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The Hanged Man (Act I)

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Hawke might have inherited his red hair and disarming smile from his father, but his ability to pick up strays was Leandra through and through. He’d made fun of his mother for that in the past, but deep down it was one of the things he admired about her. For her it was the most natural thing in the world to help Aveline get into Kirkwall and then adopt her into the Hawke household until she landed a job with the city guard and found a place to sleep in the barracks. Unlike his mother, Hawke had no illusions that he was acting out of the goodness of his heart. He was just a social creature that hated being alone. For him, family came first, and friends were family if they stuck around long enough. If someone went out of their way to go and sulk in a corner somewhere, it was a challenge he couldn’t ignore. Anders might have wanted to tend his clinic in peace and forget about the outside world, but Hawke wouldn’t let him fade back into Darktown the way he so obviously wanted. That being said he dropped the innuendoes pretty soon, because hitting on the mage so soon after he had to kill his own ex-lover? Classy Hawke, real classy.

But, friendship was another thing entirely, and besides, Bethany adored the secretive healer. She hadn’t had a teacher in the magical arts since their father died, and Anders seemed to welcome the shy apostate and her offer to help out at the clinic. Even if said offer came with a side-order of sarcastic older brother Hawke, whose bedside manners left a lot to be desired. It wasn’t long before Anders had been pulled into Hawke’s growing circle of friends, helping out with the odd mercenary job too shady to bring Bethany along on, and joining in the regular Wicked Grace games back at the Hanged Man. Even if he didn’t drink a drop and seldom had the money to join in for more than a round or two. When questioned about his abstaining habits he told them that he had made a promise to an old friend. Hawke thought that was hilarious and spared no time teasing and tempting the man (which was hard considering the quality of the drinks at the Hanged Man), but Anders had persisted and eventually it had stopped being funny. He liked being around the mage, and honestly he didn’t even mind his romantic advances being rejected so much anymore. Not since another loner had stumbled into his life.

Fenris was everything that Anders was not. Brash, dangerous, hostile, caustic, and dangerous. The elf kept isolating himself, lashing out at anybody that tried to close the distance, and he was a striking man with those Lyrium tattoos writhing all over his sharp features. Hawke found himself fascinated with the former slave and eventually managed to lure the elf out of his house, if not his shell. Still, Hawke had never minded a challenge, and soon the elf’s competitive spirit won out and he took to gambling like a fish to water. One more for the table. One who actually drank.

The trick was just to make sure that Fenris and Anders never sat close enough to start any serious arguments, because as readily as both had accepted Hawke, as annoying did they find one another. Luckily, the rest of the group got along just fine. Between Hawke, Varric and Isabela, the table was seldom quiet for more than a few breaths at a time, and one could always count on Merrill for distractingly naive questions, Aveline for being the rather loud voice of sanity, and Bethany for making sure that Anders and Fenris behaved themselves. It had been the same thing back in Ferelden, Hawke thought to himself. She had always been the calm center of his and Carver’s many fights. Maker but he missed the annoying little prick at times.

But he had a new family now, including one annoying Brother. Sebastian. Hawke had no idea what the pious Chantry Brother, master archer and former Prince came to their games for. He didn’t drink. He didn’t flirt. And he never played. He just sat there, sometimes speaking softly in his (Hawke had to admit) rather sexy voice, watching the game. There was a longing in the man that reminded the rogue of a beggar sitting outside an expensive tavern, content with smelling what he could never eat. He’d gotten to know the man when he helped him hunt down the mercenaries that killed his family, but he had never managed to understand what made him tick. They weren’t friends exactly, but the archer intrigued Hawke. He’d be willing to accept a sermon or two to satisfy his curiosity.

No, right now life was good, the only problem was the stack of coppers that had dwindled down to nothing in front of him, and he still wasn’t halfway drunk. He shouldn’t have made that last bet, Isabela was a master of Wicked Grace, but he had really thought he had a good enough hand. More the fool him. 

“I wish I could play too,” Merrill said with a sigh, leaning against the table, resting her chin on her folded arms. The young elven mage always came, but seldom played. There was little money in being an apostate blood mage, and what she earned on her odd mercenary jobs she never spent on frivolous things like drinks or gambling. Hawke had a suspicion the girl was working on something important in secret, but so far he hadn’t been taken into her confidence.

“Oh no kitten, you don’t,” Isabela said as she smirked, raking in her winnings, which amounted to an embarrassingly small pile of coppers. “I would feel bad taking your money.” The Rivani pirate had a soft spot for the young elf, and insisted on fronting her drinks. However, gambling was a serious business where no friendships applied.

“You were the one that taught her how to play, Rivani,” Varric noted with a faint smirk. His pile was no larger, barely amounting to a round of the Hanged Man’s cheapest beer. The dwarven businessman might be as broke as the rest of them, but he still had a tab running at the bar. Nobody had dared to ask him how he managed that.

