Author's Note: So in a couple of my stories I referenced an unwritten scene, where Varric and Solara talk after her mother was murdered. I'm trying to get back into the writing mode and heard the song from which the title is taken. And it struck me that the song could really fit how my Solara Hawke feels about everything that's happened.
In this I reference a story I'm working on for Varric and Bethany so don't get too confused that you can't find it. If everything goes well I'm hoping to have it finished soon.
P.S. Updated this to correct a geographical mistake... Lothering is in Southern Ferelden, not Southern Denerim. Don't ask me how I managed that one.
Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues strong
It's always darkest before the dawn
And I've been a fool and I've been blind
I can never leave the past behind
-Florence & The Machine, 'Shake It Out'
Solara was still not entirely certain as to how she'd come to be sitting in Varric's rooms at the Hanged Man. She'd been to see Aveline in the Guard Captain's office and was on her way back home when she'd bumped into Varric.
He'd talked her into it somehow, that was all that really mattered, and now she was on her second tankard of the not so terrible ale Varric kept for his personal guests. "Varric why am I here?" Solara asked finally, her mouth quirking up in a half smile as she regarded the clean shaven dwarf.
"Thought you needed to get out of Hightown for a while. All that rarified atmosphere gets stifling." Varric smiled. "What's the harm in a drink or three amongst friends?"
"No harm I suppose." Solara shrugged and leaned back in her chair, determined to drink slowly. She usually could make one tankard last all night but she'd been thirsty and her first pint had been gone before she knew it. Varric had poured her another and it was half gone already. Solara took a deep breath and forced it out before she took another sip. Too much ale, wine, whiskey or any other form of intoxicant and she babbled like a brook. Of course Varric had no way of knowing that.
Varric watched as Hawke took a sip from her tankard and set the heavy mug down. She was uncharacteristically quiet and had downed her first pint as if she'd been starved for it. Now she was sipping at her second pint more slowly but it was still disappearing at a faster rate than her normal habit of imbibing. "So, Hawke, I was wondering…" He began with a smile. "Aveline was at Ostagar I know, was that where you two met?"
Solara gave a one shouldered shrug and took another sip of ale. "Met Aveline north of Lothering, that's in Southern Ferelden," She explained. "Ostagar is further south than that, almost into the wilds really." She took a few peanuts and placed them on the table to show him the distance. "Carter and I were at Ostagar but we didn't see Aveline."
"So you actually fought in the battle?" Varric asked keeping his voice casual. Pressing for information or betraying too much interest usually had the opposite of the effect he wanted. Even with friends, over eagerness tended to close people's mouths, rather than open them. "I wouldn't have thought Leandra would be happy with that."
"Mother was fairly upset," Solara admitted, her mouth quirking up at one side again. "But the Bann had called for everyone able to use a weapon. Carter and I definitely qualified." She shook her head as if thinking. "Carter was fairly pleased that he was given a chance to prove himself. He would have been happier had I not come along."
"I would have thought having family around would be a comfort." The dwarf shook his head. "I take it that wasn't the case?"
"Not quite," Solara nearly chuckled and pushed her bangs out of her eyes. "He told me he didn't need his big sister watching over him." Blue eyes rolled heavenward in remembered exasperation. "That was a good thing as he was put in with the infantry while I was with the scouts."
"So you were in the wilds more than he I suppose." Varric took care to make his words sound more like a statement than a question. Pulling information from Hawke was like coaxing a wildcat to eat from your hand.
"I saw more of the wilds, for certain, but we both saw our fair share of combat." Idly she took another sip of ale and pulled a dagger out, balancing it by the hilt on her fingertip. "The army won several battles against the Darkspawn. Carter's unit and mine were usually in the thick of everything. I know my group was known for getting things done, for getting accurate information. And that we were excellent saboteurs was very helpful; nothing like bombs and traps for tripping up the Darkspawn. Carter's people… they were known for killing everything in their way, in combat they were a cohesive unit, almost unstoppable, at least until the end."
"Formidable." The dwarf commented with a smile.
