Varric laid his hand on the top of the deck, and slid his eyes slowly around the table. Aveline didn't usually stick it out as long as this, mostly due to being too practical to stay in the game with a middling hand. So Varric might be inclined to suspect she had something good, but tonight Aveline also had a pint at her elbow and a determined set to her jaw so it could go either way. Merrill was inspecting her cards and her opponents with a grim expression and narrowed eyes, but Merrill thought this was the proper card playing demeanor, so that meant very little. If she'd had a good hand that she definitely knew how to play, though, she’d be way too excited, so it was probably shit. Fenris appeared somewhere between deathly bored and murderous, but that was how he looked all the time, so again, not very helpful.
Hawke, for her part, was watching him.
Varric knew most of her tells by now, but this one was new. She was just… looking at him. Smiling a little, leaning her chin on her hand.
She was probably trying to psych him out, he figured. The smile was maybe supposed to be unnerving, but she was too pleased with herself--maybe for her hand, maybe just for her new tactic--to keep her natural warmth out of it. She looked like she was about to start grinning or laughing at any moment. Hawke's skill at bluffing, at the card table or away from it, was a toss up sometimes.
It was also a lot easier to tot notice how intensely blue her eyes were when she wasn't trying to skewer him with them.
“Varric?” prompted Merrill. “Are you going to bet?” She peered curiously over the top of her cards. “Or are you still bluffing?”
Varric wasn't sure how long he’d been sitting and staring back at Hawke, but judging by her smile quickly growing into something describable as “shit-eating,” probably longer than he meant to. He grimaced and chucked his bet into the center of the table, along with a card that he laid face up before him.
“Well, eight gold and a tree of knowledge,” he said. “And a discard.”
Merrill happily played from her shit hand--a song of mercy, when he had two of the other four songs facedown on the table in front of him and the other in his hand--while Varric tried to keep his eyes on the game and not Marian Hawke.
For all that he wasn't looking at her, the longer he felt her eyes on him, the more he uncomfortably felt like he was being caught out staring at her instead. He knew he did it, he could admit he stared at her now and then. It was hard not to sometimes – Maker knew the whole city had difficulty not staring at her sometimes. But the longer she kept this up, The more he felt, absurdly, that she would… Catch up to him somehow?
Aveline played two cards both facedown, which was pretty take charge of her at the card table, Varric had to say. Maybe she'd been taking lessons on wicked grace from Isabela as well as in flirting. Varric would never forgive Isabela if it were so. An Aveline he couldn't consistently beat at cards was more uncertainty than he could use in his life, Especially when Hawke kept –
His eyes slipped over to her, and he bit his tongue over a curse. She was still fucking looking at him. He hoped this wasn't going to be her new game--Maker help him if she ever tried to pin him with those eyes when there was more than money at stake. She just kept looking at him and smiling, smiling like a joke at his expense had somehow become a joke that he was in on, just because he was in on all her jokes, just because she was Hawke and he was Varric and if you tickled the nose of one of them, the other one sneezed. So of course he was in on it. Of course she would smile like that at him for no fucking reason other than the hilarious joke of smiling at him.
Shit, had Fenris just played? He had missed it. Hawke was laying down a knight of flowers face up and discarding--was that two? How did she keep playing while still staring at him?
“That is unnerving, Hawke,” Fenris commented, and Varric chuckled thinly instead of swearing again. Fenris thought it was unnerving? Here was Varric babbling inside his own head just because his best friend was staring at him across a card table.
Well all right, it was more than that. He knew it was more than that, okay?
““Varric?” It was Aveline getting his attention this time.
“Shit," he hissed, and slapped down his remaining song face up without thinking too much about it. Merrill made a displeased sound as she surveyed her cards, and Hawke just kept on grinning, wider than ever.
Varric managed to tear his eyes away from hers to take a look at her hand of cards. Hawke held, fanned unabashedly while everyone but him was looking away, at least five more cards than was legal. Varric tossed his cards on the table with a gusty sigh, startling Merrill, who was already reaching for the draw pile.
“I fold,” he grumbled. Hawke cackled.
“I really didn't think that would work,” she said, sliding her cards back together into a more covert stack. Varric rolled his eyes, but then fluttered his eyelashes across the table at her.
“Aw shucks, you know I can't concentrate when you bat those big blue eyes at me,” he cooed.
Hawke fluttered her lashes right back at him and then snickered. “I’ll have to try it on Bran next,” she said.
Fenris raised a pale eyebrow. “You play cards with Bran?”
“Maybe try it on Anders first," Varric muttered.