“But that was before I knew how bad she would be,” Isabela protested. “Sorry kitten but it’s true,” she said with an apologetic smile to the elf, whose ears had started to sag slightly.

“I for one am relieved,” Aveline said, fingering her last coppers. “Merrill does not need to be pulled into your schemes.” The guardswoman might have all but secured a promotion to captain thanks to her exposure of corruption within the ranks, but it had yet to go through all the layers of bureaucracy, and her funds were running low.

“Oh you’re no fun,” Isabela pouted at the tall redhead. “Think of the wasted opportunities, think of the money we could have made playing Wicked Grace, nobody would ever suspect Merrill and me cheating the rest of the table. She’s the very definition of innocence.”

Bethany cleared her throat, giving Isabela a flash of her large, innocent eyes. Hawke’s little sister might be a shrewd apostate mage, but she still managed to cultivate the look of an innocent country girl. Which, admittedly, was actually what she was.

“Seems that Sunshine might have something to say about that,” Varric said with a grin.

“I’m sorry girl, but you’ve been spending too much time with your brother. He’s rubbing off on you, and your shine is fading.” Isabela gave Hawke a kick under the table, causing the rogue to wince.

“It’s not like either of us has any money to play with anyway right now,” Hawke said sadly, looking down at the empty spot where his money used to be. “Not after paying blasted fifty sovereigns for investing this blighted treasure hunt. I could have bought a house with that money!”

“What can I say,” Varric said, shrugging. “Bartrand is greedy, but at least now you’re official investors in our expedition.”

“I’d drink to that,” Hawke agreed, “If I had any money left for beer, let alone whiskey. This is a sad excuse for a going away party.” Their departure was planned for the tomorrow, and he had hoped he would be nursing a hangover during the first leg of the trip. No such luck.

“I still want to play,” Merrill complained. “It looks like so much fun, all the colorful pictures and the way Fenris goes all frowny when he thinks he’s going to lose again.”

“I do not frown,” the frowning elf muttered.

“Well,” Isabela said, fingering her coppers. “Maybe we could play for other things than money?”

“We are not taking off our clothes again,” both Hawke and Varric said in unison, causing Merrill to blush and Bethany to hide her face in her hands.

“Brother,” she groaned.

“It was a mistake,” Hawke admitted. 

“We underestimated the craftiness of Rivani,” Varric said with a solemn nod. “Won’t happen again.”

“Craftiness,” Anders said, looking up from where he was scribbling at the end of the table. “Andraste’s ass, the way you two kept guzzling down the whiskey she bought you a blind nug could have beaten you both.”

“It is against my dwarven instincts to turn down a free drink, Blondie, something you should learn from. Add some hair to your chest.”

“What would you know about my chest,” Anders smirked. “I wasn’t the one that had to strip naked.”

“He’s got you there,” Hawke replied with a grin to Varric, though his eyes kept sneaking glances at the healer. 

“I am afraid to ask,” Aveline interjected. “But what did you have in mind? The salary of a guard is not that generous.”

“Oh, it’s a wonderful idea,” Isabela said enthusiastically, while the rest of the table looked doubtful. “We will play with Varric’s boring tokens alright, but the winner gets to decide something that all the losers will do. It will be fun!”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Bethany said, giving Isabela a doubtful look. “I think we need some ground rules. One, it should not be anything expensive.”

“Shoot,” Isabella cursed with a laugh. “There goes my plan to have my debt to Varric paid off.”

“You said it yourself, she’s losing her innocence and is getting wise to your ways,” Hawke said, the smile coming unbidden to his face. “Rules are needed. So, number two; nothing too dangerous.” The last was said with a look at Bethany, who luckily was too busy looking at Anders to notice. 

“Are you really going through with this?” the blonde mage asked, putting the stopper in his inkwell. “Count me in then, this is one game I am not going to miss.” 

The smile on Anders’ face was wide and infectious, and Hawke cursed the fact that his heart skipped a beat every time it was aimed at him. He was no blasted teenager anymore. And the mage had made clear on several occasions that he wasn’t interested.

“Already planning what you’re going to do with your winnings Blondie?” Varric put away the coppers he had won previously, bringing up the bag of wooden tokens they had taken to using lately.

“I could use some help at the clinic,” Anders said, putting the parchments away, saving them from Isabela’s prying eyes.

“Spoilsport,” she pouted. “I’m just curious what you keep scribbling on all the time. I bet it’s dirty.”

“If we are doing this,” Aveline said, already sounding like she had a clear plan for what she would do if she got lucky, “It should be nothing illegal.”

“No, I was wrong,” Isabela said. “You are the spoilsport.”

“Games need rules,” Aveline said evenly. “Take them or leave them.”