"One might say," Solara nodded slowly. "Didn't make it easy to find him after…afterward," She took another, larger, sip of ale. "We were both trying to help friends, get as many as we could out of Ostagar, but too many just couldn't make it. Even when the command went out to evacuate the support staff…the army was already overrun…no one had a chance. I remember the kennel master just opened the kennels and set the Mabari loose, told them to run for home. Some people got out, but not enough. We got to Lothering just ahead of the horde, and ran for it. Not easy."
"I don't imagine it would have been." Varric nodded his understanding, "I'm still amazed you got into Kirkwall. It's not as if the guard were welcoming of refugees."
Solara shrugged uncomfortably. "It wasn't the easiest year," She admitted keeping her voice slow and deliberate. "But in retrospect it could have been worse. At least we had work and a place to stay."
"And Kirkwall is the better for having you here." Varric raised his tankard in a toast and she gave him a lopsided grin and did the same.
"Really the only good thing to come out of Ostagar was Eli," Varric watched Hawke grin a bit over some memory.
"Your Mabari?" He prompted and watched her bright blue eyes dance with amusement over the memory.
"The Mabari are susceptible to the Darkspawn sickness just as we are." Solara told him softly. "But there are some flowers that grow in Ferelden, Andraste's Grace we call them, that can be used in a potion to cure the sickness, in our hounds at least." She sighed, "Since we were always out scouting my unit would keep an eye out for the flowers. One of the Mabari seemed to notice I was always bringing the cure. When they set the hounds loose, he followed me, still does. So I called him Eli."
"Why Eli?" Varric wondered, "It's a nice enough name, but hardly warlike."
"It means Ascend." She smiled slightly, "It seemed right at the time." She took another healthy sip from her tankard and frowned as she realized that she'd drained it.
Varric snagged the tankard out of her hand deftly and moved to refill it. "So tell me, didn't it worry you when we took Daisy and Moody out together? At first I thought they'd get along because they're elves, but then Moody started in with the whole, 'mages are wicked' rant and I really was starting to worry he'd have apoplexy."
Solara chuckled and shook her head as she took the tankard back from Varric and sipped at the ale. She was feeling very warm and relaxed and the only way the evening could have gotten better would be to have Sebastian next to her. With an effort she put that thought from her mind. "Fenris really… well he's actually a very good person, and he's had horrible things happen to him, I just wish he could be a little more open minded about mages. Some of them are as much slaves as he was. And Merrill, oh I love that girl to death but if she doesn't stop obsessing over that blasted mirror she's going to go crazy."
"You have to admit, Daisy isn't like any blood mage I've ever met." Varric took a sip of his own ale, his shrewd eyes taking in Hawke's slightly flushed cheeks and the comfortable way she slouched in her chair. His friend was well on her way to being extremely tipsy.
"No, she isn't, which is good because I'd hate to have to kill her." Solara agreed, "But if she and Fenris don't stop sniping at each other I'm going to lock them in a room until they break the tension."
Varric nearly choked on his ale as a laugh burst from his throat. "You want those two to sleep together? Fenris and Merrill? Are you crazy Hawke?"
She chuckled and took a large sip of her ale. "Maybe, I live in Kirkwall after all." She conceded with a grin. "And maybe it would just make things worse, but sometimes…it's the not knowing that makes you crazy. Though with Fenris… I don't know. I just know I don't want to sleep with him, and he doesn't seem to like Isabella. But that man needs to get laid and soon or his face is going to be creased into a permanent scowl."
"Maker help me," Varric shook his head when he finally stopped laughing, his sides were aching. "I'm afraid to ask what you think of Anders or Aveline." He watched as Hawke drank some more ale and grinned at him.
"Aveline is a sweetheart deep down." Solara smiled at the thought of her stalwart and loyal friend. "She believes that order helps people; that good is more important that law and that nobles have an obligation to think of their people, not their own wants."
Varric nodded his understanding. "You've known Aveline for longer than you've known me. I always wondered if you knew each other in Ferelden or if you met in the crossing."
