Isabela spoke first. "I have a ship."
Hawke kept walking, concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. The streets were treacherous, littered with pieces of the chantry and nearby houses; here and there were broken crates and carts set ablaze by the explosion or the fighting that followed. Varric didn't do anything so obvious as put a hand at her back, but he guided her nevertheless, two steps closer than usual, and it was the knowledge he'd be there if she fell that kept her going.
"We can't stay here," Fenris agreed.
"Why not?" Merrill asked.
"Don't know if you noticed, Daisy, but the Templars aren't too happy with us at the moment." Varric's hand was at Hawke's elbow, steadying her as she stumbled over a bit of rubble, then gone again.
"I can't follow you," Aveline said. After a moment, "The Guard needs me."
It occurred to Hawke that Aveline expected an answer. "I always knew you loved Donnic more." The jest was as weak as her voice. "If the Templars—" Hawke paused to swallow down the heavy, painful tones, and when she continued, her voice was almost light again. "You and Donnic are always welcome if you change your mind."
Hawke stopped to hold out a hand, and Aveline surprised her with a hug, armor digging into Hawke's skin through thin robes and welcome, so welcome right now. Aveline's voice was firm as she ordered, "Take care of yourself."
The rest of the trip to the docks was a blur of smokey air and bodies strewn underfoot like so much refuse.
"Not how I pictured leaving the city forever, but it doesn't lack panache," Isabela said.
The first unsteady step on board the ship, the deck rolling gently under Hawke's weight, was like rousing briefly from a dream. "Sandal—"
"Can take care of himself," Varric said. "You told me they were already planning to leave."
At that, Hawke let go. Her sister, her brother, her mother, her stupid, stupid lover—all were gone. The remains of her household had been her last responsibility. There were the sounds of Isabela's crew preparing to cast off, of Merrill asking if she could sleep in the crow's nest, of feet thudding against wood, but all of these were happening somewhere in the background.
"Captain's cabin," Varric said from somewhere to her right. "Isabela won't mind."
There were covers and a mattress soft under Hawk's fingers, and Varric's capable hands carefully easing off her boots, and Fenris asking in a hushed voice, "Will she be alright?" but these, too, seemed far away. Everything had taken on a pleasant distance.
"It's Hawke," Varric said, like that alone was an answer. Finally, "Give her some time."
Hawke's eyes slid closed. It seemed time was the only thing she had left.
She dreamed of Anders. They were settled in sweet-smelling grass on Sundermount, the Dalish camp spread out beneath them and Kirkwall's stone walls and buildings rising off in the distance. The air was warm and heavy against her skin, a pleasant summer afternoon. Anders looked near sleep, his head curled in her lap.
"I wish it could be like this forever," she confessed.
"Rain's coming," Anders mumbled against her thigh.
The wind was picking up, the air growing thicker still. Over the smell of rain was that of rising smoke, the charred scent of bodies burning. Hawke blinked back tears at the wind, and Anders was gone.
"We can't stay here," Fenris said, standing at her shoulder.
"Why not?" They were Merrill's words, but Hawke asked them.
"C'mon, Hawke." Varric gripped her wrist, helped her stand as the wind lashed at her face. "Time to go."
When Hawke opened her eyes, she discovered it was Isabela gripping her wrist, with her face buried in Hawke's shoulder besides. It turned out that Isabela snored. Hawke wiped her face with her free hand, then gently shook Isabela's shoulder.
"Five more minutes," Isabela said, shifting to nuzzle Hawke's neck.
"I knew you wanted to get me in bed," Hawke said, pasting on her most impish smile, "but I didn't realize it was as a pillow."
Isabela lifted her head and blinked sleepily a couple times. Her eyes cleared, and her lips quirked up in something as much leer as grin. "You should see what I can do with a pillow."
