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What Friends are For

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Dorian was pleased that the Inquisitor finally had a moment to relax. It had been too long since they had last shared a drink at the tavern, what with her trying to save the world and all. He hadn't been called for duty on the Inquisition's most recent trip to the Hinterlands, but Allara, Varric, Solas, and Cassandra had returned to Skyhold only that morning.

"You look like you took a hike through Blackwall’s beard,” he teased as he saw her climbing the stairs to the main hall of Skyhold. “Rugged women are all the rage in Orlais these days.”

She glowered at him playfully, brushing her tangled hair off her face, grimy from travel and battle. “I’ll do my best to get pretty for you. I’m on my way to a long, hot bath.”

“Is that an invitation?” he asked as she brushed off his charming, sideways grin with a roll of her eyes.

“Meet me at the tavern when you look half decent!” he called after her as she continued the trek to her quarters.

-----

“I just need some time, Bianca. Maybe tomorrow,” Dorian heard before Varric passed him in the doorway of the tavern, uncharacteristically somber.

Concerned, Dorian asked, “Is everything-?”

“Not now, Sparkler,” Varric interrupted without even a glance in his direction, heading out across the courtyard the way Dorian had just come.

Shrugging, he turned back to find another dwarf--a female dwarf, standing in the doorway looking after Varric..

“Well, I hope this tavern has comfortable chairs,” she frowned, rubbing her forehead in agitation. “Looks like I’ll be here overnight.” She sighed, holding out a tiny hand in greeting, her frown melting away to reveal a charming grin. “Bianca Davri.”

“Bianca,” Dorian acknowledged the familiar name, congenially taking her hand. “A friend of Varric’s, I presume?”

“We’ll see about that tomorrow, I guess.”

Knowing that she must be the Bianca, the namesake of Varric’s signature crossbow, Dorian was put in the awkward position of offering her his company despite Varric’s unwillingness to provide her with his. As he offered her a drink, he hoped the Inquisitor wouldn’t mind another companion on her night off.

With tankards in hand, they found a table that placed him conveniently in Iron Bull’s line of sight -- a sight Dorian was sure he would enjoy-- and took up a frivolous conversation of introductions and small talk. As he leaned back, casually answering one of Bianca’s questions about his pride, his moustache, he saw Allara enter the tavern, refreshed and rejuvenated.

His eye caught hers as he waved her over, watching her expression change instantly from warmth to disdain as soon as her eyes fell on his companion. Allara approached their table with narrowed eyes, not bothering to hide her gaze that travelled slowly down Bianca and back up to her face, appearing to disapprove of every single inch of her.

Dorian shifted uncomfortably, thrusting his tankard into her hand, hoping to distract her with her favorite ale.

“Inquisitor,” Bianca greeted, ignoring Allara’s clear displeasure.

“What was your name again?” Allara responded, ice dripping from every word. If the Inquisitor had met Bianca before (and based on her reaction, Dorian assumed she had) there was absolutely no way she could have forgotten Bianca’s name. Varric was one of Allara’s closest friends, and even Dorian was sure the shared name with his crossbow was no coincidence.

Allara stood at the edge of the table casually sipping from the tankard, with a gaze that would have flayed the dwarf where she sat if she were capable.

Bianca took a pause, clearly thinking the same thing Dorian had, before answering. “It’s Bianca.”

“Oh, right. Biance,” she shrugged off, purposefully mispronouncing the name and taking the empty seat at the table. “Didn’t you have something else to do? Why are you here?”

Dorian couldn’t imagine that the thinly-veiled frigidity in Allara’s voice would get past the seemingly clever dwarf, but Bianca managed to politely ignore it. He raised a hand to the barkeep, signalling for three more ales to be delivered to their table.

“I couldn’t leave things the way they were with Varric after Valammar. I came to try and talk to him, but…” she trailed off, draining her cup. “It looks like he’s not ready for that, yet. So I’ll be staying here until he is.”

Allara matched Bianca, draining the last of her drink before the barkeep put three more down on the table.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” Allara responded, feigning helpfulness in a sickeningly sweet voice. “Dorian and I can deliver a message for you. We can walk you out while you tell us what you want him to know! Then you’ll be able to get on the road, and crawl back to wherever you came from, before nightfall!”

Dorian concealed his startled grin behind his fresh tankard, unsure if he wanted to escape the awkwardness or get comfortable for what was sure to be an amusing show. He sobered and cleared his throat as Bianca’s eyes shifted toward him.

“Thanks for the offer,” she started, turning her gaze back to Allara, “but I need to speak with him privately. He’ll come around. He always does."

Allara’s eyebrows raised so high that Dorian was afraid they might get lost in her hairline. “How convenient for you,” she spat, this time unable to hide her obvious contempt for the dwarf.

Dorian shifted, drawing attention to himself to try to smooth the situation over. “Yes, I’m sure we can all agree Varric is delightful. A toast!” he suggested, hoping to lighten the mood. “To Varric, for being so…”

“Loyal. To a fault. Even to those who don’t deserve it,” Allara finished, glaring at Bianca. She raised her tankard to Varric and drank far too long and deeply, pulling it from her lips only after Bianca had stopped drinking from hers.