Solara shook her head, her eyes far away for a moment. "We met Aveline and Wesley when we escaped Lothering, they were on the same road. Wesley was… well he had the same sickness Bethany got in the Deep Roads. A wound from the Darkspawn that became…tainted. When Flemeth rescued us…I left it up to Aveline but we both knew what had to be done." Her sigh was sad even to her own ears. "He was a templar, not a bad one from everything she said, just…devout."
"She told me once she met you right before you killed an ogre," Varric smiled teasingly. "Did you really wonder what they fed those things?"
"I think my first thought was 'oh shit' and then, 'Maker that thing's huge' and then 'Oh shit' again." Solara laughed before she looked at him sadly. "Carter… he charged it, didn't even give me a chance to attack, just charged in like he always did... It… it grabbed him, shook him the way a dog shakes its prey, and then threw him to the ground. He was dead…probably before he hit the dirt."
"Damn." Varric swore softly. "I'm sorry Hawke."
"I just couldn't believe it at first," Solara barely heard Varric's condolences. "He'd made it all the way through Ostagar, escaped the battlefield, then Lothering…only to get killed… It just seemed… anticlimactic I guess."
"Reality often is, I'm told." The dwarf said dryly. "I know how you met Anders, but you never told me what your first impression was." He turned the subject hoping to take that haunted look out of Hawke's eyes.
"Oh, you mean before or after he went for his staff and threatened me?" Solara shook her head and took a deep swig of her ale, setting the tankard down a bit heavily. "I thought he was well a little odd."
"Odd." Varric tilted his head and smiled when Solara imitated him.
"Yes," She nodded thoughtfully. "Kirkwall isn't the safest place for an apostate." She reminded her friend, "plus he… I don't know, I expect I thought he'd remind me more of my father, but he's…Anders is about as far from my father's character as a man could be and still be a mage."
"I was under the impression that you liked him." The dwarf chuckled. "He does seem to like you."
"Oh I like him fine," Solara rolled her eyes. "Just not the same as he likes me. I was tempted to sleep with him for a while… but I just…something held me back." She shrugged. "Even with the drought, I thought if I slept with him he'd take it too seriously. For me it would be…well, physical, a comfort maybe… and I don't usually like to reduce sex to that."
"You're usually in love with the men you're with." Varric offered keeping his voice gentle.
"Yes, all two of them," Solara snorted into her tankard as she took another drink. "So even relaxing that particular standard… I still couldn't sleep with him."
"Why not? I mean if he's a friend and you both would enjoy each other as friends." Varric wondered and hoped Hawke wouldn't be too offended at the question.
"It wouldn't be fair to either of us." She shook her head. "I'll never be able to trust him, I've seen Justice a few too many times to think Anders is trustworthy. And Anders… well the way he flirts… I just get the idea that if I slept with him he'd think I had chosen him, chosen his side over everything else. And I can't do that."
"Sex with Anders would mean agreement with his ideology?" Varric asked trying to understand.
"Exactly," Solara sat up straight and thunked her empty tankard down. "And explaining that I don't wholeheartedly agree with him after sleeping with him…well way too awkward. Better to wait a little longer. Even in a drought."
"I think I understand," Varric nodded, "Well I understand most of what you've said."
"Varric, you won't say anything to him about this right?" Solara pushed her bangs out of her eyes. "I like talking to you…I just don't want to hurt his feelings."
"Relax Hawke, what's said here, what happens here, stays here." Varric assured her and got up to get her another tankard of ale. "So with that attitude towards sex, I'm a little surprised you get along so well with Rivaini."
Solara laughed as she took the tankard from her friend and placed it carefully on the table in front of her. "Oh I adore Isabella." She shook her head. "She's unapologetically herself. I love that about her."
"Oh she's unapologetic all right." Varric chuckled. "She took me for six sovereigns at Wicked Grace the other day."
"Just because she and I don't agree about a few things doesn't mean I don't like her." The dark haired woman took a swallow of her ale and smiled. Varric's rooms were warm and comfortable and she could always count on her friend to keep her company. "She has the right to live her life the way she wants. Why would I tell her otherwise? She doesn't do it to me."
