Disclaimer: Bioware owns Dragon Age and all its characters. I make no profits.

It wasn't that he didn't want to comfort Hawke. Of course he did. But Varric felt entirely more comfortable doing it on his own terms. He was good at pulling strings behind the scenes, making a problem go away by paying off the right people or killing off the wrong ones. But in this situation, where all the worst offenders were already killed and no amount of bribery or blackmail could bring a dead mother back to the realm of the living, Varric Tethras was out of his element. And the last thing he wanted was for to Hawke to realize that. Or—even worse—to figure out how much his ineptitude bothered him. And so, in a spectacular display of cowardice, he found himself sneaking right back out the way he'd come in.

He would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for Aveline, who seemed to have anticipated just such an act of treachery. No sooner had Varric shut the front door behind him with a sigh of something—if not quite relief—than the indictments came charging at him like a team of 10-ton brontos.

"And where do you think you're going?" Aveline said, crossing her arms in front of her breastplate as she turned to block his escape route.

Finding himself trapped—with a door at his back and a solid, immovable woman in front of him—there was nothing for a dwarf to do but employ a little humor. "Oh, look," he said, his voice inflected with falsified cheer. "Kirkwall's guard captain standing watch at the Hawke estate. You should be careful. The neighbors might think you're on the take."

Aveline's frown intensified. "You're changing the subject, Varric."

"I wasn't-"

"Yes. You were."

Varric sighed. He hardly had the energy for this after what they'd all been through. So he let the facade fall away and when next he spoke, all semblance of cheerfulness was gone. In its place was a grim vulnerability he rarely let show. "And if I tell you she's not in the mood for company?"

"Doesn't matter."

He laughed aloud, but not with mirth. Just a bark of laughter, quick and bitter. "This is Hawke we're talking about, in case you've forgotten. It matters."

"Did she ask you to go?" Aveline said.

"She-" he paused, looking down at his gloves as he considered a range of possible sarcastic replies. Then, opting against all of them, he looked up again. "Well, no, not in those words." And then he chuckled, his mouthiness getting the better of him, as it so often did. "That frown's going to need a stamina potion if you keep that up."

The red bloom of her anger was obvious as it spread across her cheeks and made her freckles stand out, even in the flickering glow of the lamplight. Not daring to push her much further, Varric relented. "She said she doesn't want to talk about it. And she doesn't want anyone talking to her."

"So don't. Go back in there and keep your mouth shut for once."

"And do what all night?"

Aveline raised an eyebrow. For a dwarf with more imagination than most of Kirkwall combined, it was particularly telling at which moments those powers routinely failed him.

"Teach the dog to play cards for all I care," she said. And because he seemed to be seriously thinking that over—another one of his distraction techniques, no doubt—she jabbed an accusatory finger at the chest hair. "I will not see her left alone. Not tonight. So if you don't go back in there, I will."

The finger caught his attention and he sneered at it. Just a little.

"I don't know how she puts up with you," Aveline said.

"Now that's funny. I was about to say the same thing about you."

"And I don't know what she sees in you."

He chuckled, and there was warmth in it this time—his first honest laugh of the evening. "I have talents she appreciates."

"I should hope so. If not, I'd question her sanity."

"You're like somebody's mother, you know that? Somebody's stubborn, dwarven mother."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Aveline said.

And since every missed opportunity to have the last word was, for Varric, a minor tragedy, he muttered, "You do that" as he turned to face the door, staring it down with the same resignation he felt towards any other enforced duty.

The foyer was dark and its cool air still held the scent of lilies. It was unsettling enough that Varric reached over his shoulder to stroke Bianca's stock, borrowing a little of her self assurance. She was a real champ that way. The emotional stuff never held her back; she just kept going, sturdy and capable and undeterred. Whatever this was—this crushing sense that everything familiar was changing—none of it could touch Bianca. The gleam of her polish was bright as ever.

Varric passed through the doorway to the main hall and waited a moment by the fireplace. The whole house was quiet. The servants had all retired for the night, which meant there were no distractions, no stupid conversations, nothing for a dwarf to do but climb the stairs and move quickly past the closed door of Leandra's room. Hawke's own door was ajar, just as Varric had left it, and since there wasn't any sense in dragging things out further, he pushed it wide and walked right in.

