Geometry of Chance
A Dragon Age 2 Fanfic
He deals the cards as a meditation
And those he plays never suspect
He doesn't play for the money he wins
He doesn't play for the respect
He deals the cards to find the answer
The sacred geometry of chance
The hidden law of probable outcome
The numbers lead a dance
-Sting, Shape Of My Heart
Varric wasn't sure why he even started to sit down to play with the elf. He knew from almost childhood that you never, ever gamble with the knife-ears… they never pay their debts. Same rule also mentioned the Qunari, but even Varric wasn't sky-addled enough to try that one.
It was probably the way the blasted elf watched them trying to teach Hawke, again; the way his hooded green eyes followed the cards, long fingers drumming on the table, almost impatient. Waiting. Poised. Ready. Considering how Varric saw those same fingers thrust through a man's middle to pull out his still beating heart the first time he met the elf, something compelled him almost immediately to ask if he wanted to be dealt in.
"You familiar with Diamondback, elf?" he grunted in what he considered to be his kind voice.
"I watched you long enough, dwarf." was the curt reply. On the other end of the table, Hawke snorted. Varric chose to ignore that: Hawke liked to pull his strings… but then again, Hawke did that to almost everyone. And it usually got worse after some shots of the Hanged Man's rotgut. Woman was quite something with a two-hander, but had limits when it came to drinks.
Speaking of women who, on the other hand, could hold their drinks…
"Not long enough, if you ask me." The pirate just had to chime in, hadn't she? Varric mentally made a note, again, to watch out for her—she was clearly trouble, and for more than one thing, too. "Me, I could stand a little more… watching." She licked her lips and leaned back on her chair, stretching slightly, eyes lowered. "You, I mean. Mmm."
"Isabela." Hawke said mildly. "Manners."
"What?" The pirate pouted. "I am practically being polite here."
"Using a mighty loose definition of the term there." Hawke was amused. "Fenris, never mind, she can't help it. I'd say feel free to smack her any time, but she'd probably like it too much."
"No problem." The elf shrugged, and his mouth twitched almost imperceptibly. "I shall take it as a compliment."
"Good boy." Isabela smiled again. "Are we keeping him, Hawke? He's lanky for an elf. I like lanky."
"From what I gather, you like a lot of things." The reply was fast, and delivered with the same almost-disinterested tone. Elf had brains as well as muscle and the ability to do disturbing things with his hands—Varric leaned back and watched.
Hawke sputtered some of her drink on the table, a few drops landing on Isabela's tunic. The pirate took it in stride.
"Nonsense." she said lightly, brushing the drops off with casual grace; Varric could see that she quickly reassessed the elf as well. "When I see something I like, I go after it, is all." She peeked at Hawke from under her lashes. "Unlike some others."
"So: are we playing or is this turning into a catfight and I should take bets?" Varric felt it was time to interject. Females are the same everywhere, really: bickering over males, even if they don't know it. "Say, Hawke: maybe wet frocks?"
"I don't play well in skirts." She grinned, swept her unruly locks out of her face. "Never learned properly: they're kind of in the way when climbing trees, you know."
"Shame, really." Varric shuffled. "You 'd look awfully cute with those frilly underthings."
"What, petticoats?" Hawke pouted, took up her cards. "But I thought you liked me the way I am, Varric. Here, pick up the shards of my broken heart and just throw them away, will you?"
"Softie." Varric continued to deal, watched the elf pick up the cards and rearrange them with quick, practiced movements. He'd clearly done this before. "Will not get you far in this city, how many times I have to tell you that?"
"'Bout the same as you try to explain the rules of Diamondback." Hawke's brows drew down. "Fenris, you're playing this the first time, is that right?"
"Card games only have so many variations on the same deck." He shrugged. Yep, his voice immediately went down a register when he spoke to Hawke. Varric stifled a sigh. This is going to be interesting. "Like I said, I watched you three for a while now… this is very similar to a Tevinter game I know. I think I'll manage."
Maybe you will, boy… and maybe you won't. Varric made yet another mental note. Watch elf, give Hawke advice on handling escaped elven slaves with pretty eyes and brooding voices. Watch Hawke, talk to elf about dangers of women who make the world think they are all jokes and grins but run for a full year with the Red Irons and emerge still smiling.
On the other hand, they both swing those big swords… Maybe it's just professional interest. Varric whistled under his breath, threw one down, and looked at them again.
They probably had no idea themselves either, but Varric hadn't become who he was by not paying attention to details.
Sign One: she kept smoothing her hair behind her ears. Constantly. She never did that; caring about how she looked was the least of Marian Hawke's concerns. Normally.