"You don't have any problem with her at all?" Varric wondered if he looked as wide-eyed as he felt.
"Oh I don't entirely trust her," Dark pink lips twisted in a smirk. "She's hiding something, most likely to do with the relic, and with the luck I have she'll do something really inconvenient at the worst possible time. But she's… well she needs me. And she's my friend. So I just keep my eyes open. I don't think she'd ever hurt us. I just think she has a healthy sense of self preservation."
"Well we both know Sebastian doesn't exactly approve of Isabella." Varric smiled, "For all that he admits he was just like her."
"He knows she can be better. I think he wants that for her, a sense of fulfillment, like he's found." Solara excused the archer.
"For someone with relatives who are apostates you're fairly kindhearted towards chantry folk." The blond dwarf observed. "I would have thought you'd hate Sebastian and all his ilk."
"No," Solara smiled and Varric nearly blinked at the unguarded affection on her face. "People like Sebastian and Elthina, who truly wish to help, I can't hate them."
"You seem to be one of the only ones Sebastian actually speaks with outside the Chantry," Varric commented. "What do you think of him? Do you tolerate him well enough?" She was just tipsy enough to give him an honest answer the dwarf thought to himself.
Solara put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on the heels of her hands, palms cupping her cheeks. "He's sooo pretty." She drawled the words out like honey over biscuits. "Varric don't you think he's pretty?"
Definitely tipsy enough, Varric grinned in response and nodded. "But Anders is fairly good looking too." He offered the comparison knowing Hawke would argue it.
"No," Solara shook her head, nearly dislodging her chin from its perch on her hands. "Not as pretty as Sebastian." She sighed. "And Sebastian is nice too… he even stayed with me, stayed with me all night and let me cry all over him." She smiled wickedly. "Sometimes he's too much of a gentleman…but it's still very… appealing."
"He stayed all night and didn't make any overtures?" Varric shook his head in disbelief. "What did they do to him in the Chantry?"
"Nothing," Solara's expression was positively carnal. "Absolutely nothing…" She shook her head. "He stayed and held me all night…even when I woke up because—" The dwarf's eyes narrowed as Hawke paused and made a noticeable change to what she was going to say. "And he fixed me breakfast." She finished.
"So you don't mind all that preaching about Andraste and the Maker?" A wide hand rubbed over his blond whisker stubbled chin as Varric watched Hawke closely. She had peered into her mug and then taken another large gulp of ale. "It doesn't bother you?"
"He hasn't turned any of our friends in to the Templars," Solara argued. "Not even Anders, and even I've been tempted to turn Anders in when he's driving me crazy." She traced patterns on the table with her fingertip, her expression wistful. "He just wants us all to be taken care of. He cares about all of us."
"So do you." Varric felt compelled to point out. "You care about all of us."
"Well yes," She shrugged. "I do. Sebastian just… worries I think. I wish he wouldn't."
"If the man wants to worry he will." The dwarf took a gulp of ale and regarded his friend teasingly. "So he's pretty huh? Any other sterling qualities I should know about?"
Oblivious to his tone Solara nodded. "He's strong… very strong, his heart is I mean, stubborn as a Mabari with it." She smiled happily. "And he's kind, he's always helping others, or helping me, talking to me about things. He's loyal to us, he goes on any quest we come up with and never complains. He's very skilled with the bow..." Her eyes went vague and hot as Varric watched, apparently Hawke had more than a few inappropriate thoughts about the archer. "He reminds me… he reminds me of my father in all the best ways. I know I can trust him. He doesn't care that I'm a thief. Doesn't mind that I associate with apostates and pirates and escaped slaves. He just asks that I do my best and that's enough for him. And he always wants my honest opinion." She sighed a bit sadly.
Varric took a sip of ale to hide his expression as he considered what he'd observed. Hawke obviously found Vael attractive, that much was obvious. But from the wistful expression on her face and the forlorn quality of her sigh her heart was engaged and she believed her affection was unrequited. More than once Varric had wondered what was wrong with Sebastian Vael and now he knew. The man was either blind or a complete fool. Any man fortunate enough to have one of the Hawke women in love with him should grab onto her with both hands and hang on for dear life if he had any sense at all.
