A/N: Prompted by someone saying that Varric would have absolutely no mercy on Hawke when it came to his card games, and Hawke would never back down, leading to some grawful consequences.
Also, the world needs more Arishok.
Chapters: As of now, finished at 2.5. DONE. I FEEL SO ACCOMPLISHED.
Length: ~7k total.
Beta Love: A million thanks to brelaina (1730806) for being an angel. Super prompt, thorough, easy to understand - and if you ever need help with Anders and Fenris, highly recommended!
Dragon Age belongs to Bioware. Not me. At all.
She was never going to join in on one of Varric's card games again.
Hawke was never a gambler. Sure, there was a lot of it in Lothering, but she'd been too busy to indulge in that sort of thing. That, and being around for the verbal lashing her mother had given Carver for the one night he'd gone out with the boys and lost his shirt in a dice game just reaffirmed her knowledge that her nimble fingers were meant for stabbing people, not holding cards.
Kirkwall was largely the same – scraping herself up from the bottom had been largely a feat of strategic criminality, and again she stayed away from the tables and races. Not that there wasn't plenty to be found, she just didn't have a taste for it.
But then. Then she had to go against her better judgement and stay longer than she should have at the Hanged Man. She'd been sitting with Varric in his suite, sharpening her blades while he told her tawdry stories with badly-disguised names. She just listened and smiled, happy to feign ignorance.
The waitstaff knew him well enough to keep his and his guest's drinks full, and whether it was the ale or the warmth of the fire, Hawke didn't want to move. So when he told her that some of their other companions were coming over for a game of cards, and that she was welcome to just stay and watch, she agreed.
She should've known better. Varric never let her stay out of trouble for long.
The game looked like fun. The four of them - Varric, the blonde mage, the tattooed elf, and the pirate queen – all seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, trading barbs with every hand and being none-too-gracious about each win. Isabela was the worst to gloat, though, and practically rubbed her face in the pile of coins each time she pulled it to her chest, once "accidentally" dropping a few silver into her cleavage and inviting any of the men at the table to reclaim them.
"If you can find them," she snickered, leaning back, "you can keep them."
Only Varric was so bold, and after a few seconds of laughter with his leather-clad hand down her shirt, Isabela shrieked and leapt up, swatting at her breasts angrily. A few frozen coins dropped out in addition to the ones she'd already dropped in, smoking coolly on the dirt floor.
Grinning, the dwarf slid a sovereign into Anders' pile. "Worth every penny, Blondie."
Anders smirked and waved an icy hand innocently, sending a few errant snowflakes onto the tabletop. "Sorry, captain," he said. "Magic has a mind of its own sometimes."
She didn't do it again, but Hawke definitely saw her slide a foot up the mage's robes under the table.
"Hawke," he called over in a slightly forced voice while staring at his cards, "I think your dog's snuck into the Hanged Man again. I don't know how many times I've told him to get his nose out of my crotch."
"Woof!" Isabela barked.
"Don't worry," Hawke said, lightly blowing on the whetstone, "He just wants attention. Pet him or something and he'll go away."
The corners of his mouth twitched upwards as the former warden reached a hand under the table. Isabela jerked backward seconds later, almost toppling over in her chair.
Anders smiled as she glared, sliding two cards forward. "Good doggie."
"Careful, mage," Fenris warned as he added his own pair. "I would not put it past her to urinate on your shoes."
The game continued with other such incidents, and Hawke was happy to watch her comrades-in-arms enjoy themselves. She approved of anything that could get Anders and Fenris to put aside their differences and sit at the same table without bickering over the mages' conflict in every conversation.
So when Varric pulled out a second deck and suggested a new game, she didn't bat an eyelash. He had dozens of these games lying around.
It was a parody game based on the situation in Kirkwall, he said.
Lighten things up, he said.
Easy to learn, fun to play, he said.
Five players, he said.