Sign Two: taking those deep breaths before she spoke. She really didn't need it, words normally just flowed out from her, and the problem usually was to make her stop talking. Hawke being all… breathy and stuff sent up all kinds of warning flags.
Sign Three: the leaning. Hawke never leaned on the table like that before. Varric was sure it wasn't something she did on purpose… something that, for instance, came as naturally to Isabela as breathing. When she even scooted her chair closer and at an angle that made her face the elf almost directly, Varric swore mentally and promptly lost a hand to Isabela, something that hadn't happen since the ex-pirate showed up at their table the first time.
He just knew this wasn't going to end up well… If the signs were all on one side, he'd just have A Talk with her after a few drinks, take her out to clean out another bandit nest on the coast for coin and a pat on the head from Aveline when no one was looking, and all would be well. But by the Ancestors' hairy arses, there was the way the elf steadily avoided Hawke's gaze but followed the path of her hands and hair every time she moved; the way his voice took up that special timbre every time he answered her; the way he was able to withstand the worst innuendos from Isabela without even twitching an eyebrow, but got absolutely flustered when Hawke laughed out loud at something he said in response…
Triple damn with a side of thunder and rockslide thrown in.
By the end of that night, Isabela won three more hands, Varric could have sworn his chest hair got extra curls from the tension around the table, Hawke's hair was sticking all up from all the twirling, and the elf… that blasted elf drank way too much.
And that was when the trouble started to really get out of hand. Varric figured this wouldn't be an easy night as soon as he saw the elf's scowl deepen into full-scale brooding and he started to lean on his elbow over his cup, shoulders tensing and hunched over his cards. He conspicuously pulled Bianca closer to him with his feet and looked around in the tavern while dealing for the last time.
Yep, sure enough, there they were. Four men, speaking way too loud with Corff, the barkeep. All armed, wearing loosely coiled whips around their waists in the manner that could mean only one thing.
He wasn't sure if they followed the elf's trail from that ruined mansion he squatted at, greased a few palms in Darktown to find him, or were stragglers from that large group they dispatched when they met him originally. Didn't matter, really. Slavers meant one thing, always and without exception, especially here in Kirkwall.
Someone's going to get hurt.
Varric sprawled even further in his seat, making sure Bianca's stock was resting securely against his thigh right next to his hand. Hawke caught the movement, and tilted her head forward questioningly. Varric, like so many times, just used his eyes to indicate the men at the bar. Hawke followed his gaze, and her eyes narrowed.
"Isabela?" she said, leaning towards the other woman with her customary lopsided grin on her face. To anyone else, it might have looked real; but Varric didn't see those telltale wrinkles in the corners of her eyes that always accompanied her real smiles. "Pretend I just told you something really saucy, would you? Then kick your chair out and saunter up to the bar for a drink. Need you to check up on something for me."
"Uh-oh, trouble?" Isabela patted her blue kerchief. "I so love being a diversion. Especially for you people. It usually ends up profitably." She chuckled, loud and throaty, stood up with her chair hitting the wall behind her, and did like she was told, putting extra sway in her hips as she walked.
"You think they buy that?" Varric was doubtful. On the other side of the table, the elf leaned even more into his drink, almost as if he didn't even notice what was taking place.
Elves. Always knew they were pansies. Looks like this one's no exception either.
"Nah." Hawke shrugged, loosening her weapon belt. Varric could practically hear the well-worn greatsword's leather-wrapped hilt smooth itself against her gloved palm. "She needs more room for her fancy moves than what we got here behind the table, is all. No need for either of us hitting her by mistake while she's jumping up and down, right, Fenris?"
Varric swore he'd never seen anything so ferocious as the almost identical smiles on their faces.
"Absolutely not." The elf whispered, still slurring slightly, but with clear eyes that he closed for just a second before he looked Hawke fully in the eyes the first time that evening. "Thank you."
Damn, he was good.
"Hey, slavers, right?" Hawke winked. "Been watching them since they came in; they were looking for you." Her normally carefree voice hardened. "I'm thinking maybe this city's seen its fair share of live slavers enough already. Besides: we have our own criminals just fine, no need for foreign ones." Her azure eyes watched the scene at the bar, and saw what she was looking for, just about the same time Varric did. She pulled herself up, unfolding her height in one long, sinuous movement. "And now if you'll excuse me, I have an appearance to make."
"Oh, by the Stone." Varric shook his head as he watched her part the crowd to step behind the loudest of the slavers, who tried really hard to explain to Isabela at the bar why she should prefer him to the other three. "I really should have started selling tickets. We'd be stinking rich by the end of this show."
"Mhm." Isabela was saying just then, forcing her smile to be even wider. "Really? Come closer so I can really make a decision."