"No wonder Anders doesn't like him," Varric said finally, "If you're able to talk to Sebastian and not Anders." He added when Hawke stared at him in confusion.
"Any conversation with Anders always ends with him talking passionately about the plight of mages and how the Circle is a prison." Solara sighed in resignation. "Sebastian listens to me." She shrugged slightly. "And I listen to him. Sometimes it's nice to just talk and know that I'm not going to be judged for my opinion. Sebastian might not agree with me but he won't tell me I'm wrong because of it."
"But that camaraderie does give Anders something to be jealous of," The dwarf pointed out reasonably. "However much Anders is to blame for your not talking to him as often."
"There are times when I wish I could fall in love with Anders or Fenris," Solara knew she sounded tired and couldn't bring herself to care. "But while that would simplify some things it would complicate others. Both of them…want me to take a side…and I really can't."
"That's the problem with you and I," Varric smiled gently. "We see both sides of the problem. Makes it hard to choose."
"Oh you're telling me." Solara groaned as she took another gulp of ale. "I just…sometimes I get tired of being too late," She looked at Varric, his bright eyes were clear and interested, for all that he'd been drinking as much as she was. "You ever feel like that?"
"Too late?" Varric thought for a moment and his eyes darkened. "A little bit too much lately yes."
"Too late to keep Anders from taking in Justice. Too late to keep Carver from getting killed. Too late to save my mother. Too late to keep Bethany from…" Solara shook her head. "Have you heard from her?"
Varric didn't have to ask who she meant. "Not since before your mother…" He shook his head. "I wrote to her but… it's probably too soon to get a letter back."
"I'm sorry Varric," Solara shook her head; "If I hadn't taken her with us she wouldn't have… well she wouldn't be a Grey Warden."
"No, she'd be in the Circle and just as lost to us." Varric shook his head. "At least this way she's free. She's alive and making a difference, not bound by the Circle's rules and watched by the Templars."
"I just… when I…" Dark hair fell in her eyes again as she shook her head. "Did you think I didn't know?" She asked curiously.
"I'd hoped we were discreet." The blond dwarf shrugged, "Given that I wasn't sure of your reaction, it seemed best."
"There's an old saying in Ferelden that there are three things that can't be hidden," Solara chuckled, "A horse in the desert, pregnancy and a man in love."
"Well it's true that they can't be hidden," Varric conceded with a laugh of his own. "But there are ways to disguise all three." He looked at her shrewdly. "You and I know a thing or two about disguising love as friendship." Her eyes were dark with shadows and hidden secrets as Hawke gazed at him thoughtfully. He could see plain as day that she was fond of Choir Boy, too fond for her own good. And just like him, there wasn't anything she could do about it but conceal the depth of her feelings.
"Yes we do." Solara nodded finally. "To the fine art of disguising things by hiding in plain sight." She lifted her tankard and clunked it against his before taking a final gulp of ale. "And now…I'd better get home before I can't get there at all."
"I'll walk you." Varric offered gently. "You're not in any shape to take on the gangs down here tonight."
"Thanks Varric." Hawke's grin was lopsided and threatened to fall from her lips. "But I'll be all right. Donnic's patrol was stopping by on the way back to the barracks. They'll walk me up to Hightown."
"Afraid to spend anymore time in my company?" Varric chuckled.
"Yes," She nodded with all the fervency of one extremely tipsy. "You'll learn all my tricks if I walk with you. And a girl must have a few secrets of her own."
"Very well Hawke," Varric watched as she slowly made her way down to the taproom, his position at the top of the stairs giving him a good view of her slim form walking towards Donnic and his guards. She turned as if she felt his eyes on her and waved a cheery good bye. "A woman in love can't be hidden either my friend. Pity neither you nor Vael seem to see what I do."
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It's a fine romance but it's left me so undone
It's always darkest before the dawn
And I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't
So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my road
And I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope
It's a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat