Peace talks were conveniently held at Odranis' house, so all Hawke had to do was walk downstairs. After two days of bed rest she felt ready to face up to her duties again. Admittedly those two days did not involve quite that much rest as the words bed rest would imply, thanks to Varric's presence, but that did not make them any less relaxing. Now, however, she had to occupy herself with considerable less pleasant things again.
The wooden steps creaked under her feet when she stepped on them and announced her presence to the other people waiting for her downstairs in the town elder's huge receiving room. It was the same exact room they had found themselves in when they had first met Odranis a couple of days prior. Only now it had been furnished accordingly to accommodate the peace talks currently held in it. There was long table. On one side of it there were the representatives of the town, namely Odranis, another man around his sixties and a white-haired woman, on the other side of it there were the Templars. With their Captain slain in battle, the next highest raking Templar of the squadron had taken it upon himself to lead peace talks. He was a man in his early thirties, smooth faced, red-brownish hair, muscular built.
Conversation briefly halted when they saw her come downstairs, but was resumed pretty quickly after everyone had enquired after her health and had received a satisfying answer. Hawke stepped next to Cassandra who was leaning against the wall casually, apparently determined to oversee the course of the talk from the background. Varric, in the meantime, took a seat at the bottom of the stairs, lounging there comfortable with his arms draped on the steps behind him and his legs stretched out in front of him.
Hawke made a few whispered enquiries as to the identities of the people involved in the peace talks, but mainly she was interested in information about the Templars because they were an unknown factor in this equation. The new leader of the Templars was Kevin Awyern, Cassandra informed her in hushed tones, also pointing out that in the course of conversation the young man had revealed himself to be quite reasonable and patient. Hawke felt somewhat reassured. Yet again a peaceful solution was still to be agreed on, Cassandra told her.
The way the other woman had described everything to her, the detail of her observations and her assessment of everyone's character, made Hawke smile at her appreciatively. This was one of the many small moments that reaffirmed her in her belief that she had made the right call in agreeing to come with the Seekers. Of course, there were also moments of doubt, one particularly so when she had been backstabbed in battle. She could feel the other woman's eyes resting on her face and turned her head to look at her. "Something amiss?" she asked casually.
"No, I just wanted to thank you for coming with us…" Cassandra said after a moment of contemplation. The words sounded somewhat stiff and detached as they left her mouth, in spite of the natural softness her Orlesian accent naturally bestowed on them. Apparently it had been difficult for her, actually saying them out loud.
Hawke smiled at her benevolently. "Well, you didn't leave me much choice back then."
The other woman looked away, focusing now on the people sitting around the table in front of them. Her face looked slightly more boyish and younger seen in profile like that. "Desperate times call for desperate measures. I would have liked to have given you a choice."
"Don't beat yourself up over it. Despite of everything I still had two options. Run some more or face up to the music… I just had to…," Hawke briefly deliberated her choice of words, "settle a few things before I could ultimately make up my mind." She sighed. "I think it was the right choice, though. Luckily."
A slight smirk tugged at the left corner of Cassandra's mouth, the one visible from Hawke's position. "Glad to hear that."
They focused back on the conversation going on in front of them which had reached a halt judging by the sour looks on everyone's faces. "So let me get this straight, Serrah Templar," Odranis scooted closer to the table, his hands folded on top of it, "So far we've managed to agree on the following things: We're not ready to give the children to you, while you on the other hand are not ready to leave them here without Templar supervision…"
"Yes," the young man nodded, "even you must realize that they cannot be left to their own devices. Mages are always prone to the temptations of fade demons. Would you be able to detect the first signs of a possession? Could you deal with an abomination?"
Odranis shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry to say that we could probably not, but you won't rip those families apart. We won't let you take them." The sadness on his face had been replaced by stony resolve.
A stagy cough could be heard from the general direction of the stairs, but apparently its effect was entirely lost on the two men since they immediately continued talking, so Varric got up from his comfortable place on the stairs and approached the table. Hawke and Cassandra watched him with equally surprised expression on their faces.
"Might I interrupt for a second?" The dwarf casually leaned on the counter of the table. All eyes were directed on him expectantly, which he took as a silent invitation to continue talking.
"It seems, gentle sirs, that you have quite successfully managed to talk yourselves into a corner. Maybe you are too close to see the obvious, but allow me to point it out to you. You," he looked pointedly at Odranis, "are not willing to give up the children, while you," he looked at the young Templar in turn, "are not willing to leave without the children…"
"And your point is, dwarf?" the leader of the Templars asked impatiently.
