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The Art of Letters

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Hawke was lurking in the hallway just beyond his door. She looked tired and indecisive, a glaring contrast to the polished version of herself that showed up in his stories to stare down an ogre or pierce the eye of a dragon with flaming arrows shot from five hundred paces. This afternoon she was ordinary, non-heroic Hawke. And she was holding something in her hands. From his seat at the end of his table, Varric couldn't tell if it was a wad of cloth or a bunch of folded papers or something else entirely.

Hawke tightened her hold on the mysterious object. When she looked down at it, Varric had the feeling she was wavering at the edge of some unguessable decision. But the moment passed quickly and soon she was tucking the item into her pocket and smoothing her tunic so that the outline wouldn't show. Varric moved aside the shipping manifests he'd been reading. The work was long overdue, but he didn't see the point in worrying about that now.

“I'm not too busy to talk, in case that's what you're wondering.”

Startled by his voice, Hawke jumped a little. She was either on edge or distracted by something. Either way, she didn't usually get like that unless something serious was the matter, so Varric was immediately alert. But then Hawke offered up a little smile and came forward to claim a seat at his table. Her gaze was drawn to the stack of papers he'd set aside and then to his quill, resting innocuously beside the inkwell. She picked it up, examined its blunt nib, and set it back down.

“Nice feather,” she said.

“It's new.”

Hawke smiled and changed the subject. “You know everyone in this city.”

And that was true, but Varric had no particular idea why she was reminding him of it just now. He had a pretty solid general idea that stating the obvious was often a preface to asking someone a favor.

“Not entirely,” he said. “Just everyone worth knowing.”

“Right. I remember.” Hawke reached into her pocket and retrieved a folded piece of paper. It was a letter, one that Varric recognized instantly. He guessed correctly that what she'd slipped into her pocket was a small packet of folded letters, all penned by the same author.

“Do you recognize the handwriting?” Hawke asked as she pressed the letter to the table in front of him. Her brow was furrowed in that adorable way it always did when she was either genuinely curious or pretending to be.

Varric smiled and drew a slow breath to tame the slightest twinge of nerves. Objectively, he knew he had no reason to panic. He'd written those letters to Hawke using the most obscure of his alternate scripts. There was no way she'd found him out. “Let's see,” he said, sliding the letter closer. He flipped it over and pretended to puzzle over its bold lines of ink. When he looked up again, it was to pronounce, “Nope. Don't know it.” He chuckled. “But I couldn't help noticing the signature. And, ah, some of the content. Where'd you get this from?”

“Oh, there's plenty more where that came from.” She reached back into her pocket and brought out the rest of the letters, which she'd tied together with a piece string. “I've been receiving these from someone who calls himself an admirer.”

“Really?” Varric made a conscious effort to raise an eyebrow in a display of interest. “And what's he an admirer of, if you don't mind my asking?”

“Of me. That letter you've got in your hands is an early example. It's fairly tame compared to the later ones. Some of them are scandalous.”

“You should let me read them. Scandal is right up my alley.” Varric almost added, 'I am a writer, after all,' but quickly thought the better of it. It probably wasn't a good idea to call attention to his own writing skills, at least during this conversation.

Hawke sighed. “I knew this was a bad idea.” She snatched the letter away from him and tucked it back amongst its fellows. “I was hoping you'd be able to point me in the proper direction.”

“I'm sorry I can't.” Varric summoned a contrite look.

“Well, thanks anyway.” She started to rise from her chair, then paused halfway up and looked pointedly at him. “Actually, there is one other thing. Would you mind taking a look?” There was a curious lilt to her voice.

“Not at all,” Varric said in his most magnanimous tone.

Hawke fished among her letters with the strong, calloused fingers of a practiced archer. She quickly found what she was looking for. “This,” she said, withdrawing another page, unfolding it, and setting it before him. She pointed to the writing at the foot of the letter. “I think it's some sort of signature.”

Varric looked to the place where her finger was pointing. When he read the words, his reaction was so immediate and visceral he stood no chance of hiding it. His eyes met Hawke's and the panic sliced through his gut like a hero's sword through the entrails of her enemies.

Hawke's gaze was sharply focused and her voice, though quiet, held a matching intensity. “Can you decipher what that says?”

There, plain as day, written at the end of the letter was his own unmistakable handwriting and the words, “All my love, Varric.”

Hawke had been toying with him the whole time. And that meant he was in serious trouble.

---

Varric had been personally involved in enough life or death situations to know that sometimes, when things got hairy, a man's whole life could flash before his eyes in an instant. What was happening right now wasn't actually the same thing, but it was frighteningly similar. It wasn't the arc of his whole life that flashed before his eyes when he stared blankly at Hawke, who was still pointing resolutely to his signature, sitting fat and happy at the foot of an explicit love letter. It was just the highlights of this particular misadventure.

