Disclaimer: Bioware own all (sadly)
Based very early on in Act 3.
Update 12/2012 – thank you to everyone who has left advice and support for this story so far – I think I've grown as an author, so I've come back to spruce up this chapter somewhat. Hope you enjoy it!
To his right Isabela takes a deep drink from her cup, wiping her chin with the back of her hand. 'Show's beginning,' she announces, nudging at his arm with a sharp elbow and disrupting the smooth flow of his quill.
Varric shuffles away from her slightly, attention not shifting from his letter. Isabela has been a relentless thorn in his side the entire day, bursting into his room in the early hours of the dawn, smelling of the sea and insisting that her own room was 'too far away'. She'd fallen asleep on his armchair before he could respond, rising only several hours later and deciding that – instead of leaving, she would pester him for hours about all the peculiarities of his possessions. This is surely another game, another distraction, but even Varric cannot ignore the Merchant's Guild forever, and this letter needs to be written.
'What's happening?' Merrill asks excitedly, turning entirely in her seat and craning her small body to peer across the crowded bar.
Isabela leans over and plants a hand on Merrill's wild hair, gently twisting the girl back around. 'Subtlety, Kitten,' she chuckles. 'Or you'll never see anything good.'
Varric, still not giving Isabela the satisfaction of looking up, barks out a laugh. 'Subtlety, Rivaini? From you? We'll never see the day.'
Isabela settles further into her seat, propping her boots up onto the table and dirtying his parchment. Varric glances at her, half exasperated, but she only smiles at him, feigning innocence. 'That's where you're wrong, my dear Varric.' Her voice is a low drawl, and she raises a tanned hand into the air. 'Even I can be delicate, if the situation calls for it.'
'What situation? What's happening?' Merrill twitches with the effort of not turning around. Varric casts her an indulgent smile whilst tugging his letter free from Isabela's boots.
'Basic biology, Kitten,' Isabela replies. 'Some physical attraction and unresolved tension, plus lots of alcohol equals some awkward affection and plenty of fodder for Varric's stories. Volia!' she finishes with a flourish.
'Technically that would be math, Rivaini,' Varric prompts, trying to smooth out the creases of his letter. He re-reads the first line and immediately feels sick at the sycophantic address. Oh, nug-shit. He screws the parchment into a wad and tosses it somewhere near the fire, before drawing out some cards from his pocket and shuffling briskly. This is something dear cousin Elmand can handle.
'Oh hush, I'm teaching,' Isabela scolds. 'Besides, why aren't you looking? It's so precious I feel nauseous.'
'You're exaggerating. Broody's only had three drinks tonight and it usually takes much more than that for him to get over his 'I hate you all, I was a slave' persona. There's no way he's drunk enough.'
Isabela inclines her head again. 'No, but she is.'
Varric tilts his head slightly. It takes him a few moments to find any figures in the dim lights of the bar. Fenris is slumped on a bench, leaning against one leg he has drawn up to his chin. His face is pressed into the soft red cloth twisted around his wrist. Hawke is making her way across the room, dancing through the masses of drunk patrons to flop down beside him, tankard in hand. She says something and laughs; he doesn't move, doesn't even look at her as she finishes her drink in one deep gulp and drops her cup to the floor.
It's no wonder that people stare when they see them together, no wonder that they start; the two are a study of contrasts, almost unnatural together. With her hair escaping her braid and a simple smile spread across her glowing cheeks, Fenris is a hard line to Hawke's blurred colour, his back ramrod straight and his lips thinned.
Merrill, who has chanced a quick glimpse, seems bemused. 'I don't understand. Nothing's happening.'
Isabela laughs, a loud, boisterous sound that drew a few stares. 'Everything's happening, Kitten, you just have to look closer to see it.'
Varric shakes his head slightly, amused. 'No way, Rivani. He won't try anything if he's sober. Ancestors, he probably won't even try anything if he's pissed.' They're easy words to say, but they pull at unpleasant and fresh wounds, only a few months old– a stack of broken wine bottles staining a cracked, Hightown floor; green eyes, bloodshot, dilated, looking right through him. A rumbling voice, saying only 'It never should have happened' in response to hours and hours of Varric's questions and threats. Varric shakes his head, before drinking deeply. Hard memories, ones he does not wish to be preserved.