"Well, since you don't want to leave, why don't you stay and keep an eye on things?"
For a moment it was completely silent inside the room. Odranis was the first to speak again. "But only under certain conditions. I'm not having a bunch of sword happy Templars run rampant in my town…"
"It does sound like an idea. But some of us do have families at home. Not everyone will be willing to stay. Besides, what will I tell my superiors?"
The discussion was resumed with more ardor, only now the fronts seemed less hardened. Varric's proposition was seriously being considered, argued about, worked with and refined. The dwarf, unbeknownst to the men and women around the table, turned around with a satisfied smirk on his face and started walking towards the door.
"Where is he going?" Cassandra asked her surprisedly.
"Now that he's had his great entrance?" Hawke said with a smirk.
"Well, I'll let you have a guess…" There was a mirthful expression in her eyes when she looked at the other woman.
Cassandra smiled. "Next tavern?"
"Yup, got it right the first time," Hawke smiled back.
"I must say, despite his debatable taste in rundown taverns, that dwarf of yours is quite useful. I'm starting to see why you were so determined to bring him along."
The little tavern was quite full. Apparently this was the place everyone went after a hard day of work. There was laughter, excited talk and drunken cheering. The tavern was lacking the usual aggressive vibe that always seemed to hang in the air when people had one too many drinks; in short it was one of the nicer places she had been to.
Without having to look she knew that she would find Varric somewhere at the back of the tavern. He had a penchant for picking some table in a corner because it had the advantage of affording him the chance to oversee the whole room. Also nobody could sneak up to him without him noticing.
She, however, didn't have the slightest intention of sneaking up on him. And the combination of a sweet smile and two mugs of ale would certainly make sneaking completely superfluous anyhow.
She slowly made her way through the crowd, towards the bar. She had just made eye contact with the innkeeper who had signaled her with a curt nod that he would come by shortly to take her order, when a young man stepped into her line of vision. He was about her age, not bad looking and wore a complacent grin on his face as he approached her. Her lips immediately set into a thin line, but other than that there were no other, more prominent signs of her discomfort visible on her face.
"I don't usually do something like this…," he started. Her eyes narrowed. She was quite sure he did do something exactly like that on a quite regular basis. The man opposite of her, however, seemed to be oblivious to her disapproval and continued. "I couldn't help but notice you when you entered. You have to be the single most striking woman I have ever seen in my life. Let me offer you a drink…"
She threw him a thin, but still friendly smile, trying not to be completely rude as she shot him down. "Thank you very much, but I'd rather pay for my one drink." As if on clue the innkeeper finally appeared at their side. "Two ales," Hawke shouted at him across the counter. He nodded and quickly disappeared to get her order. The young man was still there. He seemed to be unusually persistent, either that or somewhat dense.
"Are you here with someone?" he finally asked.
"Yes," was her short reply.
Now normally any guy would have given up, but this one was unexpectedly hard to get rid off. "Well, he's not here right now." He gave her what was doubtlessly to be his most dashing smile. "My name is Daniel."
She threw him a skeptical glance. "You don't have problems with your hearing, do you, Daniel?" The innkeeper was back and handed her the drinks over the counter in exchange for five copper coins. She took them from him and without so much as another word, turned around and started walking.
Daniel fell in step right next to her. She rolled her eyes, but refrained from making another comment for now.
"You haven't told me your name…," he said as he calmly followed her through the crowd like a pesky little puppy, always one step behind her.
"Will you go away if I tell you?" she asked over her shoulder.
"Unlikely," he replied truthfully.
"Then there's really no point in telling you, I guess," she replied.
"Your mouth says 'no', but your eyes say 'yes."
She stopped and turned around to look at the young man sharply. "You got it wrong. Actually it's just my fist saying 'yes' to the recurring thought of hitting you in the face."
"Uh, feisty! I like that."
Hawke just sighed and continued walking. Seconds later they had reached Varric's table. Apparently he was trying for mysterious today, sitting alone in a shadowy corner, keeping away from gossiping patrons who were drinking and joking. Upon seeing Hawke his eyes lit up, especially when he noticed that she was coming to him bearing alcoholic beverages.
"How very thoughtful of you to bring me another one of that tasty ales, love." She set down the mug in front of him with a smile. "Not that I don't like company, but who's that fellow? I thought we were past the whole 'collecting strays in order to form a group of merry misfits' deal" He gave her a quizzical look.