“Oh I’ll take them,” Isabela said with the sweetest of smiles. “Are you in Fenris?”

“I am,” the elf said curtly.

“One day I will get you drunk again,” Hawke said, leaning over to pat Fenris on the shoulder, despite the fact that he knew the elf disliked contact he did not initiate himself. “And then I’ll get you to string more than three words together.”

“When did you get him drunk, brother?” Bethany gave her older brother a suspicious look, but the rogue only shrugged and smirked in response.

“Oh it was a romantic night, Sunshine,” the dwarf filled in instead. “At least that’s what I’ve heard. A deserted mansion, cobwebs and corpses in the corners and fine Tevinter wine…” Varric broke off when both Hawke and Fenris glared at him. “But a subject better left for later…”

“Anything else, or can we get on with the playing?” Anders’ voice was suddenly a little too sharp, and he studiously avoided looking at Hawke. Or Fenris.

“We need a fourth rule,” a clear voice interrupted. “Nothing immoral.” Sebastian, who had just arrived, grabbed a chair and took a seat next to the surly elf.

“Oh look who’s deigned to join us,” Hawke chuckled. “And here I thought you’d be sitting up all night saying prayers for us to be safe in the Deep Roads.”

“I decided it would be impolite to decline such an invitation,” the archer said solemnly. “And, as long as you are not playing for money, I would be more than happy to join.”

“Oooh the chantry boy got claws,” Isabela smirked. “Do you even know how to play Wicked Grace?”

“I have an inkling,” Sebastian said with the most honest of smiles. 

“But we have a problem,” Hawke said, looking thoughtful. “Your sense of what’s immoral, and let’s say Isabela’s sense of what’s immoral is two very different things.”

“The Chant of Light…” Sebastian started, but never got to finish.

“… is no doubt filled with useful things, but knows shit about Wicked Grace,” Varric added.

“True,” Anders agreed, shooting daggered glances at the archer. “I say we let Varric be the judge of that.”

“That’s fine by me,” Hawke agreed. “He’s a man of the world.” And a man with a wicked sense of fun, which was what he was aiming for tonight.

“I have to admit he has some semblance of common sense,” Aveline agreed. “He has my vote.”

“And mine,” said Bethany, all sweetness and light. “He wouldn’t let this go out of hand.”

At least not too badly, Hawke thought to himself with a smirk, before asking; “Is everyone else in agreement? Merrill? Fenris? Isabela?” Three nods were given in return, though Isabela had a look on her face that clearly said that half her fun ideas had just been spoiled.

“I suppose I have no choice but to agree and trust our dwarven benefactor,” Sebastian said, relenting.

“Good,” Isabela said, rubbing her hands together. 

“Not so fast Rivani,” Varric patted the pouch filled with tokens. “I think in the interest of fairness here we should give our more inexperienced players a larger starting stack.”

“Fine,” Isabela agreed. “The girls can start with double.”

“Isabela,” Aveline protested, annoyed at being counted amongst the inexperienced.

“Oh did you think I meant you?” the pirate said sweetly. “I was talking about the girls, not about tall hulking mannish… whatever you are.”

“Slattern,” the red-headed guardswoman muttered, “I am glad I…”

“Anyway,” Hawke said, raising his voice to overpower the erupting argument. “Merrill and Bethany gets double, agreed?”

“But what about me?” Anders tapped his inky fingers together, looking innocent. “I never play. Much.”

“You don’t play because you’re broke, Blondie, not because you can’t. Don’t try to pull that one on me, this dwarf was not born yesterday,” Varric said, dividing up the tokens. “And you,” he said to Sebastian, “don’t get double because I don’t want to have to get up early for a chantry sermon tomorrow.”

“That is fair,” Sebastian said with an innocent smile. “I suppose I will just have to make do.”

That, Hawke later realized, should have been a warning to them all.

Wicked Grace was a deceptively simple game to learn, but aptly named. To be good at it, one had to combine luck, shrewd wit, a light touch, and a tactic for bluffing. To make things more interesting, Varric had generously offered the party to have whatever drinks they wanted on his tab tonight, no doubt figuring that he’d either be dead or rich before he came back to this place again. Hawke supposed the same went for him, but the sad truth was that of all the people gathered around the table, the dwarf was the only one trusted to run a tab at the hanged Man. One day, he thought to himself. One day he’d get that far himself.

Despite the larger stack, Bethany was the first to run out, resigning herself to sip her beer, scooting her chair closer and closer to Anders. Hawke wondered if the mage knew how interested his sister was in the secretive healer. Maybe, at least if the furtive glances he kept casting at Hawke was anything to go by. Probably a cry for help, but right now Hawke was not in the mood to be helpful. Anything to distract the mage, whom to everybody but Varric’s surprise was running up a rather large stack in front of him. But not as large as Sebastian’s. Not for the first time, Hawke wondered what the archer had been doing before he joined the Chantry, he gave an impression of being almost painfully devout but at the same time there was that glint of mocking knowledge in his eyes that hinted at secrets none of them knew. And one of them was apparently how to play Wicked Grace.