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” he answered her. Your new technique is only effective because I’m in love with you, he didn't say.
“Is it my turn now?” Merrill asked meekly.
Anders and Isabela were bickering about something or other as they trekked along the Wounded Coast behind Hawke and Varric. Isabela was unbothered but having fun needling him, and Anders was pretending it didn't bother him when it really, really did. Sebastian, for his part, was staying out of it. Let no one ever say the kid didn't have at least a little good sense.
Varric cast a glance at Hawke, who was neither joining in the needling of Anders nor evening things out with some potshots in good fun at Isabela. She was… quiet. Her forehead was furrowed slightly, in thought or pain. No point asking what was bothering her; what with everything happening lately, it’d probably be easier to ask what wasn't bothering her. She wouldn't talk about it even if he asked anyway, he suspected. A woman after his own heart.
“Hey,” he called over his shoulder, “did either of you consider that some of us may still be hungover from last night and not feel up to listening to you two squabble?”
“Sounds like your problem, not ours,” said Isabela, but let it drop anyway. Anders had to have a last word because he was Anders, but Isabela laughed it off. Varric shook his head. He looked askance at Hawke, whose lips were curved up lin a slight smile now as she trudged forward.
“You just say the word and we’ll ditch these clowns and elope to Starkhaven, Hawke,” He said. “Whaddaya say? I'm ready. You're qualified to marry us, right, choir boy?”
Hawke pressed a scandalized hand to her chest. “Why Mr. Tethras!” she gasped. “What would my mother say?"
Varric waved the question away. "Your mother doesn't have any room to talk."
Hawke put a finger to her chin in thought. "That's true. Eloping is kind of a family tradition. And eloping with a dwarf might be even more scandalous than with an apostate. Every parent wants their child to exceed their own accomplishments.”
"I'm pretty sure I'm not qualified to marry anyone," said Sebastian.
"Too bad," said Varric. "Ah, what could've been."
"Starcrossed, that's what we are," sighed Hawke.
It was a joke, something he said because he knew it would make Hawke smile, but he sat in front of his fire in the evening and told himself the story without trying. It was his specialty, after all. He would take her away--no, the two of them would run away from everything that haunted her, all the people tugging on her sleeve demanding her attention, her compassion, her blood. She may joke and laugh, but he could see how heavy lay the mantle of a title like Champion. She still struggled to hold up even the title of “Hawke,” some days. It said something when you were the only person in your family who went by the family name as though you didn't have another.
They’d run away, the two of them, and he loved Kirkwall, sure, but he could leave it if the place he was running to had them coming home to each other. He could edit his manuscripts in a chair in front of the fire like this, his feet crossed over Hawke’s on the ottoman--or over her knees, more like--while she wrote letters or read one of the trashy novels Isabela favored, like she did here in his rooms sometimes. But there, there would be no threat of her going home, and when he was done for the night he could lean over to her chair and hook his hand over the back of her neck like he always wanted to, and pull her down to--
It didn't matter. This wasn't Hawke's problem, it was his. He wasn't going to be one more voice in the mob, demanding her attention, demanding that she fix their weird little lives.
It would stay a joke.
Orana answered the door, and smiled when she saw who was on the other side of it. "Master Tethras,” she greeted with a little curtesy.
“Miss Orana,” he greeted back, tapping the brim of an imaginary hat. "I assume she's in?"
"Upstairs,” The girl confirmed.
"Excellent. We will need some coffee and breakfast, I'm sure, once I get her downstairs. Wish me luck.” Orana nodded and wisely absented herself quickly, and Varric made his way bravely upstairs and into the lair of the beast.
There was no indication that the room was occupied, save for a lump in the bed that could easily have been a wadded up a blanket. The lump, however, made a disgruntled noise when Varric grabbed the poker from the fire and jabbed it, which wadded up blankets seldom did.
"Rise and shine," Varric said brightly. "Or I suppose the shining is optional, but you definitely have to rise.” He went over to the window, and yanked open the curtains, allowing sunlight to stream into the room. An even more disgruntled noise followed the first, and the lump shrank in on itself.
Varric came back over to the bed, and delivered another jab approximately where he figured her ribs must be. This time, the lump snarled. "No, seriously, you have to rise. You have an appointment.” He poked at what he guessed was her thigh. A hand shot out from under the duvet and made a grab for the fire poker, but Varric was too quick.
“This is cruelty," came a muffled voice from the blanket lump. "Mistreatment. I am firing you from the position of best friend.”
“Is that so?” Varric replied. “Who's replacing me?”
