Danal winced when Fenris threw back the heavy drapes and a bright splash of sunlight fell across his pillow, lancing straight through his brain to scour the back of his skull. He groaned and burrowed back beneath the blanket, pulling it up over his head with one hand. Maker, he didn't even have enough spit in his mouth to talk. He sucked on the back of his hand, trying to ignore the roiling emptiness in his belly.
"Next time I suggest to Varric that we drink till we can't see straight...just...kick me in the shins...or knock me over the head and drag me home...or...something," Danal mumbled when he'd finally worked up some moisture. The side of the bed, somewhere around his waist, sagged as the elf settled next to his human lover.
"Tell me you didn't try any of Varric's 'special reserve', at least?"
Danal peeked out through a sliver of open space between the soft blanket and the mattress. The smell of peppermint and some exotic spice from the steaming mug in the elf's hand drifted across his nose.
"Please, grant me that much sense. I know better than to touch dwarven ale."
"First time for everything," the elf commented, holding out the cup.
"A Tevinter home remedy for bad hangovers."
"Does it work?"
A half-smile tugged at the corner of Fenris' mouth. "At the least, you shouldn't feel any worse."
Danal squirmed to a half-sitting position, pulling the blanket over his head like a cloak hood and reached for the mug. Getting drunk after Varric had confronted Bartrand last night about that thrice-damned lyrium idol they'd found in the Deep Roads had seemed like a reasonable reaction to an unreasonable situation. Despite his better sense telling him he should know better.
But no matter how the two had chafed against one another, or the horrors that had been committed in that house, Bartrand had still been kin to Varric. A brother's loss cut deep, nevermore than when it came by your own hand, whether deliberately as an act of mercy or because you were too damn slow in intercepting an ogre's killing blow. But getting drunk didn't numb that hurt, not for very long anyway. All it did was replace one kind of pain with another.
"Amario?" Fenris said softly, when Danal's hand holding the cup started to shake. Both the elf's hands own closed around his lover's.
"I didn't mean for him to kill Bartrand when I told Varric his brother probably wasn't going to get better," Danal said, staring into the amber drink.
"You saw what happened in that mansion. What Bartrand had done. How he was."
"I know...I know...I just...I don't blame Varric." Danal blew out a long breath. "I just wish it could have ended differently. Maker's great freezing balls, how I wish that."
Fenris strong arms slipped around his shoulders, and he leaned his forehead against his lover's. He didn't say anything, but that suited Danal just fine. For a moment, he clung to the elf, then gently pulled out of his grasp and downed the mug's contents in one long swallow. Warm going down it sent soothing tendrils of warmth through his gut.
"That's...not bad." He gazed down at his hands, now steady.
Fenris retrieved the empty mug and set it on the table. "Just don't make a habit of needing it. Some of the herbs are hard to come by even in Hightown."
Danal leaned back against the pillows, the end of the blanket still draped over his head. He scrubbed his face with his hands. He needed a shave and a bath and...he needed to see Varric. Maker alone knew what the dwarf was going through. Whatever it was, he shouldn't do it by himself. No one should face that kind of pain alone.
He eased off the bed and snagged his pants off the floor, then started when a heavy ring of red gold fell out of a pocket and bounced across the dusty oak floor, rolling to a stop by a table leg.
"What's this?" Fenris asked, scooping it up, studying the endless knot incised on the wide band.
Danal pulled on his pants. "A ring?"
The attempt at humor felt forced but it still earned him an arched brow and a twitch at a corner of the elf's mouth as Danal laced up his pants.
"I picked it up off the floor last night...between fighting those crazed guards. In one of the back bedrooms." He sank onto the bed after retrieving his socks from under the bedside table. "Habit, I guess. See something shiny...pick it up...like a magpie." He chuckled, then winced. Fenris' concoction had eased the roiling in his stomach, but his head still ached...like his heart. "Meant to give it to Varric, but then we left for the Hanged Man and..." He shrugged, then pulled on his socks.
"There's an inscription on the inside," Fenris said, settling beside him on the bed. He rotated the band as he read. "V, Remember Me, B."
Chestnut eyes met moss-green. "Maker's balls, it couldn't be. Could it?"
"A lot of names start with B, amario."
"Sure, like Bran, Bryce, Bertha-"
Danal laughed at his lover's expression, then flinched and rubbed the side of his head. "Please, don't make me laugh."
Fenris just grunted and handed him the ring.
"Bianca," Danal said softly, looking at the inscription.
"You can't know that for certain."
The human glanced up. "I can if Varric tells me."
"He's always put you off before. And anyone else who's ever asked. Why would he tell you now?"
"In a way, he already has..." He lifted the ring, gleaming between his fingers. "...through this. I know she's someone who meant a lot to him." He rolled it between his fingers, his eyes thoughtful, then he slipped it back into his pocket. "But there's only one way to find out for sure, isn't there?"
Fenris trailing in his shadow, Danal paused in the doorway to Varric's rooms, studying the dwarf hunched over a sheet of foolscap at his dining table. Late afternoon sun streamed through the window, casting a diamond pattern of shadows across a litter of scribbled sheets and empty ale bottles. On a small table, near his elbow, Bianca nestled on her cushion.
Varric never looked up as Danal stepped softly into the room, Fenris gliding out from behind him to take up his customary spot by the fireplace. Did he even go to bed last night? Danal wondered, then decided no when the dwarf glanced up, looking ragged and worn and so very tired. Varric smiled in greeting, like he always did, but something haunted and dark prowled in the depths of his eyes. Danal swallowed. He knew that look. He'd seen it every time he'd looked in a mirror in the months following Carver's death.
Varric leaned back in his favorite chair with a soft grunt, holding his pencil with two hands. "Thought you'd still be passed out, Hawke."
Danal glanced at Fenris. "Yeah, well..." Oh, damn, what do I say? Sorry about Bartrand? He tried a smile, then gave it up and pulled out a chair on his friend's right. After a moment, Fenris slid into the chair beside him and nodded at Varric who nodded back.
"I'd offer you a drink, Broody, but Hawke cleaned me out last night."
Fenris just shrugged, and settled back in his chair.
Silence hung between them, but what was he going to fill it up with, Danal wondered. Words? What kind of words would banish the void in your heart where a brother had once lived? But he had to try, didn't he? He owed Varric that much.
The dwarf raised a hand. "Look, it's...over. Bartrand..." He stopped and swallowed, then looked away. "Bartrand...ah, shit, Hawke...you were there..."
Danal leaned forward, his forearms resting on the table. He glanced down at Varric's neat script, not reading it, just letting his eyes wander over the elegantly shaped letters, so unlike his own scrawl. Carver had had an elegant hand, too, an unexpected trait in a brother whose prickly edges had always kept Danal at bay.
Varric fingered a sheet by Danal's elbow, then picked it up. "The funeral's in three days. Have to...bury Bartrand here in Kirkwall." He gazed at the paper in his hand. "I'm supposed to say...something...about his life...the kind of man he was..." He crumpled the paper up with both hands, then threw it in the fireplace. "Damned if I know what."
Danal slid a hand into his pocket, then closed it around the ring after he pulled it out. On the way over, he'd gone over in his mind what he would say, didn't seem much point in it now. Probably just best to leave the token with Varric, and apologize for taking it. He laid his hand on the table, but his fingers wouldn't uncurl, instead they tightened around it, till he could feel the ring's edges pressing against his palm.
The dwarf glanced down, then up at him. "Hawke?"
Danal took a deep breath, then forced his hand to open.
For a long moment, Varric just stared, then a tremor passed through him and the fingers of his right hand twitched, as if he were holding his crossbow.
Danal broke the silence between them. "I...found this during the fight. I meant to return it to you last night. But then...Bartrand...and..." His voice trailed off into a silence so thick he could have carved it with his daggers.
Varric's eyes stayed rooted on the gleaming band. "Where?"
"One of the back bedrooms. It fell out of the wall where an axe punched through."
The dwarf never grazed his skin as he snatched up the ring from Danal's palm. It nestled against the tips of Varric's fingers where he held it in one hand.
"I hid it there so Bartrand wouldn't find it." He looked up then, the dark still in his eyes, but quiet now, like the deep end of a winter night. "I should have ditched it...but I'd...made a promise...to Bianca."
