with a dog that size, “If he pisses in my bus, you’re cleaning it.”

“Yeah, we’ll see,” she took her seat at the back of the bus, collapsing into the hard plastic surface as she saw the horse-of-a-dog take up the entire bench seat next to her.

“I don’t have any food scraps,” Dahlia tried one last time to persuade the dog from following her all the way home. The dog didn’t seem to care.

“I know you can understand me,” she gave a tired sigh and hoped that once it saw she had nothing to give it would be on its way.

****
Her landlord just shook his head when he saw the dog following Dahlia into the elevator. ‘Fereldans,’ she thought, ‘maybe he will adopt this thing.’

As they approached her door she noticed how clean the hallway was when compared to last night. Putting the key to her lock she could smell the stench of fresh paint. Looking down the hall she noticed the walls and ceiling were the same wall paper as before. She shrugged, ‘maybe one of the neighbors.’

As she opened the door she was greeted with the pungent smell emanating from her apartment. Leaving the door open she walked towards her living room to see the old wallpaper gone and a fresh coat of white paint in its place. She turned back to her door to make sure she was in the right apartment.

At that moment Iron Bull came peeking around the corner of her entrance, “Hey neighbor!” Dahlia was stunned by how many questions she had bouncing around her head. “How do you like the walls?” he looked proud at his apparent handy work.

“How did you get in here?” she had to yell over the dog who was excited by this new person.

“The fire ladder,” he said, “It wasn’t easy so I had Rocky go through your window to open the door for me.”

“And this doesn’t strike you as illegal?” she watched as the dog was sniffing all around her apartment, bumping into tables and sniffing through the trash can.

“Hey, it’s cool. I just wanted to make up for breaking your T.V. so we repainted the living room,” his smile never left his face.

“Breaking and entering is a criminal offense,” she said as she tried to shoo the dog out of the trash bin.

“You now have the nicest walls on the whole floor! Maybe even in the whole building!” It was like he wasn’t even hearing her.

“Out!” she pointed to the door behind him. “Okay, see you tomorrow neighbor!” he eased his horns through the doorway and closed it behind him. The dog bounded over to the front door, ready to chase after his new friend before looking back at her; he looked so happy.

‘You have such neat friends!’ she could imagine the dog speaking to her at that moment. She wasn’t sure about what she should do. Her quiet life was suddenly turned upside down in the last day or so that she wasn’t sure she would be able to get it back the way it was.

The dog spied her couch and was overcome with joy. “Freeze mister!” the dog stopped right before it could leap.

“You smell like death! You gonna stay here tonight? Get in that tub,” she pointed to the bathroom expecting the dog to mope, but instead was left with an excited puppy. She watched him run into the hall and around the corner to her bedroom, then turn back around when it realized there was no bathroom there. She watched it run through the doorway into the bathroom on the other side, nails clicking on the linoleum and scratching at the porcelain tub.

She turned the corner to see the dog sitting in the tub, waiting for her to turn the water on.

“The dog is touched. This thing is straight up mental,” she began to roll up her sleeves as she pushed the door closed behind her with her foot. ‘I should just throw these clothes out,’ she thought. She would never get the stench of wet dog out of them anyway.

Chapter Text

She had never woken up because of a smell before.

 

Hot breath hit her face in heavy puffs, but the stench is what pulled her from her sleep. Barely having a moment to adjust her eyes, she could hear the gross smacking of wet lips not several inches from her face.

 

Opening her eyes she was immediately confronted with the wet nose and drooling mug of her new flat-mate. He sat as calm as feasible on the floor, but she could hear the soft brushing of his stumpy tail swishing against the rug.

 

“How did you get in here?” she whispered, but the happy mabari was just too delighted to keep from pouncing on her bed; stepping on her belly to get to the other side, and rolling around on her lumpy duvet.

 

Livid at the sudden pain, she swat the large animal on the backside above his tail. The dog perked his head up from underneath her pillow and froze. Dahlia suddenly felt immediate terror at the sudden reaction, ‘I shouldn’t have...” but her thought was suddenly extinguished as the beast's excitement suddenly became a happy little tornado all across her bed.

 

Evacuating the bed, she stood back as she watched the dog get under the blanket and sheet, huffing and snorting in what looked to be such profound amusement. She looked at her alarm clock and sighed, “Four o’clock.”

 

Jerking the blanket back she grabbed the clock off her night stand and spoke sternly, “You see this?” The mabari sat up, panting and drooling as he looked from the clock to her face and back again. “If I ever wake up again before this alarm goes off, I take you to the pound! You understand me?” she wasn’t sure if he knew what an alarm was, or even what a pound was for that matter, but he pulled his tongue back into his mouth and gave her a barely audible whimper.

 

Digging the sleep from her eyes she walked into her bathroom, listening to the heavy drop of the dog jumping from the bed to chase after her.

 

Prepping her toothbrush she began her morning ritual. She watched the dog out of the corner of her eye as he walked behind her, flipping the toilet seat up and began lapping at the water inside. She barely noticed she ceased brushing to watch the disgusting display, letting the foam drip down the handle into her palm. When he was done he pulled his head back and licked the water from his jowls with his long tongue. The cool feeling of liquid foam running down her forearm snapped her back to attention. Spitting the foam into the sink and washing her arm, she looked back to see his satisfaction displayed across his dopey face.

 

“Put the lid back down and get out.”

 

****

She admitted that there was a benefit to waking up so early. The hot water in her shower had not been used yet and was so relaxing she felt she could just lie down in the tub and fall asleep under the hot rain. A sudden sound of metal scrapping against her curtain rod as a cold gust of air hit her backside; she turned to see the happy face of her willing new pet staring back at her.

 

“Please,” she chose her words carefully, hoping the beast would at least listen to reason. “Please, just wait for me outside the bathroom,” the fear of him trying to get into the bath with her hit her as he brought his large paws up to the edge of the tub. “I’m asking nicely!” she held her hand up to try and stop him, but the dog just began lifting his paw up in an attempt to mimic her pose; pawing at the air in front of him. She could feel the suds on her scalp slowly crawl down her neck onto her shoulders, but she watched him regardless.

 

After a few moments of intense staring between the two the dog put his front paws down into the tub, draping his body over side. She was certain he was going to try and fit his entire body inside the tub, but he seemed pleased enough to just have his front body under the water with her. Watching him lap at the tiny streams of water was interrupted by the sudden stinging sensation in her eyes.

 

Unable to watch him further, she tried rinsing her hair and eyes of suds when she heard the sound of crunching plastic and a disgusting gurgle of contents being squeezed out of a bottle. Furiously trying to wash the soap from her eyes she opened them to see her new pet crunching down on an old shampoo bottle.

 

"The fuck is wrong with you! Get that outta your mouth," she yelled, grabbing for the bottle from between his massive jaws. As soon as her fingers touched the plastic, the mabari flung his head wildly before retreating back on the other side of the curtain half wet.

 

Dahlia thought about chasing after the beast before he slung soap throughout the house, but her brain suddenly started taking too many things into account that all she could do was stand still and try to not slip on the soap puddle in her tub.

 

****

As the sun just began to brighten the sky, Solas began to feel the sudden exhaustion from his all-nighter. Sitting at his small table in his unfinished kitchen, he took his eyes away from his laptop and stretches his arms above his head. Craning his head back to try to see through the skylight beyond the walkway above, he could guess it was about six in the morning.

 

He had no classes on Thursdays so he was free to make plans around his new home. Standing up and carefully walking across the split linoleum, he made his way to his fridge and pulled a bottle of water from inside.