The lump considered this for a moment. "Sandal,” she decided.
“A good pick,” Varric admitted. “But while I was still employed in the position, you made me swear to drag you out of bed at no later than six in the morning, and so I am bound to this previous arrangement. Up and at ‘em, now.”
The blankets flopped down at one end of the lump, revealing an extremely tousled head which sighed ostentatiously.
“What a shit time, six in the morning,” she remarked, interrupting herself with an enormous yawn. “Who gets up at six in the morning? For appointments or anything else?” She was mushmouthed with sleep, and her eyes were only half open. The left one seemed inclined to close and open without much direction from its owner.
Varric stood and looked at her and found himself smiling.
“Honestly,” Hawke continued to the ceiling, “who does this? I suspect an ulterior motive. They're probably trying to catch me with my guard down--get me early enough in the morning and I’ll reveal all my secret weaknesses or something.” A hand emerged from the blankets to rub at her eyes with a fist. “Can't we just--” Another yawn. “Reschedule it for brunch?” The rebellious left eye closed, but she directed the other one pleadingly at Varric.
He swallowed around a sudden dryness in his throat and managed a grin. “Hey, I’d die for ya, Hawke. Dive right into a demon’s maw if it’d make you happy. But these guys…”
He kept it light. Kept it a joke. Like he wouldn't do anything to make sure that this, getting out of bed a little too early in the morning, was the hardest thing she would have to do ever again.
“Even the giant spiders are willing to wait until after lunch,” Hawke grumbled, but pulled back the covers further and sat up. Varric slid his eyes away before she could swing her legs out of bed.
“I got Orana to start breakfast,” he said. “Don't say I never did anything for you. And since Sandal doesn't drink coffee, I’m going to go take his best friend’s share off his hands.”
Hawke muttered something more, but Varric didn't bother to ask her to repeat it on his way out the door. If he drank all the coffee before she got any, well, that would teach her to get dressed faster in the future, wouldn't it?
“So I got another anonymous love letter this morning,” Hawke smirked, taking a sip of her beer.
Isabela squeaked and reached out across the table with eagerly wiggling fingers. “Ooh, let me see, let me see!”
Hawke dipped into the pack at her hip and pulled out a folded piece of paper, which she laughingly surrendered to Isabela. Varric slapped down a hand over it before she could open it.
“Eyes or hair?” he demanded.
Isabela hummed in thought. “Eyes,” she decided. “And double or nothing that they get the color wrong.”
“Ooh, daring,” said Varric. “I'll take it.”
He raised his hand and Isabela unfolded the paper while Varric returned to lounging back in his chair and eating from a bag of roasted chestnuts he had bought on the street. After a long moment of suspense while Isabela scanned the page, she crowed with triumph.
“Eyes!” She declared, raising the letter like a victory flag. “Three lines down and green as the forests of Sundermount!”
“What? Bullshit. Give me that.” She held it out and he snatched it from her hand. “The bet is void if you're the one writing these, Rivaini.”
“Nah, if I were writing them there would be more references to her tits,” she said, taking a drink of her beer.
“Ugh. And even your handwriting isn't as bad as this,” he said. “There it is, fuck me. There's not even a real forest up there, for Pete’s sake, is there? It's like... a grove.”
“There was this song going around in the Blooming Rose this last week about an elf maid with eyes green as the trees of Sundermount,” Isabela grinned. “I had a hunch.”
“Yeah, and now I owe your hunch two nights of drinks,” he groused. “I hope your hunch drinks less than you.”
“None of these drinks, I assume, are for me,” Hawke sighed, "despite the fact that I'm the one who has to clean these things off my desk.”
“Unfair advantage,” said Varric. “You can't bet on their contents when you're the first one to get your hands on it. You're more like the bookie.”
“Doesn't the bookie usually get a cut?” Hawke pointed out.
“My mistake,” said Varric. “You're nothing like the bookie.”
Hawke rolled her eyes. “Well, if you cheapskates won't buy my beer, I guess I'll have to get my own. Be right back.”
Hawke stood and made her way to the bar. Isabela sighed at her retreating back. “All those letters and she still can't find herself a keeper,” she tutted. “Not that I'm the keeper type, but she deserves one. Varric, when you write her life story, say she saved Kirkwall side by side with the dashing and devoted love of her life.”
“Oh?” said Varric. “And who is this love of her life, precisely?”
Isabela shrugged carelessly. “Make something up. Some noble from a respected family, with… with a roguish side and a checkered past, but a heart of gold!”
“And just where am I going to find one of those?” Varric countered. “Besides Hawke, I doubt there’s a noble with a heart of gold in a hundred miles.”