Fenris went next to everybody’s surprise, Merrill cornered him with what everybody assumed was a bluff, but the girl really had the cards to back her bets up and Isabela beamed with pride over the skill of her kitten. So of course it only made sense that she was the third one out. Luck only got you so far, and Merrill was anything but cautious, betting wildly whenever she had a good feeling about her cards. Unfortunately her judgment in those matters left a lot to be desired. 

Hawke kept trying to play the long game, staying out of the heavier betting. But, it was hard not getting carried along, and he only escaped by the skin of his teeth when Sebastian cleaned out Aveline completely. The guardswoman cursed loudly, slamming down her glass on the table, calling for more whiskey. It promptly arrived, and Hawke took another drink as well, fingering his tokens, wondering what chance he would have now. Not much from the look, Anders cleared him out with an apologetic smile. The Bethany distraction was not working well. 

But the mage still had a smile that sent shivers down Hawke’s spine. A small consolation he supposed. Or something to worry about.

Once he was out of the game, Hawke leaned back and took the time to drink and watch the rest of the table. Isabela played her usual brash game of bluffs and innuendos, matched by Sebastian’s innocent remarks. Oh the man was a player alright, Hawke reminded himself never to underestimate the archer again. Varric was his usual jovial self, but his stack was smaller than the other two’s, and Anders was sinking fast. Hawke smiled a little, mouthing a silent ‘serves you right’ to the mage, who promptly flushed and lost the next hand. 

Three people left. Cards, tokens and glasses were slammed against the table, the size of the stacks shifting like dunes. People were starting to take sides, supporting their favorite contender, taking the chance to down some liquid courage. Hawke nearly laughed when Isabela, now on the verge of being seriously drunk, propositioned Sebastian so hard that the archer blushed fiercely. Had she put her bare foot in the archer’s crotch? Hawke had it happen to him, and she had surprisingly agile toes. Very distracting. She was drawing the man into the trap, a trap Hawke had fallen into far too many times himself. And, true to form, Isabela cleared the archer out, then blew him a kiss. Now completely sober again. Hawke had no idea how she did it. He supposed by now her innards must be pickled, or she was not drinking half as much as everybody thought she was. 

Now it was down to her and Varric, and to everybody’s surprise (and relief), the dwarf managed to clinch his win with a few daring bets and no small amount of luck.

“We have a winner,” Hawke announced. “Our generous dwarven host.”

“Thank you, thank you,” Varric bowed.

“Generous and crafty,” Anders said with a slight pout. “The way you kept buying whiskey for everybody.”

“Nobody was forcing you to drink Blondie,” the dwarf said, smiling as he did so. “In fact, you didn’t drink a thing. Unlike some.”

“What?” Fenris rasped, cradling his glass. “I sit here, listening to you all jabbering on. I deserve a drink.”

“From the look on your face, you deserved several already,” Hawke fondly pointed out. The elf became almost bearably social when he drank.

“So what’s it going to be Varric?” Bethany’s cheeks were flushed, and Hawke made a mental note to keep her away from further drinking.

“Now, what I had in mind,” the dwarf started solemnly as if he was holding a speech. Which, admittedly he did half the time. “It is certainly nothing that is either immoral, dangerous, illegal or expensive, seeing as how talk is cheap.”

“Lucky for us Varric, we could never afford you otherwise,” Hawke grinned.

“Now imagine some unimaginable horror,” Varric continued as if the interruption had never happened. “Something truly dreadful that could only be averted by one simple act of yours.”

“How can I imagine it if it is unimaginable?” Merrill asked, looking puzzled.

“Just spit it out Varric,” Aveline said, swirling the whiskey in her hand. “We are suffering here.”

“People,” Varric sighed. “No appreciation of poetic buildup. But oh well. Out of all the people around this table you have to pick the one, yes, just one, that you would be the most likely to bed, sleep with, having actual intercourse.”

“Fuck,” Isabela supplied.

“Thank you Rivani,” Varric said with a nod, watching Merrill and Bethany turn pinker while Fenris choked on his drink.

“Maker, that’s immoral,” Sebastian protested.

“Obviously not, since Varric was the judge of that,” Hawke said, unable to hide the smirk on his face. 

“You can always confess all your impure thoughts later,” Isabela offered. “I’m sure I could help you with a bit of… penance for your transgressions.”

“Which will no doubt lead to more penance,” Hawke warned. “Isabela likes her naughty boys.”

“What?” The pirate laughed. “Some people just need a good spanking now and again. Boys or girls.”

“Fine, I accept the penalty,” Sebastian said, sounding rather choked.