 

Thinking about what he needed to accomplish today, Solas remembered his notebook and school work were left in the trunk of his car. Putting on his slippers he walked up the stairs to the door to the garage where his car sat in the frosty wind.

 

Tying the sash to his robe tightly around his waist, he prepared for the sharp wind to hit his exposed flesh as he opened the door. As he stepped out into the cold cement structure he spied the same bundle of rags sitting in the same corner of his garage, shivering violently in the wind.

 

Solas ignored the man for a moment as he grabbed what he needed from his car, but he felt an incredible guilt overtake him as he watched the mass of cloth sitting in the corner.

 

"Excuse me," he called but expected no response. "The temperature is expected to drop very low," still no response. He put his notepad and papers down next to the door and began walking towards the person. "If you like, I can take you to a shelter. They can help you, if..." The patchwork hat began shake back and forth, "No," came a muffled but shaky voice. "I don't like it there," the young man spoke as clearly as he was able, "There's so many people. And the noise," it almost sounded as though the man began to feel panicked, but Solas knelt down beside him and placed his hand gently on his shoulder.

 

"Then come inside with me," Solas waited for a response, but none came. "It is quiet inside for the time being, and I am the only one so you should be safe." Solas realized the words may have sounded creepy for a stranger to say, but he stood his ground. If the young man did not want assistance, he couldn't force him inside no matter what his conscious told him.

 

"I've seen many people go inside there," he lifted his head up, but not enough for Solas to make out any facial features.

 

"Yes. I am having my home renovated inside. There will be plenty of people working, and it promises to get loud at times, but I can find a quiet place for you when they come," Solas was almost determined to not let the lad freeze tonight.

 

The hat returned to its original position; perhaps in contemplation. "It doesn't feel right to me to let you freeze to death out here," Solas began, "I'm inviting you." A few moments passed before the man extended his head out from underneath the pile of blankets, "Will it get very loud?"

 

Solas gave the young man a reassuring smile, "Yes it will. But it will only be until renovations are completed."

 

"Where can I go... when it gets loud?" The man's voice began to fade underneath the rags.

 

"You may go anywhere you like. There is a basement area downstairs where the boiler sits, however," Solas tried to crane his head to see underneath the wide brim of the hat, "But you are more than welcome to sleep in my home. Have you no family?" Solas wanted to make sure there was more he could do to help him. If the man had family, he wanted them to know where he was.

 

"No," was all the man said. Clearly that was all there was to say.

 

"Then let me help you inside. The bathroom isn't working yet, but there is a sink to wash in. And I will make us something to eat," the man began to stir off the ground and stood before Solas draped in several dirty sheets.

 

"My name is Solas by the way," he hoped to start a dialogue to put the man at ease. "Yes. I heard them call you that," them being those he hired, Solas suspected. The conversation seemed to have died at that moment, but Solas pressed, "I'm afraid I may not have caught your name."

 

"I'm Cole," he said as he followed Solas bashfully to his front door.

 

"It's very nice to meet you Cole. If there is anything you need, please ask."

 

****

Dahlia tried to mop up the soap off the floor, but that seemed to only make the situation worse.

 

Standing in her robe with her hair put up to dry in an old shirt, Dahlia just watched the suds continue to form as she mopped and rinsed the head clear in the sink. She could hear the creature in the living room chewing on the plastic shampoo container as she cleaned up the mess.

 

'The fuck am I going to do with that thing?' She thought to herself as she used a towel to dry up the sudsy tile with her feet.

 

It was already seven in the morning and she was exhausted. It wasn't until the she noticed the sound of popping plastic had ceased for who knows how long before she felt frantic. She began looking for the dog, hoping it wasn't getting into anything else when she spotted it on the floor, snoring as a pool of drool and bubbles accumulated underneath its jowls.

 

She thought the dog may have gotten sick on the soap when a loud knock at her front door disturbed the beast and immediately began running to the door.

 

With a heavy sigh she tried to walk as careful as possible walking across the floor to answer the door. The dog continued to bark at the knocking when she opened it only to be greeted by the bare, grey chest of her new neighbor.

 

"Morning neighbor! Hey dog," Dahlia didn't know how to start this conversation, but apparently she didn't need to. "About the other day, with the T.V. and all that, I just wanted to let you know I know someone who wants to get rid of theirs. Told them you may be lookin'," Dahlia could barely handle the volume of his voice so early in the morning, especially since the dog continued to bark.

 

"I'll trade them a dog for it," the dog instantly looked up at Dahlia, ears pointed forward as he gave her a small whimper.

 

"Nah, guys a dwarf. Probably doesn't want something as big as a horse running around his house," he said, apparently not understand the joke.

 

"Okay. Well, how much does he want for it?" She was curious as to whether he would offer to pay her back for destroying her last one.

 

"Two hundred. Pretty cheap for one that's bigger than mine," Dahlia raised her eyebrows in astonishment at the mention of the display. When she watched her show on his, it was almost like watching it at a theater. She furrowed her brows again, "What's wrong with it?"

 

"Nothin' wrong with it. Just the usual dwarf thing; it's just too big," his laugh echoed off the walls in the hallway, which made Dahlia panic at the thought of waking her neighbors.

 

"Anyway, I was thinking of buying it myself and giving you my old one. Mine's too small, but I thought I would offer you the bigger one first," Dahlia was baffled. In one way she would get a new T.V. free, on the other side she would have to pay.

 

She figured she would go with the free T.V.

 

"No problem! It may take me a little while, but hey! Free T.V. am I right?" Iron Bull looked down at her with a huge grin then down to the dog next to her. "Don't want to alarm you or anything, but your poodle is foamin'."

 

Dahlia looked down at the animal and looked back up to Bull, "Apparently, he likes to eat soap."

 

Iron Bull gave her a slightly puzzled look, "You do know what happens if a dog eats soap? Right?"

Chapter Text

A little dive bar on the edge of the city's harbor district was Dahlia's haven for that evening. Sitting outside the old, splintered wooden building underneath the more recently built pergola made for a strange mix between old and new, which Dahlia thought to be tacky. The entire bar felt out of place among the large refineries and freight warehouses lining the water, but it was a place she actually enjoyed unlike the other bars around the city.

But there was no work for her tonight, and she wanted to get out of the house to forget about thinking for a while.

Sitting with her chin in her hands as she watched the dog walk from stranger to stranger getting head pats and table scraps, listening to the various blue collar workers dote on this dog as though he were an old friend.

Dahlia drank the last remnants of her warm beer before hearing a tiny chime from her cell phone.

Waiting patiently as the phone turned on, the message automatically came up on screen,

Reed: "Mom wants to know if you are coming to dinner Saturday"

Dahlia thought about the message for a moment, feeling guilty that this message was repeated several times above with the same reply,

Dahlia: "no im working this weekend"

Hitting send, she waited for the inevitable reply. After a few moments she heard the chime and waited for her phone to show his response.

Reed: "I figured ass munch. Mom just wanted to know if you still loved us"

Dahlia slightly quirked her head before another message immediately followed,

Reed: "^as much"

Reed: "stupid auto correct"

Bringing up the keyboard on her phone, she began typing her response,

Dahlia: "you really meant ass munch"

A few seconds passed before another speech bubble populated,

Reed: "it's a good excuse for when they are watching over your shoulder"

In the middle of their conversation, Dahlia heard another chime on her phone. Looking quickly to her notifications bar she saw she had another message from someone else,

Dahlia: "gtg big bitch"

Reed: "big brother?"