The fire had burned down to embers, but there was light enough to see. The mabari's ears shifted, following Varric's path across the room. But aside from that subtle movement, the dog sat still, resting his head near Hawke's pillow. Though she had turned away from him, he was staring at her back intently as if by concentrating on his mistress he would unlock some special canine power that could set the whole world right. Dogs were like that—just because they didn't know the answer didn't mean they weren't going to give it their all. It was sweet. And foolish. And Varric still didn't know what to do with himself.

So he set Bianca carefully on the bedside table, took off his gloves, and sat down on the bed.

"Hey," he said, though admittedly, it sounded more like an awkward croak than a greeting.

Hawke looked up at him with bloodshot eyes. Her face was oddly swollen and for a split second Varric wondered if she'd been hit. But of course not. She'd been crying, which was entirely appropriate given the circumstances. But it was strange, because in the four years he'd know her, he hadn't ever seen Hawke cry. Not like this, anyway. Tears of pain didn't really count, because those went away with the gulp of a potion. Tears of frustration didn't count either, because those could be resolved with a joke or a vow of vengeance or a joking vow of vengeance. Or something. But these tears were different. They were the heartbroken, all bets are off variety.

"Hey," she said and, reaching for his hand, she curled her fingers around his. "My storyteller."

"That's me."

Her voice was rough, all torn up from too much crying. "Tell me a story."

"Yeah?" Perhaps it was time to thank his ancestors, or Andraste, or some Dalish god of something or other, because for all his uncertainty, here was something he could do, something easy for him that might even be fun—especially if she wanted to hear the one about sea dragons that he'd been working on lately.

But then she looked away from him to stare at the fabric of the bedsheets, her gaze unfocused, and his heart sank when she asked him, "Tell me the story where I save her."

"Ah," Varric said, "I don't think so."

"Please," she whispered and her eyes were glossy, pooling with tears. "Tell me I was good. A better daughter. Tell me it all went right."

"Why do I get this twitchy feeling like you only want that story so you can torture yourself with it?"

"Torture?" she echoed and her eyes flashed with something—a little spark that betrayed too much interest. Her voice had gained an unsettling lilt. "My mother was tortured. Tortured with magic. Tortured with blades. Left in agony, but not to die."

"I know."

"And you're worried I'll torture myself?" She laughed at that, and not a healthy laugh, either. "How can I ever torture myself enough to make up for how I've failed her?"

Beyond the veil of tears, the look in her eyes was unsteady—open and grieving in one moment, closed and sharpened the next. In short, Hawke was dangerous. And more than anything else, Varric wanted to leave. The only thing that kept him seated was the thought that Aveline was probably still on that doorstep scowling.

"I've failed them all," Hawke said. "Mother. Father. Carver. All dead. And a sister lost to the Wardens. They'd have been better off if I'd never existed."

"Stop that," he said, a little flare of annoyance rising up as he looked at her.

"I kill everything that I love."


"Then stop it for me. Tell me a story—since that's what you do to my life whether I like it or not."


"Lie to me. Tell me I saved her."

Her lip was curled, more snarl than sneer, which should have mattered. But Varric was past the point of seeking nuance.

"Fine. You want a story? I've got one for you." The hard edge to his voice hadn't been there before.

Just when he thought nothing could soften it, he looked at her. Hawke's eyes, her whole face, had taken on a desperate, uncertain look—the one he knew so well from other nights, her climax close enough that she was straining for it, but far enough away that she still didn't trust it—one wrong touch and it would all disappear. He saw the tremble of her lip, the hardening of her gaze.

She was trying her best to keep it together, which was more than anyone deserved from her tonight. Varric knew that better than most, because he'd lost a mother, too, once upon a time. And though he never told that story, the memory was enough. Something in him shifted, half involuntary—the annoyance abating as if by its own free will—and half the conscious choice to put away the prickly feeling. To shift out of it and set it down like a trademark leather duster draped across the back of Hawke's chair. To kick it off like a pair of heavy boots. And to wonder, with no small amount of trepidation, what bare-chested, bare-footed thing he'd just revealed.

"Go on," Hawke urged him. "Tell it."

The storyteller stretched his neck, rolling his head to each side and raising his shoulders, forcing himself to relax as he settled back into a comfortable pose. He was taking a risk and he knew it.

"You never existed," he began, feeling his nerves diminish as the mellifluous sound of his own voice washed through him. "Which means you're not there at Ostagar when the horns sound and a whole Fereldan army makes its retreat. Had you been there, Carver would have followed. But instead, your hot-headed brother charges into a pitched battle and gets himself skewered on a tainted blade. Needless to say, he never makes it back to Lothering."

