A/N All characters and settings belong to Bioware. No money is being made. This is AU, obviously. Since I'm not tying the story down to a particular year, the historical bits and pieces might not be totally accurate. The story does take place in Thedas, but I've borrowed brand names from our universe.
No Sebastian. Sorry. I never bought his DLC, so I can't really write him.
By the second summer, I knew I was done with the Red Iron family. They hadn't treated us bad – no worse than anyone else in Kirkwall would have anyhow, and Meeran made it clear there was a place for Carver and me in the organisation if we chose to take it. But I ain't never figured myself a mobster, and I knew sooner or later I'd be asked to give up my strict 'no murder' policy.
It was more than two years ago that Carver came limping home from the Ostagar front and we fled Feraldan. We could hear the artillery and see the shells exploding on the horizon like lightning bolts when we finally left Lothering. It was too late for Bethany; my sweet little sister, now at the Maker's side. I don't like to dwell on those days too much.
We arrived in Kirkwall to be practically sold into slavery by Uncle Gamlen, but we were flat broke and had nowhere else to go. At least Ma got a roof over her head, even if she had to share it with the sap. I wasn't too keen on sharing a room with Carver neither. Four adults and a dog crammed into Gamlen's crummy apartment over a vacant shopfront in Lowtown. It wasn't what we were expecting. Ma says we had money once; it didn't look like we were likely to ever have it again.
But we were free at last, of our obligations to Meeran at least. A year in Kirkwall had turned both Carver and I from country rubes to sharp young men in cheap suits with the world at our feet. Well, I wouldn't say Carver is sharp exactly, but I was following his direction for the morning as we searched for gainful employment.
Fruitlessly, as it turned out.
"Well that was a waste of time." I held the door for a couple of baby vamps and got a smile for my trouble as we made our way out of the university and on to the street. Carver had his head down, and I could see his ears were red. He always took everything so personally. Me, I'd rather get along with people, Carver excepted, although I couldn't see in what universe I'd get along with Professor Tethras.
Carver was broader and about an inch taller than me. He took after Ma, with his dark hair and overdeveloped sense of responsibility. I took after our father, who died when I was sixteen. I'd inherited his red hair and disregard for the letter of the law - among other things.
Hightown was bustling. The fancy motors gleamed in the morning sun, and jazz was trickling from one of the nearby shops. Horns blasted, paperboys shouted, and we shouldered past about a hundred people a minute. I was free and nobody knew my name here. I loved it. The world was my oyster. I lit a smoke and rocked back on my heels watching pedestrians hurry out of the way of one of the cable cars, its bell clanging as it laboured up the slope.
I saw one hit a motor car once, something I couldn't even have imagined when I lived in Fereldan. The world is so big, sometimes you just gotta stop and drink it all in.
Carver was still sulking.
I tried to cheer him up, as a big brother should. "I'm tellin' you, he did us a favour. You want to be taking orders from that high hat for six months? I don't care if the papers are calling his expedition a treasure hunt, he could find a solid gold diamond the size of your head and we wouldn't get so much as to polish it. I dunno why you were so keen on that job to start with."
"Because we can't live on air, Trip! And a gold diamond don't make a lick of sense. You can mooch around Hightown all day and stare at girls if you want, but I won't see Ma starve. And we gotta get her out of that house. Gamlen's driving her crazy. He's driving me crazy."
Bastard. Dragging Ma into this. Although he had a point about Gamlen.
And he was still at it. "You're our fearless leader. The eldest. The one Father left in charge. And you're the reason we can't find proper work in case the Tem-"
"Will you put a sock in it?" I growled. Scanning the crowd for the drab brown suits and plain bowler hats of the Templars was second nature to me, but anyone could rat me out to them. At least, they could if Carver kept flapping his jaw. "I got a plan, okay?"
Carver folded his arms.
"I still got my PI licence, right? I'll kick Gamlen out of the front room and hang out a shingle. We can track down cheating husbands and lost jewellery until we can move Ma out."
I shifted my jaw, "Well only if Your Highness not busy."
"So your grand plan is to get an entire room all to yourself as an office?"
I could see Carver would need some incentive. "Look, I'll even sleep in it. You can have our room to yourself. Gamlen can stay in the lounge."
Carver looked thoughtful. "Hmm. All right. There's only one problem."
"Only one? Maker be praised." I flicked ash into the gutter.
"Your licence is for Fereldan, not Kirkwall. And it's a forgery!"
"Exactly, they're not going to recognise a Fereldan forgery in Kirkwall." My logic, I felt, was flawless. "Besides, it's Lowtown; no one is going to care. If it makes you feel better, I'll save up for a Kirkwall licence too. I'm sure Aveline can take care of the paperwork once we get the cash."
Carver gave in. He always gave in, no matter how much he resented it. "Fine, we'll do it your way."
"Cheer up, little brother. What's the worst that could happen?"
Gamlen was not happy. Carver and I decided, by unspoken agreement, not to inform our dear uncle of his changed circumstances, and so he came home from losing at cards – something he did nightly – to find all his personal belongings in the living room, and mine in the front room. He soon made his displeasure known.