He'd written the first letter a couple of months ago. It wasn't more than a few lines long - just a little something he thought might cheer her up. Though Hawke would never come right out and say it, she'd been lonely. The one-year anniversary of Leandra's death had come and gone with little recognition. Isabela hadn't yet returned from wherever it was she'd run off to in the wake of the qunari uprising. Aveline had her hands full trying to guard a city that was still very much in shambles. Things between Merrill and Hawke had been icy ever since Hawke had sided with the Dalish keeper by refusing to hand over the only tool that would fix a broken mirror.

The lighthearted flirtation with Fenris and Anders that had once kept Hawke's spirits lifted had somewhere along the line taken a turn for the bitter. The elf and the mage had never liked each other. That was easy enough to pinpoint. But they'd managed to work out an unofficial policy of tense toleration. They did it for Hawke's sake - to remain in good standing with her, who they both rightly understood wanted to nurture a friendship with each of them. But lately, every time Hawke flirted with Anders, the conversation inevitably veered into snide remarks about mage-hating elves. The same was true with Fenris, except his distasteful comments came at the expense of mage abominations. And Hawke was caught in the middle at a time in her life when she needed comforting a whole lot more than she needed to see two of her closest friends taking cheap shots at each other for her affections.

Varric couldn't help but wonder what had changed lately to throw that precarious threesome off balance. He had all sorts of unfounded speculations about that, but he kept his first anonymous note to Hawke free of larger, complicating themes.

Hello Beautiful,

Why so glum? In all of Kirkwall, there's no smile I've seen that's nicer than yours.

An admirer

In retrospect, Varric knew it was a horrible letter. He shouldn't have led with “Why so glum?” That line was flippant at best, offensive at worst, considering all she'd been through and how he'd timed it so close to a painful anniversary. And to make matters worse he'd followed that up with a passive aggressive injunction that she hide her pain behind a smile. Unfortunately, by the time he thought of all that, he'd already sent one of his most discreet and well-paid couriers up to Hightown to slip the letter under Hawke's door. The damage was done. And Varric was reminded why he typically avoided starting up serious conversations with women about how they were feeling. There were so many different ways to say the worst possible thing.

He was still grumbling over his stupidity the following day when Hawke stopped by with news. In casual conversation at the barracks, Aveline had mentioned a new gang of street thugs working the docks at night. That was all the invitation Hawke needed to take matters into her own hands – with Varric and Bianca to back her up, of course. To Varric's surprise, Hawke looked a lot livelier than she had in ages. And the fact that she'd spoken to Aveline meant she'd actually left her house for the first time in about week – or whenever her last round as referee in a game of elf versus mage had taken place.

Later that night, when they shot their way through an armed contingent of thugs, Hawke had more pep than usual. And that was saying a lot. She was always very peppy when killing thugs was involved. Varric could only assume that his mysterious note had been responsible for the improvement in her mood. Perhaps her curiosity over its source had taken her mind off her other troubles. Still, it seemed an unlikely conclusion. The only way to test his theory was to wait a few days and then send another note.

To the loveliest noble in Kirkwall,

You've lost a lot. If I could give it all back to you, I would. In a heartbeat.

Yours,

An admirer

He liked that one a lot better. It was an attempt to make up for the idiocy of its predecessor. And it did seem to work small wonders. The morning after he sent it to Hawke, she was in much better spirits. And so Varric spent much of his day trailing after her as she checked in and chatted happily with Sebastian, Fenris, and Anders. He knew she was probably just trying to winnow out a few of the contenders for mysterious admirer, but he was mighty pleased with himself nevertheless. Her despair seemed to have lifted - for a short while anyway.

Melancholy crept back in little by little as Hawke fell into her old routine of helping everyone sort out their problems while sparing them the burden of helping with hers. Aside from a few clever cutthroats in the dwarven merchants guild, Hawke was perhaps the toughest, most resilient woman Varric had ever met. But even she was nearing her breaking point after a morning spent crafting healing potions with Anders followed immediately by an afternoon reading lesson with Fenris. Varric had no idea what specifically had gone wrong. But that night Hawke drank herself into a blithe stupor at the Hanged Man and confessed to him that if it weren't for the numbing, dehydrating effect of the alcohol, she'd probably be curled up in a corner crying. It was enough to send Varric back to his desk to pen his third anonymous letter.

My dear Champion,

Everyone wants something from you, don't they? In you, they see an ally, a dissident, a coin purse, a partner in vengeance or crime, or the hero of a story just waiting to be written.

You're too much of a saint sometimes the way you always oblige. Go ahead and tell them no every once in a while. See where that gets you. I think you'll find out that your needy friends are more forgiving than you think they are.

But maybe that's not all of it. Doing all those favors, being the gracious friend to everyone, it's a good way to hide how distant you really are, how most of the time, when they talk to you, your mind is elsewhere. It's back in that miserable foundry, isn't it, or down in the Deep Roads, mourning deaths and counting sorrows? You stand there, surrounded by friends and well-wishers, but you're still so lonely.