"We are," she reassured him as she sat down besides him. "This one's just incredibly pesky."
"Hey, I'm standing right here!" the other man complained.
"It's your own fault. I told you to get lost." She scooted closer to Varric, placing her hand on his while she stage whispered into his ear. "He's been hitting on me."
Daniel, in the meantime, finally got the clue. "You're the one she's here with."
"Yes," Varric casually leaned back in his chair. There was a sardonic smile on his face, which made Hawke unsure of whether she should be amused by the whole scenario or feel pity for what was about to happen to that unsuspecting young man.
Daniel was apparently completely unaware of the danger he was in or else he wouldn't have said the following words to Hawke: "You're cute, but I thought you had better taste in man. I mean a dwarf? Don't you want to be with a real man?" That was when she rather abruptly stopped feeling sorry for that young man. Her face turned into a stony mask. She was about to get up or at least make a comment when she felt Varric's hand on her arm holding her back. So he wanted to settle this. She would let him.
Varric's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Hawke, remember last year? The Bone Pit?"
"Yeah, what about it?" she forced to keep her voice casual, when all she wanted to do was stand up and smack that stupid, narrow minded man, standing in front of them, over his thick head.
"The dragon?" Varric supplied.
"You mean the one you took down with your crossbow?"
"Yeah." Varric smiled. "Tell me, have you ever killed a dragon, lad?"
"Hmmmh. Fought in a war?" Daniel shook his head. "Picked up a sword to protect your family?" Daniel shook his head again. His superior grin was still on his face, so he was about to make another stupid remark apparently. Varric was about to pose another question, but the young man simply interrupted him.
"I don't think all those things mean anything as long as you can keep your woman satisfied."
Hawke let out a frustrated groan. Varric just petted her arm reassuringly and smiled. "I know that he is extremely annoying. I'll take care of it."
"No," she said. Her eyes flickered with suppressed anger. "No, you won't. I'll handle this."
Varric just shrugged his shoulders and smirked. "Might I add that killing him, though it might appear most appealing right now, is not an option…"
"Don't you worry." She stood up and David retreated somewhat. "I won't kill him." He started backing away further, but was eventually stopped by a pillar. She walked closer and closer to the young man until they were only inches apart. Her breath tickled his skin when she next spoke. "Watch this!"
She turned around and walked back to the table. Standing in front of Varric, she hesitated momentarily. There was an unspoken question in her eyes, as if she was asking him whether he allowed her to go on. The unspoken question she posed him was a rather superfluous one. He trusted her. Completely. He simply nodded at her, although he didn't know what she was up to. It was a barely perceptible motion, only visible to her because she was standing that close to him. She slowly swung one leg over the chair and lowered herself onto his lap, so she was straddling him. Her eyes always held contact with his, to make sure he knew he could stop this any time. His gaze was unwavering, open, inviting, curious, maybe even a bit amused. She kissed him. Not timidly, but like she would have done had they been alone in the privacy of the bedroom. He responded in kind.
She only stopped when she heard the catcalls of the other patrons and a pitiful choking noise coming from the general direction where Daniel was standing. She slowly got up and walked over to the man, her eyes suddenly devoid of anger. There was a strange expression in them. Where they serene, maybe even calm? One thing was clear though, she seemed to be utterly at peace with herself and what she had just done.
"Get lost," she said simply. He nodded avidly and started walking away without another word. "The show is over," she announced to the rest of the room. Maybe her words had been unnecessary. People were already starting to lose interested in them, focusing their attention on other things again, like say for example a nice glass of wine or a mug of ale.
She walked back to Varric who was quite predictably smirking at her like a cat that had just eaten a canary. "Oh, shut up!" She told him with a smile as she sat down. Of course, he rarely did what she told him to, so it was quite inevitable he made a comment. He leaned closer to her so that he could whisper in her ear. "Have I told you lately that I love the fact that you can be so deliciously devious?" His hand was on her thigh. She could feel the heat of his touch through the fabric of her trouser. "No, but I hope that that's not the only thing about me that you love," she teased. "Give me time, some parchment and a quill and I shall compose a serenade praising all your loveable qualities," he wiggled his eyebrows at her suggestively. She laughed. For a moment she forgot all about Templars, Darkspawn, Mages and impending wars. Her focus was on him. What he made her feel. And for some stupid reason she believed that, no matter what the future held in store for them, they would be okay as long as they were together.