She smiled as she chuckled to herself before sending her final reply,

Dahlia: "no"

Switching to her notifications she saw a message from a phone number she wasn't familiar with. Opening the notification she spied a message from her which simply said, "it's dahlia."

"Oh right," she said to herself as she remembered it was already Thursday. In a way she didn't actually think he would write her back, but she read the message regardless,

xxx-xxx-xxxx: "It's Solas."

xxx-xxx-xxxx: "I was wondering if you considered my proposal to be the model for my class tomorrow?"

She set his name to her phone and pondered the question as she tried to think of a reason why she would consider this request,

Dahlia: "What time?"

She waited patiently for a response, realizing he probably wasn't expecting one so immediately,

Solas: "I have a lecture at 10am and another at 1pm."

Solas: "Both are a bit more than an hour long."

Dahlia pondered the request as she stood up and walked out of the side yard onto the streets, busy with passing diesel engines hauling tanks of who knows what.

Naturally by her side was her new four-legged friend, trotting along as his tongue flapped outside his mouth as he watched her face in happiness. She had to admit that having such an incredibly intimidating dog with her made her feel safer as she walked down the streets at night. Watching as people walking her way would give them a wide berth or simply cross the street was something she enjoyed with sadistic glee.

She crossed an intersection which separated the harbor district with the slums and residential areas, feeling little fear as she kept her phone in her pocket; leaving the message to be answered once she returned to her own neighborhood.

"If someone attacks us," she told the dog, "I expect no less than a few severed fingers. You understand that?" Looking down at the dog he looked forward and gave his best impression of a guard dog and snarled at the imaginary mugger. She would never admit the dog was starting to feel like family, especially after having to explain to people that her new dog ate a container of soap and that he wasn't a rabid dog foaming from both ends.

Yes, it was like she never left home.

 

****

Solas put his phone into his back pocket and continued his work clearing out the old boiler room downstairs. The boiler was no longer functional, but the area was very wide and surprisingly hospitable in temperature.

The old brick walls felt like a dungeon, but his new friend insisted he wanted to be out of the way while renovations were happening upstairs. Solas originally wanted to use this area as storage, but he was content to share his living space with the young man.

Cole sat at the bottom of the stairs, knees brought up to his chin as he watched Solas bring the boxes to the stairs and sweep the floor. Once he had a pile of debris accumulated in the middle of the floor, he took a moment to stretch his back, feeling the damp cloth of his tank top cling to his chest, cooling him instantly but reminding him he would need to bathe soon after.

His phone chimed in his back pocket as he took a moment to read the response,

Dahlia: "I work Spirits that night at 3. Think I'll be able to make it there in time for my shift afterwards?"

Solas wasn't familiar with the place, but after doing a quick search he saw the distance wasn't too far by car. He switched back to his messenger and responded,

Solas: "It's not far. The class should end at around 2. That should be plenty of time."

A few minutes passed before her response flashed across his screen,

Dahlia: "OK just tell me where and when."

He smiled as the stress of tomorrow's lecture dissipated with her approval. Sending her the information he concluded his message and returned to the dust pile in the floor as he continued to clean. Looking up he saw Cole was gone and so were several boxes he had been meaning to take upstairs. Cole came down quietly and grabbed another box and slowly began ascending the stairs.

Solas called out to him, "Please, don't hurt yourself. Let me take those upstairs." Cole looked down at him from the small landing halfway up, "But I want to help."

Solas could hear the twinge of guilt hanging on the edge of his words, and smiled up at the young man, "I'll trade you. How about I take up the boxes then and you sweep?" Solas gave him a smile to reassure him that he would be valued in his help. Cole gave him a meek smile in return and placed the box on the landing before carefully descending back down the stairs, "Okay. Thank you," he grabbed the broom and started sweeping out the corners as Solas began moving the boxes back up the stairs.

 

****

Walking out of the corner mart, Dahlia unwrapped the cigarette pack she bought, tapping it against her palm before taking one out to light. As soon as her lighter sparked her companion began barking at her, turning around in circles in hurried frustration. The sudden sound caused her to fumble and drop her plastic lighter and she watched with heartbreak as the bottom shattered on the pavement, leaking lighter fluid into a small puddle at her feet.

With accepted defeat she returned the cigarette to the pack and placed it inside her pocket. "What was that?" she yelled, but the dog simply wagged its nubby tail and walked with her all the way back to her apartment in apparent glee.

Before opening the front door to her building, she heard a loud whimper behind her. Turning to see the dog run into the grassy, unkempt courtyard, she watched after him as he did his business and return. Walking past the landlord's suite in the foyer, the door immediately opened with a pleasant greeting for the happy grey pooch.

"Here ya go my friend," he smiled as he presented the dog with piece of cooked chicken meat from his dinner. The dog suddenly became animated and licked the man's hands as he ran around his legs, sniffing pockets for more treats.

"You sure you don't want him? He ate my shampoo this morning, so he's clean I guess," she joked, but he just petted his new favorite tenant, feeling forced to communicate with anyone else, "I would have snatched this guy up if I could, but a mabari chooses its master, not the other way around."

"So I'm stuck with him until he keels over? Do they ever go for another master?" she was alarmed at this new knowledge, but she figured if anyone would know anything about these massive beasts, then a Fereldan would be it.

"Yes. But you would have to die first," he gave her a sharp look, continuing to pet the happy dog's belly.

Concluding the conversation, her face felt five pounds heavier once realizing this dog was with her until one of them ends. "With that being said," he continued, "what's his name?"

Dahlia never thought to officially sanction him with a name yet, "I just call him Mister," she muttered.

The landlord gave a sigh of disapproval, but the dog was overcome with happiness at his new name, "Of course you would."

Dahlia would be the first to admit she was not very clever with names, but she still felt a twinge of offense to his response, "Well that's what I call him, but that will be Mr. Mister to you." The dog looked at the chicken bringing man and barked with affirmation.

Giving her a groan, he watched as they both began ascending the stairs to her apartment. "Be good...Mr. Mister," he grumbled. Mister followed her up the stairs, letting out a few quiet barks of what appeared to sound like smug approval.

 

****

Turning the corner to the hallway leading to her apartment, she spied Dalish knocking on her door. 'Oh no,' was all Dahlia could think before the woman caught sight of her.

"There ye are! Come, Bull's got the show playin' on his telly! Ice cream and chips, too!" Dalish ran up to her and gently grabbed her hand before leading her into Bull's apartment. Dahlia admitted to herself she didn't know what the woman was talking about, but after seeing Bull seated on the couch with her favorite soap opera starting on the screen, she suddenly remembered accidentally making a new fan on their first meeting.

If was a rerun of the episode from last week, but she was thankful to be able to watch it without interruption; or so she thought.

Discussion between Dalish and Bull about the show continued incessantly as she watched the dog out of the corner of her eye, sucking crumbs from the floor around their feet. She gave up in trying to watch the subtitles and listened to Dalish explain the show in detail; clearly she had been binge watching the show since last Friday.

'I wonder if they would even notice if I just leave?' she thought to herself, but she remained and listened to them as though they were an experiment on how fandoms spread like disease.

 

****

The next morning she stepped off the bus just outside of the University courtyard. While the grounds did not look as prestigious as she would have imagined, there was an air of young pomposity which seemed to emanate from the students around her. Feeling uncomfortable in her skin only made the feeling worse when one of the students came up to her asking if she was the new History instructor. Trying to chalk it up to her business wear floating among a sea of sweat pants and pajama bottom-wearing juniors, she politely asked where the arts building was located.