"Another time, perhaps." Hawke left Isabela full use of the bed—not that sharing deterred her—and climbed above deck. The fresh, salt air was a relief after Kirkwall. Dust and ash seemed to be ground into Hawke's robes, to coat her hair. Sunlight sparkled impossibly beautiful against the sea's rolling waves, and Hawke wondered that anything could be so lovely after so much death. She tightened her hold on the rail and leaned out, tried to embed the smell and the image in her mind, tried to write over every loss and betrayal with something clean and pure.
"Intending to throw yourself in?" The rumble of Fenris's voice was unexpected, and Hawke knew she'd have to get over this easy distraction if she ever wanted to be fit for battle again.
"It would make a dramatic ending to Varric's story, wouldn't it?" Hawke grinned, but Fenris didn't seem to share her amusement.
"You had to know he'd betray you in the end."
Hawke rolled her eyes, because of course Fenris would take this time for I told you so's. "You're absolutely right. I should have known I'd only attract men who'd take what they wanted and leave."
Fenris looked away. "I only meant—"
Hawke sighed. "I'm sorry. I just—I need some time alone."
Fenris retreated a few steps, but paused long enough to say, "If you need me, I'm here."
Hawke stared out to the horizon until his footsteps had echoed away. "No, you're not," she didn't say. With Fenris, she'd found, talk was nothing more than a waste of time.
The only thing Merrill loved more than making bad decisions, it seemed, was heights.
"First my chandelier, now this," Hawke said, heaving herself over the side of the crow's nest. "No wonder you liked living near a mountain."
Merrill's smile was, as always, near blinding. "You can see forever from up here."
Hawke spent most of the afternoon up there, soaking up Merrill's bright chatter and good intentions.
At one point, Hawke told her, "The last time I travelled by ship, I was fleeing the Darkspawn."
"Now it's just the Templars," Merrill said as though she believed they were doing better for themselves.
"No," Hawke admitted. "I don't think it's the Templars."
"That Cullen seemed a nice enough fellow towards the end," Merrill said. Then she was off on a tangent, talking happily away.
Varric brought her supper, simple sandwiches of rye bread and dried beef, which they ate on the deck. "Do you know where we're headed?" Hawke asked when the food was gone and she had no further excuses to put off conversation.
"Don't tell me we're just drifting aimlessly until I make a decision."
"Okay, I won't tell you."
"Varric, don't leave the pretty lady in suspense," Isabela interjected herself into the conversation, throwing herself onto a covered crate next to them as if it were a throne. "Val Royeaux. I have friends there, and a cargo they'd welcome."
Hawke leaned back. "Orlais? Why not."
"A big ship, the open seas, and a paying job. This is what life's about." Isabela looked all too satisfied, but Hawke supposed she'd earned it. Isabela had followed Hawke into battle, but it wasn't as though she was the cause of slaughter on a scale Hawke hadn't seen since the Qunari or the Blight.
"Don't forget the wine, women, and song," Varric added.
"Why limit myself to women?"
"I think," Hawke said slowly, picking crumbs of the rye bread from her clothes, "I could do with some of that wine."
Varric walked her to bed again that night, the first mate's cabin this time. "Who am I putting out of bed now?"
"You didn't exactly put Isabela out of bed." Varric's smile softened as he finished sliding off her boots. "No one. Isabela said the position's yours as long as you'd like it."
"Or she finds someone prettier to do the job." The world was nice like this, all the lights shiny, everything pleasantly blurred.
"I find anyone prettier," Varric promised, "I'll throw 'em overboard."
"What about Bianca?"
Varric pulled up the covers, tucking her in. "You want me to throw you overboard instead?"
"It's okay. Bianca and I are big enough to share."
Varric's fingertips were rough, but warm, as he gently pushed her hair out of her eyes. "Good to know."
"Stay a while?" Hawke asked before she could think it through.
Varric's hand moved from her face to her hair, and he stroked it gently as he said, "It's okay to cry, you know. I won't tell. Unless you want me to, in which case you'll cry the most beautiful tears ever seen."
"You cry," Hawke said, eyes closed. "I have a dwarf to attend to my every need."
