Varric was not Choir Boy's biggest fan – and of course that was an understatement, but there was a limit to how much you could dislike someone without losing your reputation as an amiable (and devilishly handsome) companion to all. He didn't like Sebastian's piety. He didn't like how sickly saccharine he could be – not that he had an issue with do-gooders; they tended to make for good stories and for all that Hawke (and Aveline too, come to think of it) were noble in word and deed they at least had enough self-awareness to know that they could never be as good as they ought to be, and that sometimes a clear conscience had to be overlooked for the greater good. What he ought to dislike Sebastian for most of all was the fact that despite having so much narratie potential, the man was too wishy-washy to do anything about it and that set Varric's story-telling teeth on edge. Even if he tried, he wasn't sure he could make 'and then after a year thinking about what to do, brave Prince Sebastian killed some demons and then went back to the chantry to think about it some more' sound good.
Despite this, Varric knew that his biggest problem with Sebastian wasn't any of those. No, his issue was more that Choir Boy was (chastely, of course) cock-blocking Varric's friend. Technically speaking he was doing so for several of Varric's friends – Hawke being the type that everyone was at least a little in love with; it seemed to come with the territory – but Varric had already penned out this particular tryst and he'd be damned if he was going to let Sebastian ruin it. When he would regale a captive audience with tales of Hawke the Heroic (though he secretly hoped Hawke could pick up a better title, he wasn't really satisfied with his current efforts), he did not want to have to talk about how their hero spent the rest of his days sharing significant looks with his beloved, occasionally going so far as to scandalously touch each other on the shoulder. The apostate and the priest angle could be interesting, he admitted, a little grudgingly, but his audience deserved better than that. No, what they needed was a story of two apostate lovers, fighting against insurmountable odds, with a little bit of floridly descriptive romance thrown in. (Maybe a bit too florid, but Anders would forgive him for it. Eventually.)
More importantly, Varric liked Anders, and it would probably do him some good to have a distraction from the angry roommate in his head. It wasn't as if Anders was unwilling – Blondie had been very talkative a few weeks ago after Isabela (under the impression that everyone was much happier with a few drinks down them) had spiked the watery ale he usually allowed himself, and Varric had heard more than even he actually wanted to know after escorting Blondie to his suite to sleep it off. Hawke wasn't a problem either; for all his strengths subtlety was not among them and he'd sent more than a few appreciative glances Anders' way. (On the other hand, he had sent some appreciative glances everyone's way at some point, despite Varric being vaguely sure that heroes like Hawke were only meant to have eyes for their one true love and that flirting with a prostitute in the middle of a murder investigation really wasn't meant to be in the cards.)
He frowned to himself. No, he was quite certain that Anders and Hawke had a deep and meaningful connection that inspire generations of lovestruck poets – he just might have to skip the parts with the prostitutes. And the part where Hawke drunkenly declared how much he wanted to have sex with the Knight-Captain. Maybe the part where they all played strip diamondback and – and here Varric's brain refused to go any further, which was probably for the best. It'd taken a lot of effort and ale to suppress that memory, after all.
“So, Bianca,” he began, giving her a loving caress, “how do you feel about a little matchmaking? You might even get to shoot some people in the process.” He smiled. “Yeah, I knew you'd like the sound of that.”
It hadn't taken much convincing for Hawke to let him tag along on their latest venture, though it had taken rather more effort to assure him that yes, he could take along more than three people with him. Varric was sure he was going to be seeing Hawke's terrified look of deep existential uncertainty in his dreams for weeks afterwards. Hawke had seemed faintly bemused that he wanted to come along, and Varric had to admit that if he'd known that they were venturing into the Bone Pit he might have been willing to delay his plan. (Well, technically it wasn't so much a plan as an idea he'd had under the influence of a few too many drinks, but in Varric's mind the two tended to be basically interchangeable. At least, so far no-one else had noticed the difference.)
“It's so good of you to be looking out for these workers, Hawke,” Sebastian said admiringly, and even Varric had to accept that his instinctive urge to making gagging noises wasn't really fair. Hawke just shrugged, a little bashfully.
“Someone has to look out for their best interests. Maker knows Hubert won't.”
“Hubert's a selfish bastard,” Aveline agreed. Varric was still a little bit scared shitless that the Guard-Captain was willing to go gallivanting through all the nice places Hawke took them in her off-duty hours, but not unappreciative. No-one could take a hit like that woman, and Varric would much rather her than him.
“And the workers are the ones who pay the price,” Anders said darkly. “I've had so many of them come into my clinic, and not all of them leave.”
“Not that this conversation isn't a barrel of laughs, but could we maybe steer this away from less depressing topics? Like how grateful these workers are going to be when we save their sorry hides from whatever's down there?”