Trekking what felt like a full mile through a sea of people, she finally arrived at her destination. The building looked much newer than the others she spied on the way here, but as she walked the long corridor full of glass display cases showing students works, she continued to look for any door with a name tag. Finding all door without name or even class names displayed, she walked into a room flanked by several art prints, each with a name of the artist she would never remember.

The classroom was not what she pictured would be in the arts building. While empty, there were no easels or canvases, but neat little desks lined up in rows which would look like any other classroom on campus. Clearly this was the wrong room.

Before she could leave an elvhen instructor came out of a small room towards the front of the class, clearly intrigued by the presence of someone in his classroom so early. "Hello?" he said, looking a little disheveled, as though he were just waking up.

He looked like an instructor, more or less. His shirt remained untucked and his tie was loose and messy; 'perhaps he was getting ready,' she thought to herself.

"You the new History buff here?" he laughed, taking a sip of his coffee.

"You are not the first to ask me that today," she looked completely puzzled by the comment, which he felt a need to clarify.,"Probably because the resident History teach was drug off campus a few days ago, and there is not a student alive here that dresses like that. Even if one of them died, they would be buried in their slippers and pajamas," he laughed to himself before asking what she was looking for.

"I'm suppose to be some sort of model for..." Before she could even finish, he turned her around and pushed her out the door and into the hall before opening the door across the way to a busy classroom full of art students, each in the middle of drawing the man seated on a platform towards the head of the room. All eyes turned to them as she stood mortified under the gaze of the disgruntled students.

Solas was making his laps around the room to see the progress of his students when the door opening caught his attention. "You have five more minutes of warm-up before the first lesson, continue while I get setup," and like that the students returned to their sketching.

Solas walked up to the pair and gave the instructor a glare, "Felassan," before he could begin lecturing his colleague, Felassan cut him off, "Just delivering that model you ordered. No need for tips, just remember to leave a review on Modelx.com!" Dahlia's ears perked up in annoyance, "The porn site?" she almost yelled, before Solas cut her off by swiftly guiding him out the door into the hallway.

Returning to the room a moment later, Dahlia's face was red in embarrassment and stifled anger. "Please ignore him," he apologized, "he's the Art History instructor."

Chapter Text

"How are you feeling, Ms. Lavellan?" Solas inquired.

It had been over twenty minutes since the class had started and as he walked around, giving small hints of advice to any student who stopped him, he occasionally looked up to see Dahlia fidgeting in her seat. Little movements that may not be picked up immediately, but if stared at long enough a person could see the twitching of her eyebrows and the rubbing of her fingernails hidden underneath her arms.

"I've been alone inside my head for about thirty minutes. I've come to the conclusion I'm not a very interesting person, and that thought aggravates me," some of the students gave a small giggle, but Solas thought to move closer to the stage to at least talk with her more privately.

"You've been doing very well so far. This exercise will be over soon and you can have a rest while they prepare for the next," Solas gave her a very polite smile, which caused her to raise her eyebrow in response, forgetting she should remain absolutely still. She fixed her eyes to the back of the room to a portrait of a woman with a unibrow and let out a barely audible groan at the prospect that she would have to do this at least three more times that day.

'Easy money,' she thought, 'boring work.'

 

****

Once this class was over and the students began packing up their belongings, Dahlia stood up and stretched as she looked at the clock. 'Almost two hours until the next class. What the fuck do I do until then?'

"It will be a while until my next class," his voice had startled her from her focus on the wall clock, "There are many things to do around the campus to fill in the time." It didn't seem there was much of the college life that interested her, but there were many local shops across the streets he believed she would enjoy more.

"There's the library and the student lounge if you want to relax," he said thoughtfully.

"Not really my way of relaxing. I'm not used to being around so many young kids," she felt awkward, but wanted to dig around in his head for a better idea than, 'mingle with the college folk.'

"Do you like coffee? " Solas tried to offer something neighboring the campus. However, they both knew the areas surrounding would be littered with students, regardless. Solas was hoping at this hour before lunch the café would be less crowded, 'but when has that ever been true,' he thought.

"I don't drink coffee," she blurts out the lie almost instantly, wondering to herself why she would make up something so obvious, if he couldn't already smell the carbon off her breath from her morning brew. She hoped that her cigarette would have masked that smell.

"Tea then," he continued to offer, although not to his own interests. 'To each their own,' he thought.

"I don't suppose there is a bar within walking distance, is there?" She knew the answer, but just wanted to make some conversation; gauging the cool personality before her.

"I'm afraid not."

They both watched each other in uncomfortable silence for a few seconds before Dahlia gave a small sigh, "Fine. Show me this coffee house then."

 

****

Solas wasn't expecting to accompany her to the shop; his original plan was to point her in the direction and keep to his quiet office, as was his usual custom. He couldn't quite make out whether it was his want to keep her company in a crowded, unfamiliar shop, or the fact she insisted he show her.

They stood in line behind several students, each visibly decorated with their own personality, as they stared thoughtfully at the chalkboard menu.

They remained quiet, not speaking to each other as they studied the menu; both coming to the same consensus.

"They charge more for coffee than I do for cocktails," she muttered to herself, which made Solas chuckle.

"Rethinking career choices, are you?" Feeling relief over having broken the silence and eased the tension surrounding them, Solas turned away from the menu; content to buying a flavored water from the display case and a small cake slice wrapped in green cellophane. "I think I might be underqualified," she said, "Don't you need an arts degree?"

"That old trope still prevalent?" Solas took the jab with grace. "Some stereotypes are based on truth," Dahlia shrugged her shoulders and ordered a plain, black coffee.

"That'll be six thirty-two, ma'am," the peppy young woman with bright green streaks in her hair was almost too much stimulation for Dahlia to handle. 'That's why she works the counter. She'll distract you from understanding the price you just paid for a plain coffee.'

As she reached into her satchel for her wallet, the young girl gave Solas an enthusiastic wave, "Hey, Mr. Solas!" Giving her a smile and quick nod, he returned her greeting with a more dignifying response. Dahlia smirked, "you a student of his?" The girl agreed, "Yup! I'm going to be in his class next semester, if I can. Advanced art III!"

"Some stereotypes are based on truth," she repeated smugly to herself, but loud enough for Solas to hear.

Reaching into her wallet, she pulled out a worn ten-dollar bill and handed it to the girl. Getting the change back, she placed a dollar in the tip jar and waited patiently for her company to finish ordering his items.

The café was very small, nestled between two larger store fronts which extended to each corner. Dahlia wanted out of the crowd and outside as soon as she could. After finally navigating through the forest of fatigued teens and wrinkled shirts, she successfully made it outside and she gave a sigh of relief, 'they must be breaking some fire codes. That place is at capacity with just the staff.'

Solas took a sip of his water before spying a small, unoccupied bench on the other side of the road. The courtyard was mostly vacant since classes were technically still in session. He thought they could relax a little without distraction and enjoy the architecture around them.

Making their way towards the bench, Solas felt the need to address the question that had nagged him since they left the cafe, "I thought you didn't like coffee?"

Dahlia remembered the drink, enjoying the heat radiating into her hand as she waited for the cup to cool. "Maybe I don't," she spoke playfully, "Maybe I'm just trying something new."