Isabela leans forward conspiratorially, eyes sparking in the candle light. 'But you weren't with them today. You didn't see the little looks he kept shooting her, all desperate and adoring.' She sucks in a deep breath, lightly clapping her hands together. 'Ooh, it was delicious.'
'I still say he hasn't got the stones,' Varric replies, trying to repress the strains of ugly anger in his words. 'Care to raise the stakes? ' he adds, forcing his voice to be light as he turns a sovereign over in his fingers.
Isabela follows the motion with surprisingly focused eyes and gives him a smooth wink. 'Easiest coin I'll ever make, sweet thing.'
'Look what's happening now!' Merrill gasps, her voice high and breathy.
Abandoning any attempts to remain inconspicuous, they all quickly resume their voyeurism. Varric immediately swears and Isabela shoots him a predatory grin. Fenris has slid his hand down into the tight space between him and Hawke. His free hand, gauntlets and all, is digging into the bottom of the bench, splintering the word. He appears to be muttering something to himself. Hawke, eyes drowsy with wine, seems ignorant beside him, head lolling slightly with the weight of a half sleep.
Isabela pokes at Varric with a determined finger, still not taking her eyes from the scene unfolding before them. 'I'll take that sovereign please. You can cheer yourself up by thinking about how often you can retell this story.' Her hand slips into his pocket to take her coin.
Varric shakes his head. 'Sadly, this will never do, Rivaini. People don't want to hear about this kind of fumbling. They want public declarations of love and passionate embraces. Not hand holding.'
It's true. Hawke, larger than life, all powerful mage, storming Hightown with her wit and Fereldan 'charm'. That is the Hawke he paints for people; that is the Hawke he reveals. She who is wild, a force of nature crackling in the storm, parting seas.
Because that is the only Hawke they deserve to know. They don't deserve the one who follows Isabela to every ridiculous hat shop in Lowtown, or the one who spends an entire day wearing the crown of flowers that Daisy made. Not the Hawke who buys Orana a pretty dress, nor the one who rolls down Sundermount hills with her mabari. Not the Hawke who snorts when she laughs, and most certainly not the Hawke whom Varric sometimes sees staring out across the sea, back to Fereldan, with a expression so achingly sad that he has to look away.
But it's more than that. The Hawke of the stories is the Hawke that the people of Kirkwall need. They need the Champion, the slayer of Quanri and the only person in the city brave enough to step in between Meredith and Orsino. They cannot hear about how Hawke pressed her face against the stones of the Deep Roads in a silent prayer; or how she screamed in agony last month when Anders had to reset her dislocated shoulder. These are exposures, flaws, that end the fiction and make her human. Stories can't bleed or cry.
And worse still is to hear of this painfully stuttered romance. Two untamed, beautiful outcasts, caught in a grip of lust – that is desirable, ethereal. But anything deeper than base passion has no place in his stories.
Their first reunion after that night was not the stuff of stories. Varric was there for that, and it was bloody awkward. Traipsing around the Wounded Coast, looking for raiders and finding nothing for hours except awful, prickly silence. It was almost a blessed relief when they were finally attacked, if not to end the seemingly constant feeling of suffocation. But half way through the fight Hawke and Fenris – who had once fought together as if it were easier than breathing – had slammed into one another, and Hawke had half jumped out of her skin. For a moment it was almost amusing – before the raider's blade had sunk into the soft flesh of her shoulder, and the sand was suddenly spotted with the vivid pulse of red blood.
They'd dispatched the rest of the raiders quickly after that (Fenris with a sudden, brutal determination that almost frightened Varric). Still, the wound was deep enough that Hawke, useless as ever with healing magic, decided that they'd finish the job tomorrow because she needed to see Anders. And then Rivani had made a bad joke about pleasure and pain, which ended with the elf storming home and Hawke snapping at Isabela for the first time in years. Defeated, and miserable, they had stumbled home and parted ways, all locked in thought.
'But they're so cute,' Merrill whispers, breaking Varric away from the labyrinth of his own memories.
Across the bar, Fenris seems to be struggling, his finger shaking with a repressed palsy. His eyes are closed, tight – and then suddenly he jerks his hand so slightly that some of his fingers pass through Hawke's.