You should let some love in your life, Hawke. That's my best advice.

Yours,

An admirer

As he wrote it, Varric kept telling himself he was just trying to shake her out of the sorrowful place she kept coming home to. His only motive was friendly interest. With that thought in mind, he sealed the letter with an imprint Hawke wouldn't recognize and handed it off to his courier. As the man was leaving, Varric called him back and dropped a few extra sovereigns into his pocket – for his service and his silence.

Honestly, Varric wasn't sure what sort of reaction his words would provoke. But a couple of days later, when Hawke hadn't come around to visit him, he dashed off a fourth quick note.

Dear Marian,

I hope my last letter didn't offend.

Yours always,

An admirer

This time, after delivering the note as usual, Varric's courier returned from Hightown bearing a letter that he'd found affixed to the front door of the Amell estate. Its envelope was inscribed in Hawke's elegant cursive with the words, “To the anonymous person who is sending me letters.” Varric slit the envelope open, leaving Hawke's seal intact, and unfolded the letter.

Messere admirer,

Whoever you are, it sounds like you either know me or know of me well enough that you should realize I don't take kindly to unsolicited advice. I do believe you mean well. But isn't it awfully convenient to tell someone else they ought to let love in? You haven't walked the world in my boots. What do you know? And whose love am I supposed to let in, anyway?

My whole family is dead.

Who else's love is there? A suitor's perhaps? I do have friends who court me. Shall I tell you about them? There's one who lives in Darktown, a man who works everyday to help the people of the undercity. I admire that about him. Once upon a time, I even thought I was starting to fancy him. But then one day he pulled me aside and warned me that he would break my heart if we were ever together. And I took him at his word. So, no, I won't pursue that further.

Another of my suitors is an elf. His anger at the world is justified, but to be honest it frightens me. When he's in a good mood, he makes me laugh. And I love that about him. But all we do lately is argue. When he said he didn't want me comforting him, I believed him, too. I gave up on the possibility of love with him. And I haven't looked back.

There used to be a woman who courted me. She was beautiful and brave and far kinder than she ever let on. But even if I were interested in women in that way, which I don't think I am, she's gone. She left me. And though I'm not in love with her, it breaks my heart that I've lost her. I fear she'll never return.

My mother used to favor another of my friends due to his lineage and piety and upright appearance. She even urged me to consider marrying him. He is very kind, which makes me think he'd make an attentive lover, except for the fact that he's sworn himself to a life of celibacy. And for me, I'm sorry, but that's a deal breaker.**

So, you see, my dear anonymous benefactor, there is no love to be had.

Marian Hawke

P.S. - And quite honestly, my life is better off without it. My loved ones have a nasty habit of dying prematurely.

Varric read the letter several times. He felt an inexplicable twinge of disappointment that he hadn't made it onto her list of potential love interests. The fact that neither had Aveline didn't make it sting any less. But then he reminded himself that he'd never actually courted Hawke. It wouldn't have made much sense for her to list him among those who had.

Her letter explained a lot. He hadn't ever known for certain why Hawke's persistent flirtation with the mage and the elf never seemed to go anywhere beyond laughter and innuendo. But now he knew. For a battle-hardened rogue, Hawke was surprisingly sensitive about certain things – more sensitive than he'd realized. And Varric thought long and hard before he sat down to compose his next letter.

Don't underestimate friendship, Hawke. That's love, too. But I get it. You need more than that, don't you? Your nights are lonely and that big bed of yours gets cold. You ache for more warmth than what friends will give you. You must want someone so badly it scares you, precisely because you've already lost so much of what you love. I'll tell you what. Until you find what you're looking for out in the world, you can have a few of my words to keep you company. Consider them a gift.

You're a remarkable woman, Marian. Sure, you're nice to look at, but that's not what I'm talking about. You're talented and deadly, too, but that's not it either. It's something different and, unfortunately, a lot harder to tell you about. What can I say? You have a way of brightening a room just by being there, a way of making a man's troubles seem a little less daunting. I can't think of anyone I know who wouldn't count himself a lucky bastard to spend even one night by your side. You're going to be the love of someone's life, I'm sure of it. You probably haven't met him yet, but you will. And when you do, you'll leave a sorry mess of broken hearts behind you.

Ever yours,

An admirer

Sure, it was a little gritty, but so was she. It was sweet, too, and that was the sentiment he hoped she'd focus on.

By that time, Varric was sending his courier on regular patrols of Hightown to check for more letters pinned to Hawke's door. And he wasn't disappointed. Her next reply appeared that same evening.

My dear admirer,

Won't you tell me who you are? Or do you fear that it's your broken heart I'd leave behind? You'll forgive me for presuming, won't you? Your words are compelling. I can't help reading them over and over again, imagining that some mysterious person is in love with me.