“Bianca, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?” he asked, shooting Allara a look meant to tame the fire he saw in her eyes.

“Yes, please do.” Dorian appreciated Allara’s epic struggle to keep her eyes from rolling.

She was hesitant at first, but once Dorian got Bianca talking, she seemed to slowly open up. Whether her progressing ease came from Allara’s sudden aloof silence or from the ales he kept ordering her, she began to tell them about her life. Allara remained stony, matching Bianca sip for sip, ale for ale, not saying a word.

On their fourth, Dorian was beginning to feel the euphoric effects of the drink, and was sure that the two women, who were probably each about half his size, had to be feeling it as well. He hoped that whatever tension existed between the two of them at the start of the evening might wash away with this Fereldan swill.

“And Bogdan,” Bianca was saying, laughing with Dorian at a particularly funny anecdote, “Bogdan was so startled, he fell right out of his chair!”

Allara broke her silence by laughing a cold, mirthless laugh that didn’t reach her eyes. Dorian’s suspicions that the Inquisitor would be feeling the effects were confirmed as her words slightly slurred. “Your husband, right? Bogdan…” she scoffed, “What does Bogdan think about you stringing Varric along all these years? As a member of the merchant’s guild, I guess he must approve of you having a backup plan in case things go south?”

Bianca’s laugh dropped quickly from her face, her lips pressing together in a tight line. She took a breath in a failing attempt to suppress her irritation and said, “Inquisitor, I know you think you know Varric, but I have known him for far longer than you have. We have a history. You are... what, his boss? What goes on between us, is between us.” She placed her almost empty tankard down harder than necessary before continuing, “But because you mean well, I am trying really hard not to be a smart ass right now.”

Allara, clearly satisfied by Bianca’s irritation, barked a condescending laugh Dorian had never heard from her before. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure no one would ever accuse you of being smart,” her words were coated in venom. “An ass, on the other hand…”

Dorian jumped up from his chair to interrupt Bianca’s evident and understandable anger. He wasn’t sure what had gotten into the Inquisitor. Though he knew she tended to be protective of those close to her, he had never seen her like this. She was a generally tactful and diplomatic leader who tended to err on the side of pacifism. While her initial cattiness had been an amusement to him, her outright rudeness made him somewhat uncomfortable, and most definitely confused.

“I’m so sorry, Bianca,” Dorian said, turning his attention to Allara. “Are you all right? What’s gotten into you?”

“It’s no problem, Dorian,” Bianca glared at the Inquisitor, “I’ve taken plenty of shit from people like her. Just the other day, I -”

“Wait, was this before or after you handed an endless supply of red lyrium to Corypheus on a silver platter?” Allara interrupted.

“You did what?” Dorian asked, disbelieving. Suddenly everything made sense. Varric’s anger with this woman, Allara’s rudeness.

Bianca stood up, sighing impatiently. “I have done everything I could to fix this, and I don’t need to answer to any of you.”

As Bianca made to leave the tavern, Allara stood up to storm after her, with what little feigned politeness she had left disappearing completely. Dorian couldn’t allow them to leave without him, if not to serve as their mediator, but because his hungry curiosity demanded it. He followed behind the women, the door to the tavern (filled with nosy onlookers, of course) slamming shut behind them.

He caught up, hearing Allara yelling after Bianca, “Of course not! Why should you have to answer to anyone? You’re used to towing along a devout ex-lover by his heart strings. Someone who would forgive you for anything! I, however, am not blind to your selfish, insensitive behavior, and it takes more than a half-assed confession to fix what you’ve done.”

Bianca whirled around to face Allara, red in the face, with her jaw clenched tight. Before she could reply, Allara continued. “And what have you done to fix anything? You could be working with our arcanist, offering her your knowledge. You could be providing the Inquisition with connections to the merchant’s guild, or your mechanical skills. Yet the only reason you’ve returned is to dig your claws deeper into your puppet’s heart to make sure you haven’t lost your insurance package.”

The two women were seething, breathing hard in their fury, their eyes burning holes in each other. Dorian approached Allara cautiously, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder to try and calm her. “Allara-” His gentle whisper appeared to bring her back to reality, her breathing slowing.

Allara took one final breath before growling through gritted teeth, “I want you to leave. Varric may never forgive me for this, but Creators help me, if you aren’t out of Skyhold by the time the Tavern closes for the night, Inquisition forces strong enough to overtake a small city will be on your ass faster than you can say ‘oops.’”

Bianca was shaking in fury, but appeared resigned to her fate, turning to stalk toward the front gates of Skyhold. “Tell Varric I’m -”

“No. He’ll be receiving no messages from you,” Allara cut her off unforgivingly. “And I’ll have my nightingales watching you to ensure you don’t ever contact him while he’s here as a part of our Inquisition. He deserves to be free from the likes of you.”

Dorian watched as Bianca sulked away toward the gates, Allara sighing a breath of relief at having provided Varric with what he never could or would have done himself.

“Do you think Varric will be okay?” she asked, concern for her friend overcoming her anger. “I probably should have minded my own business.”

“Well, he doesn’t have to know about the threat-making part of the evening,” Dorian winked, giving her a pat on the back. “But otherwise, I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s tough. Let’s go invite him for a drink.”