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Royal Pains

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Cassandra covered her face with both hands and let out a groan. She regretted ever hiring a ghostwriter, ever thinking about a memoir. The amount of familiarity they needed, the amount she had to let him in, and in such a short period of time, was disconcerting to say the least.

The fact the ghostwriter happened to be Varric, made it all the worse.

Over the course of the past few months, she had routinely thought about firing him, but that would require hiring another person for the job and letting them into her life. The thought of going through all of this again was daunting and less than desirable. So she put up with his... eccentricities.

“What's wrong, Princess?”

Except that one.

Lowering her hands slowly, she glared at him where he sat across the room. “I told you never to call me that.”

He laughed, eyes crinkling, and he turned back to his typewriter. She thought it strange he used such an old machine rather than a laptop, but she had grown accustomed to the rhythmic click-clacks as he typed. It always seemed too quiet when he left for the day. Not that she would ever tell him that.

“I called your name three times with no reply. I knew 'Princess' would get a response,” he said, pulling a sheet of paper from the machine. “I had a question about the match in Budapest.”

“I don't want to talk about it.”

Varric swiveled around in his chair, eyeing her blandly. “That's a shame, Princess, but not how it works.”

She groaned again and sat aside the notes she'd been reading over, reaching up to pinch the bridge of her nose. “I mean now. I'm tired and my head hurts.”

He slid off his chair, and she could hear his footfalls heading toward the table in the corner of the room where their phones were charging. “Dinner?” he asked, and Cassandra could hear the frown in his voice.

“Yes,” she sighed, grateful. It had become a common practice. Take-out, a bottle of wine, talking. Lots of talking. About her life, of course. She felt like she knew nothing about Varric... except she did. He didn't like curry, he was fond of wordplay and puns, and he quoted Hemingway too often.

“Greek tonight?” he asked over his shoulder, perusing their collection of restaurant menus.

Cassandra perked up and leaned over the arm of the couch. “With dolmades?”

“Of course, they're your favorite aren't they?” He was already dialing the number.

“Don't forget to ask for extra--”

“Extra avgolemono. Yeah, yeah, I know, Princess.” She was ready with a retort but he was talking to whomever had answered the phone. So she settled back against the couch and resisted the urge to pout.

* * *

It was sometime later, empty take-out boxes spread across the coffee table ready to be thrown out, that Cassandra relaxed back against the couch, legs outstretched and a glass of wine in her hand. Varric mimicked her pose at the other end of the couch.

“All right, ready to talk about Budapest now?” he asked, and she couldn't help but notice the notebook by his side.

“No, please not tonight. I'm sick of talking about myself.”

“You're the one that wanted to write a memoir, I'm just doing my job.” He leaned over to top off her glass, before draining what was left in the bottle into his own glass.

“Ugh, take a break for the night.”

“Fine, just remember you're the one who wanted a memoir and a ghostwriter.” Varric looked at her closely for a moment. “It's because that's when the engagement was called off, right?”

Cassandra winced. Damn him, he was right. Of course. “I only mentioned that in passing days ago, how do you remember everything?”

He looked at her over the rim of his glass, a smile curling his lips. “Because I'm good at paying attention to you, Princess.”

“Well, stop it.” She shoved his arm. “Why don't you tell me about yourself?”

Varric laughed and shook his head. “Me? Ah, that's nothing special. I'm not a fencing champion, or an Olympic gold medalist. Nor am I royalty.”

“Please don't remind me. If I never had anything do with that life again, I would be happy.” She tilted her head back, resting it against the couch cushions and staring up at the ceiling. The rented townhouse was comfortable, and she thought it felt like home. At least as much as anything ever had. Even when she'd been a child growing up in Nevarra, it hadn't ever really felt like home. She let out a sigh, and could feel rather than see Varric shift next to her.

“You know,” he said, voice a low rumble, “if you ever want to talk about something off the record. I am a decent listener.”

She huffed out a laugh and took a sip of her wine to distract from it. Then a thought struck her: they were friends. For as much as he teased her and got on her nerves. For all the times she rolled her eyes in exasperation, and for all the times he rolled his, because she knew she goaded him just as much as he did her, they had somehow become friends. It was actually rather nice.

“Thank you, Varric, I mean it.” She sat her glass on the coffee and turned to face him, legs curling underneath her. “I'm sure this will come as no surprise, but I don't have many close friends. It's good to have someone to talk to. Even if I'm paying him.”

Varric barked out a laugh. “I'd imagine I'm off the clock by now, but the offer still stands. Whenever you're ready.” He reached out and patted her knee gently. Even through her jeans his hand felt warm, soothing.

“Thank you,” she said again. They were silent for a moment, neither moving. Then he seemed to rouse himself, and moved to stand.

“I should get going, it's late.” He swept the food containers into the original carry-out bag, tidying up quickly while he gathered his things.

“You don't have to clean up. I can handle it.” She tried to wave him off, but he was already done, shrugging into his jacket, the worn old thing with the patches at the elbows. She wondered idly if he would accept a new one, should she buy him one.

“Don't worry about it. I'll see you in the morning,” he said and reached out to pat the top of her head. Then before she realized it, he was gone and the room was quiet. It was always quiet after he left. Empty too.

Cassandra clambered to her feet, gathering up what was left on the table and carrying it to the kitchen. She glanced around, as if she had forgotten something. Unable to place what was wrong, she shrugged to herself and went to bed.