“Be careful Rivani,” Varric said with a chuckle. “I think you broke him.”

“I need a drink,” Bethany and Anders said in unison.

“Fine,” Varric said, waving at the barmaid. “Bring in a bottle of your finest liquid courage.”

“Shall I go first?” Isabela offered.

“No Rivani, first out, first to confess. Which means you are last so you won’t scar the ears of our more innocent friends.”

“Scar?” Anders said, looking down as the glass of whiskey in front of him. “Andraste’s dimpled bum, you’re not planning to give details, are you?”

“It’s Isabela,” Aveline said with the deepest of sighs. “Do you believe you could stop her?”

“Point,” the mage said, downing the drink only to explode in a cough. “Suddenly I don’t regret giving up drinking, what is this swill?”

“Not good enough for a mage?” Fenris growled, eyes hidden behind the pale fringe of hair.

“Not good enough for a nug, technically,” Varric deftly deflected. “But it is free swill for you lot, and the best my tab can afford, so no complaints. You’re first out Sunshine.”

“Me?” Bethany protested weakly. “But, but I haven’t even…”

“Trust me,” Isabela laughed. “That’s no secret. It’s only make-believe sweetheart, just jump right in, it’s easier that way.”

“Oh, all right…” Bethany said, drawing a deep breath. “Anders.” She quickly gulped down the whiskey afterwards, looking intently at the table in front of her.

“Me? What? I mean… me?” Anders sounded flustered; cheeks slightly flushed but from whiskey or embarrassment was anybody’s guess. 

Hawke suddenly found himself adjusting his earlier belief that the mage had known about his sister’s crush. It certainly didn’t seem that way.

“Oh really Blondie?” Varric poured the mage another drink. “I don’t see why you’re acting so surprised, from what I hear she’s a regular fixture down at the clinic. Pretty girls usually don’t go to Darktown to see the sights.”

“Unless said sights have blonde hair and a smile to kill for,” Isabela smirked.

“I get to practice my healing,” Bethany protested, now angrily staring at anybody that dared to try to chuckle. Which was half the table. “Some people actually like to help others, free of charge.”

“Now that’s immoral,” Isabela shivered.

“For once we are in agreement Rivani,” Varric nodded.

“I guess I need to act like a proper bigger brother now,” Hawke said with a serious look on his face. This did bring the half of the table already close to giggles into outright laughter. “And warn you that you won’t lay one finger on her Anders.” He pointed rather melodramatically at the poor mage.

“Brother!” Bethany complained, tossing a token at his head. She had good aim for being drunk.

“You don’t have to worry Hawke,” Anders said with a tormented look on his face. “I won’t touch her.”

“Oh relax Blondie,” Varric laughed. “Unlike his mabari, Hawke here is all bark and no bite.”

“Hey,” Hawke protested. “I bite well enough, something Thomwise can testify to.”

“Let’s just say you’re not prone to bite… certain people,” Isabela said with the friendliest of smirks, looking at Anders, who by now was blushing furiously and downing another drink. “At least not… viciously,” she purred.

“Oh do shut up, it’s Fenris turn.” Hawke hadn’t meant to snap, but it was a sensitive subject. He wasn’t sure why, it shouldn’t be, but damnit, he got to tease Anders. Not everybody else. He’d long since realized he had a weirdly protective streak towards the mage.

“Hawke,” Fenris said simply, with that rough, deep voice of his. It took a moment before people realized that this was his answer, not something said to call for the rogue’s attention.

“What?” Isabela exploded with an overacted look of woe on her face. “I never would have figured you the type, and here I was about to pick you when it was my turn…”

“Oh I think it’s sweet,” Merrill chimed in, leaning forward, chin in hands. “But how does it even work if it’s two men”

“Now kitten, let mama Isabela explain all about that. You see, men have holes too, and…”

“Not him,” Fenris protested roughly before Isabela could get going. “Her.” He nodded curtly at Bethany, who looked quite taken back.

“A mage?” Anders exclaimed, half in relief, half in disbelief.

“Y… yes,” Fenris growled, digging himself deeper into the hole he had jumped into. “Not all mages are weak,” he added reluctantly, looking everywhere but Hawke.

“Chicken,” Hawke muttered softly, giving the elf a glare. So that was how it was going to be.

“So who is next?” Aveline asked, averting what had all signs of erupting into argument.

“Me! Me!” Merrill exclaimed, nearly bouncing on her seat. “It sounds so fun, all the things that Isabela has told me about, but I have to choose Varric.”

“What now Daisy?” The dwarf looked as surprised as the rest of the table.

“He’s so cuddly,” Merrill continued, “don’t you just want to crawl up in his arms and nest there like a tiny baby bird?”

“It’s the chest hair,” Hawke nodded. “It does have a strangely attractive quality.” He made a motion as if to reach out and pat it, and Varric pulled his shirt shut with a shudder.