“Varric's right,” said Sebastian, and Varric tried hard not to glare. When Varric was trying to dislike someone, it was very frustrating when they agreed with him. “We must focus on the task at hand, and pray that those poor souls are by the Maker's side now.”
“Yes,” Anders retorted, “I'm sure that's of great comfort to their families. They might be starving to death, but at least they'll be by the Maker's side when they do.”
Choir Boy's eyes narrowed slightly, but he otherwise didn't react, much to Varric's disappointment. He'd been hoping that if an argument broke about between them, Hawke would take Blondie's side and maybe dispel some of that hero-worship Sebastian had going on. Instead, Hawke just coughed to hide his discomfort, and began walking at a slightly brisker pace, slowing only as they crossed the narrow pass that was probably as much of a death-trap as the mine itself. Varric rolled his eyes in disgust when Sebastian caught Hawke's arm when he strayed too close to the edge, noted the way the hand lingered unnecessarily. It was enough to make you sick, and Varric ate the Hanged Man's mystery stew on a regular basis. The worst part was that Sebastian probably didn't even know he was doing it, and would most likely burst into flames out of sheer embarrassment if someone was to point it out. With that in mind, Varric half-heartedly considered doing so, but decided against. It was possible that Hawke himself hadn't noticed, and he didn't want to put ideas that weren't Blondie-related into Hawke's head. (He did wonder absently if he wasn't maybe getting a little too invested in this, but brushed it off.)
“Everyone ready for this?” Hawke asked as they approached the entrance to the mine, which at the very least looked less singed than the last time they'd been there. Varric snorted.
“What would you do exactly if somebody said no?”
“I'd give them my best disappointed face,” Hawke said brightly.
“And deliver a rousing speech to raise their spirits?” Varric might have to work that in somewhere, actually.
Varric felt his own spirits lifting at the fond way Blondie was staring at their fearless leader, though they soon fell again as he spotted the exact same look on Choir Boy's face. “Then lead on,” he said quickly, taking care to place himself between Hawke and Sebastian and wishing he was actually tall enough to block the man from view.
“I... bloody... hate spiders,” Anders panted, and for possibly the first time ever an entire group of Hawke and company were in agreement. Varric wondered exactly what his ancestors had done for him to deserve apparently looking delicious to their eight-legged friends. It seemed they'd been allowed a reprieve, however temporary, and they were taking the opportunity to search for survivors or any personal belongings that could be returned to their families. Varric had seen the size of the spiders, and doubted they'd find any bodies. Not whole ones, at least. Aveline had already come across a head with no trace of the body it had previously been attached to, and Sebastian had looked distinctly pale-faced as he commended the man's soul to the Maker.
Operation 'Get Blondie and Hawke together' had been put on hold too – the two had descended into quite mean-spirited bickering when they'd realised how short on lyrium potions they were, both of whom blaming the other. (Anders had pointed out that a man who had an estate in Hightown was better equipped for... equipping them, and Hawke had conceded the point with bad grace.) Varric had instead focused on overlooking the way that Sebastian seemed to focus his attention towards protecting Hawke, despite the fact that Aveline had a far greater tendency to get swarmed and that technically speaking, Anders was the most vital to keep out of harm's way.
And on that subject... he and Sebastian shared one brief look, and that was all that was needed. Their senses were sharper than their companions, and you didn't need to be a great scholar to know that the distant rumbling was not a good noise.
“I think we've got company,” he announced, all of them readying their weapons, Anders bringing up the oddly ethereal arcane shields that enveloped them all.
That turned out to be something of an understatement, and Varric made a mental note to never refer to the normal beasts as 'giant' spiders ever again. It was clearly tempting fate. The Queen Spider bore down on them, accompanied by a swarm of children – and Varric appended his mental note to also never refer to spiders as children, because that conjured some horrifying mental images.
He saw Aveline flagging, and swore loudly, throwing a flask her way and hoping she didn't get caught in the vapours. She didn't, but apparently nor did the Queen Spider as it continued on its path, unperturbed – but moving past Aveline, despite her yells and angry clatter of steel, and Varric could only watch in horror as it bore down on Blondie, fangs bared.
“Oh no you don't!” Hawke roared, slamming his staff on the ground and drawing up stone that held the Queen in place. He and Aveline worked away at it while Sebastian and Varric tried to clear away the rest, Varric trying hard not to look at the crumpled heap that was Anders.
Finally Aveline sank her sword deep into the spider, up to the hilt, and twisted the blade while the thing shrieked, and drew it out when it finally fell silent. Hawke was already by Anders side, trying to force a healing potion down his throat and visibly sagging with relief as Anders jerked and began to cough – not exactly a reassuring noise, but better than the silence that could have meant any number of things.
