Standard Disclaimers: I don't own anyone! I do want to take a moment to thank my beta for this chapter – Speakfire. She's got some amazing fiction up as well that I highly recommend! Any tangles, snafoos, etc, with this chapter are the result of my own silliness.
Chapter One: Flirting
Days had stretched into each other as the expedition trudged its long and winding way down into the Deep Roads. Varric supposed that, as a dwarf, the loss of sky and moving air shouldn't have come as a shock to him. Bartrand certainly seemed to be flourishing with every yard they delved deeper. Clearly, the prospect of returning to their ancestral roots pleased him almost as much as the prospect of all the loot they hoped to find.
Then again, Bartrand had always pined away for Orzammar and its halls even when they were young. Varric, on the other hand, liked his world better with flowers and birds, not to mention beer and beautiful women. These tunnels held a distinct lack of all of the above.
Well, with the exception of Hawke who certainly wasn't bad for a human woman. But she didn't really count.
He unconsciously scanned the camp for the dark-haired warrior. Most of the party was still lingering around the small cook fire, enjoying the break from the ceaseless walking. They should be only a couple days away from intersecting with one of the main tunnels leading to the thaig on Bartrand's map. So far they'd not encountered any darkspawn or really any resistance beyond a few spiders that were dispatched with reassuring speed. That wasn't something anyone was taking for granted, however, and a watch had been set.
Odd. Hawke wasn't scheduled for watch right now, and yet she was nowhere to be seen. The side cave they'd chosen wasn't that large and had been selected mostly because it was defensible and partially because it was close to a swift flowing stream. He leaned back, increasingly curious. He should be able to spot her.
"Hey, Blondie," he called to the mage after a few moments, "Where's Hawke?"
"I don't know," the man responded, looking a little startled. "She was just here."
"She left camp about a half hour ago," the lyrium tattooed elf said flatly but didn't look up from the sharpening of his blade. "She said she was heading downstream and would be back shortly."
Varric snorted, "Well if that doesn't sound like it was a bad idea." He stood up and spoke with a sigh and gusty resignation, "I'll go check on her."
Anders stood up as well, "I'll go too."
"You sure about that?" Varric smirked, "I mean, do you really want to be the one to interrupt her if she's tending to personal business? She's been looking just as green about the gills lately as you have."
It had been amusing as hell to see the dwarven constitution in action. As an experienced expedition, they'd brought rations that would keep well and a good supply of their own water. However, even the best of rations could, apparently in time, disagree with that delicate human digestion system and part of the reason they'd chosen this cave was because they'd needed to replenish their water supply. It had all been boiled for fear of taint, but it wouldn't be the first time one of the humans or the elf had run off into a side cave quickly because the food or water disagreed with them.
Anders hesitated. Varric didn't blame him. He certainly wouldn't want to see a woman he wanted to bed in the act of being sick from one end, the other, or potentially even both.
"I'll check on her," Varric said firmly. "And don't worry, if there's trouble, you'll know about it."
With that he hoisted Bianca over his shoulder and sauntered for main tunnel. The light in these sections was iffy at best, but since flame was a great way to scare off unwanted cave life, they had made a point of igniting almost every left behind torch, abandoned lantern or oil occupied cistern they passed. As a result, there was light bleeding off in several places on the path behind them and it was more than enough for him to see by. He suspected that Hawke wouldn't stray too far from the light though, since her eyes were at a distinct disadvantage down here.
With that in mind, he decided to explore around the first bit of left behind light that he saw, and fan out from there. It was near enough so that he could still hear some of the murmurings from the camp and the stream gurgling not too far away, and he assumed Hawke would have been smart about remaining close them, too.
While he might not have been as nostalgic for Orzammar as Bartrand was, Varric couldn't help but wonder about the past of this place he walked. The stone under his feet remained smoothed, shaped, even as he rounded a corner to start down an unexplored path that started sloping. Normally you didn't work to pave places where no one went. They were in the tunnel systems, but by no means along a main causeway yet. So, who, exactly had been using these passages? Where had they been going?
Another turn and more light from the main tunnel was lost, but as he'd predicted there was the glow of another fire up ahead. A torch. Since Varric knew that the scouts hadn't ventured here, he figured it was a good bet that the torch was Hawke's. Of course, Darkspawn had been known to use torches as well and even if it was Hawke, she could still be in trouble. A half-hour was a decent chunk of time to be gone, after all.
He silently brought Bianca to bear, just in case, and turned the last corner between him and that flickering light.
Just like at their campsite, this was a place where the water had raised its head up from the rock and cut a path for itself. The stone walls and ceiling were both worn smooth, curving with an organic flow that mimicked the fluidity that once had shaped it. Unlike the campsite, however, the stream was much calmer here and only reached about, oh, mid-calf on a moderately tall human woman.
Varric was certain about that last part since Hawke was currently standing in that stream and her calves were most definitely visible. As was pretty much every last inch of her, in fact.
The gentlemanly thing to do would have been to turn and walk away, of course. The shallowness of the stream was resulting in a few challenges to a proper bath, but Hawke could obviously handle it on her own. She had apparently put some thought into this and even pilfered a bit of soap and cloth to do so, though she had to lean down to rinse anything out.
Well, as a human, she had to be used to being too tall to reach the ground easily anyway.
Varric cocked his head to the side, unconsciously lingering even as he lowered Bianca. Funny how he'd never really appreciated how nice a line of long uninterrupted leg could be. Granted, it wasn't as if he hadn't seen a naked human woman before and he was familiar with the general idea of stretched out limbs...
It was just that he had such a clean unobstructed view, now. Obviously he couldn't accuse Hawke of deliberately drawing things out, but her thoughts were clearly elsewhere as she leaned down to a foot, her toes pointed and knee slightly bent, to slowly scrub her way up from ankle to thigh. Or, maybe, it was simply that over a week of dirt took good deal of scrubbing to banish. Either way, she lingered and he was unrepentantly grateful for it.
She had a great deal less meat on her bones then the women Varric usually made such an intimate visual acquaintance with. He noticed that her stomach didn't really hold much more than a very gentle curve once she'd straightened up. In a way it was less of what he thought of as feminine, but the flare of her hips was pleasing in its own right. There was a certain symmetry and grace, anyway...
It was only a matter of time before Hawke, who was not foolish enough to stop keeping an eye on her surroundings, caught sight of Varric. He did, however, hasten that inevitability when she twisted to the side and both cloth and torchlight licked over the soft curves of her breasts. His inhalation and subsequent mutter of indistinct, if amused, appreciation may have been unplanned, but they were also audible to a wary Hawke.
She moved quick as a cat. Water sloshed as she lunged for the blade that Varric hadn't even noticed waiting close at hand. She whirled on him, dark hair flung outwards.
Varric raised his hands instantly, surrendering and sheathing Bianca in one motion, "Whoa there!" he said quickly. "It's just me, Hawke." Eyes on her face, idiot. Eyes on her face.
She stared at him for a moment and he began to sweat. What had he been thinking? Well, yes. That. But how the hell was he going to explain this? He was damn certain he hadn't been gawking for more than a few seconds at most, but...
"Varric!" Hawke straightened up and looked sheepish. A blush played over her cheeks and she appeared briefly uncertain what to do with both the sword in her hand and herself. She bravely foraged forward. "Well, I certainly didn't expect to see you here."
"Yeah, uhh, well." He pointed a thumb back to camp, "Blondie was getting all nervous. You'd been gone for a bit."
The blush deepened and she shifted her weight. She started to cross her arms over her chest and thought better of it at the very last moment. Varric swallowed hard, unsure whether he was thankful or disappointed. She continued, "I honestly wasn't planning to try and get cleaned up, but then I caught a whiff of myself and couldn't help it."
"Oh, understandable," Varric agreed quickly. "We all smell like nug herders by now. We should all take advantage while we're camped here, in fact."
The banal absurdity of small talk in this situation must have begun to sink in, for Hawke began to smile. She raised her chin almost defiantly and took the offensive, "Why, Varric. If I didn't know better, I'd say that you were embarrassed."
"Embarrassed? Me? Not at all. It's not as if I'm the one showing off my birthday suit," Varric said, mild as butter with just the hint of a smirk.
She shrugged one shoulder and absently tucked one lock of hair behind her ear. "Ah well. A woman can dream, can't she?"
Despite the fact that Varric was well familiar with light banter in her tone, having used it more often than he could say himself, he found himself abruptly and quite unexpectedly, with absolutely nothing to say in return.
He must have looked somehow stricken, or perhaps the silence was simply too skeptical because Hawke swooped in. "Oh, relax!" she said with teasing impatience , half an order and half an apology, "I'm just playing, Varric. I do think you deserve that much, at least, for barging in on me like this."
"Right. Absolutely," Varric looked at her for a long silent moment and then laughed a breath. He shook his head, as if trying to wake himself from a dream. "Sadly, my lady, lovely as you are, you just aren't quite my type." He drawled and bowed to her, backing up a couple of paces as he did so. Then he straightened. "But I'll tell the others you'll be back soon."
With that, he turned sharply, retrieving Bianca from his back as he made his escape.
And Hawke, eyes narrowed and thoughts troubled, stared after him.