"Funny. You'd think I'd have noticed if you'd smuggled Bodahn aboard." His hand stilled, and Hawke curled her own over it.
"Stay," she whispered. "Stay."
She was asleep before he could leave.
After Val Royeaux was Val Chevin, then Cumberland, then all the way up to Antiva City. Hawke couldn't tell if they were smugglers or honest traders—suspected they were something of a mix of both—but neither did she particularly care. She liked the look on Isabela's face as they were pulling out to sea, liked the simple joy Merrill got from watching the horizon. She liked the sound of the waves parting against the prow of the ship, the sense of forward motion even if sometimes she felt trapped in that night, like she could never really move on. She liked the illusion of freedom the sea gave, that nothing could touch them out here. As Isabela put it when a deal in Cumberland went wrong, "There's no trouble you can't outrun with a fast ship and a good crew."
Hawke only wished it were true.
Fenris left first. "If you need me—"
"I'll find you." Hawke smiled. He'd left her bed so easily those three years ago, but any further seemed difficult for him. She squeezed his hands before releasing him. "Go. You and your sister deserve a second chance at happiness."
"I doubt it will come to that."
"My brother and I never got along, but—" Hawke smiled ruefully. "I'd take any opportunity if I had it. Even if he was a pain in the ass."
After Fenris was gone, Hawke asked, "So what does it take to get messages wherever you go?"
"Trust me." Varric's expression could only be described as smug. "You don't want to know."
"I miss it sometimes," Merrill told Hawke one day. She'd abandoned the crow's nest to stand with Hawke at the rail, watching the dark shapes of dolphins darting and playing at the flank of the ship. Her voice was plaintive as she explained. "The rustle of the leaves, the smell of grass and dirt. I like the cities and ocean, but—there are no trees."
Gently, very gently, Hawke reminded her, "You can't go back."
"I know that." Merrill rubbed at her face with one hand. "I know that. But I—I miss it."
Watching one dolphin flash its nose above water, Hawke said, "I understand."
It took a while for Hawke to step foot off the ship. Other people bought supplies and secured cargo and bribed the right officials. Hawke was mostly in charge of making sure the wind always blew in the right direction, that the waters always stayed calm enough to make it into safe harbor.
"Haven't you heard of shore leave?" Isabela sounded equal parts indulgent and exasperated.
"Isn't it that thing where you leave the shore?" Hawke asked lazily from her position hanging in the rigging, watching the last of Isabela's crewmen offload crates.
"Even Merrill's exploring the town."
"Merrill would explore a dark alley at midnight."
"Fine." Isabela loosened the strings on her blouse. "But we'll have all the fun without you."
"If you couldn't have fun without me, I'd be worried indeed."
"I'll bring you back something nice," Isabela promised.
"I'd prefer wine over people," Hawke reminded her.
"And that's why I can't have fun with you." Isabela's pout turned to a smile as she turned to the gangway, and she was already whistling a cheery tune before her feet left the boat.
"Girl has a point," came Varric's voice, and Hawke twisted to spot him propping up the mast. "You could use some fun for once."
Hawke raised an eyebrow. "And what did you have in mind?"
Varric grinned. "When's the last time you got in a bar fight?"
Varric pushed and prodded and harried her off the ship. They found a bar in a section of the city that was more Darktown than Hightown, with people who had as much against foreigners as mages. And it was more people than wine, and her body bloomed bruises with her hangover, but Varric was right. She had fun.
"When I said you needed a good man or woman or three," Isabela said in the morning, "I didn't mean this."
"The way I remember it," Hawke said, smiling through a split lip, "it was more than three."
"When we tell this story," Varric added, "I got knocked out by an ogre. A literal one."
"Why not say you weren't knocked unconscious at all?" Hawke asked.
"But then I wouldn't get to tell how you cradled me close to your bosom and carried me the whole way home."
In Hercinia, Merrill came back from shore leave to say, "I can help." She looked scared and defiant, utterly sure of herself. "I have to help."