"That boy-" Of course he'd go and pick on Ma. Both Carver and I were bigger than he was, and a low opinion of him was one of the few things we shared. I was wrestling a filing cabinet into place in my new office when I heard him starting his rant. "Has gone and rearranged my personal things, in my house, which I have freely and generously shared with you all. The bonds of family only stretch so far before they break, Leandra."
"If you've got something to say, Uncle, you can say it to my face." I loomed in the kitchen doorway – it's a talent – and he recoiled slightly, but didn't lose his bluster.
"Now listen, Trip, you'd better have a dammed good explanation for all of this, or so help me, I'll …I'll throw you out."
"I'm going to make us some money," I said. It was about the only thing I could have said that would have gotten through.
"I …oh. And just how do you intend to do that?"
"I'll reopen my business," I said. "You can take any calls when I'm not in." It wasn't like he did anything else all day.
"Trip was private investigator back in Fereldan," Ma said, leaving her ham and corn fritters for a moment to straighten my collar affectionately. "He's very good. Always finding things and helping people." That's my Ma for you; she has endless faith in all of us. "Now if you boys are done arguing, sit down; dinner's almost ready."
At the word 'dinner' my Mabari, Horse, (as in big-as-a yes, I know it's a weak joke) bounded in, all bright eyes and stumpy tail wagging. Ma laughed and told him he'd have to wait his turn and that he'd already had scraps.
There were too many missing faces: my father, Bethany, for this to be a proper family meal like we had in Lothering, but I'll take what I can get. There are folks worse off.
The next morning Carver point-blank refused to help and went out to earn a day's pittance shifting cargo at the docks. So I was alone and up a ladder in shirtsleeves attaching the modest sign I'd painted the night before to the empty bracket over the front of the doorway. Already I could tell the day was going to be a scorcher; sweat was gathering on my forehead, and the reek of marinating garbage was overwhelming the smell of spices from the nearby Alienage.
My office was getting a fan as soon as I could afford one, I vowed.
"Huh, don't tell me the landlord sold the place twice."
I nearly fell off the rickety ladder. I made a grab for the iron bracket and managed to steady both myself and it in time. I glanced over my shoulder to see a dwarf looking up at me.
Nice smile, swanky suit; way too swanky for Lowtown. At least, for anyone with legitimate business in Lowtown. My first thought was that he was after protection money; an hour and a half has to be some sort of record from opening a business to a shakedown, but nothing would surprise me here. This guess was strengthened by the fact that he carried an odd case over his shoulder; I wouldn't have put money on their being a trombone in it.
I slid down the ladder and turned to face him. He read my sign thoughtfully and then looked back at me.
"A private dick, huh? Maybe you can solve the mystery of the two businesses in the one shop."
I looked over my shoulder at the empty shop behind me. "That shop?"
My visitor nodded, "Right. I just rented the place."
"Oh, no there's no problem. I'm on the second floor. I didn't realise- this shop's been empty since we moved in nearly two years ago. Apologies for stealing your bracket. I'm Trip Hawke."
I held out my hand and the dwarf shook it. Good grip, friendly. I could not begin to guess what kind of business this guy was in, but he had a kind of charm and didn't seem to be taking my theft of his sign-space personally.
"Varric Tethras. And I can see by your expression you've probably met my brother. It's the same look, every time someone meets Bartrand before they meet me."
I laughed a bit ruefully, "My brother and me asked him for a job yesterday."
"That explains that at least."
"Well, if we're neighbours, come on up and have a drink. Sort out this sign business. Maybe we can hang one under the other?"
"Those both sound like good ideas to me." He followed me up the narrow staircase to our apartment.
"It's not just me up here," I warned him. "I mean, technically this place belongs to my uncle. We're staying here, for now." Indefinitely. That was depressing.
"You're Fereldan, right? Thought I recognised an accent under there."
"Yeah, the way I hear it, we don't have anything left to go back to, even if we could afford the ticket."
I watched him lean his odd case carefully against the wall. "What kind of business are you going to open downstairs anyway?" I asked, turning to hunt around for some clean glasses; if I was honest, we all sort of left the cleaning to Ma.
"A bookshop," Varric replied.
"So much for my investigative instincts. I would not have guessed that."
Varric laughed, "You'd be right. I've done all kinds of things. Who knows, maybe next week I'll sell jewellery instead."
I looked him in the eyes, "Stolen?"
"Aw, now that would be telling."
I got it then; he was a fence. Probably semi-legit, but a bookstore attracts less attention than a pawn shop. It wasn't my business; as long as no one shot the place up, he could sell what he liked.
Varric and I spent the morning in my office, slowly emptying the kitchen of fruit juice and soda as the dwarf fed me the greatest load of baloney I ever heard. It didn't take me long to realise that the man was some kind of genius, and I'd do well to pick up some of his technique.
"You shouldn't be selling books, Varric, you should be writing them."
"That's very kind of you, maybe I will. If I ever get the time."
It came as a shock when Ma came home for lunch, just how much time had passed.
"Varric Tethras, this is my mother, Leandra. Ma, Varric's moving in downstairs. Gonna open a bookshop."
"Oh, that's a relief. I always used to worry that a butcher or tanner would take the space. You must stay and have lunch."
"Dear Lady," Varric held up his hands, "I would not dream of it. Trip's been entertaining me all morning, and the least I can do is take you both to lunch. My treat."
And just like that, he became one of the family.