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"Hawke, I think you might want to try your hand at Diamondback."

I stared at Varric, raising my brow slightly. He smirked and sloshed his glass of wine a bit.

"Well, you take winning very seriosuly, as I noticed during our little expedition in the Deep Roads." Varric took a sip from his glass. "And you scowl a lot."

I shook my head incredulously. I could never follow what the dwarf was suggesting. "I fail to see how that would help me, Varric."

Varric leaned forward. "Think about it: the worst mistake a Diamondback player could make is to give away the quality of their hand. If you just scowled for the whole game, no one would know what you're thinking!"

I sloshed my mug around, still not buying it. "I'm a lot better at smashing heads than gambling."

"You never know until you try, Hawke!" Varric raised his glass. "If it doesn't work out, I'll find something for you to vent on. Maybe a darkspawn-shaped punching dummy."

Darkspawn. Did Varric have to bring them up? "You're not helping." I scowled. "First I lose Carver to those bastards and now Bethany is going to be forced to fight them for the rest of her life."

Varric didn't seem fazed. "See? You could just scowl like you did right now, and maybe come up with some trash talk. I mean, you already know how to talk down to Daisy, how hard can it be to act like a bitch to your opponents?"

I sighed and rubbed my forhead. "Varric, I can never tell whether you're complimenting me or getting back at me for calling you a lair."

Varric chuckled. "And why would I hold a grudge like that? It's not like I accompanied you throughout Kirkwall and the Sunderlands to help you raise the coin we needed for our trip, saving you from countless dangers and making you look good while doing it." He drank down the last of his wine, smirking.

I toyed with my mug. "Varric, I'm just not sure if it's a good idea. We're still looking for a market to sell some of our new treasure, I don't need to gamble it all away."

Varric shook his head. "Look, just try it one night. If it doesn't work out, we'll find something else to do."

"Fine." I sighed. "But if you're thinking that you're going to cheat me out of my share--"

Varric stood up and clasped his hands to his chest. "You wound me by lumping me with Rivaini. I don't cheat, I improvise."

I shook my head. Things certainly were never boring with Varric around. "Tell me when the game is, I'll be there." Varric smiled and ordered another round of drinks. I downed the last of my watered-down ale, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

 

I walked into the Hanged Man wearing my refugee clothing rather than my armor. While I hated the outfit, it didn't itch anymore (not since mother washed it with clean water) and it would have to do until I bought back the Amell estate. I tried to ignore the lecherous glances of men who likely had never seen me out of my armor before, marching straight to Varric's suite. Who he had gathered there caused me to freeze the moment I opened the door.

Closest to me was Isabela ("Rivaini" to Varric), the whore and cheater that I likely helped with personal issues related to her past only because I wanted something better to do than drink ale that tasted like mud mixed with body odor. She gave me a wink and indicated that her lap was available for someone to sit on.

Across from her was Fenris ("broody" or "elf"), a Tevinter elf who had once been a slave. He had tricked me into helping him deal with the servants of his old master, and proceeded to whine about magic "corrupting his soul." As dangerous as magic is, I couldn't help but be annoyed by his closed-mindedness and we were certainly not on the best of terms.

Next to Fenris sat Aveline, soon to be the captain of the guard and currently the biggest pain-in-the-ass that felt like family. While she and I never see eye-to-eye on things that seem the most important, at least she doesn't mind letting me get away with killing thugs on the street at night.

Across from Aveline sat Merrill ("Daisy"). Why I let her associate with me, Maker only knows. As an unrepentant blood mage and general nuisance, she is everything I was glad my sister Bethany was not. It doesn't help that Varric always manages to convince me to help deal with the myriad of gangs that try to kill her each week, and that she has no real friends in the elven alienage (and thus looks to me for friendship.)

In a seat to the left of the head of the table sat Anders ("Blondie"); renegade mage, willing abomination, and a lit grenade with a very short fuse. While his healing has been very helpful, it's trying to deal with someone who has written over one hundred pages of a continuously-growing manifesto pointing out the wrongs mages suffer from the templars and chantry. Especially considering I have sided with templars when magic gets out of hand. At least Bethany stayed quiet when the issue of templars came up.

Furthest but certainly not the least among the group was Varric, sitting at the head of the table with a wine glass in his hand, Bianca (his crossbow) at his side, and a pile of gold he was willing to risk to prove he was a master in all transactions, business or otherwise. He smiled and nodded at me, indicating that the seat to his right was still available.