“None taken,” said Sebastian, propping his elbows on the table. Varric waved him off.
“Your roguish side has expired. Anyway, gold is too worldly for you. You’re more like a heart of oatmeal.”
“Wait, what about you?” Isabela exclaimed. Varric choked silently on his tongue for a moment, but hid it behind his beer. Once he had swallowed, he only raised his eyebrows mildly.
“I’m not a noble,” he pointed out.
“No but technically you are, aren’t you? You’re from a noble house, even if they kicked you out.”
Varric dug in his bag of chestnuts, now growing cold. “Who would believe that?” he challenged, leaning back in his chair. “The big hero gets with the narrator in the end? The public would never buy it.” He closed one eye for aim to flick a chestnut down Isabela’s cleavage. “Hey choir boy--next round says I can make this shot.”
“No bet,” said Sebastian.
“Like anyone ever believes half your stories anyway,” Isabela scoffed, undistracted by Varric’s attempt to change the subject. “Hell, with the things we’ve done, they probably won’t even believe the stuff that did happen. I can see it now--the spark started in the cold tunnels of the Deep Roads as they kept each other warm…”
“It’s about narrative integrity,” he said. He flicked the chestnut. It missed, bouncing off her collarbone.
“You’ve never given a shit about narrative integrity in your life,” she shot back.
“You wound me.” He drank his beer, kept his voice cool and his eyes on the far wall and hoped Isabela would get bored and drop it soon as Sebastian excused himself for the night and Hawke appeared to have gotten into a conversation at the bar.
No such luck. “I’m intrigued by this now,” she said, leaning over to steal a chestnut. “If you don’t write it, I will.”
“Just don’t read it to me.”
Varric said nothing.
There was a long moment of silence.
“Oh fuck,” Isabela breathed. “Holy shit, Varric.” Varric didn't look at her. He took a sip of his beer. “How long?”
“Does it matter?” he replied, shrugging.
“How long what?” asked Hawke, standing over his shoulder. Varric smirked up at her.
“Just talking about my undying but tragically unrequited love for you, Hawke.”
Hawke gasped as she dropped back into her seat. “It was you that sent those letters! I knew it!”
He shuddered. “Don't even joke. A half-eaten sandwich has better command of grammar than those things.”
He popped a chestnut in his mouth as Hawke laughed. He could feel Isabela looking at him still.
“This will be over sooner or later,” Hawke reassured, as she checked her saddlebags one last time. She had been granted a horse from the Skyhold stables for her journey to Weisshaupt, and the inhabitants of the fortress were keeping at a respectful distance for her departure. Varric pretended it wasn’t specifically so he could say goodbye to her. “And drinks at the Hanged Man are on you.” Maker only knew who exactly she was reassuring--Varric suspected that she had spent so long trailing a horde of aimless sidekicks and rescuing a city from itself that she just reassured her surroundings compulsively.
Maybe she was reassuring herself. He didn’t like the thought that maybe she was reassuring him.
“If anyone deserves a round on me,” he agreed, “besides you, it’s Aveline. If the Hanged Man is still standing when we get back there, it’ll be all due to her.”
“I wouldn’t worry,” Hawke laughed. “If it survived all those years of us, I think it can survive a little war.”
Shit. She was reassuring him.
“Hey, Hawke,” he said, and she fastened the last buckle on her packs and cocked a quizzical eyebrow at him.
There were lots of things that he could say, but most of them would have required two outlines and three drafts and a big pot of red ink.
“We’re gonna be okay,” is all he said instead. Hawke smiled.
“Isn’t that what I just said?” she replies.
“Yeah, but somebody needed to say it back to you.”
She chuckled. “Right. I forgot that was your job. I’ve been too long without you.”
It was a joke, mostly, probably, but Varric couldn’t help his chest going a little tight. He gave no indication of it, just smirked and grabbed the reins of Hawke’s borrowed horse so she could swing herself up into the saddle.
“Well, hurry and get your ass to Weisshaupt and back again, then,” he said. The Inquisitor needs him here at Skyhold, he reminded himself. This was the kind of thing Hawke would do, that Hawke taught him to do. To accept a share of responsibility for his slice of the world. He needed to finish what he had started here. It seemed a feeble argument when Hawke was preparing to ride away again.
“Merrill’s supposed to be out that direction last you heard, right?” she said, patting her horse’s neck. “I’ll say hi for you if I see her.”