They finally sat down, each on the very opposite sides of the bench leaving about four feet between them. "I would think, if that were the case, you would want cream or sugar. Or perhaps one of their specialty drinks," he set his drink and cake down next to him in the empty space, lifting his arm up and around the back of their seat as he tried to invest interest into their conversation, "Black coffee is very bitter and not too many people really enjoy it."

"I am a pretty bitter person," she took a sip through the small spout on her cup, liking the taste to burnt popcorn.

They sat in silence for what seemed like several minutes; awkwardness fading, giving way to silent company and content.

Dahlia opened her mouth with an audible pop from her tongue, as if to gather attention to the fact she had something on her mind.

Solas looked over to her, noticing the bored expression that was etched across her face, "I can't believe..." She started, "I just paid over six dollars for this watered-down swill."

Solas gave a chuckle as he deposited his empty bottle in the trash bin beside him, "things do tend to get more expensive the closer they are to a college campus."

They both stood up, making their way back to the classroom, "As if tuition wasn't eye-gouging enough," she popped open the top of her chilled drink and dumped the remnants into the grass, "It's like a social experiment to see how much a student is willing to part with." They passed another trash can and she placed the empty cup inside, "how much would you like to bet that if I were to offer to pay a student a fourth of their entire tuition if they cut off their toe, that they would do it right in front of me without notice or contract?"

The conversation went dark, but the humor was definitely appealing to him, "the odds are certainly, within your favor. It's a fools bet."

 

****

Dahlia spent the final class seated perfectly still. Legs crossed, leaning to the right, elbow propped on the arm of her chair with her phone in her lap. Aside from the occasional movement of her thumbs, she was almost statuesque. Solas felt he had made the right call in asking her to be the model for this afternoon's classes. Her body language was on point and exactly what his syllabus was lacking. The first class seems too strange and awkwardly staged. This, however, felt more genuine and comfortable; which is the theme he wanted to convey to his students.

The hour slipped by unnoticed, but as the final bell rang and the silence of the students immediately destroyed by unintelligible noise and laughter, Dahlia peered away from her phone to see the students leaving the room.

Looking down at the time on her phone, she realized that it was time for her to go as well. She began stuffing her phone into her satchel when Solas walked up to the stage.

"I want to thank you for assisting me with my class today," his smile seemed truly heartfelt, "I picked up your check from the faculty office." He presented her with an envelope, addressed to her with a script so fine and neat.

"I don't think I've ever seen my name written so pretty," and as if to quickly forget about it, she folded the envelope in half and stuffed it in her pack, along with her phone.

"This was my final class for today," he said, grabbing a small box of sketchbooks and papers along with his briefcase, "did you park in the visitor lot? I can give you a ride to your car since mine is parked right here."

Dahlia gave him a look of pity, as though he should have already known the answer, "I didn't drive here. I took the bus."

Solas felt foolish as he put on his jacket. She gave him a polite thank you as she made her way towards the door, determined to make it to the bus stop before it arrived. "Wait, please. I can drive you to work myself," he remembered the route on his phone from yesterday and knew her work wasn't too far out of the way for him to go before heading home.

"You sure?"

"Of course," he motioned her to follow him to the staff parking outside, "it's not that far from here. You said it's at Spirits, right?"

"Woah! Are we going to Spirits!" An excited voice seemed to scream across the parking lot. Looking towards the direction of the voice, they spied the still disheveled Felassan leaning up against the car door. Solas shooed him away from the door as he used his key to unlock it for his intended passenger, "She works at Spirits, so I offered to take her instead of having her take the bus." Solas stated this to Felassan, knowing exactly how the man's brain was geared.

"Chivalrous," Felassan exclaimed as he climbed into the back seat of the old convertible, eager to tag along without invitation, "don't suppose there are free drinks for friends-of-friends?"

"After that embarrassing remark earlier?" She buckled herself into the front seat, careful to keep her shirt free from wrinkles.

"What if I say... pretty please?"

Solas put his equipment and materials into the trunk before slamming the hood, making the car and its occupants bounce, "what are you doing?" Solas addressed the man lying in the back seat, feet and ankles dangling out of the window.

"Ride-bumming," Felassan remarked with a large grin, "I need a drink. I had to explain the history of elvhen masterworks during the revolutionary period. I'm parched and I think I know too much; so, I'm going to take a page from the college student handbook and drink myself stupid tonight."

Solas seated himself behind the wheel, giving the key a few twists before the car finally came alive. Dahlia wasn't sure the car would be able to leave the lot, but as they eased onto the street she was surprised at how smooth the car actually drove.

Looking out her side view mirror she could see the polished, brown leather shoes and black socks of their misfit passenger in back. At this rate, she figured, they would arrive before the bar would open, which would give her enough time to prep.

 

****

Spirits was one of the more offbeat bars, which catered mostly to interesting individuals and people who wanted to be interesting by association. In truth, the people she would cater to here were more often than not, trying too hard to be extraordinary. Hipsters, geeks, the oddballs and posers all enjoyed the atmosphere that Spirits had to offer.

Dahlia liked it. Not because of the people obviously, but because these people would tend to order extravagantly and tip just as well; not unlike the Gallery from last week. Whether it was a way to display themselves, peacocking or what-have-you, or sheer generosity was beside the point. This bar, more than any other, would be the easiest money she would make that evening; even more so than her modeling that afternoon.

No one started trouble for her. They were there to have a good time.

"I am ready to forget the entire art history of 2:80 Glory!" Felassan hopped out from the back seat and was making his way to the front.

"Thanks for the ride, you actually saved me a lot of time in prep work," She unbuckled her seat belt as she began moving out of the vehicle.

"It was no trouble. I may actually call on you to help model again. If you are interested, that is."

She gave him a genuine smile, albeit a smug one, but perhaps the first she had given him all day.

Before climbing out, she sat there for a few seconds, pondering to herself when she turned around to face him, "Come on, get out," she jerked her head as though it were directing him to the front door. "I'll give you a free drink as thanks for the drive."

At first he refused, "I really shouldn't. It's fine," but after her insistence that he saved her a drink's worth in bus fare driving her to work, he relented.

"You don't turn down a free drink in this city. It's bad luck, I think," she scolded him playfully as they rounded the corner to the front, unlocking the heavy, tufted leather door and entering the pitch darkness of one of the most eccentric bars in the entire city.

Chapter Text

Walking into the dark building Solas took a moment to adjust his vision in his surroundings. The brightest lights in the room were directly above the bar along the wall where a lone, red-headed girl stood quietly as she continued her unseen chopping. Looking up, the girl tried to focus her eyes on those who just walked through the door.

"Dolly! You’re here early!" She cried out with a friendly wave, letting the knife in her hand catch the light with sudden flashes. Dahlia beckoned them to the bar, letting them choose their seat freely as she moved behind the counter.

"How far have you gotten?" Dahlia took off her coat and satchel and placed them underneath the bar for safe keeping. Hitting a few light switches behind her sent electricity across the whole room.

As Solas' eyes adjusted quickly to the sudden light, he was met with room full of beautiful furniture, mimicking the antiques of Orlesian fashion from around eighty or ninety year ago.

The room did not hide what most would deem unappealing, and for that it added its own definition of beauty and charm. It did not hide the disintegrating brick or concrete walls, instead a white paint was applied over its texture as a sweet touch of makeup, adding to soften and show their texture rather than conceal. The gold and crystal chandeliers above them added a touch of old-world elegance. Following the chains up to the ceiling, Solas admired that instead of a tin ceiling as he would expect from the décor, splintered wooden beams and black electrical wires coiled their way around to every hanging light throughout the room. A touch of old and new. Even the ventilation system was painted black to not really hide it, but to blend it with the rest of the surroundings.