I gulped and walked quickly over to my seat next to Merrill and Varric, placing my coin purse on the table and looking around warily. Varric called for drinks to be served before we began, and I leaned in to whisper in his ear. "You didn't tell me we were going to gamble with our companions!"

Varric flashed a smirk. "And why not? It's all among mutual acquantainces this way, is it not?"

"Hey! No cheating before we even begin!" Anders cried.

Isabela leaned back in her chair, flashing Anders a sensual smile. "I don't think it's Hawke you have to be worried about, dear."

I sat straight in my chair, toying with my coin purse to keep my nervous hands working. Varric smiled and stood up to address everyone. "Now that our newest addition to our Diamondback group has arrived, let's bring out the cards and lay the coin on the table. Edwina should be back with the drinks any moment now."

By the time Varric had dealt the first hand, the serving girl had come back with a round of drinks. Everyone put something into the center of the table as their first bet: a handful of silver and copper coins, a dead alienage rat, a bottle of Tevinter wine, a scribbled drawing of a cat, and a cracked green gem of some kind. As the others studied their hands, I took a deep breath and promised myself that I wouldn't reveal that I didn't know how to play. It had to be a simple game, right?

"Well, Hawke, you go first." Varric hummed as he looked over his cards with assumed nonchalance.

Everyone looked at me as I squirmed in my seat. I scowled at my hand, trying to sort out what the goal of the game was. I felt my face turn red after a minute or two passed, everyone still waiting for me. I sighed deeply, I didn't want to confess I knew nothing. I turned to Varric slowly. I sucked in a breath between my clenched teeth while trying to think of how to break it to the group without embarassing myself further. "Well, um... I--"

"You can pass if you like your hand the way it is." Varric offered, not even looking up. "But I'm seeing right through you, Hawke. Try not to be so obvious."

I scowled at Varric, but after another look at my cards I decided to take the save. "I'll pass." Anders snorted at this, which won him a glare.

Merrill squinted at her cards, held close to her chest as if Isabela or I would try to peek. After she had studied them for a minute, she tossed one to the center of the table and drew a card from the deck. She nodded, failing to supress a smile at seeing her new card. I looked at the card she left in the center, trying to figure out why Merrill put it there.

Isabela made a show of not knowing what to do, acting as if she were about to grab one card before her hand darted to another. After a bit of this twitching, she tossed a card on top of Merrill's, drawing another card from the deck. Isabela shrugged and nodded at Fenris, apparently not as enchanted by her pick as Merrill, or perhaps better at hiding her feelings.

Fenris stroked his chin for a moment before picking up the card Isabela had tossed in, replacing it with one of his cards. Once finished, he nodded stoicly, nudging Aveline. She had been leaning back, watching the players rather than her hand. She leaned forward and stared at her cards, her lips pursed in contemplation. She sighed and placed one of her cards in the pile on the table before drawing another.

I looked at Anders to see that he was watching me, leaning back with his arm over his chair. He seemed to be studying me, which made me scowl at him. He glanced lazily at his hand before smirking and saying "I pass."

Varric shot a card into the pile before Anders was done speaking, picking up a card and tucking it away into his hand before I could blink. He gave it a cursory glance before nodding to me. I worriedly pored over my hand again, trying to figure out what the different images were supposed to represent. I tentatively took one and placed it into the pile, making sure to grab another card from the deck. Fenris nodded sagely at my choice, though it seemed to confuse Merrill and amuse Anders. I scowled and took a drink from my mug to keep from making eye contact with Anders.

Merrill snapped up the card I had placed in the pile and threw in one of her old ones. Isabela made the seemingly usual exchange of giving up a card to get a new one from the deck. Fenris took a bit longer to meditate on his hand, but eventually did the same. Aveline passed, cradling her head in her free hand.

Anders stared at his hand intently. We all waited for him to make a move as he looked from his hand to the card Fenris had put aside and back. I eventually let out a sigh, causing Anders to look up at me and smirk. "I'll pass again." Anders winked at me knowingly, as if he knew that I was faking knowledge of the game. I scowled more deeply than usual and stared intently at my hand.

Varric tapped Bianca lightly as he made his choice of card to sacrifice, then made his exchange before leaning back with the card he had taken from the deck. I looked over my hand and decided I shouldn't take any more chances at looking like a fool. Hoping I wouldn't regret my choice and barely suppressing a sigh, I muttered "I'll pass."