Marian

Varric was far too pleased with himself. If he hadn't known himself better, he might have started to think he was actually trying to romance her. He wasn't, of course, but he didn't see any reason not to spice things up a little.

Dear Marian,

That's the thing about anonymous letters, isn't it; I can't actually tell you who I am. That would defeat the whole point. But if it warms your heart to think I'm in love with you, go right ahead. It's not too far from the truth so I won't stop you.1

But let me ask you something. Do you really think it's your fault that people die - aside from the ones you've killed, I mean? You make it sound like you think your life is cursed, like all you have to do is give your heart over to someone and they're as good as dead. If that's what you think, then I'm sorry to hear it. You've had more than your share of bad luck, but if that's your excuse for not even trying, then don't expect anyone to feel sorry for you.

Yours,
An admirer

1I'd be lying if I told you I've never imagined those shapely legs of yours wrapped around my waist or resting on my shoulders.

He honestly wasn't sure how well that one would go over. What started out as a flirtatious letter had taken an unexpected turn for the accusatory. But there were some things that needed to be said. It was one thing to take a man at his word when he called himself a heartbreaker. It was another thing entirely to keep oneself closed off to any possibility of love for fear of losing it.

The day after he finally got up the nerve to send it, Hawke stopped by the Hanged Man to see if he wanted to join her on a minor adventure. She didn't seem upset, but Varric also knew she was getting pretty good at hiding that sort of stuff when she really put her mind to it. He still hadn't come to any conclusions about her mood by the time they arrived in Darktown to pick up Anders on their way out to the coast. The clinic always needed more salves and potions and Hawke had agreed to help him hunt down some obscure ingredients that grew in the caves.

Varric grumbled the whole way there, wondering such things as why, if there really was a Maker, he saw the need for things like caves and spiders – because wouldn't everyone's boots be cleaner without them? Anders suggested that a better line of inquiry would be wondering why Kirkwall's kitten to templar ratio was so discouraging. But Hawke had no complaints. All afternoon, she seemed more pensive than usual. As she harvested a last patch of deep mushrooms, Anders remarked that she wasn't acting like her usual talkative self - which was maybe just his way of griping over the fact that she hadn't flirted with him even once all day. Varric wondered about that. It occurred to him that Hawke might think Anders was the one who'd been sending her letters. But she didn't say anything that would give it away and though Varric would catch her eye from time to time, he was no mind reader.

All speculation was forgotten when they returned to the city that evening and found Isabela sitting in her usual spot, downing a drink and affably giving Corff a hard time about the Hanged Man's familiar perfume. Hawke took one look at the pirate, turned on her heel, and left. She didn't return to the Hanged Man for days. Not surprisingly, it took her and Isabela a couple of weeks to even begin the long process of sorting out their differences over Isabela's abrupt departure. In all that time, Varric sent no anonymous letters. He was waiting for Hawke's reply, though he wasn't even sure if one would come.

When at last his courier brought him something, it was more or less what he expected. Prickly.

Dear admirer,

I think you need more practice at anonymous love letters. While your footnote certainly paints a vivid picture, your second paragraph leaves much to be desired.

But given the content of my first letter to you, I suppose you do ask a fair question. So I'll take the bait and answer. No, I don't think I'm cursed. But yes, it is sometimes my fault that people die. You've probably only heard the heroic stories about me, not the shameful ones. You can blame my friend Varric for that. He embellishes the truth more than anyone should, though he does mean well - most of the time.

But you are wrong. I don't use my losses as an excuse not to try. The real reason I'm distant and lonely and unfulfilled and all those other awful things you've rightly pointed out, is that I am forced to manage my priorities. I can't afford to be distracted by pursuing my own pleasure - not any more. I have too many responsibilities. I am a noble after all.

Marian Hawke

Varric sighed as he read the last paragraph. He'd pushed her too far and now she was retreating to more comfortable ground. But her response was utter bullshit. And Varric had every intention of calling her on it. Hawke was no delicate flower. She could handle a little prodding now and then, especially when she tried playing the martyr. They already had one Sebastian in their ragtag group of friends. Nobody wanted to see a new one in training.

Dear Marian,

I'm impressed. Your excuses are sounding almost altruistic. But I can still see right through them. You're not thinking about duty and nobility. If you were, you'd be married by now with a growing belly and a couple of Hawkelings on the way. I'm afraid you'll have to try harder if you want me convinced.

As for your other point, I'm sorry, I didn't know I was supposed to be writing you love letters. Here I thought we were just having a nice conversation. But since you've put me in my place, the least I can do is defend myself. I can assure you, milady, I am very well versed in the art of letters. If I were writing you a proper love letter, I would start by telling you how your peerless beauty is enough to soften any man's heart. If it were an improper love letter, I'd add a line or two about your sultry legs and the part of me that hardens when imagining what lies between them. So which will it be, proper or improper? It's your call. I'm game if you are.