The pleasure of tale telling was enough to soothe him even as he watched Hawke blink in surprise at the start of a story she hadn't quite realized she'd asked for. She looked away from him, but he knew she was paying attention.

"Your mother and sister are there, still waiting for him, when the fields and houses burn. They make it out, barely, thanks to Sunshine. She uses all the powers she's got, but it's hardly enough. She's one mage against a troop of monsters. By the time the path ahead is clear, her wounds are mortal. And she knows it, but she hides them from your mother.

"They meet Aveline on the road and, for a time, Leandra gets her hopes up. But those fade fast. Wesley dies a lot sooner without you there to fight beside them. And when they make it to that ogre—well, it kills your sister. Carver's gone already and somebody has to die. In a way, it's a mercy—fast and heroic beats slow and gangrenous any day."

Hawke nodded, whether in agreement or simply because she was caught in the rhythm of the story, Varric couldn't tell.

"That leaves your mother and Aveline, staring down the horde. And if you ask me, I think it's the end of the line for both of them. But even if, by some trick or miracle, Aveline wins the day—if the Blight breaks on her shield and she cuts a mighty swath through it all the way to Gwaren—well, I hate to break it to you, Hawke, but your mother still dies. Of sickness or of wasting, in the slums beyond the city gates. Because without you and Bethany, Gamlen can't buy her way into Kirkwall."

Varric paused, knowing he'd made his point well enough already. He could easily leave out the last part. But no. The tale demanded the fullness of its telling.

"And you know who else is dead without you? I am. I die in the Deep Roads when my own brother betrays me. When my best friend isn't there to watch my back. Because she never existed. You want to talk about how much better off we'd all be without you? Well, I'm sorry but I'm not playing that game. Because, no question, Hawke, my life would not be better off without you. And Leandra's wouldn't have been either."

A long moment of silence followed and Varric wasn't sure if it was an okay silence or a really bad one. But then the dog whimpered and Hawke turned to look at him. She whispered to him and scratched his muzzle. And when she shifted again to sit up and face Varric, something else had shifted with her—or within her. Her eyes were still shining too brightly, but the dangerous look was gone. Something far kinder had taken its place. She reached for Varric's face and her touch was gentle.

"Thank you," she whispered. "That was a gift. The one gift I really needed."

Varric swallowed. He hadn't expected to hear that. And now his own eyes were feeling a little wetter than they should.

"You can go if you need to," Hawke said, smiling a little and nodding to show that she meant it, that she wasn't just trying to pull some manipulative trick that would come back to bite him. "I know this stuff isn't your strong suit."

"It really isn't," he admitted. And then, on a whim, he pulled her close to him, wrapping her up in a good strong hug. Whispering in her ear, he added, "But I think I'll stay. Aveline's still out there. And if I leave now, she's coming in here."

Hawke pressed her face against him. "I'll need Aveline, too," she said. "And all our friends. This is too much, too awful, to get through without everyone."

Varric swept the damp strands of hair from her face. Her tears had stopped, but she'd be back to them soon, which he knew, because her heart was broken. And there was no easy fix for something like that. He wished there was, but he knew better. Not even the strongest magic or best told story could heal all ills.

But this, right here, was a start.

Author's Note: So, this was a non-kink fill I first posted to the dragon age kink meme. And I'm not super pleased with how this turned out, but I've worked on it enough that I want some helpful concrit if anyone's got it. Emphasis on the "helpful."

I'm actually pretty fond of the first section with Varric talking to Aveline. It feels right and mostly in character, at least to me. After that, I think everything gets messy in terms of mood and pacing. I mean clearly, I'm writing alt universe, so if you're here to tell me the Hawke/Varric romance isn't in character, you can stuff it. Seriously. Stuff it hard. That's not what I'm looking for.

Just looking for validation that something really is failing in the second part and maybe some insight into what I'm doing with dialogue versus exposition that's causing the hang ups. I doubt I'll rewrite this, but I am curious about making my writing stronger in general.

(Aside to first reviewer anon, Kate: Thank you! Perfect and helpful. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on my writing. I think you're totally right and your comment helps me put my finger on some of what I couldn't quite figure out on my own. We get so close to our own writing sometimes, it can be hard to spot exactly WHY the vision in one's head doesn't translate quite right in the writing. Anyway, I would thank you by PM, but you're anon so this is the best I can do.)