“Are you all right?” Hawke asked, probably aware the question was stupid as he said it but too scared to care. Anders moaned feebly and spat out a mouthful of blood.
“Been worse?” Varric suggested, because he genuinely wanted the answer to be yes. They'd all been badly injured at some point (well, Choir Boy had yet to be, but it was only a matter of time), but it was always bad news when the one best equipped to patch them up had fallen.
“Maker, yes... the Children. Horrible things.” Varric forced down an inappropriate laugh, because there was almost certainly something he was missing there. “And werewolves. Hate werewolves.”
“I've yet to meet any,” Hawke said, trying to fix a bandage around Anders' chest with little success. Aveline tutted and took it off him, wrapping it with a well-practised and professionally detached air. “You'll have to... introduce me sometime.”
“Mm...” Anders appeared to be slipping back into unconsciousness, and Aveline unceremoniously hit him across the side of the face.
“No time to be sleeping,” she said, her tone surprisingly gentle for all that it possessed her usual firmness.
“Hawke?” Hawke took hold of Anders' hand and held on tightly, but Varric couldn't bring himself to care now because Blondie was hurt and there were more pressing issues. “No mana left.”
“Should have bought more potions.” Hawke nodded.
“Won't happen again.”
“Better not.” Having said his piece, Anders seemed to relax and closed his eyes, this time unresponsive to Aveline's attempts to wake him.
“Is he...?” Sebastian asked, letting out a sigh of relief as Aveline shook her head and she and Hawke attempted to lift him up between them. “It seems the Maker smiles on us still.”
“The Maker can stuff it,” Hawke said with unusual abruptness. Sebastian looked taken aback, but seemed to understand this was not the time to take offence. “You two, try and keep an eye out for any more trouble and if possible take care of it before it gets the chance to notice it.”
“Of course, Messere,” Varric said drily, affecting a small bow. Hawke smiled, and then screwed up his face in concentration, the hand touching Anders radiating a dim blue light.
“Oh no you don't.” Aveline shot him a look, and the light quickly faded into darkness once more. “I don't want to have to carry both of you out.”
“You could manage it,” Hawke replied. “In fact, you could probably carry us both out and give Varric a piggy-back.”
“You know, Hawke,” Varric began, keeping Bianca cocked and ready as he began to walk in front, Sebastian taking up the rear guard. “My people are well trained in the ancient art of aiming for the kneecaps.”
“Forget the piggy-back,” said Hawke wisely.
Anders (conveniently, Varric decided) regained consciousness as they left the mine, enough of his mana restored to heal the most pressing injuries but still leaning on Hawke for support. (Hawke, Varric noted happily. Not Aveline.) They both seemed to be in good spirits (although given Anders' situation that was maybe a poor choice of words) in spite of everything, and managed not to fall to their deaths as they began to make their way back to Kirkwall. All in all, it was a good day.
“So...” Hawke smirked. “Werewolves?”
“Dozens of them.”
“Children? I'm assuming you're not talking about the human kind, because otherwise I think you might be in the wrong line of work.”
“Oh, those.” Anders voice was filled with disgust. “Awful creatures. Just when you think regular darkspawn are bad enough they have to make new ones to keep you on your toes.”
“New ones?” Aveline repeated, aghast.
“To deal with the talking darkspawn, mostly.”
“Yes, I... oh.” Anders looked bemusedly shame-faced. “Those were probably Grey Warden secrets. Forget I said anything.”
Varric, who was already planning on working those into his next revision of his story, said amiably, “Blondie, I promise you on my sense of dwarven honour.”
“So the entirety of the Hanged Man's going to have heard by tomorrow?” Hawke asked lightly, his arm wrapped around Anders probably more tightly than it needed to be.
“It's possible,” Varric conceded. Hawke shook his head, but said nothing. Varric fell back slightly, not missing the somewhat wistful look on Sebastian's face. Sebastian started slightly as he noticed Varric's eyes on him.
“They... seem to get on well,” Sebastian said, gesturing towards the pair in front. “I don't know why I hadn't noticed before now.”
“Hawke gets on well with everyone. But,” Varric added hastily, “he and Blondie... I suppose that's a bit different.”
Sebastian nodded, looking at them both more curiously than anything, and Varric couldn't help but have a bit more respect for the Choir Boy for it. Now, if he could just cut down on the sanctimony a little and maybe cut loose every so often, he might even like him.
Aveline, apparently having noticed they'd fallen behind, slowed herself as she allowed them to catch up. She too was eyeing Hawke and Anders thoughtfully. “It's odd...” she said, slowly, “for some reason I always thought he had something going on with Isabela.”
Varric shot her a look of abject horror.