"They've already broken the Circle." They'd had news of it the moment they'd arrived in harbor, boats streaming out and away. Isabela had grinned, called it a business opportunity. Hawke asked, "What more can you do?"
Merrill swallowed, so small and strong and brave. "Whatever I can."
It wasn't blood magic or that damned mirror. How could Hawke dissuade her good intentions when for once they weren't so ridiculously wrong?
They left harbor plus twenty-two passengers, minus one cheerful, earnest mage.
Varric was normally pleased when he returned from gathering messages in whatever their port of call. Usually his news was of successful business ventures or missives from friends. Fenris had convinced his sister to move from Tevinter to Antiva, and Merrill insisted that no matter what anyone might hear, she was absolutely fine and had not tripped over her own staff in a fight. Occasionally Varric would receive updates on Bartrand's condition, always the same. Lyrium poisoning wasn't something one recovered from, but Varric paid good coin to see that his brother was comfortable, to continue the search for a cure. Today, though, he was serious, his expression concerned. "We need to talk."
"Varric, you don't need to tell me there's another woman. Bianca and I reached an agreement a long time ago."
Varric's lips quirked briefly at the corners, but he ignored the attempt at banter. "I found Anders."
Hawke swallowed her first three replies, settled finally on, "I wasn't aware you were looking."
"He's being held by Markham's city guard."
"Good." Hawke hopped down from the rigging. "We—he deserves nothing less." For all that weeks had passed, the bright corona of magic just before the chantry was obliterated had yet to fade from her mind's eye. The crackle of power still clung to her skin.
"He's being held for Sebastian."
Varric's eyes were entirely too sympathetic. Hawke's hands had formed fists, only uncurled slowly, painfully.
"I'll tell Isabela we're leaving," Varric said.
"No." Hawke shook her head. "I owe her at least that much."
They were gone within the hour.
It was strange being on land again. The earth seemed to shift underfoot; she felt like it was her first day out at sea.
"I don't know how Isabela always made the transition," Hawke told Varric.
"The drinking probably helped."
"Wine!" Hawke said. "I knew we forgot to pack something."
"Plenty of spirits in Markham."
"It's the getting there."
"Don't suppose you know any spells for that?" Varric asked.
"If I had a spell for everything," Hawke said, "I'd never have hangovers again."
"I'd drink to that."
Anders looked worse than expected. Somehow Hawke had thought he'd look the same as always: his mouth soft, his cheeks shadowed with stubble, his hands clean in constant preparation for healing. Instead, his mouth was bloodied; his stubble grown to a beard, but bruises peeking out from beneath; his knuckles split open and nails torn, hands covered in blood and dirt. It was oddly fitting.
"Changed your mind?" Anders asked, staring up at her from where he was chained to the floor.
For a moment Hawke thought he meant that she'd decided to take him with her after all, and rage flooded suddenly over the regret. Then Varric's hand was at her elbow, and her vision cleared enough to see the familiar resignation in Anders, that same expression he'd worn when he confessed murder and betrayal and expected only his death in return.
It was the work of a moment and a little magic, and the chains were gone. "Get up." She tried to make her words hard, but they came out weary. She hadn't the strength of will for this even now.
"You're here to free me?" Anders sounded almost disbelieving, almost hopeful.
"You liked the chains that much? Because we can leave if you want," Varric said as he moved back to guard the door.
They were at least two leagues from Markham when Anders broke the quiet with, "I heard what happened in Kirkwall."
"You were there," Hawke said flatly.
"After," Anders clarified. "I wanted to thank you—"
Hawke laughed, a jagged sound torn from her throat. "For what? For siding with my own? For choosing my father, my sister, my mother's bloodline? Myself? What did you expect of me?"
"The chantry—I didn't think you'd approve."
"I don't approve." Varric had dropped back to give them privacy, but Hawke didn't care if he heard. "You murdered them. You became everything they feared, confirmed their worst expectations. At least when Merrill turned to blood magic, she wasn't trying to kill the Keeper."