Yours,

An admirer

Varric stared at that letter for a long time as he debated whether or not to send it. One flirtatious slip could probably be written off as inconsequential, but this was the second time in two letters he'd confessed a physical attraction to Hawke. He wasn't sure what had gotten into him. He'd decided a long time ago that he wasn't ever going to tell her that sometimes, late at night and in the privacy of his own imagination, he harbored certain thoughts about her. And if, sometimes, he took care of his own business while indulging in those thoughts, then she didn't need to know about that either. He was a dwarf. She was a human. And she had never been shy about expressing her attraction to Fenris and Anders. But she'd never expressed anything like that for him - at least, not beyond the confines of friendly banter.

But sure enough, Varric's sense of intrigue inevitably won out over good sense and he sent the letter on its way. Hawke's saucy reply came quickly.

My dear admirer,

Aren't you bold? Tempting though it may be, I simply can't allow anonymous men to send me pornography. It's unseemly. And, quite frankly, that's what my friend Isabela's for - she's made it her personal mission to line my bookshelves with dirty novels.

You'll simply have to prove your worth with proper love letters. But who knows, if you write well enough, I might reconsider and we can renegotiate the terms of our nice conversation. Until then, however, let's stick to the softening of hearts.

Yours,

Marian

Later that same day, Hawke stopped by to see him for no reason other than to share a drink and hear a few tall tales. She stayed with him late into the night, long past the hour at which story telling devolved into belly-aching laughter as both friends dredged through memories for all the mishaps that never made it into Varric's tales. When she finally left his table, he was sorry to see her go. He had to remind himself - a little sadly - that even if Hawke was pleased by his letters, she had no cause to associate them with her dear old friend Varric.

The letter he wrote her late that night was tinged with sorrow.

Dear Marian,

Soft hearts you shall have.

The truth is, you already have them and maybe you just don't know it. I've seen the way you cross a courtyard, armor gleaming, head held high, your dark hair caught by the swell of a breeze. You're the hero no one saw coming, a Ferelden refugee who climbed her way up from Lowtown, building a fortune out of nothing more than grit and a lucky streak. You walk through Hightown and every onlooker either wants to be you or have their way with you - you'll have to forgive me if that's too bold.

I look at you and I see a beautiful woman who keeps her doubts and fears in line a lot better than most people. But even you can't will them away. At the end of the day, you need a solid shoulder to lean on just as much as anyone. I'd offer mine, but I don't think you'd want it if you found out who I am.

If you did ever want it, though, I'd be glad just to hold you. (What? This is a respectable love letter, remember? I'm being forced to leave out all the other things I'd want to do to you.) I'd pull you close and tell you that you don't have to prove yourself. I already know you're not the perfect hero, despite the best efforts of your lowlife friends to make us all believe otherwise. And that's okay. I love you just the same as if you were.

An admirer

Of course he loved her. Just as he'd told her before, friendship was a kind of love. Though, friends didn't usually call each other's legs "sultry" or think about them propped on shoulders or spread wide open or other things like that. Varric harbored no illusions in that regard. He knew what he was really doing - what he had been doing all along - but he didn't see how admitting it would do anyone a favor.

Hawke and Anders were getting along better lately than they had in ages. The Rivaini's return had helped smooth things over. Fenris was spending more of his time with Isabela. Those two had always appreciated each other. And now, with Hawke still having difficulty forgiving Isabela, the pirate captain was finding an even deeper appreciation for the Tevinter elf. Somehow, Fenris seemed to understand that running away wasn't necessarily an act of rejection. He didn't hold it against her. And judging by Isabela's disappearances from the Hanged Man, Varric was pretty sure that she had begun spending the occasional night in Fenris's mansion.

Anders hadn't commented on it outright, but his quarrels with the elf had grown fewer. Perhaps he felt more secure, less likely to lash out in anger, now that his biggest rival for Hawke's affections was otherwise occupied. Varric suspected that his own anonymous letters were also playing their part. He had encouraged Hawke to let down her guard a little. It seemed she was doing just that – with Anders.

He could at least pretend that Hawke's letters were meant for him. He could go back to the little collection of them that he kept in a locked drawer. He could run his fingers over Hawke's curved lines of ink and know that she'd held that page in her hands, folded it with care, and sealed it in its envelope just for him, the man she couldn't identify but who knew her so well. To his embarrassment, Varric realized that each one of those letters, as blunt and plucky its author, had become more important to him than most of the real treasures he kept scattered in drawers and on shelves throughout his suite. He couldn't help but wonder if Hawke felt the same way for his letters. Did she keep them somewhere safe and hidden? Did it give her pleasure to take them out, to look at the shape of his writing, to feel the fine grain of the paper and know that her admirer had spared no expense? Did she reread them and understand a little more each time how treasured she was?

Judging by her next letter, the answer to that last question was probably yes.