“Yeah, do that,” he agreed. It felt like prolonging the inevitable, was getting that edge of awkward that he didn’t like to think he could have with Hawke. “Go on, then. No use hanging around here. Sooner you leave, sooner you get back, right?” Right. As if it were just a jaunt out for groceries.
“Right,” she said. Her hands flexed on the reins and she grinned. “Keep this place running for me. And don’t get killed or maimed or captured or anything like that, okay? Or I’ll be pissed.”
Varric put one hand to his chest and extended the other as he dropped an ornate bow. “I will wait for you, my darling,” he said in a tone all the more flowery to hide how genuine the sentiment was, “until the sky caves in.” He peeked up at her to see her smile, and then straightened, trying to keep his voice light. “Which may happen any day, from the looks of things,” he added, ”so no promises.”
She laughed. Don’t say goodbye, he asked silently. Knowing the two of them, she probably heard him. She just tapped her heels against the flanks of the horse and trotted away from him.
He watched as she grew smaller, departing down the bridge out of Skyhold and into the forbidding mountains. She’d be fine. He’d be fine. Hawke was right--this would all be over sooner or later.
He would wait for her for as long as it took.
1. ...And one time he told the truth by lying
Hawke rode away, forcing a smile onto her face even when the walls of Skyhold were at her back. She kept Varric’s reassurances playing on loop in her head. The sooner she left the sooner she would get back. They’d be okay. He would wait for her until the sky fell in. They’d be okay. The sooner she left--
He’d wait for her…
I’ll wait for you, my darling, until the sky falls in.
Hawke tugged on her horse’s reins unconsciously, and stood still in the middle of the bridge. She brought to mind without meaning to the look he had stolen after saying that, remembered a softness in his eyes that would have been startling except that it was somehow so normal, somehow something she had long been used to seeing, would have been at odds with his joke except it wasn’t, because…
She spun the horse around and galloped back the way she had come. Varric, who had apparently stayed watching her leave, held up his hands in alarm as she skidded to a halt in front of him.
“You meant it!” she shouted, pointing at him.
“That thing about waiting for me, and calling me darling, you meant that!” she accused. “Didn’t you? That wasn’t a joke!”
Varric actually took a step backward, his hands still raised slightly in front of him. He laughed, and it sounded easy, casual. “Oh, come on. You came back here to say that? You can’t--”
“You’re always making jokes like that,” she realized. “Holy shit, Varric. You mean all of them, don’t you? Varric, are you in love with me?”
Varric met her eyes without flinching, but it hadn’t been long enough since the days of wicked grace at the Hanged Man for her to have forgotten his tells. There was a twitch at his jaw when he said “Seriously? I’m not in love with you, Hawke,” and the smirk didn’t reach his eyes. They were still so soft, his eyes, but shielded like someone had brought up Kirkwall burning, Bartrand’s betrayal, like the one time she ever saw him say anything about his parents. Like Varric being tougher than heartbreak.
She jumped down off the horse and looked down straight at him. “You’re lying,” she said. “That’s a lie.”
He broke her gaze finally, looked off to the side. She was as shocked to see him lying so badly as she was to discover what he’s lying about. “Cut it out, Hawke,” he muttered. “We had a nice little farewell, very picturesque, now you’re wrecking it. Weisshaupt is waiting. Say hi to Daisy for me.”
“I’m in love with you too,” she said.
His head snapped back to look at her, his face blank with surprise.
“See? You were probably going for some sort of noble, selfless supportiveness, pining-in-silence thing, right?” she said. “But now you just look like a dumbass. Stole your narrative thunder right out from under you.”
That made him finally smile. “There’s no one I’d rather have steal my narrative thunder,” he replied. He paused. “Do you... mean that?”
“Are you honestly asking me that right now?” she said, rolling her eyes. “Don’t put this whole part in if you ever write this down. You’ll come out looking like an idiot.”
He was grinning now. “Oh yeah? Just the dramatic love declarations, and then cut to us riding away into the sunset?”
Hawke breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh thank the Maker. Did you finally change your mind then about staying here and making me go to Weisshaupt alone?”
“Too much potential for dramatic irony now,” he said, hooking his thumbs in his coat pockets. “After a scene like that? You’d definitely fall off a mountain path and break your neck.”
Hawke grinned back at him. “Well, go get your things, I haven’t got all day. Sooner we get there--”
“I’m not going anywhere until you get down here,” he growled. He grabbed a handful of her tunic and yanked, bringing her down to one knee. Hawke didn’t resist. She just went on grinning as he bumped her forehead with his. “And wipe that smile off your face. See if I let you steal my thunder again.”
“Liar,” she said, and kissed him.