"You don't understand." Anders' voice was earnest, and the most sickening thing of all was that he still thought he was right. "It was the only way."
Hawke stopped, because she'd dreamed about Anders almost every night since that night of destruction, but she thought she'd vomit if she spent another moment with him. "Choose a direction."
"Choose a direction and start walking." It took everything Hawke had to remain still, to not tremble with her anger, her grief. It took everything she was not to add another bruise to Anders's once cherished face.
"You're not—" Anders looked down at the pine needles covering the forest floor. "You're not coming with me?"
Hawke laughed again, couldn't hold it in.
At some point, Varric had reappeared at her side. "Blondie," he said. "I think it's past time for you to go."
"You want to talk about it?" Varric asked later that day, when they'd passed from forest into fields and their figures cast shadows that seemed to stretch forever. Hawke shook her head, her throat still too raw from every word she'd held back. "You're right. Talking's for suckers. This calls for beer."
Varric always had been a good friend.
They ended up in a small village reminiscent of Lothering, if a little lower on giant spiders and dog shit than Hawke had once been accustomed to. Varric worked his own special brand of dwarven magic to get his mail redirected there, and Hawke bought a farm. She had the treasure left from all their adventures, and a farm in the middle of nowhere cost a lot less than a mansion in Hightown. She knew ignoring the uproar of Thedas wouldn't fix anything, but then it might never have gotten so bad without her interference. The best course of action might be to remove herself from the equation, and the hard, slow days of working a farm and growing things sounded like the perfect option.
She didn't really know why Varric seemed to agree.
"I can't believe this place doesn't have an inn," Varric said.
"I can't believe you won't accept the second bedroom. I thought surely you'd abandon the hayloft on the first night."
"A man has his pride."
"He also his hygiene." Hawke gave him a pointed stare. "At least use my bath."
Varric sniffed his shirt suspiciously. "You're just trying to get me naked in your home."
"Yes. That's exactly what I'm doing. But in honor of your virtue, I'm off to the village."
"I have virtue?"
"And I have need of a horse," Hawke said.
"Get a goat, too," Varric ordered like he knew anything about a farm. "One of those scrappy ones."
"Most people would ask for jewelry."
"Oh, is that in the offing? Because a nice pair of earrings wouldn't go amiss—"
Hawke was laughing as she walked out the door.
Hawke lived the dream of her childhood for five days. She had three goats, two horses, and a pony, plus a tentative agreement to trade with someone three farms over for hens. It was too late in the season to plant much, but she started a small herb garden and drew up plans for the rest. She fixed the broken back step and oiled the hinges of the barn doors.
To her surprise, rather than concentrate on running a business empire from afar, Varric took to the goats. He made Hawke feed the horses, because he thought the brown one was suspicious looking. Hawke thought he was still indignant over it trying to chew on his hair.
Varric lasted four days in the hayloft before moving on to her dining room floor. "I've slept in worse conditions," Varric said.
"This isn't the Deep Roads. There's a bed right up those stairs."
Varric leered. "Is that an invitation?"
"And if it were?"
"I'd owe Isabela three silver."
"What, too confident in my chances?"
"Surprised Isabela didn't fleece you for more."
For a moment, it passed outside of banter, and Varric's eyes went dark, fierce with want. Hawke's mouth was dry, and her throat clicked as she swallowed. Her face was warm. Her hands itched with the need to touch Varric's mouth.
Then Varric smiled, said, "You're right, it's not the Deep Roads. Your floor's much less comfortable," and the moment was gone.
When finally Hawke went to bed, she stared for a long time at the ceiling, wanting nothing more than to lie down next to Varric on that hard floor. When she slept, she couldn't remember her dreams.
Varric was holding the letter when she came in from mucking the stables, sweat beginning to dry on her back. He was seated at the table, and his pack was settled against his leg.
"Who—?" Hawke asked, breath catching in her throat.
"Bartrand," Varric said, and it was at once a relief and a concern.