When everyone turned to look at their leader sitting by the fire, Hawke froze.
"Oh no," she said, raising her hands. "I'm no good at these kinds of things."
Varric smiled reassuringly, patting the vacant chair next to him. "Come on, Hawke, you need to lighten up."
She crossed her arms and leaned back, smirking. "You calling me fat, Varric?"
"A gentleman would never!"
Her eyes swept the table. "Only gentleman here is Fenris. He holds doors for me."
As if on cue, the elf stood and pulled out the empty chair, gesturing to it grandly. "My lady."
Isabela fought down a snicker as Hawke stood and brushed herself off. "See? That's how you treat a woman of my standing."
"Standing," Anders pointed out. "Not sitting at the table with the rest of us."
"Yeah," added Varric, doing his best to look insulted. "What's this, too good for your friends?"
Fenris hid his smile behind a formal bow. "If her ladyship would honor us with her presence."
They stared up at her, and Hawke felt her resolve weakening. Zeroing in on that tiny chip, Varric spread his wide, gloved hands in an appeasing gesture and delivered the final blow.
"Come on, Hawke," he said. "You're sharp; you'll pick it up in no time. And it's all in good fun."
He looked up at her with that honey-warm smile and those soft eyes, and her gaze fell on the deck in question.
She paused. "My uncle is one of the cards in there, isn't he?"
"Only one way to find out."
With a sigh, she slunk into the chair and leaned her chin on one hand. "Deal me in, dwarf."
As promised, the deck was hilariously entertaining. Cartoonishly inaccurate depictions of Viscount Dumar and some of the more notorious citizens peered up at her from the cards, and more than one jab was passed back and forth when their own likenesses turned up.
Hawke frowned down at her own portrait, with long, flowing hair and a halo of stars circling the crown of her head. "Champion," it read, just under the enormous shield adorned with a flaming heart. "Varric," she asked, considering the details carefully, "just whatnonsense have you been spreading?"
"I have no idea what you mean."
She flipped it to show him, and he snickered. "I know you're knew to this, but it's generally not a good idea to show the other players your cards."
"Doesn't matter," she said casually, studying it again, "because I'm pretty sure that this is Andraste."
Isabela leaned over to get a better look, shrugging. "Andraste had bigger tits."
"How would you know?" Anders asked. "If you ever set foot in the chantry, you'd burst into flames."
The rivaini leaned over the table to pinch his nose. "Are all apostates this cheeky?"
He smirked. "Just the devilishly handsome ones." And with that, he added his ante to the pile in the center.
The bets had started off innocently enough. A few coins here and there, a few rounds of watered-down beer, even an amulet or two. However, as the night went on and the drinking got heavier, the less any of them cared for money, and soon the order of the night was paper. Varric shredded parchment into slips, and IOUs took the place of coins in the betting pool. The small ones were simple – providing alibis, cleaning, various favors, sword polishing (Isabela had laughed particularly hard when that one was submitted) and other trivial tasks. It made for a lot of laughter and squabbled-over details, but that just added to the fun of it.
What also made it fun, for Hawke anyway, was that she was winning. So far, she had collected enough to keep her house clean for a month, lie to her mother about damn near every bloodstain on her clothes, and have Ogre well-groomed until the winter solstice. She didn't envy anyone who had to clip the Mabari's nails or brush his teeth, but at least it would keep her mother happy. If this was what all gambling was like, she mused, she'd wasted so much time.
She'd had a few bigger wins, too, like a pair of "well-loved and very comfortable leather shackles" from Isabela, who had parted with them only on a particularly egregious bluff.
Varric had frowned when she initially slid it into the pile. "Who would even want those?"
"I would," Hawke said, examining her hand. "Leather ones are hard to find, and a pain to break in."
The rest of the table turned to stare at her, and she looked up in surprise. "What?" she asked, placing a card facedown in front of her. "There's a reason I bought a bed with posts."