“Keep your hands to yourself Hawke,” the dwarf protested rather primly.

“And here I thought that Sebastian was the resident prude,” Hawke teased.

“Chaste, not prude,” the archer clarified. “There is a difference between them.”

“What difference?” Isabela asked, curiously. “Neither of them lets you have sex.”

“If you are a prude, you don’t think about or want it,” Anders supplied, having recovered from his earlier embarrassment with the help of more drinking. “If you are chaste, you just don’t get to do it.”

“So you could be thinking about sex all the time?” Merrill asked Sebastian.

“Maker, that’s…” the archer blushed, flustered.

“… probably very true,” Hawke filled in. 

“From my experience, the less sex you have, the more time you spend thinking about it,” Anders said morosely. He didn’t look all too happy to have that experience.

“But I think about sex all the time,” Isabela protested. “And I get my pussy petted on a regular basis.”

“Yes Isabela,” Hawke laughed, “but you’re special.”

“Aw, thank you Hawke, that’s so sweet.” The pirate’s smile turned wicked. “But by that reasoning, Bethany must have the filthiest mind around.”

“Isabela!” Bethany hid her face in her hands. 

“You better remember that, Anders,” Isabela continued with a cat-like smirk. “Hawks eat cats.”

“I will keep that in mind,” Anders said weakly, with a look at Hawke filled with pure anguish. Luckily the rogue was looking at Isabela, not him.

“What about you then Aveline?” Merrill asked.

“Hawke,” came the laconical answer. “I enjoy men, the dwarf and the elf are too short, and Anders far too high maintenance.” She presented her arguments like she was sparring, short sharp jabs, then finding the right spot to push the sword in. “So Hawke it is.”

“Tell me like it is,” the mage muttered sadly into his drink. “It’s the feathers, isn’t it?” Isabela patted him comfortingly on his feathered shoulder.

“What about me then?” Sebastian interjected. “Surely I would make a better suitor than an almost criminal like Hawke.”

“Thank you for the ‘almost’ there,” Hawke said with a huff, still secretly pleased that Aveline had picked him. It wasn’t like he’d be adverse to a tumble either, but he feared she was not one for temporary alliances. And he was not the marrying kind.

“On account on you being a prince you mean?” Aveline asked, looking steadily at Sebastian. “I think not. You entitled types are always trouble.” 

“In that case I am glad I don’t count myself as one,” the archer said humbly.

“The entitled ones never do,” Aveline sighed and downed another drink.

“Ouch,” Varric said, raising an eyebrow. “There’s a lesson to be learned here, do not cross swords with our future guard captain unless you are prepared to be cut.”

“And don’t sit there smiling so smugly Hawke, I warn you, do not make a thing out of this.” Aveline gave the rogue a scathing glare.

“Do I ever?” Hawke replied innocently.

“We will see,” she said evenly. “And it is your turn now.”

“Well,” Hawke drawled vaguely, considering his options. Fenris had backed down; no way he would pick the elf after that little display, even if might have been the most honest answer. One day he would find out what was in those far too tight pants of his. One day. Not now. His eyes kept shifting to Anders, who had retreated into sullen, perhaps drunken, silence. The whiskey at the Hanged Man was a bit of a shock even for someone used to drinking it. Hawke hoped he was alright. He hoped he hadn’t said anything wrong again; he tended to do that with alarming regularity as soon as the mage was concerned. Anders and Bethany huh? He could see it. They’d be a perfect mach; he could only hope that Anders had warned her off. Do not date the Abomination. Hawke had heard it before…

“Well, what?” Isabela interrupted, poking Hawke with her foot underneath the table.

“Well,” Hawke said with conviction, deciding that to hell with it. “For me there can be only one, our incomparable captain, our riveting Rivani, the queen of the… well, something that rhymes with queen. That wicked smile, those generous curves…”

“Got yourself a poet there, Rivani,” Varric laughed.

“I wouldn’t even go there,” Anders muttered, shaking his head. “Not if you’ve seen what I’ve seen.”

“So where would you go then?” Hawke replied, giving the mage a challenging look. Let the healer put his cards on the table then instead of sulking in a corner where Hawke couldn’t figure him out. “It is your turn.”

“I am a simple man,” Anders confessed, definitely drunk now. “And I ask for simple things. A pair of wide shoulders, strong yet gentle hands and a smile to die for.” He rose to his feet a bit unsteadily, dropping down on one knee next to Aveline. “Will you be mine, red hair freckles and all?” The last was interrupted by a brief hiccup, and Aveline hid her face in her hand with a groan.

“Don’t embarrass yourself,” she said, though the rest of the table seemed mightily amused.

“Oh I am embarrassed,” Anders confessed. “Mortified in fact, but that doesn’t make your freckles less lickable.”