"Sweetling, if I'd done that, we'd need to get a room." The slaver practically was crawling all over her already, and not just with his eyes.
"Oh, I thought that's what y'all wanted." Isabela twisted, swifter than Varric ever thought possible, danced just out of reach. "While what I really wanted was for her to get behind you." She pointed, and, as the slavers turned as one, her twin daggers came out of their sheaths like two silver streaks of lighting.
"'M afraid this establishment is closed for the night, boys." Hawke drawled, grinning like a tiger just before pouncing. Varric knew that smile by now, and his heart quickened a bit. "Whatever it was you're looking for, it ain't here."
"Don't get cute." The one who was obviously their leader didn't seem to be backing down. "We're after stolen property, and I hear you might just know its whereabouts."
There was considerable clear space around them at this point, so Varric could in good conscience stand up and wedge his back against the wall, with Bianca's stock secured against his shoulder. Most regulars knew when to make themselves scarce, and, luckily, this was one of the evenings when no Guardsman came in to bitch about the new captain either.
"I gotta offer you a choice now." Hawke said amiably. Varric watched, almost mesmerized, as the elf moved like a statue made of liquid light; blue glow sparkled up from the intricate lines covering his chin, neck and arms visible against his clothing.
Trouble. Clearly trouble.
Kind of cool, though.
"You can go, quiet-like, and quit the city before dawn, still living and breathing, and tell your master that Kirkwall holds only free people… or you can face that." Her chin moved, pointing towards their table. "Choice's yours."
They always choose stupid, Varric reflected, almost casually, as he hefted the great crossbow in salute.
"Say hello to Bianca, boys." he said softly. In the sudden silence the click of a bolt sliding into its place was as clear as a whistle. "She prefers the outdoors, but works just fine in here, too… although I don't think Corff will like the cleanup job." He flashed a smile, too, for good measure. "No one's a slave here, so best you go and we all get some drinks."
"I beg to differ." Nope, these were stubborn as well as stupid. Varric sighed inwardly as he shifted his balance slightly. "We followed him here, so no need for…"
About half an inch to the left…that's it.
"Enough of the games already! Hand over the elf slave, you lot." The slaver's mate growled, interrupting their leader, hand on his shortsword. Idiot, Varric thought almost fondly. She's standing right next to you; your head will be off your shoulders before your fingers have time to move. "I'm not saying it again. There might even be some coin in it for you if you do it right now." he added, with an ugly smile.
"Maker, you're daft." Hawke sighed, almost wistfully. The tavern was almost empty by now, except for them: patrons here had a very well-honed sense of self-preservation. "Let me put this to you plainly, now, and watch my lips: he's no one's slave. He's going nowhere." Her eyes changed just then, cold, hard, and almost lifeless in an instant, and Varric tensed, knowing what was coming. "And neither are you, I'm afraid."
Her left shoulder dropped as she unsheathed her greatsword and swung it, almost with the same movement, shifting her grip in the middle of the arc and adding her other hand to the hilt—she always threw people by being left-handed. The blade cleared the air with a soft whistle, Hawke's hip moved forward with the weight of all her bones and sinewy muscles behind it… and the slaver's flesh blossomed red as the steel bit into it about the same time Varric shot the second man clear on the forehead, Isabela kicked the third in the groin and flashed her daggers across his throat as he buckled… and as the elf, eerie blue glow haloing his entire body, flew across the room in one stride and thrust his hand violently into the fourth one's chest, fingers coming out wet and glistening as he pulled back.
Was that… entrails? Varric wondered absurdly as he reloaded reflexively and scanned the room for any more hostiles: there were, naturally, none. Ancestors, I'm getting too old for this shit.
To make things worse, they were just about to start clean-up under the watchful eyes of the scowling Corff (he had some special scrubbing soap made in the Gallows at that mage stall that got bloodstains out of the wood floor no problem) when one of the regulars burst in, barely catching his breath and said that a patrol was on its way.
"Aw, rats." Hawke jumped up, grabbed one of the bodies and hauled it on her shoulder, grunting. "C'mon, Isabela, gimme a hand here." She flashed a lopsided grin at Varric. "Mind to explain it to Fenris?" She didn't wait for a response, but started off towards the side exit only a few knew.
"I'm definitely too old for this shit." Varric muttered, looking at the blasted elf watching Hawke's every move. "Come on, now…"
He snapped his fingers in front of his face, and hoisted Bianca higher on his shoulder so she doesn't get in the way of hauling the dead.
"Let me introduce you to our Rule Number One, elf: friends help you move, but real friends help you move the bodies. " He grinned, against his best wishes. "Welcome to the team."