Isabela dissolved into peals of laughter, and the men at the table gaped as her meaning sank in.
"Interesting," Fenris said with a hint of a smile as he folded.
"That," Varric declared to himself as he took a long drink, "is getting written down somewhere."
When Hawke eventually won the cuffs, Isabela almost gleefully let them go. The slip of paper with the claim to them on it was added to a neat lineup that the Champion was keeping, next to "Varric teaches you to hide dungeon cell keys" and "One trip through the Coast on Piggyback" from Anders.
"You're a shark," Varric accused an hour later as her pile grew.
"Yes," Fenris agreed. "You, Hawke, have had the Saarebas card twice in a row now."
Hawke raised an eyebrow. "You're sitting next to Isabela and accuse me of cheating?" She leaned back, sighing theatrically. "Fine, I'll just take my winnings and go-"
"Not a chance," Isabela interrupted, practically jumping at her throat. "Not until I get something I want out of you."
"Then I'll stay if you ask nicely."
The harshly-tanned pirate leaned over, placing her chin on Hawke's cleavage and staring up at her adoringly.
"Please," she mewled, tugging at the hem of Hawke's tunic. "I would enjoy it ever so much if you'd stay. I'll miss your pretty face if you go, and drown in a sea of my own tears."
"Well," their leader said, smug despite herself, "when you put it that way."
She should have left. Oh, Maker, should she have left.
It was that one hand that did her in. She'd been winning, and she'd been drinking, and she was having so much fun that it was irresistible. And when she looked down at the cards she'd been dealt, only her calm veneer kept her from bouncing in her seat.
She had both Grand Cleric Elthina and First Enchanter Orsino right off the bat. That in itself was enough to win a small hand, but if she could just get her hand one more boost, one thing to solidify her win, she could have enough from her friends to blackmail them into the next year.
She cleared her throat, scribbling on an ante paper and tossing it into the center. "One very girly gown. Custom tailored to the winner's specifications."
"Okay, okay," Varric acknowledged when it came to him. "One night on my tab here."
The jump in value didn't go unnoticed. Or unmatched.
"One no-questions-asked treatment," Anders offered. "No. Questions. Asked."
Isabela practically snatched it from the table, but Fenris caught her hand. "You will have to win it, woman. Your bet, if I'm not mistaken."
She pouted, pulling her hand away. "Fine, fine." Pursing her lips, she crumpled up a scrap and threw it into the pile. "One night paid up at the Rose. Fenris?"
He paused, considering the prizes so far. "Whoever wins this pot wins the dress as well, correct?"
"You got it."
After a quick check of his cards, he gently slid a paper forward. "I will wear said dress to an event of your choice."
As the others laughed, Varric crossed his arms. "Confident, are we?"
The dwarf took everyone's two surrendered cards and dealt again, this time keeping an eye on the elf.
It took all of Hawke's self-control not to whoop in triumph. The cards she'd sent off had come back a circle mage and Sebastian. She had this locked in; that night on Varric's tab was going to Bodahn as an early birthday gift. And Fenris would make an excellent, if surly, tavern wench.
It came around to her turn again, and she smiled serenely as she placed her cards facedown in front of her. She wrote in silence, then read it aloud calmly as she offered her bet.
"One whore from the Blooming Rose dressed as Knight-Commander Meredith."
The room was filled with guffaws as the pirate and dwarf wiped away tears, Anders furiously scanning his cards ("Orsino's birthday is coming up, isn't it?") and Fenris considering the pile thoughtfully.
Still as straight-faced as ever, Varric didn't hesitate to add his own. "Choose your nickname."
"Damnit, Varric!" Isabela swore as she racked her brain. "I – quick sex! Anywhere in the city!"
"Rejected, Rivaini," Varric grinned, emphasizing the title. "Try again."
"I'll put on the damn dress and act like a proper lady for a week! Not a swear, not a misstep!"