My dear admirer,

To be honest, when I asked for a love letter I was expecting flowery metaphors going on at length about the color of my eyes - or something like that. I wasn't expecting something so - honest, if perhaps a little sad.

Usually what I read about myself is fantastically out of proportion to my actual accomplishments. I'm a living goddess on the page. Yes, that's good for an adventure story. And mostly I don't mind it. It's quite a lot of fun to stroll past a group of children playing in the courtyard and realize that all the girls are fighting for turns at who gets to be Marian Hawke.

But your letter was so different from all that, I don't think I can describe how I felt to read it. It was lovely. And sweet. I love - truly and honestly love - knowing that there's someone out there who can see me better than most. I just wish you'd tell me who you are. How can you possibly know I wouldn't want your shoulder unless you offer it? I think you ought to take your own advice and try letting some love in.

Yours,

Marian

Varric set down Hawke's letter. Sitting forward, chin propped in hand, he rolled his eyes at the ridiculous vision that rose, bright and unbidden, to his imagination.

He was standing near his table, leaning heavily on one hand. His fingers were curling against the fabric of the page and warping its surface into high, crinkling ridges. He could feel the tickle of his sweat as it rolled down through body hair. He could hear the inelegance of his own grunting. Bittersweet and urgent, he strained towards release.

He was taking his letter writing way too seriously. It was starting to mess with him, which meant it was well past time to break off the anonymous affair. Hawke was feeling much better than she had weeks ago when he'd sent her the first note. So there was no real purpose for him to continue writing. He would tell her that. He would compose one last letter to wish her well and that would be the end of it. Varric took up his quill and began to write.

Dear Marian,

Trust me on this, it's better that you don't know who I am - ignorance being bliss and all that. But what's this about my letter being sad? And honest? I think that deserves a remedy.

I'll have you know that the color of your eyes when firelight hits them is surpassed in beauty and darkness only by the glittering expanse of the heavens on a moonless night. When I look at you, I lose myself in their depths. Your lips are even worse. Maker, they gleam as if poisoned. Even the threat of a kiss would overwhelm me. You'd stop my heart cold. And your legs – dear lady, don't get me started. I can't even describe them. I'd go too far. Before we knew it we'd find ourselves trapped in the middle of a decidedly improper love letter. And that wouldn't do at all.

Forever yours,

An admirer

If it didn't exactly beat its reader over the head to say "goodbye," then surely that was okay. There was nothing wrong with being subtle and open-ended or, in this case, utterly opaque. Varric had to admit that he just hadn't been able to do what was necessary. Instead of breaking things off he'd just managed to flirt with her even more. But he didn't see much sense in brooding over failures. So he sent the letter off to Hawke anyway and waited for her next reply, which arrived within a day.

To my dear admirer,

You wordsmith. Have at it. I'm ready for my improper letter.

Love,

Marian

The next time he saw her, she was practically glowing. When he asked what had put her in such a good mood, she smiled but wouldn't answer. When he teased her about it, her only concession was a happy laugh and the cryptic reassurance, “I have my reasons.” Varric hoped she was pleased on account of what he'd written and not because of something Anders had been doing to her late at night when the clinic fell quiet. Just because he hadn't seen them together lately didn't mean she wasn't visiting him on the sly. He really hated the idea of writing her an inappropriate letter if someone else was going to reap all the benefits. He was better than that and he knew it.

So Varric found a way to broach the subject, as if it were nothing more than a topic of friendly concern, of course. After all, he wasn't sure it was wise for anyone to be getting involved with possessed mages. And if he happened to get a little snarky and refer to Anders as Whats-his-name, well, perhaps she'd think he was just trying to inflect a little humor into the situation - which she did, sort of. Hawke's first response was a burst of nervous laughter. And then she told him, "When I say I'm helping Anders in his clinic, I swear to you, I am not helping him that way." She laughed again and wandered off to find Isabela, who she was at last starting to warm up to again.

Varric was left scratching his head, figuratively speaking. He wasn't sure if Hawke had been telling the truth or lying to him outright. But a hopeful part of him wanted to believe what she'd told him. It was same hopeful part he nurtured later that evening with a goblet or two of wine. That was when, in the privacy of his suite, behind closed doors, he took up his quill and wrote her just the sort of letter she'd asked for.

Dear Marian,

Here you go. One dirty letter coming right up. Just remember, you asked for it and I warned you.

A small point of business first, though. You keep asking who I am when, rather than doing that, what you ought to do is just make something up. Go on, try it. It's fun. You can make me eight feet tall with a pair of horns on my head if that's what you're into. Just don't expect me to start quoting sacred books for you. I'll tell you right now that's not going to happen. Seriously though, you deserve a proper romance. If I could give you that, I would. But I'm not what you want, Hawke, I know it. And, you know something, that's okay. It doesn't change the fact that I think about you almost every night.