"Give me an hour." Hawke's mind raced as she decided what to do with the animals, what she would need for the journey. "I'll—"
"You'll stay," Varric interrupted. He looked up from the letter to her as he said, "You have to stay."
"I don't care about the farm," Hawke said. "It can wait."
"He's in Kirkwall." Varric's chair scraped against the wood floorboards as he stood. "Your face is plastered all over the city. The Seekers have offered a hundred gold reward, and we wouldn't get as far as the sanatorium without giving someone the opportunity to collect."
"You're right." Hawke closed her eyes, and when she opened them, Varric was standing only inches away.
"Take care of my goats. I'll be able to tell if you neglected them while I was gone."
Hawke smiled at the subtext. "They'll get just as much care as the horses."
"They deserve better than the horses."
"Then you'll have to hurry back before they become accustomed to a less glamorous lifestyle."
"I will," Varric promised, voice oddly serious.
If Hawke wanted something more from their goodbye—well, it wasn't like there would be no further opportunities. She had nothing but time.
Two weeks after Varric left, her neighbor of sorts was supposed to arrive with the hens. Soldiers came instead.
"I'd rather hoped," Hawke told the captain in lead, "that Sebastian had forgotten me."
"After this," the captain told his second in command, "we're due a promotion. Bet you she breaks before we unsheathe our swords."
Hawke had been trying to keep it civil, had hoped she could keep her homely little farm with its goats and horses and pony. At least, she thought, Varric had taken the pony with him.
Sebastian apparently hadn't remembered enough to prepare his troops for her every trick of magic, and at least with a minor sleep spell, she was able to avoid bloodshed. She took both horses, but Varric's beloved goats would have to fend for themselves.
Hawke left a note in one of Varric's dead drops, checked others for a response. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Rumor placed him anywhere, everywhere. He'd been taken by Sebastian's men. A group of apostates had made him their spokesman. An army of Seekers held him prisoner. He'd joined the Wardens for another Deep Roads expedition.
Hawke was left to wonder if the rumors of her own fate were anywhere as numerous, as ridiculous.
The only advantage to her search was finding Merrill among the apostates, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and covered in mud. "I'm teaching them to survive off the land."
"And the land to survive off them?" Hawke had to ask. All twelve mages with Merrill were in similar straits.
"Camouflage class didn't turn out so well. You should really see them in gathering. They're very good with herbs and berries."
Other than their overenthusiasm with mud, they really did seem to be doing fairly well for themselves. Merrill had trained to be a Keeper, and Hawke wondered if she hadn't unwittingly forged a clan all her own.
In the end, Varric found her.
"You could at least pretend you're in hiding," were his first words for her once she'd released her grip on his throat.
"Didn't anyone ever teach you not to sneak into a lady's room?" Her reflexes apparently hadn't faded with disuse, and she'd pinned him before she'd come fully awake. She couldn't quite bring herself to let him up, to stop stroking the reddened skin where she'd nearly strangled him.
"No, but I spent years of my youth honing my skills at sneaking in."
"Years, hm?" Hawke wanted to ask instead where he'd been, why it had taken him two months to find her again. Hawk wanted to bury her hands in his hair, tell him he was never allowed to leave.
"Though I have to admit, this wasn't my usual welcome." Varric shifted underneath her, and she knew, she knew it was well past the appropriate time to release him, but he didn't seem like he particularly wanted to go.
"Let me guess—shrieks and thrown chamber pots."
"You wound me. I never went anywhere I wasn't strictly invited."
"And when," Hawke asked, giving in to the temptation to touch his hair, "did I send your invitation?"
Varric licked his lips, and somehow they were much closer now. "As much as I would love to continue this conversation, there's a small matter of seven heavily armed men downstairs who'll probably be up here any minute."
"Next time, lead with that," Hawke said as she rolled off him and went for her staff.
"You're very . . . distracting when you're trying to kill a man in bed."