Hawke shoots up in her seat, not able to stop herself from glancing at their two hands. She is careful not to look at Fenris though, who has his teeth clenched and a muscle leaping in his jaw. He is ignoring her entirely, as if his hand is acting outside of his control and he is naught but a reluctant bystander to the whole affair.
As unsteady as she is in her intoxicated haze, it is with a surprising firmness that Hawke further interlaces her fingers with his.
The change in his demeanour is immediate. He snaps his head as far as possible away from her and somehow manages to become even more rigid. His knuckles turn white as he grips her hand and a faint pinkness creeps up his tanned neck and cheekbones. Hawke is now mirroring him, deliberately facing away – even if it meant staring at the wall – and turning a distinct shade of red.
Merrill giggles quietly, leaning against Isabela. 'Oh look at lethallan. She looks like a halla ready to bolt!'
'And I think Broody's only a few copper marigolds off being worse at this than Aveline,' Varric adds, feeling amusement sinking into his bones. Hawke may be his greatest legend, but it doesn't mean she's not hilariously awkward to observe at times.
As they watch on, Hawke lowers her head to Fenris' shoulder, as if approaching a trapped animal. Her bright eyes flutter shut. There is no denying the dark flush on Fenris' face any longer – it is the same colour as the worn scarf tied around his wrist. He takes a deep, rattling breath before finally loosing the stiff rigor of his body and slumping into the contact. His tense eyes relax – the expression of his face is not peace, but as close as Varric has ever seen it. Their hands remain threaded together.
Isabela sighs softly. 'They're both as stupid as one another. How much longer is it going to be before they just stop fighting it? I don't think I can handle much more of this pining.' Her voice may seem light, but there's a heaviness behind the usual lilt, and when Varric look round she is drumming her ringed fingers against the table in agitation.
Merrill is having difficulty tearing her gaze away. 'I just don't understand them,' she admits, a sadness piercing her voice. 'They could make each other so happy.'
Varric shoots her an understanding smile, patting her small hand. 'That's people, Daisy. Too slow or scared to be happy. Even if it's staring them right in the face.' He pauses to consider. 'Or if it's following you around wearing your family crest like a chastity belt.'
'But how does it all end Varric? Is it a happy story or not?'
For once Varric can't think of an answer. He could only shrug and say, 'This is Hawke and Broody's story, Daisy. We can only watch and hope.'
There were so many times he imagined an ending, so many conclusions and resolutions ignored, dismissed. When Hawke, newly crowned Champion, lay bleeding to death in the Viscount's Keep, it was a time for declarations of love. Or after her mother' death, when her skin was pale and cool as ice and her eyes even colder – that was when she should have been warmed, brought alive by a hand to take hers. Ancestors, Varric has no desire for a dramatic story – it should have ended that night, with both of them happy, truly happy, perhaps for the first time in their rotten, hard lives.
But this is not his story. Varric cannot tell when this limbo will be broken – if it will be broken. And he can't look away, can't stop watching every move, every step of the strained, hopeful dance they are caught in.
Several hours later, as Merrill conveniently wins enough money to pay for her weekly shop, Fenris passes by their table and out into the night, a half sleeping Hawke tucked into her chest.
Varric sniggers to himself. 'I don't think he even saw us. Andraste's dimples, Broody is whipped.'
'Do you think anything…interesting…will happen tonight?' Isabela purrs as the bar door closes, her eyes alight once more with her usual amusement.
'Any what?' Merrill repeats, before being distracted by another miraculous win.
'Of course not,' Varric mutters in an aside to Isabela, as he begins to collect up the card. 'Broody will be a complete gentleman and take her home to Bodhan, before going back to his mansion and getting absolutely pissed. And then he'll spend all of tomorrow sullen and hung-over. Bianca's sure of it. What fun for us to deal with.'
Varric doesn't say anything more – he may have suspicions, may have hopes, but he knows that their place is in his fictions, not this world. And in so many ways, Varric cannot help but think that it is one story that is more beautiful in motion than in his own words. Strangely, something as small as holding hands feels too intimate to recreate. Hawke is his greatest story, but the myth is nothing compared to the woman who laughs and cries and loves. And Varric – like everyone, like the Maker himself – will simply have to wait to see how it all ends.