(Oh, and by the way, in case you were wondering when to start blushing, now would be a good time.)

Not that my thoughts about you are always dirty, mind you. They're not always that way at all. But okay, a lot of the time, they are. My hands have been all over you, tracing your every curve. I've had you willing and naked and bent over tables. I've looked down at you and brushed the hair from your eyes as you've sucked me. You've been mine, Hawke, gorgeous and debauched and whimpering my name in your pleasure. I've taken you a thousand times, each fuck better than the one before it.

Interesting thing though, I've never actually had the Champion of Kirkwall. Not even once. You might not know it, but plenty of men would pay good gold to hear bawdy tales about said Champion. Who can blame them? Oh, come on, you know how it is sometimes after a battle – the blood of your slain enemies still drying on your skin, your bare breasts spilling from your armor, your thighs splayed open in victory, things like that? It's, ah, colorful to say the least. But not to my tastes. For me, Hawke, it's just been you – the occasionally heroic adventurer who just happens to have the finest pair of legs I've ever seen.

As you can probably tell, it's been quite the imaginary love affair between us. And I wasn't going to tell you about it. But, for whatever reason – drinking, stupidity, probably both – I'm telling you now. If there's more you want to ask me about that, go right ahead. I'll answer your questions so long as you quit asking for my name. I can promise you, Hawke, you're not getting that.

All my love,

An admirer

Varric had sent that letter, the very last of them, as soon as it was written. Of course, what he realized now, as the flashback of his anonymous love affair faded, was that perhaps he should have waited. Had he reread that letter in the sober light of day, he would have noticed its glaring error. He hadn't actually written “an admirer” at the foot of the letter. He'd been so caught up in the moment he'd signed it “Varric” instead. It was actually pretty funny considering how quickly he'd managed to thwart the promise he'd made about not ever giving his name. He wondered if Hawke had found the humor in it. But even if she had, well, she sure wasn't laughing now as her finger tapped at the signature in front of him.

Varric managed a wan smile. “There's an explanation for that.”

“Is there?” Hawke raised one of her eyebrows and Varric wasn't sure if they'd always looked so sharp and menacing or if she'd done something special to them just for tonight.

“Of course there is.”

“Does it involve an ogre and a pair of dragons? Because I think I've heard that one already. From you. And it wasn't very convincing the first time, either.”

“No,” he said. “There's not even one dragon. But it is complicated. There are – spies. And intrigue. And blackmail. Definitely blackmail.”

“Right.” Hawke didn't sound convinced. “Well, hold that thought. I'll be back in a minute to hear all of it once I've got a tall pint to take the edge off.” She turned to leave, then stopped. “Oh, by the way, here's some reading material. You'd better study up before I get back.” She dropped a sealed envelope on the table.

Varric picked it up and turned it over to reveal the same elegant script as always. But instead of “the anonymous person who's been sending me letters,” this envelope was addressed “to Varric.” Expecting the absolute worst, he opened it and began to read what Hawke had written.

My dear Varric,

You're so smooth, aren't you? And yet you slipped up. I'm not the gambling type, but I'd bet my fortune and my family name that you did not intend to sign that letter.

Of course, I did know it was you all along – since the second letter or so. Oh yes, don't act so shocked, I made it my business to find out. Do you know how many attempts on my life have started off with a well intentioned letter from a stranger? Entirely too many. And I can't afford to take chances. If you're wondering how I figured it out, well, I'll tell you. You're not the only one who can pay off a courier. And I have the advantage over you in that regard. Your assets, generous though they may be, are all tied up in contracts and bribes, whereas more of mine are liquid.

But let's forget about that for the time being. I have a proposal for you. I'm going down to the bar to bring back a couple of drinks. I know you don't fancy the ale here - probably because it's shit - but hear me out. I'll come back and propose a toast. You raise your pint in the air without clinking glasses and we'll forget this ever happened. Touch your tankard to mine, however, and I'll know you're interested in seeing where, beyond anonymous fantasy, we might take this. Sound fair?

Hawke

It wasn't until she walked back into his room that Varric realized he'd been holding his breath the whole time he'd been reading. Just as her letter had promised, she was carrying two pints of ale. As she set one down next to him, Varric was still trying to get the rhythm of his breathing back to normal. He realized that Hawke was looking at him expectantly, so he stood up. As she began to lift her pint, he stepped closer. He caught her wrist, preventing her from raising it further.

"Hawke, don't.”

“I-” she began, but Varric shook his head. She looked at him and fell silent.

He reached for the pint on the table behind him. “To friendship,” he said and raised his tankard. As soon as he'd spoken, he could see the hurt written plainly in her eyes. She made no effort to hide it and immediately Varric was sorry he'd felt such tricks were needed.

"Friendship," she mumbled and her gaze slid away from him.

Varric watched her. He saw her shame and disappointment dissolve in a moment of clear surprise as she felt and heard the clink of his mug against hers.