Solas took his eyes away from the room to watch as the petite red-headed girl continued to wipe down the bar and set out coasters and matchbooks while Dahlia polished the metal on the beer taps.

"This is quite an interesting place," Solas finally commented.

Felassan chuckled as he picked up one of the matchbooks and placed it in his pocket; enjoying the sight of the little scantily-clad woman on the cover, "You've never been here before? That's a shame."

Once Dahlia had finished, she washed her hands and donned a small, pinstriped apron around her waist as she rolled up her sleeves to her elbows and placed a simple sleeve garter around her arm. With that, she looked every inch a barkeep belonging to this establishment.

"Jun," she called over to the merry young woman, "turn on the marquee and unlock the doors please."

 

****

Setting down the heavy tumbler on the polished wooden bar, Dahlia slowly slide the drink towards Solas, "Careful, this one's a creeper." Solas admitted his knowledge of cocktails were simple, but when Jun recommended she prep him her signature, 'Fade Rift,' Dahlia smirked and shook her head. Intrigued, Solas asked her to prepare her cocktail as further payment for the ride and watched her prepare his order. He took the heavy glass in his hand and held it up to his nose to take in the fragrance. The crisp smell of pine caught him off guard, he jerked his head back slightly and crinkled his nose to the almost chemical odor.

"It's just gin, old man," Felassan had already started his tab and went through half his drink before Solas could take a sip of his. "It's quite fragrant," Solas spoke low with a contemplative tone.

"That shit ain't the bottom shelf swill in the green bottle either," Dahlia called out to them as she unhooked a flat keg from the tap, mildly irritated the previous night's shift would leave her the work of exchanging the kegs.

"I saw that! She gave you the stuff in the black bottle," Felassan pointed to a bottle on the back wall, but Solas couldn't understand which one he was referring to.

"I suppose that's good then? It's meant to smell like floor cleaner?" Solas held his breath and took a quick sip of his concoction. The alcohol tasted mild compared the other flavors; not wholly unpleasant, or thick with syrup. The drink spread thin across his tongue, letting the taste of juniper make the presence of alcohol be known before deadening to the flavor of melon and berry.

Jun accompanied Dahlia to the floor as she hooked up the new keg underneath the bar. "Not much of a drinker, is he?" She whispered, half expecting Dahlia to ignore her prodding. "Evidently," was all she would say before closing the glass case, turning towards the sink to wash her hands.

As the minutes passed, the bar began to see life returning from the outside. Men and women wearing strange or even lazy fashion sauntered in and took their seats at the distant corners of the room. Solas and Felassan conversed lazily about their day until the loud slam of the main door spooked the whole room quiet. A man wearing a faded blue hoodie stumbled through the door, attempting to keep his balance on the furniture as he passed through the threshold. Solas looked over to Dahlia to gauge her reaction. Her eyes grew wide and her pupils sharpened with anger as her face began to flush. She turned to make her way from behind the bar to confront the adversary.

"Come on and slam! If you wanna..."

"Get the fuck outta here Jimmy! There's not gonna be any poetry slam tonight!" Dahlia shouted, pointing a sharp finger to the same door the man just walked through.

"You cannot silence the voice of my people; of my heart! She-devil!" Waving a small blue notebook wildly above his head, the man called Jimmy had taken wide strides over to the small platform stage adjacent to the main door. Solas smirked at the man's tenacity, or perhaps it was the pure audacity in the face of Dahlia, a commanding woman of little humor at her job.

Sitting back in his stool he watched to see how this interaction was going to play out before him as he sipped his drink. Felassan peeked around him, trying for a better angle at the spectacle in the room.

"I live for this," a gravelly voice came from the table behind them. Turning towards the voice, Solas was met with the scruffy face of a roguish-looking dwarf.

"I take it this is a normal affair here?" Solas asked with amusement. "Must be a new moon," the dwarf chuckled to himself as he takes a short sip from his frosty glass. "This kid comes in here every so often, after he's been kicked out of his usual places and tries to get some sort of 'poetry-thing' started," he laughed as he clearly began reminiscing of times past.

Solas grinned, as he watched Dahlia move from behind the bar towards the stage. Before the man could even start reading from his heavily worn pages, Dahlia disconnected the mic stand from the amp, letting the faint buzz drop with an audible 'thump.'

"It's too early for your shit, Jimmy!" She watched as the man took a flying leap from the stage, half expecting her to make a grab for him and remove him forcefully. Unable to stick his landing properly, the strength had drained from his leg as he fell forward into table, crashing to the ground before immediately rising to his feet.

"I don't need that mic or that stage to be heard! I'll shout my message from every corner of this bar; this establishment of lost hopes!" Dahlia could not keep the grimace off her face at the awful metaphor as she tried to herd him towards the door.

Rushing as fast as her heels would let her, she walked back to her bar and blindly grabbed for the cordless phone. Dahlia kept her eyes on him as she hit one of the auto-dial buttons, "I'm calling the fucking cops, Jimmy! You got five minutes before they come in here and beat the living shit outta you!"

"Devil! Wench!" Jimmy was standing on the side of a bar stool, clutching one of the low hanging chandelier arms for balance as he attempted to read from his notebook.

"I can get him out of here for you, Whip," the dwarf said, setting down his drink and hopping off his stool.

"I'd rather the police come here and kick his face in," Dahlia, realized her call was answered on the other line she turned around to speak to the police department while the dwarf began addressing Jimmy.

"Look Jim, you know when it's Whip's turn, you don't come in kicking doors down," the dwarf was trying to keep from laughing as he tried talking Jimmy down from his bar stool.

"Now, I know that the café down on Red Line is probably still doing its local standup so why not let all us 'poor souls' waste away here in peace tonight. The poetry revolution can come tomorrow," Solas was impressed by the smooth nature of the dwarf's voice as he managed to break through to the young man. Jimmy hopped down from the stool in what seemed like a single moment of clarity, "perhaps they will be more receptive of my message!"

As the two came to an agreement, Dahlia walked up to address the pair, "Well the police said I should take care of this myself."

"Aw, that's a shame. Would've been funny to see you yell at a couple of officers, 'get him outta here!'" the dwarf tried his best impression, but Dahlia shrugged off his jab. "So, Jimmy," she calmly spoke, "if you don't hit the bricks, I'm going to blast you out of here with the fire hose. That's not me being melodramatic, that's a real threat I'm willing to repeat in front of a judge and jury."

Jimmy didn't hesitate a moment before loudly proclaiming before the entire bar that his act would continue at the coffee shop a few blocks away; anticipating a crowd to follow him out the door. Once he left, the normal chatter and atmosphere returned to the bar without distraction.

Returning to his original stool, the dwarf picked up his beer and gave a nod towards Dahlia as a silent hint he would take another for free as compensation for his effort.

Dahlia snorted but obliged by returning to the bar and locating his tab; placing a quick strike through one of his orders before refilling his glass. Walking over to his table, she quietly set down the comped drink and removed his empty glass. "What do ya say, Whip?" the dwarf playfully inquired. If he was standing on the ground Dahlia would have given him her infamous stare and walked away, but at stool height she met his eyes at level, leaving her pride somewhat deflated. "Thank you, Varric," she dug into her ego as she slid the beer towards him, "for making yourself the sole target of my frustration tonight." Varric lifted the cold brew and gave a short laugh, "oh, the nights still young. I'm sure someone will become more annoying for you to take the spotlight off me for once." Taking a quick sip of his beer, Varric took a quick glance at his phone before turning it upside down on his table and leaning back into his chair to address his new acquaintances.