By now the rest of the table had erupted in laughter, and nobody noticed the look that Anders gave Hawke. The flush on his cheeks was probably whiskey.

“Why is nobody picking me?” Merrill complained. “I want to have poetry recited to me too.”

“Probably because most of us would feel honor bound to punch them kitten, don’t feel bad,” Isabela consoled.

“But nobody punched Fenris for saying Bethany,” the young elf protested.

“Well,” Varric offered, “that is because that is Hawke’s job.”

“And I am sure he’ll give Fenris a stern lecture behind closed doors,” Isabela laughed.” Very stern.” This sent another round of laughter around the table, causing Hawke to scratch his neck in embarrassment.

“Shut up,” Fenris growled, but nobody did.

“So, chantry boy, your turn now,” Varric said, wiping tears from his eyes.

“Maybe a man that already has Andraste’s face on his crotch is all set for who they want to sleep with,” Anders muttered, sounding very drunk. “But she doesn’t count. You hear me?” The last was added rather loudly, complete with pointed fingers and all.

“The whole table hears you Blondie,” Varric said, bemused. “If you raise your voice just a bit more I think they’ll hear you up in Hightown.”

“I have no plans to break my vows,” Sebastian said with the slightest hesitation, “but in the spirit of the game I will confess. My choice is Fenris.”

“Oh my,” Isabela purred. “Can I watch?”

“It is all hypothetical, so you could hypothetically get to watch,” Sebastian offered with surprising generosity.

“Have I no say in this?” Fenris muttered, but did not look particularly displeased. 

“Hypothetically you apparently do not,” Hawke laughed, biting back the surge of jealousy that apparently Sebastian was a more suitable pick for the elf than he was. “Well, Isabela, that leaves you.”

“While I am sure you all know I wouldn’t mind going a round beneath the sheets with all of you, there is one special person who has captured my heart.” Isabela batted her dark lashes, voice melting into hot butter.

“All of us? I did not know that,” Aveline said with something akin to horror. “And neither did I need to know.”

“Oh simmer down big girl, don’t tell me you thought all my flirting was in jest?” Isabela licked her lips, looking downright predatory at the tall guardswoman.

“I did not think that was flirting,” Aveline said, raising her voice.

“Calm down Aveline,” Hawke offered once he’d collected himself enough to stop laughing. “She’s having you on.”

“Spoilsport,” Isabela stuck out her tongue in Hawke’s direction. “But you are right, big girl, you are not whom I had my eyes on.” She smiled sweetly, leaning over the table, heavy breasts spilling forward. “No, the one I have set my sights on is a very special lady.” She shoved the empty mugs to the side, crawling up on the table, the huntress personified. “Oh her sleek curves and sharp wit makes me go all aquiver, if only she could be mine.” 

Hawke rescued his cup, almost getting a facefull of boobs. Maker they were big, their movement almost hypnotic when you had them in front of you. But Isabela veered to the side, sliding into Varric’s lap, reaching down to caress the crossbow that never left his side. 

“Oh Bianca,” Isabela purred. “Aren’t you tired of those rough dwarven hands? You need a woman’s touch to truly make you sing.” 

“Rivani!” Varric cursed, trying to free himself from the voluptuous pirate. “No touching Bianca, I’m serious, I…” 

Whatever he was serious about, the rest of the table never learned since his chair overturned in the struggle, landing him, Bianca and Isabela in a pile on the floor.

Later, when the whiskey had stopped flowing, the banter turned quiet. The party slowly started breaking up, everybody retreating back from whence they came. Hawke had been on the verge of following his sister home when he spotted Anders leaning heavily against a wall. The man didn’t look like he was handling his whiskey well. Blast it. It was a split second decision to let Bethany be escorted back by Aveline and Sebastian, between them and the mabari, his sister would be safe. Now for Anders.

“Here, hold on to me,” he said, reaching in to drape one of the mage’s arms over his shoulder. “I’ll get you back home.”

Anders just muttered something unintelligible in return.

Outside, the air was cold and damp, but the moon was up. Anders was leaning heavily against him, but it was a comfortable weight. The feathers that adorned the man’s coat tickled his face, and as he reached up to scratch his face, he got a tired “Sorry,” in return.

“Never mind the feathers,” Hawke yawned, a bit unsteady on his feet. “I like them. Reminds me of Ferelden. Everything in Kirkwall is so proper and civilized. Not enough feathers or braids or tattoos.”

“Don’t forget dogs and mud,” Anders chimed in, sounding a lot more sober. Walk it off, Varric had always told him. Apparently it worked.

“Got a dog anyway, he’s following Bethany home now. In case Sebastian gets grabby.”

“Did you notice how he kept watching the game?”

“The dog or Sebastian?”

“The dog.”

“He’s a smart one,” Hawke said solemnly.