"I promise," Hawke hefted her pack and opened the window, judged how easy it would be to jump, "I can be distracting when I'm not trying to kill someone in bed, too. There doesn't even have to be a bed involved."
She heard from behind her Varric's hoarse, "I'll bet," before she leapt.
"Don't you think it's time to talk about it?" Varric asked several days later after they'd set up camp.
"About what happened to the goats? I already told you. They went to live on a nice goat farm where they'll be well fed and pampered for the rest of their days."
"I'm sure," Varric answered in a voice that said he knew damn well that she'd abandoned the goats to their fate. He shook his head. "Contrary to popular opinion, sometimes I do know when to leave well enough alone. But if you do want to talk about it—I'm always here."
"Yes." Hawke curled further into her thin bedding, feeling something shift uncomfortably in her chest, like a shoulder popping back into place. "I know you are."
"Well. Good. Awkward feelings moment over, I guess."
Hawke watched Varric turn over, waited until she was almost certain he was asleep. Quietly, very quietly, because if he were asleep, she didn't want to wake him, "Do you think I should forgive him?"
"Honestly?" Varric asked in a voice just as soft. "I think you should forgive yourself."
Hawke had no real plans. As she'd told Varric years ago, her only thoughts for what came next had always been looking out for her family. With that gone, all she had left were her friends, and every piece of news Varric received of them confirmed they were doing well for themselves. Merrill's group of apostates had grown to thirty, and she'd written she was training a new First to take responsibility before they split their clan in two. Fenris was being harangued by his sister to marry, Maker help them all, and was considering running away with Zevran if he ever was back in town. Aveline was keeping safe Kirkwall's citizens even in the face of utter chaos and a lack of leadership. Isabela sent her love and an open offer to rejoin her on the high seas. Sebastian—well, at least he wasn't actively trying to kill Hawke, and by all accounts Starkhaven was doing better under his rule than his cousin's, all vows of vengeance aside.
And Anders . . . Hawke thought it probably for the best she didn't know. Sebastian's squads of men roaming the countryside for him proved he remained free. Hawke could live with that.
"If we ever have another farm," Varric said, "you're replacing my goats."
"Or maybe I'll turn myself over to the Seekers," Hawke said. "Sister Nightingale seemed sympathetic enough."
"That wouldn't necessarily be a bad idea."
But they both knew Hawke wasn't ready yet.
They were in Antiva, following up on a favor for Fenris, when Hawke turned to Varric and said, "I swear, if you ask for two beds, I am going to sleep in the nearest hayloft."
"I'd listen to her," the innkeeper said with a wink. "The lady, she knows what she wants."
"I know your plan. This is all to get to Bianca through me."
But Varric asked for one bed.
"What are we doing?" Varric asked her, laying his crossbow on the dresser.
"I have no idea," Hawke confessed. "But weren't you always telling me I should have more fun?"
"I think that was Isabela." Hawke settled on the bed, and Varric stared at her for a long moment before joining her. His voice hoarse, he added, "But I can't say I disagree."
Their first kiss was slow, careful, learning each other's mouths for the first time. It wasn't long before it turned fast, clumsy. Hawke's fingers fumbled desperate at Varric's belt, and his normally careful hands were fisted messily in her hair. They had time, so much time left still, but Hawke wanted everything now, now, now. She couldn't bear to waste another second.
Later—much later—they curled on the bed, skin pressed together everywhere they could reach.
"If you were telling this story," Hawke asked, "would it be another adventure? Or—?"
Varric sounded almost embarrassed when he admitted, "I think it would have to be a romance."
Hawke pressed her smile into his hair. "And how would it end?"
"And they lived happily ever after. Even the goats."
"That sounds kind of dirty when you put it that way," Hawke laughed.
"Obviously you've never read one of my romances."
"I promise," Hawke managed around a yawn, "I will fix that first thing tomorrow."
Varric slid a hand lower. "There are better ways to start the day."
"Second thing tomorrow. Maybe third."
For once, when Hawke slept, she had pleasant dreams.