"And whatever comes next," he added.

Hawke's wrist slipped from his grasp as, all of a sudden, her legs failed her. She sat down hard on one of Varric's stone chairs. Her drink sloshed onto her trousers. “You bastard,” was the only reply she managed, but already her smile was starting. She set her drink on the table and reached out to catch Varric's hand. He let himself be caught and pulled. They looked at each other, their slow smiles broadening into a matching pair of grins.

Varric set down his drink and reached for her, his curled fingers grazing her cheek.“Did you really know it was me? The whole time?”

Hawke shut her eyes, inhaling deeply as she enjoyed the first touch he gave her as anything more than friends. “You know me well enough. Do you think I'd pour my heart out to an anonymous person if I didn't know who he was first?”

“Maybe. It wouldn't be the stupidest thing you've ever done.” His voice had gone deep and soft, filled only with kindness despite the seeming harshness of those words. He really did know all about the mishaps, the really bad decisions, the ways she was flawed beyond what a real hero should be. All those things that never made it into his stories about the Champion were the same things that Varric kept for himself, the things he treasured, not because they were noteworthy or even good, but because they were a part of Hawke that few people ever saw.

“I love you,” she whispered as Varric combed through her hair with thick, dextrous fingers. “I've loved you forever. And I never wanted your letters to stop.”

“They don't have to.” Bending towards her, he lifted her chin and kissed her.

---

Her lips were rough, chapped from too many hours' exposure to the harshness of the wind and sun. The rest of her face was not much different. But except for her palms and the soles of her feet, both toughened and callused, the rest of her was soft, smooth skin spread over curves and muscle.

It didn't take Varric long to learn all this. Hawke was many things - insistent and demanding being two of them - and right now she was clearly insisting that his hands should be all over her. It worked out, more or less. Hawke had always been a woman with a take charge attitude and Varric - though no stranger to action - was often at his best when he was watching events unfold. He knew all this and so he was fully prepared to be hurried, prodded, and laughingly cursed by a woman who was proving to be quite adept at multi-tasking. She was kicking off her boots and trousers even as she pulled him towards the sanctuary of his bed.

Her prodding and playful curses had always been welcome and in this particular case, Varric was almost entirely content to be hurried as well. Soon enough Hawke's naked thighs were spread before him. She was raising her hips, urging them up towards his face, which was almost exactly where she needed it to be. His mouth descended on her and still she was lifting herself to meet those first gentle kisses.

That gentleness quickly gave way, intensifying into grinding pressure. When he then slid a finger inside her, Hawke gasped and her whole body shivered. He was lapping at her, then sucking her harder as her body tightened around him. The slow strokes of his finger grew fast and shallow, and his tongue pressed against that little hooded pearl. He could feel the inadvertent trembling of her thighs and he groaned against her flesh as she cried out, inarticulate and wild, subsumed by a pleasure that stole away her words.

Best of all so far, aside from her taste, her scent, and her unabashed wetness for him, was the arousing knowledge that only a short while ago, he'd had no idea that his night was going to end this way. Working Hawke to climax after howling climax with his mouth and tongue and now with two thick fingers sliding into her was a lot more satisfying than what his night would have been – namely, settling into bed alone to take care of himself as quickly and cleanly as possible, all the while trying not to think about Hawke. Instead he was here with her, learning her quirks and her rhythms.

At last - at long last - when her breath came heavy and deep and she smiled up at him, utterly content, Varric undid his trousers and revealed himself to Hawke for the first time.

“Look at you,” she breathed, favorably impressed at the sight of him and swiftly overcoming all exhaustion as a new arousal overtook her.

“I'd rather look at you,” he said. And it was true, but he wasn't sure which part of her he wanted to see more of. He was torn between conflicting desires. On the one hand, the look on her face - equal parts adoring and aroused - was a fantastic stroke for the ego. On the other hand, and just as compelling, was the hot, wet sight of the sex itself, the thrill of watching each thick inch of himself disappear inside her only to pull back, veined and glistening, moments later.

Hawke's body felt fantastic. And from the way she cried out for him, Varric was pretty sure she was enjoying a few things about him, too. But if he thought he'd done enough to earn his sleep by the time he came inside her, oh Maker, he was wrong. It was like she had his whole night planned and sleeping was definitely not a point on the agenda.

By the next afternoon, when Hawke had left him for a few hours to check in on her household, Varric walked his stiff, sore ass from his bed to his table and sat down to write her yet another irritated love note.

Dammit, Hawke,

Climbing Sundermount with you was bad enough. But, I swear, this new workout plan of yours is going to be the death of me.

However, since my thoughts on the matter haven't gone much beyond, “Eh, I'll risk it,” I think it's safe to say that we're still on for tonight.

Yours as always,

An admirer

And for the first time in all his letters to her, he had no need of false handwriting, bribed couriers, or unrecognizable seals.