Disclaimer: I don't own Dragon Age or its characters. I certainly make no profits.

...

The first change would be to match the mood to the weather. Paving stones warm under bright sun, high banners snapping in the pull of a steady wind, and the sky a great blue stasis against which seabirds pitched and wheeled: such cheerful things deserved a group of people whose lighthearted confidence pulsed from every peal of laughter.

Hawke would be untroubled, moving freely through the assembled crowd, bidding farewell to friends and well-wishers, and every word would hold at least the promise of glory and riches to come. Aveline, for her part, would have bowed out willingly, finding herself far too busy with a full roster of duties to venture off on a fool's errand. She was a practical woman, after all.

Certainly, there would be no conflict, no indignant guard captain-in-training, no flustered bloom rising to her face as she swore on her father's grave that no, Hawke, she would not be left behind, not this time. And her words would not be marked by a tone of defiance, nor would their almost palpable undercurrent be one of barely contained hostility.

Neither would Hawke glance warily in Varric's direction before answering, "I'm sorry, Aveline, but we've already chosen our team."

Varric would not have to nod once, signaling his assent, then hastily look away. And that would be a good thing indeed. Because, much like Hawke, Varric was a rogue with enough acumen to steer clear of any argument involving a ticked off city guard, particularly if that guard was Aveline, who did not give in easily when her hackles were raised.

Aveline would not have to press her point, questioning Hawke's judgment and sanity in the same burst of air: "Bartrand's team plus the four of you? What madness is lodged in that head of yours? I can understand denying Bethany, at least for your mother's sake, but to deny me? Look, Hawke, why turn down a willing blade when you'll need every one you can muster? If you ask me, it's folly."

And Hawke would not turn a grim face to a friend while stating in no uncertain terms, "I am telling you, captain, not asking."

No. None of this. Instead they would embrace as friends, exchanging the ghost of a kiss to one cheek before parting. Aveline, proud armor gleaming, would take her leave willingly, returning to the barracks from the Hightown square. Under no circumstance whatsoever would there be a cool parting shot as the red-headed guardsman turned on her heel and left: "If you rot down there, Hawke, don't dare say no one warned you."

If Hawke whispered an aside for Varric's ears alone, it would be innocent of menace and foreboding. It would be anything other than words that summoned to mind their conversation from the night before: "Trust me, rotting is the least of my worries."

That previous night of conversation would not likely merit a story, but if ever it did, it would be told as a happy occasion. Friends would gather at the Hanged Man, mixing a generous draft of anticipatory celebration into each swiftly-downed pint of ale. Or perhaps they would dine at Gamlen's table, where Leandra would set a place for each of them. Gamlen himself would be absent, choosing instead to spend his eve in the bosom of the Rose and sparing them all the tedium of his company. Hawke's buoyant laugh would fuel toast after toast to celebrate each friend in turn.

And if the night's exuberance stretched well into early morning and, by the end of it, only Varric, Hawke, and Anders remained, their talk would be filled with idyllic imaginings of a better life to come. Under no circumstance would Varric lose what little patience he'd been holding for the duration of Anders' grim confession. He would not slam his fist onto his table so hard that it smarted while the force of its impact shook one of the lamps. His eyes would not lose their mirth as he hissed at the mage apostate, "You waited until now to bring this up? Shit, Blondie, this isn't a card game."

Anders would have no reason to stammer something in his own defense that began with "Look, Varric," and ended—moments later, when the dwarf glared at him hard—with a mumbled apology to Hawke.

Hawke's voice would not waver over words like, "That decides it. Absolutely no women. Just the three of us, Fenris, and whatever men Bartrand has recruited to his service."

And Varric, irked, but not so much to have lost his taste for sly remarks, would not look his friend over from head to foot as he gave a nervous chuckle. "Not sure if you've found a mirror lately, Hawke, but, uh—"

Hawke would not shake her head, biting down on some bitter emotion all the while. Her laugh would not be harsh and she would not answer, "Right. No women except for me. I can't afford to stay behind. Not after all we've planned. And no matter the reason."

"Shit." Varric would not curse as he looked to Anders, nor curse a few more times before asking, "How many tentacles did you say these things have?"

Then Anders would laugh and tell a story about kittens or reminisce fondly about a girl he met once in a market when he'd escaped from the Tower in Ferelden. He would not groan and say, "Too many. Look, I'm sorry. I didn't know how to tell you. The unspeakable things those creatures do—"

"Yes, right. I got that part, thanks." Hawke would be pleased and amused, in a fine mood to listen to all that Anders had to say about pretty girls and kittens. She would not interrupt curtly with an admonition for him to leave: "Shouldn't you be getting back to Darktown or something? Resting up for tomorrow's expedition?"

And then, when the mage Warden left and only the two friends remained, Varric and Hawke would not sit together in a long silence fueled by two minds churning, desperate to free themselves from thoughts and images too gruesome for speaking. And Varric would not have to break that awful silence with an offer. "Look, I know a guy. The poison's not cheap, but it's the good stuff: pure, fast acting, no pain. Just one sip and two breaths later you're off to see the Ancestors—or the Fade, or whatever it is your folks do when you're done."

Because Hawke's voice would not swell with defiant heroics ("Absolutely not! No poison!"), Varric would not have to sway her with grim practicality: "Maker's balls, Hawke, if there comes a point where that's the one thing you want most and you don't have it… shit. I'd never forgive myself."

Hawke would not have to reach for his hand, squeezing it a moment as she met his gaze. "Fine, sure, all right. But promise me—"

And Varric would not flinch at the chill in her fingers, nor bite his lip at the unmistakable tremor of fear that troubled her voice. He would make no promises. "Anything, Hawke, just tell me."

"Not a word of this, Varric. Not to anyone. Not ever."

Call it an exercise in narrative discretion. Call it whatever. Some promises were made to be broken. Others just… weren't.

And it didn't take an honest man to know the difference.