After a brief introduction between him and the two elves, Varric grabbed his drink and phone and relocated to the bar. Eager to socialize, and feeling warm from drink, Felassan led the conversation as Solas tried keeping his composure under the influence.

"So, where did the nickname 'Whip' come from," Felassan inquired, albeit with a bit of slurring. "Isn't it obvious? She just cracks, outta-no-where," Varric placed a quick order with Jun for a round of shots for the three, which Solas tried to politely decline to no avail. "Oh," Felassan looked dismayed, "I thought it was something more...kinky."

Dahlia watched over them while keeping silent to their conversation. Varric picked up on her tells, "and just like that," he snapped his fingers, "I'm a free bird." Directing his attention towards Solas, Varric saw the look of someone trying to keep discomfort from his face. "You ain't lookin' so hot there, elf. You get too wet?" Solas wasn't keen to opening his mouth; the fear of purging his drink on the bar was growing greater the warmer he got. Dahlia caught the end of their conversation and walked over to Solas, studying his face before declaring, "I told you it was a creeper. Here," pulling out the soda nozzle from its holster behind the bar, she pressed one the buttons on the tap and filled a chilled glass with water. Removing the empty cocktail glass from the coaster, she replaced it with the cool glass.

Taking a sip of the cold water had dropped his body heat, the relief was instantly felt, "I suppose I didn't take into consideration what a 'creeper' was." His face felt flushed, but the water had at least settled his stomach.

Dahlia watched him to make sure he was stable enough to sit upright before realizing she had only seen him eat the treat he purchased from the café only a few hours earlier. Reaching under the bar she pulled out a pack of peanuts and tossed them to Solas, "do not throw up on my bar. The smell of bile has a way of lingering and I don't know where the sawdust is."

Felassan just sat back and enjoyed the sight of his mentor-slash-colleague not able to handle his liquor. "Let me get one of those 'fade rift' thingies. Wouldn't want my pal to feel like the only one drunk right now," Varric's eyes grew wide in surprise and amusement, "Do it, Whip. Do it," he whispered to Dahlia.

Remembering Felassan's tab, she shook her head, "That is not something I make for a man who is already on his fourth drink." Felassan didn't let his smile waver, "but you would make it for a man who barely drinks at all?" Dahlia conceded in her mind that his point was valid, "How was I to know he barely drank? He asked for it himself." Solas listened to them back and forth for what felt like an eternity. He finished his glass of water and ate the packet of peanuts as he began to ponder to himself how he was to get home now.

Chapter Text

An hour had passed by with much noise and activity, but Solas continued to nurse his body with water until he was sure he could drive safely home on his own. Felassan and Varric enjoyed their debates on philosophy and literature while Dahlia took command of the staff with an almost military-like control.

“Jun, take your break now and relieve Sunny when you’re done. Tell her when she’s finished she can let Sissy take her’s,” Dahlia continued to multitask as she issued her orders, which were immediately performed by her staff.

Jun took off her apron and made her way towards the back room before disappearing out of sight. Solas continued to drink his water in relative silence until he felt a pinch on his arm. Felassan quickly grabbed his attention, but tried to remain inconspicuous in his address by keeping his voice low, “I think that brunette in the booth is eyeing you.”

Solas rolled his eyes and shook his head slightly at the perceived taunt, “What makes you so sure it’s me?” Felassan put his empty glass on the coaster before sliding it towards Dahlia, who quickly replaced it with a fresh beer. “It’s either you or the dwarf next to us. Safe bet is elf-to-elf,” Felassan took a sip through the head of the beer, letting the taste of hops renew its flavor on his tongue. Solas pondered the insinuation quietly before speaking, ”Leaving yourself out of the equation?”

“Never. But I know when a woman’s looking at me and when she’s looking past me,” Felassan began playing with one of the match books in a small crystal dish.

Trying to steal a quick glance at the lady in question, he noticed her gaze suddenly averted the instance their eyes met; a possible indication that Felassan’s theory could be true. She appeared to be a very young woman judging by her complexion and clothes. Solas thought she looked very familiar before averting his eyes upon realizing he had been staring too long.

“Want me to talk to her for you?” Felassan felt a need to make an awkward moment unbearable, but not before watching the young woman stand up from her booth and walk calmly over to the bar before taking a seat next to Solas.

“Hello Mr. Solas. Do you recognize me?” Felassan turned to Varric with a ridiculous grin at his realization, ‘Holy crap, she’s a student!’ Something Varric was unable to deduce.

Solas came to the same realization, but with less fanfare as his companion, “I thought you may have looked familiar. What class have I had you in?” Solas continued to be amiable at the recognition of a former student who hopefully just wanted to reminisce about a class or topic he once taught.

She smiled broadly, “It was art history during my Junior year. I just graduated this summer. You probably don’t remember since it was a while ago, but I’m Sinsia,” Solas feigned recollection and gave his congratulations on her success, hoping the awkwardness of the moment would surely pass.

Several minutes had gone by swiftly with plenty of small talk while Sinsia continued doting on Solas through much of their conversation. Felassan listened closely before coming to the conclusion which almost shocked him; Sinsia was flirting. Solas seemed to pick up their conversation enough to warrant some interest, but ultimately felt no need to return or acknowledge the sentiment.

As soon as Jun had returned Dahlia called out to her to watch the bar as she went out back for a smoke break. Reaching under the bar for her satchel she pulled out a pack of cigarettes and made her way towards the back entrance while Felassan slipped away and followed her out.

The back alley was barren this late at night and the chain fence on either side ensured it remained that way. Taking a drag from her cigarette, Dahlia took out her phone and began going through her schedule for next week.

Felassan stumbled out the door, giving her a fright which almost made her drop her phone. “You see that in there?” Felassan grabbed at the wall for stability.

Dahlia hated being disturbed on her break, but could think of no retreat from her current intruder, “Yeah?” She tried to accentuate the obvious indifference in her voice.

“She wants him to ask her out!” Running his hands through his sweat-slicked hair, Dahlia caught a whiff of beer and body odor which told her she needed to cut him off as soon as they returned. “This is great!” he laughed.

“Awesome,” she mumbled, letting the cigarette between her lips bob to her words, “why don’t you go back inside and document the encounter.” She felt she could not be any clearer on how little she cared for the situation, but he demanded her enthusiasm even if she was unable to bestow it.

Cracking open the door a few inches; he peeked inside to make sure the two continued their conversation before replying, “This is good. This is very good.” Dahlia sat down on an old wooden bench, hunched over her phone as she casually tried to ignore the drama-queen pacing up and down the alley. Felassan smiled at the many prospects before him, “I need your help to make this work.”

“No,” she continued to go over her work schedule for the following week as she planned her alarms and bus schedule. Felassan’s excitement began to spill into his actions as he became more animated before her, pleading for her attention. “You don’t understand!” He crouched down to her eye level, holding her gaze hostage in the background of her phone. “He’s a good friend, but he hasn’t been on a date in years!” Realizing the volume of his voice echoed off the walls of the alley, he lowered his voice to a whisper, “I just want to see my friend...happy and...”

Dahlia caught the implications of the last statement and closed her phone to give him her full attention, “Just so you know, that’s a really bad idea; especially when it’s a student of his.”