Merrill took the card Varric had placed in the center and replaced it, smiling slightly as she arranged her hand. Isabela looked at the card and yawned, reaching to rub her neck before consulting her hand. She took Merrill's old card and put in one of her own before rubbing her neck again. Fenris had placed his hand facedown on the table. "Pass."

Aveline replaced Isabela's card, frowning at her hand. Anders looked around the table, having drawn all his cards together into a stack. He smiled, looking at me from the corner of his eye. "I think I'm going to pass again."

Varric raised an eyebrow at the mage. "If you say so, Blondie." He then threw down his cards, face up. "I've got fourteen."

I froze. Did each card have a number value attached to it? I didn't know the value for any of the cards, what was I going to say?

Anders saved me--for the moment--by setting the reveals in opposite order. "Twenty-one." He smirked at Isabela challengingly.

Aveline nodded and sighed. "I only managed to get twelve." She laid out her cards, each separate enough for everyone to see which image was depicted on which card.

Fenris flipped over his cards, one by one. "I have fifteen." He frowned. "A poor game."

Isabela laid down her cards and leaned forward to smile at Anders. "Twenty-four."

Merrill frowned deeply. "Aw. I thought I was doing well." She put down her cards and slumped back into her chair, pouting. "I only got Twenty-two." Isabela patted the elf on the shoulder.

"Don't worry kitten, maybe next time." She whispered consolingly.

By this time even I could tell that my scowl had faded into a deep sense of fear and embarassment. Everyone looked at me, waiting for my final score. I opened my mouth and found no words to express how I hadn't even known how to play.

"Well?" Varric asked. "Don't keep us in suspence." He indicated his poor hand. "You don't have to be ashamed of a bad draw, you know."

I dropped my cards down, as everyone else had. But I sat there mutely, suddenly and fervently wishing to be anywhere else. What had I been thinking, coming to play I game I didn't even know?

"I see why you hesitated." Fenris mused. "That is the most pitiful hand I've ever seen."

Aveline shook her head, giving me a lopsided frown. "Sorry, Hawke. Maybe you'll get a better start next time."

Anders gave me the most infuriating smirk for the entire time. I glared at him, which only seemed to make him more amused. I seethed at him, slumping in my seat and scowling. What was his problem?

Merrill tilted her head at me. "Are you feeling well, Hawke?"

"No." I muttered. "I'm most definately not feeling well."

Anders leaned over the table and kept on giving me that infernal grin. "You don't know how to play, do you?"

I closed my eyes and covered my face with both hands, trying to rub the horrible embarrassment away. "I have no idea." The confession only made me feel worse; I swore that I could feel Anders's smirk even with my eyes closed and face covered. That bastard.

"Oh, don't feel bad." Merrill ventured, placing a hand on my shoulder. "You should have seen my first game. I still didn't know what to do even after Varric told me how to play."

"And that drunken 'prince' and former Grey Warden knocked over the table when he was trying to ask for another drink." Isabela chuckled and must have shook her head. "Good times."

I opened my eyes to see Anders still grinning at me. I dropped my gaze to my feet to avoid that damn smirk. Merrill patted my shoulder. "Merrill, you aren't helping."

"Oh, sorry." Merrill pulled back her hand. "I'm not doing anything unusual, am I?"

"It looked like you were petting her." Fenris began. "Back in Tevinter, some magisters pet their slaves as if they were animals, usually the ones they ravished during the dark hours of the night."

Merrill gasped. "Oh, I'm so sorry Hawke! I didn't mean to treat you like a slave!"

I heard a sigh from Isabela. "He's just messing with you, kitten."

"Will all of you just stop?" I muttered. I stood up and turned to leave, unable to bear staying a moment longer, especially with Anders enjoying my pain. He must have still been trying to get back at me for sending so many mages to the templars. One of these days he's going to do something like destroying some building in Hightown just to get back at me, I just knew it.

A gloved hand gently grabbing by arm caused me to pause. I turned to see Varric looking up at me with an apologetic look. "I wasn't aware you didn't know how to play, Hawke." He placed a gold coin into my hand, nodding. "Maybe I'll teach you sometime. Sorry."

Varric's apology threw me off guard. I stood where I was, watching him as he moved back to his seat. Most of the others had moved the pile of coins and "treasure" toward Isabela, and were trying to forget my outburst. Anders continued to glance at me with his smirk, but he seemed more interested in the next game than antagonizing me with his malicious grin any longer.

I placed the gold coin into my pouch, turning my back on the game table and walking out quickly, determined not to play Diamondback again. At least not with Anders.