She wrote furiously, nearly slamming it into that pile. "I will have you call me Mistress."
Anders folded his hand. "I'm out. To you, Fenris."
The elf chuckled. "One use of my abilities to reach through a wall or vault. No questions."
Isabela groaned and folded, letting out a string of fanciful expletives that only a sailor could know under her breath.
The final card was dealt out, and Fenris frowned, tossing his cards into the pile. "Nothing. Damn it."
Hawke couldn't keep the corners of her mouth from twitching. Another mage. She was golden.
"Just you and me, Hawke," Varric said, cracking his knuckles. "I'm in if you are."
"To see what you've got to offer? I wouldn't back down for the world."
Their eyes met, and their friends laughed as the two stood to shake hands over the table.
"Final bets!" Isabela called, handing each a fresh piece of parchment with a ceremonial flourish.
There was only a moment of thought before a wide grin spread from ear to ear on Hawke's face. She knew she would win. The bet was irrelevant. But what could she use to torment the dwarf? What would make him kick himself for the rest of his damn life for letting slip out of his grasp?
So she wrote down the most grandiose, ridiculous thing she could think of and slapped her hand down on top of it. "Done," she declared. "Show me what you got, Varric."
He lifted his up for everyone to see. "I, Varric Tethras, will court Hawke for six months to appease her mother, then orchestrate a dramatic and heart-wrenching breakup in the Hightown market."
It was met with polite applause and murmurs of appreciation before all eyes turned to Hawke. She held hers up as well, mimicking his little performance.
"I, Mairead Hawke, will sit in the Arishok's damn lap and kiss him on the mouth."
Utter silence. Awe.
The two stared each other down, both smug and unshakably confident. But Hawke knew in her gut that there was no way she could lose. And she could already envision the blessed silence in her home when her mother couldn't hound her about suitors and marriage. This is what winning a war must feel like, she imagined. Pure, unadulterated triumph.
Yes, Hawke thought, relishing the stunned reactions of her comrades. This was how victory felt.
Thirty seconds was more than Isabela could stand, apparently. "By Andraste's Holy Rack!" she exclaimed, pounding her fists on the table. "Show your cards show your cards show your cards!"
Hawke flipped hers over, fanning them out prettily. "Orsino, two Circle mages, Elthina... and Sebastian. Chantry flush." She leaned in, batting her eyelashes in Varric's direction. "Bring roses, dwarf. A lot of them."
Anders whistled, and Isabela clapped her on the shoulder. "Oh, I would pay to see the look on Leandra's face when the merchant prince of Kirkwall gets down on one knee to ask permission to date her precious baby girl."
"I would not get too ahead of yourselves," Fenris warned them, his voice cooling their excitement like an icy wind. "It is not certain that she has won."
"Are you blind?" Isabela asked, frowning. "There's no-"
The elf held up a hand to silence her, his stare focused intently on the dwarf, whose expression hadn't so much as twitched when Hawke had shown her hand.
The other player obliged as slowly and theatrically as possible, flipping his cards one by one.
Templar. Lieutenant. Knight-Captain Cullen. Knight-Commander Meredith.
"Shit," muttered the pirate.
That didn't even come close to the feeling that knotted itself up in Hawke's stomach. All the dwarf needed to win was one more high card. She had completely forgotten about the Order suit. But there were only five high cards in the game, and three of them were out on the table already. The chances that he had one of the remaining two were -
He flipped the last card before she had a chance to finish calculating the odds, and her victorious high collapsed around her.
A monstrous, fire-breathing, scale-covered, winged and unmistakable High Dragon stared up from the worn wooden surface.
"Sorry, sweetheart," he purred in a low, smooth voice, "but I don't think I'm your man."
Quietly, Hawke drank the remainder of every tankard on the table, to which no one objected.
"Well," she said, reaching for a bottle of wine that Isabela had won, "maybe he can come talk to Mother."