“Unlike his owner,” Anders teased.

“Very funny,” Hawke said with a faint grimace, wondering how it had come that he was using Anders to steady himself now rather than the other way around. “You’re not halfway as drunk as you’re pretending, are you?”

“Alcohol is a poison,” Anders said sadly.

“And you’re a healer. Clever.”

“It’s easier to make a fool of myself if people think I’m drunk.” Anders shifted a bit so he was more hugging Hawke’s shoulder than actually leaning on it.

“Most people would balk at playing the fool all the same.” The rogue didn’t seem to mind, leaning into the mage. He liked contact. Especially when drunk.

“I’m not most people,” the mage confessed with a soft laugh.

“So I’ve come to notice,” Hawke replied, wondering why he was feeling so breathless. “Maker’s breath, Aveline?”

“What can I say, I love redheads.” The comment was tight with emotion. Not that Hawke noticed.

“You don’t stand a chance with her,” the rogue joked instead.

“I’m not looking for a relationship,” the comfortable discussion was taking its usual turn into angsty misery.

“Too bad, there might be other interested redheads.”

“You’re drunk,” Anders sighed.

“Yeah, that too. But I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“Ask me about what?” Anders’ eyebrows shot up in a worried look. 

“Come to the Deep Roads with me.”

Relief flickered across Ander’s face, before the grimace wiped that out. “I hate the blighted Deep Roads.”

“You’re a grey warden,” Hawke continued without noticing. “You’ve been there before. You’re a healer and a mage, and you could always use the money.”

“Are you hiring me?” The disbelief was palpable.

“No, I’m asking you,” Hawke corrected. “As a friend. The money is a bonus. And if you say no, Bethany will insist on coming.”

“You can’t bring her into the deep roads,” Anders cautioned, shocked that Hawke would even consider such a thing.

“I know,” Hawke groaned. “Mother would kill me. But Merrill is no healer, and we desperately need one with us. Who knows what’s down there?”

“Who else is coming?” The healer sounded like he was already on the verge on offering something he would regret later.

“Varric told me there were two more slots open. Bartrand doesn’t want his men outnumbered, and we have limited supplies. I figured I’d ask Aveline and you.”

“Do you think she is going to say yes?”

“I think so. She owes me. She wouldn’t have made guard captain without me. Besides, you heard her, she likes me.” The last was said with an elbow in the mage’s ribs, causing Anders to grimace a little. For many reasons.

“She’s not guard captain yet, and all she said was that she could consider sleeping with you.”

“That’s more than some,” Hawke said sarcastically.

“Says the man who invited me into the Deep Roads just for my magic. I am a man, not just a mage you know.” The hurt tone in his voice was obvious enough for even a drunk Hawke to notice.

“Was that how I came across?” He let go of the mage, placing both hands on his feathered shoulders so he could look him straight in the face. “Blast it, sorry, I… it’s just. I trust you. I know you can handle yourself. And I like having you around.”

“The feeling is mutual.” Anders hoped the confession wasn’t as breathless as it sounded to his own ears.

“It’s just that…” Hawke continued without noticing. “I just envy you at times. You’re an experienced man. You’ve seen the world. You’ve been to the Deep Roads. You’re a Grey Warden. And you’re a mage. What am I? Just a jumped up refugee turned smuggler whose career in the army lasted all of one battle, which we lost. I’ve done a bit of mercenary work and killed an ogre. That’s it.”

“Andraste’s furry knickers,” Anders groaned, the smile on his face half from the flattery, half from something else. “You make me feel ancient. I’m what? A decade older than you? At most. I’m just a shiftless mage good at running away.”

“Yeah, the healer of Darktown that takes care of the refugees without charge is real shiftless. And what is the weirdest thing you’ve fought anyway?” Hawke pulled his hands back, pointing a finger at the mage’s chest. 

“Ah, well there was this thing called a brood mother, but never mind. You’ve got a point. My life has been… odd lately.” Most of the time he didn’t even realize how odd. And then he noticed what Hawke had actually said. “You said you looked up to me because I was a mage?”

“My father was a mage, is that so odd?” The look was a challenge.

“Just unusual,” Anders quickly said. “People here don’t like mages. Usually.”

“I’m an unusual man.” Hawke took a step closer, closing the gap between them.

“You certainly are,” Anders said, so very, very softly, his hands balled up at his sides to keep him from reaching out and touch.

“So you’ll come then?” Hawke had no such compulsions, running a finger over Anders’ chest.

“Fine. You win.” The mage stepped back, rapidly as if he had been standing too close to an open flame. “But if the darkspawn eats me you’ll be sorry.” The last words was almost shouted over his shoulder as he fled down the stairs to Darktown and the safety of his clinic.

He would be sorry, Hawke realized with a sudden start as he begun to walk away. He really would be.