"Was she your lover?" Danal asked softly, his fingers now interlaced on the table.
The dwarf shook his head. "Bartrand's."
"Your brother's?" Fenris said, sounding as surprised as Danal felt. The elf leaned forward, his eyes wide.
Varric settled back in his chair, the ring disappearing inside his loose fist. "She was a duster who'd somehow found her way to the surface. Never told me her story. Said it was best if it stayed buried in Orzammar...with the rest of the trash." He smiled then, a small one that barely bent the corners of his mouth, but it was real. "Never said what she meant by that...but knowing B..." He blew out a breath, and tilted his head, studying the dusty cobwebs on the ceiling. "She was a fine piece of work...fire-red hair...eyes as blue as a winter's day...a mind as sharp as her daggers. Bartrand was smitten from the moment she crossed his path."
"Were you?" Danal asked.
Varric shrugged. "Maybe a little. But she'd set her sights on Bartrand. He was the heir, after all. And the only way a duster can rise is to have a child the same sex as the higher caste parent." He shrugged. "I was barely seventeen, just a kid in her eyes."
"So, if she gave Bartrand a son, she'd become a noble."
Varric nodded. "She'd be adopted into the family. Took about a year for B to get pregnant, but then...she lost the baby. So, my loving brother –the son-of-a-bitch- sorry about that mother – lost her."
Folding his arms, Fenris muttered something in Arcanum.
I'm really going to have to learn that language someday, Danal thought, then turned his attention back to Varric's story.
"By that time I was making some coin off a lurid serial that was published in Lowtown. Pure trash, and not my best work. But people seemed to like it." He shrugged, then continued. "B and I had become pretty close friends, by then. Though we had to be careful around Bartrand. He was a jealous bastard – apologies again, Mother." Varric winced as he rolled a shoulder and tendons popped. "I found her a room here after he kicked her out."
Danal's mouth quirked towards a smile. "The Hanged Man?"
"Believe me, Hawke, the irony is not lost on me." Varric shifted in the chair, pulling a pencil out from under his thigh, then tossing it on the table. "I went to see her every day. We walked along the docks, shared a few drinks while she cursed out Bartrand and tried to figure out what to do. One summer day I showed up and found her...gone. Corff said she'd taken a berth with some privateer." He smiled, a bit deeper this time. "Damn, but I was pissed. Taking off with never a word. But I didn't blame her. She'd complained about itchy feet for a while, so I wasn't surprised." His smile shifted to a grin. "Eight months later, she popped up here one evening wearing more gold than Isabella. Piracy apparently agreed with her. We talked all night, then watched the sun come up on the docks. Said she didn't expect to be back in Kirkwall for a long time, if ever." His hand curled around Bianca's shaft. "She left me with enough gold to buy this crossbow and she gave me..." He opened his hand, the ring gleaming on his palm. "...this. That was...oh...almost twelve years ago." His hand closed around the ring, and he slipped it into his pocket.
"You've haven't heard or seen her since then?" Danal asked.
Varric shook his head. "I like to think she's still alive. With her own ship, maybe. At least, that's how I wrote the story."
"I am curious about one thing," Fenris said.
"What's that, elf?"
"Naming your crossbow after your brother's lover. Wouldn't he wonder about that?"
Varric chuckled, and a knot in Danal's soul loosened at the sound of it. "B went by another name when she lived with us. Bianca was her pirate name."
Danal ran a hand over his face. "Oh, Maker, that sounds like one of your serials." He leaned back in his chair. "And you're not going to tell us her real name, are you?"
"I made a promise, Hawke. And you know I always keep my promises."
"Yes, I know," Danal said, smiling. It faded when he glanced back at the half-filled sheets scattered across the table. So did Varric's.
The dwarf sighed. "I'll think of something, I suppose. Make up a story, I guess."
"You're good with that." Danal briefly squeezed the dwarf's arm. "Look, if you need anything...anything at all..." Varric nodded. He still looked like he'd been scraped across the underside of ship's hull, but the dark didn't seem quite so deep in his eyes. And Danal was grateful for that. The human pushed to his feet, Fenris rising with him.
"Thank you...for telling me about B. She sounds like quite a lady," Danal said.
"That she was," the dwarf said, sighing. "That she was."