“Former student,” he felt the need to clarify, “Help me with this one and I’ll make it worth your while. One hundred percent tip and one wish.”

“You clearly underestimate my apathy towards you people,” she took one last drag on the cigarette before snuffing the end and disposing the butt in an old flower pot next to her bench. “I have only known you for less than a day. Same goes for your friend. There are only so many bad decisions I can enable each night and I prefer to keep it to alcoholism.”

“All you would have to do,” he tried to negotiate, “is work.” Trying to understand what he was setting up, she inquired, “Work?”

“That’s it! You just carry on your daily work and just watch over him,” his smile was charming, yet pleading. “I get them to make a date at a bar you just so happen to be hosting. All you have to do is work and tell me all the details throughout the night.”

Dahlia shook her head, “Why don’t you just go there yourself? You be the fly.”

“No dice,” he stood up from his crouched position, “If I’m there he’ll be more concerned with keeping me in line than on his date.”

“Why are we even arguing this? Did you hear anything about a date?” Dahlia stood up and took one last look at her phone to gauge the time before heading back inside.

“Leave that to me,” he put his weight against the door, keeping her trapped in the alley until he was satisfied with an answer. “Truly do not care, now let me in,” she tried to push him aside, but he would allow her to move him. As they shoved each other for dominance of the door, Felassan felt his endurance falter, “Name your terms! One hundred – no, two hundred percent tip!”

“Kiss my ass! My time ain’t that cheap! You’ve been sucking down cheap domestics all night! That gets me about sixty bucks!” jabbing her elbow into his side, Felassan held onto the doorknob with all his strength, “Fine, one hundred! I’ll cut you a check here and now!”

“Fuck off!” she started digging into his hand, trying to pry each finger from the knob. “Two hundred!” She jerked herself away from the door. Exhausted and angry, she finally realized if she was to negotiate, she was going to play hardball.

“Three hundred,” she smoothed her hair down and tucked her clothes. “Thief. That arrogance will cost you. One seventy-five.”

“Two fifty.”

For the first time that evening, Felassan’s grin had relaxed to a suspicious smile, “One fifty.”

“One seventy-five, a bottle of Tevinter gin and you watch my dog that evening. That’s assuming there even is a date,” Felassan took a moment to ponder this offer before opening the door to let her inside as a silent accord.

As they came back inside to resume their previous activities, Felassan wasted little time playing matchmaker. Dahlia took over the bar once more as Jun began taking her rounds across the bar to pick up empty bottles and glasses.

“So,” Felassan took his previous seat between Solas and Varric, leaving the dwarf alone to answer his text messages, “an Alumni from VRU, that’s gotta’ feel pretty good, right?” Tucking her softly curled hair behind her ear, Sinsia peeked around Solas to address him properly, “It’s... a new feeling, that’s for sure. I’m not so sure whether it’s good or bad, though.” Felassan just smiled his usual mischievous grin, “I suppose that’s more dependant on the job market these days.”

As Solas and Sinsia resumed their conversation, Felassan began plotting. His genuine desire to see his friend go on a date with Sinsia was his personal mission for the evening, but Solas showed just as much interest to her as he did to most people.

Feeling as though his friend may have been daft to her advances, Felassan began setting his plan into motion.

“What’re you drinking there?” Felassan inquired about the red liquid in her martini glass. “It’s a Val Royeaux. It’s a bit girly, I know, but I love these things,” she twirled the stem between her fingers as it spun on the coaster. “Never had one. Hey!” he called to Dahlia who watched over the conversation with indifference. “You’re cut off,” was all she said, much to Felassan’s disappointment, but he continued regardless, “Who makes the best Val Royeaux’s in town?”

Dahlia furrowed her brows at the indirect insult. While she may not be the best at what she does, she did take pride in her ability as a bar tender. ‘You dumb bastard,’ she thought to herself, not realizing the emotion was clearly displayed across her face. “How the hell would I know? Look it up yourself,” she spat as she began loading the used glasses into a small dishwasher hidden underneath the bar.

Felassan continued with his plot, not realizing the slight he had just made to Dahlia’s profession, “Great idea! May I borrow your phone? Mine’s out of data,” he held out his hand to Dahlia as a silent plead for her phone. After a moment or two trying to decide on his intent, she took her phone out of her pocket and unlocked the screen to see her schedule for the next few days open where she left off. A sudden moment of comprehension hit her as she passed him the phone, leaving the calendar open for his use.

Taking the phone in hand he turned to face Solas, not letting him view the contents on the screen as he began scanning the calendar for a decent place. His eyes immediately dropped on tomorrow’s schedule for her to tend at a local jazz club while the rest of the week was filled with dives and sport’s bars; none a great place to start.

“Apparently,” he commanded their attention, “’The Crown and Lion’ has some really good drinks. Good food, too!” Varric scoffed, “Too posh. ‘The Painted Lady’ or ‘The Hanged Man’ has drinks just as good and a lot cheaper.” Sinsia’s eyes lit up at the mention of the Crown and Lion, “I’ve heard that place is really nice. I bet their drinks are tops!” Solas wasn’t sure he was up for much more drinking for the rest of the week, but Felassan insisted.

“We should take her there tomorrow! Treat an old student out as a late celebration. Gods know we don’t get to see too many alumni,” the sly look on Felassan’s face gave his game away to Solas immediately. Felassan grabbed Solas by the shoulder and shook him gently, coercing him to accept his invitation, “Come on. It’ll be the three of us in a swanky bar having top shelf mojitos and pissin’ off the local faux-rich and snoots.” Sinsia giggled as she watched the two. Dahlia rolled her eyes, wishing she had taken a bet against the whole thing instead, ‘Guy’s never gonna’ go for it,’ she thought.

Not enjoying the sudden shifting of his body, Solas held fast to the bar to prevent any movement for fear of sickness and let out a deep sigh, “Fine.”

Dahlia was surprised at how easy Solas had caved to his friend’s whim, but knew the lingering alcohol was partially to blame by the paleness of his face.

Felassan held out her phone in return and she quietly placed it in her pocket, leaving them alone to plan their tomorrow as she proceeded to close several tabs. Several minutes had passed over the register screen when she felt a silent buzz from her pocket. Grabbing the phone, she quietly read her new message from ‘Pimp Daddy,’ a name she would never place in her contacts.

Pimp Daddy: They’ll be there around 6. I’ll cancel at the last minute.

Dahlia immediately realized that during that time Felassan had placed his number in her phone. Feeling the compulsive need to change his contact name, Dahlia realized she had forgotten his name already. ‘At least this will prevent me from accidentally answering the phone.’

Dahlia: I want half the money before I clock in tomorrow. No checks. I’ll bring the dog and you get lost. I don’t care what you do afterwards.

Felassan’s message tone was apparently a woman’s scream; loud, shrill and very jarring to those around him. Giggling into his water, he read his message quietly while ignoring the looks around him. Solas seemed mostly numb to his shenanigans.

Pimp Daddy: If they cancel then the deals off. But, I will keep the dog.

Dahlia wasn’t sure she wanted to reply to his message if it meant hearing that frightening tone once more. Looking over her shoulder, she caught his eye as he continued drinking his water; giving her a playful wave from his little finger. Her whole body seemed to deflate in defeat as she let out a silent sigh. With her shoulders slumped, she tried her hardest to bring to mind her life a few weeks ago. Back when she had no friends, no pet, no wild neighbors. It was her and her old television, which now sat at the bottom of a dumpster, broken and dead.

‘Gods I miss those days.’